It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I blame the ADHD … I’m easily distracted!
I’ve often been asked why I, as a follower of Messianic Judaism and someone who believes that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Messiah, fast on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the day upon which Jews across the globe fast for repentance in hopes that they will be inscribed in the Book of Life. It is actually the culmination of a ten day period known as the Days of Awe (beginning with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Teruah/The Feast of Trumpets) in which it is traditionally believed that God surveys all we’ve done throughout the year and decides what will happen to us in the next. “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” It is a time of reflection, repentance, and charity, as tradition teaches that this is the last opportunity to change God’s mind before His judgments are final.
It’s an interesting concept, though not entirely Biblical. God may be our Heavenly Father but He’s not like our earthly parents … He can’t be bribed and you won’t dazzle Him by being good for a few days. But it’s an interesting concept, nonetheless!
The B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) teaches that all who know Yeshua as their King and Messiah are already written in the Book of Life. So, why fast?
To a Messianic believer, Yom Kippur is a celebration of what Yeshua has done for us. He has fulfilled every sacrifice and requirement God has demanded of us because of our insolence. I fast to center myself, to spend a day focusing on Him, and as a sign of gratitude for what He has done for me. We used to have to go to the Temple, where only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies on one day each year to intercede for us before Yahweh, the Almighty Creator. Hands would be laid on a lamb to transfer our transgressions to it and it would be slaughtered as a sacrifice, as there is no forgiveness of our wrongdoing without the shedding of blood. Yeshua was both our High Priest and the slaughtered Lamb and through His resurrection, we can now approach God directly. No rabbis. No priests. No crystal balls, talismans, or hallucinogenic supplements required. I can bring both my praises and grievances to the Almighty Creator personally.
Finally, I fast and pray on behalf of Jews worldwide that He may hasten the day when we all “mourn for Him as one mourns for an only Son” (Zechariah 12:10) because it’s in this way that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). This is the true goal of the Scriptures in their entirety. God has made a very specific promise to a very specific group of people and one day this will be fulfilled in its entirety. It will be fulfilled perfectly and in all perpetuity.
I normally like to hear myself talk but the writer of Hebrews sums it all up better than I ever could:
“Now the first covenant had both regulations for worship and a Holy Place here on earth. A tent was set up, the outer one, which was called the Holy Place; in it were the menorah, the table and the Bread of the Presence. Behind the second veil was a tent called the Holiest Place, which had the golden altar for burning incense and the Ark of the Covenant, entirely covered with gold. In the Ark were the gold jar containing the manna, Aharon’s rod that sprouted and the stone Tablets of the Covenant; and above it were the cherubim representing the Glory of God, casting their shadow on the lid of the Ark — but now is not the time to discuss these things in detail.
“With things so arranged, the priests go into the outer tent all the time to discharge their duties; but only the High Priest enters the inner one; and he goes in only once a year, and he must always bring blood, which he offers both for himself and for the sins committed in ignorance by the people. By this arrangement, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) showed that so long as the first Tent had standing, the way into the Holiest Place was still closed. This symbolizes the present age and indicates that the conscience of the person performing the service cannot be brought to the goal by the gifts and sacrifices he offers. For they involve only food and drink and various ceremonial washings — regulations concerning the outward life, imposed until the time for God to reshape the whole structure.
“But when the Messiah appeared as High Priest of the good things that are happening already, then, through the greater and more perfect Tent which is not man-made (that is, it is not of this created world), He entered the Holiest Place once and for all.
“And He entered not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood, thus setting people free forever. For if sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer restores their outward purity; then how much more the blood of the Messiah, Who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God as a sacrifice without blemish, will purify our conscience from works that lead to death, so that we can serve the living God!
“… Further, he did not enter heaven to offer Himself over and over again, like the High Priest who enters the Holiest Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then He would have had to suffer death many times — from the founding of the universe on. But as it is, He has appeared once at the end of the ages in order to do away with sin through the sacrifice of Himself. Just as human beings have to die once, but after this comes judgment, so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to deliver those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”
I think missing a few meals as a sign of appreciation is a small thing to ask, no?
