Purim: 5 unusual lessons for Yeshua's disciples

Classic repost: I wrote this article just prior to Purim 2014 while examining the book of Esther. Enjoy!

Mordechai in the streets of Persia

Purim is here this weekend, and it's good to remember and celebrate God's deliverance of Israel. Some obvious ones: It’s intriguing to see anti-Semitism's deep roots in humanity, going back to 450 years before Messiah. It's interesting to note how God is not mentioned by name – yet is entirely present – in Esther.

But these things we’ve heard before.

What I want to you show you today is 5 unusual things that stood out to me as I read Esther this morning. Deeper things worthy of amplifying to Yeshua’s disciples.

The Jewish people are still central in God's plans

The book of Esther at first saw resistance from joining the Christian Bible as canon. Some saw it as "too Judaizing." Martin Luther, too, found he could never reconcile with this book. Esther amplifies the Jewish people to a point that made the Church fathers uncomfortable.

The amplification of the Jewish people is unmistakably present in Esther. Even Mordechai's famous plea to Esther drips in saturation with this theme, his statements thoroughly certain of divine protection for the Jewish people:

"If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

As a follower of Israel's Messiah, I believe that Jews and non-Jews have equal access to God and are joined together in the family of Israel.

Even so, it does not and cannot erase the special calling God has for the Jewish people, the natural branches of Israel. This should be evident in Paul's declaration that if Israel has experienced a temporary hardening of heart towards Messiah, with the result of the salvation of the nations, the Jewish people's return to the Jewish Messiah will be like life from the dead.

Let me repeat that so that you don’t skim over it as religious jargon: The Jewish people returning to the Jewish Messiah will be like life from the dead, and no amount of gentiles coming to faith in Israel’s God will change that.

Even Messiah's own words count Jerusalem and the Jewish people as the gatekeepers of Messiah, his arrival hinging on Israel's acceptance of "Baruch haba b'shem Adonai!”

For those of us in the Hebrew Roots world, we must be cognizant of this reality. Gentiles grafting into the commonwealth of Israel does not negate the special promises God has for the Jewish people. It doesn’t mean gentiles are worse than Jews, but rather, God has a distinct plan for the salvation of the Jewish people.

Those who joined Israel became Jews

This is a particularly controversial thing to say in light of the state of the modern Messianic movement. One group believes they join to Israel through loving Israel's God, Messiah, and Torah. Another group says one must undergo ritual circumcision, at which point, one is a Jew. Yet another group believes it is part of the lost tribes of Israel.

In Esther, towards the end of the book, we read something often omitted from modern Esther retellings. In those days, when the Jewish people were granted this divine reversal of fortunes, "many people from all nationalities joined them and became Jews."

We are not told what "becoming a Jew" in the 4th century BC entailed. But we do know that these people who joined the Jews became Jews themselves. The Biblical command mandating the celebration of Purim mentions this people:

The Jews resolved and took upon themselves, their descendants and all who might join them that without fail they would observe these two days [Purim] in accordance with what was written in [this book] and at the appointed time, every year; and that these days would be remembered and observed throughout every generation...

It reminds me of the Exodus, in which a multitude of non-Israelites joined Israel and identified with her. Hebrew Roots and Messianic gentiles are in this same boat: joining to the Jewish people and standing with Israel.

Does this mean Messiah-following gentiles should convert to Judaism and become Jews? I don’t think so. God's intention isn't for everyone to be a Jew. God has plans for gentiles, too, plans that in their fruition have seen billions of non-Jews turn to Israel’s God through Israel’s Messiah. (Hallelu!)

But it does suggest that joining Israel is a deeper thing than many in the Messiah-following world make it out to be. It is more than Torah observance. It is more than love for Israel's God through Israel's Messiah. It is more than love for Jewish people. At the very least, it is helping and supporting the natural branches of Israel in physical and tangible ways. Aligning oneself with Israel in thought and deed.

Are we really joined to Israel? I don’t think so, not in tangible ways that Jews recognize. That needs to be fixed.

