Rav Shaul/Paul – His Heart’s Cry for Israel
We all experience times in our lives when we are profoundly disturbed by a given situation and our first response is often one of grief or anger depending on what has happened. This is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of being powerless to do anything significant to influence or change the situation that is confronting us. Such was the situation faced two millennia ago by a Jewish rabbi called Rav. Shaul (Hebrew), also known as the Apostle Paul (his Greek name).
However he did not throw his hands up in despair and declare, “There is nothing that I can do!” He moved into action and using his influence, penned a lenghty letter to help clarify things. In a section of his letter to the believers in Rome Paul gave an explanation as to how he understood the situation concerning his fellow Jews and what outcomes could be expected in helping to resolve the deep trauma that not only he, but others were confronting (Romans 9 – 11 – chapter divisions were added later ). He did not let things get the better of him and just give up. This same letter to the Romans is one of the key texts in our contemporary age in which we endeavour to understand the place and plight of the Jewish people and their relationship to G_D.
What were the issues that were causing this deep anxiety?
Let me endeavour to explain:
In Romans chapters 9 – 11 Paul gives a powerful testimony to his on going love and concern for his fellow Jews and in this section of his letter to the Roman believers he gives very specific details about how that relationship between G_D and Israel, though fractured and interrupted is bound to be repaired and restored.
He continues, that with such a heritage as the Jewish people have, they can neither get away from the person of Yeshua/Jesus, nor will he forever be a stranger to them.
Paul is not alone in his concern as to how Jews and Jesus may rediscover their common origin and future destiny together. This reality is demonstrated in the work of Jewish and Israeli artists, writers, poets and theologians who continue to grapple with the person of Jesus/ Yeshua and his Jewishness.
We have seen this fascination with the luminous figure of Jesus in the artistic work of Mark Antokolsky, Boris Schatz, Jacob Epstein (sculptors), Mauricey Gottlieb, Ephraim Moses Lilien, Ze’ev Raban, Reuven Rubin, and Marc Chagall (painters).
Martin Buber, Franzec Rosenzweig, Leo Beck (philosophers), Geza Vermes, Rabbi Pinchas Lapide and David Flusser (theologians), and Chaim Potok (writer), are just a few Jewish Artists and thinkers who have confronted the question of Jesus and the Jewish people.
A covenant can be broken and interrupted, however in Israel’s case even though that agreement has been damaged it will be restored. This has to do with the grace of G_D and not primarily Israel, yet there must be a response to that divine initiative and a willingness to say, “yes” to G_D.
Jewish obsession with Jesus is part of the fact that G_d’s desire for the restoration of Israel is a reality and his pursuit of Israel will lead to their ultimate full inclusion in the family of G_d. May I even call it a magnificent obsession?
However, as Paul says, “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on G_d’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, for I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on [G_d] who shows mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the hearts of whomever he chooses (Romans 9.14-16 &18 ESV).
This growing interest and realization among Jews worldwide is part of the divine plan and no amount of human resistance to this glorious reality will thwart the divine will. The hardening and softening of human hearts is the hands of the divine potter who moulds and fashions the clay.
With this in mind, we must not underestimate the place of prayer. It is both important and of great value. Some have said, that prayer moves the hand of G_d, so together with the Apostle Paul in Romans 10.1 may we say,
“My brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer for them, is that they may be saved” (NRSV).
We may in fact go further and say at this point that the need for such a discussion has become urgent, because the very reliability of G_d’s plan for the Jewish people needs clarifying. It would appear that because the majority of the Jews have not embraced Yeshua/Jesus as Messiah and Lord, that G_d has failed to fulfil his covenant promises. For if the truth that G_d’s purpose for Israel has been frustrated, then what hope is there for all those who call themselves believers? This affects both Jewish and Gentile believers. And if G_d’s love of Israel has ceased, what reliance can be placed upon Paul’s conviction that nothing can separate us from G_d’s love in Messiah?
If the state of the Jewish people’s divine calling is at stake, then how may we proceed in having a biblically sound approach in formulating our response? We discover that the Apostle Paul, having pondered this question long and hard has some insightful ideas to help us in our quest:
According to Paul’s reasoning, G_d chose Israel as a vessel to display his mercy and not his wrath. His long-suffering attitude towards her demonstrates this fact, despite her rebelliousness, for he has chosen to show lovingkindness and mercy towards Israel.