I’ll tell a quick story and then I will get to the point of my post …
I was flying back from Israel ten years ago. It had been a wonderful trip but I was tired and was looking forward to a solid fifteen hours of dozing on and off. I was a little apprehensive when I saw one of the Chasidim (Hasidic Jews) coming to sit next to me. I had learned during my trip that the Chasidim weren’t always the most gregarious of people, so I was afraid things could turn awkward. Luckily, this was a friendly, talkative fellow.
Talk turned to religion fairly quickly and I explained that I was a follower of Yeshua (Jesus). He said that he did not want to be offensive but he wanted to enlightened me to all of the things his Rebbe had taught him about Yeshua. He said that Yeshua was a bastard, born of adultery, and that He was a homosexual who had sex with all of His disciples. He was taught that Yeshua traveled from town to town beguiling everyone with magic. So, it was understandable that I would believe in Him but I should now know better.
Now, it would be understandable to be angry when you hear your God attacked but I couldn’t blame him. All he knew was what he had been taught. And I wanted to make a point. So, I quickly made a few comments about “Well, some say that but that’s not what we believe happened” and let it go, instead asking about specific points he had been studying. He began talking about morality and how, as Jews, we were supposed to be the example. We were supposed to be HaShem’s people, who refrained from adultery and violence.
I told him that I absolutely agreed. I then continued, telling him that I had recently been reading the teachings of a predominant Rabbi, one who was very popular back home. “He teaches that it isn’t enough to just refrain from adultery and violence. In fact, HaShem is concerned with the state of our hearts and the thoughts that go through our heads. He taught that if we look at a woman to lust after her, we have already committed adultery in our hearts. If we were angry at someone without just cause, we have already committed murder in our hearts.”
He shook his head in agreement, quite pleased with what he was hearing. “I like that! That’s very good, very good. I want to read some more of his teachings. What was his name?”
“Yeshua.” We didn’t talk much after that … except to complain about the airline food. What’s the deal with that stuff, anyway?
I tell that story because I have one point that keeps demonstrating itself to me year after year: most people have not rejected Yeshua. Most people have rejected Christianity. Mostly because so many Christians are assholes.
They can’t reject Yeshua because they don’t know what He taught or what He said. So much of what the Church teaches is man-made doctrine and is not based on anything in the Scriptures. They push their own prejudices as Gospel truth. They politicize in His Name. “Jesus would have supported this!” “Jesus would have been against that!” Whatever they don’t like becomes heinous sin but whatever they like is somehow excused.
Christians have a tendency to look down on those who do not believe. “They have rejected God! They are filthy, rotten sinners!” Well, we’re all filthy, rotten sinners. Are they any worse because they do not believe? No. Are they less moral? Probably not. I’ve known many unbelievers who were much more Messiah-like than many Christians.
This is why I think proper theology is so important. So many Christians look down on unbelievers because they honestly believe their faith makes them better than them. “I’m good, so I believed. I did not reject God so I am more worthy.” That is where the stereotypical Bible-thumper, frothing at the mouth while he tosses out damnation like Mardi Gras beads, comes from. “I believe because I am better than you.”
Now, in addition to being a student of Messianic Judaism, I am also quite entrenched in Reformed Theology (often called “Calvinism,” based on the writings of Swiss Reformer John Calvin) and most of my beliefs are filtered through that. If you look back over time, many of the greatest evangelists of the modern era (including Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards) come from the Reformed tradition. Why do I believe that is?
I think it is because Reformed Theology (which, in part, covers issues such as unconditional election and eternal assurance) gives us the proper perspective. While some walk around and think “I believe because I am better,” the Reformed recognize that we only believe because God has given us the faith. “I believe because God has allowed me to believe.”
I spent many of my school years as an agnostic or Deist. I generally believed in a God but did not think He was particular interested in our day-to-day issues and I certainly did not believe He loved us. God was not personal. He was a force … He was a thing. I was an unbeliever.
So, what happened between that point and the point where I believed? Did I get smarter? Did I suddenly become more moral? No! I believed because God revealed Himself to me, softened my heart, and regenerated my spirit. It was nothing I did. It was nothing I earned, deserved, or gained of my own accord. God’s grace was demonstrated through my faith. I had faith because He had given it to me.
