Judaism or Christianity - Who's Got It Right?
Or...If Christ was a Jew and you are a Christian...
What's up with that?!
Or...If Christ was the Messiah, and you are a Jew...
How did you get here from there?!
(greeklatinaudio.com Austin TX September 2006)
The confusion alluded to by the above questions highlights a profound underlying uncertainty which exists in the minds of proponents and members of BOTH religions, as well as in the minds of outside observers. And, this confusion may be laid at the base of such diverse historical occurrences as the Crusades, the Holocaust, 9/11, as well as fervent modern political debate over land-rights in the Middle East. The question, therefore, (Who's got it right?!) is very valid and worthy of careful analysis.
AND, such analysis MUST involve an objective review of the Biblical history of both subject religions because, it is based upon their respective concepts of self (as they define themselves interpretively from the Bible) that adherents of both religions formulate and pursue their respective agendas - for all the world to see and experience, for better or for worse...
To this end, the following condensed review of the Biblical history of both religions is presented, which review will contribute significantly toward clarifying the issues underlying the above-mentioned confusion and uncertainty.
IMPORTANT PREFATORY NOTES...
2.) Regarding the terms Judaism, Christianity and their related derivatives as used in this discussion...
Fundamental Historical Background, (Genesis 12 thru Exodus 19)
Centuries before either Judaism or Christianity existed, a unique and privileged relationship with God was enjoyed by the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. (c. 2000 B.C.E.) This relationship was founded upon the phenomenal trust and loyalty that Abraham demonstrated in obeying God's directives. This led to God's establishing a covenant of trust with Abraham in which God promised that all nations of the earth would eventually bless themselves through his (Abraham's) seed - due to the fact that he (Abraham) loyally obeyed God in all things. This covenant also included a gift of land which was promised to Abraham's seed, through his son Isaac, and, in turn, through Isaac's son Jacob. (Genesis 17:1-9; 22:15-18)
Jacob's descendants, through his twelve sons, came to be the nation of Israel, the eventual inheritors of this covenant. Note here, that the Biblical account indicates that Isaac and Jacob EACH loyally demonstrated the same trust in (and obedience to) God that their predecessor Abraham did. Thus, God happily extended the benefits of his covenant established with Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) and subsequently to Jacob as well. (Genesis 28:13-15)
At this early point in our discussion, it is extremely important that the reader understand the following subtle point: That is, NEITHER Abraham, NOR his son Isaac, NOR Isaac's son Jacob were Jews. Strictly speaking, Jews were descendants of Jacob's son Judah. HOWEVER, the term, "Jew" later evolved to apply to those who were native members of the Biblical nation of Israel. (i.e., descendants of ALL twelve sons of Jacob, and not just Judah.) As a matter of fact, the term "Jew" is not even used in the Hebrew Biblical narrative until the time of the prophet Jeremiah, approximately 1000 years AFTER Israel became a formal nation following its covenant with God at Sinai.
This is an extremely important point because, although it is commonly (and correctly) understood that the Jews are descendants of these men; it is also commonly (and INCORRECTLY) understood that these men (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were Jews themselves. They were NOT. And the KEY to understanding this critical distinction is the very marked difference in quality which existed between the personal relationship which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each had with their God of covenant, CONTRASTED WITH the less-than-personal relationship which the subsequent nation of Israel (i.e., the Jews, (i.e., the descendants of Jacob)) had with this same God of covenant. This critical distinction will be focused upon as we proceed.
The Genesis Bible account reveals that, due to a famine, Jacob and his sons and their families (c. 70 in number) ended up moving from the land of promise (a land which they had not yet formally obtained, and in which they were dwelling as alien residents, known as Canaan at the time) to Egypt where they eventually became enslaved. Sometime later (roughly 1500 B.C.E) Moses entered the picture and became instrumental (by divine appointment) in delivering the people of Israel, by now extremely numerous, (for all practical purposes, a nation!) from enslavement and leading them out of Egypt to the land of promise.
Note, however, that BEFORE they moved on to the land of promise, they were first led to Sinai where, at a key defining juncture in their history as the Jewish people, THEY WILLINGLY ENTERED INTO A FORMAL COVENANT WITH GOD AND, AS A NATION OF PEOPLE, FULLY AGREED WITH (AND PROMISED TO OBEY) THE TERMS OF THAT COVENANT.
FAILING to obey the terms of this covenant (as is the case with ANY covenant in which participants must agree to terms) invalidates (i.e., breaks) the covenant, at which point, the covenant participants go their separate ways, and the covenant relationship between them ceases. (Please bear this concept in mind as we proceed.)
Understanding the importance of this national covenant between God and the Jews, as well as its very clearly defined expectations enjoined upon both parties of the covenant, (i.e., God on one side, and the Jews on the other (with Moses mediating) ) is absolutely critical to understanding the question and underlying issue being discussed here: "Who's got it right? Jews or Christians?"
God's Covenant with the Jews at Sinai...
As our discussion proceeds, we must not fail to perceive the distinct TRANSITION of covenant FOCUS which occurs at Sinai: And that is, that God's centuries-old covenant promise to Abraham, and subsequently, to Abraham's son Isaac, and then to Isaac's son Jacob, would now pass from these noble patriarchs and settle upon their progeny. It is at this historical point (at Sinai) that this TRANSITION of covenant focus occurs because it is here that the nation of Israel (not Abraham, not Isaac and not Jacob, but their progeny) formally agree to the divine terms of this covenant. It was certainly reasonable to expect that they would treat this covenant with the same reverence and respect that their predecessors did. (Please keep this reasonable expectation in mind as we continue.)
