The Call to Paid Congregational Leadership 

When I was sixteen years old, I remember a camp speaker who testified of his own calling that the words of the Paul the apostle, whom we call Rav. Shaul, applied to him, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.”  This burned in my heart, and I saw myself being called to full-time pastoral ministry.  In my college years, this was derailed.  I was 19 when confusion, doubt, philosophical anxiety, and more became a three-and-a-half-year struggle for this young philosophy student.  How could I make a living and pursue truth questions?  I decided I would become a philosophy professor concentrating in philosophy of religion.  Then when faith returned in the spring of 1970 during my first year of graduate studies in philosophy of religion, that pull to pastoral ministry began to grow.  A year and a half later, during my first year at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, still in philosophy of religion, a conviction for this calling was restored.  My spiritual father from Wheaton College, Chaplain Evan Welsh, helped open the door to my first pastorate, at the First Hebrew Christian Church in June 1972.   However, I traced the desire to high school where we read about great pastoral leaders and missionaries.  They were extolled as models. 

Today, both in the Messianic Jewish world and the larger Church world, far fewer than are needed are receiving the call to full-time ministry.  I appreciate those who are called for a season or a lifetime to do tent-making ministry.  However, I have come to believe that where permitted, full-time leadership is also needed to see the Kingdom of God go forth with power.  Yes, believers are called to involvement and impact in all legitimate vocations.  Discipling them to know biblical principles as they impact the spheres of their calling is crucial. However, if we do not have trained and capable leaders in congregational life, and the five-fold equipping ministry, the impacts on the spheres of life where people find their vocations will be weak and limited. Supplying full-time ministers is foundational to all else.  In the old Catholic days, still common when I was a child, Catholics had large families and hoped that one son would be a priest or a daughter a nun or maybe they could have one of each.  I think we can learn from their model of prioritizing the importance of those callings to ministry.  

For us, it is crucial to emphasize in our preaching, teaching, and modeling, the importance of the high calling to be in full-time congregational ministries.  Those who are in such ministries need to show that it is a joyful, fulfilling life that is compatible with healthy families and even children who want to go into the same work as their parents.  We need to do much more to testify concerning the specialness of the call, the joy of it, the privilege, and the fruitfulness of a life so lived.  In high school, there were times in our congregations, clubs and camps where young people would sense a call and commit themselves to full-time ministry callings.  My dear wife Patty jokes that this was so emphasized in her youth that she committed herself to several different countries as a missionary.   I dearly hope that these ministry-calling vocations are given much more emphasis in both the Messianic Jewish world and the larger Church.  It should be part of regular preaching and teaching.  

Messianic Judaism – Five Foundational Points

Messianic Judaism has to maintain five foundational foundations.  One of the five is a negative point that keeps us from aberrations.  Messianic Judaism is based on these foundations.  The basic points are in bold. 

  1. Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews, as part of the Jewish people. This was the first discovery and foundation of theology in Messianic Judaism.
  2. Living a Jewish life is based on the pattern of life found in the Torah and applied as fitting to the New Covenant.  Rabbinic traditions are embraced when they are in accord with the Spirit and letter of the Bible.  We live a Yeshua-centered life. 
  3. Jewish life in Yeshua requires creating congregations and groupings that socially reinforce Jewish life in Yeshua.  
  4. Gentiles are not called or convenantly responsible to live according to the Biblical Jewish Torah patterns.  Gentiles are called to understand the teaching of the Torah, the Sabbath, the Feasts, circumcision, and the food laws.  They may be led by the Spirit to join with Messianic Jews in celebrations or may have celebrations near to the seasons of Jewish celebration, but this is strictly a matter of the leading of the Spirit. There is no superiority to doing nor not doing such celebrations at the times.  Galatians, Col. 2, and Romans 14 mean what they say.  Those who do not accept Gentile liberty in this regard fall into varieties of One Law Movements which is the major heresy that we struggle against.  Churches confuse this with the Messianic Jews, think they are us and barriers go up.  One law movements tend to be anti-Church traditions and slander their traditions as wrong and pagan. 
  5. Messianic Judaism is pro-Church and recognizes that we are one with all churches that truly confess Yeshua and the authority of the Bible.  We affirm the heritage and practices of the churches to the extent that they cohere with the teaching of the letter and spirit of the Bible.  While there are things that are to be corrected in the church and its history (anti-Semitism, replacement theology) we nevertheless must seek unity for we are one Body (John 17;21)  

