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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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Friday, February 10, 2006

Why is Ezra 7-10 in our Bibles?

The following brief essay was sent as a letter to two friends who are leaders in the Messianic movement. It is part of a wider correspondence on the necessity and shape of covenant faithfulness among Messianic Jews.

In Ezra 7-10 we have a very sobering account of how Ezra and a group of returning exiles return to Jerusalem to honor God at the Temple, bringing with them offerings. At that time, the people beome aware that they have transgressed Torah by marrying foreign/pagan wives, and even some of these people have had children with these wives.

The people, and especially Ezra, realize that this disobedience has dishonored God and brought them into covenant jeopardy, the anticipation of God's rightful wrath. So what do the people do? They institute a procedure whereby those who have taken foreign wives will put them away-divorce them.

There are a few matters of special interest for us here. First, this is a pivotal time in the people's history. At such at time attending to matters of covenant fidelity is especially urgent. Second, the leaders themselves were singled out for their own compromise of the covenant. Third, the people realized that the patterns of past history would be again fulfilled in their lives if they did not repent and reverse their covenant disobedience. In Ezra 9:13 we read: "And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, 14 should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations?" Fourth, there was some dissent in the ranks over what was being contemplated, but still it was done. Fifth, this was certainly a severe measure, and involved very hard decisions undertaken with due sobriety.

The last time I brought this up in tne context of a denominational e-mail discussion. I was treated as if I had exposed myself at the annual Conference shabbat service. But I will bring this up again, because I must and because we must deal with it. I will also give you my answer to the question, "Why is Ezra 7-10 in our Bibles?"

I do NOT believe that this passage is here to tell Jews in the Messianic Jewish movement to give up their Gentile wives. After all, these are not pagans, and with the blessings of the Newer Covenant, the issue of intermarriage, while still important and calling for better thinking and living than is our wont, is a very different issue than it was for Ezra and the exiles. This is NOT in the Bible to call us to put away our Gentile wives. But why is it there?

It is there to remind us that at pivotal times, such as this time when we are anticipating the culmination of God's restoration of His people Israel, we should become urgently concerned with matters of covenant faithfulness, as were our ancestors in this passage. We should realize that the patterns of the past are a warning to us not to repeat the errors of our ancestors. Like those in this passage, we should ask, "should we again break Your commandments, and join in . . . committing these abominations?" In other words, just because we are Messianic Jews, should we assume that matters of covenant violation will be any less jeopardizing for us than they were for our ancestors? Yeshua didn't die for us to legitimize our disobedience! Furthermore, at such times, we should, and especially leaders should, be prepared to make very hard decisions for the sake of covenant faithfulness.

So the question confronts us, which I leave with all Messianic Jews reading this, especially those in leadership. What hard decisions are you prepared to make, and are you prepared to require of our movement, for the sake of covenant faithfulness? Or are we to assume that covenant faithfulness has become more user-friendly since Ezra was around?

The Messianic Movement prides itself on being a biblical movement. I don't think this is really so. In fact, in matters of Jewish covenant fidelity, it is obvious, plain, and incontrovertible that we are not biblical at all. We only use biblical texts in these areas when they serve to limit our inconvenience.

I am certain, absolutely certain, that matters of covenant faithfulness will be a very divisive issue in our movement, chiefly because we have within our borders different religions not coexisting very well. Messianic Jewishism and Messianic Judaism are two different relgions. On the one hand we have among us Charismatic Protestantism in e-minor, with all the presuppositions concerning matters of personal liberty and autonomy that this entails, and on the other hand, we have some among us who are seeking to develop a Messianic Judaism which honors Israel's God and the halachic covenant obligations to which He called us as part of wider Israel. These are two different religions, and conflict between them is not only inevitable, it is necessary. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that these two religions can be harmonized or their differences ignored. And let us not imagine that matters of covenant faithfulness can be dummied down so as to not make waves. Ezra 7-10 is here to remind us that the opposite is true.

It is for the sake of confronting us and our movement with questions such as these that I believe this passage is in our Bibles. We dare not ignore it simply because we don't like the way it makes us feel, or because it makes us dread the flack such passages might arouse.

For us, as for the people of Ezra's time, it an inconvenient thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

We ought not to kid ourselves that it could be otherwise.

At 2/17/2006 2:03 PM, Blogger chigbee said...

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