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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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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Toward Understanding the Meaning of Covenant Membership

This is a Sermon on Parshat Mishpatim, presented February 17, 2007 Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It concerns our participation in the covenant responsibilities of the people of Israel.

“Good preaching focuses on who God is and what God does.”

That is what I read this week in a perceptive article by Marianne Meye Thompson. Dr Thompson said that good preaching should have lots of sentences where God is the subject of good strong active verbs, sentences that say God creates, sustains, saves, rescues, sends, helps, heals, delivers, fills, enables, etc. Further, she said that good preaching must do this before it gets to discussing people and their responsibilities, joys, sorrows, and spiritually souped up agendas. She made the point that often, sermons are too much about us—our lives, our responsibilities, our joys and sorrows—and that God seems to be secondary, or hardly on the radar screen in too much preaching.

Of course, she is right. Although we have needs and responsibilities, addressing these must flow out of our encounter with who God is, and what he does, and because God is God, he always has first priority.

So, my friends, in looking at today’s text, let’s begin with God. What exactly does our text say that God does not just for people in general, and not for Jewish people in particular, but rather, let’s look especially at this question:

How Does God Demonstrate His Covenant Faithfulness to Israel?

God provides for us and sustains us in life - “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.” We were to bring these offerings because food comes from God—and it is God who gives us life and sustains us in it. This is why, even in urban Los Angeles, where Jews get their food from Vons, or Pavillions, or Ralph’s, or Gelson’s, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s, we still celebrate harvest festivals like Sukkot and Shavuot—to remind ourselves that it is God who provides for and sustains his people Israel in life. And that is why, at special occasions, we say this blessing: Blessed are you O lord who has kept us in life, and established us, and enables us to reach this season.” He is the one who provides for and sustains his people Israel in life.

God protects us.
20 I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready. 21 Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses, since My Name is in him; 22 but if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.

23 When My angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits. . . . 27 I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you. 28 I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites.

When you come to think of it, Jewish religious life focuses a lot on this, doesn’t it. There’s Purim, where we celebrate His protecting us from that evil, wicked Haman. Then there’s Passover, when we celebrate his protecting us from Pharaoh. And there are other holidays like Yom HaAtzma’ut and Yom Yerushalayim, when we mark how God enables us to have victory over our foes in the founding of the modern State, and the liberation of Jerusalem. Even at the very end of our service, the words following the Mourner’s Kaddish remind us “Be not afraid sudden terror nor of the storm that strikes the wicked. Lay your plan, it shall fail, form your plot, it shall not prevail, for God is with us.” God protects his people.

God accompanies us in our journey through history. The same verses we just read tell us that God not only protects us, but that this protection comes from the fact that he accompanies us. I like the way Isaiah reflects on this passage we just read: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isa 63:9).

God provides for our health and well-being—our shalom. Not only does God sustain, and protect, and accompany his people: he also provides for our well-being—leading us into a life of shalom—of wellness and wholeness. Look how our text says it: "25 You shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst. 26 No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days."

God reveals Himself to Israel not only in His word, but in His manifest Presence. This is what Paul refers to when he says, in Romans 9 – “to them belongs the glory”—that is, the Shekhinah, the manifestation of the Divine Presence. See, for example, 24:9-11, 15-18.

This is quite a list, isn’t it? God provides for us, sustains us in life, protects us, accompanies us, and maintains us in health and well-being, he comes to be among us. These are the things God promised he would do for Israel, and this is what he has been doing for us for thousands of years. This is what his covenant faithfulness looks like.

These provisions and promises only intensify with the coming of Messiah Yeshua—in Him God continues to provide for us, sustaining us in life, protecting us, accompanying us, maintaining us in health and well-being, so that not even death will separate us from the love of God which is in Messiah Yeshua.

How Should We Demonstrate Our Covenant Faithfulness to God?

How about this answer? "Thank God, He requires absolutely nothing of the Jewish people in return for his faithfulness to us. We can go on now and live as we please, live as comfortably as we want, as long as we pay some kind of lip service to the God who did so much for us. What we eat, how we pray, how we live with other people, how we respond to God’s commandments on a day to day basis, whether we go to synagogue for special occasions and keep shabbat in any manner, really depends upon what else is happening in our lives, and, after all, that’s really simply a matter of personal conscience, and it’s really nobody else’s business how we are doing and what we do or do not observe. The commandments can never tell us what we ought to do but only what we might do if that is our style and if we are going through a religious phase of some sort. The commandments are only for certain people—the very religious—and certain times—religious holidays and occasions and old age. Otherwise, we are free to live whatever kind of life we find meaningful as long as we avoid adultery, theft, and being outed on the six-o’clock news. After all, Yeshua paid it all, and said 'It is finished,' and besides, we aren’t under the Law any more."

I wonder if you don’t find something very wrong with this sort of mentality. Let me illustrate with a story about a Messianic leader, whom none of you know. He is part of another association of Messianic congegations, and is convinced that the Law of Moses is now extinct, having been fulfilled in Christ, and that the only Old Testament laws we have to keep are the Law of Christ, those laws taught in the New Testament.