Resourcing Israeli Congregations

Over many years my convictions have not changed in regard to the priorities of giving for Christians who want to support Israel.  The greatest support from Christian giving goes to humanitarian causes in the Land through organizations that do not confess Yeshua.  This by far outstrips all other giving.  One organization is the recipient of tens of millions annually.   The second largest share goes to humanitarian aid to non-congregation non-profits that are run by Messianic Jews.  Only after these two is giving to Messianic Jewish Congregations.  Some Messianic Jewish leaders in congregations bemoan this reality and really believe that it is wrong to support Jewish organizations that that are run by non-Messianic Jews.  This is not my view.  When it is known that Christians who love the Jewish people give large sums and sacrificially, it does have an effect on the hearts of people.  They become more open to the Gospel.  This is also the case with humanitarian aid organizations that are led by Messianic Jews, and there are some good ones.  Yet my conviction is still that the lion’s share of giving is best given to the Messianic Jewish Congregations.  Here are some practical reasons. 

  1. Messianic Jewish congregations are directly involved in sharing the Gospel.  The Gospel is the greatest gift we can give to the Jewish people.  Fostering Gospel ministry should be our first priority.   
  2. Yeshua said he would establish his congregation under chosen elders and the gates of Hell would not prevail over his congregation. The first century context shows that this was a network of congregations.  
  3. Many Messianic Jewish Congregations run humanitarian organizations.  Many of our congregations in Tikkun do.  They are solid in their work and could do so much more with greater funds.
  4. Messianic Jewish Congregations with humanitarian aid can have a seamless quality of follow up, getting to know the people, building relationships and then sharing on the love of God.

Some Christians think that supporting congregations is not fitting since congregations should be self-supporting by their members.   There are two arguments that are contrary to this.  First, the humanitarian aid work of congregations goes way beyond the local programs of congregations.  The second concerns the unique situation of Israel.   

I want do draw out this second unique concern.  The reason why congregations in Israel have such difficulty supporting their own work by the tithes and offerings is due to the very unique circumstances of Israel.  In Israel the taxes are double, the salaries are about half, and the cost of living, especially housing are out of sight.  Many work two jobs and husbands and wives work to make ends meet.  The time pressures are enormous.  So, the funds given to congregations for their rent, staff, and necessary equipment are usually a great strain.  Few own their own facilities.  Giving for this would be very helpful. Most are therefore supported from the outside. (Many Jewish religious organizations are as well.)  However, if the leaders spend too much time traveling for funds, they will not be putting their efforts into the work at the level needed.   Many who are the best fund raisers produce little in the land.  The other model that could work is a network of self-supporting house congregations where the leaders are in full time business or professional life.  Some are doing this, and I support these efforts, but I believe we still need congregations that release people to full time ministry.  House congregations cannot do full orbed ministries including humanitarian aid work, counselling, and special programs for youth and children.  I would like to see people called to raise resources for the congregations.  One organization that was started to do just this found resistance to the project and found themselves mostly raising funds for non-congregational ministries.  So sad!

In conclusion I would like to suggest that Christians who give their funds to support Israel give primarily to Congregational ministries in the Land.   I hope that someday at least they would give 50% of such giving to congregations.  If Christians who support Israel would do this, the effect would be dramatic.  Of course, they need to vet the congregation ministry to make sure the leaders are qualified, trustworthy, and that it is a stable and fruitful work. 


Powers Of Light And Darkness

Angels, Demons and Spiritual Warfare, What the Bible Really Says

There are so many practices in spiritual warfare that are practiced by some segments of the Christian and Messianic Jewish Communities.  Some claim Scriptural warrant, but when you look at the texts in context, they do not mean what is being extracted from them.  Some of the interpretations are what we call isagesis, reading in, verses exegesis, explaining what is really in the text.  Some practices claim to be based in the leading of the Spirit.  Our book seeks to understand both what the Bible really says and what can be credibly claimed as being led by the Spirit.

