Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving and Sukkot

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!!!

As we gather with family and friends this year, let's be sure to remember why we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is not for all the fabulous food, the football, the time off work, or Black Friday deals, but rather a time to think about all of God's blessings to us, especially His provision, and the love of family and friends. It is a time to thank Him!

This year I have heard and read a lot about how the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving was inspired by the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles or Booths), so I explored this in a little more depth. While some researchers claimed a substantial relationship between the two holidays, others seemed to dismiss the idea. What is the truth?

First of all, Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, was instituted with President Lincoln's declaration in 1863. It wasn't until 1941 that Congress established that Thanksgiving was to be held every year on the fourth Thursday of November. So, the Thanksgiving that the Pilgrims celebrated was not meant to be the precursor of an annual holiday, although, the inspiration for the national holiday was indeed the Pilgrim's celebration.  Likely, the Pilgrims did not celebrate on a yearly basis since they rejected the Catholic idea of fixed holidays throughout the year. Celebration stemmed from events that warranted special treatment.

Yet, there is some correlation between the Pilgrims' perspectives of themselves and the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. When the Pilgrims left Holland, they left because of the liberal influence that Holland had on the congregation, especially the young. They wanted to flee from these influences and felt that starting off in a new land would be the ideal way to create a kind of "new world." They were going on an Exodus, heading for the Promised Land.

This view that the Pilgrims had of themselves did not mean that they followed the whole Torah. They observed the "moral" law but felt that the "ceremonial" laws were no longer applicable. Consequently, they did not observe any of the feasts of the Lord, like Sukkot. However, their view did lend itself to understanding that the Jewish observance of Sukkot was an expression of thanksgiving.

Leviticus 23:39-43 (KJV)
39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
40 And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
41 And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
42 Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
43 That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

The Pilgrims realized that the Israelites living in booths for seven days was a reminder of the hardships of the Exodus, but the accompanying joy of the feast represented the hope of the Promised Land.

Was the original Pilgrim Thanksgiving inspired by Sukkot? Although we may not have a definitive answer, there does appear to be enough evidence to think it a possibility.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Lost Sheep of Israel

Sometimes in reading the Bible, we are confronted with elements that are confusing, a theology that seems to conflict with another theology, and behavior that defies explanation. One such passage is the following:

Matthew 15:21-28 (KJV)

21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. 

Aren't we told that Yeshua had come to be the Savior of the world? Yet, in Matthew 15 we are surprised with Yeshua initially turning His back on the needs of a Canaanite woman. He then told her and the disciples that He had only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Finally, after much persistence, Yeshua granted the woman's request and made much ado about her faith.

What are we to think of this account? Let's look a little closer! In verse 21 we see that Yeshua had gone into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, two Gentile cities north of Israel. This very act seems to counter Yeshua's own claim about being sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What would He be doing in a Gentile area?

Mark 7:24 (KJV)
24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 

Mark's version of this account placed Yeshua not in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, but on the borders of this area. Although this may clarify that Yeshua was not necessarily going into a completely Gentile territory, it seems certain that Yeshua was intending to come into contact with at least this one Gentile woman. She cried out to Him, calling Him the Son of David, and pleaded with Him regarding her daughter that was vexed with a devil (verse 22).

Strangely, Yeshua ignored her (verse 23). The disciples then asked Yeshua to send the woman away because of her crying out after them. In response, Yeshua informed both the woman and His disciples that He had been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (verse 24). The woman persisted, worshipped Him, and made her request again (verse 25). Yeshua then relegated this woman to an inferior position by calling those of Israel, the children, while she and the Gentiles collectively, were referred to as dogs (verse 26). She persisted again, not by disagreeing with Yeshua, but by wisdom noted that the dogs ate the crumbs from the masters' table (verse 27). At that point, Yeshua exclaimed that the woman's faith was great and that He would heal her daughter (verse 28).

Even from this account, we see hints of God's future ministry that would include Gentiles.

Matthew 28:19 (KJV)
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 

But what can we make of Yeshua's behavior towards the woman? He intentionally went into that particular area, treated the woman very harshly, and yet, healed her daughter. The only conclusion possible is that this whole incident was a setup, a test of faith for this Canaanite woman. Obviously, she passed the test, she demonstrated her faith and received what she requested. 

It makes sense that Yeshua needed to ground His ministry in Judaism before the Gentiles completely overran it. Today we have a situation where Christians and Jews are viewed as belonging to separate religions. But, if Yeshua had not primarily been sent to the lost sheep of Israel, would we Gentiles have held to the Old Testament at all? Would we even recognize that Christianity came out of Judaism? Would there be any Judeo-Christian understanding of morals and values? Probably not!

However, this account of the Canaanite woman and Yeshua's dealings with other Gentiles emphasize the faith that these Gentiles had. Why did Yeshua go out of His way to connect with these Gentiles at this point of His ministry?

Romans 11:17 (KJV)
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 

Paul tells us in Romans that Gentiles are grafted into Israel by grace through faith. Yeshua knew this Canaanite woman "hidden" in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, was one of His. He went to find her. She was one of the lost sheep of Israel.

This passage of Matthew emphasizes that sometimes our confusions are due to our not completely understanding all sides of an issue. Definitely, the Bible is complex, but Yeshua's only being sent to the lost sheep of Israel was by no means an exclusion of Gentiles. Not only would the ministry expand to Gentiles, but any and all Gentiles that wanted to follow Yeshua were allowed!