Shabbat, April 25, 2015
As you may recall, the Director of Christian Education of St Paul’s UCC Church in Cherryville asked me to give a lecture on the history of Judaism, in two hours. My response was—only two hours?
So I content myself with rehearsing an overture in four movements:
I. Covenant. II. Exiles & Returns. III. Synagogue & Church. IV. Restoration.
I composed and played the first two movements two weeks ago; today I present the last two—which is the greatest comeback story in all history: the Restoration of Israel.
The stunning thing is, it was all foretold from the beginning, right in the Torah of Moses. Deuteronomy 30:3–4, “then ADONAI your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion on you, and He will return and gather you from all the peoples where ADONAI your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the heavens, from there ADONAI your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.”
The return from the exile to Babylon began, as Jeremiah foretold, after 70 years; but the restoration from the exile to the ends of the heavens began after nearly 2 millennia! And not without a lot of resistance! How mightily did the nations seek to squash the Jewish people.
To appreciate the restoration of the remnant of Israel, we must first review the desolation of Israel. A key to this story is divergence of the Church and the Synagogue. How did it happen that so many people believe—in both church & synagogue—that you cannot be Jewish and believe in Jesus?
Originally, the Jesus movement was Jewish. Yeshua was Jewish and so were all of his disciples.
In Acts 2 on Pentecost (Shavuot), the five thousand people who believed in Yeshua were all Jews, and they were immersed in mikvaot (immersion pools) at the base of the Temple stairs.
In Acts 21:20, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, the elders of the Jerusalem congregation said to him: “You see, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah.” Think about it: Acts reports that here were tens of thousands of Torah-observant Jewish believers in Jerusalem alone. Amazing! But what happened to them?
Two major traumas in the history of the Jewish people also profoundly affected Jewish believers.
First, the Roman siege of Jerusalem culminated in its total destruction in 70CE. About a million Jews perished in this war. After the Jewish revolt failed, the Roman general then Emperor Titus paraded thousands of Jewish slaves along with the menorah and other booty from the Temple—still visible in the Arch of Titus found in Rome today.
Undoubtedly many Jewish believers suffered along with their people. Many heeded the warning that Yeshua gave in Matthew 24:16, “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.”
Such an escape did not endear believers to other Jews— even though the Talmud records the escape of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai in a coffin, and then flattering Titus as the next emperor of Rome!
Rome, which had distrusted the Jews, now scorned them, and imperial anti-Jewish attitudes gradually crept into teachings of Gentile Christians.
The epistle of Barnabus (not the Jewish Barnabus of Acts), dating to the end of the first century, claimed that the Jews never received the covenant at Sinai (because Moses broke the tablets) so that the covenant with God was hidden and later given to Gentiles through Christ, and then urged abandonment of dietary laws, by allegorizing each prohibited animal with a particular vice, etc.
A second Jewish rebellion against Rome around 130CE made the situation worse. Jewish believers may have supported the rebellion at first, but when Rabbi Akiba declared that Bar Kochba, the leader of the revolt, was the Messiah, the believers could not support a false Messiah.
Bar Kochba lost, but he was notorious for slaughtering other Jews whom he regarded as traitors….
Around this time, an additional prayer condemning the minim or heretics was inserted into the Amidah prayers that is a central part of the daily synagogue service.
The Birkat ha-Minim prayer originally read: “And for heretics (Hebrew minim) let there be no hope, and may all the evil in an instant be destroyed and all Thy enemies be cut down swiftly; and the evil ones uproot and break and destroy and humble soon in out days. Blessed art You, LORD, who breaks down enemies and humbles sinners.”
Later, the word minim was changed to malshihim or slanderers. The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that in the early Christian period, “”minim” usually indicates the Judæo-Christians, the Gnostics, and the Nazarenes, who often conversed with the Rabbis on the unity of God, creation, resurrection, and similar subjects.”
The Mishna (the 2nd century part of the Talmud) says, “If the chazzan [cantor] makes a mistake in any other of the blessings they do not remove him, but if he makes a mistake when saying the Birkat ha-Minim they remove him because he is suspected of being a min himself” (B’rakhot 28b).
In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr, a church father writing around 160 CE, refers to a curse that Jews pronounce on Christians during their prayer—probably the Birkat ha-Minim.
Trypho was apparently a Jewish survivor of the Bar Kochba revolt. Justin launched a polemic against the Jews as the losers: “Your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all your festivals …were imposed upon you, because of your sins and the hardness of heart. The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of your land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem.”
