Hanging Out On the Iron Show

IronShowLogoFor those who didn’t know, I’ve been doing sporadic appearances on Johnny McMahon’s The Iron Show for some time now, often sitting with Matthew Millar as we work our way through various books of the Bible–at least, when we stay on-topic, which isn’t often. Johnny took a break for a while due to oral surgery, and I took a break due to personal matters, but we’re back and in the swing of things.

Right now we’re (allegedly) going through the book of Judges. Our first entry from two weeks ago is available in the archives, and last night’s show–which the Spirit took in some wonderfully unscripted directions–should be up soon.

Warning: The Iron Show is not recommended for listeners who like their Bible teaching quiet and inoffensive. Side effects of listening to the Iron Show include conviction, repentance, obsession with ancient texts, a desire to learn Hebrew, loss of sleep for those on the East Coast, reverence, irreverence, being on the fringe, wearing fringes, rocking out, irritating your pastor with weird questions, loving sinners, hating sin, tipping better, sharing the Gospel, philo-Semitism, a craving for matzah, the sudden desire to make a pilgrimage to Israel, believing in Yeshua the Messiah, being born again, receiving the Holy Spirit, and a changed life. Women who may be pregnant should not listen to The Iron Show unless they want their sons to have hair on their chests. If you experience sudden bleeding from the ears, turn down the volume and consult your doctor after you finish listening to the show.

The Salvation of the Nations Is the Salvation of Israel

Once again, Christians refuse to show the Jerusalem Council as actually Jewish
Once again, Christians refuse to show the Jerusalem Council as actually Jewish

Acts 15 is, as we’ve noted before, a widely-misunderstood passage of Scripture. Most Christians, reading it through the filter of two millennia of tradition, think that it is a repudiation of “the law” as an avenue of salvation. However, that view is falsified by the fact that whether Jews should continue to keep the Torah is not even on the table–the question at hand is simply whether Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Torah in the manner of the Jews in order to be saved. I’ve dealt with this subject before, but I’ve not dealt sufficiently with a key element: Why does Luke choose the quotation of Amos 9:11-12 as the key verse that turned the tide of the Council?

Reconstructing the Variants

Let’s first look at a distinction between the quote as it appears in the Hebrew Tanakh (OT) and in Acts:

Amos 9:11-12 Acts Quote
In that day I will raise up the tent of David who is fallen, and close up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations who are called by my name,” says the LORD who does this. ‘After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up, That the rest of men may seek after the Lord; All the Gentiles who are called by my name,

The portion in bold looks disturbingly different, but isn’t actually that much of a problem. During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews picked up certain Aramaic spelling conventions, such as using the yod to indicate “ee” and “ey” vowels, and the vav to indicate “oo” and “uh” vowels. (Before this, such vowels would have simply been inferred from context; the Masorites would later use various dots and dashes to indicate the proper vowel sounds during the Middle Ages.) As a result, the spelling of some Hebrew words changed during the Exile.

Dead-Sea-Scroll“Adam” in Hebrew is Aleph-Dalet-Mem (אדם). Edom is spelled the same, but with an extra vav to carry the “o” sound: Aleph-Dalet-Vav-Mem (אדום). However, before the Exile, they would have been spelled exactly the same, Aleph-Dalet-Mem (אדם). The editor of Amos’ prophecy doubtless saw a connection between Amos 9:11-12 and the many prophecies that spoke of Jacob taking possession of Esau/Edom’s domain (e.g, Obadiah, Ezekiel 25:12-14, Isa. 11:14), added the extra vav to “clarify” the prophet’s intent. While all of the Hebrew manuscripts we have today say “Edom,” the original meaning of “Adam/mankind” is preserved for us in the New Testament and Septuagint.

Likewise, the word “they shall possess” (yyirshu, יירשׁו) is physically very similar to “they shall seek” (yidreshu, ידרשׁו). It would be very easy for a smudged dalet (ד) to be mistaken for a yod (י).

The point is that the Acts 15 council was probably working from a variant Hebrew text that has since been lost to us, but the meaning of which has been preserved in the Septuagint and the New Testament. And in the original meaning, the point is that a remnant of mankind comprised of all the nations would seek the Eternal Creator and as a result be called by his Name.

