Rabbenu Home


A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mismatched Worldviews and Honoring God

Years ago, in Jewish missions circles, the frustration was with getting people to see that they were sinners. After all, if you can't get people to admit they're sinners, you can't get them to go for your Savior.

Same problem nowadays, but with a different twist and a different result.

Last shabbat I taught on Parashat Mattot which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about vows but were afraid to ask. Chapter 30 of numbers treats the inviolability of vows, except in certain cases. But for those rare exceptions, a vow made must be a vow kept, or one would have to face divine displeasure. It was clear to all in my congregation that failure to honor one's vows was, in Torah, a serious sin.

Chapter 32 of Bamidbar speaks about the Reubenites and the Gadites and their beseeching Moses for an exception: they want to inherit land on the east side of the Jordan instead of the west side with all the rest of Israel. Moses, acting as God's agent, worked out with them the terms of the agreement: that all the men of fighting age of the Reubenites and Gadites would cross the Jordan with their brethren, serving with them as "shock troops." Only after the battles were won and their brethren secure in having taken possession of the land, would the Gadites and Reubenites be free to return to the east side of the Jordan to settle down with their wives, children, flocks and cattle. The Reubenites and Gadites agree to this arrangment stating, "shall receive holdings among you in the land of Canaan, "Whatever the Lord has spoken concerning your servants, that we will do."

From the text it is clear that this is legal transaction, and that the leaders of the Reubenites and Gadites are acting on behalf their entire tribal groups. Clearly, no tribal member could exempt themselves from compliance with these arrangements, since their tribal heads and leaders were acting as their agents.

For the Reubenites and Gadites, collectively or individually, to have failed to complied would have been sin. They would have forfeited their inheritance due to breech of contract. And at the very least, in no way could breaking such an arrangment be construed as honorable.

To a person with Torah ears, the recorded statement of the Reubenites and the Gadites, "Whatever the Lord has spoken concerning your servants, that we will do." sounds familiar. It reminds one of another agreement, another covenant, another set of vows: that at Sinai. It was there that the people of Israel, acting as our agents, said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do, " and again "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." After this, Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

Our people entered into a solemn agreement with the God who redeemed us from Egypt, which our tradition in fact sees as a marriage contract. Even the Amplified Bible picks up on this, in its version of a passage from the Haftarah for Parashat Mattot. This is from Jeremiah 2:1-3:

1And the word of the Lord came to me [Jeremiah], saying, 2Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the Lord: I [earnestly] remember the kindness and devotion of your youth, your love after your betrothal [in Egypt] and marriage [at Sinai] when you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. 3Israel was holiness [something set apart from ordinary purposes, dedicated] to the Lord, the firstfruits of His harvest [of which no stranger was allowed to partake]; all who ate of it [injuring Israel] offended and became guilty; evil came upon them, says the Lord.

This was a marraige contract. All of israel is honor bound to "love, honor and obey" our Divine husband. This means that obedience to Torah, our ketubbah, is our only honorable response to the One who redeemed us. It also means that modern Jewish and Messianic Jewish resistance to Torah obedience cannot be seen as anything less than dishonoring to God, and dishonorable of us.

The Newer Covenant doesn't ease the pain. Yeshua says this about vows in Mattityahu/Matthew chapter five: "33 Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil."

The Newer Covenant sets a higher standard for honoring our covenants, not a lower one. As Jonathan Kaplan reminds us on the blog , "Yeshua establishes a fence around the Torah by stating that one should avoid making vows altogether lest one transgress commitments made to God (and others). The importance of avoiding making vows which one fails to keep is also emphasized by Yeshua’s brother Ya‘akov who says, "Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation" (Ya‘akov 5:12).

While it is true that Yeshua took upon Himself the "curse of the Law," that is, the covenant jeopardy that accrues to us due to our disobedience, who would be so foolish as to say "Yeshua obeyed God so that we wouldn't have to," or, "Yeshua died for us that we might be free from the responsibility of Torah obedience." No, this cannot be. Yeshua died to free us from condemnation but not from responsibility.

Here's the problem: it is one thing for people to see that this is true. But how many of us will begin to reorder their lives accordingly? Under the prevailing worldview, inconvenient vows may be ignored, and it is better to ask to be excused than to be forced to do what one deems to be unpleasant.

O God, teach us to hold ourselves and each other accountable to honoring our Divine Husband. Renew our Days as of Old.