Biblical spirituality is consistent from Genesis to Revelation.
Tezavveh & Zakhor
To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22)
I am a member of two definable but overlapping communities. As a Jewish follower of the Messiah, I remain intimately connected to the community of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only do we share a common heritage, but also a common destiny (see Romans 11:29). Then, as a Jewish follower of the Messiah, I am also connected to the transnational community of Messiah followers, commonly called in English, "the Church," which is based on a Jewish concept of "kahal" or gathered community, but that's another story.
Due to almost two millennia of misunderstanding and bad blood between key members or each community, keeping oneself firmly planted in both can be a challenge. I understand why some may think it can't be done. I don't agree; but I do understand.
Being Jewish I possess particular sensitivities to some of the ways non-Jewish members of the Church interpret the Bible and especially the Old Testament or what I prefer to call "The Hebrew Scriptures." Many Christians highly value the Hebrew Scriptures. Others, while they may value certain aspects of it, view it by and large as obsolete and not very helpful in determining the level of spirituality that they think is established within the pages of the New Testament (that part of the Bible which I prefer to call "The New Covenant Writings"). There is a tendency to regard the religious conflict therein in terms of Yeshua vs. Moses or grace vs. law or faith vs. works and so on. But that's not what is going on at all. Indeed there is a contrast between the covenants given by God at Mt. Sinai through Moses and the one established by Yeshua at his Last Passover Seder, but that has more to with issues such as the priesthood, the place of the sacrificial system, obligations for non-Jewish members of the community, and the function of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit). But the Bible's fundamental spirituality as it relates to God, his ways, and how to relate to him, is consistent throughout its entirety from Bereshit/Genesis through the Book of Revelation.
This week's Haftarah portion helps illustrate this. (Haftarah is the weekly reading selection from the Prophets section of the Hebrew Scriptures, which includes most of the books of the writing prophets and the historical books Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). God through the prophet Shmu-el (English: Samuel) directed King Sha-ul (English: Saul) to wipe out the people of Amalek as an act of judgment against them, a directive which he failed to fulfill out of fear of his own people. When Shmu-el arrived on the scene, Sha-ul claimed he did all God required of him, when he obviously did not. When Shmu-el inquired as to why not, Sha-ul said he kept some of the best animals as sacrifices to God. However noble and spiritual this may sound, the prophet was not impressed. God is not fooled by religious performance. He requires obedience to his word. Failure to obey is rebellion. There is nothing wrong with ritual when God requires it and when done out of faith, love, and humility. But to use God-given ritual in an attempt to cover up disobedience is evil.
This confrontation between the prophet and Israel's first king is no different from Yeshua's clashing with the religious leaders of his day who did similar things (e.g. Matthew 23:23). Yeshua wasn't undermining the Hebrew Scriptures, he was teaching them along the lines of the lessons learned from our Haftarah portion. In what is commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), contrary to what some people think, he in no way contradicts God's word through Moses. When several times in this great teaching, Yeshua says "You have heard that it was said," he is correcting the misguided interpretations of his day.
Yeshua and the rest of the New Covenant Writings uphold the eternal and consistent truths of God found throughout the Bible. Saul's rebellion is like that of our first parents' in the Garden of Eden (see Bereshit/Genesis 3). In both cases God had given clear direction, but the claim to greater but false spirituality blinded their perception of truth, and the results in each case were devastating. These dynamics fuel Yeshua's solemn warning at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where he clearly warns his hearers regarding the consequences of neglecting his teaching (see Matthew 7:26-27), teaching in line with God's word revealed in the earlier part of the Bible.
Yet many Christians seem to think that under the New Covenant it doesn't really matter what we do as long as you believe in Yeshua, whatever they think believing in Yeshua means. I don't know what a couple by the names of Ananias and Sapphira thought about believing in Yeshua, but they tried to pull a Sha-ul among the Yeshua followers of their day, pretending to be all spiritual before the community, and it cost them their lives as God himself struck them dead (see Acts 5:1-11). Perhaps if they had learned their Hebrew Bible better, things would have turned out very differently.
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