The Bible is filled with customs and traditions that make immediate sense only in another culture, and another time. Anyone who reads the Bible, with an aim to recover its original meaning, must therefore try to accomplish the readerly equivalent of time travel. In this respect, our attempts to bridge the gap between biblical times and our own involve a lot of reflection about the ancient mindset. The point of this article, however, is that our attempts should also involve a certain amount of reflection about the modern mindset, in order to make us aware of how not to read. Unless we become aware of how our modern sensibilities predetermine our reading of certain passages, we can have no hope of really understanding the Bible on its own terms.
The restoration of the Jewish homeland, Israel, and the reconnection of the Church to its Jewish roots are not unrelated phenomena. Many sectors of the Body of Messiah today are being stimulated and enriched by the “nourishing sap” of Israel’s faith, scriptures and scholarship. We are discovering that there is scarcely a single New Testament subject that cannot be amplified, deepened, or balanced by a Hebraic perspective. As disciples of Yeshua, we are deeply indebted to Israel.
The apostle Paul asserted in Romans 11:1 that God had not rejected his people. Speaking metaphorically, he went on to compare the people of Israel to a cultivated olive tree. Because of unbelief, some, but not all, of the tree’s branches had been broken off, and a wild olive branch had been grafted to the stock. Paul emphasized, however, that grafting the original branches back to the stock of the cultivated tree would be a much simpler task than grafting a wild olive to it.
One of the strongest impressions I have from my first year in Israel (1963-1964) was taking part in a Passover Seder (the joyous home celebration of Passover). It happened that during this first year in Israel my first contact with the Jewish people took place—there were no Jews living in Cleveland, Oklahoma, where I grew up.
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