Now, I know that most of you don’t agree with this viewpoint. But I want you to feel the issue on a visceral level, not simply logically. This same man, a leader in his congregational association, was at one of their conferences some years ago, and had expressed his views on these matters, denouncing the kinds of views we hold here. To make his point, at a meal that afternoon he made a point of ordering shrimp and eating it with great gusto—just to make his point that we are “not under the Law of Moses,” but under the “Law of Christ.”

Aside from the other arguments we could muster in this matter I want to ask you one question: Do you not feel in your gut how unseemly this was for him to do? Do you not feel, as I do, that for a Messianic Jewish leader to eat pork or shrimp to make a theological point indicates a certain contempt for the ways of our ancestors and the heritage God gave us, ways for which people suffered and died? Are you not uneasy and even outaged by this kind of contemptuous dismissal of such a way of life by someone who believes he has the theological right to do so? I don’t know about you, but this makes me very uneasy: I am ashamed of such conduct. It disgusts me.

The blessings we have just enumerated are covenant blessings—they are the benefits promised to us by a covenant keeping God. But in that covenant, there are behaviors that are appropriate to us as well if we would honor our heritage, and honor God by keeping the covenant, and if we would expect God to continue honoring the covenant from His side.

If God is the subject of certain verbs—proclaiming, saving, sustaining, protecting, accompanying—then we too are the subjects of certain verbs—there are certain covenanted things—agreed upon things—which the Jewish people as a people are supposed to do in order to honor our covenant with Him. If there are verbs that apply to God, there are also verbs that apply to us. What are they? If find five.

First, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will increasingly live in conformity to his ethical guidelines. Chapters 21, 22 and the first eleven verses of 23 are almost entirely a collection of such stipulations, mitzvoth bein Adam l’chavero—commandments between a man and his fellow. This falls into the category of “gemilut hasadim”—deeds of covenant faithfulness—faithfulness to our covenant responsibility to God, and to others.

Second, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will increasingly honor God by appropriately observing and guarding shabbat. There is a fleeting reminder of that here, which is later ampliflied extensively. In this ontext we read this: Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed (23:12). Here it is a manifestation of ethical guidance, later it is a covenant requirement—the fourth of the ten commandments, in remembrance of creation and of the redemption from Egypt. Covenantally faithful Messianic Jews will not treat Shabbat like they do all the other days of the week.

Third, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will increasingly honor God by observing and guarding the Holy Days of our calendar (23:14-20a)
. These are not simply days off, or Jewish holidays—they are times to especially honor God, and to let them slide or to be careless in following them is to forget our covenant responsibilities and our covenant relationship—these are not things we may do, but rather things we are supposed to do as people who know ourselves to be forever indebted to the Holy One.

Fourth, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will endeavor to eat like Jews should (23:20b). The phrase at the start of our reading, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk” is just a part of the wider teachings in Torah about covenantal eating. The technical term is kashrut. Now I am not going to argue nor explain today what foods Jews should eat and not eat, and what it means to eat kosher. I will be discussing this at another time. But for now, what is crystal clear is this: Covenant-honoring Messianic Jews should eat like covenant-keeping Jews.

Fifth, if we would be be faithful to God’s covenant we will increasingly participate in worshipful prayer to the God of our ancestors in company with the people of Israel. “Come up to the Lord, with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and bow low from afar” (24:1). Any of us who honor God must do so by worshipping Him in communal prayer with Israel. As I teach elsewhere, just as all the sacrifices of Israel were seasoned with salt, so I believe that Messianic Jewish prayers in union with the prayers of all Israel are the salt on the sacrifice of israel’s offerings of prayerl. Covenant-honoring Messianic Jews will be people who are growing in Jewish communal prayer. .

Sixth, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will constantly grow in lives of Torah knowledge and Torah obedience,
for this is the guidance that God gave to the Jewish people as the way of life whereby we as a people might honor our covenant with Him. (See how this is stressed in 24:3, 7-8, 12).

Seventh and finally, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will recognize that these are covenant stipulations to which our people have already agreed and made themselves and us accountable. See 24:3, 7.
We see this covenant responsibility confirmed yet again, and in unambiguous terms in Deut 26:9-15. It is unavoidable in Scripture that this is the life to which God called us and to which we pledged ourselves in gratitude to him.

If we would be people who honor the God of the covenant and the covenant of God, then we must grow in these areas.

Consider the following passage from the B’rith Chadasha:

Matt 21:28 "But give me your opinion: a man had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 29 He answered, `I don't want to'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, `I will, sir'; but he didn't go. 31 Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they replied. "That's right!" Yeshua said to them. "I tell you that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you! 32 ForYochanan came to you showing the path to righteousness, and you wouldn't trust him. The tax-collectors and prostitutes trusted him; but you, even after you saw this, didn't change your minds later and trust him.

We need to compare this parable with another Jewish parable, from our tradition.