God can use people with pagan names

It feels silly to have to say something that should be so obviously true. And yet, I have to say it because of silliness in our religion.

Artist's rendition of EstherThe name Esther likely comes from the name of a pagan goddess. (The same one that Easter comes from.)

Mordechai likely comes from the phrase, "follower of Marduk", also a pagan god.

While these names were likely given to these Jews by their captors, you don't see Esther and Mordechai waxing indignant over it. There were bigger fish to fry.

So many in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots world concern themselves -- perhaps too much --  with perceived pagan influences. Still others are caught up in names, especially names for God. Some people refuse to worship God unless a particular name is (or isn’t) used. (Can Hebrew Roots folks worship when we adore ‘HaShem’? Can Messianic Judaism folks agree when ‘Yahweh’ is praised and thanked? I can already sense your panties getting bunched up.)

And some religious friends change their given name in order to appear more religious, or to reflect their identity.

I understand why, and yet, here we have Esther and Mordechai, two names of likely pagan origin, and yet names are of little concern in Esther. There were bigger issues to tackle then, and so it is now.

It should be obvious to us that God uses people even if they don't have religious names.

And yes, God can use people even if their names are pagan in origin.

God can use people who do not fit the religious mold

Many of the pioneers and founders of the modern state of Israel were secular, agnostic, or even atheist.

Photo of Theodore HerzlTheodore Herzl, the 19th century founder of Zionism, was agnostic. His opposition? The religious.

Herzl visited many nations and diplomats in hopes to garner support for a Jewish state in Palestine. When he approached the Pope and the Catholic Church, the Pope refused, saying that unless Jews converted to Christianity, the Church would not support a Jewish state.

Herzl saw opposition even among his own people. Certain European Orthodox Jewish communities opposed Herzl and his plan for a Jewish state in Palestine. They erroneously believed that only messiah could restore the Jewish people to Israel.

Religious people stood in the way of God's plans for the creation of the modern State of Israel.

Photo of Eliezer Ben YehudaAnd in that same generation, Eliezer Ben Yehuda moved to Israel nearly a century before its founding and pushed for the resurrection of the Hebrew language. His major opponent? Jerusalem's ultra-Orthdox community. They opposed Ben Yehuda's Hebrew-only newspaper, HaZvi, eventually shutting it down after a year of fierce opposition. Restoring the holy language to a common tongue was a grave sin, you see.

Again, it was religious people who stood in the way of divine mandate.

Photo of David Ben GurionIsrael's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, was by most accounts an agnostic or Jewish atheist. It was through his leadership Israel survived its first decade, a perilous decade characterized by repeated invasions from the Islamic world, motivated by the same anti-Semitic spirit that motivated Haman.

Ben Gurion received little help from the ultra-religious. While the nascent Jewish state was fighting for its very existence, the ultra-religious sought exemption from military service in order to continue religious school. (A decision that is being overturned as I write this post.)

I tell you all these things to drive a point back to Esther and Mordechai.

In the book of Esther, like the founding of the State of Israel, God is hidden, and yet thoroughly present. And his work is accomplished through means religious people do not expect. Sometimes, it is religious people who are opposing God. Perhaps God used secular people because their ears were not so clogged by theology and dogma.

We view Esther and Mordechai as righteous individuals today, even though we know little about their faith life. And what we do know of them isn't exactly a perfect picture of religious life. Both were engaged with a pagan nation, working in the government of an idolatrous imperial power, eating at treif banquets held by a pagan king.

Heck, Esther was wed to a pagan gentile! And if that weren't enough, she was a WOMAN! You know, those people that Judaism restricts from singing, wearing tallits, or carrying Torah scrolls at the Western Wall.

(And – be honest – how many of us religious people would balk at the idea of our daughter marrying a pagan leader? Perhaps it was for this reason Esther was an orphan!)

Religious people balk at such things, and yet God accomplished his purposes despite the circumstances. Sometimes, religion can get in the way of us seeing clearly the divine plan.

As Messiah’s disciples, let us be opened to the possibility that God is at work outside our niche, and can work through people who don’t fit the religious mold.

