(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
According to Rabbi Sha’ul there is no difference in the faith required in the TaNaKH and the faith required in the NT. In fact many a Christian has recognized that Habakkuk 2:4 is the very same "faith" that is spoken of in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. To be sure, the writer of Romans and Galatians quotes directly from the TaNaKH. Allow me to use the same rabbinical tool that our famous Rabbi from Tarsus used by constructing an imaginary opponent with questions to further my own theological arguments. For examples of this technique see Romans 9:19; 10:18-11:11.
Q: What is this faith that the writer of Romans is referring to?
A: We only need to look a little further into his book to find out. Allow me to use some resources from a commentary of mine. I’ll start with my key verse found in Romans:
"For Moshe writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them. Moreover, the righteousness grounded in trusting says: "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend to heaven?’"—that is, to bring the Messiah down—or, "’Who will descend into Sh’ol?’"—that is, to bring the Messiah up from the dead. What, then, does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."—that is, the word about trust which we proclaim…." Romans 10:5-8 (emphasis David Stern’s)
This is a quote from the B’rit Chadashah (NT), specifically, from the pen of Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) of Tarsus, yet it reads strikingly similar to a certain text from Deuteronomy, known to us Jewish folks as "Parashat Nitzavim":
"For this mitzvah which I am giving to you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach. It isn’t in the sky, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’ Likewise, it isn’t beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’ On the contrary, the word is very close to you—in your mouth, even your heart; therefore, you can do it!" (Chapter 30:11-14)
The reason is because, unknown to many New Covenant readers, Rav Sha’ul is quoting Nitzavim, yet he applies a well-known rabbinical method of interpretation, called midrash, to the text. As we shall see, his conclusion to the text was rather radical for his day and age! To be sure, it is for ours as well! Before getting into what he had to say, lets first explore our text from the parashah, found in the Torah Proper.
The opening verse of Nitzavim reads, in the Hebrew:
"Atem nitsavim hayom kulechem lifney ADONAI Eloheychem rasheychem shivteychem zikneychem veshotreychem kol ish Yisra'el. Tapechem nesheychem vegerecha asher bekerev machaneycha mechotev etseycha ad sho'ev meymecha." (Verses 10,11)
This rather all-conclusive list of representatives from 'Am Yisra’el (people of Isra’el), spoken by Moshe, tells us that the important message to follow needs to be heard by all. This list included the officers, leaders, tribes, and heads of all the men of Isra’el. But he did not stop there. Verse eleven goes on to include the children and wives of the men, as well as the foreigners who had attached themselves to Isra'el as a people; the entire spectrum of workers was represented here. What was so important to HaShem that he had Moshe assemble all of the people?
Sometimes in speech, the tenses in the verbs can be very crucial for a proper understanding of the text. I believe this is such a case. I must resist the urge to do an exhaustive case-by-case word study here. I will draw your attention, however, to the fact that in Chapter 29, Moshe informs the people that the covenant that HaShem is making with them there, is not just with them alone, but, that the responsibilities will also fall on of their ancestors to come (Verse 14-16). In other words, this includes those today who identify with 'Am Yisra’el! This lets us know that these words of the Torah (the covenant) are pertinent for us today, and that we might do well to listen to them! These verses contain our "pace-setter" for the rest of the parashah. Let’s read on.
"When the time arrives that all these things have come upon you, both the blessing and the curse which I have presented to you; and you are there among the nations to which ADONAI your God has driven you; then at last, you will start thinking about what has happened to you; and you will return to ADONAI your God and pay attention to what he has said, which will be exactly what I am ordering you to do today—to you and your children, with all your heart and all your being" (30:1-3, emphasis on verbs mine).
Whew! What a statement! What could the Holy One possibly mean by all of this? Surely he wasn’t predicting the disobedience of his children? Surely, if they did disobey him, breaking his covenant, he wouldn’t bring upon them "every curse written in this book" (29:27) would he? Sadly, the Torah historically records that the people did do exactly as HaShem said they would. They forsook the LORD their God, and prostrated themselves to, and served, false gods; false gods that the Holy One despised! But Moshe’s discourse did not stop there. He did mention that they would return to HaShem. Let’s read further.