To answer our questions, we have to first survey the Bible and present that it says on angels, demons and spiritual warfare.  Spiritual warfare is important in gaining ground for the Kingdom of God.  What are the most important biblical on angels and demons. What do they do?  What is their power?  How do we best oppose them on the basis of biblical teaching.

In addition, we have the testimony of leaders from various nations that engaged in operations that seemed to have a major effect in rolling back the forces of darkness, including commanding those forces to let go.  I have been in prayer meetings where people addressed the principality over city, sometimes by name.  At other times they have addressed the Prince of Persia or other demonic ruling powers.  Should people be doing this?

We hope that this book is enlightening and brings biblical balance and advance to the issue of spiritual warfare.    

The Triumph Of Early Christianity

I recently finished reading a book by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement became the Dominant Religious Force in a Few Centuries.  There are important sections with useful information for us all.

I first became acquainted with Rodney Stark in 1968 when I was taking the Sociology of Religion at Wheaton. His book was Religion and Society in Tension, by himself and Charles Glock.  There were many surveys of the people in the denominations. The book was one of the first that showed that churches with classical confessions of faith and high commitment levels do better.  This has continued to be shown in every study of religious organizations since. (Eg. Dean Kelly, What Conservative Churches are Growing) Rodney Stark is now 86 years old. He lived his life as one of our most brilliant sociologists but was exceptional in his appreciation of Christianity.  Most sociologists to not have this appreciation.  Though an agnostic for most of his life, in 2007 he professed Christianity.

There were three important conclusions from his writing.  First, in the first 4 centuries and perhaps even continuing, Christianity was very Jewish in rooting and orientation.  Secondly, that Christianity was the greatest force for the liberation and elevation of women that that world had ever seen.  Lastly, that Christianity overtook paganism not only due to the conditions of pagan society leaving a vacuum of meaning, but that Christianity provided a far superior world view or superior ideas.

The rapid growth of Christianity was in part due to the presence of the synagogues and Jewish populations in the Diaspora.  The Judaism of the Diaspora was more open to Hellenistic ideas than in Israel.  This enabled Jews in the Diaspora to be more a part of the larger society. This more flexible Judaism attracted many Gentile God Fearers.  Both would be able to entertain the new faith in Yeshua.  Yes, there was rejection but enough of a response by both that there was  real progress.  It was not ordinary pagans that were first attracted to Christianity but those who were influenced by the Jewish people.  I would say that the synagogue was the pre-evangelism center for the Yeshua movement.

Secondly Christianity elevated women more than any other religion, far more than paganism and even more than Judaism.  Of course, this is very contrary to the received narrative of today’s feminists that see Christianity as oppressive and patriarchal.  Yes, later Christianity was more restrictive, but not early Christianity.  Let us contrast other cultures. Mao famously said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  In other words, physical force determines rulership.  In almost all cultures worldwide men have ruled and suppressed women.  Sometimes it was very harsh. Men can do so because they are physically stronger and have historically exercised that physical strength as giving them the right to dominate.  I have read on cultures form India, China, Japan, Europe and Africa, and it is mostly the same.  In the Roman Empire this was also the case. Women were treated as the property of the men, who could marry a 12 year old and have sexual relations, could divorce at will, and could live by a double standard for his own sexual promiscuity.  In addition, women were forced to have abortions.  It was a common practice.  Many women died from this. Girl babies were often not desired and were given up in infanticide exposure.  Christianity or we could say the Bible required men to treat women as equally created in the image of God, to give up domination and replace it by love and mutual service. The image in Ephesians 5 of the husband loving and caring for the wife and the other texts exhorting such love are unique for that time.   By requiring marital fidelity and in valuing children as created in the image of God, the Church forbade abortions and infanticide.  This also elevated women. Finally, women were frequently given important leadership roles in the churches as ordained deacons.  Wealthy women were attracted to the faith and were a key to supporting and leading in humanitarian endeavors.  Never in world history were women so valued and elevated. The elevation of the worth of children produced Christian population growth while the population for the large Empire was in decline.

Finally, Christianity taught the most attractive doctrine.  In a world with capricious gods who wanted sacrifices but did not really care about humans, and gods who did evil to one another and to people from time to time, Christianity taught a unique monotheism where the creator God “so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.”  This was astonishing.  Pagan religion did not teach that the gods cared about human beings.  Christianity taught that we are to love one another and even to love our enemies.  During the great Roman plagues, where some estimate that 1/3 of the Roman population perished (160-260), Christians reached beyond caring for their own to caring for the larger population in nursing and aid.  The response of the pagans was to flee the sick while the Christians served the sick.  And indeed, Christians survived in larger numbers due to this care but also some Romans thought due to supernatural power.  The depth of commitment was a real influence too.  Stark shows that high commitment movements thrive and do not allow for free riders.  This is shown in the amazing witness of martyrdom by the leaders.  Christians in that era knew the teaching of their faith and lived it. They were disciples.

These are important lessons for us as Messianic Jews and Christians if we are to thrive again.

Restoring Jewish Roots to the church

I have been a shepherd in the Messianic Jewish world for 48 1/2 years now.  The primary focus of the Messianic Jewish movement was and should be winning and discipling Jewish people.  However, there is a second and important purpose.  Our existence raises questions that give us an opportunity to restore Jewish roots to the churches.  And what did we mean by that?  First of all, it was to see the churches, first with its leaders, to understand the Bible in its original Jewish context.  This meant that “replacement theology” the doctrine that the Church had replaced Israel and was the new and true Israel would be rejected and secondly that the election of the Jewish people/Israel would be solidly embraced.  This as well would lead to a much better reading of Scripture.  We also intended that the Church would embrace the foundational stand of the Messianic Jewish congregations, that Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews.  The Messianic Jewish movement was not against the Protestant Evangelical heritage but affirmed it.  We wanted to add understanding to it.  Restoring Jewish Roots did not mean destroying the Christian heritage, whether holidays, worship on Sunday, Christmas carols and other Church practices, hymns, liturgy, and holidays which were not contrary to the Bible.   


However, some years later, in the 1980s a Jewish Roots Movement began that was apart from the Messianic Jewish world.  Some teachers were solid, with very good teaching and some took wrong turns that brought us great concern.  At its worst, some promoting Jewish roots taught that Christians, the churches, were responsible to keep the Sabbath and  Jewish Feasts according to the Biblical calendar and more.  This came close to what we dubbed “One Law Movements,” which the Messianic Jewish movement worldwide largely rejected.  What then do we think restoring Jewish roots should entail.  I outline here the first two categories which we desire and then two further categories which we think violates the teaching of Galatians and Colossians 2 and Romans 14.  


  1. We desire that the Bible be understood in its original Jewish/biblical context.  This means that we study the whole Bible.  As part of this, we desire that the churches and its leaders would understand the weekly Sabbath and the Feast of Israel including:  a. their historical meaning in ancient Israel and the historical events connected to them, b. their ancient agricultural meaning, c. how they were brought to fullness in the first coming of Yeshua and finally, d. how they will yet be fulfilled and are prophetic of the last of the last days and the Age to Come.   The patterns of life given in the Bible for Israel have universal meaning that all are called to understand.  
  2. We desire that the Church would understand its own heritage in its connection to Jewish roots.  The Church celebrates Good Friday as the recognition of the death of Yeshua as the atonement for all.  Good Friday is rooted in and participates in Passover meanings and this should be taught and understood by the Church.  It is especially fitting that it be taught on Good Friday to bring out the fullness of Yeshua’s sacrifice.  Also, Pentecost is celebrated as the anniversary of the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2).  The Jewish Feast should be understood as its background and why God chose this Feast for the outpouring with all of its harvest meanings  

These first two points are explained in my books Jewish Roots, and Israel, the church and the Last Days.  We think it is appropriate and fitting for the churches to pray and be led by the Spirit to join with Messianic Jews during the seasons of the Feasts for celebrations near the days of the Feasts. But this has to be by the Spirit and not by any enjoined rule or sense that it would be superior to others that do not so embrace such celebrations. For us the Fall Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) which Zechariah 14 denotes as the international celebration of the Kingdom of God could be a special time together. On the Saturday night during Sukkot week, we used to have a great interchurch celebration.


