The Chosen People by Katz/Cohen (2/2)
The Chosen People: Chosen for What? (2/2)
Examining the Jewish Predicament in an Increasingly Hostile World
by A.Katz and C. Cohen
Our Rejection of God
If Scripture authenticates itself in the heart of every reader who loves and respects truth, must not our history as Jews reveal the tragic story of so cataclysmic a forfeiture as the rejection of God?
How far will this yet continuing rejection pursue us as misfortune, as the baleful reports of grisly tragedies in Israel, and rising anti-Semitism among the nations, now suggest? Losing our covenant consciousness as a people has not relieved us of its responsibilities, or its stated penalties. Moses included us, as with all previous generations of Jews, at Mt. Sinai:
Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath [i.e., its blessings in obedience and its curses in failure], but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not here with us today… (Deuteronomy 29:14-15).
According to Scripture, God yet waits for a future recognition from us that will come in the Last Days when we will rightly view our calamities in this covenantal context:
So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion upon you, and…will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, in order that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:1-3a, 6).
God's rejection of us can be remedied only by our return to Him.
It is apparent, considering our present condition, that this "circumcision" of our hearts is yet future. What is not apparent to us, and far removed from our secular consciousness, is the recognition of this word as actually being God's word. It shows that our disasters issue from a rejection of God, remedied only by our return to Him in genuine repentance! To this, virtually all the prophets testify:
For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away, I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver. I will go and return to My place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me (Hosea 5:14-15).
In the light of our predicament, are we now willing to look at that single most riveting Messianic prophecy, which gives every appearance of being rabbinically excluded, for obvious reasons, from all synagogue Haftorah readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12? Should we not read it as if our life depended upon it?
Here are the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
Behold, My servant will prosper, he will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, so his appearance was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. Thus he will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; he has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.
Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him.
He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death, because he had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth.
But the Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; if he would render himself as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand. As a result of the anguish of his soul, he will see it and be satisfied; by his knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot him a portion with the great, and he will divide the booty with the strong; because he poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12).
Of whom does this speak?
Jewish authorities have insisted that it describes the redemptive suffering of the Jewish nation itself. Certainly it is suggestive of much of our historical experience, and perhaps more ominously, that which is yet to come. But who is the "he" who is despised and forsaken of men, and the "we" who have hid our faces from him? Who is the "he" who bore "our" griefs, who was pierced through for "our" transgressions, crushed for "our" iniquities? Are we not the sheep who have gone astray, turning every one to our own way? Has not the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him?
Do consider that this prophecy was written seven centuries before the advent of the Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth, and even before the formation of the Roman Empire, whose distinctive execution through crucifixion this sufferer is evidently bearing (a look at Psalm 22 confirms this). Surely, in Isaiah 53, it could not be said of us Jews that we "…had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his [our] mouth," since it was because of "the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due" (v.8). Note the genius of the inspired Scriptures in that both the Prophets and the Psalms so plainly declare this event centuries before its time.
…when Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall My Righteous Servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities…because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53.10b-12).
He "shall be satisfied" evidently signals this servant's life-after-death continuation! Indeed, everything hinges upon the resurrection of this Suffering Servant.
However unfamiliar this is to us, it is nevertheless, not "Christian," or gentile per se, but indisputably and Hebraically Biblical!
The logic of what we have been saying so far brings us now to a place considered 'out of bounds' for us as Jews.
Could our difficulty be, not the consideration of what we think to be an alien, novel and "goyish" New Testament, but our failure to perceive what had preceded it, what had actually been foretold in our own Hebrew Scriptures? Having failed in the first, a failure that yet prevails, must we not necessarily fail in the other? The unbroken continuum of the two Testaments is lost to us because we have not adequately embraced the first!
Are we not still refusing, now as then, even to consider the exhortation of the despised Galilean to his rejecting contemporaries to search the Jewish Scriptures, of which he himself said, "it is these that bear witness of me" (John 5:39)? He declared that if we had believed Moses, we would believe him, for Moses wrote of him (John 5:46). Could it be that our mounting tzuris (trouble) is again a consequence of that very same stubborn inconsideration?
How may we now be better able to consider the unfamiliar opening statement of the Gospel of John:
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus [the] Messiah (Christ in Greek, Y'Shua Ha Mashiach in Hebrew) (chap. 1:17).
Could it be that the Law's demands, requiring our complete observance, and by that very process, is intended to bring us before God in an acknowledged, broken dependency? This recognition would necessarily then precede the enablement given by the same God as a "gift" (grace) to those few who seriously seek righteousness with God through the Law, but necessarily fail to obtain it. Therefore the New Testament says,
He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right [authority] to become children [sons] of God, even to those who believe in his name (John 1:11-12).
Paul, the Jewish apostle, brilliantly explicates the connection between the Law given through Moses and the grace that came through Jesus, in his Letter to the Romans,
…in order that the requirement of the Law [Torah] might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh [a rules-guided, human determination to fulfill divine commandments], but according to the Spirit…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:4, 8).
For Paul, as for Jesus, the Law is holy and is not to be abrogated or annulled. Rather, Jesus says,
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill (Matthew. 5:17).
Unhappily, much of historic Christianity has lost, rejected, or never understood, its continuity with its Hebrew roots. This, tragically, has served to discourage us as Jews from even considering the place of Jesus in our Jewish heritage.
What we would suggest now, though it flies in the face of our deepest Jewish prejudices, is that though the Church that historically bears his name has shamefully misrepresented him, the issue of this "messianic pretender" is, more than we are presently able to realize, the very issue of God. Life and death decided by one's own disposition toward him!
Never has so much hung, then, on the recognition of a single person!
The recognition of these truths, as well as their fulfillment to us, waits upon a bestowal of God's Spirit, Ruach, promised to us by the Prophets-the very medium of Divine revelation and empowerment for which our scholarly and rabbinical elites are an inadequate substitute! Therefore, Jesus mystified a sincerely inquiring Nicodemus, "a ruler of the Jews," when he said, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [the Word of God] and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit… You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things?" (John 3:5-6, 10).
Likewise, Jesus astonished the congregation at his own synagogue in Nazareth by reading the appointed text for that Shabbat from Isaiah 61:1,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel [good news] to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
And he, astonishingly concluded by saying, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v.21). With this, he proclaimed the very inauguration and authorization of his messianic call!
Consider, if you will, that if it is true, as he himself consistently affirmed, that he was "sent of the Father," what must the consequence of his rejection be to a people who persist in rejecting him, as those to whom he was especially sent? What a slight to the Father whose voice, according to the record, came from heaven over the transfigured Messiah, "This is My beloved Son…hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5b). For what reason do we disclaim this account? Can this be a fulfillment of the inspired warning foretold us by Moses:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall come about that whosoever shall not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:15,18b-19)?
What blessed provision have we also spurned in persisting in that same refusal to consider him who said, "I came that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10b)
What true Pesach (Passover) can we have if he is, as John the Baptist proclaimed by the banks of the Jordan River, "Behold the [Paschal] Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29b). Could John have been considering that:
…the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
If there is no blood shed to atone for our sins, what valid Yom Kippur, required by the Law, remains to us after the destruction of the Temple, Priesthood, and Sacrifices?
This being so, can rabbinically determined "mitzvot," fasting, and a day's Yom Kippur synagogue attendance, be an acceptable substitute in the sight of God? Or are these merely expediencies, conceived by well-meaning men, upon the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, which seemed to offer coherence and continuation for a now dispersed nation? In this, they also avoided the only other option, already chosen by tens of thousands of Jews, who understood the sacrificial death of Yeshua Ha Mashiach (Jesus the Christ) as God's once-and-for-all Yom Kippur. These same alternatives confront us today!
Jesus grieved, both as Messiah and Prophet, foreseeing the consequences that would befall us in our rejection of him. He foresaw prophetically not only the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the nation, but also the tragic events that would pursue us into the Diaspora.
And when he [Jesus] approached, he saw the city [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying,
If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes…and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation (Luke 19: 41-42, 44b).
This was the historical and critical point of disjuncture and departure from Biblical, Messianic Judaism.
Either the crucified Messiah was the once-and-for-all Atonement to which the Biblical sacrifices had pointed, and for which purpose he said he had come, or the Jewish nation is left with the cruel dilemma of the Mosaic requirement rendered inoperable by the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the priesthood. This continues as an unresolved issue to this day.
Surely, then, the Jesus who warned of our being liable for every idle word we speak would not lightly exclaim,
…for unless you believe that I AM He, you shall die in your sins [i.e., without necessary atonement] (John 8:24b).
Foreseeing the unspeakable anguish of such loss, as well as the prospect of terror of an endless torment, the divinely instructed apostle Paul proclaims,
The wages of sin is death [eternal and irremediable separation from God], but the free gift of God is eternal life in Yeshua Ha Mashiach Adonoi [Jesus the Christ, our Lord] (Romans 6:23).
Why, dear reader, if you have patiently borne with us thus far, should you not consider these things? What perceivable error do you find to justify rejecting them? However relativistic one's mindset, can God in His divine prerogative not insist upon a scandal of particularity centering in this One? What if that same One specifically fulfills the over 300 prophecies that speak of His birth, its time and location (Micah 5:2), and His suffering, rejection, death and resurrection (Isaiah 53), and His yet future and imminent return when, "…they will look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10b)? And learn that "the wounds between Your hands" were "those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends" (Zechariah 13:6b)?
The New Testament confirms these prophetic themes when it declares,
…these [things] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John: 20:31).
