From Joseph, through Judah: Foretelling Messiah

The ability to recognize our sin, to take responsibility for it and to repent is at the core of what is meant by the idea of a Messiah.” 

 “… the courage to admit guilt, to take responsibility, to change. This is the lesson that the Messiah will one day teach the world. Man controls his destiny. No matter what mistakes he has made, man can fix them.” –  Rabbi Ari Kahn [1]

The Messiah is a prophet, a prophet who has/will declare perfectly the will of the Almighty and teach us of His Ways, as per Psalm 119.

Therefore, the Messiah will show us

  • what true repentance is;
  • what it means to be truly and fully obedient to the Almighty;
  • to truly ‘forgive those who trespass against us’’;
  • to speak into the world in an attempt to heal it (Tikkun HaOlam); and
  • to demonstrate to the point of accepting death that ‘no greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friends’.

For more on the Messiah from a Hebraic Perspective listen to our Podcasts – Part 1 and Part 2

This weeks Torah Portion (Genesis 37-40) contains so much wisdom and is so heavy with prophetic vision and typology.

There is a well known Jewish saying: ““the actions of the forefathers serve as a portent (a sign or warning) for their descendants.” That is, we can learn so much about both how to live today and about what is coming tomorrow, from studying the narratives of the Hebrew/Jewish patriarchs.

This Torah portion begins with: And Jacob settled in the land in which his father dwelled.” – Gen 37:1

Today, Jacob’s children have again settled in the land in which his father dwelled.

The next verse reads:These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph was seventeen years old ...” – Gen 37:2

Note how immediately Joseph is brought into the picture. Joseph’s whole life is such a strong ‘type’ of Messiah. That is, there is so much of his life that acts as a sign to the future coming of Messiah [2].

Notice also in the very next verse that Jacob is now referred to by his name Israel.

“Israel loved Joseph more than any of his sons …– Gen 37:3

Perhaps this indicates that the love that Jacob/Israel has for his son Joseph is a national love, a love that all Israel should share, a yearning not just for the leadership and wisdom of Joseph to return to lead the people, through Messiah, but a love for their brother, for their neighbour and for their God, so powerfully declared through the example of Joseph [3].

But much goes wrong first!

Much time and heartache and loss occurs between the birth and exile of Joseph, and the redemption of Israel’s family through this same Joseph.

The favourite son is scorned by his brothers. He is handed over to the pagans and endures much suffering. But ultimately he rises up to stand at the right hand of the highest authority in the land.

Ultimately, his position of great authority, acting as the principal agent of the King (the Pharaoh of Egypt) will bring redemption and salvation to his brothers who rejected him, and to his entire family (as well as to many Gentiles – Egyptians).

Note that there is an intriguing break in the narrative though.

The last verse of Genesis 37 informs us that Joseph has been sold into slavery in Egypt.

 “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” – Gen 37:36

Then in the first verse of Genesis 39 (NOT 38), the story of Joseph in Egypt and his rise to great authority and ultimate redemption is begun.

“Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” – Gen 39:1[4]

So what is ‘in the gap’? The story of Judah and his illicit union with Tamar, which produces the line of King David and the King Messiah.

Why is this story placed here as an insert, as a pause in the narrative of Joseph, the great ‘type of Messiah’?

Perhaps as a ‘portent’, as a sign for the future, so that we may consider what it may be telling us.

The son of Israel, chosen by HaShem as a Messiah (an ‘anointed one’) to bring the redemption and shalom is rejected by his brothers and ‘disappears’ from view for a time. While he is ‘away’ in a ‘far land’, Jacob grieves for his loss and much tension and conflict arises between the brothers, especially against Judah. Ultimately they all leave the Land of Israel to ‘find’ their Messiah, their savior Joseph dressed and disguised as an Egyptian (Gentile), and through his efforts they find salvation from the famine and are ultimately returned to the Land.

At the end of the Genesis 38 and the story of Judah we read of his repentance.

It is then that the story returns to focus of Joseph and we read of the redemption of the people of Israel; the restoration of Jacob/Israel with his son Joseph, the restoration of Joseph’s brothers with Joseph and finally the  return of all Israel to the Land of Israel.

We also see during this time that Joseph is involved in the Gentile world, that the Gentile world is greatly blessed by his involvement, his leadership and example.

Could this narrative be a further ‘sign’ that after the last great exile and dispersion from the Land of Israel (a direct result of the prophetic fiat of God through Moses on the plains of Moab – see Deut 29-30), the Jewish people will return and their Messiah will be revealed to them. Jacob/Israel will learn that he was not dead, that he has been given great authority and that when the time is right he will bring full restoration and real shalom to Israel and all the nations of the earth!

May Messiah come speedily!

For more on the return to israel in these present/last days see my article: ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’.

Paul Herring
December 2012

[3] And of course through the example of Yeshua (Jesus), who a number of famous Rabbi’s and Professors have called the greatest ethical teacher ever. This was certainly the view of Prof. Joseph Klausner, of Hebrew University (retired in 1949) who was an historian of the Second Temple period.

[4] For a great article of this fascinating story I strongly recommend the article ‘The Light of Messiah’ by Rabbi Ari Kahn at Aish.com – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48914512.html

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Hopes and Fears

This weeks Torah portion ‘Chayei Sarah’ describes two events in the life of Abraham, which may not appear that significant, but which actually carry an incredible depth of meaning and insight.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks writes a great article on this Parshah which brings out the amazing lesson and conclusion, that God’s great promises to Abraham do not mean that Abraham can sit back and have it all come to him without his total involvement. As Sacks’ states: “Faith does not mean passivity.”

The Hebrew language and the Hebrew mindset is all about action; about movement, energy, courage, passion, will, drive, and of course, trust (faithfulness).

Trust that God is involved; that He will support our righteous actions and even guide them through his teaching (His Torah) and His covenants, but that ultimately, we must act, we must step out with faith and courage and create the future that God has promised us. The Almighty wants to work with us, to work alongside us, to build our future together, to repair the world together (Tikkun HaOlam), and ultimately reward us with Eternity!

This was true in Abraham’s day and it is true today. It was true for the first Hebrew, the first man who ‘crossed over’, Abraham, the father of Israel and it is true for all Israel today, but it is also true for all the peoples of the many nations who call Abraham their father and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob their One True God and Saviour.

I strongly recommend reading Rabbi Sacks short article on the Aish.com site – see ‘Hopes and Fears’ at http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/177159951.html

Abraham, the Father of the faithful:

This weeks Torah Portion (named Lech Lecha) is from Genesis 12-17. There is so much here; so much to read; grasp and grapple with. From the founding of a new people in a new Land, to the incredible covenant and promises made to Abraham.

The covenant and promise in Genesis 17:4-5 is in my opinion, one of the most significant of all, as it speaks to a time when the Word of God is embraced by Gentiles. “…You will be the father of a multitude of nations.Neither will your name any more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”

Note that the Almighty declares a future promise as if it is already past, as if it has already been fulfilled. The Word of God cannot be stopped; it’s intent will always come to pass.

There is a lot, and I mean, an awful ‘lot of water to pass under the bridge’, looking forward from that day, before this promise fully comes to pass.

Before Abraham can be the Father of all who put their trust in the One True God, he must first become the Father of the Chosen People, and these people must separate themselves to God; become ‘holy’ (meaning separated), before they can become a ‘light to the Gentiles’ and ultimately lead many Gentiles, many peoples of many nations, into the family of Abraham, so that the promise to Abraham can be fulfilled.

When this promise is finally and totally fulfilled, ALL the children of Abraham will stand as equals before the Almighty, as demanded by their status as children of the father of the faithful, the man so specially chosen to announce, and proclaim the One True God to the world.

I love the way that Rabbi Ari Khan brings out the apparent contradictions that need to occur as a lead in to the ultimate fulfillment of his great promise. To quote just a little of his brilliant article (see link below for full article at Aish.com):
“ … The joyous, really incredible news that a nation will emerge from the loins of Avraham, is tempered by the knowledge that a certain tension will always surround this nation. As this nation emerges, we learn that others will never be indifferent….They will always elicit some sort of reaction from others, (they will) always serve as a source of blessing or a curse for others.

Furthermore, this blessing may be limiting: it is particular in nature, it is directed exclusively to the people who will become known as the Jewish People. In Avraham’s eyes, universal dreams may be challenged by particular nationalistic aspirations. Whereas Avraham has seen himself as a citizen of the world on a mission to help elevate all of mankind, his mission now becomes linked exclusively with this new entity, “the Children of Avraham.”

… in Shechem nationhood emerges. This is where Dina is abused, and where the local residents offer the family of Israel to join destinies, to join them and form one nation. This offer is rejected, and a process is set in motion:

A nation with its own unique history begins to chart its path, undertaking the long march to fulfill its particular, unique destiny. A nation, indeed; but at this point a small, vulnerable nation that rejects the benefits of assimilation into a strong, well-established local clan. This is a defining moment, a decision that crystallizes and forms the Nation of Israel.

… With the command to perform the Brit Milah (circumcision) Avraham’s life will change. There will now be a boundary between him and everyone else. He will now be viewed even more suspiciously by his neighbors. In fact, the rabbis express their sensitivity to Avraham’s conflict between universalism and nationhood as a “hesitation” on Avraham’s part when he was commanded to perform circumcision.

… Clearly, then, the Brit Milah (circumcision) is a test. The challenge may be heightened by the paradoxical nature of the command which he receives:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Avram ; your name will be Avraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Avraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Bereishit 17:1-14)

Avram is told that from now on his name will be Avraham, signifying that he will be a father of many nations – Av Hamon Goyim. This would seem to be the ultimate universal message: Not only will Avraham be a part of the larger universal existence, he will bring nations toward God.

And in the next breath he is told to perform circumcision which creates boundaries and will forever separate Avraham and his descendents from all others. In one fell swoop, the universal vision and the narrow, parochial, particular approach.

Apparently, Avraham is confused. How can he impact the entire world when he must first perform an act of self-mutilation that people will view as grotesque?

Apparently, what Avraham still lacks is “holiness” – kedusha – which is literally rendered as “set apart”. This separateness is a new phase for Avraham, and not one to which he would have come without God’s command. This separateness may be seen as that which contradicts Avraham’s innate attribute of chesed (loving kindness), the attribute through which he has served God up to this point in his life.

How is he to reconcile chesed with kedusha? How is he to be a part of the world – involved, engaged, interested, even responsible for the world – and live a life of kedusha, set apart, indelibly marked by “differentness”? How will he and his descendents reconcile living in a mundane world with their unique destiny and closeness to God?

The answer presents itself later on in the text, as Avraham finds himself enmeshed in his next paradoxical challenge: the Binding of Isaac. Here, too, logic is defeated. If Yitzchak is to be offered, how can he effectively be the living progeny destined to carry on the family line? Avraham and Yitzchak nonetheless set out to fulfill God’s command, and they bring two other people along. Our Sages identify them as Yishmael and Eliezer – Avraham’s first son, and the man who was like a son.

… Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far away. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come back to you.’(Genesis/Bereishit 22:4-5)

Those last words, “and come back to you,” cannot be ignored. Avraham encapsulates a unique religious experience in this short statement, and we should take note of every element: This awesome religious experience would not be complete until Avraham came down the mountain and shared with others his epiphany, his feelings and his enlightenment. Avraham would have the greatest impact on the two men he left behind only after parting ways, dedicating himself to the more particular religious experience at the summit, and then returning to their company.

Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.

There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.

Avraham learns to resolve the tension. Both the universal and the particular are important, but they are intertwined.

The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.

… Our world, then, is not so different from that of Avraham and Sarah after all. The world still lacks holiness. By observing the commandments, both those we understand and those that seem to us paradoxical, we add holiness to our lives. We set ourselves on a higher rung, as it were. And as holiness accrues, we will find our spiritual, ethical and social abilities exponentially increased, and thus our ability to effect change and fix a broken world.” – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48952101.html

The Jewish people have spent their time in the desert and their time learning holiness. They ‘came back to us’ (Gen 22:5), to the Gentiles in a sense, when Yeshua lived the perfect example of true holiness and oneness with the Almighty.

His example, to the point of giving up his life for his friends, for his people, calls out across the divide to the Gentile people, to God-fearers throughout the world, that we too can separate ourselves to God and in having the some trust in the Almighty, the same faith(fullness) in God that Yeshua had and that Abraham had (Rom 3:22 & 4:16), we too can indeed become fully ‘children of Abraham’ and full members of the Commonwealth of Israel. The Resurrection was the Almighty’s stamp of approval on the witness of Yeshua; the ‘circumcision’ of Yeshua (his ‘separation’ to God), can then become the ‘circumcision’ of the Gentile God-fearers.

This is the mystery revealed in Yeshua’s day; the mystery of how Abraham was to become the father of many nations; the mystery revealed to Sha’ul, and to Peter through Cornelius.