  1. The third category is that it is better and so much richer if the churches give up their Christian Holy Days, and embrace instead the Biblical Holy Days since they are the Feasts of the Lord.   (On the contrary we believe that embracing such Holy Days is a matter of freedom and the leading of the Spirit.)  Teaching a superior tradition for the churches in our view goes over the line of the clear warnings of Colossians and Galatians.  These days are a shadow, and no one is to judge for the way gentiles embrace these celebrations or do not.  Even the Sabbath is taught as principle (Heb. 4) but is never enjoined as something that should be kept for gentiles during this transitional age. 


  1. The fourth category is a more serious violation of Scripture when some teach that all Christians should keep the Torah in the same way that Jews do.  Hence Jewish Roots is defined as keeping the Feasts, the Sabbath, and the food laws.   Jewish roots is said to be thus restored.  Scripture is explicit that this is wrong and that those who are not Jewish and circumcised are not responsible to keep the whole Law but only universal law.  Of course, the details of this false view are problematic. What days do we keep?  According to the Rabbinic Lunar calendar which we use in Israel?  Most scholars today think that the Biblical calendar was a solar calendar and sometimes the Church Feast Days are closer to the Biblical days than the Jewish calendar.  It is interesting that there is not one New Testament verse that exhorts gentiles to keep the seventh-day sabbath or the Biblical Feasts according to Biblical dating.  


The Jewish Roots movement becomes a source of division rather than enrichment when it goes over the line to #3 and #4.  


ON FAIRY STORIES: A Little Piece for Chanukah and Christmas

During graduate school, I was fascinated by a presentation by the famous apologist, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories. Tolkien argued that all great fairy stories, and often great literary classics presented a general pattern that fit the Biblical narrative.  Things start well, but then something happens whereby things go terribly wrong with great trials and suffering, but then there is redemption and victory for the good people, and they live happily every after.  This, is, of course referring to the Biblical account where the human beginning is in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, but then things went terribly wrong through the temptation of the Serpent.  Human life often became a trial of suffering.  However, there are harbingers of the ultimate redemption and the great turn around in Israel’s escape from Egypt and entering into the promised land.  Then there is the promise of the coming of the Messiah who will bring final deliverance for Israel and the healing of the nations.  All will live in peace and joy under the rule of the Messiah.  It is the great reversal. The coming of Yeshua began the process that will lead to the completion of redemption and to the “happily ever after.”  So many sense that they are made for the happy ever after end. 

Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, is one of the greatest fairy stories.  Tolkien was firm on his exhortation that we should not see the novel as an allegory of the Gospel.  However, that does not mean that it does not generally participate in a Biblical orientation because all great fairy stories do so.  Only recently was I able to obtain a copy of this essay which I had read over 50 years ago. 

My favorite Christmas Story is It’s a Wonderful Life. In this great classic we find that every good life touches many people, but we don’t often see it.  When one life influences for good, that person touches others who touch others. The great thing about this story is that the lead character does find out that his life has been a wonderful one.  Of course, he lives happily ever after. Now one does not really ever live happy for forever in this present life.  Rather, he lives happy forever only in after the consummation and the return of Yeshua. 

Chanukah is a preparatory story, a fairy tale in real life, real history.  It tells us how Israel was delivered and re-attained their independence as a nation after terrible oppression under the Syrian Greeks.  Without Chanukah there is no coming of Yeshua to a Jewish living nation in the first century. Chanukah tells a proximate fairy tale for the happy forever does not last.  Alas, the descendants of the Maccabees become corrupt.  Then the nation was then conquered by Rome.  Eventually the Romans destroy the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary.  The Christmas story brings the most amazing tale of the incarnation of Yeshua that leads to the amazing victory of the death and resurrection of Yeshua.  But this is not the end of the story.  That ending, the final happy ever after ending, comes about only in his Second Coming.  We are in the middle of this greatest of all fairy stories, spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom, suffering, rejoicing, and onward until the final victory.  That is the ultimate happy ending forever. 