Revelation of truth in its due time

When Esther was to marry the king, she did not reveal her true identity as a daughter of Abraham. Had Esther strolled into the King's court announcing she was a Jewess, perhaps she may never have wed the king, and in return, never had the opportunity to save Israel.

Messiah's disciples can learn something from this. First, many of Yeshua's disciples wear their faith on their sleeve. I understand why, but sometimes it is a turn-off for people. If we instead showed kindness and service -- did good works without expectation of return -- and without worrying about pushing our belief in Messiah, it can yield good fruit.

Esther did reveal herself to the King -- but only when the time was right. This is an example for us as Yeshua's disciples. "Preach Messiah always, and if necessary, use words."

Lessons learned from Esther

  1. The Jewish people are still central to God’s plans. We can say with Mordechai’s boldness and confidence, “relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise”, regardless of the theological forecasts of the religious.
  2. Like in the days of Esther, many will attach themselves to Israel, and yet, God’s promises to the Jewish people are not cancelled.
  3. God works through unlikely people. Esther and Mordechai both took on names from the pagan world, worked and lived in a pagan culture, and yet God used them for good.
  4. God works in ways that often confounds the religious. Esther was not a model religious figure, and yet God used this unlikely soul to accomplish salvation for Israel.
  5. God’s timing is not our own. Religious people can often be blustering, impatient, angry, indignant…but Esther’s example is one of patience, fasting, quiet trusting. In this end, this is what swayed the pagan king.

Take in these lessons from Esther, fine Kineti reader, as you remember God’s faithfulness this Purim.

Stop your religious whining! (Lighten up, we live in an amazing time!)

Mumble your grievances to the Lord, all the earth
Serve the Lord with gloominess
Enter his presence with bitter cynicism
Enter his gates with lamenting

This is the day that despair has made
I will be sad and complain in it

-The psalms, according to the modern religious complainy-pants

The people of Israel complaining to MosesRemember the Biblical story of Moses and the exodus, when the people received the very best riches from God?

  • You were slaves, now you’re free.
  • Your former slaveholders sent you off with you food, livestock, jewelry, money.
  • Your enemies were trying to kill you, but they ended up dead themselves.
  • Food divinely provided, despite passing through a barren wasteland.
  • Water divinely provided, despite being in the middle of a desert.
  • You’re headed to a new, beautiful homeland. The land is free, fruitful, and an eternal inheritance for your family.
  • God’s literal and visible presence is there in your midst, miracles performed daily in front of your eyes.
  • God promises to make you a famous and holy people who will bless EVERY NATION ON EARTH.

With all these blessings, people whined and complained.

When they saw their enemies behind them, they complained they would be killed. When God sank their enemies into the sea, they complained about the enemies in front of them. They complained about food. When God provided food, they complained about that kind of food and demanded a different kind of food. They complained about their leader. When the leader stepped away for a month, they complained he was dead. They complained God abandoned them. They whined and complained for their entire generation.

They had it so good! The rich blessings of heaven, providence, God in their midst, earthly riches, wives and children and grandchildren. And they friggin’ complained about it.

Complaining is the same yesterday, today, and forever

Why are so many religious people today utterly despairing and cynical? A bunch of complainy-pants, whiny doomsday gloom bodies.

Tell me, dear lovers of the God of Israel:

  • Have you ever seen a man die of smallpox?
  • Watched a child suffocate from polio lung paralysis?
  • Witnessed routine infant or mother death during birth?
  • Seen a plague of insects destroy your food for the winter?
  • Had to walk hundreds of miles to speak with your family?
  • Watched a person die because of infection?
  • Seen a man die because he needed surgery, but could not receive it?
  • Have you had to live in a home exposed to the elements, without heater or air conditioning or electricity?

Nope. You haven’t, and I haven’t. Even though these things happened regularly in the ancient world, they don’t happen today.

Why is that?