Thus, the nature of this covenant arrangement acquires a decidedly different dimension here: Whereas before, the covenant which God made with Abraham (and which he extended to Isaac and Jacob) was founded upon long-demonstrated friendship, loyalty and obedience on the part of these individuals vis-a-vis their God, NOW (and by stark contrast) the newly-formed nation of Israel (the progeny of the original covenant-holders) were an "untried" entity in this matter. They were welcomed into this covenant arrangement by sheer virtue of the fact that God had promised their forebears that he would extend this covenant to them. (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 2:24) Therefore, the friendship, loyalty and obedience of this people (this "untried" entity) vis-a-vis their God AND VIS-A-VIS HIS COVENANT WITH THEM remained to be proved and demonstrated by them, as it was with their forefathers...
In any case, by virtue of their covenant arrangement with God, they now acquired the very privileged status of being (by God's own declaration) his "treasured possession among all the peoples..." HOWEVER, the maintenance of this privilege and their continued special status in God's estimation hinged upon their remaining loyal to the terms of the covenant. (Exodus 19:5-8)
The Beginning of Israel's Historical Record of Their Treatment of The Terms of the Covenant...
Exodus, chapter 16 places us at the wilderness of Sinai. By now, the exodus from Egypt is a done deal. The Egyptian world power has been utterly destroyed, economically and otherwise, due to the 10 plagues visited upon them by God, followed by the utter annihilation of their military force at the Red Sea. The Jews (Israel) witnessed all of this first-hand. They walked on dry land across the basin of the Red Sea with the waters congealed as protective walls on both sides of them. They spontaneously composed a song of victory, and sang it exuberantly as a liberated nation to celebrate their complete and miraculous deliverance from their Egyptian oppressors. (Exodus 15) And immediately afterward, (within mere days!) they began complaining very disrespectfully to God about a lack of water and food, wishing that they were back in Egypt under their former conditions of enslavement(!) totally oblivious to the incredible (and definitively proved!) saving power of the God of their forefathers! (Exodus 16:1-3)
It is at this point in the inspired Biblical record of the Jews that the reader must be sensitized to the beginning of a clear pattern of continued general obstinance and disobedience on the part of the nation of Israel with regard to God. In order to isolate and contemplate this unsavory pattern of the Jews throughout the remainder of their inspired record, (i.e., the Old Testament/TANAKH) this narrative will parse the entire period of the Jewish Biblical dispensation into six chronologically-sequenced historical segments for review and analysis.
These historical segments are presented below, starting immediately after the national covenant of the Jews with God at Sinai, and extending through to the birth of the Messiah and the beginning of the Christian era - a span of history covering approximately 1500 years. Note also, that the Biblical (Old Testament/TANAKH) books which cover these periods (and which are cited in this narrative) are indicated here for the convenience of the reader:
1. Desert Wandering Following the Jews' National Covenant with God at Sinai
[c.40 years, detailed in the books of: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]
2. Period of the Judges
[c.340 years, detailed in the books of: Judges and 1st Samuel]
3. Period of the Kings
[c.520 years, detailed in the books of: 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings, 2nd Kings, 1st Chronicles, 2nd Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel]
4. Babylonian Exile
[c.70 years, detailed in the books of: Daniel and Ezekiel]
5. Period of Post Exile to the Closing of the Hebrew Canon
[c.100 years, detailed in the books of the post-exilic prophets: Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi]]
6. Post [Hebrew-] Canonical Period to Arrival of the Messiah
[c.440 years. There were no canonical writings during this period]
1. Desert Wandering Following the Jews' National Covenant with God at Sinai [c.40 years, detailed in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]
The details of the Covenant may be perused at leisure by browsing through the Biblical books listed above for this segment. By way of summarization however, it may be said that these books detail hundreds of divinely-instituted regulations, (c.600) which include, of course, the famous "Ten Commandments."
As the reader can easily surmise by browsing through the regulations contained in this segment, (and the reader is certainly encouraged to do so!) they have primarily to do with the Jews' respectful, obedient and loyal worship of their God; (a worship DEFINED BY GOD, WHO, BY SHEER VIRTUE OF HIS GODSHIP, HAS THE RIGHT TO DEFINE IT AS HE WISHES!) their required national participation in the maintenance of their Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial service at the Tabernacle/Temple; and expected sensible conduct among the Jews themselves, as well as with the pagan nations round about them.
Quite simply, by faithfully keeping to the terms of these regulations, they (and their land) would be blessed and protected by God. ON THE OTHER HAND, (and as was stipulated clearly in the terms of the Covenant) if they did NOT faithfully adhere to these terms, they (and their land) would NOT be blessed and protected by God - with disastrous consequences! In fact, the Law states forcefully and frequently that if the Jews demonstrated continued obstinate disobedience in their treatment of the terms of the covenant, they would lose their privileged status as God's "treasured possession among all the peoples," and their land would simply vomit them out... (Leviticus 18:24-30; 20:22)
Correctly assessing the dynamics of this "contractual" relationship of the Jews with their God is NOT rocket science. By way of an analogy, we all appreciate that if we do NOT abide by the terms of "covenants" [contracts] which we willingly enter into, of our own accord, with eyes wide open, then we may justifiably expect adverse repercussions: Our property may be repossessed, we may be evicted from our dwellings, lose our jobs, be thrown out of venues, be jailed, fined, executed, etc., etc.; and we ALL understand this! Most of us, therefore, try very hard to avoid the dishonorable course, for the reasons cited.