When God sought to give the Torah, no nation other than Israel would accept it. What happened may be illustrated by the parable of a king who had a field that he wished to turn over to tenants. When the king called the first of them and asked, “Will you accept care of this field?” he replied, "I have no strength. Such work is too hard for me. “ And so, too, the second, the third, the fourth—not one would accept the care of the field. The king then called the fifth and asked him, “Will you accept the care of this field?” The man replied, “Yes.” “With the understanding that you will till it?” “Yes.” But when that tenant entered the field, he let it lie fallow. With whom is the king angry? With those who declared, “We cannot accept the care of it,” or with the one who accepted its care but, upon coming to the field, let it lie fallow? Is it not with the one who accepted the responsibility? Simlarly, when God revealed Himself on Sinai, there was not a nation at whose doors he had not knocked, but not one would accept it. But when He came to Israel, they exclaimed, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and obey” (Exod 24:7). Therefore it is proper that you all should obey” (Ex. Rabbah 27:9).

When we think about these parables side by side, we will see how Yeshua’s parable has a strong application to ourselves.

We are the people who said we would keep the covenant—that we would work the field—and then didn’t do it, just as Yeshua speaks of those who said they would work the vineyard and failed to do so. At the end of his parable, Yeshua describes the pathway of repentance as changing our minds—I would suggest the pathway of repentance for the MJ movement is for us to change our minds, and moreso, our conduct, about the pathways of Torah. Like the figures in Yeshua’s parable, we, as part of the Jewish people, agreed to obey and then didn’t do it. I think the pathway of covenant faithfulness for us is to, in Yeshua’s name, return to the pathways we left long ago, not only in word, but in deed.

I began quoting one preacher, let me close by quoting another: Martin Marty says this about preaching. “What is a sermon but a bidding of people to a way of life they would not otherwise have entertained?” That is what I have done today—I am bidding you, I am bidding me, I am bidding us to a way of life that we would not otherwise have entertained. More to the point, the Spirit of the Word and the example of our forbears is bidding us to this way of life. Will we listen? Will we say, “na’ase v’nishma—We will do it and will hear?”

The questions I want to put before those of us whose ancestors stood at the foot of Sinai are these:

• What are the real reasons many of us resist the idea of committing to a life-long growth in covenant faithfulness?

• And if we are through resisting, are we ready to grow?

I hope you are! Let’s grow together.

At 2/19/2007 10:02 AM, Blogger Derek Leman said...

Rabbi Stuart:

I put an article on my blog referring to the infamous "Messianic Terefah demonstration" mentioned in your article. My article is called "Is Dispensationalism Liberal?" and can be found at:


At 2/19/2007 11:48 AM, Anonymous Chayamindle said...

"Second, if we would be faithful to God’s covenant we will increasingly honor God by appropriately observing and guarding shabbat"....

Guided by the 39 melachot, a traditionally defined frum Jew or at least one striving to live as a Shomer Shabbat trys to obey those halachot explaining actions & behaviors specifically permitted & not permitted on Shabbat.

How at this point along your personal derech would you delineate the particulars of the do's and don'ts of Messianic Shabbat observance?
If you could comment by citing a few contemporary examples that affect us both communally & at home, (as well as in discussions with frum friends), i.e. writing, use of computers,
e-mailing,driving, collecting money,etc., by comparing your thoughts with the prevailing Orthodox & Conservative traditional positions, that would be most helpful to many of us desiring to grow in our Torah obedience.

For the wisdom & inspiration that never fails to to emanate from your keyboard to our computer screens, G-d Bless you,& thank you with all my heart.

At 2/19/2007 6:32 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...


Thank you for your kind words.

The issue of halachic guidelines is not something which should be or can be decided in isolation, but rather is a communal process. This is so because Torah was not given to Chayamindle, nor to Stuart, nor to any of us or even all of us as individuals, but rather to the whole house of Israel who, at Sinai said collectively, and through their proper representatives, "Na'aseh v'nishma--WE will do and WE will hearken"--as a collective entity.

Therefore, halachic guidelines should bear respectfful commonality with the discussion of the Jewish community throughout time, and those of us endeavoring to walk in step with Torah should, ideally be part of broad based communities which conscientiously and communally identify norms of behavior.

Fortunately, in the Messianic Movement an excellent body of this sort has formed, which has been meeting for a number of years to identify norms. Our consensus has most in common with Conservative Jewish norms. I will give you one example.

We do not believe it appropriate for people to drive on shabbat EXCEPT as is necessary to pursue the worship of God, and to maintain and nourish family ties. Shabbat must be a day that is set aside for such purposes, and driving for commercial purposes or for the sake of amusement is not appropriate. See Isaiah 59:13-14 for one text that underlies this value.

But again, you MUST not look to me to set your standards, but to a wider community with whom you are in step along the lines I outlined here.

Thanks again for writing.

B'rachot rabbot.


At 3/06/2007 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here you teach grace but not law. Where did the law go? Why can't you teach grace and the law together using a Biblical model?

At 3/06/2007 8:49 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Your questions are of the variety of "Do you still beat your wife?" and therefore I will not answer them. To deal with them would be to accept your premises, (that I deal "grace but not law" and that I "can't . . .teach grace and the law together using a Biblical model." )

An insult does not cease to be an insult just because you put a question mark at the end of it.


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