Now, how does this relate to the unbeliever? The unbeliever is not my enemy. The unbeliever is not less moral than I am. The unbeliever is not less intelligent than I am. The unbeliever probably isn’t much different than I am, at all. I have friends of many different faiths or no faith at all. Does this make me pious and them dirty, rotten sinners? Far from it. It simply means that God has revealed Himself to me and not them.
So, I respect them. I can respect their opinions and beliefs even if I respectfully disagree. I understand why they believe the way they do. I am certainly no better, no more pious, and no more worthy than they are. We’re the same.
I know a lot of this particular post was written to those of the Judeo-Christian world and may use some “insider” information. To my pagan, atheist, and agnostic friends who may be reading, I simply want to say that you should never let people define God or Jesus for you. I implore you to give His Word a look for yourself. Learn some of what He taught and see if it does not speak to you. The word “Gospel” literally means “Good News.” It’s supposed to be liberating. It’s supposed to be inspiring. I’m sorry so many people have tried to use it to make you second-class citizens.
This one may bounce around, so hang with me.
There is a verse that I always found curious:
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12)
We are a land of laws. There are so many laws you probably broke several today and did not even realize it. Did you know in most states it is illegal to gather rainwater for personal use? Did you know it is illegal in most places to sell raw milk? I’m sure most of us have seen those funny books filled with ridiculous archaic laws like “do not carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket” and “do not walk your donkey down the street on Sunday.”
In fact, as a Libertarian, I think we have far too many laws. Nobody can tell us how many there are but, according to the most recent available information, our federal laws alone fill up 55,000 pages. That isn’t including the hundreds of thousands of local town and state laws we all live under. Lawlessness? I think a dystopic future of a sterile world absolutely crippled by laws is much more realistic. Think Orwell’s 1984 or the priests of the Temples of Syrinx from Rush’s 2112 album. That’s where we’re headed.
Well, maybe lawlessness means things will go sour because we are breaking the law. Crime is down. Murder is down. Violent attacks are down. The world breaking down into anarchy does not seem likely as the governments would simply respond with a show of overwhelming force. Look at the recent Boston manhunt to see how our government would respond if we all simply stopped following laws. And why would it make the love of many grow cold? If I speed I’m breaking the law but I still love my fellow man. Does pirating music make you hate? Does cheating on your taxes turn you loveless? Something doesn’t add up.
The answer becomes apparent if you consider an alternate translation of a single phrase:
“And because of increased distance from Torah, the love of many will grow cold.” (That is my paraphrase of Dr. Stern’s The Complete Jewish Bible translation of the New Testament.)
Ahh, well … now it becomes apparent. It isn’t distance from man’s law that causes our love to grow cold. It’s distance from Yahweh’s law. The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moshe … 613 commandments (traditonally speaking) that gives guidance in every facet of life. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Messiah responds “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is equally as important: love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two commandments pivot the entire Torah and the prophets.” So, distance from Torah causes our love to grow cold because the Torah, itself, teaches us to love.
Well, how far from Torah are we? We are told, repeatedly that America is a “Christian” nation (even though it clearly isn’t) and that our government was founded on Judeo-Christian principles (partially true). So, our nation should be pretty damn close, eh? You may be surprised at how wrong that is.
The Torah has never been important in America because Christianity operates on the false assumption that Messiah’s sacrifice rendered the first two-thirds of the Bible null. Nevermind the “I came not to abolish the Torah” and “neither a jot or tittle will disappear from the Torah” and all of that. We live by grace, baby! And that means we don’t have to actually do anything!
Hmm, that seems to contradicts Messiah’s words that our love will grow cold the further away from Torah we drift. “Nonsense!” you say. “I have the love of Jesus in my heart!” That may be true and I don’t dare call that into question. I am simply saying that society as a whole suffers because we have abandoned the foundation of God’s love for us. He gave us the Torah because it is fair. He gave us the Torah because it is just. He gave us the Torah because it is the path to happiness and a life of fullness. Without it, we are like reeds swaying in the wind. We are hollow.
Am I saying that following the Torah is necessary for salvation? God forbid I say such a blasphemous thing. Salvation is God’s free gift to us, given to all who will take it and manifested by our faith in His sacrifice. There is nothing we can do to earn it or merit it and anyone who tells you otherwise speaks lies. But, as the singer Rich Mullins once sang, faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine. You’re sinking fast.
