Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wisdom Concerning Sin

"The wicked make no resistance, but abandon themselves to their evil inclination."1

"Sin lieth at the door" (Gen. iv. 7). Happy is the man who can rise above the sin that lieth in waiting for him."2

"Do not befriend an evil man, and no evil will overtake you."3

"The evil enticer is as cunning as the famous dogs of Rome, who feign sleep when they see the baker with the basket of bread approaching the palace, and are thus able to snatch the loaves from the incautious carrier. He pretends at first great mildness, the gentleness of a woman, but soon shows the boldness of a strong man; he begs admittance like an outcast, but eventually becomes master of the situation."4

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."5

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness."6

"So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."7

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses."8

1,2,3,4: Genesis Rabbah
5: Heb. 12:1-4
6: 1 John 3:4
7: 2 Tim. 2:22
8: 1 Tim. 6:10-12

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The "Jewishness" Of The New Testament

We live during a period of time that has seen remarkable new scholarship and discovery within the pages of the New Testament writings, both from Christian AND Jewish scholars. The "Jewishness" of Jesus (Yeshua), once a fact known primarily in the back of a few Christian minds, and slightly more so in the academic world, though hugely ignored by the majority, is now at the forefront of much of what is written and spoken about in our modern time about Jesus/Yeshua...and for good reason: Jesus was (and still is) a Jew! That fact cannot (indeed, MUST not) be ignored, nor forgotten, especially when one seeks to understand His teachings (given in the NT), and how one ought to "...walk according to His commandments..." (see 2 John 1:6), and to "...walk, even as He walked..." (see 1 John 2:6).

 With this in mind, I wanted to re-print the following article form the website  My Jewish Learning, and while I don't agree with the idea that the New Testament is anti-Semitic, the bulk of the article is interesting and informative (for one, Jesus does not condemn ALL Jews, nor ALL of the Pharisees, as many "Jews" and "Pharisees" came to trust in Him as the Messiah. The word "Jews" in the NT, many times [though not all] refers to the  "Judeans", and more specifically, the leadership in Judea at the time - note that "multitudes" followed Him, listened to His teachings, and even hailed Him as King during what is commonly referred to as His "triumphal entry"). 

 So, enough said, here is the article - 

What Jews Can Learn from the New Testament

A rich source for understanding the history of Judaism and the history of anti-Semitism.

 By Martin I. Lockshin

It is daunting to think of the number of books a Jew "must" read in order to achieve Jewish literacy. With trepidation I suggest yet another volume to add to that list: the New Testament (NT).

Anyone who lives in a country with a Christian majority (such as the United States or Canada) should acquire basic knowledge of the foundational literature of the dominant faith. Students of the arts need to know stories like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), and the "passion" of Jesus (i.e. his trial, suffering, and death) or they will be at a disadvantage when studying many works of literature, art, and music. But there are also reasons why Jews, specifically, would gain from study of the New Testament. It is a rich source for a better understanding of Jewish history, Jewish thought, Jewish law, and the history of anti-Semitism.
jews and the new testament
Almost all of the books of the NT were written by Jews, many of them during one of the most eventful periods of Jewish history: just before and just after the destruction of the Second Temple (in 70 C.E.). Very few Jewish writings from that century survive, and none by the rabbis, the representatives of what soon became normative Judaism, since the rabbis of that period felt that their teachings had to remain oral (a position they eventually abandoned). So really the only surviving religious books written by Jews in the first and second centuries are a few of the later Dead Sea Scrolls and the NT.

Ancient Jewish Sects

Any rabbinic text describing the factions and sects of Jews in Israel in the first century were written much later--only after groups like the Sadducees and the Essenes no longer existed.  And while biblical critics teach us that most of the NT authors never actually saw Jesus--and so their descriptions of his words and actions are at best second-hand reports--these authors definitely did record their first-hand knowledge and experience of what it was like for a Jew to live in the Land of Israel in the first century, under the oppressive Roman occupation.  They often described the old Jewish sects and the tensions between them in very realistic ways.

For example, the book of Acts (23:1-10) tells a surprising story about Paul, who realized he was in danger from a Jewish crowd because of his belief that Jesus had been resurrected and that faith in Jesus was the only way of achieving salvation. Paul figured out an ingenious way to escape their wrath:

 "When Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council (verse 6), 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead, I am on trial'." In other words, Paul convinced the crowd that all the opposition to him had originated from Sadducees--who did not believe in the concept of resurrection and who were angry that Paul was teaching that resurrection of the dead would occur. Once Paul made that claim, the book of Acts records that the Pharisees in the crowd rallied to Paul's defense ("We find nothing wrong with this man") and he successfully escaped the angry members of the crowd.

This text creates the impression that, in the first century, the followers of Jesus might have been very similar to the Pharisees--the faction that went on to become the dominant group of rabbinic Judaism.  And there are many other texts in the NT that support this idea.