"At that point, ADONAI your God will reverse your exile and show you mercy… (Chapter 30:3b)." Baruch HaShem (Blessed be the Name)! This is marvelous! The Sovereign LORD himself would bring about the return of the people to the Land of Promise. We see here, unequivocally, that it is the Power of HaShem that brings about a true change of heart! Judaism has a term for this "turn around", it’s called "t’shuvah". In it’s truest definition it always involves a 180-degree forsaking of the error, in return back to the truth! HaShem has just instructed the people that despite their apostasy, he would show them mercy and cause their t’shuvah. To be sure, he takes it a step further and introduces a concept familiar to Christian readers of the New Covenant—circumcision of the heart (30:6)! These verses are full of surprises indeed! I have to wonder out loud, "How many of the House of Isra’el really stop to read all of the magnificent promises spelled out for them in this parashah? How many Christians even know that they exist, here in the ‘Old Testament’"? But, HaShem is just getting started! Let’s read further.
"However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah… (30:10)." Now this verse brings us exactly to where our Rabbi from Tarsus started, in the opening verse of my commentary. In order to understand what I’m referring to, you, the student, need to go back and read (on your own) Romans 9:31-10:5.
Here’s the meat of my commentary—pay attention: The Nation of Isra’el, as a whole failed to grasp the central concept of the teaching of Moshe, and consequently, the teaching of Rav Sha’ul. Moshe describes, in no uncertain terms, the availability of the grace of HaShem, when it comes to attaining "life". Most assuredly, he presents before them, the option to choose "life" and "good", or "death" and "evil" (30:15-20). In the verses quoted at the onset of my commentary, Moshe describes "IT" as not being too hard for them to grasp; he describes the "IT" as not being beyond their reach either! This important "IT" wasn’t in the sky, which was obviously out of their reach, providing them with a legitimate excuse for disobedience, had "IT" remained there. Likewise, the "IT" wasn’t beyond the [Mediterranean] sea, providing them once again with the same excuse for disobedience. "On the contrary," says Moshe, "IT" was very close to them, in their mouths [!], even in their hearts (New Covenant feature again)—therefore, they could do "IT"! Whoever said that a person could not keep the Torah? Where does this idea come from that "IT" is too difficult? Or that "HaShem is asking too much of me"? But wait! What is the "IT"? Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), the "IT" that Moshe is referring to can only be the Torah! Or could it also be a hint (remez) of something even greater?
Rav Sha’ul, I believe, supplies us with the answer. I need you the reader to recall the strange but true example that John used in Chapter 1, verses 1-14 of his Gospel. Here, John gives us a lesson in "Torah algebra". In verse one, the Torah was with HaShem, yet, the Torah is HaShem (Torah=HaShem)! But in verse fourteen, John goes on to tell us that the Torah became a human being and lived with us (Torah=human being)! The rest of John’s account in that first chapter, explicitly states that Yeshua the Messiah is that human being! So, according to "Torah algebra": If Torah=HaShem, and Torah=human being, then HaShem=human being! This is controversial indeed! No Jew, using normal modes of logic would accept this interpretation. But Rav Sha’ul was not using normal logic when he quoted the passage in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, and applied his rabbinical teaching tool called midrash on it! He was using heavenly logic.
Yeshua the Messiah is undoubtedly the subject of Romans 10:5-8. Yet the rabbi identifies the "IT" of Deuteronomy with the Messiah! Why? Because of the truth that you and I already know about Yeshua, as explained earlier by John. Yeshua came from heaven! —He did not remain up there, out of our reach, providing us with some valid excuse for lack of faith, which leads to disobedience; nor is he "beyond the sea", or to put it the way Sha’ul did, still "in Sh’ol". The fact that Sha'ul doesn’t use the exact same wording as Moshe here, but opts for the example of Sh’ol (the place of the dead, i.e. hell), does not seriously alter the meaning of what Moshe meant. In fact, Sha’ul’s example takes the application a step further. For the Hebrew mind, if something was "beyond the sea", it might as well have been "in Sh’ol"—for it was beyond the reach of normal human efforts to obtain! And in the case of Sh’ol, it was impossible! At any rate, Yeshua was not, and still is not beyond the reach of normal human efforts—for he has been raised (from Sh’ol) by the power of HaShem, and is now available for everyone who will trust! His life from the dead now produces life in all that obey and put their trust in him! These are the very same choices that Moshe was describing!
