In recent days my friend Pete Rambo and I have enjoyed a lively email exchange with a Jewish brother. By this time we have identified many of the key differences in our beliefs and the ways we perceive the world. I think it is safe to say we are confident enough in our relationship that we can ask some pointed questions without fear of alienating one another. The good thing is that we are all curious about what we believe, and we genuinely want to know how we each perceive the world. This has been eye-opening on all sides. I have learned that some of the things I thought I knew about Jews and Judaism were not quite right, just as our friend has learned that some of the things he thought he knew about Christians and Messianic believers were not quite right. This is the kind of dialogue that is essential if we are to come to an understanding of one another and begin to cooperate in bringing Messiah and building his kingdom.
What I share here is a response provided to our friend in answer to two questions. The first concerned our celebration of Passover (Pesach) – as in, why do non-Jews celebrate the Feast, and how do we do it? The second question involved our description of ourselves as something other than Christian. In other words, how is it that we believe in Yeshua, or Jesus, as Messiah, but do not consider ourselves Christians (or at least traditional Christians). In the interest of building mutual understanding, here are my answers to those questions.
This year we participated in a Passover seder with friends in Austin, TX, just as we have done for the last three years. All of our friends have come out of the traditional church, but all embrace Yeshua as Messiah and have a heart to learn and live the Torah as he taught it. This year we had ten people around the table, including our youngest daughter. Although she is 22 and about to graduate from the University of Texas, she was still the youngest person there, and it fell to her to ask the traditional questions.
We used a Messianic haggadah from Lion and Lamb Ministries. In years past we have produced a haggadah of our own, but it’s easier to take one from a source we appreciate and modify as we go along. That’s precisely what we did. Since none of us grew up Jewish, we do not know the traditional songs and sayings and prayers. However, we know enough to see where the traditions of Judaism mesh with what we have learned about Yeshua as our Messiah. That is why we are comfortable taking a traditional Jewish seder and inserting Messianic and Christian elements. For example, although we sang a chorus of “Dayeinu”, most of our songs were Christian hymns celebrating the death and resurrection of Yeshua as our Passover Lamb. We had the four cups of wine and we said the traditional prayers in Hebrew (since my wife and I have studied the most, we got to lead the prayers), but we did leave out a few things (such as horseradish – much to my chagrin since I like horseradish).
Parents know very well that the excitement of a child’s birth fades very quickly as reality of life with a newborn infant sets in. After the ordeal of labor and delivery, the rapid passage of news by phone calls and Facebook posts, and the welcome of a seemingly endless stream of family and friends, a rather dull routine sets in. Much to the frustration of older siblings, the baby does very little except sleep, eat, cry, and . . . well, you know. It will be quite some time before the child gains controls of its limbs, and still more time before it can sit up on its own and even begin to think about crawling. Only after that can the child progress toward walking, talking, feeding itself, and learning how to be polite in public.
A newborn organization goes through these same growth stages. Whether it is a company, a ministry, or a nation, the newborn still requires time and nurture before it can stand on its own.
Such is the case with our newborn, B’ney Yosef North America. BYNA is barely one month old, and although there is not much visible to the public, this child is healthy and growing just as it should.
Strange things happen when disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) awaken to their identity as Hebrews. One phenomenon is that they begin to see the Two Houses of Israel throughout the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Judah (Yehuda) and Joseph (Yosef) have been rivals since the days of their youth, when Judah led his brothers in putting Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:18-28). By the time of their reunion over twenty years later, Joseph had become the leader of a foreign nation and Judah had become the leader of Jacob’s family. Their father Jacob formalized that division before he died, passing on the birthright and the family name to Joseph and to his son Ephraim, but giving the rulership to Judah (Genesis 48:8-22; 49:8-12; I Chronicles 5:1-2).