It is indeed as the Jewish philosopher/king Solomon said, (and which advice he himself ignored in the end, despite his illustrious beginning...) "It is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill!" (Ecclesiastes 5:4)
With this in mind, note how the Biblical record stipulates the Covenant incentives, at Deuteronomy, chapters 28 - 30. (Ideally, these three short chapters should be read so that the flavor of this matter may be fully sensed by the reader.) Nevertheless, portions of these chapters follow immediately for the benefit of quick overview...
REMEMBER that what you are reading here is admonition by God to the Jews regarding what would happen to them if they failed to keep the terms of the Covenant...
"But if you do not obey the LORD your God to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect..." (vs 28:15)
"Cursed shall you be in the city and cursed shall you be in the country..." (vs 28:16)
"The LORD will let loose against you calamity, panic, and frustration in all the enterprises you undertake, so that you shall soon be utterly wiped out because of your evildoing in forsaking Me..." (vs 28:20)
"The LORD shall put you to rout before your enemies; you shall march out against them by a single road, but flee from them by many roads, and you shall become a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your carcasses shall become food for all the birds of the sky and all the beasts of the earth, with none to frighten them off .." (vs 28:25-26)
"You shall grope at noon as a blindman gropes in the dark; you shall not prosper in your ventures, but shall be constantly abused and robbed, with none to give help..." (vs 28:29)
"Your sons and your daughters shall be delivered to another people while you look on; and your eyes shall strain for them constantly, but you shall be helpless..." (vs 28:32)
"The LORD will drive you, and your king you have set over you, to a nation unknown to you or your fathers, where you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone. You shall be a consternation, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples to which the LORD will drive you..." (vss 28:36-37)
"The LORD will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced..." (vs 28:64)
"...all nations will ask, 'Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?' They will be told, 'Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt...'" (vs 29:23-24)
Bear in mind that this brief period comprising our 1st segment is foundational and covers merely the first 40 years of the Jews' agreed-upon covenant relationship with their God. We might, therefore, regard this period as formatively "embryonic" and indicative of a rapidly-emerging and consistent strain of recalcitrance which serves as an historic signature of what is to follow in the remaining segments.
A quick summary of the prominent events which occurred during the desert wandering follows, and will amply illustrate the "signature" of general insensitivity and growing insouciance of the Jews toward their God - who had honorably extended the sacred covenent of their progenitors to them, and delivered them from Egyptian bondage...
-- The Jews' disrespectful murmuring at Moses regarding bitter water at Marah - mere days after their spectacular deliverance (by God) from Egypt at the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:23-25)
-- Shortly thereafter, their disrespectful murmuring at Moses, accusing him of leading them into the wilderness to die by famine at Elim. Moses reminds them that they are, in fact, murmuring NOT against him and Aaron, but against God! (Exodus 16:1-8)
-- Again! their disrespectful quarreling with Moses and continued murmuring and putting God to the test at Rephidim.
-- The infamous golden calf fiasco at Sinai, in which even Aaron acquiesced to the pressure imposed upon him by the recalcitrant Jews. Three thousand are directly executed by God for this clear infraction of the 1st and 2nd commandments, which had just been given to them. God assesses them in his anger as a "stiffnecked people" whom he ought to exterminate! Moses, in an expression of his profound disapproval of the Jews' disobedience to God, separates himself from them and moves his tent outside the camp! (Exodus 32:1 - 33:7)
-- The fire incident concerning Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu (priests!) who were directly executed by God for offering "alien fire" at the tabernacle. (The term "alien fire" in this context suggests priestly service rendered illegitimately, under the condition of intoxication.) (Leviticus 10:1-10)
-- The understated and obscure occasion at Taberah in which the record simply states that the Jews "took to complaining bitterly before the LORD," who responded by sending a fire against those at the perimeter of the camp(?) (Numbers 11:1-3)
-- The disrespectful food complaint at Taberah in which God's anger flared up and in Moses' eyes, their complaining was distressingly bad. In frustration, he (Moses) asks God WHY he must be saddled with this burdensome people. Expressing modern sentiment in ancient Hebrew vernacular, Moses asks if God can 'just shoot him now(!)' so that he won't have to look upon this calamity. (Numbers 11:4-15)
-- The disrespectful complaint of Miriam, Moses' sister(!) regarding Moses' "Cushite" wife Zipporah, in which she (Miriam) influences Aaron to join her in her jealous complaint. Miriam's overbearing culpability in this matter becomes evident here, in that SHE (and not Aaron) is struck with leprosy by God. Even though she is immediately cured by God, through the frantic intercession of her brothers, Moses and Aaron, she must still be quarantined outside the camp for seven days. (Numbers 12:1-16)
-- The complaint of Israel and the spies at Paran in which the spies (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) give a discouraging report to Israel assessing the difficulty and danger they will face if they attempt to conquer the Promised Land, despite God's clear directive to them to proceed with such conquest in faith because he (God) is fighting for them! The frightened Jews decide to listen to the 10 unfaithful spies rather than to God, whose ability to conquer the most formidable of enemies was clearly demonstrated to them in the case of Egypt. God's estimation of them at this point?: "How long will this people spurn Me?," says he. "...and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will strike them with pestilence and disown them...!" (Numbers 13:1 - 14:11) [NOTE: It is this incident which caused the 40-year Jewish wandering in the inhospitable desert regions of the Negeb. Had the Jews proceeded with the intended entry into the Land of Promise for conquest, as they were instructed by God, the 40-year "wandering" would have been avoided. The "wandering" was imposed upon them by God as punishment for their disobedience, AND for the purpose of allowing the generation of complaining adult Jews who had seen and experienced God's miraculous deliverance from Egypt - and yet refused to follow through on God's mandate to enter the Promised Land for conquest - to die in the desert. (please read Exodus chapter 14)]