Because the goal, or focus, at which the Torah aims is the Messiah (certainly not the end of the Torah), all that go on to receive him find, as HaShem promised through the mouth of Moshe, life and good! We can see from these examples how intimately Yeshua relates to the Torah—not just as the "living Word", but as the eternal choice presented to man. Today, we are also presented with a choice: life through Yeshua, the Living Torah…. Or death, because of disobedience and disbelief…. Considering the abundant mercy that the Holy One, blessed be He, has poured out through his Son, how can we not accept him as our Savior?
Q: Do we Messianic Jews place our faith in Messiah just like Christians do?
A: Of course we do! The sacrificial system was NOT designed to save someone. Its atonement was only temporary; it covered the individual until he arrived at the moment of salvation provided by Yeshua's sacrificial death.
Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz stated it quite well in 'Torah Rediscovered', FFOZ Publications: "For the unredeemed, the Torah (and the animal sacrifices contained within) was intended to preserve the mental, moral and social safety of the environment into which an individual was born and raised. The person was protected "until the date set by the Father" (Galatians 4:2) when the Spirit of HaShem would lead them to the Teacher, the Messiah. The Torah does this by providing a safe environment in which they may live. The judgements, commandments, ordinances and other teachings of the Torah all help to create a safe community surrounded by the protective border of the Torah. Anyone who lives within the confines of that border will live in relative safety. This does not mean that the person living within the borders of the Torah is automatically safe spiritually, or "saved"; rather, living within the Torah community, his life is being preserved and protected as he awaits the time set by the Father, his moment of salvation."
When Yeshua died he simply provided the complete and necessary atonement to finally erase the sins which were held in "suspended animation" so-to-say. The Father was also waiting for the atonement of Yeshua to enact his wonderful promise made to Isra'el so long ago: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more", Jeremiah 31:34b (KJV). Yeshua's death provided the answer and means to this prophecy!
Q: What about the ones who continued to live under the law as they thought they were supposed to... without hearing about the sacrifice of Jesus??
A: At what point does an individual living out the Torah (before Yeshua, or afterward for that matter) understand the plan of HaShem's purpose in giving the Torah? Only HaShem knows! An individual living out the Torah as best as he knows it is in a good position to accept Yeshua, provided he comes to the trusting knowledge that the Torah demands in the first place.
As hard as it is for us to comprehend sometimes, our God is the absolute authority on order. As such, each and every detail of the Torah served an important function, especially for those immediately involved. We may have difficulty making sense of it today, but the Torah anticipated our difficulty as well as curiosity. Consequently, I receive quite a bit of mail asking me questions as to why are there such differing details concerning the various offerings. If we serve the same God as they did (and we DO), why the step-by-step format for them, and not for us? First of all, are we interested in learning just for curiosity sake, or do we genuinely desire to identify more intimately with our LORD Yeshua’s sacrificial offering? I would hope that our interest is genuine. Secondly, while I cannot answer every single question as to why HaShem instituted such exactingly, minute details about the offerings, I can rest assured that my LORD and Savior had me in mind when he brought to its fullest meaning, each and every single facet of the Temple worship—and his Father’s Torah. Truly and thankfully I can rest completely in him!
With that in mind, we shall have to conduct our study of the sacrificial system based on our understanding of Yeshua’s effectual atonement, because the Torah teaches that the earthly is a copy of the heavenly reality! If we have lost sight of the heavenly, then we just might be inadvertently focusing on the shadow instead of the body!