Familiar Language & Ideas

In fact, the more a modern Jewish reader is acquainted with rabbinic literature, the more he or she is likely to find texts of interest in the NT, and to notice just how similar many NT teachings are to those of the rabbis. For example, Jesus is quoted in Mark as coming to the defense of some of his disciples who had been criticized by the Pharisees for breaking the laws of the Sabbath. Jesus said that they had done no wrong since "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

Some readers over the years have concluded that Jesus was making an antinomian statement, devaluing the Sabbath.  But students of rabbinic literature will recognize that Jesus' words sound very similar to those of Rabbi Yonatan b. Yosef in the Talmud,  explaining why the Sabbath may be desecrated to save a human life (Yoma 85b): "'It [= the Sabbath] is holy for you' means that the Sabbath was handed over to you and you were not handed over to it."  This is not to say that Jesus and Rabbi Yonatan would necessarily agree about the criteria that justify breaking the Sabbath.  But Jesus' remarks appear much more orthodox when read beside those of Rabbi Yonatan.

Much of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) reads, on a rhetorical level, like an anti-rabbinic text. In it Jesus argues that the righteousness of "the Scribes and the Pharisees" (= the rabbis) is insufficient and he challenges his followers to strive for what he considered a higher level of morality. The "Lord's prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13) is introduced by Jesus with a charge to his followers not to pray the way the hypocrites pray in synagogue.

But, in fact, every phrase in the prayer can be found in rabbinic literature.  For example the opening phrase, "Our father who art in heaven" is simply the Hebrew phrase avinu she-ba-shamayim, found in the beginning of many rabbinic prayers.  And the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount are, on most points, very similar to those of the rabbis. Books like The Jewish Sources of the Sermon on the Mount, by Gerald Friedlander, show just how many teachings of the NT, particularly those found in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), are parallel and sometimes even identical to the teachings of the rabbis. 

For example, Jesus claims in Matthew (19:9) that divorce is permitted only in a case of adultery and his position is presented there as being in stark opposition to that of the Pharisees.  Students of Mishnah know that a great rabbi in the generation before Jesus said the same thing (the opinion of the house of Shamai in Gitin 9:10). 

Both Jews and Christians ought to understand that most of Jesus' reported teachings are, from a rabbinic perspective, not particularly revolutionary or even new, and that the rift between Judaism and Christianity is a function of what was said about Jesus after his death.

The Difference between Jews and Christians

Of course, that is not the whole story. Careful Jewish readers of the NT will come to a better understanding of the vast theological differences between Jews and Christians--for example, on the issue of whether God can have a son, and whether God can be incarnated in a human body. Jews will also find interest in reading the virulently anti-Jewish passages of the NT that have resonated in the minds of many Christians over the ages.

It is hard for a Jew not to be taken aback when reading Paul's reaction upon hearing that a group of recent Christian converts were considering becoming circumcised.  Paul castigates them: "If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you" (Galatians 5:2). And, for good measure, Paul expresses the hope that the (presumably Jewish) advocates of circumcision will let the knife slip and mutilate themselves (Galatians 5:11). While modern scholars have tried to contextualize and tone down the shocking words of Jesus to a group of Jews, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44), Jews should know about this and similar statements in the NT because throughout most of the last two millennia, many Christians did believe literally that the Jews were associated with the devil, their father.

Jews can read the NT to see both the strong Jewish values and the strong anti-Jewish values there. Virtually every page of the NT addresses Judaism either implicitly or explicitly. Jews who want to read a "Jewish book" will find much of interest there.
Martin I. Lockshin Martin I. Lockshin, Ph.D., is a professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto. He received rabbinic ordination after studying at the yeshiva founded by Rav Kook in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Faithful Witness

"And so they did; therefore [Faithful] was
presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from
whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be

     They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their Law;
and first they Scourged him, then they Buffeted him, then they Lanced his
flesh with Knives; after that they Stoned him with stones, then pricked him
with their Swords; and last of all they burned him to ashes at the Stake. Thus
came Faithful to his end.

     Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a Chariot and a couple of
Horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched
him) was taken up into it, and straitway was carried up through the Clouds,
with sound of Trumpet, the nearest way to the Coelestial Gate.

Brave Faithful, bravely done in word and deed;
Judge, Witnesses, and Jury have, instead
Of overcoming thee, but shewn their rage:
When they are Dead, thou'lt Live from age to age.

     But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to
prison; so he there remained for a space: But he that over-rules all things,
having the power of their rage in his own hand, so wrought it about, that
Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way. And as he went he
sang, saying,

Well Faithful, thou hast faithfully profest
Unto thy Lord; with whom thou shalt be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For though they kill'd thee, thou art yet alive.

