The apple of God’s eye is the Jewish people (Zechariah 2:8). Most of the Scriptures concern that people, and nearly all of Holy Writ was written by Jewish people (Romans 9:4; 3:1-2). A clear focus on Israel is foundational to pure biblical vision and to a vibrant prophetic hermeneutic.
Three common pitfalls appear among some who center on the Jewish people, their calling and their destiny. These can be described as the chess perspective, the ethnolatry emphasis, and the auto-ethnolatry angle.
The chess perspective on Jewish destiny
This viewpoint is common to Dispensational, Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave and intercessory streams. It sees the Jewish people through the lens of a huge chess game, a playing field where most of the end-time biblical pawns are Jewish. Prophetic playbooks (similar to that of top football coaches) are drawn up, outlining what will be happening to Israel the land and the people at each and every stage of end-time events. Often a subtle emphasis arises, stressing the complexity of interlocking prophecies, and the almost compulsive need to solve all eschatological interpretative tensions and “tie up all loose prophetic threads.” Occasionally greater stress is laid on trials to come upon the Jewish people than on any redemptive outcome.
These above perspectives often strike the Jewish reader as eviscerated – lacking Jewish content or sensitivity. These end-time scenarios often depict a millennial Jerusalem which is generic, and paint the Messiah in non-Jewish colors – basically a non-Jewish read on biblically Jewish promises and hopes (see Romans 15:27; John 4:22).
Though the scriptures referenced by the chess perspective stream are intensely Jewish, and though the scenarios described in those scriptures resonate in the hearts of all true sons of Jacob, the chess perspective essentially lacks warmth, heart and passion. Its vantage point is cerebral, intellectual and rather removed from the heart of the matter. An over-stress on sovereignty ends up downplaying both the human and the Jewish drama of end-time events. Balance is needed to more fully convey God’s heart and perspective.
The ethnolatry emphasis regarding Jewish culture
This viewpoint (often associated with movements stressing Hebrew roots) rightly discerns that God has chosen the Jewish people, and that He oversees their history, preserves them from their enemies, and has incorporated many aspects of His heart and character in His social and religious guidelines to the sons and daughters of Jacob.
Yet the ethnolatry emphasis falls off the proverbial ‘Lutheran horse’ in three areas: one, it falsely concludes that Jewish cultural and religious expressions are intrinsically superior to Gentile ones; two, it is sorely lacking in discernment regarding what the Bible teaches regarding matters Jewish (especially when Rabbinic teachings cross swords with Scripture); three, there is often an anti-Gentile reverse racism – one which opens the door to heretical teaching (these can include the denial of the unique unity of the God of Israel; a denial of the deity of Messiah Yeshua; a fixation on a legalistic interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, etc.).
It is not rare in some Messianic circles to find groups of predominantly (if not exclusively) Gentile believers who dress like Orthodox Jews and recite Hebrew liturgy with curious accents and limited understanding. Again, Jews acquainted with Orthodox or Conservative synagogue services would by and large find these practices lacking Jewish authenticity or Hebrew accuracy.
Though the Scriptures do point to a future Gentile resonance with things Jewish (see Zechariah 8:23; Romans 11:17, 24; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 66:20-23), the focus should not be on ‘all things Jewish’ but on ‘all godly things which are Jewish.’ Moses and Korah were both Jewish, but it is not Korah’s ways which are biblically praised (see Number 16). To appreciate godly Jewish ways is praiseworthy, but to worship Jewish ways is idolatry.
Ethnolatry is the when appreciation of Jewish ways metastasizes into idolatry. Balance is needed to keep holy appreciation within holy and healthy boundaries.
The auto–ethnolatry angle regarding the Jewish people
The term auto-ethnolatry refers to the worship of a people by itself. There have been Jewish voices (like that of Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a now-deceased enfant terrible of the Israeli Rabbinic establishment) who often upbraided their own people for their values and national policies. The prophetic tradition was known to do this from time to time.
Rabbi Leibowitz condemned what he saw as a superstitious veneration of Jewish shrines, and he occasionally referred to the Kotel (the Western Wall) as the ‘Discotel’ – disparaging Jewish pilgrimage when not connected with true commitment to the God of Israel.
In a Jewish context, auto-ethnolatry refers to the worship of a people by itself. This is similar to the Gentile ethnolatry discussed above (worship of Jewish ways) but in this case it refers to some Jewish people’s narcissistic fawning over their own people. One example of this not-so-subtle trend distorts “Love your neighbor as yourself” into the maxim “Love your fellow Jew.”
When some Messianic Jews begin to give undue reverence to Rabbinic Orthodox ways, when some express anti-Gentile attitudes and teachings, when some no longer have a heart for the great Commission or an appreciation for the diversity of cultural and social expressions that God Himself has fashioned when He created the nations – then part of God’s Jewish creation begins to worship itself and not the God who formed him from the dust of the ground (see Romans 1:25; 11:9).
Usually in these scenarios ethnic narcissism joins itself quickly to various heretical expressions (see the previous examples above under ‘ethnolatry’), and the result tends to be a lifeless imitation of Orthodox Judaism, often boring and tedious. Balance is needed here, combined with solid biblical training wheels. The balanced result will be a healthy and Spirit-led Jewish expression of faith, one which is not ashamed to also be a clear light and humble servant to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:46-47).
Divine balance – God’s passions and priorities
God’s healthy biblical antidote to these excesses noted above involves mega-doses of the divine Vitamin ‘P’ – God’s passionate heart for Israel, and God’s priority calling on the Jewish people.
The chess perspective, like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz, simply needs a heart – God’s burning heart for His people, and His hot tears as He grieves over their unfaithfulness (see Hosea 2:14-23; 11:1-4, 8-9; Isaiah 63:9). God is not emotionally divorced from His Hebrew chess pieces – He is passionately in love with His Jewish people. Any eschatology which leaves God’s heart out of the equation has missed the mark of conveying the fullness of what YHVH wants to convey.
The ethnolatry emphasis appreciates the olive tree’s Jewish sap, and acknowledges the essentially Jewish makeup of the original olive tree, yet it also needs to have a right understanding of how Jewish failure has opened the door to Gentile salvation as fellow-heirs with the believing Jewish remnant (see Ephesians 2:12, 19; 3:6; Romans 11:17). To worship the Jewish people or their traditions not only violates the greatest commandment in the Shma; it also puts an unbearable weight on the Jewish people, one they were never meant to carry.
The auto-ethnolatry angle recognizes the Jewish priority of being the firstborn son (see Exodus 4:22-23; Deut.21:15-18; Romans 9:4; 1:16; 2:5-11). Yet privilege entails servanthood, and pride usually comes before a fall (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:46-47; Proverbs 29:23). The Jewish people were not meant to get entrapped in a Snow White syndrome (“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”), vainly admiring ourselves while gross darkness covers the earth (see Isaiah 60:1-3). The mighty Jewish revival army of Ezekiel 37:10-11 and Psalm 110:1-3 has work to do – harvesting and discipling the nations!
- Pray for revelation about Israel (in accord with God’s word, heart and priorities) to break forth throughout the body of Messiah across the earth
- Pray that believers will be speedily obedient to this heavenly vision!
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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