A New Covenant Siddur/ A Yeshua-Centered Messianic Jewish Worship Book

In 1990 I was wrestling with a question.  Are the traditional Jewish prayer books, the Siddur and the Machzor, for the annual Holy Days, adequate for the worship expression of Messianic Jewish congregations.   I understood that these prayer books were based on Scripture and quote much of Scripture in the prayers.  The theology is mostly correct, but from a pre-Yeshua perspective.  This has produced two approaches in the Messianic Jewish world.  1.  The Siddur is the basic book for the Messianic Jewish gatherings with little besides incorporated in the worship service.  This is the minority in the movement. The second is to use the Siddur as is, but then add New Covenant material of a more modern musical style. Often there are two parts to the service, the traditional service, and then the modern music part.  They are often fully bifurcated.  In the 1980s I was already dissatisfied with this approach and integrated Yeshua-centered modern worship with the ancient liturgy.  Yet, we still suffered a bifurcation.  Ancient liturgical material was pre-Yeshua.  People learned that worshipping in the power of Yeshua explicitly was not in the liturgy but only in the modern musical pieces recently written.   Then I believe that in 1989 the Lord began to speak to us about the fact that our worship did not bring out the fullness of fulfillment in Yeshua, and that our liturgy itself should reflect this.  We were seeking God at Beth Messiah Congregation.   

In 1991, I sensed a leading form the Lord to create a liturgy that was a response to a question.  What would the Jewish liturgy/prayer books have been like had the prayers and hymns been created by followers of Yeshua?  That summer, at my wife’s childhood home in upstate New York, I believe I was led to write a prayer book based on this question; based on the Siddur and Machzor content but with New Covenant Content explicitly in the liturgy.  This included singable Hebrew and English.  When it was first presented at Beth Messiah in the 1991 services for Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, it received an amazing response.  There was clapping and hallelujahs in response to liturgical prayer!  The liturgy continued to receive a strong enthusiastic participation.  Since then, off and on, we have been refining the work.  Dr. David Friedman in Israel translated the English written Messianic Jewish liturgy into modern Hebrew. Then we paid for it to be pointed with the Hebrew vowels.  We added references to the traditional prayer source in the Jewish prayer books.  We included prayers for the annual Holy Days.  We now have it complete in hardback and at a good price.  

I recommend this book to you for your personal devotional life, for all Messianic Jewish congregations and churches with Messianic Jewish services.  I believe this is a special publication for you, a conclusion of a 29-year project.  Do order this and God bless you. 


The Talmud Part One: The Mishneh

As a new leader in the Messianic Jewish world, 1972, I wanted to learn much more about Judaism. I began reading many books.  One project still amazes me, and that was going through the Soncino English version of the Talmud.  How deep was my understanding? I cannot evaluate it.  I will say that such an exercise does give a person much more of a sense of Talmudic Judaism than many would think possible without years and years of study with Rabbis.  Some years later, I studied other books on Rabbinic Judaism and especially Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s large volumes summarizing Rabbinic literature.  Neusner, in my view, was the greatest scholar of Rabbinic Judaism who was not an Orthodox Jew (he was conservative).   Then some months ago, I began to ask if I needed a review of the original source and decided to go through the Mishnah.  I wanted to refresh my memory.  The English version can be read and is just over 800 pages.  

The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud.  It was passed down orally until written down by Rabbi Judah the Prince at the end of the second century.  It is amazing for us moderns to realize how much was memorized and passed down, and this includes the Talmud part two.  The second part of the Mishnah which covers more than 300 years after the Mishnah, is called the Gemara.  It explains and expands on the content of the Mishnah.  

The Mishnah is invaluable for describing both the Judaism of the first century Pharisees, but one has to be careful here and not read too much back into the first century.  It also gives the consensus of practice from the end of the second century.  It provides details on Israel’s Temple services, sacrifices, Feast celebrations and practices, Sabbath laws, and the basic practices of Synagogue prayer from that time.  It also gives us applications of Torah, the laws of Moses, and how Rabbis of the time sought to apply the Torah including tort law, penalties, and capital offenses. Sometimes the applications are very wise and sometimes I scratch my head.   

