But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
When Israel made war with the nations that lived in the Promised Land, God commanded them to give no quarter. If those people fled before the army of Israel arrived, there was no need to pursue, but if they remained to fight, then every man, woman, child, and beast was to be killed.
That sounds extraordinarily harsh, but we must remember two things about God’s relationship to mankind:
First, God owns every one of us. He designed us, he created us, and he judges us. He is entirely within his rights to destroy us or rescue us by any means he chooses. Remember that you are the Ranger, not the Ford Motor Company. What right does a created thing have to demand anything from its creator?
Second, God knows our hearts better than we do. He knows what we have done and what we desire to do. The people of Canaan had engaged in such abominable religious practices that not even the most innocent babies among them had escaped guilt. Personally, I can’t even imagine what that looks like, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to either, but God said it many times, so we can be assured that it is true.
But what about Rahab? She was one of those people that were to be devoted to complete destruction, but she was spared and even became an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua. How can we reconcile these two seemingly incompatible facts?
Immediately after the passage quoted above, Moses related God’s instructions concerning trees that might surround a city which Israel has besieged. Although it looks like an afterthought tacked onto the rules of war, there’s a reason it’s placed where it is.
When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.
Okay, but what does that have to do with Rahab? As the passage says, “Are the trees human, that you should besiege them?”
No, they aren’t. In fact, trees can’t in themselves be righteous or sinful, clean or unclean. This is one reason the rabbis give for why sukkot should be built of branches, and not hides.
On the other hand, Scripture often uses trees as a metaphor for people. The righteous are upright trees. Powerful men are cedars or oaks. Weak men are small trees or shrubs living in their shadows. Israel is an olive tree. Gentile believers are wild olive branches grafted into the tree of Israel.
Consider especially the parables Yeshua told about trees.
Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Yeshua said,
Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Speaking of false prophets, he said,
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
When he encountered a fig tree that bore no fruit, he cursed it, and it died:
And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
There are other examples, and in every one of them, the point Yeshua was trying to make was never about trees or edible fruit, but about people. Those who produce no good fruit for the kingdom were never part of the kingdom in the first place and will be cursed, cut down, and burned. Those that produce good fruit will be spared and tended so that they will bear yet more fruit.
This is the truth of Rahab that is hinted at in Deuteronomy 20:16-20: Even among the pagan Canaanites there can be found a few good trees baring good fruit. Rahab was just such a tree. When she saw the Hebrews coming, she recognized the power that was with them, the great Deliverer of Israel who destroyed all their enemies before them. She declared herself for Adonai and Israel and against Canaan, and she immediately began to bear good fruit by protecting the two spies who hid on her rooftop.
If, in the course of marching across Canaan and driving out the Hittites, Perizites, et al, the Israelites should encounter a rare good tree, baring good fruit, in a forest of the spiritually dead, God said they *must* spare that tree and make it one of their own.
Rahab and the good trees of the besieged cities of the Promised Land are you and me, the believing gentiles, who hear the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven encroaching on the Kingdom of Death, and who repent, declaring our allegiance to the King of Israel.
If we repent of our sins, submit to the One who conquered death, and commit to obeying his law, we are the good trees who are spared and the wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel. No longer gentiles at all, but joint heirs with Yeshua, as Paul said, with one God, one King, one Nation, and one Law.
You cannot get a complete picture of God’s prescribed justice system by reading any single passage of the Torah. Rules for how to handle a particular sort of crime are in one place. Rules for handling a kind of investigation are in another. Guidelines for reporting and investigating allegations of idolatry are in yet another place.
I think this is by design. God doesn’t want a person to read only this or that part and dismiss the rest as not applicable to him. Although not every regulation is specifically addressed to every person, no person can effectively carry out what does apply to him without understanding what applies to everyone else. Remember that God told Ezekiel to measure and describe the Temple and to teach it to the people in order to make them ashamed. There are universal truths in every statement within Torah, and every person can learn something important even from those rules that are clearly not intended for him to follow in any literal sense.
