Tag Archive | Law

Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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A Letter to the Jewish People (on teshuvah) by Ken Rank

 

Saint Paul James Tissot

Saint Paul
James Tissot

One would suppose that the Apostle Paul died without regrets, knowing that he had done all he could to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of YHVH and bring multitudes into it.  Then again, Paul was a fallible human being, just like the rest of us.  That is why he wrote things like this:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  (I Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

Perhaps Paul’s chief regret was knowing that his actions had kept people out of the Kingdom.  Not intentionally, mind you; Paul was zealous for God, just as he testified of his Jewish brethren (Romans 10:1-4).  Yet his zeal in persecuting those who believed Yeshua of Nazareth to be Messiah most likely hardened the resistance of many to the message of redemption through that same Yeshua.  Afterward, having embraced that message and taken it to the Gentiles, he did his best to help people understand the full truth:  that salvation by grace through faith actually makes it possible to live by God’s established standard of righteousness given in Torah.

Tragically, the division that began in Paul’s day is still with us.  Judaism and Christianity have taken on completely different identities.  There are voices on both sides who realize that the two are not separate religions, or at least YHVH did not intend it to be so.  Those voices are now calling for understanding and dialogue.  It shouldn’t be that hard since Christians, Jews, and Messianic/Hebrew Roots believers all claim allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; all revere the same Scriptures; all hope for the same promises.  Why, then, can’t we all get along?

Ken Rank provides one very important answer to that question.  The beginning of the journey toward mutual respect and acceptance begins with humility and repentance (in Hebrew, teshuvah).  All of us have more to repent for than we think, and certainly more than we care to admit.  But what if our lack of willingness even to consider this question of repentance causes someone to miss coming into the Kingdom?  Meditate on that as you read Ken’s letter to our Jewish brethren.


A Letter to the Jewish People (on teshuvah)

Ken Rank  
October 7, 2016 
Originally published on United 2 Restore

United2Restore 01Over the last decade or so, my family has been keeping the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days.  We’re not Jewish, but we feel drawn to these days for our own reasons.  In the process of observance and celebration, we consider ourselves blessed in many ways.  As we annually cycle through the Appointed Times, we build upon those things we learned during the previous years.  And, as each cycle comes around, I find my focus narrowing on reconciliation and restoration between and for all of the B’ney Yisrael.

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Remembering ALL Our Roots

This is a season of reflection at The Barking Fox.  Part of the reason is getting settled at last in our new home in North Carolina.  There is no hiding the fact that I am a Southern boy, with roots growing to a depth of 200 years in Alabama and nearly three centuries in the Carolinas.  Hopefully I will have opportunity to explore those roots and share any findings that would be of interest to others.

bfb160918-keith-greenWhat has reminded me of a central part of my roots has been the opportunity to listen to worship music that has ministered to my soul for as long as I have been on this earth. Recently I shared one of those songs by the late Keith Green.  Now I share another:  an old hymn made new again as I pondered its meaning.  

In the Baptist Hymnal on my bookshelf its is called There Is a Fountain.  The lyrics come not only from Scripture (Zechariah 13:1), but from the life experience of William Cowper, an Englishman who penned these words in the same era that my Scottish-American ancestors began their contribution to the history of this continent. 

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day
And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away
Wash all my sins away
Wash all my sins away
And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away

Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die
And shall be till I die
And shall be till I die
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die

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A Jewish Question for All of God’s People: “We were given the Torah, but have we received it?”

Jesus was perhaps the greatest Torah teacher of his day.

Think about that for a moment.  We do not often consider the fact that Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) taught from the Torah, and that he was recognized by Jewish leaders as a great teacher.  It began in his youth, when at the age of 12 he astounded the doctors of the Law (Torah) in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52).  When he entered into public ministry, the teacher of Israel himself came to inquire of Yeshua about spiritual matters (John 3:1-21).  His greatest oration, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29), was in fact an extensive midrash on the Torah and its application in daily life.  That is why Yeshua stated early in that sermon that he had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it – meaning to teach it correctly and live out its full meaning (Matthew 5:17-20).

This should lead us to the conclusion the Torah was given not only to the Jews, but to all of God’s people.  In fact, the Torah applies to every person on earth, or at least it will when Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.  How else are we to understand such passages as this one from Isaiah?

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.  Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.  (Isaiah 2:2-4 NKJV, emphasis added)

Notice the key to Isaiah’s oft-quoted prophecy:  universal peace does not happen until after the nations of the earth submit to the judgment of YHVH’s Messiah and learn and obey the Law (Torah) which he shall teach.

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Who Wins When Siblings Fight?

On January 8, 1815, an odd assortment of U.S. Soldiers, French and Spanish Creoles, African slaves and free men, Kentucky frontiersmen, and French pirates set aside their differences to fight as comrades against an invading British army at New Orleans.  The peril they shared transformed these disparate residents of the western frontier into Americans - a single people who shared a common identity regardless of their past and future differences.  (Image: The Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815 / drawn by Oliver Pelton ; engraved by Hammat Billings,1882. Accessed from the Library of Congress.)

On January 8, 1815, an odd assortment of U.S. Soldiers, French and Spanish Creoles, African slaves and free men, Kentucky frontiersmen, and French pirates set aside their differences to fight as comrades against an invading British army at New Orleans. The peril they shared transformed these disparate residents of the western frontier into Americans – a single people who shared a common identity regardless of their past and future differences. (Image: The Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815 / drawn by Oliver Pelton ; engraved by Hammat Billings,1882. Accessed from the Library of Congress.)

Something very strange happens when people face an imminent threat to life and livelihood.  The strange thing is unity such as would never have been possible otherwise.  History provides countless examples, such as the defense of New Orleans in January 1815.  When a veteran British force attacked the city, an odd assortment of people turned out to defend their home.  They included Regular soldiers of the American army under Major General Andrew Jackson, as well as Creole gentlemen and their American merchant rivals, common laborers, farmers, militia men from far away states, black slaves and free men, and even pirates and smugglers affiliated with the infamous Jean Lafitte.  Once the threat was past, these disparate segments of society returned to their separate lives and the circumstances that divided them, but for one glorious moment they experienced the joy of being a people united in a common cause.

We might consider as well the example of our Jewish brethren in World War II.  Immediately before the war, an Arab revolt in British Palestine compelled His Majesty’s government to issue a White Paper in 1939 which closed the door on Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.  This was a political and military necessity for the British; another Arab revolt would threaten their hold on Egypt, their link to India and the Pacific, and the lifeline of the Empire.  When faced with war against Hitler’s Germany, Great Britain could not afford to lose that lifeline, and thus European Jews in peril of their lives in the Shoa (Holocaust) lost their last and best chance at escape from the death camps.

One might suppose the Jewish response to the White Paper – particularly among those living in the Land – would be violent rejection and revolt.  Some did respond that way, but the most memorable response was by David Ben Gurion, at that time among the most prominent leaders of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish settlers in the Land.  He expressed his position this way:

We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war.

Ben Gurion’s pragmatism was instrumental in establishment of the Jewish Brigade, the only regular military unit of any Allied army in World War II comprised entirely of Jews.  The Jewish Brigade served with distinction in the British forces in Egypt, Italy, and Northwest Europe, and it also served as a training ground for Jewish warriors who carried the fight for Israel’s independence after the British Mandate over Palestine ended in 1948.

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Dying in the Wilderness

In The Brazen Serpent, James Tissot illustrates one of the many ways the Lord God cared for our fathers even as they lived out their sentence of death in the wilderness.

In The Brazen Serpent, James Tissot illustrates one of the many ways the Lord God cared for our fathers even as they lived out their sentence of death in the wilderness.

There is this problem among the people of God:  the expectation that He will come along and fix everything that is wrong in the world in an instant.  I suppose that perspective comes from the hope that one day we get to live happily ever after in some kind of undefinable paradise where the biggest problem we have for all eternity is deciding what we would like to eat.  For time immemorial, Jews and Christians of all varieties have engaged in this hope, expecting that Messiah will make everything all better without us having to do much of anything.  Messiah will indeed make everything all better, but the belief that it requires little if any effort on our part, or that it will be a pleasant experience, is nothing more than wishful thinking.  Such is the warning to ancient Israel, both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of the nation:

Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come to pass, that we may know it!”  (Isaiah 5:18-19 NASB)

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?  It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him.  Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?  (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)

The Apostle Paul issued the same warning to followers of Messiah Yeshua in his day, noting the direct linkage of those believers – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to the people of ancient Israel:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.  Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  (I Corinthians 10:1-6 NASB)

This is the same apostle who admonished his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).  The application of his words is not limited to the ancient Mediterranean world, but to followers of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) down through the ages to this very day.  It is important to understand that Paul is not advocating a gospel of works for salvation, but is instead issuing an exhortation for us to take responsibility for what YHVH has given us freely by virtue of faith in Him and His Messiah.  From the very beginning our Creator has intended this to be so.  Consider His first recorded words to our first ancestors:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  (Genesis 1:27-28 NASB)

To put it another way, we are intended to rule with God over the part of creation He has placed under our jurisdiction (Exodus 19:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10, 20:4-6; I Peter 2:9-10; II Timothy 2:11-12).  More importantly, we are to rule with God as His bride (Isaiah 62:4-5; Revelation 19:7-8). 

What does one call the bride of a king?  Is it not a queen?  The question, then, is this:  does the King of the Universe desire a queen who is fully capable of ruling in His Name and whom He trusts to do so, or is He content with a fat, lazy queen who screams at her servants if her food is not cooked to her definition of perfection?

If we think of our eternal destiny in these terms, we begin to see the necessity of trials and tribulations to make us ready for our Creator’s ultimate purposes.  As we mature in our relationship with Him we should grow ever more eager for the test rather than building ever more elaborate schemes to avoid it.  The eager ones who seek to please their Master will prevail, but those who seek to avoid pain most likely will succeed neither in avoiding pain, nor in prevailing over anything.

This is the subject Ken Rank addresses in his article, “Dying in the Wilderness”, recently published on United2Restore.  Be careful!  Ken makes some paradigm-shifting observations here.  Reading this may cause you to question everything you have been taught about the End Times.


Dying in the Wilderness

Ken Rank  
January 6, 2016 
Originally published on United 2 Restore

We are part of Israel; we are children of the Most High God.  He loves us, He will care for us, He will sustain us . . . and He will leave us in the wilderness with our spiritual baggage intact unless we learn how to get beyond the minutia that we allow to divide us.

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Fox Byte 5775 #53: Ha’azinu (Give Ear)

הַאְַזִינוּ

In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)

In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)

The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama.  It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun.  We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens.  British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai.  The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10.  He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland.  Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before.  They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned.  Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.

Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack.  China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941.  As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai.  Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.

By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity.  Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief.  His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts.  Yet Suo Gân remains with him.  One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze.  Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor.  Their deaths come more quickly than expected.  At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin.  In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive.  With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”

At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents.  Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence.  His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew.  It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring.  He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.

BFB150926 Suo GanAll Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation.  So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH.  He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:

Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.  (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #52: Vayelekh (And He Went)

וַיֵּלֶךְ

Concept art for an upcoming Czech film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: The Fish People Attack! Amazing Concept Art For Czech Creature Feature WAR WITH THE NEWTS (VALKA S MLOKY) on twitch, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)

Concept art for an upcoming film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: “The Fish People Attack!” on twitchfilm.com, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)

Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing.  Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration.  For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality.  Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.

Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.  Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it.  Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920.  The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot.  The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.

Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later.  It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia.  The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors.  In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs.  The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army.  It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.

It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved.  Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will.  The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands.  As usual, art imitates life.  YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will.  Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough.  What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction.  About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:

It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them.  Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #51: Nitzavim (You Are Standing)

נִצָּבִים

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus Rex (Bénigne Gagneraux, The Blind Oedipus Commending his Children to the Gods), Beauty’s Beast (illustration by Walter Crane), The Frog Prince (illustration by Paul Meyerheim), Rapunzel’s prince (illustration by Johnny Gruelle). Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel (illustration by Arthur Rackham), Sleeping Beauty (illustration from Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories), Snow White (illustration by Alexander Zick), Cinderella (illustration by Anne Anderson).

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus RexBeauty’s BeastThe Frog Prince, Rapunzel’s prince. Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella.

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)

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Fox Byte 5775 #50: Ki Tavo (When You Enter In)

כִּי־תָבִוֹא

Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkens) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in "A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’", by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)

Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in “A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’”, by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)

When General Lew Wallace published Ben Hur in 1880, he had no idea that his tale of a wrongfully condemned Jewish prince would have such an impact on modern audiences.  It is a tale of redemption, being the product of Wallace’s own investigation into the validity of the Christian faith.  The epic scale of the story lends itself to the big screen, but Hollywood’s first effort at bringing Wallace’s characters to life in 1925 fell short of the mark.  It took another generation of filmmakers, capitalizing on improved technology and cinematic techniques, to do justice to the tale.  The result was William Wyler’s 1959 production of Ben Hur, a film that surpassed the achievements of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, released just three years previously.  Wyler and DeMille both worked with the same leading man:  Charlton Heston, a handsome actor known for his portrayals of tough men of action.  Heston’s depiction of Moses remains the standard for cinematic portrayals of Israel’s Lawgiver, but it was his role as Judah Ben Hur which won him an Oscar as Best Actor.

The story follows Judah in his quest for revenge after his family is unjustly accused and sentenced for allegedly attempting to kill the new Roman governor of Judea.  His mother and sister are taken to prison, but Judah is condemned to a hellish existence rowing the galleys of Rome’s navy.  After three years his ship receives a new commander, Consul Quintus Arrius (played by Jack Hawkins), who leads the fleet against pirates who have menaced the sea lanes.  On inspecting the rowers, Arrius takes notice of Judah as a man full of hate, but able to control it, a trait the Consul finds useful.  Upon concluding his inspection Arrius offers this advice:

Now listen to me, all of you.  You are all condemned men.  We keep you alive to serve this ship.  So row well, and live.

Judah finds opportunity to do more than that.  In battle his ship is rammed and sinks, but he is able to escape and save the life of Consul Arrius.  Later they learn the Roman fleet has won the day and Arrius is a hero.  He returns to Rome, bringing Judah with him in hope of repaying the debt of his life.  Judah becomes a famous chariot racer, trusted with some of his master’s most prized possessions.  In time, Arrius rewards Judah with the greatest gift he can bestow:  adoption as his son and heir. 

Eventually Judah returns home, finds his mother and sister, and avenges the wrong done to his house.  Yet it is not until he encounters Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth that he finds true peace.  Lew Wallace’s story is, after all, a tale of the Christ, and would be incomplete without the redemption the Messiah offers.  The roots of the story, however, go back to the time of Moses, when he spoke these words to the people of Israel:

The Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 26:18-19 NASB)

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