In part 2 of our podcast on the Hebraic Mindset, we will speak more about ‘tikkun olam’ (repairing the world).

Yom Teruah Approaches

Some thoughts as Yom Teruah approaches:

The Apostle Paul believed that God’s adoption of the Gentiles was to precede the restoration of Israel (including the full return from exile and re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel).

Therefore the Apostle Paul believed that God had temporarily hardened the hearts of many Israelites to the truth regarding Yeshua as the eschatological Messiah so that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles could first be accomplished.

So, as Prof Paula Fredriksen points out in ‘Judaism, the Circumcision, and Apocalyptic Hope: Another Look at Galatians 1 and 2,’ “a generation after his experience of the Risen Messiah, and despite the great Day having not yet dawned, Paul could still ‘coherently and reasonably affirm to the Church at Rome  that ‘salvation is nearer to us that when we first believed’ (Romans 13:11)” – p564.

It is also instructive to recognize that this statement of the Apostle Paul’s in Romans 13 is part of his exhortation to the Gentile believers in Yeshua (worshiping God within the Jewish synagogues/homes in Rome), that they are to show proper respect and obedience to the Jewish leaders (‘ministers of God’) of these synagogues (see Mark Nanos, ‘The Mystery of Romans’ for the full explanation of this historical setting – here is an introduction).

It is also vital that we see that Paul (Rav Sha’ul), in true Hebraic fashion is generally speaking corporately, rather than individually, when he speaks of salvation.

Thus he sees the Coming Age as imminent as Gentiles are turning from their idolatrous practices to the One True God of Israel and fulfilling the promise to Abraham that he would become the father of many nations.

It would appear (to me at least) that Paul did not fully appreciate that the Tanakh’s prophecy of a dispersion to ‘the uttermost parts of heaven (earth)’ (Deut 30:4) had not yet been fully enacted and so the end times return from exile could not yet occur. (This return, a miracle greater than the parting of the Red Sea, is now occurring before our very eyes! – see my ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ at www.circumcisedheart.info for some more detail on this.)

And yet, for the Apostle Paul’s message to fully reach to all Gentiles throughout the entire earth, perhaps it really did need the historical events of the last, almost 2000 years for this to occur.

The Apostle Paul believed he lived in the ‘end times’ and that in those times God would graciously redeem the nations (gentiles) from their idolatry without the ‘works of the Law’ (Jewish proselytization) and so Jew and Gentile would go up to the mountain of the LORD, to worship together at the House of Jacob (Zec 14:16-21).

Before the resurrection of Yeshua, Gentiles who were learning about the One True God, the Creator of the Universe through attending synagogues on Shabbat (Sabbath), could only enter the family of God by undertaking the ‘works of the Law’ and becoming Jews (Israelites). With only Jews gaining entry into the Kingdom of God, this meant that prophecies such as Zec 14:16-21 could not be fulfilled.

I believe that somehow Yeshua revealed to the Apostle Paul that God had initiated a new way; a new path through which Gentiles could become fully ‘children of Abraham’,  and equal members of the Kingdom, while still remaining Gentiles.

This revelation of the Messiahship of Yeshua and the imminent arrival of the Coming Age (the Olam HaBah) brought great joy to the Apostle Paul and drove him forward in his mission with great energy and passion.  I have written at some length on this in both ‘The Mystery of Romans: A Torah and Shema Centric View’ and in ‘The Tripartite Salvation Paradigm’.

Note as well verse 9 of this prophecy of Zechariah: “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be One and his name One.”

Perhaps the increasing recognition and rejection of such idolatrous doctrines as the Trinity and ‘Dual Nature of Christ’, etc., coupled with an increasing embrace of Torah by Gentiles in particular, is indicative of the lateness of the hour in this 2000 year ‘end times’ scenario?

Perhaps also the increasing recognition of Jewish scholarship; of brilliant Jewish theologians like the late David Flusser; Prof Mark Nanos; and Rabbi’s like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Ken Spiro and Moshe Reiss, to name just a few shows that Zec 8:23 is also being fulfilled before our eyes!

Zec 8:23:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” 

As it appears to me that this great prophecy has not yet come to full realisation, this is just one of a number of reasons why I don’t believe that this Yom Teruah is THE Yom Teruah.

However, there is great tension in the air; many sense the Spirit of Adonai moving; something momentous may yet occur.

I believe Yeshua will return on a Yom Teruah in the near future (see my article for details) – may it be soon!