We don’t suffer plagues, because medicine like antibiotics and vaccines and sanitation prevent infection and disease. (Some drugs even cure disease outright: as of a few months ago, Hepatitis C is now cured through a 12-week regimen – hallelu!)

imageWe’ve never seen a famine thanks to technology like farm irrigation, water reservoirs, crop rotation, motorized (and self-driving, GPS-enabled) tractors and mechanized harvesters, automated cow milkers, and crop seeds whose genes have been spliced to resist pests and produce bigger harvests.

We have all the food we need and then some.

We don’t suffer from the devastating, civilization-undoing plagues of yesteryear.

We can speak with anyone in the world with a tap of a finger.

We can safely travel across oceans in a matter of hours.

If there is something wrong with your body, we have knowledge (surgery) and professionals who can fix it.

Deaf? No problem, we can fix that:

Got an infection? We’ve got a cure for that.

Blind? We’re working on it.

Cancer? We’ve nearly got it figured out.

Need to find some information? The repository containing the SUM TOTAL KNOWLEDGE OF HUMANKIND is at your fingertips.

All of this has happened because God has given us the ability to think, reason, learn.

Today’s blessings, today’s complaints

Medicine is curing disease? Complain about medical business practices and Big Pharma.

Surgery saved your life? Complain about the etymology of the Greek word pharmakeia.

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Vaccines are saving millions of lives every year? Complain they’re not natural enough.
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Farms producing a bumper crop? Complain about the seed composition.

Antibiotics preventing infection? Complain that it disrupts your inner chi. (And start taking probiotics, goshdarnit!)

Travel long distances quickly via technology? Complain about the vehicle’s impact on global climate.

Technology providing you assorted comforts? Complain about the doomsday coming.

Got a cure for a deadly disease? Complain it costs too much.

Got more food than you need? Complain it’s not organic.

Got more organic food than you need? Complain it’s not free-range fed.

Got more organic, free-range fed food than you need? Complain it’s not gluten-free.

Got more organic, free-range fed, gluten-free food you need? Complain it’s not GMO-free.

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MY GOD, people! Please fetch your organic, free-range fed gluten-free veganoctosher trimmed granola GMO-free nut bran barfbars from your naturopathic homeopathic whole natural food store run by Dr. Hedupmetuches – I am checking out!

Me? I am honestly and truly GRATEFUL TO GOD to be alive in this fantastic age. What a time to be alive!

As a child, my life was saved because of modern medicine. I can talk to my family instantly without having to travel long distances. I have never had to suffer smallpox or polio or measles, or any other great disease that once plagued mankind. I have running water, a warm home, more food than I need.

I am grateful!

Recognize God at work and be happy about it

Instead of complaining in the desert about anything and everything, religious people should be grateful to God for this opportunity.

Religious people more so than secular people, even, because we have the riches of God.

Religious people: be glad that you are alive today. What a great honor and blessing to be alive in this age that allows us health, riches, comfort. This age that allows us to practice our faith and values with little to no persecution.

Be joyful that God cares about you enough to give you a written document showing you how to live a good and joyful life.

Consider yourself honored that God demonstrated miracles to you in this generation, including the restoration of the land of Israel and the Jewish people to that land.

Marvel at the works of God, how he has preserved us – people that once were not a people but now are called divinely adopted sons and daughters.

Look at how God has allowed you, in the fabric of time and space, to live in an age where you can read and understand and grow in knowledge. In past ages, the Bible wasn’t available in your native tongue, even if you were among the privileged few who could read! How blessed you are that the Scriptures are so easily available to you today, instantly accessible for your benefit.

Religious people, remember God’s promise and be encouraged: eternal life with God for every man who calls on Him and lives for Him.

Disciples of Yeshua, rejoice! God promised that we would have a seat at His table in the world to come.

Why worry so much? God promised even death won’t overcome the righteous. He’ll raise you up on that great and awesome day, give you a new and transformed body.

We are blessed to live in this age, blessed to know God, blessed to have the commandments, blessed to have Messiah, blessed with God’s lasting promises.

For all this, my friends, I am grateful to God. Are you?

