Mystery of the Gentiles

I’ve been told: as a man, I’ll never truly understand women. How many the guys have heard that? Are women such an inscrutable mystery to us? Do the women think guys are so easy to understand?

Lately I’ve been wondering if Gentiles are a mystery to Jews? Why is hard to explain what the Bible teaches about the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles? Or, maybe the problem is with Gentiles understanding Jews? Or does our other-ness make us forever a mystery to one another?

As I was pondering these things, together with several of you who exchanged thoughts via email with me (which were all a blessing to me, todah rabbah!), I became convinced that the one way through this murky mystery is through Messiah Yeshua. After all, Yeshua has intimate knowledge of each one of us—male and female, Jew and Gentile—offering His compassion, healing and salvation to each one of us in our uniqueness. He has drawn each one of us into intimate love with Him. So might it be possible that we can truly know and love one another—in Him?

We no longer need to be strangers or outsiders with another, since the mystery of who we each are has been revealed, in Messiah, and we are now “fellow members of the same body and co-sharers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua.” V’eemru? (And let us say?)

James Tissot, Ruth GleaningToday’s Torah portion has several mitzvot regarding the ger (גֵּר)—someone who lived more or less permanently in Israel as his adopted country. When I was working with others on the TLV, we struggled with how to translate the word גֵּר. Some versions render it alien—but to me, alien now reminds me of critters from outer space. Others use stranger—but did those who chose to dwell in Israel always remain strangers? Though Ruth was a gera, was she a stranger to Naomi and Boaz? So we chose outsider. Though Ruth was welcomed and even honored in Bethlehem of Judah, she is still known as the Moabitess.

I chanted Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:19-21. I’ll read it again from the Tree of Life Version (TLV), take note of the outsider: “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you are not to turn back to get it. It is for the outsider, for the orphan and for the widow—in order that ADONAI your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to search through the branches afterward. It is for the outsider, for the orphan and for the widow. When you harvest your vineyard, you are not to pick over it afterward. It is for the outsider, for the orphan and for the widow.”

Torah shows humanitarian concern for the outsider, along with the orphan and the widow. Thus Israel’s law contrasted with those of other nations, which generally categorized those outside as barbarians, only worthy of being slaves. According to Aristotle, the [Greek] poets said, “It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians.”

But Bnei-Yisrael was not to treat gerim so, but always “remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” Indeed, throughout history Jews have wandered as gerim in other lands. In Europe, Jews were often classed together with Gypsies. In America, many Jews try to assimilate.

The ger was entitled to gleanings of the harvest and the few olives left on the tree after beating it to bring most of them down, or the small grapes left in the vineyard. Ruth the Moabitess exercised this right as a gera, and Boaz showed compassion by ordering that a little extra be left on the field for her to gather. Thus the gerim were the legal immigrants of ancient Israel—unlike the nokhrim (נָכְרִים), another Hebrew word meaning foreigners—that is, citizens of other countries.

Exodus 12:43 says, on the one hand, “This is the ordinance of the Passover. No foreigner (neichar) may eat it.” On the other hand, Exodus 23:48 says, “But if an outsider (ger) dwells with you, who would keep the Passover for Adonai, all his males must be circumcised. Then let him draw near and keep it. He will be like one who is native to the land.” So the ger could participate in the Passover with Israel—and indeed, the mixed multitude who came out of Egypt with Israel were gerim. TWith regard to the Passover, Exodus 12:49 goes on to say, “The same Torah applies to the native as well as the outsider who dwells among you.”

Some may be tempted to call the Gentiles who dwell in our Messianic congregations gerim. Watcha think? Indeed, that’s the argument of “One Law” advocates—after all, they say, “the same (or one) Torah applies to the native as well as the ger.”

But we don’t want to go there … for many reasons: For one thing, a ger had to be circumcised in order to eat the Passover with Israel. So before inviting everyone to our community Seders, or even the Shulkhan Adonai, should we get out a knife? Nah!

Acts 15: Council of JerusalemThis matter was settled in Acts 15. Peter and Paul gave their testimony about all the Gentiles receiving the Good News of Messiah Yeshua with the in-filling of the Ruach Kodesh. Acts 15:5: “some belonging to the party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the Torah of Moses.”