You’ve probably heard me say that I think most Christians are simply Biblically illiterate. I believe that and stand by it. How little do most know about the Bible? Well, consider the fact that gay marriage is one of the most hotly debated issues in the world today. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will (correctly) tell you that homosexuality is listed as an ABOMINATION is the Bible. ABOMINATION (in all-caps, no less!) is a big, scary word! And, as well all know, an ABOMINATION is the worst of the worst! Those are the things God hates most! We would never, ever, ever commit an ABOMINATION. Only the really bad people do that!!
Have you ever stopped to look at what is considered an abomination? (Take a big breath …)
eating four-legged insects
bringing money you made by being a whore into the House of the Lord
dishonest weights and measures
lending money and requiring interest back
a perverse mind
shedding innocent blood
And that isn’t even an exhaustive list. Sure, we’ll all point our fingers at homosexuals (mainly because, rather than trying to teach people to live Godly lifestyles, we’re really just using the Bible to reinforce our own prejudices) but we never stop to consider the fact that the entire crony capitalist system we live under is an abomination. Do we love money? Are we arrogant at times? Do we lie? Of course we do. And we’re all abominable. But our love grows cold and we use the Bible as a weapon against others instead of turning its light inward to illuminate our own shortcomings.
The Torah does not exist so I can tell other people how to live. The Torah exists so I know how to live. I see my own shortcomings and that is a very humbling thing. That, in turn, makes me more gracious to others and more likely to overlook their shortcomings. Love abounds. Using the Bible as a weapon against others while not holding ourselves to the same standard breeds arrogance and pride. That is where most of the Church sits today … all because of increased distance from Torah.
I knew I would write something today but I really struggled with what that would be. In fact, i have started this ‘blog
four five times already.
What can I say? I feel compelled both because it is Rosh Hashanah (often called “Jewish New Year,” the Biblical Feast Of Trumpets) and it is the twelfth anniversary of accepting Yeshua as my Savior and King.
I know Messianic Judaism is peculiar thing to most people. Jews dislike it because, regardless of your ethnicity or supreme respect for Torah and tradition, if you believe in Jesus you’re a goy. You’re kicked out of the tribe, as it were. Christianity views our faith as suspect because there is the perception that you are placing prerequesites on salvation. You’re accused of being a legalist. That is ridiculous, of course, as my strong Calvinistic leanings should signify, but people start getting nervous if you imply that HaShem may actually expect you to do something.
Most people don’t know that I was actually raised irreligious and later came to know Him through a Christian Church. I grew up “believing in God” (as all good Southerners do) but I didn’t think about Him much. As a teenager, I had a strong distaste for religion. I wasn’t exposed to many people of a non-Christian faith and most Christians I knew were colossal assholes. Hypocrites. They would be smoking dope and blowing each other in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Saturday night and then be singing in front of their Church on Sunday morning. You know the clichés. Stereotypes are usually stereotypes for a reason.
I toyed with atheism. Church was obviously a sham so what evidence was there of His existence? My spiritual urges were much too strong so I recognized there was something deeper to life. Was I agnostic? I studied the occult and Eastern mysticism. I knew there was something there but couldn’t tell you what it was. Nothing made sense. Nothing fit.
I talked to Mormon missionaries early in the year 2000. I really liked them and agreed to visit their Church. Unfortunately, the service creeped the hell out of me and I never went back. I had never joined a cult before and had no intention of doing so at that point. I really hated that I felt that way because they were all excruciating nice and represented a lot of what I respected about people of faith.
A neighbor invited me to their Church (a Southern Baptist Church, something more “normal”) and I thought “Why the hell not?” I had basically tried everything else. The pastor was a dynamic speaker, highly intelligent, and pragmatic. What he said made a lot of sense. This wasn’t backwoods ignorance. It was presented in a way that was logical and easily applicable. I requested a meeting with him so I could pick his brain. I wasn’t completely satisfied with his answers but was intrigued enough to keep going.
I requested a second meeting and then a third. I was a man of many questions and I hurled every accusation I could muster. It was all a sham. It was largely symbolic, meant to make people act right. There was no way a man could live 969 years. (My Mom had often described people as being “as old as Methuselah” but I had no idea what it meant until later in life.) Finally, Dr. Hal Warren looked at me and asked a simple question. “Daniel, why did you come here today?”
“Well, I just had a bunch of questions and thought that was your job, to answer them.”
“Nope. You came here today because you know that if you died right now you would go to Hell.” Well, wow. That was a good way to piss me off. Can you believe the nerve of that guy? I walked out, vowing never to return. I went home and thought about what he said.
He was right.
Spirituality is a journey. We are all works in progress. There are comforting truths and there are hard truths. That was a hard truth. It confirmed much of what I had been feeling over the last couple of years. God had hooked me and was reeling me in and I never had any idea. I suspect that Dr. Warren read the situation and knew that I would only react to the most extreme of statements. Getting to know him over the next couple of years I never knew him to be so blunt or uncouth. But it worked on me.
On September 17, 2000, I submitted to the things that I knew to be true and accepted Jesus as my God and King. The story does not end there, though. Something was still missing. I was only working with half of the story.
I was flipping channels and came across a gentleman named Zola Levitt. He was dressed in the traditional priestly clothing of the Old Testament and was teaching about the various pieces. I’m always a sucker for the whole History Channel/Discover Channel type stuff so I kept watching. It was toward the end of the show that I realized what I was watching. This was a Jew … who believed in Jesus. Huh. Apparently, that was a thing. I knew I had Jewish heritage but I thought when you believed in Jesus you became a Christian. People like Zola would have you believe that the most Jewish thing you could do is follow the Jewish Messiah. A Jew who accepts his King does not leave Biblical Judaism. He becomes a better Jew.
I was a dry bone made flesh. I was a lost sheep of the House of Israel who had returned home.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study or the various doctrinal differences between mainstream Christianity and Messianic Judaism. I will just say that I found something that finally fit and made sense to me. Yeshua (“Jesus” being an Anglicized version of the Greek Iesous, a transliteration of Messiah’s Name) did not necessarily match the picture painted by Gentile Churches but the underlying message was the same: God demands perfection. We consistently fall short. In His mercy and grace, He sacrificed His own Son for our benefit. All who take faith in Him will have His perfection credited to us on the Day of Judgment. I can argue doctrine and philosophy all day (and often do) but, at the very core, that is the message.
And that is what made me fall absolutely in love with Him twelve years ago.
Of course, as lovers go, I’m quite the harlot. I constantly put other things in front of Him. I often chase other desires and give in to my selfish inclinations. I’m not very good at “being good.” That is why Rosh Hashanah is such an inspiring thing to me. The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) highlight God’s mercy and grace. According to Jewish tradition, on this day HaShem judges us and records all that will happen to us in the coming year based on our previous actions. We then have the period leading up to Yom Kippur to perform good deeds to change His mind.
Now, I don’t believe that, of course. I think it does paint a lovely picture of our relationship with Him. He gives second chances. He gives third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chances. As long as there is breath in your body you have the opportunity to change what you’re doing and return to Him. I need that. I screw up A LOT. I need to know that His mercy is renewed every morning. I need to know that, as long as I’m willing to return, He will be willing to accept me back. And I am more grateful for that than anything.
Did I ever mention that I am unreliable and easily distracted? I mean, you didn’t actually expect me to write with any degree of consistency, did you?
I will continue my Bible commentary later … probably … hopefully. What I really want to pop in and talk about right now is Pesach (Passover) and Easter. You see, when you strip away the silly stuff like stuffed bunnies, dyed eggs, and chocolate crosses, they are really the same holiday. I’m not going to rehash them. If you don’t know what they are, you know where to look.
I’m currently preparing to leave town for a personal appearance at the Nashville Full Moon Tattoo & Horror Convention. Pesach starts the first night of the convention. I’m packing up the matzah and the Manischewitz wine. I have some interesting thoughts in my head. This weekend I’ll be remembering the two most important events in the history of our people: the Exodus from Egypt and the bodily resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) from His tomb. I’ll be doing this at an event that celebrates many of the things many Believers find offensive: horror movies and tattoos.
But why not? As detailed in an earlier entry, I’m not a big fan of a cultural Christianity that has basically failed both the Church and society. People use “Christianity” to make themselves feel better by pointing out the flaws in others. They use “Christianity” to reinforce prejudices. They use “Christianity” to belittle and ostracize others. So, what better place for an Emissary than among those who have been wrongly hurt and pushed out by the Church? What better place to celebrate God’s goodness than in a place that is celebrating everything EXCEPT Him?
And I don’t mean I’m rocking into town and unrolling the Revival tent. I’m speaking about the condition of my heart. So many of those who claim to be Christians or Jews want to hide from the world. I don’t want to hide. I want to see the things He created. I want to be around the people He died for. I guess that is what separates me from so many in the religious world. I don’t suppose that I am any better, more moral, or better behaved than anyone else on the planet. I know that I should be, though, and that’s what separates me from the rest of humanity.
So many use the Bible as a weapon, trying to show the world what is wrong with it. We try to make others feel bad about their actions, hoping that will make them better. I use the Bible to show me what is wrong with me. You know what slaps me in the face? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” “If you look at a woman to lust after her you have committed adultery.” “Do not hate the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” “Forgive anyone who asks forgiveness of you.” Why do I find these so offensive? These are the things I keep fucking up. It’s easy not to murder someone. It’s not so easy to stop yourself from hating them.
You may be asking what any of this has to do with Pesach or Easter. It is about redemption. It is about God showing mercy on those who didn’t deserve it. I certainly don’t deserve it and that is why I am so thankful to Him. I don’t put on this pretense of being something or someone that I’m not. I’m not unlike the Israelites who did nothing but kvetch and doubt, even as God was working miracles in their midst. I’m not unlike the Emissaries, who also did nothing but kvetch and doubt, even as God stood in their midst. We should all get the celestial pimp-hand but we don’t. That’s what we deserve but God is much more gracious than that. Pesach and Easter both prove it.
We didn’t deserve to be rescued from Egypt. Yahweh did it because He made that promise to us. We didn’t deserve to be rescued from final death and sin. Yeshua did that because He made that promise to us. And that’s it. God keeps His promises and expects so little from us. That’s the point of everything: the holy days, the Scriptures, our prayers. It’s just us acknowledging the tremendous mercy and grace, the unwarranted favor, He has offered all of mankind.
So, Friday evening I’ll be neck-deep in zombies, Jasons, and laced-up Goth chicks … and I’ll be having a blast! I love all of that. But, at the same time, I will carry my thanks to Him in my heart and will be acknowledging all He has done for me. He saved me once with the blood of a lamb. He saved me forever with the blood from His veins.
I hope everyone has a very happy holiday season! All praise and glory to Yahweh, God of Israel, and His Son, Messiah Yeshua, Who was dead and is yet alive.
And please don’t forget where you hide the eggs. That shit starts to stink after about a day and a half.
With this post it will become apparent that my writings are incredibly misguided. I say that because I am about to skip over some very important theological teachings just so I can make fun of Jacob and Esau. I never claimed to be particularly pious and I never claimed my ‘blog would be approved devotional reading. So … sue me. What you get is a freestyle stream of consciousness as I read. It’s for better or for worse.
I guess what happens is, over the years, as you read the Scriptures and become more and more familiar with them different things start to stick out. At first, your eyes are newly opened and you find yourself absolutely in awe of the elementary tenets of true Biblical faith. “God loves me so much He gave His Son for me!” “God has a plan for everything!” “Even though there is evil in the world, the bad guys will get punished and the good guys win.” As you read through for your tenth or eleventh time, you start wondering “Why is that guy only wearing a sheet when Jesus is arrested?” and “Why did King David need a virgin to lay on his cold feet when he was old? Wouldn’t a dog work better?.” That is why I love reading it — it’s always something new and it never gets old.
And speaking of dogs — as a complete aside — do you think God intended them to be man’s best friend? I often wonder if He looks down at Dexter (our faithful four-legged companion) lying between me and Ami and thinks “Man, I can’t believe you SLEEP with that thing!” Dogs are unclean animals but we certainly love them.
So, this portion of Genesis introduces us to some very important people. In accordance with Yahweh’s promise, Sarah births Isaac in her old age, finally leaving Abraham a proper heir. God then commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He takes Isaac up on the mountaintop to do so. Now, it’s always been my opinion, because of the way it is written, that Abraham never believed he would have to sacrifice Isaac. He knew God was testing Him. That was where his test of faith came in. I should really speak more about this, as this incident is a BEAUTIFUL foreshadowing of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice. (Abraham was commanded to give his only son … the son had to carry his own lumber for his execution … Abraham was confident that ‘God will provide for Himself the sacrifice’ … the ram dies in Isaac’s place … all really beautiful allegory.) That would make this far too educational, though, and nobody wants that.
We see that Isaac lives a relatively peaceful and prosperous life (aside from picking up his father’s strange habit of telling people that his wife is his sister … seriously, what is up with that?!?) and eventually sires two twin boys. Any time someone tells me that they belief the Bible is fake and just a collection of fairy tales, I point out that the great heroes of antiquity were always godlike supermen and without flaw. The Bible, on the other hand, seems to go out of its way to make its heroes look bad. Seriously, aside from Messiah, Himself, most of the heroes of Scripture come off looking like dorks, idiots, or assholes. I think that validates their authenticity. Most real people are dorks, idiots, or assholes to varying degrees.
And, boy, the story of Jacob and Esau delivers those qualities in spades. This is actually one of my favorite portions of Genesis because the brothers remind me of Ray Romano and Brad Garrett from Everybody Love Raymond. Jacob is a whiner, manipulator, and momma’s boy. He seems to be a bit of a sissy. Esau, on the other hand, is a big hairy oaf and comes across as astonishingly stupid. And he was hungry … oh, so hungry.
Here is where I would different from most Bible teachers. “In this passage we see that Esau did not properly esteem his birthright. When we sin, we are not properly esteeming our birthright through Jesus … yadda yadda yadda.” And, yes, those spiritual applications are often correct. However, I tend to consider the fact that, though God certainly wants us to learn from the accounts written in Scripture, they aren’t fables. These are actual events that happened to real people. Yes, we can squeeze a sermon out of Esau’s actions … but Esau didn’t do what he did so we would have an example for our Sunday School lessons. He didn’t think “Wow, in four thousand years people are really going to get a good message out of this.” No … he REALLY sold his birthright for a bowl of soup because he was REALLY, REALLY hungry. And that’s so hysterical to me.
And that’s my job. To show you things you may have missed in Church or the synagogue.
So, what are the highlights? We’re told that Jacob was cooking stew at home, hopefully wearing an apron and comically oversized chef’s hat. Esau rushes in, exhausted and hungry. He demands “Give me some of that red stuff — THE RED STUFF!” (My Complete Jewish Bible by Dr. Stern specifies that Esau repeats himself, in all caps.) Jacob demands Esau’s birthright in return. “Whatever, man, I’m HUNGRY … gimme some!” (paraphrase mine) And thus, Esau sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup. And it doesn’t even sound like good soup … it’s just “red stuff.” You can get whatever message or lesson out of that you please, but what I get out of it was that Esau was a moron and Jacob was a swindler.
Later on, Isaac is about to die and must pass his blessing on to his oldest son. While Esau is out hunting, Jacob and Rebekah hatch a plan that involved wrapping Jacob in goat hair to trick the blind Isaac into blessing him, instead. (Remember — Jacob is Mommy’s favorite and Esau is hairy.) It works. Jacob gets the special blessing of his father and Esau sobs uncontrollably. Tell me this doesn’t sound like a sitcom. At one point, Rebekah declares “I’M SICK TO DEATH OF THESE HITTITE WOMEN!!!” so Esau goes and marries, like, fifty of them out of spite. That’s good stuff.
In a turn of poetic justice, Jacob falls victim to a scam, himself, when he is tricked into marrying the wrong girl. All he ever wanted was the sweet touch of the beautiful Rachel, but instead he end up marrying her butterfaced older sister, Leah. This leads to an epic baby-war that involves the two sisters and their handmaidens as they rack up twelve boys and an unspecified number of girls. Jacob, at one point, even wrestles with God. Not figuratively. He actually grapples God. And God cripples him. Oh, and Jacob’s daughter gets raped so his sons trick the offending tribe into all getting circumcised so they can kill them while they recover. Don’t ever let anyone tell you the Bible is boring.