Conspiracy theories promote anti-Semitism and hurt our credibility

Conspiracy theories often blame Jews for the world’s problems. Jews, Israel, and Zionists are at the root of many of the popular conspiracy theories. I am going to show you some recent examples in this post. I am going to persuade you, especially Messianic believers, to avoid conspiracy theories for the sake of our credibility and for the sake of the name of God.

imageConspiracy theories and anti-Jewish sentiment have a long, intertwined history. Perhaps most famously, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the handbook and guide for modern Jew-haters, first appeared in early 20th century Russia. In what was later found to be a hoax, the book purports to document a vast Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.

This book contributed to hatred of Jews in Russia and Europe and resulted to the conditions in which the German public of the 1930s readily blamed Jews for Germany’s ills, providing a fertile ground for World War II and the Holocaust.

But this isn’t merely old news; it’s happening today: this week saw 3 instances of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories I’d like to highlight.

Then, I have a word of wisdom I’d like to share with Jesus’ disciples regarding conspiracy theories.

Je suis Charlie, je ne suis pas un Juif

During the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings in France, radical Muslims murdered journalists, cartoonists, and Jews at a kosher grocer.

The popular /r/conspiracy forum buzzed with stories about false flags, cover-ups, "what really happened." Check out the top 5 posts from that day:

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Notice anything fishy here? 4 of the top 5 posts blame Jews and Israel.

How can we describe that extreme level of unrighteousness required for this predicament: not only does the Western media discourage us, in the name of Islamophobia, from describing the reality that radical Islam is once again behind an attack on Western values, but that the truth is twisted to an extreme by conspiracy theorists to blame the victims for their own murders.

Yet, according to conspiracy theorists, the Jews are responsible for the attack on a Jewish grocer. We truly live in the age of stupidity and moral cowardice.

Anti-Semitism: A common theme in the wild world of conspiracy theories

If only this were an isolated incident! But with great sadness we observe conspiracy theories routinely blame Jews, Israel, and Zionists (people who love Zion/Jerusalem) for many of the world’s problems.

The ever-popular InfoWars dotcom is filled with anti-Jewish sentiment.

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Search that popular conspiracy site for “Zion”, and you'll get these ridiculous, anti-Jewish articles:

  • An article about a "Zionist terrorist" in the Obama administration.
  • An article about the "corrupt Zionist lobby" purportedly bribing journalists.
  • An article detailing the “Zionist Matrix of Power". I would laugh at this ridiculous title if it weren’t so grievous.
  • An article claiming the recent Islamic shootings at the Canadian parliament were a “Zionist hoax

 

That was from just a single search; a mere scratching the surface of one of the web’s popular conspiracy sites. What will I find if I dig deeper? The imbecilic and ultimately unrighteous hatred of the Jewish people is entangled inseparably throughout the conspiracy theory narrative.

A growing, influential chorus of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories

Maybe you think, “Oh, those conspiracies are held only by fringe nut jobs, we don’t have to pay any attention to them.”

Photo of Stephen SizerIf that’s you, allow me to introduce you to Stephen Sizer, an influential anti-Israel activist and vicar in the Church of England who made headlines today by promoting a conspiracy theory article entitled, “9/11: Israel did it”.

The article gave support to the popular conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Islamic terror attacks against the United States on September 11th, 2001.

A member of the British Board of Deputies describes these events truthfully:

Jonathan Arkush, Vice President of the Board of Deputies, told Jewish News: “Posting, and giving approval to, an article which in effect accuses Jews of responsibility for the 9/11 atrocity is unquestionably anti-Semitic, just as it is beyond absurd.”

The Church of England is investigating this anti-Semitic vicar; I hope and indeed pray to God that this enemy of Israel and the Jewish people is ousted from his position of influence.

Conspiracy theories exist because people desire secret knowledge

Conspiracy theories are often rooted in anti-Semitism. One of the causes for this phenomenon, I believe, is that conspiracy theorists are eager to believe secret knowledge, and because they are eager to believe, they are a fertile ground for the enemies of the Jewish people. People who are quick to sell you ugly ideas about Jews find easy customers in conspiracy theorists.