Yes, we know that "Judaism does not believe" that God has a Son. But with all due respect, may we ask, what is this Judaism? Is it some sacrosanct entity greater than God, or rather, a compendium of rabbinical opinion framed for two thousand years in conscious opposition to, and repudiation of, the messianic claims of Jesus? Let us be sure we do not invoke "Judaism" to sidestep our obligation as menschen (responsible individuals) to consider issues of truth for which we are eternally liable.
Are we so persuaded that our traditions' concept of God apprehends the full richness of biblical monotheism? What of a possible composite tri-unity, whose definition by men, must always be less than its ineffable glory? Might God not be One [Echad], even as we are, made in His image-body, soul and spirit-and yet be One?
Many of us who are formed in the Jewish tradition will have to consider the words of Him who was also the author of the renowned Sermon on the Mount: "Don't you know me…even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father…and I and the Father are One" (John 14:9). He spoke repeatedly of having come from the Father, and that "He should depart out of this world to the Father…that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God" (John 13:1b, 3f). Ought this not to give one, as it has us, sufficient reason to re-examine one's conception of God?
Without question, if these things are true, it will turn one's world upside down. All our trusted categories, will necessarily be challenged. Except we be willing to bear that consequence, how shall our allegiance be ultimately tested in the foremost commandment to "love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength"?
Will you yourself not ask the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob about the crucial claims Jesus made for himself? Will you not choose to rise above that instinctive, historically-conditioned enmity to His name should they prove true? Scripture soberly informs us, "There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12b). Will you not trust and test the Word of God by acting upon it?
For as the Scripture says,
Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek [Gentile]: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him (Romans 10:11-12 AV).
Even the famous "doubting" Thomas, who said, "Unless I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of His nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25b), upon seeing the resurrected Christ, let out the astonished gasp, "My Lord and my God!" (v.28b)! Jesus, forsaking a once-and-for-all opportunity to squelch a preposterous and blasphemous exaggeration, acknowledged it as being perfectly appropriate to Himself, adding, "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29b).
Someone wrote, "The climax of sin is that it crucified Jesus." Think on it. We, a people, who have but a scant consciousness of sin (what need for atonement then?) ought to ponder that God, knowing how sin disguises itself, became Himself our victim, in order to reveal, as nothing else could, the inexorable truth of our condition! Is it not significant and revealing that the best of Roman Law, coupled with the best of Jewish piety, put to a cruel death the long-awaited object of our faith? Tragically, not only were we too blind to recognize Him, but as a nation were sufficiently offended and threatened by Him, making His removal by death a necessity! As the Scripture says, "Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not" (Isaiah 53:3).
What person or nation can be absolved from such sin as this? If this be so, what passage of time can in any way mitigate our personal and corporate guilt? Our defiant declaration, "His [Jesus'] blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25), has haunted us throughout our history more than we can know.
If He be the Son of God, "very God and very Man," as ancient creeds declare, we have committed an appalling sin. Not the sin of a failed moment's error, mind you, but rather the summation of all sin, chronic and ages old, and repeated again in a Judaism that, to this day, prefers the rulings of a rabbinical "elite," and of "ideas comfortably usable in modernity." Against this, ironically, stands the timeless Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-6 that either defrocks Jesus as ultimate blasphemer, or shows Him to be the very One for whom, in the wisdom of God, the ancient creed was given! As our painful history testifies only too well, "Be assured your sins will find you out." (Numbers 32:23).
Have we been the "Cain" to this "Abel"-moved to murderous envy of a "Son" of the Father more virtuous than we, whose greater, altogether righteous sacrifice, accepted by the Father, leaves our own sacrifice unaccepted and unacceptable? (Genesis 4). Ours, the inept product of our own sweat and industry; His, the ultimate, acceptable blood-sacrifice, satisfying the Holiness of God, which cannot be placated for the terror of sin by anything mankind can humanly or religiously provide!
Have we, like Cain, become fugitives and vagabonds in the earth, hidden from the face of God, marked, but all too often not spared? The comparison is altogether too close to be comfortable! Ought we not be stricken with sorrow, seeing our likeness to that first murderer? May we not bear, ever so remotely, any resemblance to Cain's penalty! Better yet, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered [saved]" (Joel 2:32a).
But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:8-10).
Thus, the Apostle Paul, Hebrew of the Hebrews, did not forsake his Jewishness. Nor do we, in proclaiming the good news of our Messiah,
For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16b AV).
Lord, grant mercy to me, the reader in this once-and-for-all moment. You know well how every power in the world, the flesh and the devil have conspired against You. Grant me, in this moment, a respite from all that has barred us, as Jews, from calling upon Your Name. Give me some measure of the same humility that You Yourself bore nakedly in that public shame on the Cross. Thank You for making this crisis of decision possible for me. In Yeshua's holy, and till now, untried name, I ask it. Save me. Amen.
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Give the king knowledge of Your way of judging, O God
and the spirit of your righteousness to the king's son to control his actions.
Psalms 72:1 Amplified version.
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