-- The Complaint of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their confederates at Paran in which these leaders(!) and tribal heads(!) of Israel complain disrespectfully about Moses' leadership; and in a fit of jealousy, attempt to usurp his God-given authority. God responds by executing them all for acting in this arrogant fashion against his own appointed representative. (Numbers 16:1-40)
-- The complaint of the assembly (again!) at Paran in which Israel murmurs against Moses and Aaron because God has executed the rebels Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their sympathizing confederates! In response to this continued lack of respect for God and his appointed leadership, God proceeds to send a scourge among the complainers in which nearly 15,000 die. It is only due to the quick intervention of Moses and Aaron in their (the Jews') behalf that the whole assembly isn't annihilated. (Numbers 16:41-50)
-- The Water Complaint at Meribah in which the crowd quarrels with Moses and Aaron, accusing them (again) of bringing them into the wilderness to die. (It is interesting that this accusation, made frequently, is again conjured up as an "argumentum ad Mosi" AFTER they have been wandering in the desert for nearly 40 years, and are, in themselves, living proof of God's unquestionable ability to sustain them in such an environmentally hostile venue. (No lessons learned here!) It is during this critical incident in which Moses and Aaron, in a fit of frustrated anger at the entire crowd of complaining Jews, lose their composure and are deprived by God of entering into the Promised Land with the rest of their murmuring brethren!) (Numbers 20:1-13)
-- The Copper Serpent Incident at Edom in which the Jews again accuse Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to die... They also do not fail to complain bitterly about the "miserable food" (i.e., manna - which has been their miraculous food supply during all the years of their wandering...) God is not pleased with this... (a kind narrative understatement!) and he sends poisonous serpents in among them. They (the Jews) begin to die off as a result of being bitten and, in this crisis, they manage to muster their scarce humility enough to admit that they sinned in speaking disrespectfully of God and Moses. They ask Moses to intercede for them and get rid of the snakes! Moses does so and erects the infamous copper serpent, which if looked upon by those bitten, will revive them. (Numbers 21:4-9)
-- The Sex Sins at Peor in which Israel, at the end of its forty-year trek in the wilderness, and true-to-form, maintains its rebellious inclinations apace by engaging in rank idolatry with the pagan gods of Moab and unabashed sexual immorality with Moabite women. God's response is to send a scourge among his wayward people and 24 thousand die as a result. (Numbers 25:1-10)
Here, at the end of this intense 40-year period, when Moses and the Jews finally find themselves at the brink of the promised land, while they are still on the east side of the Jordan river; (not yet having crossed over) Moses, in recalling this turbulent but revealing period of Jewish history, composes the "Song" [of Moses]" (called "Poem" in the JPS TANAKH) as a witness against his fellow Jews, (Deuteronomy 31:19) which song he introduces with the sobering prefatory comment to them:
"Well I know how defiant and stiffnecked you are; even now while I am still alive in your midst, you have been defiant toward the LORD; how much more, then, when I am dead!... For I know that, when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path that I enjoined upon you, and that in time to come misfortune will befall you for having done evil in the sight of the LORD and vexed him by your deeds." (Deuteronomy 31:27-29)
In view of these uncannily prophetic words of Moses...
It is with targeted irony that 1500 years later, when the young Jew Stephen was about to be stoned by his Jewish contemporaries who exhibited the same blind obstinance here alluded to by Moses, he (Stephen) cries out to them in sorrowful frustration, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the holy spirit. As your fathers did, so do you! Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One [the Messiah] whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who have received the Law as delivered by angels and did not keep it..." [upon which, Stephen is stoned to death by the Jewish mob.] (Acts 7:51-53, 54-60)
Regarding the stoning of Steven, an even more profound irony presents itself here in that the Apostle Paul, who (as Saul) was present at that event (and even watched over the garments of those who did the stoning) was, at the time, laboring under the same onerous hierarchically-imposed mindset of his murderous contemporaries - until he was forcibly brought to his senses by a direct encounter with the resurrected Jewish Messiah while on the way to Damascus. (Acts 9:1-22)) For Paul, the result of this "awakening" was his humble recognition of what we have been discussing all along, i.e., that the Jews (unlike their patriarchal predecessors) have a distinct attitude problem! (just as Paul himself once did!) Thus, he points to the very wilderness events which we discussed above, and quoting the Psalms, he writes the following in his famous Christian epistle to the Hebrews: "Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion [Hebrew: "Marah" מרה (i.e., "bitterness")] on the day of testing God in the wilderness, [of Marah - so named!] where your fathers put me [God] to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore, I [God] was provoked with that generation and said, 'They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways..." (Hebrews 3:8-10 (quoting Psalm 95:8-10) ) Thus, he (Paul) forcefully reveals his subsequent hindsightful assessment of his Jewish ancestors during this critical and formative period of their history - pointing out that their historical example is basically pathetic.
A Pertinent Request...
At this point in our narrative, Israel is poised on the East side of the Jordan and is about to enter Canaan to begin their God-ordained conquest of the Land of Promise. Moses and Aaron have died. Leadership of the nation has been conferred upon Joshua who leads Israel across the Jordan where they begin subduing the Canaanite inhabitants. The chronicle of the conquest of Canaan and the parceling out of the land to the tribes of Israel is recorded in the Book of Joshua which covers about 30 years and ends with Joshua's death, bringing us to the next segment...
2. The Period of the Judges
[c.340 years, detailed in the books of Judges and 1st Samuel]
This turbulent period in Israel's early history probably represents most simplistically and clearly the strangely oscillating on-again-off-again relationship that the Jews maintained with their God of covenant. It also reinforces the notion presented earlier, and expressed by Moses, tired and frustrated, that Israel would continue in their already-established stripe of rebellion and obstinance.
