High school Biology teachers often guide their students through the dissection of frogs or fish. The stench of formaldehyde wafts around trembling fingers as scalpels slice through rubbery material. Students squint at the internal organs of the amphibian or the vertebrate and then roughly sketch the physical details. There is no time for lasting emotional connection with the dissected creature, whose remains are soon disposed of in the nearest rubbish bin.
This newsletter suggests that there is some spiritual benefit in considering comparisons between the impersonal dissection of frogs and one’s theological approach to the Jewish people.
Impersonal approach to Jews and to their humanity
In the New Covenant scriptures Paul warns Gentile believers in Rome about their heart attitudes toward the Jewish people. Do not be ignorant about Israel’s calling, gifts and destiny. Do not be arrogant toward them. Do not be wise in your own conceitedness, and do not boast against them (Romans 11:25, 20, 18). These prophetic warnings have echoed down the corridors of church history, as apt today in their incisive exhortations as they were in the days of Nero and Constantine.
Having observed Christian theologizing and discussion about the Jewish people for over forty years, I regretfully note that many view the people of Jacob with impersonal hearts and through emotionally detached retinas. The Jews are often seen as a quantity, a thing, an example, a paradigm. Their experiences, sufferings and joys are considered basically irrelevant to the discussion. Their history is described with as much emotional warmth as a high school student would have for a dissected frog.
Typically there is only a slight knowledge of (or even interest in) Jewish sensitivities, Jewish achievements, real Jewish humor – in short, a glaring lack of awareness of Jews as human beings, as real people. There is precious little practical respect for the people whom YHVH describes as His firstborn son. Some are trying to understand the Jewish Scriptures without understanding the Jewish people.
Cold-hearted depersonalizing of the Last Days Jewish connection
One of the occupational hazards of theologians is that minds are often more developed than hearts. It is not unusual for a surfeit of intellect to plaster over a frailty of heart. When such people bring their theological tools and doctrinal scalpels to bear on the Jewish people (“a people close to His heart”, as Psalm 148:14 tells us), the results come out clipped and clinical. Short shrift is usually given to the romance of the ages between God (who is Israel’s bridegroom) and His beloved Jewish wife (see Ezekiel 16:6-14; Hosea 2:14-23; Isaiah 54:5-8; 61:10-62:5), while focus is placed exclusively on the love affair between Gentile Christians and the God of the nations.
For many theologians the divine romance between the God of the Jews and His Jewish people is quickly morphed into a divine chess game where Jewish pawns bumble around the board and are picked off one by one. God is sometimes pictured here as the master gamer, enjoying a multi-dimensional chess gambit. These perspectives blend the pastoral approach of a drill sergeant, the emotional tenderness of a football coach and the relational sensitivity of a computer geek.
It might be helpful to stop and ask a simple question: What would flesh-and-blood Jewish people feel and what would they think if they listened carefully to much Christian pulpit teaching about the Jews and their destiny? Would they conclude “What a friend we have in Jesus!” based on what they hear from His followers?
Undoubtedly there are many dear followers of Messiah Yeshua who tenderly and sacrificially love the Jewish people, who intercede for Jacob with passion and tears. We are deeply thankful for them. They are our ardent friends, advocates and protectors. Their glowing faith is truly a divine download from the Most High, bolstered by the word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Yet most Christian teaching and preaching (even among those who focus on Israel’s future) is still highly influenced by Replacement theology. It relates to the Jewish people and their current restoration process in a clinical and detached way.
Cherry picking prophecies about the Jewish people
A balanced perspective on Biblical eschatology (Last Days teaching) is developed in the same way as solid systematic theology is fashioned. All the biblical texts which touch on that subject need to be gathered together and understood in context. Conclusions are then systematized, blended and balanced.
Since the Scriptures are written 95% by Jews and over 90% about the Jews, there is a lot of material with which to work. A balanced teaching on Israel is a safeguard against going off on theological jags or on personal pet emphases. Last Days teachings on Israel need to be handled with care and prayer.
Two recent examples which need theological balance: One, a rabbinically influenced teaching is circulating in some Messianic spheres that the New Covenant is merely a renewed Mosaic covenant (and that, according to this view, future days will see a God-approved Jewish turning to the Mosaic covenant). Another teaching (not in the Messianic Jewish movement) teaches that God will destroy the modern state of Israel and that therefore there is no theological significance in the present regathering – except for judgment.
Obsessive-compulsive focus on words of judgment about the Jewish people
Professional chefs sometimes have a weight problem. As they work, they sample what they prepare, often forgetting how much they have been eating. In a similar fashion, those who like to nosh at eschatological teaching sometimes overeat at the groaning tables of the Last Days Smörgåsbord.
There is a perverse tendency among some theologians to focus only on hard and traumatic future trials which will occur to the Jewish people. Certainly, the Scriptures have ample indications of such eschatological events. Yet there are also amazingly positive descriptions of wonderfully majestic events near at hand concerning the Jewish people – from their ongoing regathering and restoration to the raising up of Ezekiel’s mighty and triumphant army.
What would cause someone to focus exclusively on upcoming harrowing events? Could it be a protective watchman’s love for Israel? In that case one would expect that such a presentation would rend listeners’ hearts and be accompanied by spontaneous tears. When such teachings are communicated clinically and with a distanced heart, it is probably a telling indication that a lack of balance is involved.
How can we balance our own hearts and minds? How should we then pray?
The first step here would be to present our hearts to the Lord God of Israel and ask for a spiritual ‘anti-virus system scan.’ As King David prayed, “Search me on God and know my heart. Test me and know my innermost ways. And see if there is any wicked way within me, and lead me in the path of eternity!” (Psalm 139:23-24). God might want to reveal areas that His light has not yet shone upon within us regarding the Jewish people.
A further step could involve a two-fold prayer of dedication:
- a new (or renewed) commitment to follow the God of Jacob in tuning our hearts and minds to support Him and follow Him regarding His heart and strategy for the Jewish people;
- a new (or renewed) commitment to sit at His feet with His word in front of us, meditating on all that YHVH says concerning His chosen people and His End Times heart and strategy for them.
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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