Deuteronomy 17 describes three apparently disconnected aspects of justice:
How to handle an allegation of idolatry. (Verses 2-7)
How to handle a case that is too difficult for the local court. (Verses 8-13)
How to ensure a king remains humble and accountable to God. (Verses 18-20)
I say “apparently” because they are connected by more than the overall theme of justice. For example, the sequence illustrates the roles and responsibilities of various members of the nation as their relative authority increases. The picture begins with individuals, moves to the community, then to the nation, and finally to the king.
One person may or may not be committing idolatry and some other person discovers it. If a person suspects his neighbor of idolatry, but he has no real evidence, he can’t snoop. He has to mind his own business. Nobody is allowed to go looking for people who might be worshiping idols without some basis.
However, if some evidence comes to light or if an accusation is made, then the community must get involved. There is no option. There must be a thorough investigation and a trial conducted by the authorities of the town or the city where the crime is alleged to have taken place. The accused is presumed innocent unless sufficient evidence is found and at least two truthful, qualified witnesses testify against him.
If the accused is found guilty by his neighbors, those same people are to take him to the town gates where he will be stoned to death. The witnesses must be the first to throw their stones.
So you shall purge the evil from your [community] midst. Deuteronomy 17:7b
The accused–and the entire community–is entitled to a public trial before a jury of his peers and in which he must be allowed to face his accusers and defend himself… That sounds awfully familiar.
If the case is too difficult for the local judges to decide, they are to take it to a high court in Jerusalem consisting of a panel of priests and whoever is judge over the nation at the time. (This would be someone like Joshua, Gideon, or Samson.) Whatever that court tells them to do, they must do. There are no appeals, no second opinions, and anyone who refuses to carry out the instructions of the high court must himself be put to death.
So you shall purge the evil from [the nation of] Israel. Deuteronomy 17:12b
This entire process requires that every member of the community is living in subjection to the community. There’s nothing wrong with an amount of “rugged individualism”, but a truly biblical lifestyle can only exist within the context of a community with a recognized authority structure. It doesn’t have to be very rigid or formal, but it has to exist and has to be able to respond when evil is found among the people.
And some evils are too large for a single community to handle.
Although Israel had no king at the time this law was given, it recognized that they might at some point and set out some rules for how a king is to behave: He is not to abuse his position to gain wealth, power, or prestige for himself. He is not to rely on military power, political alliances, or economic strength for security, but on God. He is not to oppress the people.
Finally, the king must become a lifelong Torah scholar beginning on the day he ascends to the throne. He is required to make a copy of the Torah for himself and to read it and meditate it on it every day of his life.
That his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:20
In the first two sections, the focus of the text is on purging evil from Israel, but when we look at the king, the lens is reversed. It no longer focuses on removing what is wrong, but on building what is right.
Certainly the king would have a role in punishing wrongdoers and purging evil from the people, but his primary role isn’t as a law enforcement officer or even as a military commander. Before all else, the king must be a teacher of God’s ways, an exemplar of humble & consistent righteousness.
We can see these same principles all through the New Testament as well.
We are told not to be gossipers and fault-seekers, but rather to extend grace to one another. We are to yield to one another whenever possible, to act in good order for the benefit of the community as a whole. When there is some wrong, we aren’t to take matters into our own hands, but to first find out if there has been any actual wrong done, and if so to give opportunity for repentance.
A note here: The rules in Deuteronomy 17 require a complete system. No individual, church, or synagogue may carry out these instructions. They are given in the context of a community and a nation that honors God’s Law. Only the community is authorized to investigate, try, and condemn the accused. Only a national court of priests and the judge is authorized to try the most difficult cases. We cannot execute idolaters or anyone else strictly according to God’s commands in modern America because that execution itself would be in violation of God’s commands.
