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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, March 30, 2007

Set Your Course Toward the Lighthouse

Our readings for Shabbat Tsav link us to the themes of the month of Nisan, the season of our redemption, and a time to think deeply about repentance and renewal. Our Haftarah is especially effective pointing to such paths or righteousness. In effect, this passage is one of many lighthouses in Scripture which powerfully orient those who would travel in God’s ways, just as Scripture in its totality constitutes such a lighthouse.

We begin in the seventh chapter of the Prophet Jeremiah.

21 Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat! 22 For when I freed your fathers from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice. 23 But this is what I commanded them: Do My bidding, that I may be your God and you may be My people; walk only in the way that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.

Verses 21-23 are something of a thematic prologue for the passage under consideration, which will end with a thematic epilogue as well. And there is much of interest here. When God says “I did not speak with (your ancestors) concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice,” he is of course not saying, “I never mentioned this,” because, obviously he did. Rather, he is saying, “That was not my point.” Rather, his point was, then as now, to command them and us to do his bidding, to walk ONLY in the way that he enjoins upon us, that he might be our God and we his people.

God provides His word as a lighthouse—a fixed point of reference by which we ought to guide the ship of our life, that our lives might move in the right direction, and that he and we might be associated companions throughout life's journey. The assumption in Scripture, demonstrable in our lives and in the pages of the daily newspaper, is that we are surrounded by distractions and dangers that threaten to detour us from God’s pathways into dangerous depths that we little expect. See what follows here:
24 Yet they did not listen or give ear; they followed their own counsels, the willfulness of their evil hearts. They have gone backward, not forward, 25 from the day your fathers left the land of Egypt until today. And though I kept sending all My servants, the prophets, to them daily and persistently, 26 they would not listen to Me or give ear. They stiffened their necks, they acted worse than their fathers.
27 You shall say all these things to them, but they will not listen to you; you shall call to them, but they will not respond to you. 28 Then say to them: This is the nation that would not obey the Lord their God that would not accept rebuke. Faithfulness has perished, vanished from their mouths.

The problem for our ancestors and for us, is when we turn aside from the pathway marked out by God’s lighthouse. And what is the consequence? Falling into deeper and deeper evil and under the judgment of God. So Jeremiah turns to the language of mourning:

29 Shear your locks and cast them away,
 Take up a lament on the heights,
 For the Lord has spurned and cast off
 The brood that provoked His wrath. 30 For the people of Judah have done what displeases Me — declares the Lord. They have set up their abominations in the House which is called by My name, and they have defiled it. 31 And they have built the shrines of Topheth in the Valley of Ben-hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in fire — which I never commanded, which never came to My mind.

32 Assuredly, a time is coming — declares the Lord — when men shall no longer speak of Topheth or the Valley of Ben-hinnom, but of the Valley of Slaughter; and they shall bury in Topheth until no room is left. 33 The carcasses of this people shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth, with none to frighten them off. 34 And I will silence in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride. For the whole land shall fall to ruin.

8:1 At that time — declares the Lord — the bones of the kings of Judah, of its officers, of the priests, of the prophets, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be taken out of their graves 2 and exposed to the sun, the moon, and all the host of heaven which they loved and served and followed, to which they turned and bowed down. They shall not be gathered for reburial; they shall become dung upon the face of the earth. 3 And death shall be preferable to life for all that are left of this wicked folk, in all the other places to which I shall banish them — declares the Lord of Hosts.

Yet brightness returns at the end of this haftarah, where the lighthouse is epitomized for us in words that are hard to forget. And here they are:
9:22 Thus said the Lord:
 Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom;
 Let not the strong man glory in his strength;
Let not the rich man glory in his riches.
 23 But only in this should one glory:
 In his earnest devotion to Me.
 For I the Lord act with kindness,
 Justice, and equity in the world;
 For in these I delight.

The lighthouse is the transferable light of earnest devotion to God and to His standards— Deeds of lovingkindness, righteousness and justice in the world. The standards of Torah display that light, Yeshua epitomized and reflected that light, and we should seek to reflect that light as well.

The other day I found myself driving behind an SUV that had a sticker in its back window that said “Veritas Aequitas,” Truth and Justice, a watchword from the motion picture "Boondock Saints." Not bad guidelines. The light of Scripture not only includes these guidelines, but more . . . and burns brighter still than the motto on the SUV!

The Smithsonian Institute has an interesting posting at about lighthouses to be found at http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/lighthouses/history.htm. From this we can extract five truths about lighthouses that can help us understand the place Scritpure must continually play if it would illumine our lives:

(1) Lighthouses serve to warn of danger from a spot that sailors could see from a safe distance both night and day.

So Scripture should be our constant reference point in order to continually alert us to the dangers confronting us. The passages from Deuteronomy and Numbers which we read in the Shema section of our liturgy remind us or the continual reorientation around Scripture: “ These words which I command you this day shall be with you “when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up . . . remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which lead you astray. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God” (Deut 6, 11; Num 15).

(2) Lighthouses serve as guides into harbors or anchorages.

Similarly, if we are to find the safe harbor and anchorage of eternal communion with God, we must learn to guide our actions by the light of His word. It is not enough to believe in the Light—one must follow it. Some people concentrate so much on right belief that they fail to see how much Scripture focuses on right conduct. This is something which Judaism has to teach the Christian world, something we need to learn, an orientation of our moment by moment lives: a focus on the deed. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Judaism is the religion of the common deed,” and so, we should all focus on our deeds—Is this action I am contemplating one that will commend me on the Day of Judgment? And if not, is there something I need to do to remedy the mess I’ve made? As Paul puts it in 2 Cor 5, “we must all appear before the Messiah's court of judgment, where everyone will receive the good or bad consequences of what he did while he was in the body.” This orientation, found deeply in Scripture, should guide every day, every hour, every minute, in every situation.