[Note that on several occasions, God himself referred to Israel as a rebellious "stiffnecked people!" (Hebrew: עם קשׁה ערף ) (Exodus 32:9, 34:9, Deuteronomy 9:6, etc...) With this in mind, it is powerfully ironic that the name "Israel" (Hebrew: ישׂראל ) itself is prophetic of her (Israel's) historical demeanor vis-a-vis her God, in that the name literally means "contender with God," which, true to Israel's historical antics, could be understood in both the good and the bad sense... For example, one could be a "contender with God" in the good sense that one works with God to contend [e.g., against God's enemies] OR in the bad sense that one is oneself an enemy of God and therefore "contends" with him, which (as a whole) the nation of Israel did, unfortunately, throughout most of its biblically-chronicled covenant relationship with God...]
It was during this time that Israel's indecisive status as a "theocratic" nation was buttressed only sporadically by faithful and God-fearing "Judges" who managed (time and again) to pull the Israelites back from numerous and pathetic episodes of rank and idolatrous baal worship. And invariably, as Moses predicted, they quickly fell back into their recidivist track of covenant-breaking disobedience. The general mentality of the Jews at this time was accurately expressed by the writer of the Book of Judges when he stated (on frequent occasions) that "What was right in the eyes of each one, that is how each one did." (Judges 17:6; 21:25) (To be contrasted clearly with the expected [covenant] mentality of acting instead in the way that was right in the eyes of their God.)
So the book of Judges provides varying levels of understated detail regarding the tenure of the Judges ruling in Israel at this time. (12 of them) The following verbiage will include the names of the Judges, the order in which they are dealt with in the narrative of the Book of Judges, and relevant commentary regarding Israel's behavior during this period.
Judges 2:11-19 [partially quoted]
"And the Israelites did what was offensive to the LORD. They worshipped the Baalim and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers... Then the LORD was incensed at Israel and he handed them over to foes who plundered them... Then the LORD raised up chieftains [i.e., judges] who delivered them from those who plundered them... But they did not heed their chieftains either... They were quick to turn aside from the way their fathers had followed... But when [a] chieftain died, they would again act basely, even more than the preceeding generation... they omitted none of their practices and stubborn ways..."
Thus, the pattern which prevails in Israel during this period of time entails intervals of disobedience to God, followed by God's abandoning Israel into the hands of oppressors, during which time, they (Israel) cry out to God for deliverance. God then raises up a judge who delivers them. The judge manages to keep Israel on track during his tenure, but after he dies, Israel reverts to badness, and as a result, is again abandoned to oppressors. They (Israel) cry out to God for help and another judge is raised up to deliver them and keep them on track until he dies - and this cycle repeats itself thoughout the narrative of the Book of Judges, which covers, with varying levels of detail, the following 12 judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samson.
The reader may simply regard the above list of Judges as a punctuated indicator of periods of reasonable obedience on the part of the Israelites, i.e., when a Judge was in power; interspersed with periods of rank disobedience in between such times, when a Judge was not in power.
At the close of this period, during the tenure of the prophet Samuel, who is regarded by many Bible commentators as being the last of the Judges, (although he was not listed as such in the Book of Judges per se) the nation of Israel petitioned Samuel to appoint a king over them "to govern them like all the other nations." (i.e., the despised "goi'im!" (Hebrew: גויים) around them.) (1 Samuel 8:5) Samuel, a noble and God-fearing Jew, was deeply incensed at this request of his fellow Jews because it was (in fact!) a formal rejection of the God of Israel by the people of Israel themselves! God's estimation of the majority Jewish motive in play here was as follows: "...it is not you (Samuel) they (the Israelites) have rejected. It is Me (God) they have rejected as their king." (1 Samuel 8:7)
Thus God allows this compromise with Israel and personally selects their first king, Saul the son of Kish, a Benjaminite. And so ends the 2nd historical segment of our review of Jewish Biblical history. The 3rd segment follows immediately...
[Regarding God's "compromising" with Israel, (as mentioned immediately above) it must be borne in mind that, had God NOT compromised with Israel (on numerous occasions) he would otherwise have very justifiably thrown them out on their ear at the first of their countless egregious infractions against the Covenant. But, mercifully and patiently, he did not. The son of God, (the promised Messiah) alluded to an underlying cause of this constantly "chafing" relationship between God and Israel when he stated, (regarding the treacherous divorce degrees which had become common in Israel by the time of Christ) "For your hardness of heart [Greek: sklhrokardia] he [God] wrote you this commandment." [i.e., the commandment to allow divorce decrees.] (Mark 10:4-5) Here Christ demonstrates his clear awareness that, because of the Jews long-evident record of hard-hearted (cf, "stiffnecked") recalcitrance, they would have carried on in such manner anyway, whether God "compromised" with them or not!]
3. The Period of the Kings
[c.520 years, detailed in the books of: 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings, 2nd Kings, 1st Chronicles, 2nd Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel ]
The period of the Kings is arguably one of the most colorful periods in Jewish [Biblical] history. It is here that the Jewish Kings (as would be expected) wield tremendous influence on the general character of their nation, which, during this period was only very rarely acceptable from God's "covenant" point of view. The rest of the time, it was a morass of moral and ethical iniquity, defined and most enthusiastically pursued by the Kings themselves!
Of the c.40 kings who ruled in the promised land during this time, only about seven could receive any honorable mention. The rest seemed suicidally bound to exercise their kingly prerogatives with the broken mentality of petty street thieves, to the great discredit of Jewish Biblical history as a whole, and great injury to their subjects, who, with some obvious minority exceptions, basically exercised the same mentality as their leaders.