If someone in our congregations is found to be an idolater, an adulterer, or guilty of any other serious sin, we should be certain of the facts first, and if the guilty refuses to repent, then we are to expel that person from our midst, but until our whole people accept God’s Law, that must be the end of it. Once they are outside of our congregation, they are no longer our responsibility, but God’s. (1 Corinthians 5:13)
We don’t have communities, judges, and national leaders who respect God’s Law. We don’t even have many churches or synagogues who do.
What we do have–and what we must have more of–are community leaders who follow the example of the king in Deuteronomy 17, who take God’s Law seriously, who study it and meditate on it daily. As long as our teachers, elders, preachers, pastors, and rabbis continue to reject the clear instruction of God, we can’t expect our community members to do any better.
As Paul wrote, don’t accuse people casually and don’t appoint them to leadership casually either. Our leaders must be men above reproach, men of honor in the eyes of both men and God, men who are not respecters of position or abusers of power. We need men who love God and love their own people as brothers, not subjects.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
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.
The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.
Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:
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
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.
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.
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.
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. You can watch it on YouTube or PewTube.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Two men once climbed a mountain together. They trudged up the lower slopes and scaled cliff faces to reach the tree line. Past the mid-point, they spent days camping at various points to adjust to the thin, oxygen-poor air. They pulled and pushed each other along, sometimes tied together with a long cord so that if one misstepped, he might be saved by the other. After weeks of enduring howling winds and biting cold with the help of oxygen tanks and state-of-the-art gear, they finally reached the summit.
The first man, barely able to pull in enough air even to speak, turned to his friend and said, “Look…what we did…we saw…we conquered…”
The second man smiled and, looking around at the deadly beautiful mountain range, replied, “Thank God…made all this…gave eyes…and feet…”
Together, they achieved something that only the tiniest fraction of humanity could hope to emulate. They really did something great.
The first man will die and be forgotten within a generation. His experiences and labors will die with him. The second man, however, will never die. He will inherit all that he sees from one of the highest points on earth.
Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Israel was nothing special in the world. We did nothing to deserve God’s favor. He rescued us from Egypt, made us a people, defeated our enemies, and gave us a country, yet we were stiff-necked, rebellious idolaters. And God knew this before he ever spoke to Abraham, our father.
As Moses was preparing the people to cross the Jordan and expel the Canaanites from the land that God had promised to Israel, he reminded them that they deserved nothing good from God. If they were blessed, it wasn’t because they had done anything to earn it. If they had victory in war, it wasn’t because they fought or planned better than their enemies.
Victory was assured because God had promised the Patriarchs, and God always keeps his promises.
The Anakim and the Canaanites had forgotten to whom they owed their existence and had exchanged worship of the Creator for things they themselves had created. They had succumbed to the basest sin of all: pride. And so God determined to destroy them. They are remembered now only as a vile people who sacrificed even their own children to gods of their own making.
Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones to fall so low.
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Despite having witnessed the utter destruction of the Canaanites before God’s power, the ancient Israelites followed in their corrupted footsteps. They erected sacred pillars and worshipped every false god they could imagine and manufacture with their own hands, as if the glory of a created thing could ever exceed that of the one who created it. They rejected the real glory of being God’s special people for the false glory of dead things that can’t move, hear, or speak.
Over and over again, God called Israel to repentance. We repented and regained his favor only to fall again into “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” We exchanged service to the Most High for slavery to sin. We rejected the source of Living Water for broken cisterns of our own invention.
We don’t appear to have learned anything since then. We cut and splice God’s creatures, claiming to make them better. We kill millions in the name of profit and energy. We slaughter our own children for the sake of convenience. We build machines and send them into space and say, “Look what we did!”
Whether we call our own creations “gods” or “science”, we worship them as if the glory of dead metal and plastic could possibly exceed that of the One who created the particles, the energies, and the physical laws that make it all possible and which we have barely begun to comprehend.
Machines are good. Genetic science is good. I love to see the astonishing accomplishments of today’s space engineers. SpaceX landing rockets on their tails like something from a 1950s science fiction was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen!
