H A P P Y H A N U K K A H !!!
Last night was the beginning of Hanukkah, The Feast of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is a great holiday because it is not only a lot of fun, but it is also saturated with deep spiritual meaning. Everybody loves to play the dreidel game and eat lots of candy - win or lose. This may seem like just a Hebrew version of spin the top, but the letters on the dreidel have a double meaning:
- N = Nun - nisht - "not" - nothing happens and the next player spins
- G = Gimel - gants - "all" - the player takes the entire pot
- H = Hey - halb - "half" - the player takes half of the pot, rounding up if there is an odd number
- S = Shin - shtel ayn - "put in" - the player puts one marker in the pot
The dreidel, or sevivon in Hebrew, is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on Hanukkah. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter. These letters are an acronym for the Hebrew words, נס גדול היה שם, Nes Gadol Haya Sham—"A great miracle happened there."
(taken from the wikipedia website)
The miracle being referred to is the mighty deliverance from the oppression of Antiochus IV. Although there is much to tell about the valor of Judah, his brothers and the other mighty warriors who fought with him, the main theme was the resistance against assimilation and the battle to remain true to their calling from GOD as a separate people, holy unto the LORD.
This same struggle goes on even today for Jews the world over. Universal claims are heralded and in the name of solidarity and unity, sameness or amalgamation becomes the social standard. Those who insist on being different are ostracized and marginalized. This is true not only in secular terms, but also within the Body of Believers. Whether one speaks of the Jewish believer in the midst or anyone who holds to a separate code of conduct, such resistance to the established social standard usually results in mistrust and often expulsion from the group.
I once heard a teaching by the late Martin Chernoff (an early pioneer in the modern Messianic Jewish Movement) on the topic of establishing Messianic Jewish Synagogues. In response to the hypothetical question, "Why belong to a Messianic Jewish Synagogue?" Rabbi Chernoff asserted, "To fight against the pull of the Anglo-Saxon culture." In order for a Jewish believer to remain true to his/her calling, there needs to exist a safe place where living a Jewish lifestyle is not considered a wayward action.
The Body of Believers today needs to learn how to receive and accept Jewish believers in Jesus who:
- keep kosher,
- observe the Biblical Holy Days,
- practice circumcision on their male children,
- and worship using the Jewish liturgy.
These particulars and more have often served as a stumbling block to fellowship and true partnership with non-Jewish brethren. (By obvious extension, the same could be said about Afro-American, Asian, Native American believers and etc. Those who don't fit the standard mold of modern evangelical praxis are often considered as fallen from grace and somehow therefore not fully regarded as equals in the Body.) I have argued several times here in this blog, as well as in the comments of many other sites, that what we need is a renewed vision of integration. It's not enough that we move towards multiculturalism or some expression of pluralism, but rather we need to clearly and purposefully embrace one another, including all our differences. GOD's call to unity should not lead us to uniformity. Oneness does not mean sameness.
Holiness, the command to be separated unto the LORD, is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood concepts for today's believer. This is not only sad, but tragic. The Scripture Itself states that " ..without holiness, no one shall see the LORD." Heb 12:14. I have mentioned before that a lot of confusion arises from the mistake of interchanging the terms holy and righteous. In Hebrew, these are clearly two distinct words, kadosh = holy and tzadak = righteous. Holiness or sanctification means to be separate or distinct. We first of all recognize that GOD is holy in that He is separate and distinct from all that He has created. He is the Creator, all else is a part of His creation. He is separate and apart from that which He has made, even man which He fashioned in His image and likeness. GOD has commanded us, as His witnesses in this world, to be separate and apart (holy) just as He is apart. Lev 11:44, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:13-16.
Righteousness is given to us by GOD. We are unable, by means of our own actions, to produce righteousness, but GOD has imparted His righteousness to us as a gracious act on His part. We are justified, or made right with GOD, by faith, but the commandment to be holy is fulfilled by obedience. Some things are allowed and some things are forbidden. This is expressly concerning carnal issues for Israel and all Jewish believers. What am I saying here? GOD placed certain boundaries for natural Israel which set them apart from the other nations around them. They were directly commanded to not be like their neighbors (Lev 18:1-5), past or present. The Torah (Instruction code) given by GOD through Moses, was purposed to guide Israel in how to live as a covenant community and thereby to provoke the nations around them to jealousy.
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my GOD commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our GOD whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen, and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. Deut 4:5-9
All the various commandments that GOD gave to Israel of old pertaining to holiness are still in effect (See Matt 5: 17 - 19). Keeping these laws and decrees does NOT make one righteous. Holiness, as defined by the lifestyle prescribed in the Torah, is the essence of what it means to be a Jew. This is part of the natural selection by incidence of birth, but it also transcends it. "For they are not all Israel that are of Israel." Rom 9:6 . GOD's original purpose for Israel to be a light to the nations still remains. Just because we see the obvious faults and failure of the Jewish nation doesn't mean that GOD has changed His mind or altered His purpose for them.
One additional word in closing. In case someone might infer from what I have written here that the Torah, or the laws given by Moses, should be applied by all believers, let me clearly say NO. This very topic and the related idea that salvation implied that the non-Jews needed to become Jewish and keep the Torah was addressed by the early Church and recorded, in brief, in Acts 15. There is only one pathway to a right relationship with GOD and that is through a heart determined to turn from evil and seek after the LORD and trust that the substitutionary atonement of the Messiah is sufficient to impart righteousness to any individual, Jew or Gentile.
Just as the distinctions between male and female have not been done away with by the new birth, such is also the case regarding Jew and Gentile.
Blessings, for love and peace, in the mighty name of Jesus the Messiah,
PS: Hanukkah is a lot of fun besides the various deep teaching matter. If you have a chance to celebrate it I highly recommend it.
PSS: In case anyone might have noticed, this is a recycled post from Dec 5, 2007.