recent years throughout our Messianic Movement, there has been much
discussion regarding the basis for Jewish identity. Believers in Messiah
Yeshua (Jesus) from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds have felt the
desire to strongly identify with the larger Jewish community, and to be
accepted by that larger Jewish community. These feelings are normal and
understandable, as we see the Scriptures giving many examples of the
positive benefit of standing in solidarity with the Jewish people.
For Gentile believers, we have the famous example of Ruth as she
"Your People shall be my People, and your
God shall be my God"
These believers have embraced the very words of Messiah as he stated:
"Salvation is of the Jews" John 4:22 In
their desire to identify with the Jewish people, Gentile believers in
Messiah have turned to various sources of authority as to what
constitutes "Jewish". Some are active in good, healthy
Messianic Jewish Congregations where they are valued members of the
community. Others have formed "new winds of doctrine" that
somehow identifies Gentile believers as members of one of the Tribes of
Israel, exactly which tribe seems to change every few years ! Still
other Gentile believers look to the mainstream Rabbinic Jewish community
for their sense of "what is Jewish", and grant them final
authority in these matters.
For Jewish believers, there is a strong imperative to remain
identifiable as Jews. After all, if God created us as Jews surely He
knew what He was doing! Through the years we've seen Satan's
attempts to destroy the Jewish people, and so we are more determined
than ever to say:
"AM YISRAEL CHAI" THE JEWISH PEOPLE LIVE ON! We
are proud of our Jewish identity !!
As we resolve to be identifiable as Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua,
we still come face to face with the question of the basis of Jewish
identity and authority. Some Jewish believers do all they can to make
themselves acceptable to mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, believing that if
they just wear Tzitsit, keep Kosher and follow other forms of Rabbinic
Halacha, they will eventually be accepted as a branch of Judaism. Even
though some Rabbi's have begrudgingly allowed that Jewish believers are
still Jews, we are still seen as being ignorant traitors who need to
renounce Yeshua and return to Rabbinic Judaism. Sadly, some Jewish
believers who have become completely enamored of Rabbinic approval have
eventually done just that, backing away from central teachings of the
Messiah in order to make themselves acceptable to Rabbinic Judaism.
All of this goes to the heart of the question, What is the Basis for
Jewish identity? We hereby submit that the Lord God of Israel Himself
has set the standard for Jewish identity. When God called Avraham Avinu
(Abraham our Father) to be the first "Hebrew", He made a
covenant with him and his descendants Isaac & Jacob which clearly
outlines the true basis for Jewish identity.
That sacred Covenental Promise is known as the "Abrahamic
Covenant". This Covenant is much older than the 'Mosaic
Covenant" and is actually the written form of the statement and
promise of God whereby He creates the nation of Israel, the Jewish
people, starting with Avraham.
(The Bible largely uses the terms "Israel" and
"Jewish" interchangeably, they're the same people in spite of
what some "new winds of doctrine" might mistakenly teach)
Here are seven main features which identify the Abrahamic Covenant as
'THE' Statement that God uses to establish His foundation of Jewish
identity and authority:
1. The Abrahamic Covenant is the
set of unconditional, unbreakable, irrevocable promises God made
to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob that begins His relationship with
the Jewish people. It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:1-21.
Here's a 'trick question'; "Was Avraham Jewish or Gentile?".
You see, Abraham was the first Jewish person because God decreed that it
was so. "Gentiles" are NOT a race of people, it is simply a
term for those who are not Jewish. So, you only have Gentiles once you
have Jews. The set of scriptures in Genesis where God speaks His eternal
promises to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, bringing into existence the
Jewish people, form what we might think of as a 'legal incorporation' of
the Nation of Israel. The Covenant was 'unconditional', in that no
conditions of obedience were required from the Jewish people for it to
continue in full force. This Covenant continues to be cited throughout
the entire Bible as the basis for God's relationship with Israel. While
Abraham had a number of children, the Covenant line ran through Isaac
alone. In the same way, the line was through only one of Isaac's sons,
Jacob, and not through Esau (Gen 28:13-15). Jacob had 12 sons, and the
Biblical definition of a Jew is a person who is a biological descendant
of one of those 12 sons. While the Hebrew Scriptures encouraged Gentiles
to forsake paganism and turn to the God of Israel in faith, those
"God-fearers" or Proselytes are not called Jews, and they did
not become Jews, even though they had an honored position in the
Community of Israel. In the same way today, Gentiles who place their
faith in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, do NOT become "Spiritual
Jews" (a Replacement Theology invention), instead they are
"Spiritual Gentiles", (Gentiles in whom the Holy Spirit
resides) and should have a co-equal place of status and function in a
healthy Messianic Congregation alongside the "Spiritual Jews"
(Ethnic Jews in whom the Holy Spirit resides). The Gentile believers DO
of SPIRITUAL Blessings from the Abrahamic Covenant (Galatians 3:14, 29).
The Scriptures which support all this and bear witness to the
distinction are Romans 2:17 & 29, which teaches that the true Jew is
the one is BOTH Jewish Physically (v. 17) and has the Circumcision of
the heart (v. 29), and Galatians 3:28 which teaches that there is one
way of atonement for all, Jew & Gentile, Male & Female, even
though these physical distinctions remain within the Body of Messiah.