In his recent book Border Lines, Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin observes: “It is no accident that the term min first appears n the rabbinic textual scene at approximately the same time that the term heresy shifts in meaning from philosophical choice to demonized other in the work of Justin… Both Justin and the Mishna were engaged in the construction of the borders of orthodoxy via the production of others who are outside them. These are the heretics, the minim.” (p. 66)
In the 2nd through 4th centuries, the Rabbis and early Church fathers were both involved in the project of defining borderlines for themselves, with orthodoxy as “in” and heresy as “out”. Tertullian, a Church father writing at the end of the 2nd century, blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. Anti-Jewish bias pervaded the Church, so that a dividing wall separated it from its Jewish roots.
The council of Elvira in 306 CE ordered Christians not to share a meal with Jews, not to marry Jews, not to use Jews to bless their fields, and not to observe the Jewish Sabbath. The council of Nicea in 325 CE moved the celebration of Yeshua’s resurrection away from Passover. The Council of Antioch in 341 CE prohibited Christians from celebrating Passover with the Jews. Laws were promulgated forbidding marriage or commerce with Jews or Jews proselytizing Gentiles.
Jerome, who produced the Latin “Vulgate” translation of the Bible wrote, “Jews are incapable of understanding scripture and should be severely punished until they confess the true faith.” Augustine wrote that wrote that the Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of church over synagogue.
The medieval church scorned the Jews in its cathedrals.
Crusaders marching to vanquish Muslims stopped along the way to herd Jews into synagogues and then burn them to the ground while singing, “Christ we adore thee.”
Christian lords and kings chronically banished Jews from Christian realms: all Jews expelled from France in 1182 and several times after wards; expelled from England in 1290 (and not allowed back for nearly four centuries); multiple times from Germany, from Spain in 1492.
Martin Luther wrote diatribes against the Jews: “First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom…. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament before God….”
Alas, Hitler and his henchmen quoted Luther to justify their atrocities to fellow Germans.
The utter devastation of the Holocaust stunned the western world for a brief moment, so that even
the United Nations voted for the establishment of a Jewish State—wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!—in part, because there was no other place to send the Jews who survived the death camps.
When some Jews, fleeing the Russian pogroms at the end of the 19th century, returned to the land, they found a wasteland.
In 1867, Mark Twain visited & wrote: “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes…desolate and unlovely … Nazareth is forlorn … Jericho the accursed lies a moldering ruin. [In the Valley of Jezreel,] there is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent‑‑not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation.”
Thus many ancient prophecies had been fulfilled, such as Ezekiel 33:28-29, “I will make the land a desolation and a horror. The pride of her power will cease. The mountains of Israel will be desolate, so that no one will pass through.’ They will know that I am ADONAI, when I have made the land a desolate waste, because of all their abominations that they have committed.”
Yet the ancient prophets also retold the restoration of the land as well as the people of Israel. Isaiah 27:6, for example, foretold: “In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit.”
Today, Israel is a major exporter of oranges, apples, cherries, kiwis, avocados, guavas, mangoes, tomatoes and cucumbers, melons and watermelon. I remember the watermelon … they grow it near Ben-Gurion airport … delicious! Israeli experts in agricultural technology have blessed much the Third World.
The Jewish National Fund and Messianic Israel Forest Project have replanted forests in the land. The Bible helped them decide what kind of trees to plant and where to plant them. Would a barren hillside be a suitable location for the “Forest of Martyrs”? Israelis found the answer in Joshua 17:15, which showed that a forest had existed there. “Knowing that trees grow more easily where trees have flourished before,” explained Professor Zohary of Hebrew University, “we rely on the Good Book.”
In Ezekiel 36:1 God commands Ezekiel (1), “Prophesy to the mountains of Israel.” They were in bad shape. (3) “The nations “made you desolate & crushed you from every side.”
The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Moslems, the Turks had systematically devastated the land of Israel until the mountains had become completely barren and treeless, desolate. (8) “But you, O mountains of Israel, you will put forth your branches and bear your fruit for My people Israel; for they will soon come.” We we live in the day of the restoration of the land of Israel. As we saw on our tour, it is flowering!
Moreover, with the restoration of the land comes with the restoration of the people. (10) “I will multiply your population…” Recently population of Israel grew past 8 million, including 6 million Jews. I hope you all catch the significance of 6 million Jews? (24), ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” Miss Israel was Ethiopian. Messianic Jews in Israel come from Russia and Ukraine, Ethiopia and Morocco, France and Iran, Argentina and even the USA—just like in Acts. This restoration of a people from all over the planet to this one place is unprecedented in history.