The division of status did not work out well. In time Judah’s descendant Solomon began to oppress all the other tribes of Israel, and Joseph’s descendant Jeroboam led ten of the tribes in rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam (I Kings 12:1-19). For the next 250 years the nation was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by the tribe of Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom eventually fell into such wicked idolatry that YHVH pronounced a sentence of national death on them: He allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer them, and then dispersed them into every nation on earth. Judah, however, remained a people, although they lost their national sovereignty in the Babylonian Conquest. They regained sovereignty for a time before the Roman era, but the Jews for the most part were a wandering people until the State of Israel came into existence in 1948.
But what happened to Joseph, or Ephraim as that people are also called in Scripture? They are still dispersed in the nations, but it seems that they are awakening to their identity. In fact, it seems that such was the main purpose of Messiah Yeshua’s ministry 2,000 years ago. He Himself said He had come to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24) – something that brings to mind the prophecies of Micaiah the man of God to Ahab the wicked king (I Kings 22:15-18), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:6).
What has happened over the last two millennia is that the Lost Sheep and many of their companions among the Gentiles (nations) have been found. Through Yeshua they have joined themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The next step in the process is the awakening of these formerly Lost Sheep to the full revelation of their identity as Israelites – as Hebrews. From there is is but a small step to eager anticipation of their reunification with their Jewish brethren of the House of Judah. That is happening right now, in our day.
Jewish sages have long taught about two messiahs revealed in the Tanakh (Old Testament). One is Messiah Son of Joseph (Mashiach ben Yosef), the suffering servant who will take the punishment for Israel’s sin and covenant-breaking departure from YHVH’s standards of righteousness (His Torah). The other is Messiah Son of David (Mashiach ben David), the conquering king who will regather and restore the scattered tribes of Israel, subdue the nations under his rule, and bring the resurrection of the dead. That is the message of such passages as Isaiah 11, Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110, whereas Isaiah 53 is the quintessential passage describing the work of Mashiach ben Yosef, the Messiah whose life and ministry was prefigured in the life and ministry of Joseph.
Since Yeshua of Nazareth suffered greatly, even to the point of death as a criminal through a horrendous miscarriage of justice, it would seem that He fits the description of Mashiach ben Yosef. The question is whether He is also Mashiach ben David. That is the position of Christians and those who come from and align with the Christian position on Yeshua (including this author). Jews do not see it that way. If they even consider Yeshua to have fulfilled any messianic function at all, it would be Mashiach ben Yosef. We can all agree that Yeshua has not completed the work of Mashiach ben David; the entire world is still awaiting the coming King of Israel who will arrive in power and great glory. How fascinating that Christians, Jews (Messianic and non-Messianic), and Hebrew Roots believers are all waiting on the same Mashiach ben David. The only disagreement seems to be on that Messiah’s identity.
Let us consider for a moment what Yeshua’s work as Mashiach ben Yosef might mean for the many hundreds of thousands of people around the world who consider themselves non-Jewish Hebrews. If they are Ephraimites of the House of Joseph, then that introduces a whole new dimension on Yeshua’s redemptive work. Just as the story of Joseph prefigures the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua, so also the story of Yeshua prefigures the national life, death, and resurrection of the House of Joseph. If one day is as a thousand years to the Lord (Psalm 90:4; II Peter 3:8), then we are now nearing the end of the third day since the Northern Kingdom’s national death in 721 BCE. Are we therefore witnessing the Northern Kingdom’s resurrection as the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel return to national life as a people?
Much has been written on this, and much more will be said and done in the days to come. For now, consider these illustrations of New Testament passages in the context of the Two Houses, the Two Sticks, and the Two Brothers coming together as their Father in Heaven has promised.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand. (Ezekiel 37:19 NIV)
From Pete Rambo on natsab:
I have just started reading Angus Wooten’s Restoring Israel’s Kingdom, a book that promises to deepen my understanding of who I am and what my Father’s business is.
In the comments on the cover credit (artwork of the two sticks being made one, Ez. 37:15ff), I saw a neat paradigm shifting idea: the house of Israel was scattered into the nations for disobedience. If they were sown as Israelites, what makes us think they’ll be harvested as anything other than Israelites?
