Tearing out the Tares

One vital point in understanding the parable of the wheat and the tares is that the two plants are very difficult to distinguish until they bear fruit.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed [tares] among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the [tares] appeared also.

And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have [tares]?”

He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”

So the servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”

But he said, “No, lest in gathering the [tares] you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the [tares] first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

Matthew 13:24-30 ESV
(I changed “weeds” changed to “tares” in this quote for clarity.)

When I was growing up, I heard this parable taught many times in Sunday School. The point made most often was this: Watch out for those tares. They look like real Christians, but that’s only a disguise on the outside. God knows what’s really in their hearts, and at the judgment, he will be able to tell them apart. The wheat will go to heaven, while the tares will go to hell. So don’t be like the tares. Be a real Christian, all the way through.

That’s good advice and all true as far as it goes, but it’s not complete. What about the man’s instructions to his servants?

Don’t pull out the tares, lest in doing so, you root up the wheat along with them.

I quoted the full parable in Matthew 13 at the top of this article from the English Standard Version, but I think this is one of those few cases where the ESV is clearly wrong. Certainly a tare is a kind of weed, but it’s a specific kind of weed, and that fact is important to the parable. I changed that word in the quote to make sure that point isn’t lost.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary says this about the tare:

Darnel; at first impossible to distinguish from wheat or barley, until the wheat’s ear is developed, when the thin fruitless ear of the darnel is detected. Its root too so intertwines with that of the wheat that the farmer cannot separate them, without plucking up both, “till the time of harvest.” The seed is like wheat, but smaller and black, and when mixed with wheat flour causes dizziness, intoxication, and paralysis; Lolium temulentum, “bearded darnel”, the only deleterious grain among all the numerous grasses. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

The landowner in Yeshua’s parable didn’t want his servants to weed out the tares because of three distinctive features:

  1. The tares are nearly indistinguishable from the wheat throughout most of their lifecycle. A worker, being unable to tell the difference, might pull up wheat and tares indiscriminately.
  2. The roots of the tares intertwine with those of the wheat, so that, even if correctly identified, removing them might still remove neighboring wheat plants.
  3. When they begin to ripen, the tares finally become evident to even the most untrained worker. All of the plants can be cut together and the tares separated out by hand.

Besides the Sunday School lesson I referenced above, what can we learn from this?

There are three kinds of believers that can be described as tares:

  1. Hypocrites who appear like saints to everyone else, but who harbor secret sins.
  2. The licentious who justify their behavior using alternative translations or interpretations of Scripture.
  3. Heretics who profess extra-Biblical revelation or who rely on obscure, mystical interpretations of Scripture to support a belief that could never be derived from a plain reading of the text.

Did you notice that I worded each of those to influence your opinion against the people being described?

Christians (and Jews and every other religious group…maybe I should just say “people”) have a long history of attacking their own over seemingly minor disagreements. We let our emotional attachments to our own opinions trump reason, knowledge, and love, and in the end, all we accomplish is destruction. We are like the servants in Yeshua’s parable, but instead of asking him what we should do, we take it upon ourselves to pull up what we perceive to be tares.

Let me give you some examples of the three types I listed above.

Secret Sins

A deacon at your church is respected and liked by the congregation. He has served honorably for many years. But recently you saw him exchange envelopes with a strange man in a restaurant. Was it a drug deal? A blackmail payoff?

This man looks like wheat to everyone else, but now you’ve seen something that makes you wonder if he might be a tare. Should you expose him?

What has he actually done? Did you see drugs, money, photos…anything actually bad at all? In reality, all you saw was two men exchanging envelopes. It could be a contract, landscape design, or project specs. You don’t really know anything at all.

God’s Law doesn’t authorize us to snoop in other people’s private lives. (See “So Shall You Purge the Evil from Your Midst“.) If someone is flaunting their sin or if it becomes public knowledge somehow, that’s another story, but if someone has sin in their closet that nobody knows about except him and God, then leave it be. You don’t know what unwarranted damage you might cause by meddling where you don’t belong.

Differences of Opinion

Reasonable and well-meaning people will have different opinions on what God’s instructions mean. That’s normal. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

One person believes they should never eat meat sacrificed to idols, while someone else believes it’s okay as long as you don’t participate in the ritual itself. They both might feel very strongly that they are right and that the other person is engaging in legalism or idolatry. They both love God with all their hearts and do all they can to help their neighbors, but based on this one issue, they are ready to excommunicate each other.

They have both identified the other as a tare, when in reality they are both wheat. Being wrong about something doesn’t condemn a person to hell or make them into a wolf in sheeps clothing. It just means that they’re wrong about something.

We all believe things that other people don’t, even things that seem to us to have clear and incontrovertible support from Scripture. Investigate why others believe the way they do, and you will almost certainly find that they have good reasons, and aren’t in rebellion against God. When we find ourselves on the opposite side of an issue from knowledgable and godly people, we need to step back and acknowledge that we might be wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to change your mind. It only means that you need to extend a little grace to your brothers and sisters in Yeshua when the Bible isn’t quite as black and white as we would like it to be.

Religious Dogmas and Esoteric Theories

Infant baptism or only adults? Sprinkling or immersion? Trinitarianism or unitarianism? Yeshua or Yahusha? Cessationism or continuationism? Young earth creationism or theistic evolution? There are countless more examples of controversies within Christendom that have no real impact on how we look or behave.

If you keep the Sabbath and don’t bow down to any graven images, does it really matter if you believe that God does or doesn’t have semi-autonomous parts? Nope.

If you don’t murder or steal, what practical difference does it make if you call the Messiah Jesus, Yeshua, or Yahusha? Zilch.

Does believing that the earth is 6000 years old or 5 billion years old matter if you honor your parents and respect your neighbor’s property? Not a bit.

Does reading the Bible in English make you any more or less a Christian than reading it in Latin? Christ didn’t read the Scriptures in either one, so I can’t see how it could.

These are matters of vain philosophy and imagination. They are myths and just-so story telling. Yet so-called devout Christians have killed each other over these issues because they refused to heed the parable of the wheat and the tares. In attempting to uproot what they believed was a tare, they caused hatred and division in the Body of Messiah. They destroyed lives, both innocent and guilty, and they continue to do so today by accusing their brothers and attacking one another over relatively trivial matters.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The secret things that belong to God are sins that are done in secret as well as those things that God has not chosen to reveal to us in any detail.

The Bible hints at many things that are not explained in depth and never addresses many others. For example, there are a number of instances in the Old Testament in which an angel is referred to as God. There are seven spirits of God. In mystical language, John said that Yeshua is God, and then there is the Holy Spirit, but the Scriptures also say that God is one. So is God one, three, or seven? We are created in God’s image, yet God doesn’t have a body. We have a body, so how can we be made in the image of a God that doesn’t? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and the plain fact is that neither does anyone else. God is God, and he is beyond human comprehension. He has not chosen to give us a detailed description of himself or his anatomy, and if he had, we shouldn’t expect to understand it anymore than an amoeba would understand ours.