His ultimate purpose is for her salvation, but that does not let her off the hook cart-blanche. Israel must bear responsibility for her failure to acknowledge his chosen one, the Messiah Yeshua HaMashiach/Jesus the Messiah. G_d’s showing of his mercy is not based upon any glory of Israel’s own as though they deserved it. It is all of grace, i.e. that is his free unmerited favour towards humankind. Both Jews and Gentiles are included, however, in this context it is Israel that is the focus of our discussion.
In Ephesians 2:10 we read:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Messiah Yeshua/Christ Jesus for good works, which G_d prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
This imagery of the divine craftsperson shaping and forming us into a vessel [people] for a particular purpose must not be missed.”
What is your destiny?
This question is discussed in this helpful article from a website jewishanswers:
[The writer’s response to an inquirer is done in the form of a dialogue (conversation) between himself and the other person].
Destiny – Beshert
“Beshert means ‘meant to be’ (destiny)…fatalism. I thought Jews are not fatalists. I feel I am steering my own ship in life…”
“That’s one great question you ask (it’s even more impressive considering you asked it of your own volition and not because you were somehow predestined to).
You wrote that “Beshert means ‘meant to be’ (destiny)…fatalism.” Actually, beshert doesn’t imply fatalism at all. After consulting a language expert, I discovered that “Beshert” actually comes from the same root as ‘shern’, to shear (as in a beard) and in middle-high German, “bescheren” meant more or less “to give”.
So beshert in Yiddish means something that G_d has given you. According to Torah thought, all your natural intellectual and physical abilities are beshert for you, as are things like the parents to whom you were born and the country in which you were born. All these things are part of the unique potential with which G_d endowed you. From the dawn of creation ‘till the end of days, no other person will ever have exactly the same potential as you.
Of course, what we do with that potential is another matter. That’s our responsibility. Every human being possesses free will and each of us is responsible for developing our G_d given potential: this is one of the most important principles of Judaism; perhaps the most important.
The reason why G_d gave each of us a unique potential is because He has a unique position assigned for us to do our irreplaceable part in perfecting the world. Each of us receives exactly the inner potential we need in order to be equipped to meet the all the life challenges that G_d designed especially for us.
According to my encyclopaedia, fatalism [predestination] is the “doctrine that all events occur according to a fixed and inevitable destiny that individual will neither controls nor affects.”
Nothing could be farther from the Torah (Scriptural) truth. Our individual wills certainly control and affect things greatly. Our free willed moral decisions make us into who we really are. It can’t be our innate potential that makes us who we are, because that potential was, in a sense, predestined (at least we had nothing to do with it). But what we CHOOSE to do with our potential, every day and every moment, is who we truly are…”
In Jewish understanding “your destiny – Beshert” is particularly significant in who HaShem (G_D) has chosen for your life long marriage partner.
Returning to our theme, of G_d’s destiny for Israel and the Jewish people, while it certainly does involve the choices that that we make, he is a Sovereign L_rd and his divine purpose will be fulfilled.
So then, the calling of G_d, is not only to include Jews, but Gentiles as well. While Jewish choosiness was the original decision by the Almighty that he made, the Gentiles are also now included in his plan. These vessels of mercy are not only from among the Jews, but also the Gentiles.
The presence of Gentiles within the believing community is a sign and pledge that the realm of rejection, of Ishmael, Esau, Pharaoh and the unbelieving Jews themselves, is not finally shut out from the mercy of G_d.
As previously said in our last Shalom Radio UK programme that Lord Sacks (former Chief Rabbi of the UK), answers the question of divine choice:
Why Isaac, not Ishmael? Why Jacob, not Esau? These are among the most searing questions in the whole of Judaism.
It is impossible to read Genesis 21, with its description of how Hagar and her son were cast out into the wilderness, how their water ran out, how Hagar placed Ishmael under a bush and sat at a distance so she would not see him die, without feeling intensely for both of them, mother and child. They are both crying. The Torah tells us that G_d heard Ishmael’s tears and sent an angel to comfort Hagar, show her a well of water, and assure her that G_d would make her son “a great nation” (Gen. 21:18) – the very promise he gave Abraham himself at the start of his mission (Gen. 12:2).