In fact, the Scriptures attest, over and over, that God’s intent is to restore the whole house of Israel. See Acts 1:8; Ez. 37:24ff; Deu. 30; Is. 2:1-5; Eph. 2:12, etc…
If God will harvest Israelites, what might they look like?? Hmmmm…
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2016. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The worst fate a person can endure? That would be loss of self. It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors. Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person. We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia. Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them. It is a tragedy as old as humanity.
Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity. Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail. Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity. Eventually he fulfills the prophecy. When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.
This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form. It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity. Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness. Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts. Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.
The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort. One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition. We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past. This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 NASB)
Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst. (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)
About the time that Gideon of Manasseh delivered Israel from oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:1-8:35), a war of (literally) epic proportions took place on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey. The Trojan War really did happen, but the conflict was already wrapped in myth and legend when a Greek poet known only as Homer published The Iliad sometime around 750 BCE, four centuries after the war’s generally accepted dates of 1194-1184 BCE. Homer’s epic inspired a number of classical works telling the tales of the Greeks and Trojans, including a sequel published in Latin seven hundred years later. When the Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid, he probably had a political agenda in mind. His story is that of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the royal family who escaped the destruction of the city and led a band of refugees in a journey that eventually resulted in their settlement at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy. There they became part of the story of Rome, a city which began as a colony of Alba Longa, the capital of the new kingdom Aeneas and his descendants founded. Thus Rome could trace its origins at least in part to Troy. More importantly, the family of Julius Caesar traced its genealogy to Aeneas, giving it a claim to royalty that helped Caesar’s nephew Octavian consolidate his power as Caesar Augustus. Whether true or not, Virgil’s epic, written early in Augustus’ long reign, cemented the link of the Caesars with Aeneas and Troy in the minds of Romans, making it one of the most successful pieces of literary propaganda ever published.
Even if the Caesar’s claims were falsified, and even if Aeneas never existed outside of classical literature, his tale is an illustration of the remnant: those who remain. Whether it is Ishmael surviving to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, or Job’s servants fleeing disaster to report to him (Job 1:13-22), fact and fiction throughout the human experience have featured a fortunate few who escape. The remnant has the task of carrying the memory of those who went before, of rebuilding what they lost, and of achieving their ultimate destiny. These remnant tales would have little impact on us if they were not a common feature in reality. The remnant is a continuous reminder in Scripture that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy in the expectation that a people will at last be able to step into the fullness of the promises YHVH has spoken from beginning of time.
The 1970 movie Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, follows the story of Jack Crabb, a white boy adopted by a Cheyenne warrior and raised among the Indians with the name Little Big Man. Jack spends his life moving between the very different worlds of his native white frontier people and his adopted Indian family. At one point, when he is back again among the Cheyenne, Jack takes a wife named Sunshine. The two live happily for a time, but then Sunshine persuades Jack to marry her three widowed sisters. Jack reluctantly agrees, and soon becomes head of a very large household. One day, as he wanders through the camp pondering his circumstances, he encounters an old enemy, the warrior Younger Bear whom he has inadvertently shamed many times. Thinking he at last has an advantage over Little Big Man, Younger Bear boasts, “I have a wife. And four horses.” Jack answers as if in a daze, “I have a horse . . . and four wives.” And with that absent-minded answer he once again shames Younger Bear.
Little Big Man is a satire, but oddly enough it echoes something from our ancient past. Our ancestor Jacob, like Jack Crabb, left the land of his birth to seek a wife among his distant relatives. He ended up taking four wives, shaming his wives’ kin, and coming home with far more than he anticipated. Jacob’s story, however, has much greater significance than the ribald satire of Little Big Man. His life is a continuous string of prophetic pictures illustrating what happens to us, his offspring.
Walking Through The Open Gate
An Enduring Standard
We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect. This should not be a surprise. YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him. What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart. When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years. He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
Managing Expectations: Case Studies in God’s Processes
Ancient Hair Care
One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. His story is in Judges 13-16. It begins like this:
Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)