Inspecting the Lamb (the real post)

Passover Lamb
The Passover Lamb; Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

My post yesterday ended up going off in a different direction than I intended when I started to write it, but I completely forgot to change the title. My apologies to anyone who was confused as a result.

Today is the 10th of Nisan, the anniversary of the date that each Hebrew household in Egypt selected their lamb for their Passover sacrifice:

Exo 12:3-5 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is too little for a lamb, then he and his neighbor next to his house shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to what everyone can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats.

On the 10th of Nisan, about 1500 years later, Yeshua made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, not only allowing the crowds to proclaim Him to be the Messiah for the first time, but cleansing the Court of the Gentiles of the Temple for the second time.  Over the next four days, He taught in the Temple and answered the questions of the priests, elders, and scribes as they made every effort to find some disqualifying blemish in Him.

One thing that we need to keep in mind when reading about the tricksey questions that they were putting to Yeshua is that this was their job.  Rumors and crowds had been following after this man for over two years.  He didn’t formally belong to any of the known sects of Judaism, but was sought after as a teacher all over Judea and the Galill.  They said He could do miracles.  He had just deliberately fulfilled Zechariah 9:9 and encouraged the crowds to proclaim Him to be the Son of David!  They had every right and responsibility to discredit Him–if He could be discredited.

He couldn’t.

The error of Israel’s leaders was not in the action, but in the intent of the heart.  They were not trying to disqualify the Lamb for just reasons, but out of fear of the Roman reaction (John 12:48-50) and envy for His popularity (Mark 15:10).  In short, they feared the loss of their positions of honor and privilage.

It’s as if they had brought the Passover lamb into their house, inspected it for any blemish for four days, and then, having found none, tossed it out because they were envious of its shiny woolen coat!

But not all of them did.  There was one, a Pharisee and a scholar, who saw that Yeshua had answered the priests’ question on the Resurrection so perfectly as to silence them, who asked,

“Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

Yeshua answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one:  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’   This is the first commandment.   The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[4] There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe said to him, “Truly, Rabbi, you have said well that he is one, and there is none other but he, and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices!”

When Yeshua saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
No one dared ask him any question after that.  (Mark 12:28-34)

Can you not hear the excitement in the Pharisee’s voice?  Why was he so excited?  And why did the Pharisees fear to ask Him any more questions after that?

There is a story in the Talmud that may give us some insight:

There was another case of a gentile who came before Shammai. He said to him, “Convert me on the stipulation that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” He drove him off with the building cubit that he had in his hand.

He came before Hillel: “Convert me.”  Hillel said to him, “‘What is hateful to you, to your fellow don’t do.’ That’s the entirety of the Torah; everything else is elaboration. So go, study.”  (b.Shab. 31a)

I’ve written before about the Eighteen Measures and the effect they had on Judaism in the 1st Century.  Knowing that the House of Shammai had come to completely dominate the sect of the Pharisees, and knowing the above story, let me put forth a theory:  The scribe was excited because Yeshua’s answer was so must like Hillel’s.

Quite often, as we read through the Gospel accounts with a knowledge of the debates between the two houses, we find that the questions that were being put to Yeshua were matters that they disagreed on.  For example, in divorce Hillel allowed a get (divorce document) to be written for any reason, while Shammai only allowed it in cases of sexual immorality.  When asked on that question, Yeshua’s answer is very similar to Shammai’s but circumvents the actual point of contention entirely (Mat. 19, which was sadly lost from the podcast archives, so I’ll have to comment on later).  It seems likely that here and elsewhere, they were trying to figure out where this popular rabbi’s loyalties lay.

Here, in Yeshua’s answer, the scribe finally finds what they have been looking for:  An unambiguous teaching that places Him solidly in Hillel’s camp.  I am not saying that Yeshua was a student of Hillel as some do, only that He happened to agree with Hillel so often because Hillel was so often right–especially on this key issue of interpreting the Torah in light of love in all things.

The Pharisees, dominated by the House of Shammai, withdrew from Yeshua.  Was it because the disciples of Shammai realized the risk of the loss of their own prestige if the crowds who had worshiped Yeshua as the King just four days earlier thought He was of the House of Hillel?

A good place to start learning about Hillel

Today, many Jewish scholars are once again inspecting the Lamb.  Their reaction is very telling.  It is the reaction of the scribe in Mark’s narrative:  “Yeshua is one of us!  He teaches like Rabbi Hillel, like Rabban Gamaliel, like all of our most honored sages!” 

The reason for this is simple:  First, all modern Judaism descends from the disciples of Hillel.  Second, for the first time in eighteen centuries, Christians have been reaching consistantly out to the Jewish people in love, resulting in many being willing to read the New Testament for themselves. 

Isn’t it interesting that every sect and even every house within the remaining sect that took part in the rejection of the Messiah disappeared by the mid-Second Century?  And isn’t it tragic that the greatest barrier to the students of Hillel reading Yeshua’s words for themselves after that was the failure of the Church in keeping its Master’s commandment of love?

As we remember the inspection of our Lamb, let us also inspect our own lives for any spot or blemish.  And as we remove the leaven from our homes, let is diligently remove the sin from our lives and embrace all of our brethren in love.

Shalom

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