If you read Confucius, you will gain an understanding of China, as his philosophy permeates the very fabric of that society. Great novelists like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy will teach you much about the events that impacted and shaped Russia. Victorian England is seen through the eyes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. We can read these authors, but if we try and explain the actions, events and conclusions in these novels through eyes colored by North American, western thought, we will certainly not grasp the essence, the “guts” of what these people were writing. Interpretation and understanding of these books depend on keeping them in the culture in which they were written. One must step into the world which produced these works.
An understanding of the Bible is no different. For the most part, the Church has managed to keep the Scriptures from being interpreted within the culture that it was written. The faith was born in Israel – “to the Jew first”. The Greeks philosophized the faith, and the Romans institutionalized it. By the 4th century CE (common era), the Jewish “heart” had been ripped out of the Body. Anything Jewish was considered pagan and unacceptable by the non-Jewish practitioners of the faith. It’s hard to imagine that the tallith (prayer shawl) wearing, payoth (side curls) toting, non-pork and shellfish eating Jewish Messiah and Apostles would have been totally misunderstood and blacklisted in that environment.
Yeshua is a Jew. The disciples, early Church and authors of the Scriptures were all Jewish. Okay, the jury is still out on Luke, but let me ask you. My son, the doctor, is a Gentile???? (I hope you’re laughing.) We must keep these men and women within the culture they lived. They believed that the God of the universe was the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. They were a covenant people. They lived by the laws given to Moshe by the LORD God of Israel, Himself. They celebrated the LORD’s appointed times as taught in Leviticus 23. There were certain foods they didn’t eat, as proscribed in the Levitical law. They conducted themselves in a very definite manner. They were Jews. They were Jews before they meant Yeshua. And yes, they remained Jews after they meant Yeshua. After all, He was the Jewish Messiah, the Promised Redemption of Israel! The Scriptures, therefore, must be read and understood from within this context. Gentile believers would do well to read commentary on the Bible written by Jews. Find out what the rabbis of old thought. Names like Hillel, Rashi, ibn Ezra, and Maimonides should become part of the Bible student’s vocabulary. You don’t have to agree with what is said, but the Jewish frame of mind will help you understand the Book better. I’m quite sure you don’t all agree with everything that is written in your Bible commentary of choice. For example, Dwight J. Pentecost may be a good resource, but if you are not a pre-millenial, pre-tribulation dispensationalist (like some of us on this planet), you might think the man a heretic. Eat the meat; spit out the bones; but, gain an understanding of the Jewish mindset.
As well, non-Jews need to read novels by Jewish writers. One of Canada’s great authors, Mordechai Richler, tells tales of growing up Jewish in the francophone city of Montreal, Quebec. Two of his book are, “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and “Joshua Then and Now”. The protagonists in Chaim Potok’s novels, an American author, struggle to balance Orthodoxy with life on the “outside”. Books like, “The Chosen” and “My Name is Asher Lev” are rich with Jewish culture and life.
Another practical way to acquire knowledge of the Jewish mindset is to subscribe to a Jewish newspaper or periodical. Get a handle on how Jews think today. Find out where the “three Jews / four opinions” statement comes from. The Jerusalem Post is on the internet at www.jpost.com. The famous Jewish Daily Forward (originally written in Yiddish) is available in a lot of major U.S. cities, as well as the internet. In Canada, we read the Canadian Jewish News. Learn what is important to our Jewish people, locally and abroad.
Get to know the Jews in your city and/or neighbourhood. We don’t bite. (Well, not without just cause. ) “He has shown you what is good. This is what the LORD requires: Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” The prophet Micah (6:8) is quoted often. Remember, justice and mercy are as Jewish as they are Christian. Become part of political and social discussion groups. Work together with the Jewish people on issues of public life. Work together to bring about justice and righteousness in the greater society. Realize we want the same things for our children and the world.
Akin to getting to know the Jews in your neighbourhood is being aware of what is happening to them. Anti-Semitism is on the rise. Most of these incidents do not make the newspaper or TV news. Many synagogues are being defaced. Many Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated and damaged. I’ve been to many reconciliation services. Everyone appears to be remorseful about the past, but few seem to be able to take this remorse into the present and the future. Churches/individuals need to show support for their Jewish neighbours. Get a group together and help put back those gravestones that have been defaced and knocked over. Help remove the derogatory remarks spray painted on synagogue walls. Write letters of support to the local newspapers. Write to/telephone your local TV station. Show that you care in a very definite way. Let your Jewish community know that they are not alone in this fight.
“To the Jew first”. It’s a biblical mandate; however, few through the centuries have taken it to heart. The Gentile church needs to have this mandate in their mission statements. The only denomination, to my knowledge, to have done this early on in its history is the Lutheran church. Jewish evangelism has always been an important part of their mission thrust (despite Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic outbursts). Within the last year, the Southern Baptists issued a statement on evangelism, stating that sharing the good news with the Jewish people was a priority. God bless them!! Needless to say, they took a lot of flack from both sides. Jews don’t want to be “targeted”, and not wanting to “offend” the Jewish people, many “Christians” will say nothing at all about Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice. Evangelicals are bound by Yeshua’s command to go out into the world, share the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons! One of the greatest forms of anti-Semitism is NOT to share this with the Jewish people! Rabbi from Tarsus and ultimate missionary to the non-Jews, the apostle Paul was willing to forfeit his own salvation, if it meant the salvation of his beloved Jewish people (Romans 9:3).
“LORD, hasten the day when the Gentile church grasps Paul’s heart for Israel and the Jews!”
How do we put into practice “to the Jew first”? Let me finish with a real-life story. It’s perfect for this holiday season.
A couple of years ago, a Gentile believer came to me and asked me how to reach her Jewish neighbours. Her family had just moved into an area with a significant Jewish population. My only response to her was, “Just love them.” She then said, “No, really.” And I said, “Yes, really. Just love them.” This woman is an intercessor with a heart to see Jew and Gentile worshipping side by side in the Body. I knew she’d be praying, and I encouraged her to prayer walk her streets. I told her to hand-deliver cards at Rosh HaShanah, Hannukah and Pesach (Passover). I suggested she bake cookies at Sukkot. Because of kashruth (food laws), they may or may not eat them, but the gesture was the important part. I explained that several centuries of persecution and expulsion from practically every nation on the planet had made us not too trusting of people, especially the non-Jewish kind. We’ve been smiled at and then found ourselves the brunt of malicious humour and treachery. We can spot a phony a mile away and know when we are in the presence of danger. “Perfect love casts out fear”. That’s what the Word teaches us. Few people practice it, so we haven’t seen the end result in great measure.
Time has passed. This mother of two has been involved in her children’s schools, so she meets the Jewish teachers and parents there. Her children have been invited to bar (son) and bat (daughter) mitzvahs. They bring Jewish friends home after school. This woman has been faithful to “just love them”. After Christmas last year, she came up to me with great excitement, telling me she had an incredible story to share. On Christmas morning, she and her family were sitting at home when the phone rang. It was one of her Jewish neighbours. The father of the household had woken up and decided he wanted to bake a holiday bread. He then wanted to give it to this woman and her family for Christmas. The phone call was to see if the family was home and if it was convenient to bring the bread over. The coffee was put on and a few minutes later the doorbell rang. Three Jewish faces stood there, a beautifully decorated holiday bread in hand. The family was ushered into this Gentile Christian home and they proceeded to have a wonderful time together. This, I was told, was the BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!!
“To the Jew first …” The possibilities are endless! Who knows? Maybe next Christmas …….