Only pride insists otherwise.

When we insist, in the guise of stamping out heresy, on attacking one another over questions to which nobody could possibly know the answers or that don’t have any practical application, then we are like hamfisted workers, carelessly tearing out good wheat with bad tares because we think we know better than our master.

In our zeal to purify the Body of Messiah, we have tainted it by filling our hearts with hatred.

There are things that are clear in Scripture. In the context of the parable, we might say that thistles are easy to tell from wheat. Someone with spiritual eyes to see and hands to touch will never confuse the two. If you can uproot what is clearly evil without harming what appears to be good, do so. This is also part of our master’s instructions.

Open homosexuality, murder, theft, idolatry… Only those who are are in active rebellion against God and his Law will defend them. These things mark the truly reprobate from the righteous, and we are commanded by God to remove them from our communities to prevent their spread. We aren’t authorized to go looking for them in people’s closets, but if they are revealed, then we have to deal with them.

Speculations about esoteric matters that have not been revealed to us can be interesting, even enlightening at times, but are more often simply a waste of time. As long as they don’t lead people to reject what has been revealed or to behave contrary to God’s commands, they aren’t worth fighting over and driving off good people.

In the end, even every stalk of grass will be known by its fruit, and sometimes we just need to let them all grow and leave it to the Master to sort them out.

The master wanted his servants to wait for the harvest because there are things they don’t know. They can’t see the roots of those tares. They can’t see the DNA that truly defines one from the other. There’s a good chance they can’t even tell the difference between the wheat and the tares by looking directly at them.

Those things that God has not chosen to reveal to us are his business, not ours.

The Pursuits of Righteousness and Blessing

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
Deuteronomy 28:1-7

Deuteronomy 28 is infamous among students of the Torah for its short list of blessings for obedience to God’s commands and very long list of curses for disobedience–you have to skip ahead to Isaiah 60 to get a fuller picture of the blessings.

A chiasm in Deuteronomy 28:2-7 that highlights the blessings of obedience to God's Law.

This chiasm in verses 2-7 caught my eye as I was reading this chapter last week:

  • V2 – You will be overtaken by blessing.
    • V3 – You will be blessed wherever you are.
      • V4-5 – Your labors will be blessed in the fields (agriculture) and cities (manufacturing).
    • V6 – You will be blessed wherever you are going.
  • V7 – Your enemies will be overtaken by curses.

If we are careful to keep all of God’s commandments, then blessing will overtake us, while curses overtake our enemies. We will be blessed whether we work in the fields or in the cities, whether we are going out into the world, or coming home to Israel. Whatever our professions might be, our labors will be rewarded.

I want to tell you three things about this chiasm and about the whole chapter in general.

First, I want to address the apparent imbalance in the amount of text given to blessings and obedience.

The curses aren’t given in more excruciating detail than the blessings because God is all lightning and brimstone with no patience for human foibles. To the contrary, God is extraordinarily longsuffering and generous in his forgiveness. He takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of the wicked, but longs to bless them through their repentance. No, there are other reasons for the lack of detail in the blessings.

True blessing is harder to perceive than curses. Defeat, poverty, disease, and barrenness…those things are easy to see and understand. But blessing is more and more subtle than victory, riches, health, and fruitfulness. Blessing comes also as love, contentment, honor, and purpose. This is one possible reason why the blessings for obedience aren’t enumerated: because they aren’t so easy to name and might look different to each recipient. Every child understands the threat of punishment, but most children will never understand the true value of their parents’ blessings until they are parents themselves.

Second, notice how this chiasm begins and ends: with pursuit and capture.

In the opening, we are overtaken by blessings in our pursuit of righteousness. In the closing, our enemies are overtaken by curses (defeat) in their pursuit of cursing us. This is related to the disparity of text dedicated to blessing and cursing.

Blessings are good things, by definition, and there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be blessed in every way possible. Good health, profit, wisdom, children… These are all things that we should desire, but they must be kept in proper perspective. Balance can never be achieved by pursuing blessing, only by pursuing righteousness.

The light of God’s Word and Love desires to shine through us into the world, but it can’t do that if we are only focused on ourselves. The ultimate goal of every righteous man must be to become an effective conduit of God’s Light into his community and even the whole world. By every mitzvah–every good deed–that we perform, we show God’s love to one another as well as to him, because as Yeshua pointed out, to love God and to love one’s neighbor are together the cornerstone of the whole Law.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:40

Through pursuing greater righteousness (not for salvation, but out of love and gratitude toward our Creator and Messiah), we will be overtaken by the blessings of God, while those who pursue rewards for themselves and curses for their enemies will be overtaken by curses themselves.

Third, see where the blessings will come and how: in the city and in the field, in the fruits of agriculture and in the fruits of manufacturing, whether you are coming or going. 

The point is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living nor where you do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a farmer, builder, teacher, or accountant, whether your work is done on the road or at your kitchen table. What matters is who you are (Israel, both native and grafted in) and how you execute your labors (according to all of God’s commands).

It’s good to get your hands in the dirt, but no one is more righteous for being a farmer rather than a pastry chef. It’s also good to desire and to work for good things, so long as they never supplant God as our ultimate focus. By blessing God and our brothers and sisters, we bless ourselves.

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Matthew 6:33

Blessings come in many guises, but they come to all people who love God and keep his commandments before all else.

Storming the Gates of Hell

We don't always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.
Jamie Carper in the studio at WAIF FM in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1960-2018

My brother Jamie died last week.

He fought cancer for almost two years, holding on long enough to provide as much financial security to his family as he could, and to spend a few of his last few days with his parents. Having settled his affairs and given a little comfort to mom and dad, he finally let go.

But the impact his life had on the world is here to stay.

For more than thirty years he promoted Christian music of all kinds and sometimes performed himself. He was part of the worship team at church for almost his entire adult life. As a DJ, sound man, musician, and organizer, he helped untold artists gain an audience and touched uncountable lives in ways great and small.

I knew all of that before, but until now I had no idea how deep and how signficant his influence had been.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been contacted by several people who told me about the enormous impact that Jamie had on their lives simply by being a friend and introducing them to spiritually healthier music choices without being judgmental about who and where they were at the time. At his memorial last Saturday, one person after another spoke about how they were in a bad place in life until Jamie opened his home or his studio or just treated them respectfully like real human beings. The love he showed to friend and stranger alike drew people in a better direction and changed their lives.

He was a good man and remains so today in the care of the Father.

Hearing those very personal stories reminded me of this conversation that Yeshua had with Peter:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 ESV

I’m not going to get into all the many and divisive interpretations of this passage. (Although you have to appreciate the fortuitous coincidence of Jamie’s primary focus being on rock music and it’s many close relatives.) Instead, I want to talk about a way that you and I can assault the very Gates of Hell in our daily lives. I’m not talking about casting out demons or praying in tongues. I’m after something more immediate and relevant to each and every one of us on any given day.