     Now I saw in my Dream, that Christian went not forth alone, for there was
one whose name was Hopeful, (being made so by the beholding of Christian and
Faithful in their words and behaviour, in their sufferings at the Fair) who
joined himself unto him, and entering into a brotherly covenant, told him that
he would be his Companion. Thus one died to make Testimony to the Truth, and
another rises out of his ashes to be a Companion with Christian in his
- The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Joyous Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)

I am posting an update from HaYovel, a ministry of believers in Yeshua that goes to Israel on a regular basis to help with the pruning, and then in the Fall, the harvest of some of the vineyards there.

Shalom, and Happy Feast of Tabernacles!  You may want to pour a cup of tea and settle in, or gather the family around for a read-aloud, because our Heavenly Father has been moving, and teaching us, and I'm excited to tell you all about it!

Right now, the Waller family and the HaYovel harvest team are IN God's chosen land, WITH His covenant people, AT one of His appointed times, and they are blessed to be witnesses to His glory, as they watch His faithful hand of blessing at work! Here's a picture of the current crowd as they are rejoicing before the Lord in keeping the Feast of Tabernacles ("Sukkot," in Hebrew):

crowded sukkah

"These are the feasts of YHWH, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons."  (Leviticus 23:4)

All throughout scripture, we find the theme of holiness. We often think of holiness as something "above" us, but what it really means is "set apart" for God's purpose. He has chosen a holy place - Israel; a holy people - the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and holy times - His appointed feasts, through which to reveal Himself to mankind. And as one of the harvesters said recently, "When something's holy, it's holy forever!"

We only have to look at the story of Isaac and Jacob in Genesis 27 to find a vivid example of the irrevocable nature of a blessing. When Isaac realized that Jacob had "stolen" his blessing, he "trembled very exceedingly" (v. 33), but even he who had pronounced the blessing could not change it or take it back! How much more will our faithful God, who promised and delivered the Messiah to the world keep His Word regarding His covenant people and the land he set apart for them as their inheritance "forever" (Genesis 13:15)? 

Immediately after Abraham was promised this land, he "came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto YHWH" (Genesis 13:18). Our harvesters have had the enormous privilege this week of Sukkot, of taking part in a festival in this same city of Hebron!

A few weeks ago, the group went on a tour of Hebron with a local guide, David Wilder. They were greatly impressed by the stories of the Jewish residents of the city, and by the evidence of the unmistakable hand of God guiding their lives, strengthening their resolve, and granting them grace to face much hardship, as they are surrounded by an enemy who regularly seeks their defeat and death. The atmosphere in Hebron was significantly lighter this week as around 30,000 Jewish Israelis flooded into the city to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot with music, dancing and camping!

The group highlight on the initial tour was standing in the very gates of ancient Hebron, mentioned in Genesis 23, where Abraham bargained for the cave at Machpelah, in which to bury Sarah. For some, even that was topped by the opportunity this week to spend the night near the cave itself, with a few of the men being invited to sleep in the sukkah built adjoining the cave, where lie the bones of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah themselves!! (that's worth a few more exclamation points, isn't it?) !!!!

Here's a picture of the campout under the stars in Hebron, where God poured out His perfect love that casts out all fear, and 100 volunteers enjoyed a peaceful night's rest:

Hebron campout

Oh, and if you are wondering about the harvest, it is proceeding along, amid the celebrations. The morning after the campout, the teams of vinedressers were expected at three separate vineyards to continue bringing in the grapes. The work is much faster these days, with so many hands available to help!

And speaking of hands to help, the dates have been set for the Spring pruning trip (which is much easier to predict than the harvest! ;-) If you are interested in getting in on the sort of excitement we've been describing, please make a note on your calendar that the pruning trip is scheduled for February 1 through March 15. You will want to start thinking about passports and tickets soon. (Unfortunately, ladies, this trip opportunity is just for the men, due to housing and other concerns, so you just get that much longer to save up your pennies for next year's harvest!)

I also want to let you know about an addition to the HaYovel Shop, at www.HaYovel.com. We have added a book you will all want to read, called "The Mountains of Israel," by Norma Parrish Archbold. It is a quick read, and does an excellent job of explaining the history and extreme importance of Judea and Samaria, in relation to the Bible and God's covenant with this Land. If you already have understanding in this area, let me recommend this book as a great resource for you to lend or pass on to someone who wants to know more. This information is vital to HaYovel's message and work, and we love it so much we are offering it for sale at a 20% discount off the cover price! It is only $8 for a copy, so please buy one if you can, and pass it around!

There's so much more to tell, I could go on and on - about the favor the teams have found in the eyes of the vineyard owners and their communities; about one owner who entertained the children with balloon animals, about making flutes in Shiloh, and worshiping at the Tabernacle site on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement!"

I'll leave you for now with a final vision of a grateful recipient of help from HaYovel - Nir, the owner of the Har Bracha vineyard, saying "thank you!":

Nir saying "thanks!"

And thank YOU again for your prayers and support!

Be blessed in the Name of Yeshua,

Amy Mucklestone