(3) Lighthouses provide a fixed point of reference to aid our ability to navigate in the dark when the shore or an offshore hazard cannot be seen directly.

If we were able in ourselves to detect the spiritual dangers confronting us, we would not need the Light of Scripture. But the fact is, we are blind, deaf, and habitually self-deceived. Indeed, Scripture says we not only deceive ourselves, we even tempt ourselves. Without the Light of Scripture we are lost. And it is not enough to say that we already know what Scripture says. This would be like a person saying that he once saw the lighthouse and has no further need to seek it or to orient his journey in its direction. No, we must return again and again to the lighthouse that we might avoid the hazards between us and our goal, and make the repeated course corrections of a God-led life.

(4) The distance at which such a light can be seen depends on the height and intensity of the light. The brighter the light and the greater its height above the sea, the farther it can be seen.

Sometimes people are inclined not to consult the light of Scripture because it is just too bright—its goals seemingly unattainable and far too ambitious. It is easy to see how people can feel that way, especially if their lives are not going very well. But such persons should realize that it is just this brightness, just this height from which Scripture shines, just this radiance permeating Yeshua, that constitutes the power the Light has to rescue us. Were the Light not so bright and so high, it would not penetrate the darkness with which we are so often surrounded.

(5) When the weather is bad, with rain, snow, or fog, visibility can be greatly reduced.

When our lives grow chaotic and compromised in some manner, when sin has held sway in our lives, when we are upset and thrown off course by forces from within and without, when some dark spiritual conspiracy has thrown a pall over of lives—at least for a time--when evil companions have influenced us to our own peril, in such circumstances and more, the light can be obscured and difficult to see. However, there is no darkness that can completely quench and overcome the Light. Yochanan’s Besorah, the Gospel of John, says it this way: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

What shall we do with all of this? Just this:

(1) One can scarcely overdo consulting the Bible constantly as a central habit of life—it is a Light for our path.

(2) Nor can one overdo pondering the holiness of life exemplified by Yeshua, seeking to find there a comparison point and compass for our own ways of relating to God and man.
Therefore, make it your goal to become nothing less than Christlike, and to imitate others whose lives reflect the character of Yeshua.

(3) Powerful darkness and deceit dogs our steps and hinders our journey. Therefore, make it your constant habit to catch your own self-deceit, to edit evil companions out of your life, to always choose or return to the right orientation. The consequences of going deeper into darkness are horrific, involving nothing less than total devastation, despair, and destruction. Therefore, always seek the light, walk in the light.

While it is true that in Messiah we have forgiveness resources, this should never be taken as an indicator that sin is not serious, that wandering from the path of righteousness is not dangerous to our very survival. No, forgiveness helps us to return to the paths or righteousness for His name’s sake—and this is what we must do again and again—returning to the path which the Light illumines.

Jeremiah provides an epilogue that epitomizes what we have been saying here.

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom;
 Let not the strong man glory in his strength;
 Let not the rich man glory in his riches.
 But only in this should one glory:
 In his earnest devotion to Me.
 For I the Lord act with kindness,
 Justice, and equity in the world;
 For in these I delight.

The first Psalm puts it this way:

1 How blessed are those who reject the advice of the wicked, don't stand on the way of sinners or sit where scoffers sit! 2 Their delight is in ADONAI's Torah; on his Torah they meditate day and night. 3 They are like trees planted by streams -they bear their fruit in season, their leaves never wither, everything they do succeeds

4 Not so the wicked, who are like chaff driven by the wind. 5 For this reason the wicked won't stand up to the judgment, nor will sinners at the gathering of the righteous. 6 For ADONAI watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Follow the light. Head toward the harbor. And stay safe.

At 3/31/2007 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering why you would use the term “lighthouse?” Jews and water haven’t usually gone together and lighthouse isn’t normally associated with Biblical Judaism as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

At 4/01/2007 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So when you make up these posts, have you heard the voice of G-d like the prophets? Or does being a rabbi mean being like a prophet but with the added bonus of getting G-d to follow whatever the rabbis say no matter how conflicting instead of listening to G-d which would be unifying.

At 4/01/2007 8:48 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Are you saying that I "make up these posts," but that your consistently anti-Judaic, anti-rabbbinic vitriol comes down from heaven to the accompaniment of a choir of angels? Do you honestly believe that the living God, Blessed be He, holds the rabbis with your sort of categorical contempt?

I know you are outraged by my exegesis of Matt 23, which states that "the rabbis sit in Moses' seat, therefore do whatever they tell you to do," as being Yeshua's validation of their authority rather than their example. But because you cannot gainsay the meaning of the text, you stoop to such vitriol.

You assume that "the rabbis" do not listen to God. The fact is, there are countless rabbis whom I would hold up as models of holiness such as would make the average Christian blush with shame, people "of whom the world was not worthy." But you will have none of this. Following in a certain train of opinion concerning Johannine thought, you instead persist in a kind of good-guys bad-guys polarization, where Judaism and the rabbis must first be wearing the black hats and then incinerated in your ideological crematorium. I don't know whether to vomit or scream.

You continually succeed in demonstrating how right I am to sound the alarm concerning how anti-Judaism and anti-rabbinism infect the Body of Christ.

May God have mercy on you.

At 4/01/2007 10:39 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

"Jews and water haven't usually gone together." So the Red Sea was seltzer?


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