Let me start with an example from my own experience.

If you spend enough time on social media, you’re bound to encounter people with some pretty strange opinions. For example, there is a significant number of people who believe that the earth is flat and that NASA and the United Nations have been conspiring to fool us all into believing it’s round. They believe that this conspiracy somehow keeps people from believing in God.

There are also people who believe very strongly that the proper spelling of Jesus’ name is a matter of eternal salvation. If you don’t spell it Yahashuwa (or whatever), then you’re not calling and believing on the right name, and so you’re not saved.

I think that’s absurd nonsense, and I have very little patience for people who push those ideas. I’ve tried arguing with them, mocking them, and ignoring them, but in the end, I usually unfollow them so I don’t see them anymore.

But I learned something very important this past week from my brother’s many friends: Even people who say and believe stupid stuff need to be heard and loved. They’re already working hard to cut themselves off from the rest of the body of the Messiah, and they don’t need my help. Making them invisible doesn’t take away their loneliness and confusion.

Now maybe I won’t be able to convince many of them that the earth is round or that Jesus loves them no matter how they pronounce his name, but Jamie didn’t stop reaching out and loving people just because 99% of them didn’t respond. The few, with whom he was able to connect and develop a lasting relationship, were ready for what he had to offer, but they didn’t necessarily advertise themselves. Jamie had to talk to them all in order to find the few who were ready. They responded and they were snatched right out of the very bowels of hell because Jamie didn’t fear to stroll through the gates, listen to a bit of music, and share some food and conversation.

Sodom was a vile city that needed to be destroyed, but righteous Lot lived there. What would have happened if God had said, “I don’t need to go in there. I’ve already heard the stories. Let’s just burn it all.” Lot would have been lost.

Jericho needed to fall, but we can’t abandon Rahab.

Moab was a wicked nation…but remember Ruth.

We don’t always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

God is love, and upon this rock he will build his kingdom from a multitude of lonely, hurting people, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against you and me loving them as Yeshua loved us.

Sabbath-Honoring Labor

 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

But if you had known what this is, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned those who are not guilty.
Matthew 12:7

“Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:36-39

Yeshua plainly refuted the idea that there is no hierarchy or precedence within God’s law. There are greater commandments and lesser commandments. Some laws must be held higher than others in order to resolve apparent conflicts such as healing or feeding the poor on the Sabbath.

Most Christian theologians divide the law into two or three parts (civil, moral, and ceremonial), and they usually dismiss the ceremonial as irrelevant to life after the cross. That division is incorrect and does a great deal of harm. It would be much better to divide the law the same way that Yeshua did: by beneficiary. All of God’s laws have a beneficiary, and usually more than one: Self, Others, or God.

Keeping the Sabbath benefits all three.

It honors God, strengthens the community, ensures a day of rest for even the lowest laborer, but keeping the Sabbath is also self-serving. It gives you an excuse to say no.

  • No, sorry, I can’t help you move on Saturday.
  • No, I can’t come into the office on Saturday.
  • Sorry, I have an appointment at 7 tonight.

There is nothing wrong with that. God gave us all of the law for our own benefit. For many people, especially in a society that doesn’t recognize God’s appointed times, it is a vital opportunity to say no without causing hard feelings.

Other laws are aimed at the benefit of others and take precedence over the former. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years. And in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” A slave owner is required to care for the physical and spiritual welfare of the slave.

Like the Sabbath, the laws governing Hebrew slavery fit all three categories: They honor God by honoring his image and his chosen people. They benefit the slave owner by ensuring the good will of his slaves and the health of his community. However, the slave reaps the greatest benefit. His servitude was limited in duration, scope, and rigor. He is assured generous compensation for his service. In fact, if he sold himself into slavery, he will be paid at least twice, three times if he has a God-fearing master: first when he sold himself, second during the course of his service, and third when he is released.

There are some laws that appear to benefit only God, but we must be especially careful with those, because their purpose is often obscure. Sometimes they seem like empty ritual, and it’s easy to let them slide. Sometimes we can only guess at the purpose of these commands, but it’s an illusion that they are only for God’s benefit.

Every commandment that God has given also benefits the law-keeper, his family, and his community. “You shall have no other gods before me,” for example. Worshipping other gods is a waste of effort and invites sickness and disaster, but primarily we worship only one God because that is what he wants.

Sacrifice is another example. Blood sacrifices were never about satisfying God’s blood lust, for he has none. Like Yeshua’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of animals was to bring us closer to God. Hence, blood sacrifice is mostly for the benefit of the one bringing it. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” God said, but we need both.

If you encounter an apparent conflict in obeying God’s laws, he has already given us the standard which we are to follow. Choose the path which honors God first, then that which honors others, and finally that which honors ourselves.

When you aren’t sure, choose life. All of God’s instructions are designed to restore us to right, healthy relationship with both God and man. Therefore, Christians and Jews alike consider those who save and restore lives to be exempt from the strictest interpretation of the Sabbath.

To heal on the Sabbath is to keep it, even if such healing requires great physical exertion.

The End of the Law

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Did Jesus come to put an end to the Law? Or is he the aim of the Law?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4

I can’t tell you how many times someone has quoted this verse to me as “proof” that Jesus (also known as Yeshua) annulled God’s Law. At first glance, it looks like a killer argument. QED. How much clearer could it be?

Eh. Not so fast.

Remember that not a single word of the Bible was written in English and, by the very nature of human languages, no translation can ever be perfect. The key word in this verse seems to be “end”, so lets take a look at the original Greek.

τελος γαρ νομου χριστος εις δικαιοσυνην παντι τω πιστευοντι

The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.

Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:

1) end
1a) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
1b) the end
1b1) the last in any succession or series
1b2) eternal
1c) that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
1d) the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose
2) toll, custom (i.e. indirect tax on goods)

Termination of the Law would seem to be a reasonable translation, but Thayer gives us a number of other options too, including “aim” and “purpose”. “The aim of the Law” also seems pretty reasonable to me. Coincidentally, the English word “end” can be interpreted either way as well.

But is telos used in the sense of “aim” and “purpose” anywhere else in Scripture? Several places, in fact, by Paul, James, and Peter.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In the above three quotes, I bolded the English words used to translate the Greek word telos. Can the Lord ever be terminated (James 5:11)? Is our faith terminated by our salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9)? Should we stop avoiding pointless controversies once we have attained love (1 Timothy 1:5)? Of course, not! In these cases, translating telos as “termination” would be absurd.