As a matter of fact, the prophet Elijah, who lived about a third of the way through the period of the Kings, (during the reign of King Ahab and his superqueen consort Jezebel) was convinced that, in his day, he was the only Jew left who was making any attempt at abiding by his God's covenant directives. Said he, in anxious and stressed conversation with his God, "...the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your alters, and put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they are out to take my life." (1 Kings 19:10,14) Regarding Elijah's severe assessment of the matter, he wasn't far wrong, for God informed him that, in fact, there were "...only seven thousand [who had] not knelt to Baal..." (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4)
At this point it would be helpful to the reader to clarify the following very distinguishing
characteristic of "Israel" during this period of her history:
So how does one summarize this turbulent period in Jewish history? In the material that follows in this segment, we will incorporate a sort of "list" format, so that the simple homogeneity of regrettable events occurring at this time can be seen clearly, with a minimum of commentary. Thus, the Kings who reigned will be listed, along with the [approximate] length of their reigns, and the Bible's own quoted assessment ("grade" if you will!) of each King's activities. We will begin our list at the division of the Israelite Kingdom into its Southern and Northern territories (so colored in following list) in the days of Rehoboam (in the South) and Jeroboam (in the North) and continue as such thru the remainder of this segment. Note that the list will be presented in the approximate order in which the kings reigned in their respective kingdoms. Note also that the names of some of the kings are identical. Thus, all kings listed are separate and distinct individuals, even though some of them have the same names.
Most of the following list material will be taken from the Books of Kings, whose writer/compiler is reputed to have been the faithful prophet Jeremiah. As you [hopefully] confirm the following references yourself in the Books of Kings, contemplate the remarkable (and painful) candor with which Jeremiah reports on the deplorable ethical condition of his fellow Jewish countrymen, as they insensitively continue to wreak havoc on the terms of their covenant with their God.
[ Note that the following list bypasses the first c. 120 years of the period of the Kings, in which the successive reigns of Saul, David and Solomon are recounted. (Rehoboam, the 1st king in the following list, is the son of Solomon, during whose reign (i.e., Rehoboam's reign) the nation of Israel is divided, as stated earlier. Thus, the following list is intended to cover the period in which the national division was in effect. Nevertheless, while the nation was still unified under Saul, David and Solomon, it experienced sufficient grief to set the pattern for the kings who followed: Saul and Solomon both ended up apostatizing from the covenant-defined worship of God, and David's infamous moral infraction with Bathsheba and his subsequent arranged murder of her husband brought untold waves of sorrow and pain to his own household. (The details concerning this period of the unified kingdom may be reviewed in the books of 1st Samuel 10 - 2nd Samuel, and 1st Kings 1-11) ]
The List of Kings follows...
King Rehoboam Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 17 years]
Bible's assessment: "Judah [under Rehoboam] did what was displeasing to the LORD, and angered Him more than their fathers had done by the sins that they committed...[Judah] imitated all the abhorent practices of the nations that the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites..." (1 Kings 14:22-24)
King Jeroboam Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 22 years]
Bible's assessment: [God's prophet Ahijah, speaking to Jeroboam through his (Jeroboam's) wife]: "You have acted worse than all those who preceded you. You have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to vex Me; and Me you have cast behind your back..." (1 Kings 14:9-11)
King Abijam Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 3 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Abijam] continued in all the sins that his father before him had committed; he was not wholehearted with the LORD his God..." (1 Kings 15:3)
King Asa Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 41 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "Asa did what was pleasing to the LORD, as his father David had done..." (1 Kings 15:11)
King Nadab Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 2 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Nadab] did what was displeasing to the LORD, he continued in the ways of his father, in the sins which he caused Israel to commit..." (1 Kings 15:26)
King Baasha Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 24 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Baasha] did what was displeasing to the LORD; he followed the ways of Jeroboam and the sins which he caused Israel to commit..." (1 Kings 15:34)
King Elah Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 2 years]
Bible's assessment: "...because of the sinful acts which [...] Elah committed and which [he] caused Israel to commit, vexing the LORD, the God of Israel, with [...] false gods..." (1 Kings 16:12-13)
King Zimri Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 7 days]
Bible's assessment: "[Zimri] burned down the royal palace over himself. And so he died - because of the sins which he committed and caused Israel to commit, doing what was displeasing to the LORD..." (1 Kings 16:18-19)
King Tibni Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 4 years]
Bible's assessment: "And [Tibni] died ..." (Tibni died contending with Omri for the throne of Israel. There is no further definitive commentary regarding him. (1 Kings 16:22)
King Omri Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 12 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Omri] did what was displeasing to the LORD, he was worse than all who preceded him..." (1 Kings 16:25)
King Ahab Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 22 years]
Bible's assessment: "Ahab son of Omri did what was displeasing to the LORD, more than all who preceded him..." (1 Kings 16:30) [Note: there is extensive negative Biblical commentary on King Ahab and his evil Queen Jezebel, both of whom were murderous and avowed enemies of faithful Jews who lived during the tenure of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. (1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 13) ]
King Jehoshaphat Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 25 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Jehoshaphat] followed closely the course of his father Asa and did not deviate from it, doing what was pleasing to the LORD..." (1 Kings 22:43)
King Ahazaiah Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 2 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Ahaziah] did what was displeasing to the LORD, following in the footsteps of his father and his mother...He worshipped Baal and bowed down to him; he vexed the LORD, the God of Israel jus as his father had done..." (1 Kings 22:52-53)
King Jehoram Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 12 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoram] did what was displeasing to the LORD...he clung to the sins which Jeroboam son of Nebat caused Israel to commit; he did not depart from them..." (2 Kings 3:2-3)
King Jehoram Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 8 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoram] followed the practices of the kings of Israel - whatever the House of Ahab did...and he did what was displeasing to the LORD..." (2 Kings 8:18)