Other Witnesses

Isaiah 11:10-12, says, “It will happen in that day that the nations will seek the Root of Jesse (the Messiah, vv. 1-5), who stands as a banner of the peoples; and his resting place will be glorious. It will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people . . . He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

map-isr-egy-assyrNote the order: First the nations come to the Messiah, then Hashem regathers Israel from exile “again the second time.” We see the same order reflected in Isaiah 19:24f, which says that “in that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth;
Isa 19:25 because the LORD of Hosts has blessed them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.’” Israel is not destined to be the third in pre-eminence, obviously. Rather, Israel is saved third, only after Egypt and Assyria, representing the Gentile world, become known as Hashem’s people and the work of Hashem’s hands. Interestingly, the ethnic Assyrians and original ethnic Egyptians (the Copts) are predominantly Christian, though they are overshadowed politically today by the Arab Muslims who long ago conquered their lands.

We see this played out in prophetic type as well: Joseph, prototype or remez of the Messiah,  saved the Egyptian (Gentile) world from starvation some time before his brothers came seeking food, and certainly long before the final reconciliation between them took place. Likewise, the only two of the generation of the Exodus who were faithful and entered the Holy Land were Joshua (an obvious type of the Messiah Yeshua; cf. Heb. 4:8) and Caleb–but Caleb was a Gentile, whose father was a Kenizzite (Jos. 14:6), one of the nations occupying the Land Israel was to conquer (Gen. 15:19). We see again in the story of Ruth that only after Ruth the Moabitess was joined to Boaz (another Messianic type) was Naomi’s land restored to her.

Doubtless all of these prophecies and types were discussed by the Jerusalem council, though Luke only records the quotation of Amos for us.

The Council’s Decision

How does this affect our understanding of the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15? When taken together, it is very clear that they did not regard their decision as being an annulment of Israel’s prophesied role and promises–on the contrary, they saw the Gentiles coming to faith in God, and even being called by his Name (something which would require a radical conversion in the hearts of the former pagans) as being a necessary prerequisite to Israel’s ultimate restoration. Small wonder that they spent their lives and spilled out their blood to bring the Gospel to the nations.

Paul tells us that “the Good News of Messiah . . . is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Yet, ironically, while the Jews heard the Gospel first and it is truly Good News for Israel, it was necessary for God’s plan that the Greek, the Assyrian, the Egyptian, and all other nations receive it first. The decision of the Acts 15 Council was that the nations should receive the Gospel while still being of the nations so that in the end Israel could receive it while still being Jewish.


Book Review: Return of the Kosher Pig

untitledI have to confess, when I first heard the title of this book, my assumption was that it was going to be yet another Christian attack on the laws of kashrut. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I’m extremely grateful to a good friend who gifted me with a copy of this book.

The author, Rabbi Itzhak Shapira, is an Israeli Jew, raised in a traditional Sephardi family, and therefore far more qualified to comment on both the Hebrew Bible and traditional rabbinic texts than I–he actually provides translations of quite a few texts that have never, as far as I can tell, been rendered into English before. In R. Shapira’s words, his life changed when he accidentally wandered into a Messianic synagogue for Kol Nidre (the traditional service on Yom Kippur eve) and had a Hebrew New Testament pressed into his hands as he fled. That encounter and actually reading the New Testament for himself led him to discover and embrace Yeshua as the long-awaited Messiah in Israel.

The full title of this book is The Return of the Kosher Pig: The Divine Messiah in Jewish Thought. The title is based on an old rabbinic riddle: Why is the pig (Heb. chazir) called the “returner” (from chazar, “he returned”)?

During the course of the writing of this book, I received a daring flyer from Chabad on the subject of Acharit Hayamim, or the end times. In it, the writer mentioned that the reason God called the pig a hazir (חזיר) in Hebrew is because the pig will return to Israel. Upon reading this for the first time, I scratched my head and decided to dig further to understand this important concept of the pig that is to return to Israel. I discovered two important facts about the Messianic expectations of the pig:

1. On the simple level: During the days of the Messiah, the pig will be kosher again.

2. On the midrashic level: During the days of the Messiah, the pig (Christianity according to the Midrash or the Messiah according to the Sod) will return to Israel. (p. 12)

That is to say, that which has long been considered unclean and even a symbol of idolatry and persecution will be at last received as clean and holy by the Jewish people.