But all of these things are only possible because God has made them so. We have minds to imagine and invent, because God gave them to think. we have hands to create, because God fashioned them after his own. Yet we still say, “Look what we did!”
Pride is the greatest barrier of all to spiritual health and restoration of people to their Creator.
We’ve done nothing.
But despite all this, God still promises forgiveness and even glory for those who repent, who love him above all earthly things, and determine to keep his Law.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
But there is no true repentance without humility. It is impossible to say honestly, “God, forgive me! Aren’t I great?” Humility requires that we give credit where credit is due, and all credit is due to him who makes all things possible. We must say instead, “God, forgive me! Not my will, but yours be done in the world and in my life.”
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.
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.
In Deuteronomy 9:1-6, Moses told the Hebrews that they were about to cross the Jordan to confront numerous, stronger enemies. The people who lived in Canaan in that day were bigger, stronger, more technologically advanced, and better trained than Israel. Despite their massive disadvantage, Moses said not to fear, because God would precede them into the land and subdue their enemies before they ever met them in battle.
Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’
Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
(Deuteronomy 9:1-6 ESV)
But they still had to fight the battles.
Notice the introductory phrase in verse 1: “Hear, O Israel.” In Hebrew this is “Shema Yisrael.” It’s the same phrase used to introduce the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:1 and the passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 commonly known by the single Hebrew word Shema.
Hear, O Israel: YHVH our God, YHVH is one. You shall love YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Yeshua quoted these verses when he was asked what was the greatest commandment of all (Mark 12:28-30), and they are immediately followed by instructions for Israel to remember the commandments, to teach them to their children, and not to forget them after God had made them secure in the Promised Land.
When Moses used those same two words, shema Yisrael, in Deuteronomy 9:1, the people would have immediately recalled the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment and connected them to what he said next.
They were about to enter the Land, and Moses repeated God’s promises to deliver it into their hands, so there was definitely a connection to the Commandments and the reminder not to forget them when the conquest was complete, but the connection to the Shema itself is even deeper.
Hear, O Israel – The word shema means more than just “listen up” or “pay attention”. It means to hear and obey. Shema Yisrael is a call to action, much like the blast of a shofar: “Listen to what I have to say, internalize it, and do it.”
Moses said that they were going to cross over the Jordan “today”. Crossing into enemy territory was the next major event on Israel’s calendar, and it was time to start moving.
YHVH, our God – Let there be no confusion: YHVH is our God and we have none other. He is our ultimate authority, our supreme commander. His commandments are more than legal codes, they are the foundation of our existence. What he says, we will do.
When God told Israel to cross the Jordan and displace the Anakim and other nations who lived in Canaan, he meant it. There were no other options available for Israel. They must either cross and conquer or die in the wilderness like their fathers.
YHVH is one – God is unified in purpose. He is not duplicitous or double-minded. He doesn’t promise one thing and deliver something else. Much Christian theology says that God gave the Jews commandments that he knew were impossible to keep and promises that he never intended to deliver, but this is a horrible lie. What an evil and capricious god that would be! No, God is One. If he commands us to do something and tells us it’s not too hard, then we are fully capable of doing it. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
God gave the Hebrews a task that looked impossible from man’s limited perspective, but they had also seen the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots and the annihilation of the Midianites. God is indeed a consuming fire, and nothing can stand against his decrees.
You shall love YHVH your God – Moses, Yeshua, and John taught us that to love God is to believe his promises and to keep his commandments. If a servant loves his master, he obeys him. If a master loves his servant, he does what is right for the servant, even to the point of sacrificing himself as Yeshua did for us.
God told Israel that he loved them and would fight for them. If Israel loved God in return, then they would believe his promises and obey his orders, even to the point of charging into battle on foot against armored giants and iron chariots. Their love for him waned at times, so not every battle was won, but when they obeyed, God ensured their victory every time.