King Ahaziah Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 1 year]
Bible's assessment: "[Ahaziah] walked in the ways of the House of Ahab and did what was displeasing to the LORD, like the House of Ahab..." (2 Kings 8:27)
King Jehu Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 28 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehu] was not careful to follow the Teaching of the LORD the God of Israel, with all his heart; he did not turn away from the sins that Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit..." (2 Kings 10:31)
King Jehoash Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 40 years]
Bible's assessment: "All his days Jehoash did what was pleasing to the LORD, as [long as] the priest Jehoiada instructed him..." (2 Kings 12:2) [NOTE: King Jehoash flourished under the tutelage of High Priest Jehoiada. Upon Jehoiada's death, however, Jehoash apostatized and his kingship deteriorated to the level of the kings prior to him. It is supposed by many Bible scholars, that he even ordered the murder of his tutor's (i.e., Jehoiada's) own son Zechariah - an incident alluded to by Christ at Luke 11:50-51. (see also 2 Chronicles 24) ]
King Jehoahaz Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 17 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoahaz] did what was displeasing to the LORD...He persisted in the sins which Jeroboam son of Nebat caused Israel to commit; he did not depart from them..." (2 Kings 13:2)
King Jehoash Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 16 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoash] did what was displeasing to the LORD; he did not depart from any of the sins which Jeroboam son of Nebat caused Israel to commit; he persisted in them..." (2 Kings 13:11)
King Amaziah Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 29 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Amaziah] did what was pleasing to the LORD..." (2 Kings 14:3)
King Jeroboam Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 41 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jeroboam] did what was displeasing to the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to commit..." (2 Kings 14:24)
King Azariah (aka, Uzziah) Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 52 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Azariah] did what was pleasing to the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done..." (2 Kings 15:3)
King Zechariah Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 6 months]
Bible's assessment: "[Zechariah] did what was displeasing to the LORD, as his fathers had done..." (2 Kings 15:9)
King Shallum Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 1 month]
Bible's assessment: "Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against [Zecharia] and struck him down before the people and killed him...and he reigned in Samaria one month..." (2 Kings 15:10-13)
King Menahem Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 10 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Menahem] did what was displeasing to the LORD throughout his days..." (2 Kings 15:14-18)
King Pekahiah Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 2 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Pekahiah] did what was displeasing to the LORD..." (2 kings 15:23-24)
King Pekah Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 20 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Peka] did what was displeasing to the LORD..." (2 Kings 15:25-28)
King Jotham Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 16 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Jotham] did what was pleasing to the LORD..." (2 Kings 15:32-34)
King Ahaz Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 16 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Ahaz] did not do what was pleasing to the LORD his God, but followed the ways of the Kings of Israel..." (2 Kings 16:2-4)
King Hoshea Northern Kingdom [length of reign: 9 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Hoshea] did what was displeasing to the LORD..." (2 kings 17:2)
Hoshea was the last king of the northern 10-tribe Kingdom. It is at this historical juncture (mid-eighth century B.C.E.) where time runs out for Israel, i.e., the northern ten tribes. God's patience in the face of their riotous and blatant disregard for his covenant has run its course and come to a finish. Thus, after c. 340 years of incredible tolerance in the face of his recalcitrant people occupying the northern territory, God allows the Assyrian world power to conquer them and remove them from the land, replacing them with non-jewish [pagan!] populations from other conquered territories of the vast Assyrian realm. (2 Kings 17:5-6,24)
Before we continue with the waning list of Kings remaining in the southern two-tribe kingdom, (who eventually suffer the same fate for the same reasons) there are two significant things to keep in mind regarding this phenomenal event in Jewish [Biblical] history:
1. The conquered non-Jewish pagan population which was moved into the territory of the northern 10-tribe kingdom by the Assyrians, were the people who later became known as Samaritans. Understanding the pagan provenance of these people who now occupied this large northern portion of the promised land is very helpful in comprehending the subsequent harsh attitude of the Jews toward these unwelcome "neighbors" during the remainder of the biblical record, including the New Testament period. (cf, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37; the Parable of the grateful Samaritan leper, Luke 17:11-16, etc.)
2. This event (the destruction and deportation of the northern 10-tribe kingdom) served as God's "warning shot" over the bow of the remaining Jewish ship-of-state...and the Jews in the southern two-tribe kingdom should certainly have taken it to heart. Of course, they did not. God's assessment of this "warning shot" period was portrayed in the prophet Ezekiel's figurative drama of the two prostituting sisters "Oholibah." and "Ohola" [ Hebrew, אהוליבה and אהולה meaning (respectively) "my tent is in her" (i.e., the southern two-tribe kingdom of Judah) and "her tent" (i.e., the northern 10-tribe kingdom of Israel).] "Her tent," of course, is the name God uses to make contemptuous reference to the false and hypocritical worship carried on in the northern kingdom, in which, the priesthood, the location and the "tent" (i.e., tabernacle) are ALL illegitimate copies of their legally (i.e., Levitically) prescribed equivalents in the southern kingdom... in which God's "tent" (i.e., "my tent") officially resides but is pathetically prostituted by the hypocritical religious goings-on there as well... (Please read Ezekiel Chapter 23 (which details this Biblical drama concerning these two prostituting sisters) and note the heated and condemnatory language God uses (via his prophet Eziekel) to refer his own people who are portrayed in the prophetic guise of these two shameless women. (Ezekiel 23:4) )
King Hezekiah Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 29 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Hezekiah] did what was pleasing to the LORD, just as his father David had done..." (2 Kings 18:3)
King Manasseh Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 55 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Manasseh] did what was displeasing to the LORD, following the abhorrent practices of the nations that the LORD had dispossed before the Israelites..." (2 kings 21:2-6) [Manasseh is commonly regarded as the worst of the Jewish kings. (and in full accord with ineluctible Murphyesque irony, he (Manasseh) was also the longest-reigning of all the kings. (What's up with that?!) ) According to Jewish tradition, it was King Manasseh who had the prophet Isaiah murdered by cutting him to pieces,(!) a matter alluded to by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11:37.]
