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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.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Preparing for Battle, Transitions and Divine Opportunity

This is a sermon on Parshat Beshalach, presented February 11, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. In this sermon I challenge us to consider how prepared we are--or not--to play our roles in cooperation with what God is going to do among His people Israel, soon and in our days.

There comes a time when God’s people need to battle, when there is a crisis or a cause that calls for us to mobilize to get things done that need doing, despite the obstacles facing us. At such times, some people will always choose to remain spectators. Others will function as support personnel, far from the front lines. But others will engage in the thick of things, feeling themselves called upon to focus their energies and make a difference at such times of transition, opportunity or threat.

In our readings today, we see God’s people mobilizing His people at such times as these, and there are a few lessons for us to learn.

Let’s look first at the Haftarah [Judges 4:4 to the end of chapter five]. Right from the beginning we can see our first lesson: God uses some improbable people. First there is Deborah the Prophetess, a rarity in Tanach, as a front-line woman leader, and then Barak, the mighty military man who needs propping up, and also there is Ya’el the Kenite. All three of these people were improbable, but each in turn was crucial to winning the battle. Deborah was the visionary—she had a divinely charged inner knowledge of what had to be done. Barak was the functionary—he took care of business and details. Ya’el was the unexpected ally who came forward at an unexpected time to do what needed doing. All three kinds of people were needed for God’s will to be accomplished, each had a part to play. And such people needed to work together for things to reach their best conclusion.

We see Deborah and Barak working together here, but it’s not pretty. The Kingdom of God seldom is. Barak is reluctant to go to battle unless Deborah goes with him—he is a warrior, but appears to lack confidence that God will be with him unless Deborah goes too. So it is that Deborah chides him, telling him that he will therefore lose the glory of final victory, and will have to face the cultural humiliation of a woman delivering the coup de grace instead of him. And that woman will be Yael the Kenite, a woman, an ally of Israel's enemies, not a Jew, but an improbable person who steps forward at the crucial time to make all the difference.

We find more light on this kind of situation in the poetic reflection on this victory, found in Chapter 5. There we find again that progress can be messy: some of the tribes came up to battle, others malingered. Especially commended, in addition to Deborah, Ya'el, and Barak, are the leaders of Israel, the devoted ones among the people.

So we see here a number of lessons. First, there is a division of labor, of gifts and calling. At times of transition, challenge and battle, there will be some who are visionaries, some who are functionaries, some who are unexpected allies who come forward at stategic times. All are needed, and none should despise the other. There are also the troops—like those nameless people who fought with Barak against Sisera. These kinds of people are just as necessary, even if they are not considered superstars.

From our Torah reading, other lessons may be selected.

The first from our Torah reading is the lesson of timing. When Israel came left Egypt, the text says, "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, 'If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.'"

As it was for Barak, for Deborah, and for the Children of Israel in our Haftarah, so here in our Torah reading, it is God who went with the children of Israel as they left Egypt—in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. And in the bGod prefers to only lead us into battles, challenges, transitions that we are ready for, even if we don’t really feel ready. Secondly, as for Deborah, Barak and the attles, transitions and challenges to which God calls us, He goes before us and with us.

Third, just because God is in the midst, and just because he doesn’t lead us into challenges we cannot face, doesn’t mean we won’t be frightened. Fourth, there is a time for trustful prayer. . .and there is a time for trustful action: neither is any good without the other. This is why we read in Exodus 14:15, that, as the children of Israel were trembling at the shore of the Red Sea, with the Egyptians bearing down on them, God said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward." We must engage in trustful prayer, but that prayer must be accompanied by trustful action.

Finally, we must remember that the challenges he lead us into, the battles we face, the transitions we must handle are not about us. Rather, they are about the well-being of all of God’s people, the advancement of his cause in the earth. We need to beware of our tendency to be so self-protective and so self-involved that we only invest ourselves in things of direct benefit to ourselves, or things that cause us no risk or inconvenience.

This brings us to our New Covenant reading, Luke 14:25-35.

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
34 "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?f 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"

We notice first of all that there were large crowds following Yeshua. He does here what Scripture shows him doing elsewhere: he tries to thin out the ranks, to either get people who are following him for the wrong reasons to disengage, or to call them to more appropriate engagement. So it is that he makes a number of very striking statements. At times of battle, of transition and of divine opportunity, as in the case of military maneuvers, it is crucial to be fully engaged, fully focused, fully committed.

He says that to follow him we must be prepared to hate father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even life itself. This is a semiticism which strongly contrasts two sets of priorities: Yeshua and the Kingdom of God on one side, and the strongest of human relationships on the other. In times of battle, transition and divine opportunity, we must be focused on the voice of the Commander and the priorities of the battle, even if it means ignoring the voices of other core relationships.

The second lesson in this passage is that of realistically assessing your resources. Don’t underestimate what it takes to bring things to completion. The Kingdom of God, the purposes of God, the things of God in times of battle, opportunity and transition, demand full investment of all we are and have. If you are going to be half-hearted or semi-committed, it would be better if you just stayed home.

The final lesson is the lesson of character. What are you made of? Are you Kingdom stuff?
Are you one of those people who will say “Count me in” when you realize God is up to something because you can’t bear the thought of not helping to make it happen and of not being there as God changes things? Or are you wishy-washy, a dilettante, a mere nibbler at the feast of God’s purposes? We are supposed to be people of salty character, people who taste like the Kingdom of God.

I believe and teach that we are approaching a time when God will be bringing extraordinary, unprecedented and ultimate spiritual renewal to the Jewish people. It will be a time when the Jewish people will return in massive numbers to covenant faithfulness to the God of Israel, to Spirit-filled commandment keeping, observance of holy times, and ritual life, in and through Yeshua the Messiah. This will be a time when Jewish people and the Messianic Jewish movement will not be asking, “How much do I have to do?” but instead will be saying, “God has given us commandments, statutes and ordinances we are responsible to keep. How are we going to fulfill that responsibility? He is our God, and we want to serve Him well! We really need to know what to do!” For such a time as this, we will need visionaries, functionaries, unexpected allies, troops, and support personnel. Are you any of these, or are you a mere spectator, or worse yet, are you AWOL?

These times are fast approaching, indeed they may already be here. If Scripture is true, then many of you will desert the battle lines, and only a few will say, “Count me in.” Which are you?