Working Out Salvation

    “And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” (Is.33:6)

Verses like the one above are like spiritual divining rods. Our perception of redemption is transformed by their theological breadth and application. “No,” it seems to say to us, “mere belief is just the beginning, not the end. Now, it’s time to get busy.” 

Commonly, we think of “salvation” as a one-time thing. Not a piling up in terms of a form of “wealth”, which implies accumulation. Can “salvation” be acquired like knowledge? Can it become a “wealth”? How do we understand this?

A passage in the Talmud discusses it, actually. Let’s compare what the sages had to say about this verse with the teachings of Yeshua and the apostles.

“Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And the faith of your times shall be a strength of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the LORD is his treasure” (Is.33:6)? Faith; that is the order of Zera’im, Seeds, in the Mishna, because a person has faith in God and plants his seeds (Jerusalem Talmud). Your times; that is the order of Moed, Festival, which deals with the various occasions and Festivals that occur throughout the year. Strength; that is the order of Nashim, Women. Salvations; that is the order of Nezikim, Damages, as one who is being pursued is rescued from the hands of his pursuer. Wisdom; that is the order of Kodashim, Consecrated Items. And knowledge; that is the order of Teharot, Purity, which is particularly difficult to master. And even if a person studies and masters all of these, “the fear of the LORD is his treasure,” it is preeminent.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 31a, Koren Steinsaltz translation, Noe edition)

So the Talmud first informs us that this is a strength of salvation. So the idea is not a “piling up of a wealth of accumulated salvation”, but a strengthening of what you have gained. Let’s look at the order of explanation given.

The sages compare faith to seeds, a “person has faith in God and plants his seeds”. Is there support for this interpretation in the New Testament?

“And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow….and the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matt.13:3,23)

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (1 Cor.3:6)

So we see that the idea of faith involves the anticipation of a harvest not yet seen. Sowing seed requires faith that God will provide the water, sun and nutrients for the plants to grow. But it starts with positive action. This is why faith is equated with seeds, and this is the subject of an entire tractate of the Mishnah. So this concept is Jewish, and is being reflected by the apostles. It is part of the Jewish understanding of true biblical faith.

Let’s go on…

The Talmud equates the “times” with the Moedim, the appointed times of the biblical calendar. Therefore, the observance of the appointed times of the Festivals and Shabbat serve to strengthen the “times of faith”. This is very interesting, since Paul reinforces this notion, though traditional Church theology has badly misinterpreted him on this issue:

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day; things which are a shadow of what is to come.” (Col.2:16-17)

The “shadow” is assumed to be a shallow shell of what we now have in Christ, yet considering the context of the period and the context of our passage in the Oral Law, we see that the idea presented is to not be intimidated by observing those things which reflect the great coming blessing of the Messianic Age, the hope of all who practice faith. Our hope, after all, is not to be free of the Law, heaven forbid, but to merit the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life. The appointed times are a “shadow” of that awesome coming promise, and in their observance we “strengthen” our faith, according to the sages.

“Strength; that is the order of Nashim, Women.”

This is very interesting. The Talmud somehow attributes our strength to Women. It stands to reason, when we carefully consider this issue.

Women are identified as the “weaker vessel”, and are worthy of special protection and honor as the glory of man. (1 Pet.3:7)  How, then, are they are strength? Well there are a number of places where we see womanhood and motherhood as critical elements in setting God’s order in motion.

In rabbinic teachings, a wife is a “soul-correction” for the man, leading him to HaShem.

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing And obtains favor from the LORD” (Prov.18:22).

This excerpt from Chabad.org explains this connection:

“…This refers to all types of goodness, both material and spiritual, as evident from our Sages’ statement (Yevamos 63b): “ ‘A man who finds a wife finds goodness.’ If the verse is speaking about [the woman] herself…. If the verse is speaking about the Torah……(and further explained)…our Sages (Yevamos 63b) immediately explain the blessing [associated with the discovery of a wife, focusing on the continuation of the verse, “A man who finds a wife finds goodness”]: “and evokes favor from G‑d” which they interpret as implying that “his sins are shut off.”7 Avonosov, the term used for “his sins,” can be understood as meaning “his crookedness and meandering, i.e., his straying from the path of the King.” (letter addressed to Rabbi Avraham Hecht, The Rebbe.org. Link: http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2282330/jewish/Letter-No-147-Interpretation-of-the-blessings-in-the-tenaim-A-man-who-finds-a-wife-finds-goodness-and-evokes-favor-from-G-d-who-is-good.htm

This shows the concept of a wife as a “soul-corrector” for the man, leading him in the ways of Torah and repentance towards life.

Another key to the strength provided by women is in the Jewish concept of “tzinuit” which is a spiritual application to the basic moral ethic of modesty. To illustrate this, we see that a Torah scroll is very important and sacred, therefore it is handled with great care, and is placed in a special Aron, or Ark, for protection and safe-keeping. In this like manner, we are told to view women as the “weaker vessel”, not in any way inferior to men, but rather exalted and given special status as worthy of honor and protection.. This would seem to be consistent with the idea of “guarding” the faith, in the same way that Isaiah and Paul reference the “breastplate of righteousness”, implying the guarding of faith “close to one’s heart”.

So the woman is a key to our pursuit of Torah and righteousness. So say the rabbis. You may ask if there is precedent to this in the Bible itself?

“But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.” (Gal.4:26)

“Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen.3:20)

In Paul’s midrash on the “bondwoman and the freewoman” (Gal.4) it is commonly taught that the “bondwoman” represents the Law of God and the “freewoman” represents grace. However, Paul would never intentionally contrast these two ideas. The true contrast that Paul is casting is the “bondage of condemnation” vs. the “freedom of true faith”. The application of Torah reveals both, you see, and true faith will end in Zion with the Messianic King, which is why Paul relates heavenly Jerusalem as “our mother”, since (in reference to Eve) this faith which he is speaking of is “the mother of all”.

Women incubate and bring forth life in the womb. Faith unto salvation requires time and patience, just like the incubation which brings forth human life in the womb. The children of bondage bring forth a spirit of bondage, but children born of faith bring forth fruits of righteousness and eternal life. So, this connects the “strength of times” to the building of faith, which is consistent with the connecting theme of the Talmudic midrash. Which continues:

“Salvations; that is the order of Nezikim, Damages, as one who is being pursued is rescued from the hands of the pursuer.”

In this illustration, the sages connect “salvation” to Tort Law. Nezikim is a Super-Tractate of the Talmud, which consists of three “gates”, Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia and Bava Batra, dealing primarily with tort law, inheritance, acquisitions, property rights, damages due to theft and the like. In what way would such legal code relate to “salvation”?

First of all, this reveals a fundamental disconnect between the Jewish and apostolic definition of “salvation” and the modern Christian expression. In Evangelicalism, “salvation” is a simple idea: ‘I once was lost, but now I’m saved’. Meaning, I was going to go to hell, but now I’m going to heaven. However, in a Jewish/apostolic framing, salvation has nothing whatsoever to do with heaven or hell. It has to do with being “rescued” and it finds it’s pattern in the Exodus from Egypt. Specifically, in this Talmudic passage, what is in view is the flight from Pharaoh’s army. This idea is paramount to a Jewish understanding of salvation, which is distinct from the more penultimate concept of “redemption”, which connotes a “final fulfillment”. Salvation is to Redemption what the escape from Egypt is to the entrance into the Promised Land.

In the Jewish concept of “salvation”, then, we are dealing primarily with the acquisition of property and inheritance. Perhaps this is why so many of the Master’s parables and commentary deals with Jewish tort law. The parable of the buried treasure deals directly with the Oral Law of Nezikim, and follows closely the halacha of acquisition in the parable.

Likewise, in the famous passage in John 10:22-39, which most Christians use to assert the diety of Christ, what is actually going on is that the Master is identifying his God-given right of “inheritance and acquisition”, as detailed in Oral Law, which states without reservation that a son is “one with the father” in the sense of being a physical extension of him, and thereby has the right to represent the father (though he be absent) as though he were present in a court of law (See Bava Metzia). So, this sheds important light on this passage:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (Jn.10:27-30, emphasis mine)

The Master is not declaring himself to be God. His critics knew this well, but were falsely accusing him in order to stir up animosity between him and the Roman government. It was a politically motivated confrontation, make no mistake. But the Lord used Oral Law to defend his ministry. Specifically, Nezikim, or Damages. He pointed out to them that according to the halacha of inheritance, that he was qualified, as the Anointed Son of the Father, to claim inheritance to the kingdom, and thereby, to “rescue, or redeem” the people. This is a law of acquisition and inheritance at work. And it relates to the Messiah’s role as the Second Moses, and ultimate redeemer.

The midrash continues….

“Wisdom; that is the order of Kodashim, Consecrated Items.”

Interestingly, the sages connect wisdom with laws of consecration here. This takes the concept of wisdom beyond the realm of practical life skills, and speaks more of Hokhmah, or the Divine Wisdom of God. In our study of Exodus, we have recently looked at the consecration of the Priesthood. We considered the idea that through the consecration, the “setting apart” of the priesthood to a select order, in effect made the works of the office accessible to all. This is God’s Attribute of Wisdom at work. God concentrates His important work of redeeming His people into an office, which is consecrated to the task.

Finally, the Talmud says,

“And knowledge; that is the order of Teharot, Purity, which is particularly difficult to master. And even if a person studies and masters all of these, “the fear of the LORD is his treasure,” it is preeminent.”

For the sake of time and space, I will not delve into the many applications of the knowledge of purity laws in relation to discipleship and spiritual growth, as this aspect of apostolic testimony is both extensive and completely neglected in Church theology. Also, I am just beginning to study this aspect, and don’t want to comment amiss. But allow me to summarize with a passage from the apostolic writings which shows that this midrash of the Oral Law is well-represented, though hidden, in a Christian expression:

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence (lit. ‘virtue’), and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet.1:5-8)

The Talmud continues it’s explanation:

“With regard to the same verse, Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, they say to him in the order of that verse: Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you await salvation? Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom or understand one matter from another? And, nevertheless, beyond all these, if the fear of the LORD is his treasure, yes, he is worthy, and if not, no, none of these accomplishments have any value. There is a parable that illustrates this. A person who said to his emissary: Bring a kor of wheat up to the attic for me to store there. The messenger went and brought it up for him. He said to the emissary: Did you mix….a preservative to keep away worms, into it for me? he said to him: No. He said to him: If so, it would have been preferable had you not brought it up. Of what use is worm-infested wheat? Likewise, Torah and mitzvot without the fear of God are of no value.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 31a, Koren Steinsaltz Noe Edition)

In this continuation, the sages illustrate the midrash in practical terms, and tie together  halachic rulings with aggadic wisdom. This was a common teaching technique in the times of the Master. But notice, particularly, how the understanding of the fear of the LORD guides the entire approach to faith. This fear causes the disciple to be able to discern and weigh the “light to heavy” in their pursuit of life. Paul, the preacher of grace, constantly made these types of arguments, revealing the advanced nature of his scholarship. In fact, he rules precisely in accordance with this Talmudic logic in his epistles:

“Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” (1 Cor.10:25-32)

Paul is using “light to heavy” argumentation, and is also mixing halacha with aggadic wisdom. At the foundation of all of it is “the fear of the LORD”.

As an aside, notice that he instructs not to eat in a way that would offend a Jew, which meant of course that Paul taught kosher for his Gentile converts. The issue at hand here is whether meat had been offered to the gods. He certainly would not have endorsed eating pork.

At any rate, regardless of that, we see a progression of faith.

What is the strength of our salvation, and the stability of our times? It begins and ends with faith towards God, but it is secured by the disciplines of the godly life. This has touch-points at all levels of our existence, both the exalted and mystical, as well as the mundane and routine. All of this must brought under the subjection of our will and intent towards the singular purpose of pursuing our “treasure in heaven”, thus Paul says,

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil.2:12)

And the words of the great apostle echo, in spirit, the key verse of our study today:

“And He will be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is his treasure.” (Is.33:6)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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