Even superheroes have their weaknesses. If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting. This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition. No individual is complete within himself or herself. We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots. Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.
Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood. Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is. So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story. In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea. Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability. One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman. The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.
One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him. When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground. Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed. When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy. In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.
Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds. The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns. His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning. The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven. Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.
How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale. Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation. That is just as King David said:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever. (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)
Was Sam Houston a Cherokee? It is a fair question. The man who won independence for the Republic of Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto had spent many years with the Cherokee nation. His first contact with the tribe occurred in his youth, when his family moved from their home in Virginia to Tennessee. He learned their ways and their language, was adopted by a chief of the tribe, and in time represented the Cherokee people to the United States government. Houston even took a Cherokee wife: Tiana Rodgers, daughter of a Scottish trader who had married into a prominent Cherokee family. Houston’s marriage with Tiana was never recognized in white society, but they were legally married under Cherokee law. Even after he had returned to white society, Houston never remarried until after Tiana’s death.
But the fact is that Sam Houston did return to white society. In 1832 he moved to the Mexican territory of Texas, and within four years had secured independence for Texas, forever linking his name with that great state. Today, over 150 years since his death, Houston is remembered as a military hero and statesman, serving the Republic of Texas as its general and elected president, and the State of Texas as its senator and governor. Houston is also the only man ever to have served as governor of both Tennessee and Texas. These are the things that might come to mind when one thinks of Sam Houston, but what does not come to mind is his identity as a Cherokee.
Houston’s identity in history is the result of his own choice. Had he remained with his adopted people, he would have been remembered as one of many non-Indian white and black people who became members of various Native American tribes. Yet he chose otherwise, and therefore his Cherokee identity is merely a footnote of history.
It was the other way with our ancient Israelite ancestors. Once they chose to become united with the tribes of Jacob’s sons, their previous identities became footnotes, lost forever in the sands of time.
Last week a reader asked a very important question. It is so important that I want to share it:
A friend introduced me to your blog. I am a follower of Yeshua, not one of the twelve “lost” tribes but I am Torah pursuant. I am learning to be part of Abba’s tribe. In your writing I only hear you speak of Judah and Ephraimites (lost tribes) as being Israel. Do you see Torah pursuant followers of Yeshua who have no provable family lineage and are from “the nations” as part of the Israel family? Do they have a place at the table?
This question gets to the very heart of who we are. It addresses the very thing that the Apostles and the wider Jewish community wrestled with in the First Century. Specifically, what is the status of these people coming to faith in Yeshua from among the Gentiles? Are they still Gentiles, or are they Israelites? And if they are Israelites, are they also to become Jews? And if they are not Jews, what kind of Israelites are they?
Many writers and teachers have addressed this question, and it is in fact the central question addressed in my recent book, Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell. There is still much more to be said as we watch and participate in the unfolding of YHVH’s revelation on the subject. As a contribution to that dialogue, here is my response:
One of the biggest things Abba is doing right now is restoring to His people the awareness of their identity. Are you a believer in Yeshua, Son of God and Messiah? Do you obey His commands and follow Him as His disciple? Then you are indeed an Israelite regardless of your ethnicity or nationality. The Apostle Paul made that clear in his letters, particularly in Ephesians 2 and Romans 9,10, and 11. When he writes about us of the nations being grafted into the olive tree of Israel, and of being part of the commonwealth of Israel, that’s what he means. The Jewish part of our nation (the House of Judah) have always retained their identity as Israelites and have kept the nation alive. That is the Father’s plan, and that is why we non-Jewish Israelites do not replace the Jews, but join with them in the nation as Abba rebuilds it. That is the meaning behind the prophecies of the Dry Bones and Two Sticks of Ezekiel 37, and of the entire book of Hosea, and of Isaiah 11, and of many, many other prophecies.
When it comes to your physical heritage, it should be a great comfort to know that lineage is no obstacle to God (Matthew 3:7-10). Israel is His Kingdom and His vehicle of salvation for all the nations, so He has always invited people to join that nation from the time He made His first call to our father Abraham. Today He has revealed the means by which He can accept anyone into the nation, and by which He can accept the nation itself back into fellowship with Him. That, of course, is what Yeshua accomplished with His atoning sacrifice on our behalf, and that is why He is our King. The truth is, neither I nor anyone else can prove with beyond any doubt that we are descendants of any of the Tribes. Even our brethren of Judah are hard pressed to chart their lineage considering the things that have happened to the Jews over the centuries. We have the choice of looking at all of that as tragedy and as cause for division, or of looking on it as another astonishing revelation of our God’s glory. He is reconstructing His nation from broken pieces, gathering up the fragments just as Yeshua’s disciples gathered the fragments discarded by those who ate His bread and fish. In time this polyglot nation of many peoples will become the nation of one people, Israel, just as our King has promised. In fact, the nations of this earth will be absorbed into Yeshua’s Kingdom of Israel just as the prophets Daniel and John declared (Daniel 2:44-45; Revelation 11:15-18).
In time we will all be numbered among the Tribes. As others have said, when we enter the New Jerusalem, we will be going through the gates named for each of the Tribes because there is no gate named for the nations. All we know for now is that Yeshua’s Kingdom of Israel consists of two parts: the houses of Judah and Ephraim. If you are not Jewish, but you are a believer in Yeshua, then you are of Ephraim. Tribal identification is of secondary importance. Based on the precedent set in Numbers 1 with the first census of Israel, and of the provisions for inheritance explained in Ezekiel 47:21-23, I am inclined to believe that individual choice has a big role in tribal identity. The first step, though, is identifying with Israel as an Israelite currently living among the nations. If we can in all sincerity call Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob our fathers, then we are ready to move forward as God’s people.