But there is more… (26), “will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you; I will take the stony heart out ofyour flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Notice that there is an order: first a physical restoration, then a spiritual restoration. Not only will the barren mountain bear new fruit, but the stony hearts will receive a new spirit. If that isn’t a vivid enough picture of physical and then spiritual restoration, Ezekiel chapter 37 follows it up with the vision of the valley of dry bones, when first the dry bones are reassembled, then the Spirit of God causes them to live again, and cry out to God, we are cut off! Restore us!
The modern Messianic Jewish movement began after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. Hundreds of young American Jewish hippies began having spontaneous visions of Jesus. They showed up in churches, but kept searching—somehow they knew that believing in Jesus didn’t mean they weren’t supposed to give up their Jewish heritage—and began establishing Messianic Jewish congregations where Jewish believers could remain faithful to Zion & to Jewish customs.
Messianic Jews believe that the Bible foretells this spiritual restoration of the remnant of Israel. We’ve seen it foretold in the Torah and the Prophets. We also find it the New Covenant. In Romans 11:1-2, Paul writes, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He knew beforehand.” So much for the Replacement Theology of Justin, Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine and Luther! Paul insisted: God has not rejected His people, Israel. Amen?
Paul then introduces the faithful remnant (which may also be found in the ancient prophets). When Elijah complains that “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life ,” the divine response to him is, “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So Paul concludes in Romans 11:5, “So in the same way also at this present time there has come to be a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.”
Messianic Jews believe we are a remnant of God’s gracious choice for our generation. Moreover, in spite of much opposition, it is a remnant that is steadily growing in numbers & impact. There are hundreds of Messianic Jewish congregations all around the world. In America, in the former Soviet Union and now in Israel, the number of Messianic Jews is now in the tens of thousands. Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians are praying together in Israel! Moreover, many Christians are dropping the anti-Semitism of Replacement Theology and taking to heart the call of the prophets to help in the restoration of Israel.
In Romans 11:13-14, Paul challenged his Gentile readers: “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Insofar as I am a emissary to the Gentiles, I spotlight my ministry if somehow I might provoke to jealousy my own flesh and blood and save some of them.”
Alas, for centuries, too may Gentiles have ignored this calling. They have tried provoking Jews through reviling and coercion. Was that really what the apostle had in mind? Rather, Paul was hoping Gentiles would provoke Jews with respect and godly love. That has worked much better, as I can testify myself!
Paul then gives the analogy of grafting branches onto on olive tree: if wild branches (Gentiles) can be grafted onto a tree (Israel of Moses and the Prophets), how more so may the natural branches (Jews) be grafted back into their own tree! (Romans 11:24). In such a time as this, may the hope of the prophets and apostles be fulfilled! Amen?
God promised Abram in Genesis 12:4, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” There are so many ways Israel blesses the families and peoples of the earth.
Here are a few to mention:
- Israel Intel created the 8088 processor for the first PC, MMX, the Centrino and Intel’s wireless chips.
- The first instant-messaging program, icq, was created in Israel and sold to AOL.
- The software technology for the Kindle e-reader was developed in Israel.
- Israeli inventor Barry Landa pioneered 3-D printing and Israeli company Objet is a leader.
- Mobile-eye fitted in automobiles prevents impending collision.
- A patented smartphone technology, originally created for the blind, has now been built into a steering-wheel-mounted controller and app to help sighted drivers use smartphone apps on the road without looking at their handsets.
- Grown Fish Anywhere Advanced Technologies grows saltwater fish in the Negev desert and now has a plant in New York state producing 100 tons of sea fish a year.
- Israeli scientists report blend of pomegranate juice and dates provide maximum protection against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- Israel’s IDE Technologies is the world’s in desalinization—turning sea water into drinking water—with 400 desalinization plants in 40 countries.
- If you like energy from the sun, check out Israeli technology, including the first solar window.
Baruch HaShem! (Praise the Name!)
Yet the greatest of all are the spiritual blessings given to those who trust in the God of the Bible. Amen?
For Daniel 11:32-33 says, “The people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits and they who understand [or, who are wise & have insight] among the people shall instruct many.” Therefore, let us pray for the spiritual restoration of Israel—for “the restoration of all the things God spoke about long ago” —for Tikkun Olam—for the kingdom of God and His Messiah Yeshua—just as Jewish believers in Jerusalem in the 1st century and now in the 21st century are praying.
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!