A friend of mine and I once had a running joke about Christian (and I’ll include Messianic Judaism under the “C” word) entertainment being nothing but “talking donuts.” This, of course, stems from me being unfortunate enough to flip past TBN and catching the adventures of a talking donut who flapped his frosting while teaching kids about ethics and morality. It was lame but I sat transfixed, absolutely in awe of the train wreck in front of me. It was then that I came to the realization of “so, that’s why they make fun of us.”
It was horrible and stupid and much of Christian entertainment is the same. It’s unrealistic. It’s frustratingly G-rated and family-friendly to the point that most normal human beings simply can’t relate. CCM bands have to find fifteen different ways to sing “I Love Jesus.” Christian movies, books, and comics end up as cheap, watered-down replicas of real world entertainment. If a Christian band is actually talented and unique enough to break through, they flee CCM like Lot fleeing Sodom. (Thanks for playing, Evanescence and POD!) And this pisses me off for one primary reason:
The Bible is so BADASS.
I don’t mean that ironically and I don’t mean that to be crude or disrespectful. For some reason, American culture has insisted on the feminization of Christianity (one of the reasons Islam spreads so quickly in the prisons) and I don’t understand it. Testosterone drips from its pages. We sing cute little Sunday schools about “Father Abraham,” but Abraham led troops into battle and fought fiercely against the kings of the land. If you stuck Abraham, Moses, David, Samson, and Joshua in a movie together it would be a prequel to The Expendables and the death toll would be immense. Jacob WRESTLED GOD and GOD CRIPPLED HIM in response. Most of the heroes of the Bible are real bastards who, through trials and tribulations, learn to be good people for God’s purposes. Once we get to Jesus and He tells us “no greater love is there than this, that a man would give his life for his friends,” it’s not something cutesy and sweet to put on Grandma’s sweatshirt. It’s epic and manly … like the end of FIRST BLOOD or BRAVEHEART. It’s okay for a man to cry … but only after he’s slaughtered thousands of people with a donkey’s jawbone.
And I’m making light, of course … it’s my style … but the point of the matter is truth. If the Bible was made into a film and kept true the source, it would be NC-17. A lot of that is illustrated in this particular Scripture portion. I really have no idea why we have insisted on taming the Scriptures. We’ve chopped it down into little cute stories that suit our purposes and then we ignore the rest of it. That’s my job … to present things in a way you may not have considered previously.
St. Augustine had the theory that creation had been broken down into the “Six Ages Of The World.” I find it curious that we’ve been through two and a half ages before the twentieth chapter of Genesis. This again affirms my suspicions that the Scriptures do not attempt to give an exhaustive account of human history. Instead, it hits the high points and tells us what we need to know. This is why we get three chapters on the creation of our universe and 21,849 chapters on how to build a tabernacle.
There’s not a whole lot I can add to the account of Noah and the flood. Everyone knows the story. We get some basic genealogy type stuff until we finally arrive at the story of Abram and Sarai. Each time I read this, I’m shocked at just how much of a dork Abram sounds like. Sending his wife off to have sex with Pharoah to save his own skin? Letting Lot have the Jordan Valley? Whining to God when He decides to turn Sodom and Gomorrah into smoldering heaps? Not cool. He does redeem himself by leading his trained men into battle against the kings of the land to rescue Lot but it’s too little too late. Later in life, he gets rebranded “Abraham” and starts to get his groove on.
Lot, on the other hand, sounds worse. First of all, he gets kidnapped. That’s weak. His house is attacked by a giant mob of horny homosexual assailants (who, I can only imagine, looked fabulous) and he offers his daughters to be raped as an alternative (boy, he was barking up the wrong tree). His wife turns into (kosher?) salt. His daughters get him drunk and rape him. Lot was made of fail.
But God promised to bless Abraham and make his descendents as numerous as “the stars in the sky.” And He did. From Abraham’s line comes the lawgiver Moses, the great king David, Solomon the wise, and the Messiah, Himself. The moral of the story is that, regardless of what our human weaknesses and faults are, God is more than capable of doing extraordinary things through us. All the world’s a stage and He is both the playwriter and director. We’re just His actors. Sometimes, the play is a comedy, sometimes a tragedy, but it’s always an adventure.