With all your heart – A true love of God changes our innermost being. We must allow him to work in our hearts, to remove our doubts, fears, pride, and conflicts. He will not accept second place, and he will not share our affections with any other god.
Israel was required to memorize God’s words, to meditate on them, to hide them in their hearts, and to teach their children to do likewise. After they crossed the Jordan, they were to destroy every idol and every pagan holy place they found in Canaan. They were forbidden to learn the ways of the heathens, to “re-purpose” them in God’s name. It didn’t matter how meaningful or touching some ceremony or statue might be. Destroy it, because if God is to be in your heart, there is no room for his enemies.
With all your soul – The Hebrew word for “soul” here doesn’t refer to the spirit, but to the whole of one’s being: the body, breath, energy, spirit, and life-force that makes a person human.
As Israel faced their foes in the Promised Land, they were to hold nothing back. Their very existence depended on taking the land from the Canaanites. God doesn’t ask us for one day per week, a few dollars, and a good deed now and again. No, he wants everything. Every step, every thought, every breath belongs to him.
With all your might – Showing up isn’t enough. Crossing the Jordan isn’t enough. When God tells you to go, you have to go strong.
God said that he would fight on behalf of Israel, but that didn’t give them an excuse to sit on their hands and watch. He expected them to show up on the day of battle with armor on and weapons in hand, ready to fight for their lives, families, and future. “God helps those who help themselves” might not be in the Bible, but it’s true none-the-less.
When Moses prefixed God’s marching orders with the words, “Shema Yisrael“, a chill would have swept through the gathered multitude. “Today, you will cross the Jordan to dispossess peoples greater and stronger than you. Now is the time to stand for God. Now is the time to advance. Now is the day of our Salvation in Adonai!”
There are no excuses for inaction in God’s Kingdom. Whatever task he has set for you–and he has set a task for you!–God has made you capable of fulfilling it. No emotional baggage or physical infirmity is a handicap to God. When he sends you across the Jordan, your job isn’t to say, “But…but…but…” Your job is to draw your weapon and walk through the parted waters to face God’s enemies on the other side.
Whoever or whatever your Canaanites might be, show up humbly and in obedience to God, ready to fight with all of your heart, soul, and might, and God will subdue his enemies before you.
As I noted regarding Episode 1, the text below is the transcript of a video, so it doesn’t read as smoothly as something intended to be read.
Welcome to episode two of Who Is Israel. In episode one we covered the history of Israel from God’s covenant with Abraham up to the reign of King Solomon. Let’s pick up right where we left off.
King Solomon made Israel into a trade giant and created large public works, but he also generated enormous personal wealth and imported foreign religions.
Big government always brings higher taxes, and Solomon’s government was no different. He increased taxes and other demands on his own people, including sending many of them to foreign lands as slaves and hired workers. All of this fomented divisions between the tribes that dated from before Saul.
Solomon died around 930 BC, and his son Rehoboam became King after him. Rehoboam continued the domestic practices of Solomon, raising taxes even higher and importing more idolatry. His misguided policies finally split the nation in two.
Jeroboam, in Ephraim, led the ten northern tribes in rebellion.
In order to break spiritual ties to the south, he created an alternate religious system with a temple in his own tribal territory, and in order to break economic dependence, he formed stronger ties with foreign peoples to the north. The end result was two kingdoms, both Israel.
The southern kingdom was primarily made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin with parts of Levi and Simeon. When the two groups split, many refugees from the northern tribes fled south to join relatives who already lived there.
The southern kingdom was called Judah because that tribe was dominant, but is sometimes referred to in the Bible simply by the name of her capital city, Jerusalem.
The northern kingdom was dominated by Ephraim. In Scripture, she is called Israel, Ephraim, Samaria, or Shomron and was made up of the ten northern tribes: Zebulon, Issachar, Naphtali, Dan, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, and Gad with parts of Levi and Simeon. And just as some from the north move south to Judah, some from Judah undoubtedly settled in the north.