The largest amount of material in the Mishnah deals with laws of purity and holiness.  This was a major emphasis of the Pharisees and sometimes was a source of conflict with Yeshua.  The details of law upon law are stunning.  It is building a fence around the Law so the law will not be violated, but then it builds a fence around the fence.  So many of the decisions as to what counts as making one unclean and to what degree seem arbitrary and cry out for the greater explanations given in the Gemara.  The level of legal hair-splitting in the Mishnah astonishes anyone who looks at it objectively without an overarching ethnic prejudice.  Surely much in the Jewish heritage is good and beautiful and true, but in these legalistic pages upon pages, the question naturally arises.  Is this what God wanted for our people: to give their primary attention to pages upon hundreds of pages of legal arguments and conclusions over matters that do not seem consequential and go way beyond the text of the Torah.  The arguments often focus on what if questions?   The Biblical law on what makes one clean and unclean and hence qualified for Temple involvement can be readily understood for 98 or 99% of the cases.  The genius of the Rabbis is to focus on those 1% or 2% of questions of possible contamination with arguments of what does and does not contaminate. They want to cover every possibility of contamination even if remote.  Once a conclusion is given, then the new question of a new 1% or 2% that arises from that can continue a new argument.  

It is hard to not ask a question.  Is this really what God is concerned with and what he really wanted our people to spend untold hours studying and arguing about, day after day, year after year, and century after century.  Of course, outside of Orthodox Judaism, now a minority of Jews, Jews today take a much more flexible approach to these traditions and generally do not live by the strictures of the centuries past.  Certainly, this did produce a great separation of our people and was used by God to preserve our people.  But was this the necessary way of preservation?  I do not believe that this reflects the ideal will of God. Is such focus a result of the failure to recognize Yeshua and his approach to Torah in the first century and the failure to recognize the post-resurrection apostolic witness?  That is my conclusion.  When Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel or America say they are studying Torah, they mean the Talmud and the Rabbinic traditions that continue the debate to this day.  Rarely is Torah studied, though it is read through every year.  

Hoshana Rabba

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba in Judaism.  I am sending this out to you since this day begins this Thursday evening.  I previously sent a post on the meaning of Sukkot in general.  Now I want to concentrate on this Seventh day.  Remember the 8th day celebration that follows, a day of new creation.  That is also an important sabbath day.

This Feast is connected to prayers for rain and good crops for the coming year.  As we have just celebrated the end of the year’s harvest, we look forward already to the new harvest that will come at Shavuot or Pentecost.  The key to that harvest is rain and hence the prayer for rain with the hope that the early rains will start soon after the Feast and then continue into the Spring where we will see the latter rains.  We are so much more conscious of this living in Israel.  It is was on this very day of the Feast that Yeshua stood up and said,

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.  Now He said this about the Ruach whom those who trusted in Him were going to receive; for the Ruach was not yet given since Yeshua was not yet glorified.”

As rain produces fruitfulness and both satisfies our thirst and brings increase, so the Spirit satisfies our spiritual longing and brings increase, for by the Spirit we are able to see the harvest of people into the Kingdom.  It is again fitting to remember the harvest themes of this season.

Scholars tall us that this might have been spoken in the context of the water pouring ceremonies at that time.  The priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam and put this out in the Temple as an offering, signifying both giving our lives and calling for rain as well.

A great miracle was also connected to this time; the healing of the blind man in John 9.  We again have a Sukkot theme, namely that Yeshua is the light of the World.  This statement of Yeshua in John 8:12 promises those who follow Him will have the light of life.  Thus the blind man is healed as an illustration in the physical of being healed of our spiritual blindness.  His words, “I was blind, but now I see.” John 9:25.   The context is the glory of the lamps that were lit in the court of the women that produced a grand glory over the Temple and the City.

As we celebrate Hoshana Rabba, let us remember these wonderful themes and renew pray for the renewal of the power of the Spirit in us so that we may have inner satisfaction, walk in His light and be part of the great harvest. It is fitting to pray for revival indeed.