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

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Does God Play Favorites?

(This is a sermon on Parashat Bo presented February 4, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills. CA)

Many people find aspects of the Bible unfair, and they think that God plays favorites. But what is the answer to the question, “Does God play favorites?” Before answering that, we have to take another look at the question.

People who ask “Does God play favorites?” need to always remember two things—who they are and who God is. Paul reminds us of this in Romans 9, when he states,” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?”

We must remember that we are human beings, and that God by definition is one who gets to do what he chooses: indeed, God defines what is right. Because He is a holy and righteous God, who always acts in a manner consistent with His nature, by definition what he does is right and just, even when we don’t understand what He does. In such cases, the fault is not in God, but in the small dimensions of our understanding.

Nevertheless, God has called us into relationship with Himself. For this reason, in His relational kindness he does, within limits, explain Himself to us. And the first principle of understanding who he Is is this::

1. We must always remember that God is God and we are not.

Turning to our texts for today, we may discover information which will help us answer today’s question, “Does God play favorites?”

In today’s Torah reading we read of how God killed the first-born of all the land of Egypt but saved the first-born of Israel. For some of us this is a problem because we read our 21st century values and sense of entitlement into this account. We think that we have a right to stand against God and to tell Him what is fair and what isn’t. In such cases, we must remember our first principle: that God is God and we are not. But there is more.

In this account, we must remember that Israel is God’s covenant people—a people to whom He has promised His protection, a protection which is most evident whenever His people walk in His ways. God always keeps His promises, and slaying the Eqyptian firstborn while saving the Israelite firstborn was necessary for Him to keep his covenant promises to Israel. This brings us to principle number two:

2. God always acts in a manner consistent with His covenant promises.

Our Haftarah passage illumines this principle further for us. In Jeremiah 46:27-28, we read this:

But as for you, do not be afraid, My servant Jacob, and do not be frightened, O Israel, for behold, I am saving you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall return and be tranquil and complacent, and none will make [him] afraid. You, do not be afraid, My servant Jacob—the word of Hashem—for I am with you; though I shall make and end of all the nations where I have dispersed you, but of you shall not make an end; I shall punish you with justice, but I shall not destroy you utterly.

I direct your attention especially to this clause in verse 28: "though I shall make and end of all the nations where I have dispersed you, but of you shall not make an end."

God accords to the descendants of Jacob what we might term “Divine Most Favored Nation Status.” In the political realm, Most Favored Nation Status is an international commercial arrangement which binds the signatories to extend trading benefits equal to those accorded any third state. It guarantees equal commercial opportunities, especially concerning import duties and freedom of investment.

Divine Most Favored Nation Status is more exclusive: God deals with the Jewish people in a unique manner of all the people groups on the face of the earth.

In Jeremiah 30:11, the same thought is expressed: “`For I am with you,' declares the LORD, `to save you; For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you, Only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly And will by no means leave you unpunished.'”

And perhaps the most glaring expression of this sentiment is to be found in the words of the prophet Amos, in Amos 3:1-2: 1 Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Here we find a paradox that must always be maintained, and it brings us to our third principle

3. The descendants of Jacob have unique Most Favored Nation Status with God, but with that unique status comes greater responsibility.

Finally, we come to our Newer Testament reading for the day, which further develops this principle on both a national and individual basis. [read Luke 13:1-5]

Part of what inspired today’s message is the sinking of the ferry boat in the Red Sea with almost 1500 people aboard. Even with some rescued, the death toll of this disaster exceeds that of the Titanic. And this reminds us of the Tsunami disaster of just over a year ago.

Perhaps, in reference to the tsunami, you heard people comment how Thailand is after all a Buddhist country, and that one of the sins to be found there is a trafficking in children for sexual purposes. Some people commented that the disaster must surely be divine retribution for idolatry and sin. And of this Egyptian ferry disaster we are most assuredly going to hear someone say, “Well, some of them were returning from an idolatrous Muslim pilgrimage, and, although we don’t always understand or agree with God’s ways, God took them down because they weren’t his people, as a severe merciful sign that they are not worshipping God in the right way."

Our Newer Covenant reading helps us to evaluate and respond to such statements. It has at least five more principles embedded in it. It is not insignificant that the inquiry Yeshua handles concerns people from Galilee, because Galilee had a low reputation for piety, and some mixed breed people, and even Gentiles, not part of the covenant people, lived there. No doubt the people who approached Yeshua with these questions assumed that in part, this disaster was due to the fact that these were the wrong kind of people with a defective religion. His answer to these inquirers is twofold> First of all, we are forbidden to think of ourselves as better than other people, as less deserving of God’s wrath than they are. Second, we must always remember to concentrate on dealing with our sins rather than theirs. These are a stiff rebuke to current conservative religious attitudes. They are a blow to our pride. And they are meant to be. It is for this reason that Yeshua also mentions a catastrophe that struck some people in religiously respectable Jerusalem. Those people upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not defective people---we should not assume that the tragedy came to them because of their defective character or their defective religious practice. Instead, we should take such incidents as a spur to examine ourselves and to repent of our own sins.

So here are five more principles for you:

4. We are forbidden to think of ourselves as better than others: “man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.” These people we despise may have better hearts in the sight of God than we do.

5. We must always remember to concentrate on our own sins, and never on the sins of others.

6. Even if we are part of God’s chosen covenant people, whether the seed of Jacob, or the seed of Abraham by faith, we must realize that if we do not deal with our sins, God may well have to deal with us.

7. In this world, sometimes things just happen, and we must not read theological significance into every event. As in our Newer Covenant reading, tyrants kill people, even in the midst of their religious rites, but this is just something that happened rather than God’s veto of the people or their religion. And towers fall, tsunamis happen, ferry boats sink, calamities strike people down at random. We may read nothing into such events except that such things happen.

8. At all times, it behooves us to be humble. This is something that religious people are very poor at, and we all must work harder at it all the time.

So, returning to today’s question: Does God play favorites? Yes and no. God does accord special treatment and protection to those who are in covenant with Him, but with that special treatment comes additional accountability and no bragging rights.

Let us all become more humble, more aware of and concerned with our own sins rather than those of others, and let us always stand ready to be a source of comfort and assistance to those who suffer calamities of any kind. Chances are they are far more precious in the sight of God than they are in our own eyes.

At 2/09/2006 2:09 PM, Anonymous Chayamindle said...

Oops! I inadvertently clicked my response, including (Shorashim articles) twice re: Part 2 of your post "Is the Gospel Good for the Jews?'
Sorry, the lengthy repetition was accidential and certainly not intended to "clog the blog".

Does G-d play favorites? I don't think He plays them, but He sure has them ,-- you Stuart being among His most favored chosen Jewish expositors of His Word, today!

At 2/10/2006 9:05 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Chayamindle.

Thank you for your kind words. The check is in the mail.


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