And there is not a more juicy, secret-knowledge nugget than,

You know that peculiar minority group that doesn’t believe like we do? Well, they’re trying to take over the world.”

As followers of the God of Israel, our love of knowledge must not devolve into love of secret knowledge, which is often false knowledge. Our desire for knowledge must be grounded in knowing the Lord firstly, the wisdom found in righteousness, the life of goodness described in the Scriptures. Our love for non-religious knowledge should expand through knowing and understanding nature, the sciences, technology, medicine.

After all, which man is greater in the eyes of God and man: the religious guy babbling on about the JFK cover-up, or the faithful servant of God who practices medicine and saves people’s lives?

Real knowledge – a love of science, medicine, technology – trumps the pseudo-knowledge of conspiracy theories every time. This is what drove the scientific men of faith like Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday. This is what drove the founders of early hospitals, which were founded and staffed by the devout religious who took seriously Jesus’ imperative to feed the needy and care for the sick, as if caring for Messiah himself.

Conspiracy theories are a false religion and suggest a spiritual illness

The conspiracy theory bent is ultimately a spiritual condition.

Conspiracy theories are a kind of faith, a kind of religion: you’re believing without seeing an alternate story of history, kept secret from the broad world, the sheeple are a bunch of know-nothings on the path to destruction, but you are the remnant with the hidden revelation.

You prophesy about upcoming events: next week, there will be a great government false flag. Next month there will be a significant UFO event witnessed by many. (How many of these prophecies have proven false! But it doesn’t matter, since there’s no Torah governing the false prophets of this religion.)

For the conspiracy zealot, Judgment Day will take place when the liars and thieves – i.e. the Government (controlled by Jews), international (Jewish) bankers, Zionists, the Jews, Israel, etc. – will have their crimes on public display and are held accountable by The People with a vengeance.

The Religion of Conspiracy has its own zealots, jihadists whose lives are consumed by conspiracies. The zealots are easy to spot: their everyday speech is peppered by conspiracies.

Artist rendition of the Tower of BabelI recently had lunch with a conspiracy theorist who – during the entire lunch – spoke only of conspiracy theories, as if it’s the single most important topic in the world. Literally, during the hour long lunch we (that is, he) talked about conspiracy theories. I could hardly get a word in. The conversation was memorable to me only because of the extreme foolishness, in which absurd statements, such as “The tower of Babel was a spaceport!”, were passed off as unquestionable fact.

The zealots of the conspiracy religion are offended if you question them with the same scrutiny they question official narratives. They will go on the offense and call you names if you doubt their version of the Truth. When questioning conspiracy theories, I’ve been told, “You’re just blind! You’re choosing to be ignorant!”

The life of a conspiracy zealot is characterized by his conspiracy theories. I know several religious people who are also extreme conspiracy theorists. What is sad is I know them not by their faithfulness to God, not by their good works for God or for men. I know them by their nutty, off-the-wall crazy theories which they’re always talking about.

I’d be embarrassed if any of my secular friends met these conspiracy zealots, because they would bring shame on my faith and on the name of God by their foolishness.

The pseudo-religion of conspiracy theories divines away the reality Islamic evil – in which self-proclaimed enemies of Jews and Christians and Western values maim & murder innocents – and instead blames Islam’s victims, who are usually westerners, Jews, or Christians.

In doing so, the Church of Conspiracy Theories calls evil good, and calls good evil.

I believe there will be a time when God-loving conspiracy theorists will have to choose between their alliance to the God of Israel and their love of conspiracy theories. At that time, I believe we’ll see a great apostasy, as many of these people will follow the delusions to their logical end.

Conclusions

For the faithful lovers of the Lord, our distrust of government, while perhaps rightful, need not devolve into conspiracy theories.

Believing and propagating foolish conspiracy theories hurts our credibility and our message about God and Messiah. (Why would a secular person care to listen to what you have to say about God when you’re babbling on about nonsense how Obama has a secret underground base on Mars?

Disciples of the Jewish Messiah ought to have nothing to do with conspiracy theories and their anti-Semitic baggage.