R. Shapira rightly notes that the greatest impediment to the Jewish people as a whole accepting Yeshua, or indeed in accepting Christianity and Messianic Judaism as anything other than idolatry, is Yeshua’s claim to Deity. Return of the Kosher Pig is dedicated to showing that not only is a Divine Messiah within the bounds of Biblical faith, but that many Jewish authorities through history have expected the Messiah to be a Divine figure–indeed, that many understand a plurality in the Godhead itself!

This is far and away my favorite book that I have read in years, and I would have reviewed it sooner if I had not been foolish enough to loan it to a friend and had to wait for it to come back. It has a depth that I have found few books to match, and is must-reading for anyone trying to understand Jewish (which is to say, Biblical) hermeneutics. It is, I have to warn you, a very challenging book, and one that will leave many Christians with no understanding of or interest in Rabbinic Judaism frustrated and those who think that all Kabbalah is occultic ranting about its “heresies.” But for those of us who accept that a Jewish book (the Bible) is best understood through Jewish eyes, it’s an amazing work.

To give just a hint of the kinds of treasures R. Shapira has uncovered for us, let me quickly lay out my two favorite examples. First, have you ever wondered why the Messiah is called a “stone” in passages like Psa. 118:22 or Isa. 8:14? Shapira gives us the answer: The Hebrew word for stone is even (אבן), in which we find the words av (אב) for “father,” and ben (בן), for “son.” Thus, the even, the stone, is where the Father and the Son (אב-בן) become one (cf. John 10:30) (pp. 90f).

Second, have you ever wondered why Yeshua equated himself with the serpent in John 3:14? It turns out that the word for “serpent” (nachash) and “Messiah” (Mashiach) both have the same numerical value in Hebrew: 358.

Those are just two examples among dozens which R. Shapira lays out for his readers–and really, they’re among the least important, even if they have a bit of a “wow, neat” factor going for them. The real heart of the book is, as I said before, presenting the Divine Messiah in Jewish terms. At this point, my dream seminar would be a discussion between R. Shapira and Dr. Heiser on understanding the Trinity in Jewish terms, as both come from radically different starting points (Dr. Heiser is suspicious of the rabbis interpretive methods, and focuses primarily on pre-rabbinic material), but come to similar conclusions.

I found this particularly interesting, since I was reading this book as I was going through the process of having a falling out with my former rabbi. Part of our argument was over how to present Yeshua: While we both agreed that he was Hashem’s Word, Wisdom, and Sh’khinah (Dwelling Presence) in human form, he was convinced that we had to downplay that Divine element in order to present Yeshua to the Jewish community, and distance ourselves entirely from Trinitarian language. Rabbi Shapira demonstrates why this need not be so, even working from a strictly rabbinic perspective.

Again, a very brief example that does not do R. Shapira’s arguments justice, but which gives the flavor of them. He points out that the common translation of Ecclesiaties 12:1–“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth . . . ” (NASB)–is actually a translator’s gloss, and inaccuracy rendered to make the passage “make sense” in the translation. The word for “Creator” is boreikha (בוראיך). The yod (י) actually makes the word a plural; if it were a singular, it would be rendered borakha (בוראך or בראך). Thus, a single yod (and “not one yod or penstroke shall pass away,” Mat. 5:18) takes a straightforward statement and turns it into a mystery: “Remember your Creators in the days of your youth . . .”

From this, Shapira points out (pp. 65ff), many rabbis have recognized a plurality in Hashem’s manifestations, even taking Elohim (“God”) to be derived from El-hem, “They are God” (citing Rabbi Meir Ben Gabbai’s Sefer Avodat HaKodesh and the Zohar).

Some of R. Shapira’s arguments may seem strange to Christian eyes–or for that matter, to the eyes of Messianic Jews who are not as accustomed to reading rabbinic midrashim (interpretations). Indeed, there are arguments that will seem quite forced to most peoples’ eyes–but the important thing to remember is that these are not Shapira’s arguments. They are the arguments and speculations of the non-Messianic rabbis down through the centuries as they explored the Scriptures seeking to understand what the Messiah would be like so that they would recognize him when they met him!

As I said before, this will be a difficult book for most, but that actually makes it all the more worthwhile to read. In a day when we’re used to having every bit of knowledge spoon-fed to us, it’s a pleasure to read a book that is actually challenging, and which even contains a few nuggets for those who have taken the effort to learn a bit of Hebrew. Of course, there will be those who are simply frustrated by the work; to them, I recommend that they put The Return of the Kosher Pig back on their shelves after reading it, do some more study, and come back to it in a few years. You will find that it is the sort of book that rewards well the second, third, etc. reading.