Abrahamic Covenant establishes a unique bond between Israel and God
When Isaiah 49:16 says "Behold I have engraved you on the palms of
my hands", his immediate hearers were a Jewish nation that had
broken the Mosaic Law as Isaiah so dramatically testifies to (Isa.
1:1-4), and were not entitled to the blessing of God (Leviticus
26:14-39) as far as the Mosaic Covenant was concerned. Yet, in the next
few verses (Lev. 26:40-42) God does promise to bless them, NOT because
of any obedience to the Mosaic Covenant, but rather because of His
relationship to them through the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT. It is the Covenant
to Abraham that secures the unique bond between God & Israel, NOT the Mosaic Covenant, as the
foregoing scriptures show. If this fact alone were understood by
believers, we would see far less confusion in some sectors of our
Abrahamic Covenant promises God's protection for the Jewish people. Gen.
Back in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, there used to be what was known
as a "Protection Policy". If you thought you were going to be
'bothered' by the 'bad guys', you made an agreement with even 'badder
guys' to watch your back. Anyone who dared 'touch' you, was in turn
'touched' by your new friends. Well, God knew that lots of 'bad guys'
would try to "rub out" (forgive my Brooklynese) the Jewish
people. Satan would move nation after nation to try to destroy the
Jewish people. Why ?? Because it would be through the Jewish people that
God would bring the Scriptures and the Messiah, two things that Satan
really hates, but can't fight directly. So, God promised His protection
of the Jewish people by saying that He would bless those that bless
them, and curse those who curse them. A careful study of history
confirms this pattern.
4. The Abrahamic Covenant grants
ownership of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. Gen.
While there is much controversy among the
nations of the world regarding ownership of the Land of Israel, the
Scriptures above are very clear. The entire Land of Israel, including even more
territory than the current State of Israel encompasses, is given to the
Jewish Nation by God. It's capital was, is, and shall always be
Jerusalem. At the same time, God does have a concern for the descendants
of Abraham through Hagar, Ishmael and his Arab offspring. To them God
gives the land EAST of the land he gives to the Nation of Israel, as is
clearly seen in Genesis 16:7-16. The Arab nations currently have that
land promised to them, unfortunately, some among them also seek to
unlawfully take Jewish land away from the Jewish people. (Current Arab
land holdings are over 20 times the size of Israel !)
5. The Abrahamic
Covenant remains in effect even though the Mosaic Covenant has been
broken. Jeremiah 31:31-33, Galatians 3:15-18.
Because of it's unconditional nature, the Abrahamic Covenant cannot be
broken by any disobedience on the part of the Jewish people. In contrast
to that, Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68 clearly present the
provisions of the Mosaic Covenant as being dependent upon the full
obedience of the nation to ALL the provisions of the Law of Moses, not
just those you choose to obey!! (James 2:10). Furthermore, the
Jewish prophet Jeremiah presents the Mosaic Covenant as being so broken
so as to necessitate a New Covenant being given (Jer. 31:31-33). Rabbi
Shaul (Paul) in Galatians 3:15-18 confirms that the Abrahamic Covenant
continues in full legal force today even though Mosaic law is no longer
'binding' upon believers. While the Mosaic Law is from God and is Good,
Holy and Just, we were completely unable to keep it, which amply
demonstrates to us the need for Messiah and the New Covenant.
Abrahamic Covenant is the "Legal basis" for the sending of
Messiah Yeshua. Luke 1:67-73
In the New Covenant narrative of the birth of Messiah Yeshua, His uncle
serving as a Jewish Priest in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, declared
that the birth of Yeshua was a fulfillment of the promise that was
stated in the Abrahamic Covenant:
" . . . for through you all the nations of
the world will be blessed" Gen 12:3
It was through the descendant of Abraham, Yeshua, that the nations
(Gentiles) were blessed with the ability to have sin atoned for and to
enter the Kingdom of God.
7. While the
Abrahamic Covenant serves to preserve the nation of Israel, each
individual Jewish person, like every human being, is still a sinner in
need of a redeemer. Isa. 59:1-2, 16, 20
The Abrahamic Covenant "Guarantees" the continued physical
survival and existence of the Jewish people as a nation 'corporately'.
The individuals mentioned in Isaiah 59:1-2 as being separated from the
God of Israel were members of that covenant, but because of their
individual sin, were in need of individual atonement. The method of that
atonement is spelled out at the end of that chapter, in v. 20 where we
read of the 'Redeemer' who is to come.
conclude with a true story: During the years that I served as
Messianic Rabbi of a Congregation in New Jersey, I had a weekly exchange of "Letters
to the Editor" a local Jewish community leader,
published over an 8 week stretch in a local newspaper. He challenged the
right of our Congregation's members to identity themselves as Jewish
(70% of our members were Jewish at that time) without the approval of area Rabbis. In
response I wrote:
"It wasn't the Rabbis of
our community who made us Jewish, it was the Lord God of Israel and our
Jewish Mothers, and I don't recommend arguing with either of them !!
Mottel Baleston is the Director of the
Messengers Messianic Jewish Fellowship of New Jersey
Box 274, Ledgewood, NJ 07852
e-mail: MessiahNJ @ aol.com