“When you come unto the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall possess it, and shall…say, “I will set up a king over me, like all the nations around us,” you shall then appoint the king whom the LORD your God shall choose.” (Deut.17:14-15)
It is the biblical month of Elul, the High Holidays are near at hand, and the ‘king is in the field’. It is a time of anticipation and celebration. But to what do we look forward?
In my last blog entry, I revisited the theory of Bilateral Ecclesiology, and discussed some of its inadequacies in relation to the kingdom of God. I proposed that by bifurcating the path of salvation for Jews and Gentiles into entirely different routes of entry, indeed, into different religious systems entirely, one serves to short-change the radical message of the apostles in the First Century (which as it turns out is the same radical message as all the prophets of Israel’s history: ‘Repent and turn back to God and His ways’, with the additional of caveat of: ‘The day of the visitation of the LORD is upon us’).
A proper view of the kingdom of God in relation to Israel, Judaism and the rest of the Nations requires both theological broad-mindedness as well as applicational depth.
First of all, like David himself, the Messiah ben David (the ruling king, not the suffering servant), is appointed by God Himself, but must be approved of by the people before he may take office.
So this is the first aspect of the kingly office that God ordains:
1) God ordains and anoints His Chosen Servant
2) The people must consent
But, ultimately, it must be done. As the Rambam cites in his Mishneh Torah, the appointing of a king over the land is one of the 613 commandments.
Therefore, when we see Yeshua being questioned, challenged, even interrogated, we should resist the obvious temptation to vilify the scribes and religious leaders, even though it’s clear from the writers of the accounts that their attitude and intent appears to be questionable at best. The truth is, any candidate for the Davidic throne must be vetted by the leaders and by the people before they assume power. We must see that they were doing their job according to the Torah. At least technically, on that point, they were.
Another aspect of God’s anointed monarch is that his office is to be marked by a distinct set of characteristics that distinguish him from the kings of the other nations. In our passage cited above (just after it), the Torah immediately restrains the style and pomp of any king that would take office over His Chosen People, limiting the multiplying of horses (military might), wives (controlling progeny and creating a dynasty), and the amount of gold and silver he may amass (his strength should be the LORD, not wealth).
A principle reason for this is that the King is an undershepherd, and his rule and persona is to reflect this fact: God Himself is over him. This sentiment is reflected by Gideon when he is offered the kingship:
“Neither I nor my son will rule over you; God will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23)
In other words, the King is not God Himself, but only His representative. The holder of His “signet ring”, if you will.
But, what is even more interesting than all of this, as we consider the role of the Messianic King, Torah, Israel, the Nations and the gospel itself, is this:
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this Law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” (Deut.17:18-20)
Every Shemitah year, the king is to gather all the people together and read to them from the Law, in its entirety. As Rabbi Shlomo Riskin observes,
‘The king stood as the messenger of God, the representative of the King of all kings, conveying the divine teaching.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Torah Lights: Devarim, Maggid Books, pg.184)
Now, I will turn our attention to a critical point, aye, the critical point, that I am attempting to make with this article, and I will allow the Rambam to set the table for me:
“It is the king who reads in their ears the portions of the Torah which will inspire them towards observing the commandments and strengthen them (the Israelites) in the true religion…The strangers (gerim) who are not conversant (in Torah) are obligated to direct their hearts and incline their ears to internalize with fear and awe and joy and trembling as on the day the teaching was given at Sinai…and everyone should see himself as if now he is being commanded by God. The king is the agent to give over the words of the LORD.” (Maimonides, Laws of Chagiga 3:1,6)
Please take note of the cogent fact that not only is the Jewish king to exhort his own people in the obedience of commandments, but also all those who are not Jewish who have drawn near alongside God’s people. They, too, are given the opportunity, through the Davidic Messiah, to stand with Israel as though they are part of the mixed multitude at Sinai. They too hear “the voices” and say “We will do all that we have heard!”
In the words of Rabbi Riskin:
“And it is Jerusalem, the City of God, which is the place from where the king of Israel is to teach the word of God, is to communicate ethical monotheism to the world, as we are responsible to do because of the Third Covenant. When the Torah will come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, to the world, it will teach that “nation dare not lift up sword against nation, humanity dare not learn war any more” (Is.2:4). The sanctity of Jerusalem is the sanctity of God’s message, God’s message to the world, not only to Israel but through Israel to all the families of the world.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Torah Lights: Devarim, Maggid Books, pg.194)
Was the Torah given to Israel only at Sinai? Yes. Are the Nations obligated to the covenant God made with Israel? No, not directly.
This is the strongest argument that Bilateral Ecclesiology has to make: The covenants, and the commandments associated with the covenants, are with Israel, and not with Gentiles. There are other, overlapping factors, also. Such as the fact that these commandments we are reading concerning raising up a king are presumptive of a sovereign Israel that is free from war and oppression and able to order its own affairs. It also presumes the distinction of Israel from the Nations themselves, contrary to the theological conflation present in many systematic theologies which seek to redefine the “Kingdom of God” as any who believe in Yeshua as Messiah.
The Bible declares the kingdom to be the people of God, centered in the land of Israel (focused on Jerusalem specifically), but also presents an internal aspect of it, related to the “fear of heaven“, which is a willingness to bend one’s will to God and to His ways.
The concepts of nationalism, internal spirituality and acceptance by God of all who practice and seek after the “kingdom” are deftly alluded to by the apostle Peter:
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:35)
As the Rambam makes clear, there is no artificial delineation of what parts of Torah are “acceptable” for the members of the nations. These are largely political concerns. Certainly, the Rambam would not have in view the modern phenomenon of the Messianic movement, with its bizarre outward practices of pseudo-Judaism mixed with Christian theology. He would not have envisioned this problem, and so we need to be fair in our criticisms of those who have attempted to navigate the problems we face concerning identity distinction and faith practice.
However, I wish to emphasize, in a real and tangible way, that such political considerations are a (very distant) secondary concern to the weightier matters of repentance, righteousness and Torah.
The Messianic King does not only teach Torah to his tzit-tzit wearing brethren. He also teaches Torah, all of Torah, to the members of the nations who choose to draw near.
We may assume certain halachic distinctions and applications which will vary based on circumstance, but let us not think that this means that kosher, Sabbath-observance and other aspects of Torah are not for the Nations. They are. Very much so. They are part of Torah. And they are available to all who desire them, and they are encouraged to embrace as much as they desire. As the Rambam suggests, by virtue of being in Zion, they hear the words of the King and are accountable to them.
The pursuit of righteousness is the responsibility of man. This task, of elevation and refinement of creation, was given in the Garden of Eden, and predates Sinai.
One of the most important of the Noahide commands is to raise up courts of justice which will judge fairly and righteously, according to God’s laws.
This is in contrast to the travesties of justice we often see in many places around the world throughout history and today. When one studies Jewish civil law, it is astounding the lengths the sages went to assure unbiased judgment and fairness, regardless of the social status of the litigants. There is even halacha which demands that a rich man dress in modest clothing so as not to shame his opponent, if his opponent is poor.
The Davidic Messiah will judge in the spirit of righteousness, which is defined in the Talmud as righteousness guided by the principle of mercy. There are many legends in the Oral Tradition of David’s extravagant mercy and integrity in how he administered judgment as king.
The Nations must learn Torah so that they can fulfill God’s will for them as Gentile nations. Ultimately, we must remember, that in His plan of redemption, all the Nations will be under the scepter of the King of Israel, in the Messianic Age.
Torah for the Nations? Most definitely.
Bilateral Ecclesiology? No, I’m afraid not.
A critical point that is often seemingly missed by proponents of this theory is that for Israel to truly fulfill Her destiny, She must become the head and not the tail. Certainly, She will not be answerable in any way to Rome. The Nations will stream to Zion, not to the Vatican.
The King is in the Field. The Shemitah is here. The fields are “white” to harvest (see Rashi on the Shemitah year for significance of this). Come, buy a harvest without money, for the King gives freely from his storehouses.