Those interested in Rabbi Shapira’s work should also visit his websites: kosherpig.org, ahavatammi.org, and shuvu.tv.


When the World Denies the Resurrection . . . of Israel

Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is saying, “I’m fine with Jews . . . as long as they’re under somebody’s boot.”

Star_of_David.svgWhen this blog first started out, I would often comment on the news of the day. I’ve not done so as much recently due to not having the time and wanting to focus on my strong suit, which is in the area of theology and history. And for the most part, I intend to keep going with that route.

Having said that, there are times when we simply must weigh in on the side of truth against the falsehoods of the world. We live in a time when the powers of the world are gathering to try to destroy Israel through lies and hypocrisy. The whole Middle-east is awash in the blood of Christians experiencing their own Shoah (Holocaust) and the world is silent, but let Israel lift a hand to defend its citizens against unprovoked attacks, and that same world screams bloody murder. I could spend several posts chronicling specific examples, but for readers of this blog, there’s no need. You know the truth.

All of this, of course, was prophesied in advance:

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of reeling to all the surrounding peoples, and on Judah also will it be in the siege against Jerusalem. It will happen in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all the peoples. All who burden themselves with it will be severely wounded, and all the nations of the earth will be gathered together against it. (Zec. 12:2-3)

God, don’t keep silent.
Don’t keep silent,
and don’t be still, God.

For, behold, your enemies are stirred up.
Those who hate you have lifted up their heads.

They conspire with cunning against your people.
They plot against your cherished ones.

“Come,” they say, “and let’s destroy them as a nation,
that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.” (Psa. 83:1-4)

Proclaim this among the nations:
“Prepare for war!
Stir up the mighty men.
Let all the warriors draw near.
Let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’

Hurry and come, all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves together.”
Cause your mighty ones to come down there, LORD.

“Let the nations arouse themselves,
and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there will I sit to judge all the surrounding nations. (Joel 3:9-12)

There are many Christians out there today who have decided to join the nations against Israel. I’ve seen Zionism attached to Illuminati plots. I’ve heard claims that America should just abandon Israel so that they’ll convert to Christ out of desperation. Christians who say not one word about the sufferings of their brethren at the hands of the Muslims are quick to find any tiny incident of persecution against Christians in Israel–never mind the fact that the “Christians” in those cases are Jews themselves who have nothing but love for their people and their country!

And all of those claims ultimately stem from a single poison tree: Replacement theology, in one form or another, under one name or another. It’s the bitter heresy that denies that the Jews are still God’s chosen people, that Israel is still God’s son, even his firstborn (Exo. 4:22). It is the heresy that attacks not only those Jews who have not believed in Yeshua, but even more so those who have.

I call it a heresy because those who hold to it always slide into a particular hypocrisy: They mock the Jewish authorities for not recognizing the resurrection of one man because it didn’t fit their particular theology, while the Supracessionists themselves refuse to recognize the resurrection of an entire nation–one that has happened before their very eyes–because it doesn’t fit with their particular theology!

Shoah PitAnd the return of the Jews to the Land is indeed a resurrection, at least if one believes the words of Scripture:

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass by them all around: and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and behold, they were very dry.

He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? I answered, Lord GOD, you know. Again he said to me, Prophesy over these bones, and tell them, you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.

So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I saw, and, behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and tell the wind, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. Therefore prophesy, and tell them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, my people; and I will bring you into Eretz-Israel. You shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, my people. I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land: and you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it, says the LORD. (Eze. 37:1-14)

Isaiah prophesied some 2700 years ago,

It will happen in that day that the nations will seek the Root of Jesse (the Messiah, vv. 1-5), who stands as a banner of the peoples (i.e., the Gentiles); and his resting place will be glorious. It will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations (Messiah, again), and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (10:10-12)

We are now living in that day when the Messiah stands as a banner (a rallying-point, the place of the King) for the nations and God has reached out his hand the second time to draw Israel back to the land (the first time being the return from the Babylonian exile).

