Cheyei Sarah: Triumphalism and the Promises of God

Cheyei Sarah: Triumphalism and the Promises of God

At the opening of this parsha, we see the following somber scene:

“Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a prince of God among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying his dead.’…And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’ (Gen.23:3-9)

In itself, the scene is unremarkable. Abraham has lost his wife, and seeks to find a suitable location for her final rest. He has discovered a cave at the end of a field, and asks the residents to find the owner of the property so that he can negotiate the purchase of the cave for both the burial of his wife and, ultimately, himself and his descendants. Burial arrangements. These things are necessary, though in the grand scheme, routine. But, there is a catch.

The Torah has enshrouded this story into the folds of a greater narrative: One that has divinely promised both this cave, the field in which it is found, and in fact all of the surrounding territories to Abraham and his descendants, as an eternal possession.

This promise forms the very foundation of all future claims upon this controversial plot of ground, and all affirmations of divine promise to all the people of God, including the Christian Church, which claims (with Paul’s allegory in hand) an equal share in this same promise. This is deceptive, however, since traditionally the Church desires only the claim of identification in relation to spiritual destiny, and typically ignores the aspect of the covenant that pertains to the land. This, as we will see, is very unfortunate, since the management of shared resources is an important aspect of Torah.

Who is Ephron? And how does his opinion rate our consideration in this matter? Doesn’t he realize that he’s on sacred ground?

There are two promises God gives Abraham that would directly impact this story.

“The LORD appeared to Abraham and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.'” (Gen.12:7)

“The LORD said to Abraham, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.” (Gen.13:14-15)

God obviously has far more authority than Ephron or the sons of Heth. How, then, does Abraham conceive that he must negotiate with them, for a place to bury Sarah?

The key is found in the fourth verse of our cited passage:

“I am a stranger and a sojourner among you…”

This statement is problematic. According to Rashi, Abraham cannot be both “an alien and a resident” at the same time, since an alien “does not reside in his current location.” He explains that Abraham was formerly of a foreign land, but that his self-description as a ger toshav means that he has taken up residence in Canaan. Continue reading

Parsha Commentary, Vayera: The Sterilization of Duty

Parsha Commentary, Vayera: The Sterilization of Duty

This week’s parsha, Vayera, presents us with a visceral, engaging, and horrifying story. Abraham, the hero of these early Torah portions, is asked by God to do the unthinkable.

In this parsha, Abraham dramatically intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah. He receives fulfillment of promise, and the birth of his son, Isaac. But now, near the end of the portion, we read this:

“God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”  So Abraham rose early in the morning….” (Gen.22:1-3, emphasis added)

What’s remarkable about Abraham’s reaction to God’s inhumane request is that there is no reaction at all. He simply obeys, seemingly without question.

There are times as we read the Bible, that we are betrayed by our familiarity with the story. We know how this story ends, you see. We know not only that Isaac is ultimately spared, but we also know, as followers of Messiah, that this entire episode carries with it the theological freight of picturing for us the ultimate offering of God’s Son.

But for over 1,500 years, the Christ story lay dormant in the future and was not visible to the interpreters of the Bible. And the events in the story, at this point, demand a reaction.

A strong one. Continue reading

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matt.3:9)

E.P. Sanders, in his seminal 1977 work, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion”, submits a theory of “covenantal nomism”, and, in kind, a form of bilateral ecclesiology.

Essentially, and overly simply, the theory is that the Jewish people are in covenant status with God, and that this places them in a different category regarding the message of the gospel presented by the apostles. In effect, according to bilateral ecclesiology, there are two paths to salvation. One for the Gentile (Jesus), and another for the Jew (Jesus and/or covenant faithfulness in Torah).

This theory, further popularized by Mark Kinzer in his 2005 book “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People”, challenges a traditional Christian understanding of soteriology, as revealed in the New Testament.

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This post will not be able to adequately deal with all the implications of this theory, or the positive influence that these author’s works have had on the state of relations between Christians and Jews. Nor will I seek to criticize either author. Particularly Rabbi Kinzer, who, probably more than any other person, is chiefly responsible for the recent move by the Roman Catholic Church to revisit Her relationship with the Jewish people, even going so far as reflecting an official bilateral ecclesial position in a recent document released by the Vatican. See Rabbi David Rosen’s comments on this development here: https://www.rabbidavidrosen.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Jewish-Vatican_Relations_-_-Opportunities_and_Problems_October_2011.pdf

The path to reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity must necessarily include concessions and statements which we may struggle to embraces, as well as huge amounts of respectful dialog. From a Christian standpoint, at least, it can be deeply unnerving to consider the implications of such theories. In light of how the gospel is apparently presented in the apostolic texts, in which only confession of and faith in Jesus Christ is offered as an acceptable path to reconciliation with God, we should take some time to question the validity of “covenental nomism”. Continue reading

The Twinkling of an Eye

The Twinkling of an Eye

understanding Sabbath and the appointed times in light of apostolic teaching and metaphors of the kingdom…

oasis fellowship

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”(1 Cor.15:52)

This verse, as well as a few others, is used to explain the Rapture Theory. You’ve seen the Left Behind movies, right? One moment, it’s business as usual, and the next, driver-less cars are crashing into each other, clothing is found on the floor (minus the wearer) phone calls are dropped, etc. Sounds like science fiction.

That’s because, largely, it is.

Is the Tim LaHaye dramatization of pre-millenial rapture a fair representation of what Paul is referencing here? What type of change could represent this idea in Jewish thought of the Second Temple period? 

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The Obedience of Faith

The Obedience of Faith

“…We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles…” (Rom.1:5)

The book of Romans is considered by many to be, next to the gospels themselves, the most important book of the New Testament. It contains, supposedly, the famous “Romans Road of Salvation”, which can be found easily in the text of the epistle, particularly if one completely ignores many of the things that are actually written in it.

Wait. What??

That’s right. A funny thing happens when we read the text of the Bible for what it really says, instead of simply what we are told it says. There seems to be a whole lot of “works” being suggested in the “works-free” gospel of Paul. Yes. Could our understanding of righteousness and redemption need tweaking? Let’s walk through the first five verses of Romans and see what we might find:

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rom.1:1)

It should be noted that, as a “bond-servant” of Christ, Paul certainly will not be teaching or presenting “another gospel” than what has been entrusted to him. Particularly not one which stands at odds with those in authority over him. I’m speaking of course of Christ Himself, but also of the Jerusalem Council and specifically James, the head of that Council, who has often been assumed to be at odds with Paul’s message of “free grace” in the famous exhortation we find in chapter 2 of the epistle credited to him. Ditto for the Sermon on the Mount, in which the Lord states that “whoever keeps and teaches (the commandments) shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:19)

So much for the idea of a “law-free gospel”. So much for “Haven’t you read Galatians?”. No. Such ignorance of the sacred texts must be dispensed with now. Because if Paul were to teach contrary to Yeshua and of the Jerusalem Council (a Council that Paul was not on, and was subservient to), he would be a heretic and we would not have the ability to read his letters, since they would have been destroyed. Continue reading

“Has God said…?”: Ethics of the Interpretive Tradition

“Has God said…?”: Ethics of the Interpretive Tradition

?”Has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?…”

             “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!…” (Gen.3:1-4)

Thus we are told the origin of man’s original exile from God’s Divine Presence. Spawned by the “forked tongue” of the serpent, Eve succumbs to the temptation of eating the forbidden fruit. She then gives the forbidden delicacy to the man.

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In normative Christian theology, this is explained as the act which constitutes the Original Sin, or Fall of Man. In Jewish tradition it is often explained as discovered carnality and the beginning of exile. (Judaism does not teach the doctrine of Original Sin).

Perhaps there is a deeper, more profound way to look at this story of origins than just the introduction of base sexuality or a simple explanation of how humanity fell from “grace”.

The serpent knows the words of God, but the story progresses when he interprets, suggesting his interpretation. Interestingly, Moses does the same in the Torah (as we will see). Can we learn something by comparing Moses to the serpent in the Garden? Yes, I believe we can: a very important aspect of biblical interpretive tradition that, when misunderstood, is at the root of nearly all false teaching and division within the body of Messiah.

It is easy to see how the serpent twists and manipulates God’s words of instruction to Eve. Why is it easy? Because we know that the result of the encounter is disaster. Therefore, we also assume that he is misquoting God’s words. But is he?

Continue reading