HaShem’s intent is to draw us close to him in genuine, loving fellowship. To this end, he has designed the entire flow of the Torah to lead us to the goal of developing the kind of trusting faithfulness that produces obedience and surrender to his Son, Yeshua HaMashiach! This is what Rav Sha'ul meant when he said in Romans 10:4 that "Christ is the end of the Law". Here, as quoted from the KJV, the word "end" MUST mean "goal" in order for the verse to make any sense! If Christ is the "cessation" to the Law then Christ himself is a liar since he specifically stated in Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:17-20 that he did NOT come to abolish (KJV: "destroy") the Law! A Bible commentary which explains the verses in Romans as "ending the Law" is a commentary which seriously misunderstands the continuity of the Law (Torah) as well as the mission and purposes of the Messiah, and ultimately the eternal Plans of God himself.
Once again let me state in no uncertain terms: "The entire flow of the Torah leads us to the goal of developing the kind of trusting faithfulness that produces obedience and surrender to Yeshua". In the Torah, we see that a broken and contrite heart is the seedbed that will produce such a trust in HaShem. The sacrifices make up for the fact that we are less than perfect (sinless or blameless) in our attempt to secure a right relationship with our Heavenly Abba. Does the Torah expect perfection? No. Rather, it anticipates our failures and shortcomings, and consequently, makes the necessary provisions for them to be taken care of. Consider the example of the parents of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptiser) in Luke 1:6. The Torah states, in no uncertain terms that,
"Both of them were righteous before God, observing all the mitzvot and ordinances of ADONAI blamelessly."
Does this mean that they were perfectly sinless? Of course not. They were human like the rest of us. The Torah simply recognized their abilities and efforts when it came to walking obediently in a genuine relationship with HaShem, and made it possible to maintain a right and healthy relationship through its system of offerings. But, as I stated earlier, the heart was the beginning of such a genuine relationship. Even the "Shema" testifies of this truth (read Deuteronomy 6:4-5)! Moreover, "the obedience which flows from a genuine heart of trust is the natural, expected result of true, biblical faith!"
Q: At what point was the law of no effect when it comes to salvation?
A: The Law was NEVER designed to save anyone. It is not a "salvific" document (pertaining to salvation). Again let's gain a little help from First Fruits of Zion's book 'Torah Rediscovered' by reviewing some of the purposes and functions of the Torah (Law):
1. Torah is not to be observed in order to gain justification before HaShem (Romans 3:20). Torah is meant to be the lifestyle for someone who is already justified and redeemed! By way of a drash (example), the Children of Israel were given the Torah only after they were set free from Egypt (a picture of sin).
2. Torah helps man recognize his own sinfulness (Romans 7:7-12). This function of the Torah primarily concerns those who are not yet redeemed.
3. Torah helps to bring about HaShem’s wrath (Romans 4:15). The teaching here in Romans stresses that if anyone tries to use Torah to achieve justification before HaShem, the attempt will backfire! He will only discover that he cannot obey it perfectly, thus achieving only condemnation!
4. The Torah acts as a protector (Galatians 3:23-4:2):
For the redeemed: Because the Torah tells us the truth—the difference between holy and unholy, clean and unclean, life and death—it is both a protection for us and a written revelation of the grace of HaShem. Every man, woman or child who chooses not to live within the teachings of HaShem, which produce life, is consigned to a place outside of the blessing and protection established by these teachings (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). We can also tie in the description of the Torah as the national covenant and constitution, in which the Great King promises to protect His subjects through the covenant. To protect them from what? From the kingdom outside of His kingdom: the kingdom of darkness. Remember that the chief characteristic of the kingdom of darkness is death, with all of its legal rights (Romans 6:23). The legal aspects of the Torah declare the truth that the kingdom of darkness has no jurisdiction inside the boundaries of HaShem’s kingdom—the Torah Community.
Q: What happened to these people?
A: If the person truly put his faith in HaShem while performing the sacrifices, then when Yeshua came he was counted among the righteous when Yeshua went to the temporary place of holding and "led captivity captive", that is, he took to himself those who genuinely trusted (read Ephesians 4:8). If the person did not trust in HaShem, but rather put his trust in the works that he was doing, then he died in his sins to remain separated from God in eternity.
*This commentary is a companion to the Minor Feast known as Simchat Torah.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy