Jews and Arabs at the bittersweet intersection of Israel and the Church
Have you ever heard the expression “the pot calling the kettle black?”
It means accusing each other of faults we ourselves have.
To our great sorrow both Israel (Yisra-El) and the Christian Church and have been a very “mixed bag,” reflecting El-ohim and Christ rather intermittently and dimly throughout the centuries.
Here in the “Holy” Land the shortcomings of both Israel and the church are keenly felt—both by Messianic Jews and by Arab Christians.
Puzzled at Israel
Many Arab Christians are puzzled at the modern state of Israel. On the one hand the Old Testament obviously says much about the people of Israel returning to their land. On the other hand, Arabs living in this land have suffered in real ways because of the Jewish state, the “holy people.” The paradoxical question arises: “How can the country of Israel be a fulfillment of Bible prophecy if it has many elements that are downright ungodly?” Many Arab Christians have negative associations with Israel. They feel like second class citizens here. Therefore some have concluded that all those promises to Israel in the Bible must not apply to the present day state!
Puzzled at the Church
In just the same way for almost two millennia, Jewish people have been puzzled at the church. On the one hand the church has adopted both the Jew from Nazareth and the Hebrew Scriptures as their own. On the other hand Jews have suffered at the hands of the European Church establishment from the very beginning. Century after century Jews asked: “How can Jesus be our Messiah if ‘His’ church hates us, discriminates against us, expels us, tortures us and kills us?” Instead of making the Jewish people jealous (Deuteronomy 32:21, Romans 10 & 11), the church has often made the Jewish people nauseous.
An Ancient Conundrum
How can Israel and the “church” be so sinful?
How can His people, called by His name, be so broken and imperfect?!
How can those who were called to be a light to the nations have been, so often, sputtering candles?
Just as modern Israel is a very mixed bag, so also ancient Israel was a very mixed bag. There were godly kings and there were ungodly kings (the majority). The Hebrew prophets conveyed scathing indictments and rebukes of the sins of both Israel and Judah.
Even in sin, Israel was referred to as the (emerging) “kingdom of the LORD” on earth (I Chronicles 28:5)! Even in idolatry, Israel was called (by faith prophetically) the “virgin” daughter of Zion—in the midst of her wayward, adulterous unfaithfulness toward God (Isaiah 37:22, Jeremiah 31:21).
A Bride Being Purified
In Ezekiel 16 and Hosea 1-3 we read parables of Israel as the adulterous woman whom the faithful bridegroom God woos back, purifies and betroths again to Himself.
The New Testament echoes this language in referring to the church as a betrothed woman—not yet purified—but now in a process of preparation, to be given clean garments before her marriage to the bridegroom Yeshua (II Corinthians 11:2, Revelation 19:7-8).
Mercy to All
Romans 11 describes both Israel and the Gentile believers, as being branches of the olive tree.
In the precise context of prophetically predicting and describing dynamics between the church and Israel which are valid to this very day, Paul says: “For God has enclosed them together in disobedience, in order that He might show mercy to all…” (Romans 11:32 mod. CJB).
So here we are, two communities living a bit awkwardly side by side at the intersection of Israel and the church— God’s peoples in this earth, flickering with an unsteady, wavering light. The Messianic Jews and the Christian Arabs in this land are inextricably connected to both. Indeed we are all very much “works in progress.” Thankfully, “…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…” (Philippians 1:6).
“And their sons shall be as of old…” (Jeremiah 30:20).
A young man stood, poised and ready to chant from the Torah scroll placed in front of him. The warm October sun behind him highlighted his youthful features and the tallit (prayer shawl) draped over his shoulders. He stood not in a modern house of worship, but on the grounds of an ancient Galilee synagogue, one of the oldest in the world. Though the walls and roof were no longer standing the outlines remained.
His forebears had positioned their synagogue on a ledge of land, looking down through a steep cleft in the earth, their gaze ending at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At the foot of this same mountain, Yeshua preached and performed miracles in the valley of Ginossar, as recorded in the Gospels. Yeshua taught in synagogues all throughout the region, possibly even right here.
What was it like when the Scriptures were last chanted here? Who had prayed among the skillfully carved columns, entering through the elaborate doorway–carved out of a single limestone rock? The village and its substantial synagogue are thought to have been in use from the 1st century until at least the 4th century. Abundant crops of wheat, olives and flax for linen cloth surrounded the synagogue. A major trade route between the Mediterranean basin in the West and Syria to the Northeast, skirted the Sea of Galilee just below the adjacent Mt. Arbel.
While many young Messianic Jews have been called to the Torah, why did this lad and his family choose such an unusual setting for his bar mitzvah? Establishing the organic connection between faith in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, and the Jewish way of life passed to our people from generation to generation is an uphill climb. The tragic history of church anti-Semitism causes most Jewish people to distance themselves from our own Redeemer. Thus, living out our faith in Israel, in the vividly Jewish historic environment of an ancient synagogue, makes a simple yet eloquent statement that is essential in conveying the resonant truth of the Hebraic roots of the New Covenant.
One young Israeli’s bar mitzvah was celebrated in the ruins of a long silent synagogue. Its fallen pillars and walls again heard the melody of God’s word being chanted. The young man and his family were declaring: “We are here in fulfillment of the inviolable promises of Almighty God in His word. This is our land, and we treasure it. Faith in Yeshua is as Jewish as our ancient covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When we welcome our young people into early adulthood, we are identifying with the entire nation and its long history, dating back to Israel’s patriarchs.”
“Renew, Renew our days as of old” (traditional Jewish prayer).