The nation was divided between two kingdoms, but whether in the north or the south, the natural descendants of Jacob as well as those who had been naturalized into Israel over the centuries were all Israel, God’s chosen people.
This is when things begin to get more complicated.
The Assyrian Empire engaged in a series of invasions of Israel between 740 and 720 BC with the brutality of Israel’s earlier Canaanite invasion, but on a much larger scale. The Assyrians killed millions of people across the Middle East, but they fought a different kind of conquest.
They didn’t just take the land and subjugate people. They wanted to incorporate those whom they had conquered into their own, to destroy them as a separate people and turn them all into Assyrians. In order to do that, they employed a systematic program of relocation. After killing a significant portion of the conquered nation, they would scatter the survivors throughout their empire, thus destroying their former national identity and helping to prevent future rebellions.
During these invasions the people of Israel followed four paths.
Many fled south to Judah. Every war has its refugees. The wealthy and the landless were able to escape more quickly and they were mostly assimilated by Judah.
Others were resettled within the Assyrian Empire. They were scattered from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf where they mixed with other people who were already there. This was a deliberate attempt to destroy their ethnic identity.
Many years later when Babylon gave Judah a similar, but less drastic treatment, some few of Israel who had managed to retain their heritage by banding together in small communities were assimilated by exiled Judah. Most, however, completely forgot their identity as Israel and were assimilated by other people within Assyria.
A few more escaped beyond Assyria’s reach into Egypt, Arabia, and the Mediterranean. Some, who were taken away by the Assyrians, kept going into Persia and Central Asia, and most of these forgot their identity as Israel as well.
Despite the violence of Assyria’s invasions, some remained in the Land of Israel. They were farmers, in small villages, and hill people. They eventually merged with other peoples resettled by Assyria in their land and became the Samaritans and, later, Hellenized Jews.
The end result was that there were two groups of Ephraim in exile:
Ephraimites, living in Judah and still in cohesive communities when Babylon replaced Syria, mostly came to identify as Jews.
Other Ephraimites, including many of those still in the Land of Israel, were scattered and assimilated into the nations.
The southern kingdom of Judah lasted 120 years longer than the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Babylon eventually replaced Assyria as the dominant regional power and began a series of invasions into Judah. The first invasion took place around 605 BC.
Some of Judah fled South to Egypt, Arabia, and other places in the opposite direction from Babylon, but most people stayed, and the kingdom became a vassal state of Babylon.
Within a few years, however, King Jehoiakim switched allegiances to Egypt. This resulted in a second invasion around 597 BC. The city of Jerusalem was besieged and eventually recaptured. The city and temple were looted, and King Jehoiakim was killed.
More refugees fled south, and about 50,000 captives were taken to Babylon, including young Jechoniah. As before, most of the people stayed in the land of Judah and continued as vassals of Babylon.
King Nebuchadnezzar placed Jechoniah’s uncle Zedekiah on the throne in Jerusalem, but like Jehoiakim, he too soon rebelled, and Babylon invaded a third time in 586 BC. This time, Jerusalem was completely destroyed along with the temple.
More refugees fled south across Arabia and Africa, but most of the people of Judah were taken as prisoners to the Euphrates Valley. Very few Israelites were left in Judea after this.
These exiles of Judah in Babylon absorbed many of the people of Ephraim who had maintained their identity as Israel after the Assyrian invasion of the north. However, much of Ephraim was too scattered or had already been assimilated by other peoples by this time.
The end result of Judah’s destruction was two groups of people in exile who came to be known as Jews: the Jews in Babylon and the Jews in diaspora among the nations.
But this was not the end of either Judah or Israel. Centuries before, God had predicted all of this, including that they would fall away and be exiled. But God also promised to have mercy on them and to restore them when they repent.
While Judah was in exile in Babylon, Jews had migrated throughout the Babylonian Empire. Very few lived in Judea. The land was occupied by Samaritans, Canaanites, and others, while Edomites had begun moving in from the southeast.