Likewise in the case of Esau. The emotional climax of the Scriptural [Torah portion: Toldot] occurs in Genesis 27, at the point when Jacob leaves Isaac’s presence, having deceived him into thinking that he was Esau. Then Esau enters, and slowly both father and son realize what has happened. This is what we read:
Then Isaac trembled with a very great trembling, and said, “Who then was it who hunted game and brought it to me and I ate it before you came and I blessed him?—and he will be blessed.” When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried an intensely loud and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me too, my father!” (Genesis 27:33-34)
These are among the most powerful descriptions of emotion in the whole of the Torah, and they are precisely the opposite of what we would expect. We would expect the Torah to enlist our sympathies for the chosen: Isaac and Jacob. Instead it almost forces us to empathise with the un-chosen: Hagar, Ishmael and Esau. We feel their pain and sense of loss.
So, why Isaac and not Ishmael? Why Jacob and not Esau? To this there are two types of answer. The first is given by midrash [Rabbinical commentary method – Christian hermeneutics approximates this]. On this reading Isaac and Jacob were righteous. Ishmael and Esau were not…
In the case of Esau, the most pointed verse is the one in which he agrees to part with his birthright in return for a bowl of soup (Gen. 25:34). In a staccato series of five consecutive verbs, the Torah says that he “ate, drank, rose, went and despised” his birthright.” Yet this tells us that he was impetuous, not that he was evil.
If we seek the “deep plain sense,” we must rely on the explicit testimony of the Torah itself – and what it tells us is fascinating. An angel told Hagar before Ishmael was born that he would be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:12). He became an expert archer (Gen. 21:20). Esau, red-haired, physically mature at a young age, was “a skilful hunter, a man of the field” (Gen. 25:27). Ishmael and Esau were at home in nature. They were strong, adroit, unafraid of the wild. In any other culture they might have emerged as heroes.
And that is the point. We will only understand the Torah if we recall that every other religion in the ancient world worshipped nature. That is where they found [g]od, or more precisely, the gods: in the sun, the moon, the stars, the storm, the rain that fed the earth and the earth that gave forth food.
Even in the twenty-first century, people for whom science has taken the place of religion still worship nature. For them we are physical beings. For them there is no such thing as a soul, merely electrical impulses in the brain. For them there is no real freedom: we are what we are because of genetic and epigenetic causes over which we have no real control. Freewill, they say, is an illusion. Human life, they believe, is not sacred, nor are we different in kind from other animals. Nature is all there is. Such was the view of Lucretius in ancient Rome and Epicurus in pre-Christian Greece, and it is the view of scientific atheists today.
The faith of Abraham and his descendants is different. G_d, we believe, is beyond nature, because He created nature. And because He made us in His image, there is something in us that is beyond nature also. We are free. We are creative. We can conceive of possibilities that have not yet existed, and act so as to make them real. We can adapt to our environment, but we can also adapt our environment to us. Like every other animal we have desires, but unlike any other animal we are capable of standing outside our desires and choosing which to satisfy and which not. We can distinguish between what is and what ought to be. We can ask the question “Why?” [Christianity accords with Judaism in its view of Creation and the Creator].
After the Flood God was reconciled to human nature and vowed never again to destroy the world (Gen. 8-9). Yet He wanted humanity to know that there is something beyond nature. That is why He chose Abraham and his descendants as His “witnesses.”
Not by accident were Abraham-and-Sarah, Isaac-and-Rebecca, and Jacob-and-Rachel, unable to have children by natural means. Nor was it mere happenstance that G_d promised the holy land to a landless people. He chose Moses, the man who said, “I am not a man of words,” to be the bearer of His word. When Moses spoke G_d’s words, people knew they were not his own.
G_d promised two things to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: children and a land. Throughout history, most people at most times have taken children and a land for granted. They are part of nature. They constitute the two most basic natural drives: the Darwinian imperative and the territorial imperative. All animals have children, and many have their own territory that they mark and defend.