So there is ample precedent for translating telos as aim or purpose instead of end, but how can we know for certain which one Paul meant in Romans 10:4?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Do not think that I have come to abolish (καταλυσαι: tear down, destroy, dissolve, overthrow) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (πληρωσαι: make full, complete, carry out, perfect) them.
(Matthew 5:17)

Does it really make sense for Yeshua to say “I have not come to tear down the Law, but to put an end to it”? No. If we interpret Romans 10:4 to mean that Yeshua ended the Law, then we make his own words in Matthew 5:17 into nonsense. However, if we interpret Romans to say “The aim of the Law is Christ…”, it agrees with Matthew perfectly: Yeshua did not come to terminate the Law, but to perfect it.

“The end of the Law” means exactly the opposite of what many people today claim that it means.

And if my word isn’t good enough, here’s what a few venerable Christian commentaries have said concerning Romans 10:4:

  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown: For Christ is the end — the object or aim.
  • Matthew Henry: The design of the law was to lead people to Christ.
  • Geneva Bible: The law itself points to Christ, that those who believe in him should be saved.
  • Adam Clarke: The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found.
  • Albert Barnes: It also means the design or object which is had in view; the principal purpose for which it was undertaken.
  • John Wesley: The scope and aim of it. It is the very design of the law, to bring men to believe in Christ for justification and salvation.

QED, indeed.

So, let’s have an end of this foolish controversy so that we may allow the Law to fulfill its manifold purposes: to teach men about sin and their need for a Savior, to illustrate the identity and purpose of that Savior, and to show us how to love God and one another. All of these together are the telos of the Torah.

 


I recorded a video to go with this article!

In Yeshua’s Instructions There Is Neither Jew nor Greek

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

Some people insist that Yeshua’s (Jesus) words in this verse don’t necessarily mean that we should be keeping and teaching Torah (aka God’s Law) either because 1) Yeshua said people who throw out Torah “will be called least in the kingdom” and therefore must still be in the kingdom or 2) these words were spoken to Jews alone and were not intended for Gentile Christians at all.

On point one, I agree completely. Those who have put their faith in Yeshua for their eternal salvation are part of the kingdom of heaven even if they reject God’s Law and teach others to do the same, provided they do so from an honest misunderstanding of scripture and not from rebellion against God.

However, on the second point, we have a more serious difficulty. I’ll set aside whether or not the statement is factual or not for the moment and move on to the implications. This one verse (19) is part of a longer bit of oratory known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, all of which was addressed to a single gathering of people. No portion of the sermon was separated out as being addressed to one subset of the gathering more than another subset. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other lines from the sermon:

  • v3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • v11 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
  • v13 – You are the salt of the earth…
  • v14 – You are the light of the world…
  • v22 – I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…
  • v28 – I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • v37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
  • v41 – If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • v44 – I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

There’s much more, but I’m sure you recognize most or all of the passages listed above. I hope the problem is already apparent to you: If verse 19 is intended only for Jews, then verses 3 and 44, etc., are also intended only for Jews, and Gentile Christians are free to hate their enemies and retaliate against those who persecute them.

Almost everything Yeshua is recorded to have said in all four Gospels was addressed to Jews. The idea that anything he only said to Jews was only intended for Jews requires that non-Jews ignore almost the entire text of the Gospels. How absurd!

The Apostles wrote that we ought to live according to Yeshua’s instructions. He himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

And here is one thing that Yeshua instructed:

(14) You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15)  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  (16)  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  (18)  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (19)  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (20)  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:14-20

Many translations put a break and a topic heading in between verses 16 and 17, but these two statements are placed together for a reason. Verse 16 speaks of “good deeds”, and verse 17 defines those deeds: Following God’s commandments as detailed in the Law and the Prophets.

This was addressed to a group of people who were probably mostly Jews with a few Gentiles, but they were intended for everyone who might wish to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So go do them, and, when you have accumulated some practice and understanding, teach them. I think I have some articles around here somewhere on how to do that.

God’s Loving Graciousness

God is love.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We hear these statements all the time. We smile, nod our heads, and enjoy the warm fuzzies.

But do we know what they mean?

We think we do. We assume we do…. But remember what happens when we assume? Yep. You guessed it.

I didn’t want to assume that I knew what Moses and John and other Biblical writers meant by “love”, so I spent some time over the last few weeks looking at the various Hebrew and Greek words that are translated into English as love and how they are used in Scripture.

Most of us who grew up in a Christian church have probably heard more than one sermon about the difference between agape and phileo. Agape is supposed to be unconditional, godly love, while phileo is a lesser, brotherly love, but I think that might be making too much of it.

(Just FYI. I’m not an expert in any Biblical languages. I have only a small knowledge of Hebrew and rely extensively on concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries.)

In many cases, “like” is a perfectly adequate translation of phileo in the Greek Scriptures with no need to add anything mystical to it, while agape is closely analogous to the English word “love”. Certainly *unconditional* love would fall within the scope of agape, but to say that agape always refers to that kind of love is an overstatement.

Genesis 34:3 says that Shechem loved Dinah, whom he had just kidnapped and raped. The translators of the Septuagint, who understood ancient Greek far better than anyone alive today does, chose to translate the Hebrew word for love in this verse as agapao, the verb form of agape.1 Clearly Shechem did not have unconditional love for Dinah.

Since the Apostolic writings were essentially exposition on the Torah and the Prophets in the context of Greek and Roman culture, I think we can get a very good idea of what these words meant to them by looking at their corresponding Hebrew words in the Old Testament.

There are essentially 3 Hebrew words that are frequently translated as love in the Old Testament.

  • אהב (H157), pronounced as ahab
  • חשׁק (H2836), pronounced as chasak2
  • חסד (H2617), pronounced as chesed2

Ahab is usually translated as “love”, and its meaning is almost identical to the English: a strong, favorable emotion linked to desire, longing, and affection. Accordingly, it can refer to the love of God for his people, a father for a son, a man for his wife, and anyone for his favorite food. Ahab has a wide range of meaning. It can be used in almost any context in which you would use the English word love.

Here are some ways in which this word is used in the Old Testament3:

  • Genesis 27:4 – The food that Isaac loves (ahab).
  • Genesis 34:3 – He loved (ahab) the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
  • Leviticus 19:18 – Love (ahab) your neighbor as yourself.
  • Deuteronomy 11:1 – Love (ahab) YHWH your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.
  • Isaiah 61:8 – God loves (ahab) fair and honest judgment.

Chasak is a more difficult word to translate, but the concept doesn’t seem to be very difficult to understand. (Did I mention that I’m not a scholar of ancient languages?) Essentially, chasak is an attachment to something, whether of one physical object to another or, in a metaphorical sense, an emotional attachment to do or have something. It’s translated into the Greek equivalents of the English words choose, elect, smith (as in a metal smith), and take.

Here are some examples of chasak in the Old Testament:

  • Genesis 34:8 – Shechem longs for (chasak) Dinah.
  • Exodus 38:17 – The pillars of the court are fastened (chasak) by silver.
  • Deuteronomy 7:7 – God set his love (chasak) on Israel.
  • 1 Kings 9:19 – Solomon desired (chasak) to build.
  • Isaiah 38:17 – In love (chasak) God delivered.