There has never been a time in which so many prophecies are coming to pass all at once, and they all involve Israel. Israel is the proof that the God of the Bible is indeed the Eternal Creator–and that is why the world instinctively hates her. That is why atheistic homosexuals join in common cause with Islamist militants: Israel’s existence, after thousands of years, is proof that the Living God rules over history, and that his judgment against all the nations is coming soon.

messianic_symbolWhy then do so many Christians also deny the miracle of God?


Purim: The Hidden Hand of Hashem

OneNightWiththeKingThe book of Esther is certainly an odd duck. Alone of all the books of the Tanakh (OT), it does not contain any direct mention of Hashem, not even to state that its principles prayed for their deliverance. Martin Luther was certainly vexed by the book, writing in Table Talk, 

I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains.

Luther was quite correct about the esteem Jews have for Esther. While there are five books called Megillot (scrolls) in Judaism, when you say the Megillah, everyone knows you’re talking about Esther. It is considered a commandment to read it in its entirety on Purim, the Feast of Lots. Even so, the same discomfort Martin Luther felt has carried over into Judaism from time-to-time: Esther alone of the books of the Tanakh was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and many editions of the book have added visions and prayers to try to make it fit better with the rest of the canon.

All of which are wholly unnecessary. It turns out that the Divine Name is indeed found in Esther–it’s just hidden in acrostics so that only those reading the original Hebrew text can find it.

The first place where we find Hashem is in Esther 1:20, “When the king’s edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.” The underlined phrase in Hebrew is Hyi V‘khal-Hanashim Yitnu, which spells Hashem out backwards, using the first letter of each word. That Hashem is written backwards indicates that even now, Hashem is acting to turn back the plans of men.

The second place that Hashem is written in acrostics is Esther 5:4, “Esther said, ‘If it pleases the king, may the king and Haman come this day to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” In Hebrew, the underlined phrase is, Yavo Hamelekh V‘haman Hayom. This time Hashem’s name is written in the first letter of each word going forwards to show that Hashem was with Esther in her request.

The third is just a few verses later, 5:13, where Haman complains, “Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”  The Hebrew is, zeH einenU s’veH lY, Hashem spelled in the last letter going backwards, showing that the Holy One is completely against Haman and is turning back all of his plans. Even the suggestion to build a tree to hang Mordecai on is ultimately brought about by Hashem to be the instrument of Haman’s destruction.

The final time is in Esther 7:7, “The king arose in his anger from drinking wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king.” The Hebrew is kY ra’aH kY-khaltaH, with Hashem written forwards with the last letter, showing that God himself was actively judging Haman.

MegillahFour acrostics, written once each in the four ways that they could be written: First letter backwards, first letter forwards, last letter backwards, and last letter forwards. This was done very deliberately by the author so that we would know that it wasn’t happenstance.

What’s the point? There were doubtless political and practical reasons to conceal God’s name, such as not wanting it to be widely read and misused by the Persians who would doubtless read Esther. But there is a midrash here for us as well: Even when Heaven is silent, and we do not see the hand of God, he is still there, taking action to protect us even before we know we need it, as when he removed Vashti so that Esther would be in position to intercede for the Jewish people.

That’s a great comfort to anyone on those days when the heavens seem like bronze.


500th Post: On Milestones and Markers

I’ve been doing a bit of clean-up on this blog, mostly trying to get the articles sorted into neat, easy-to-use categories and hunting down orphaned ideas to follow up on. In the process, I happened to glance at the post counter: 499 posts.

That makes this one #500.


Now I’ll grant that there are plenty of blogs out there with post counts in the thousands–and that I could be celebrating #1000 now if I didn’t keep taking time off. You can blame my kids for that one. But 500 is a pretty nifty milestone to pass all the same.

As those who have been keeping up with me on this blog, Facebook, or actually knowing me are aware, it’s been a tumultuous few months for me. Frankly, it’s been an emotionally and spiritually trying time as well.

I’ve taken some Godly advice to step back from ministry until I and my family have had a chance to rest and recuperate, which is why I’ve not said anything more about Reforging the Menorah since some of the initial announcements. I’ll be doing a bit of work on the background stuff that goes into such an endeavor (and you’ll see some of that design work appearing on the website as we go).

Those who I have sought for advice have encouraged me to continue writing, so I’ll be focused on getting the book Reforging the Menorah completed and shopping it around to publishers. Since this blog is basically where I publish the first draft of my thoughts, you’ll be seeing the book in pieces as I go.

So, a slightly early Happy Purim to everyone, shalom, and God bless!