The Torah Awakening among Christians is creating something the world has not seen for two thousand years: a growing body of non-Jewish people who are doing the best they can to live by God’s eternal standards (His Torah – Law, Teaching, Commandments), but who do not intend to convert to Judaism.
What is the world to do with such people? Perhaps the more immediate question is, what are the Jewish people and the State of Israel to do with such people?
According to Strong’s Concordance, a ger is a “sojourner; a temporary inhabitant, a newcomer lacking inherited rights; of foreigners in Israel, though conceded rights”. The implication is that such people are not Israelites, not Hebrews, and not members of the nation or commonwealth of Israel.
This is where we run into several issues. The easy path is to argue these points, but that is not necessarily the wisest path. What we all need is the path of wisdom and reconciliation, and that is what I hope to investigate.
The Barking Fox just completed the annual Torah Cycle and is ready to embark on another year of Bible commentary. Rather than embark on another systematic journey through the Torah and Haftarah, in this Hebrew year 5776 Fox Bytes will focus on selected books and topics, starting with the book of Job.
A sad commentary on human nature is that people who stand for what is right rarely are the people with whom one would prefer to be seen in public. We may honor such saintly persons as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, or William Wilberforce, but we do not want to be close friends with them – or at least not let such relationships be known. Our preference is to hang out with “good old boys”, friends who like the things we like, sympathize with our problems, and make us feel better about ourselves without actually causing us to change. That, of course, is the problem with those saintly people: they uphold high standards of right living which make us feel uncomfortable. It does not matter how blessed they appear to be, or the peace they seem to enjoy in any situation, or that they give the authorities no cause for alarm. The truth is that they are righteous, and their righteousness interferes with our desire to live comfortably and indulge whatever pleasure seems good.
Shakespeare understood this fact of human nature. He made use of it in his masterful manipulation of the Roman public through Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar. Caesar’s assassins justify their murderous act by saying the great man was ambitious and that his ambition would have been the death of Roman freedom. Antony seems to agree, saying “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, a statement that indicates whatever good Caesar would have done has died with him. Then he turns the tables, calling the assassins honorable men – good men whom the good citizens of Rome should trust, and with whom they should be glad to associate. Yet their honorable good pales in comparison to Caesar’s selfless ambition: an ambition that enriched Rome through his military service, that wept for Rome’s poor, and that refused a kingly crown thrice offered. In other words, any honor that may have accrued to Caesar’s assassins was as nothing compared to the great man’s righteousness in life and legacy in death.
We learn through Shakespeare’s theatrical Marc Antony a truth written centuries earlier to a real Roman audience by a man who also understood something about human nature:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. (Romans 5:7 NASB)
As with all good spy stories, the 1968 movie adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra does not reveal the full truth until near the end. All we know at the beginning is that a US Navy submarine is on a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at a weather station on the Arctic ice pack. We realize something unusual is afoot since the boat’s captain, James Ferraday (played by Rock Hudson), has been ordered to take aboard not only a platoon of Marines, but also a British Intelligence officer who goes by the name Jones (Patrick McGoohan). At sea they are joined by Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), a Russian defector. After an act of sabotage nearly destroys the submarine, Captain Ferraday confronts Vaslov, asking why he should not believe him to be the saboteur. Vaslov responds, “That should be obvious, Captain. I was born a Russian, but I chose my side out of conviction, not by accident of birth.” Jones vouches for him, and the mission continues.
In time the submarine reaches the destination and breaks through the Arctic ice near Ice Station Zebra. As the Navy crewmen rescue the surviving scientists, Jones and Vaslov go about the real business of the mission. Ferraday finds opportunity to speak with Jones alone as the British agent searches for what we learn is a canister of highly sensitive photographic film created in the United States for use in a British camera of extraordinary technical capabilities. Soviet agents had stolen the film and the camera, and the Soviet Union adapted both for use in a spy satellite. Jones explains this in one of the movie’s most famous lines:
The Russians put our camera made by “our” German scientists and your film made by “your” German scientists into their satellite made by “their” German scientists, and up it went, round and round, whizzing by the United States of America seven times a day.
Just as the film canister is discovered, a force of Soviet paratroopers lands near the ice station. Their mission, of course, is also to recover the film canister. It is at that point that we learn Vaslov’s convictions are not as strong as he would have others believe. He assaults Jones and reveals himself as a double agent whose real intent is to assist the Soviets in recovering the film. As the American and Soviet forces engage in a firefight, Jones kills Vaslov. The fighting ends when the hopelessly outnumbered Americans agree to surrender the canister, but then succeed in destroying it by a final act of intrigue. Having no further reason to remain in conflict, both sides withdraw, leaving the body of the treacherous Vaslov on the ice.
Boris Vaslov teaches us an eternal truth. Unable to choose between two identities, in the end he loses them both. So it is with everyone who halts between allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this world. It is best to choose wisely since Scripture provides an unambiguous statement on the conclusion of this matter:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)
It seems that everyone is expecting the world to change for the worse in September 2015. That, at least, is a prevailing topic of conversation here in the United States. I have been part of such discussions many times over the last few months, and regardless how the discussion begins, it invariably comes down to the question, “What do we do now?”
The people of YHVH should be paying attention to the signs of the times. We are indeed on the brink of major changes to the world system, and these changes likely will involve a combination of economic, military, political, and civil unrest, with a few major natural disasters thrown in for good measure. It is, after all, the end of the Shemitah, the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the seven-year cycle the Lord explained to Moses (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13). It is also the time of the fourth Blood Moon of the tetrad we have seen at Passover and Tabernacles over these last two years. What, if anything, are we to do about all of this?
Happily, there is someone who has undertaken the task of answering that question in a rational, systematic fashion using principles derived straight from the Bible. We can thank people like Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Pastor Mark Biltz for bringing the Shemitah cycle to the attention of the world. Now we can thank Barry L. Miller for helping us understand how to live within that cycle. That is the message of his book Know the Time, Change Your World: The Reappearance of the Seven- and Fifty-Year Biblical Cycles.
One of those cultural icons of the post-modern era is Gary Larson’s cartoon series, The Far Side. Larson retired the series in 1995 after only 15 years, but the cartoons remain very popular. Their irreverent, bizarre depictions of people and circumstances continue to amuse, but more importantly, cause people to think about things we consider “normal”. Such is the case of Larson’s cartoon, “God at His computer”. The picture shows the Almighty sitting at a computer, with an image on the screen of a hapless victim walking under a piano suspended by a rope. God’s finger hovers over the keyboard, about to press a button labelled “Smite”.
There is no question that this particular cartoon is irreverent. Some might call it blasphemous. But why is it that humor is the most common reaction to this cartoon? Is it because we have this innate tendency to laugh at the misfortunes of other people – perhaps glad that the misfortune is not our own? Probably; comics and sadists have played on that tendency for centuries, all too frequently with tragic results. What strikes the chord in this particular cartoon, though, is that Gary Larson points to God as the cause of misfortune. In this case he is merely highlighting something we would rather not admit: our perception that God really does cause evil in the world, regardless how we might try to avoid it. This perception is rooted much deeper than we may be aware. Why, for instance, do contracts and insurance policies make allowances relieving the contracting parties from responsibility in the case of “acts of God”? Something like a tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster, is an unforeseen event that no one can predict or prepare for, and thus no one can be held responsible for its effects. No one, that is, except God, the self-proclaimed Creator and Almighty Power of the universe. God, therefore, gets the blame.
But why? How did this all get started? What established our tendency to think of the Creator as a capricious being ready to press the “Smite” button? And is it fair or right to blame God for misfortune? To find the answers we must travel far back in time, to the beginning of humanity’s existence. No doubt our earliest ancestors began blaming God for their problems soon after He expelled them from the Garden of Eden. However, what most likely caused us to think collectively about God in this way was His judgment on Egypt.