The third word, chesed, is closer to what people usually mean when they talk about the Greek word, agape, but different Bible translators favor different English renditions. Some of the most common translations are “loving kindness”, “steadfast love”, and “mercy”. It is usually translated into Greek as eleos, instead of agape or phileo.

I’m going to give you more examples of chesed from the Old Testament, because frankly I think it’s a much more interesting and profound word, and I’m going to spend more time talking about it:

  • Genesis 19:19 – You have shown me great kindness (chesed) in saving my life.
  • Genesis 24:49 – Show steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness to my master.
  • Genesis 47:29 – Promise to deal kindly (chesed) and truly with me.
  • Exodus 15:13 – In your mercy (chesed) you led the people whom you redeemed.
  • Numbers 14:18-19 – YHWH is slow to anger, and of great mercy (chesed).
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 – Showing steadfast love (chesed) to thousands of those who love (ahab) me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 – The faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments
  • Judges 1:24 – Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly (chesed) with you.
  • 2 Chronicles 35:26 – The acts of Josiah, and his kind deeds (chesed).
  • Jeremiah 33:11 – YHWH is good, for his steadfast love (chesed) endures forever!
  • Daniel 9:4 – God keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments.
  • Jonah 4:2 – You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (chesed), and relenting from disaster.

Kindness is a dominant theme in the use of chesed throughout the Bible, but kindness is both too simple and too broad of a concept. Chesed is a special sort of kindness. In every case, the person who shows chesed to another is in a position of relative power.

Let me give you two examples from the Old Testament texts and two illustrations from Biblical relationships.

Two Examples of Chesed in the Old Testament

When Joseph was young, he would have loved (ahab) his father. He probably felt affection for him, enjoyed being in his presence, and did good things for him. However when Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt and Jacob was very old, their positions were reversed. Joseph held all the power, while Jacob was feeble and completely dependent on his son. Then Jacob begged Joseph’s mercy (chesed) in not allowing his bones to remain in Egypt after his death.

The translators of 2 Chronicles 35:26 had difficulty translating the chesed of King Josiah. Different translations render it as good deeds, goodness, mercy, kind acts, etc., but these differences are minor. The intent is clearly to show that Josiah showed exceptional mercy to his people.

Two Illustrations of Chesed from Biblical Relationships

It’s good if a man loves (ahab) his wife, and it’s even better if he loves (chesed) her. This is what Paul meant when he said that men should love their wives as the weaker vessel. Husbands have spiritual authority and physical dominance of their wives, and they need to keep that in mind so that they will be mindful to give chesed. It’s easy to be kind to your peer or to someone with more power. It’s something else to be kind to someone who is relatively weak and vulnerable.

Although God loves (ahab) us, he also shows us loving kindness (chesed) in deigning to provide for us, protect us, and raise us from our sin and poverty. God loves (chesed) those who love (ahab) him. God shows chesed to man by forgiving, protecting, and healing, but man never shows chesed to God because no man has ever been in a position of power over God.

Chesed and the Grace of God

If I had to summarize the meaning of chesed in a single English word, that word would be grace. Not in the sense of the physical grace of a ballerina, but the regal grace of a king who treats his subjects with kindness and understanding. He has the power, the authority, and the right to destroy those who offend his law, but he shows grace by commuting sentences, by hearing and embracing his poorest subjects, and by granting mercy and honor to weaker rivals.

When the Apostles wrote of God’s grace, this is what they meant.

The Greek word usually used to translate chesed in the Septuagint (a 2200 year old Greek translation of the Old Testament) is eleos, and this Greek word is almost always (and accurately) translated into English as mercy.

On the other hand, the Greek word translated as grace in the Apostolic writings is charis.2 Grace is an excellent translation of this word into English, as it appears to carry the same dual meaning of physical elegance and regal forebearance in Greek as it does in English.4

So why did the Apostles use charis instead of eleos to express the concept of Hebrew chesed?

Perhaps it was an idiomatic use that had been adopted by Jewish scholars when discussing biblical concepts among themselves in Greek. Or perhaps they consciously used charis because of the additional dimension of elegance in the meaning of the word.

Regardless of how the word Greek charis was used in everyday speech by the Greeks of the first century, the Apostles used it very much like Hebrew chesed was used in the Old Testament scriptures: to refer to the loving graciousness that one person in a position of power willingly shows to another in an inferior position.

Read these Apostolic passages as if they were written using the Hebrew word chesed instead of the Greek word charis:

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses; chesed and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, this is the wording used in Proverbs 16:6 – “By mercy (chesed) and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” Chesed gives this verse so much more depth of meaning. God Law was revealed through Moses, but God’s grace to forgive was revealed in the person of Jesus. (And I can already see I’m going to have to write another article on the topic of “grace and truth”.)

2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the chesed of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Although he had all power and authority in Creation, he came down from his throne to live among his subjects in order to elevate them.

Ephesians 3:8 – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this chesed was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…

Paul wrote that his appointment as the Apostle to the Nations was an undeserved kindness granted by God.

It seems to me that God’s mercy & loving kindness, as described throughout the Old Testament with the Hebrew word chesed, is the very essence of divine grace, and it is glaringly obvious that grace was not a new concept in the first century. Yeshua’s death on the cross wasn’t God’s first act of Grace. Rather, it was the apex of his grace, the most personal, painful, and heart-wrenching extension of his loving kindness to mankind.

The grace of a king is manifested in the mercy that he extends to those who have violated his law, and he rightly expects them to be grateful and to stop doing whatever it was that caused them to come under his Law in the first place. How must it seem to Yeshua when those for whom he suffered and died in order to earn that pardon use it as a license to ignore his law instead of as an opportunity to start over with a clean slate?

God’s grace, his chesed, is not the suspension of his Law, but the suspension of his judgment for violating it. That suspension will not be extended indefinitely to people who abuse it.

God's grace consists of his willingness to forgive and heal those of us who have rebelled against his Law.

1 The language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) is a little different than the language of the Septuagint. I don’t think that difference has any significant impact on this point.
2 In both Hebrew and ancient Greek transliteration, the letter combination of ch is pronounced like kh. There is no ch sound (as in church) in either language. Why tranliterators chose to use ch instead of kh, I don’t know. They should have asked me first.
3 Most of the Bible quotes in this article are taken from the ESV, but I also used the KJV, LITV, and others when the ESV’s translation of a word seemed especially obscure.
4 See these comments on the secular and Biblical usage of charis: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/518/Charis.htm

Who Is Israel, Episode 4 – Does It Matter?

Who Is Israel? Episodes 1-4

Episode 4, where I get to the real point of this series.

Welcome to episode 4 of Who Is Israel! In the previous three episodes, I covered the history of Israel and the Jewish people from their origin in Abraham through the patriarchs and bondage in Egypt. I talked about how God rescued Israel from Egypt, but he didn’t rescue them alone. God brought a mixed multitude from many other nations out of Egypt to Sinai where he made them to be part of Israel.

Centuries later God divided Israel into two kingdoms and then scattered them across the world where they were absorbed by the nations and, in turn, absorbed many people into themselves.

My purpose has not been to just give a history of the Jews, but to highlight a specific aspect of the history of Israel. From the moment that God renamed Jacob after the all-night wrestling match with the angel, the nation of Israel has not been only the physical descendants of Jacob. Israel has always been a mixture of peoples grafted into the main trunk of the tree of Jacob.

In this episode, I’m going to answer the four questions that I started with: Who are the Jews? Who is Israel? Who or what is the Synagogue of Satan? And finally, what does all this have to do with you and me?

First let’s answer question number one: Who are the Jews?

By now the answer should be easy. The people we know today as Jews are the result of the gradual merging of three groups. First, the Jews are primarily descended from the ancient Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Second, the Jews are also descended from refugees and migrants from the other ten tribes who were absorbed into Judah, mostly long before the modern era. Third, the Jews have adopted many people from other nations over the millennia through assimilation, conversion, and even conquest.

This was part of God’s plan all along. Jacob went into Egypt with many Gentiles in his house, and Israel left Egypt with many more Gentiles who became Israelites.

If you haven’t watched episodes 1 through 3, you might want to pause here and go do that right now. Those episodes will provide a lot of background information for this claim.

It’s really only controversial with people who want to claim that today’s Jews are actually some completely unrelated people who are only
pretending to be Jews in order to take over the world. In my opinion, the bizarrely persistent paranoia about Jews throughout history only serves to prove that they are who they say they are. That variety of anti-semitism is not based on reason or evidence. and there is no argument that will change such a person’s mind. It’s a spiritual or mental sickness that can only be cured by time and God.

So let’s leave that behind and move on to question number 2: Who Is Israel?

Recall that Israel was divided after the death of Solomon and, although some people from the Northern Kingdom, called Ephraim or Israel, were absorbed by the southern kingdom, called Judah. Most of Ephraim were assimilated into the nations where they were scattered, and they forgot that they were once Israel.

Scripture tells us that both Judah and Ephraim will one day be restored to a place of favor with God in a United Kingdom under Messiah. We might already be seeing the beginning of that in the return of many Jews to the Land of Israel since the beginning of the 20th century, but so far only half of Israel, the Jews, is involved in that return. What about Ephraim?

There are a lot of theories about where the so-called Lost Tribes went. Most of those theories are based only in the imagination. There is no real historical evidence for the various identity movements such as British Isrealism and Black Hebrew Israelites. They are the results of a few out of context facts from various sources mixed with a large dose of fanciful interpretation.

No, the various nations of Europe or Africa are NOT the lost tribes of Israel. A few isolated people groups have been discovered who might, in fact, be descendants of the Northern Kingdom, but they are relatively small and can’t reasonably represent the whole of Ephraim. Most of that half of Israel has been thoroughly mixed into the nations of the world, so there is no way that anyone except God could possibly identify them.

So, how can we ever identify that half of Israel? Didn’t God say that he never does anything momentous without telling his prophets about it first?

Right here, I want you to pause the video and take a screenshot of these lists. If you’re not sure how to do that, take picture or write them down. Whatever you need to do to make sure that you have them for later, since I don’t have the time to go over every verse now. These lists are far from comprehensive, but I think this is more than enough to support what I’ve told you so far and what I’m about to tell you.

These four themes run through all of Biblical prophecy about the future of Israel, the scattering of Ephraim and Judah, Ephraim lost in the nations, the grafting of many former Gentiles into Israel, and the ultimate restoration of both houses of Israel. These events were all prophesied and described in Scripture.

How does this relate to the identity of Ephraim?

I need to tell you about two prophecies related to the restoration of Ephraim.

In the Book of Ruth, two widows returned to the Land of Israel. Naomi, a natural born Israelite, and Ruth, a Gentile who married one of Naomi’s sons. Naomi’s husbands and sons have died. So neither woman has husband or children. Without intervention, they would be destitute. Ruth meets and marries Boaz, a distant relative of her father-in-law and a wealthy nobleman. Legally her first son from Boaz becomes the heir of her dead husband and therefore of Naomi’s dead husband as well. A line of Israel, that had effectively vanished from the earth, was resurrected by a kinsman redeemer, a foreshadowing of Messiah. Naomi represents the natural children of Israel, while Ruth represents the Gentiles who have been adopted by Israel.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, two stories of healing are paired in a chiastic structure. Yeshua is called to heal a 12 year old girl who is deathly ill, but on his way to the girl’s house an older, wealthy woman with an illness that has persisted for 12 years is healed when she touches the hem of his garments. Yeshua then goes on to the girl’s house where he is told that she has died, but he proceeds to heal her anyway. The older woman is Judah. She has tried everything to be healed of her affliction, but nothing works until she turns to Yeshua. The young girl is Ephraim. As far as the world is concerned, she is dead, lost forever, but Yeshua restores her to life again.

In Jeremiah 31:31, God told Jeremiah that the New Covenant was only for the houses of Israel and Judah, not to the church or to Rome. There is no body of Messiah outside of Israel. There is no separate covenant with a Gentile Church. There is only Israel and then there’s everyone else, so it matters whether or not a person is part of Israel or not.

The honest truth is that nobody today can positively identify the natural descendants of Ephraim, but that just doesn’t matter!

Wait, didn’t I say that it matters who is Israel? Yes, but that’s not the same thing as saying it matters who is Judah and who is Ephraim.

Yeshua knows who belongs to him. When he calls Ephraim, they will rise from their historical grave and be reunited with him. In the meantime both Judah and Ephraim were never only the physical descendants of Jacob. They were always a core of natural children and a mixed multitude of Gentiles grafted in by their faith in the God of Abraham.

If you were a Gentile, one of those whom Jeremiah says have inherited nothing but lies from their ancestors, and now you believe in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, if you have joined yourself to Yahweh to love him, to keep his Sabbaths, and to hold fast to his covenant, then you have been cut off from the tree of your ancestors and grafted into the tree of Israel.

Whether you are Judah or Ephraim, I can’t tell you, but if you have repented of your sin, committed your life to love and obey the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to his Messiah and Son Yeshua, then you are Israel! Prophesied from the beginning, adopted into the kingdom of God, and made to be joint heirs with the faithful remnant of Jacob.

You are Israel, and that’s enough.

I guess that answers question number four – what does that have to do with you? But there is one question I haven’t addressed yet. Who or what is the Synagogue of Satan?

This term comes from Revelation 2:8-9 where Yeshua says, “And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write the words of the first and the last who died and came to life. I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a Synagogue of Satan.”

There has been a lot of debate about this passage over the last 2000 years, and it might be the most common passage quoted by people who want to say that God lied to the Jews when he promised to forgive and restore them.