In about 540 BC, Persia conquered Babylon and became the new supreme power in the Middle East. King Cyrus allowed some Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the temple over a long period between 540 and 440 BC. Zerubabbel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were part of this migration, but all Israel didn’t return at that time. Those who came back to Judea were relatively few and almost exclusively from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Most Jews remained in distant lands, many migrating across the Persian Empire in Asia. Jews had spread throughout Mesopotamia even into the Indus Valley in Central Asia. In Africa, Jews lived in Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, and probably even further west and south, but all empires eventually fall.
Around 330 BC, the Greeks and Macedonians conquered Persia and Judea. The Jews continued their migratory pattern of following armies and trade routes of their conquerors into every corner of the new Empire. They moved across the Greek Empire en masse into southeastern Europe around the Black Sea and across North Africa.
Many Jews probably also drifted back to Judea during this brief time of relative peace and tolerance.
Around 160 BC Judah Maccabee revolted and set up a new Jewish Kingdom. Many Jews returned to Judea at that time, although many more still lived outside of the borders of Judea than inside. During their rule the Maccabees conquered neighboring kingdoms including Edom whom they forcibly converted to Judaism. Many individuals of those conquered peoples were assimilated by Judea over the ensuing centuries.
Most of the old Canaanite peoples had vanished by this time, having been completely assimilated, or destroyed. Their descendants among Israel had been recognized as full Israelites for centuries, with little to no distinction between them and fully pedigreed Israelites.
Around 60 BC the Romans conquered Syria and Judea. Under Roman rule, Edom and Judah were separated and recombined in various ways by shifting politics, and Jews migrated further across the Mediterranean and southern Europe.
Over time Jews came to occupy professional classes wherever they went. Nearly every significant Roman city had Jewish settlements and many Roman military units had attached Jewish scribes. By 70 AD the Jews had permanent settlements throughout the world known to the Romans and beyond.
Over the centuries Israel had scattered as refugees beyond the reach of conquerors, they had been subjected to mass forced relocations, large numbers of their people had been enslaved, they endured persecutions and forced conversions to foreign religions.
But not all of their population changes had been involuntary. They followed trade routes to and from distant lands, they intermarried with foreign peoples, many non-Jews became proselytes and were adopted into Israel, and, just as Israelites were enslaved and forced to convert, so too Israel subjected others to slavery and forced conversions, and all of this before their most infamous confrontation with Rome.
At the end of the first Diaspora, in one respect Israel looked very much like they had at the beginning, but from another angle they look very different indeed.
Israel started as two camps: Judah and Ephraim. Each change in world power caused the Israelites, both Jew and Ephraimite, to scatter even further until they settled far beyond the boundaries of the world known to other Mediterranean peoples. They scattered among the nations separately. First Ephraim and then Judah. Many Ephraimites were absorbed by Judah, but each of them also adopted people from out of the nations and were in turn adopted into the nations.
Israel ended the first diaspora as she began: in two camps. But the nature of the two groups had changed dramatically. Members of both Judah and Ephraim were assimilated into the nations in the places where they were scattered, but Ephraim had long faded to invisibility in the world as a distinct people, while Judah attempted to keep herself separate.
As it always does, history soon repeated itself. A Jewish revolt in 66 AD was the first of several over the next century sparked by nationalist uprisings, false messiahs, and liberation movements. Subsequent Roman invasions resulted in mass crucifixions and millions dead. Ultimately the Jews were banished from Judea by Rome, the land was renamed Palestina after the Jews’ old enemies, the Philistines, and Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina. The Jewish people were scattered further than ever, many trying to escape the reach of Rome just as Ephraim had fled Assyria.
But another movement spread with and ahead of the Jews.
We’ll hear more about that in episode 3. Don’t miss it and don’t forget to stop by the blog at AmericanTorah.com.
This is Jay Carper for the kingdom of God and a stronger America.