That have been standard procedure for gerim—during this Second Temple period, ger in Greek became proselutos, which in English became proselyte—who were circumcised. Acts 6:5 notes that one of the first six shamashim was “Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.” However, many Gentiles who showed up around synagogues were called “God-fearers” instead of “proselytes”—maybe they weren’t so keen on a knife around a sensitive place!

Then in Acts 15:19, Jacob (James), the brother of Yeshua and leader of the Jerusalem community, rendered a decision, , “I judge not to trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They should abstain from idols, sexual immorality, eating strangled animals or blood. No circumcision required!

In Galatians 5, Paul insists on this point (verse 2): “Listen—I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Messiah will be of no benefit to you. (4) You who are trying to be justified by Torah have been cut off from Messiah; you have fallen away from grace.” Ever since Abraham and Isaac, brit-milah, the covenant of circumcision was the blood covenant sign for Jews. But now Gentiles could draw near to God by faith in the New Covenant—cut in the blood of Messiah Yeshua on the tree. For a Gentile believer to try to be justified through circumcision or Torah observance would negate the finished work of Messiah Yeshua! May it never be! Paul was so adamant on this point that in Galatians 5:12 that he exclaimed, “I only wish those who are agitating you would castrate themselves!” OK, that’s Shaul’s Jewish hyperbole! But can we agree that we should respect the decision of the Jerusalem council of Acts 15? “One law for all” is just too simplistic & misleading.

However, neither Jacob nor Peter nor Paul were not advocating an end to brit-milah for Jews. Indeed, in the very next chapter after Acts 15— that would be Acts 16—vv. 1-3 report that Paul met Timothy, who had a Jewish mother (such a nice Jewish boy!), but a Greek father who hadn’t circumcised the young man. So Paul took care of it: snip, snip! Such a mensch! I.e., as far as Paul was concerned, Timothy was a Jew, and should be circumcised, so he could participate in the synagogue (and the Temple) as a Jew. But Paul didn’t circumcise Titus or any of his Gentile disciples. Got it? Though access to God through Messiah Yeshua was the same for all, the distinction between Jew and Gentile remains, for God’s purposes of testimony. V’eemru?

In 1 Corinthians 7:18-20, Paul confirms this distinction: “Was anyone called when he already had been circumcised? Let him not make himself uncircumcised. Has anyone been called while uncircumcised? Let him not allow himself to be circumcised…. Let each one remain in the calling in which he was called.” So in the body of Messiah, there’s room for Jews to remain Jews, and Gentiles to remain Gentiles, and have fellowship with each other as one body in Messiah Yeshua. V’eemru?

(So, most Messianic Rabbis don’t convert Gentiles? Can anyone explain why not? [Review 1 Corinthians 7:18-20 and Acts 15:19 above.])

Another problem with gerim is that they remained outsiders or resident aliens in Israel. If a ger/gera married an Israelite, their children were considered Israelite—so the descendants of Ruth—including King David and the Messiah—were Jews, even though Ruth was a Moabitess. Yet do we welcome Gentiles to become members of Beit Simcha, for as Romans 2:10-11 says, “There will be glory, honor, and shalom to everyone who does good—to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” V’eemru?

Consider: why were the gerim were given rights to gleanings and the corners of the field? Most gerim, like the orphans and widows, were generally poor—for they had no property rights; the land was divided up among the children of Israel.

Contrast that situation with the New Covenant. In Ephesians 3:3, Paul speaks about “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” How many of you like mysteries? Cool! Yet Paul explain that it was a mystery, but now the secret has been revealed. But it’s still pretty cool…. Paul continues in Ephesians 3:4-5, “When you read this, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Messiah—which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as it has now been revealed by the Ruach to His holy emissaries and prophets.” OK, Paul, so it was mystery to people before for many generations, but what is this mystery? He tells us in v. 6: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are joint heirs and fellow members of the same body and co-sharers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the Good News.”

Aw… didn’t we know that already? Well, do we appreciate it?

Before, gerim had to be snipped, but now Messiah has cut the covenant in His blood for us. Before, gerim were outsiders, but now Gentiles are fellow members of the same body. Before, the gerim had no property rights, but now they are joint heirs! Together, we are joint heirs—and our inheritance is the Kingdom of God!

Isn’t the New Covenant arrangement way better!

The mystery of the Gentiles has been revealed! Messiah has broken down the barrier between us. As Ephesians 2:14 says, “He is our shalom, the One who made the two into one and broke down the middle wall of separation.” So in Messiah, we are made one: abiding in Messiah as one community. In Messiah’s compassion, we can pray for one another and release His healing. In Messiah, we can understand one another. V’eemru?

Part of understanding each other—which the supernatural knowledge and compassion of Messiah can help us do—is to respect each one’s unique identity, calling and convictions. Gentiles who join Beit Simcha come with convictions about observing Torah, Shabbat and the festivals, too—and we welcome and honor them. For as Romans 14:5 says, “One person esteems one day over another while another judges every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his [or her] own mind.” Neither do we judge those who do not have these convictions. V’eemru?

Grafts on an old olive stump. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Grafts on an old olive stump. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Now let’s turn to Romans 11:24. Earlier in our service, we read about another aspect of the mystery of the Gentiles: “For if you were cut out of that which by nature is a wild olive tree, and grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” In the parable of the olive tree, the natural branches of Jews and the wild branches are Gentiles. When each are grafted back into the same tree, they cause the tree to produce even more fruit and rich olive oil. Let’s not be arrogant toward one another, but gracious, as our Messiah is to all of us. V’eemru?

Now continuing in verse 25, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be ignorant of this mystery—lest you be wise in your own eyes—that a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” The mystery of the Gentiles is connected with a partial hardening upon Israel—God has made room on the olive tree for you Gentiles, so that you may come in your fullness. This fullness is connected with the Great Commission that Yeshua gave his disciples—to make disciples of all nations. In our day, are we seeing the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, all over the world?

Finally, verse 26, “and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Do you see the connection between the Gentiles and the way all Israel will be saved? Will it happen if Gentiles are killing Jews? Will it happen if Gentiles are marginalizing Jews, saying Jews don’t matter or don’t need to have their own identity, let alone their own land?

Or will it happen if Gentiles are provoking Jews to jealousy, with their love for the God of Israel, and proclaiming that the Messiah of Israel is Jewish, and the Torah of Israel is still full of truth and righteousness for all people?

Isn’t that also why the Lord has revived the Messianic Jewish movement, and then drawn many Gentiles to our congregations? Yes, and may the Deliverer come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, soon, even in our days. V’eemru?

Sharon Lindsay read the following excerpt from an email he sent Rabbi Glenn a day before he gave this sermon:


I got your message about the topic of this week’s sermon, and because you are my friend I wanted to share a little of my experience.  Over the 25 years that I have been associated with a Messianic congregation, I have heard a number of sermons on Jews and Gentiles.  No one has ever gotten it right for me.  I am in a Messianic Jewish congregation because of Song of Solomon 2:3-4

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.

For me, it is not about theology or a “Ruth Calling.”  It is about my relationship with the Lord.  He loved me first.  While I dealt alone with a husband who was almost totally incapacitated, a full-time job, and a teenage son, the Lord brought me to Brit Hadasha.  It was a place of amazing healing and ministry,  The Lord removed from me from the legalistic bondage of Sabbath and gave  me Sabbath, a time of intimacy with him.  He gave me the feasts and at every feast, he always shows me something special about himself.  He gave me the gifts of the Spirit, all of this wrapped up in a love relationship.  For me, it is very simple.  I am gentile.  The Lord loves me.  He shares himself with me through many things that carry “Jewish” labels.

When I copied the two verses above, I noticed the first verse in the chapter,

I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.

It seemed like a confirmation.

Thank you for being the man that you are, for seeking Holy Spirit guidance, for making your home available so often, for being kind and approachable. I recognize all this and much more.

Much love in the Lord,

This sermon may not to be reprinted in whole or in part without the express written consent of Messianic Rabbi Glenn D. Blank of Beit Simcha.  Your generous support for our ministry and building project is appreciated!

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