First off, we know that this can’t be talking about all Jews, because Yeshua spoke these words to a Jew! John, Paul, Peter, Matthew, James… all Jews. Out of the 27 books in the New Testament, 24 or 25 were written by Jews. For the first few decades, almost all of the followers of Yeshua were Jews.

So, how are we to know what he meant?

There are two ways to interpret every Bible passage: literal and figurative. Not every passage is intended to be understood figuratively and not every passage is intended to be understood literally. Knowing which is which depends on understanding the context of the passage, including its historical context. If a passage has a literal interpretation, that must come first. Without understanding the literal meaning we can’t accurately understand its figurative meaning, if it has one.

We know that the first three chapters of Revelation were addressed to seven real congregations that existed in the first century. Antipas, the Nicolaitans, and others mentioned in these chapters were real people. Chapter 2 verses 8-11 were addressed to a real congregation in Smyrna. If all of those people and organizations were real historic people, there’s no good reason to assume that verses 8-9 isn’t a real synagogue that existed in Smyrna in the 1st century. This statement wasn’t made to all of the 7 churches, so it’s reasonable to assume that it was something peculiar to Smyrna at that time and that that church would know exactly what Yeshua meant.

But what else do we know about the Synagogue of Satan from these verses?

We know that they were telling lies about God or about their fellow believers. Maybe they were of the same sect that falsely accused Paul, Stephen, and Yeshua of trying to abolish the law of Moses.

We know that they say they are Jews but aren’t really. It isn’t likely that there was an entire Jewish synagogue a fake Jews, but Yeshua could have been using the term “Jew” as a metaphor, like Paul did in Romans 2:28-29: For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart by the spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man, but from God.” Jew is a short form of Judah which means “praised”. Paul was saying that some Jews don’t live up to the name while some Gentiles do. He wasn’t saying that some Jews aren’t really Jews.

John made a similar point in 1 John 4:20-21: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Yeshua might have been saying that, by their slander, the members of a Jewish synagogue in Smyrna weren’t living up to the name Jew, that they were serving Satan the accuser instead of God.

How would this apply today? Who fits the description of Smyrna’s Synagogue of Satan now?

Literally several groups do. Many in Christian Identity groups claim to be the physical descendants of Israel while they tell horrendous lies about the Jewish people. Believers in replacement theology slander God by claiming that he lied to the descendants of Jacob when he told them that he loved them and promised to forgive them. They are fake Jews because they claim that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. They quite literally claim to be Jews when they’re not.

Metaphorically, this phrase “Synagogue of Satan” could refer to anyone who claims to worship Adonai but teaches contrary to his laws. They shame the name of God instead of praising it.

In the end, the final judgment of who is Israel and who is not is all up to Yeshua. He will separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and the saints from the condemned.

On the one hand, there will be united Israel, consisting of faithful Judah, faithful Ephraim, and all of the grafted in gentiles, and on the other hand, there will be everyone else: an unbelieving world, those cut off from Israel for their rebellion, those who have rejected forgiveness, obedience and salvation, who have rejected Yeshua. They will all be destroyed in the end.

There is a consistent repeating pattern from Abraham to today. Israel is scattered into the world where they adopt people from the nations and is finally restored to the land and to blessing by Messiah. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Hebrew slaves, Ephraim, Judah… They have all experienced this pattern to one extent or another.

Whoever and wherever you are, no matter who your ancestors were, if you have repented of your sins, given your allegiance to the king of Israel, and committed to obey the King’s law, then you are a citizen of Israel. Remember that the natural branches of Israel and Judah always form the core, but there is always room for more faithful adoptees from the nations.

As the wise man once said, “Hear the conclusion of the matter. Fear God and keep his Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

This is Jay Carper from American Torah. Be blessed.

Who Is Israel? Episode 3 – From Rome to Now

Who Is Israel? Episodes 1-4

Here’s the transcript for Who Is Israel? Episode 3. Please excuse the less than perfect wording and format.

In Episode 2, we talked about the division of Israel into two kingdoms after Solomon’s death, the destruction and dispersions of Judah and Ephraim into the nations, the partial return of Judah, and finally the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome and the rescattering of Judah across the world.

In this episode, we’ll see what happened to the Jews after the coming of Yeshua and Christianity.

At the beginning of the first century, the world was divided into three groups. The first group was Judah, who was living all over the Roman Empire and beyond, but concentrated in distinct insular communities. The second group was Ephraim, who was also scattered across Africa and Eurasia, but had been mostly absorbed into the peoples of the lands where they lived. The third group of people in the first century, and by far the largest was the Gentiles…which was everyone else.

The word Gentile comes from a Latin word that roughly means clan, and is usually translated into English as nations or peoples. Biblically speaking, a Gentile is someone from any nation other than Israel.

Around 30 AD a man named Jesus began upsetting this new order. He claimed to be the Messiah that Moses had prophesied and that the Jews had long awaited. He upset a lot of theological apple carts and made enemies of most of the Jewish religious leaders. They conspired with one of his disciples, Judas, and pressured the Roman governor into having him crucified.

Much to their chagrin, Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave on the third day and later ascended into heaven. During his ministry on earth, his influence was mostly limited to the land of Judea and its immediate neighbors. However, within a few years Jews over all over the Empire were beginning to believe in him.

Faith in Jesus, or Yeshua as his friends and family would have known him, remained mostly a Jewish thing at first, but another upstart named Paul began teaching uncircumcised Gentiles about him too.

Yeshua’s followers went by various names, depending on region and religious practices: the Sect of the Nazarenes, The Way, and eventually Christians.

The followers of Yeshua split first century Judah into three more groups:
traditional Judaism, which rejected the Messiah of Jesus, the Circumcision, which accepted Jesus as Messiah, but required complete ritual conversion to Judaism for all converts, whether Gentile or Hellenized Jews, and The Way, which was more lenient of new converts.

Although the Jewish people mostly stuck with what they knew of as Judaism, many believed in Yeshua and fell into one of the two camps of the Circumcision or The Way. Some among the Gentiles, which inevitably included many lost Ephraimites, converted to Judaism, but many more left their ancestral paganism for faith in Jesus.

Some Gentiles, Greeks in particular, converted to Judaism, but the Gentiles of that time were almost universally polytheistic pagans, meaning they worshiped many gods at the same time. Monotheism, a belief in only one God, was rare and often thought to be tantamount to atheism.

These religious upheavals did not help the already tense relationship between Judah and Rome.

Non-Messianic Jews separated themselves from Messianic Jews, sometimes persecuting them violently, and Roman persecution of Christians added incentive for the traditional Jews to distance themselves from Messianic Jews and especially from the Gentile converts whom they rejected outright.

As the Jews came to be as hated as the Christians, Many new Gentile converts encouraged this separation and changed their own religious practices to make the difference even more pronounced. They stopped keeping a seventh-day Sabbath. They changed which days of the week they fasted on. They changed the dates and traditions of God’s holy days or else stop keeping them altogether. They did everything they could not to look or sound like Jews while still worshiping a Jewish God and a Jewish Messiah.

Within a few centuries, The Way became Christianity while those of the Circumcision either returned to Judaism or joined Christianity, abandoning their traditions and many of the commandments of God altogether. Meanwhile, Gentiles including many Jews and Ephraimites, who had long forgotten their identity, continued converting to Christianity, making the gap between the faiths even greater.

Once again the end result was two opposing camps: Judah, separated and despised by the world, and Christianity, wanting to be part of the world, despised for a time, but eventually conquering Rome itself.

Jesus once told his disciples that men would hate them because they first hated him. Because men hate God, his law, and everything that highlights their ultimate accountability to him as creator and judge, man’s evil inclination drives him to hate that which God loves. It wouldn’t matter if the Jews had behaved with perfect righteousness throughout their history. Men will hate God’s chosen people because they first hated God.

During the formative centuries of rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish people became more resistant to assimilation than ever before. There was no place on earth that they could call their own, nowhere to live according to their own customs as every other people did, yet they remained visibly distinct from the surrounding Christian and Pagan peoples.

For the next seventeen hundred years, Christians were fickle friends to the Jews at best. One King invited them to settle within his borders, and then another kicked them out again. Warm welcome turned to indifference, resentment, suspicion, and finally persecution. Sometimes there were religious reasons for these shifts and sometimes political, but there were always economic reasons, and people are naturally suspicious of others who look and behave differently, who don’t blend in, and this same pattern has repeated up to the present day.

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Christendom was engaged in an existential struggle with Islam, and the Jews were often caught in the middle, alternately persecuted and befriended by one side or the other.

After the Middle Ages, came the Reconquista and the expulsion from Spain, migration to the new world, Soviet pogroms, and the Nazi genocide. In other words, more of the same.

Until recent decades, Muslims were usually kinder to the Jews than Christians were, especially in Spain, but the Jews have never been truly secure or welcomed for too many generations in any land, the United States being one of the very rare exceptions.

This perennial anti-semitism was fertile ground for malicious myth-making.
Accusations of kidnapping of children, human sacrifice, and drinking or eating human blood, especially at Passover, were common in the late Middle Ages.

More recent myths usually feature the idea that contemporary Jews, especially those of Ashkenazi descent, were never really Jews at all, but some other group of people, who usurped the identity of Judah in order to…

Well, the why of such theories is never very clear.

The fact is that modern genetic science has conclusively demonstrated that the Jewish populations from all over the world are related. The Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe have about 30 to 40 percent European and other DNA add mixtures, which is what you might expect after thousands of years of living in exile in foreign lands.

Despite much wild-eyed speculation to the contrary, the people known today as Jews all over the world are genetically descended from people who lived in the region of Judea about 2,000 years ago.

So where is Israel today? I want you to remember back to episode 1. If you haven’t seen it pause this video now and go back and watch it. Episodes 1 & 2 provide important background information for what I’m about to tell you.

Here’s a quick recap for those of you who have already seen the previous episodes. When Jacob was still alive, Israel and a small mixed multitude went into Egypt at the Exodus. Israel, plus a large mixed multitude, left Egypt and, in the promised land, Israel gained yet more mixed multitudes through conquest, assimilation, and intermarriage.

Long after the nation of Israel was divided into separate kingdoms, Ephraim was scattered to the world and mixed with the native peoples wherever they went. Judah was also scattered and mixed, although to a lesser extent than Ephraim. Some from the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon were scattered with Ephraim or deliberately rejected their ancestral heritage, and some from the northern tribes of Israel were absorbed by Judah. But most of them adapted to pagan and Christian cultures so long ago that they no longer have any idea that they might once have been part of Israel.

Over the many centuries since Jacob died, Israel has adopted, assimilated, conquered, and married people from every nation on earth, even while they themselves were scattered, enslaved, assimilated, and married in the opposite direction.

The consistent pattern of history is that of Israel divided into two camps. In one camp are the people we call Jews. Today, just as they were at the time of Moses, David, and Jesus, the Jews consists of a core of the natural children of Jacob with a significant component of people adopted from the nations. The second camp of Israel also includes a core of physical descendants of Jacob, but that core is impossible to identify or count today.

Where did those lost Ephraimites go? Who are they? More importantly, does it even matter?

I’ll answer that and other important questions in Episode 4. Don’t miss it!

This is Jay Carper from AmericanTorah.com, for a stronger America and the kingdom of God.

If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel here and to my mailing list at http://JayCarper.com/subscribe.

God Hates His People

God hates his people.

Or at least that’s what many churches teach. They quote Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in which he said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) Then they quote Yeshua’s statements along the lines of “You have heard it said thus, but I tell you differently.” And they conclude that God’s Law no longer applies and at least partly consisted of God winking at sin all along. The Law was incomplete and Jesus fixed it. Or worse, that God played Keep-Away with eternal salvation by setting the Jews up with an impossible standard even while he told them that it wasn’t that hard.

God loves his people! His word is true! Obedience brings Life! God never changes!Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not hyperbole. They literally don’t understand what they’re saying. I have to wonder if those theologians have ever actually read their proof texts. Neither Yeshua nor Paul was addressing the Law of God in those passages. Yeshua was correcting traditions of men, which misrepresented the Law, and Paul was speaking of total ignorance of the Law, which, for the sake of your faith in him, God overlooks until you are able to learn it.

The idea that God deliberately hobbled his Law by “winking” at certain sins or hobbled his people by making them dependent on an impossible standard for their salvation means that God hates the very people whom he claims to love.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall always rebuke your neighbor, and not allow sin on him. (Leviticus 19:17)

If God compromised his Law in deference to the prevailing culture (you know, that Egyptian culture of idolatry and incestuous marriage), then, by his own standards, he hated Israel even while he proclaimed his love. If the church is right, that God established sin in his Law or lied about his real expectations, then God is a liar and a hater of mankind.

What man is there of you, if his son asks a loaf, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him? (Matthew 7:9-11)

Which, of course, means that Yeshua was also a liar and evil. His execution was deserved, and we have no hope of salvation.

Ever.

The entire history of God’s interaction with man has been a long, cruel joke. The manna was poisoned, and the Passover lamb was infested with parasites.

But I don’t believe any of that!

I believe that David knew of what he spoke when he said that “The Law of YHWH is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of YHWH is sure, making the simple wise. The Precepts of YHWH are right, rejoicing the heart; the Commandments of YHWH are pure, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8) I believe that when Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” he meant all of his commandments, and not only the ones that he had to tell us twice.

I believe that God loves his people, that his Word is true, that obedience to his Word brings life, and that he never changes. What was a sin three thousand years ago remains a sin today. What was not a sin three thousand years ago is still not a sin today.

Because God is love, and a loving Father doesn’t give his son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matthew 7:9)