Jews – one of the world’s smallest people – have rarely been able to take children for granted. Abraham’s first recorded words to G_d were: “O L_rd G_d, what can you give me seeing that I go childless?” and even today we ask, Will we have Jewish grandchildren? Nor have they been able to take their land for granted. They were often surrounded by enemies larger and more powerful than themselves. For many centuries they suffered exile. Even today they find the State of Israel’s very right to be called into question in a way that applies to no other sovereign people. As David Ben-Gurion said, “In Israel, to be a realist you have to believe in miracles.”
Isaac and Jacob were not men of nature: the field, the hunt, the gladiatorial game of predator-and-prey. They were not Ishmael and Esau, people who could survive by their own strength and skill. They were men who needed G_d’s spirit to survive. Israel is the people who in themselves testify to something beyond themselves.
Jews have consistently shown that you can make a contribution to humanity out of all proportion to their numbers, and that a small nation can outlive every empire that sought its destruction. They have shown that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, and rich when it cares for the poor. Jews are the people through whom G_d has shown that the human spirit can rise above nature, testifying that there is something real that transcends nature.
That is a life-changing idea. We are as great as our ideals. If we truly believe in something beyond ourselves, we will achieve beyond ourselves…”
[Lord Sack’s full article – see: https://rabbisacks.org/isaac-jacob-toldot-5778/ ].
Paul continues to elaborate on the issue of Israel’s destiny by citing a passage from Hosea the Prophet,
As indeed he says in Hosea chapter 1,
25“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living G_d.’”
Paul uses this passage to argue that the Gentiles are also to be included in the family of G_d.
27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel[c] be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the L_rd will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the L_rd of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Even so, while the majority of Israel, Paul’s contemporaries, had failed to embrace Yeshua as Messiah, in rabbinic thought, when reflecting upon the passage from Hosea says, ‘that G_d is rich in mercy towards his people even in the midst of his wrath against them’ (The International Critical Commentary, Romans vol. ii, p. 500).
While the vast majority of Israel, stumbles over the stumbling stone (rock of offence), Yeshua/Jesus, there is at the present time a remnant according to divine grace that are included in the Messianic kingdom.
Who are these Jews that are the remnant?
When we think of a remnant it usually refers to a piece of material at the end of the roll of cloth, so in the context of the Jewish people, we may assume that those who are called the remnant are not the majority, but a small portion of the Jews.
Who are this remnant? How have they been identified and what role and place do they play as part of the Jewish people?
They have severally been called, Hebrew Christians; Christian Jews, Jewish Christians; Hebrew Catholics; Completed Jews; Fulfilled Jews; and latterly, Messianic Jews or in Hebrew: Yehudim Mishachim.
I wish to focus on the name Messianic Jews and elaborate as to how one may explain what this means:
A Messianic Jew is a Jew who has embraced Yeshua/ Jesus as Messiah and L_rd, and still identifies himself or herself with being Jewish. I must stress this is a self-definition and is not universally accepted, though there is a growing trend even by some Jews who do not accept Jesus as their saviour to use this term and to recognise those who follow Yeshua as being Jewish.
They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
Romans 9.33 “as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
This passage from Romans correlates with Isaiah 28.16 ‘therefore thus saith the L_rd G_D, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone of sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste’ (Isaiah 28.16 RV).
Instead of simply trusting in the security that the rulers of Jerusalem could offer, those who truly trusted in G_D, they would find a lasting and sure security in Jerusalem. Human intentions, even those meaning the very best for those who put their trust in them, may fail, but in trusting in G_D, it can never fail.
I am reminded of a poster that I saw in a Kosher Butcher shop in North London of a large US dollar bill with the words, “In G_d we trust. All others pay cash.”
In G_D we trust:
These words, “In G_D, we trust” written on every dollar bill, are noble intentions and the Founding Fathers of the United States of America did include many devout Christians who expressed their trust in the sovereign grace of G_d.
May all of us, Jews, Christians, and all people of true faith in whatever religion they adhere to, put their trust in the TRUE AND LIVING G_D, and make the joyous discovery that Yeshua is the true and living Messiah of Israel and Saviour of humankind.
Shalom Radio UK
sponsored by MTMI – Messianic Teaching Ministry International