King Amon Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 2 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Amon] did what was displeasing to the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. He walked in all the ways of his father..." (2 Kings 21:20-21)
King Josiah Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 31 years]
Bible's assessment [Honorable]: "[Joshiah] did what was pleasing to the LORD, and he followed all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not deviate to the right or to the left..." (2 Kings 22:2)
King Jehoahaz Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 3 months]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoahaz] did what was displeasing to the LORD, just as his fathers had done..." (2 Kings 23:32)
King Jehoiakim Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 11 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoiakim] did what was displeasing to the LORD, just as his ancestors had done..." (2 Kings 23:37)
King Jehoiachin Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 3 months]
Bible's assessment: "[Jehoiachin] did what was displeasing to the LORD, just as his fathers had done..." (2 Kings 24:9)
King Zedekiah Southern Kingdom [length of reign: 11 years]
Bible's assessment: "[Zedekiah] did what was displeasing to the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah were a cause of anger for the LORD, so that He cast them out of his presence..." (2 Kings 24:18-19)
It is at this point that the period of the Kings ends, in the flames of searing ignominy, with the divinely-decreed destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians, and the deportation of the captive surviving Jewish population into exile to Babylon. True to God's word, established by covenant: If the Jews persisted in disobeying him, he would cause the land to vomit them out like undesirable gastric ferment. And that is exactly what he did. (2 Kings 24:20; 2 Kings 25:8-11; Deuteronomy 28:36-37)
Jeremiah further comments on this disastrous occurrence with the following lament, recorded for us (appropriately!) in the Book of Lamentations, which book constitutes Jeremiah's eye-witness account of the destruction of his beloved city (Jerusalem) and its people by the Babylonians:
"Alas! The LORD in His wrath Has shamed Fair Zion, Has cast down from heaven to earth The majesty of Israel. He did not remember His footstool On His day of wrath. The LORD has laid waste without pity All the habitations of Jacob; He has razed in his anger Fair Judah's strongholds. He has brought low in dishonor The kingdom and its leaders..."
And WHY did God do this? [...lest we forget!] What did Moses tell them (the Jews) a thousand years earlier? (as quoted above, in our first narrative segment...)
"...all nations will ask, 'Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?' They will be told, 'Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt...'" (Deuteronomy 29:23-24)
4. The Babylonian Exile
[ 70 years, detailed in the books of: Daniel and Ezekiel ]
One would certainly think that seventy years of captive contemplation of their consistently unsavory national pattern (which had been ongoing for over 1000 years(!) and which ultimately got them where they were) would induce the Jews to rethink their privileged status as God's "treasured possession among all the peoples," a bit more sensitively and appreciatively(!) But such was not to be the case. As we shall see, their national strain of persistent recalcitrance continues...
Boxed in under Babylonian domination during the period of their exile, the Jews managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. During this time, they rested their hopes longingly on the restoration prophecies pronounced by Isaiah and Jeremiah, that they would indeed be restored to their homeland in 70 years, and be given a 2nd chance to do the right thing. When that 70 years elapsed, as prophetically promised, God arranged for their release from the Babylonians, via the Medes and Persians, who conquered Babylon and allowed those Jews who wished, to make the c.600-mile journey back to their homeland to rebuild. A contingent of stalwart and God-fearing Jewish captives (about 50,000 (Ezra 2:64,65)) took advantage of this opportunity to return home and participate in the continuing Jewish dispensation as it unfolded anew in the [post-exilic] Promised Land, which, by virtue of God's expansive patience and forgiveness, was still theirs!
How would they fare in this 2nd-chance endeavor? This question leads us into our next segment...
5. The Period of Post Exile to the Closing of the Hebrew Canon
[c. 100 years, detailed in the books of: Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi]
The contingent of repatriated Jews is now back in the Promised Land following their punitive 70-year exile in Babylon. Their task at this point, according to prophetic mandate, expressed via decree (issued by Cyrus the Mede and recorded at Ezra 1:2-4) is to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple and re-establish formal (covenant-defined) worship of their God.
Under the exemplary and focused leadership of such ones as Governors Zerubbabel and Nehemiah; priests Jehoshua and Ezra; and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, etc., the Jews are moved to accomplish their task, but this is by no means carried out in a seamless and trouble-free fashion. The canonical descriptions of this critical time of re-building Jerusalem make it clear that the entropic strains of disobedience manifested by the Jews (and particularly by their leaders(!) - with the exception of those leaders just mentioned) were beginning to pop up again with unsettling regularity.
Governor Nehemiah, along with Ezra the priest, for example, forcefully disrupted numerous bad societal tendencies (frequently initiated at the upper levels of the newly-established Jewish society) to pollute the priesthood and the levitical functions of temple worship, to intermarry with the surrounding hostile pagan population, and (on the part of the wealthier Jews) to establish oppressive economic dominance over their less fortunate fellow Jews at a time when they all needed to be pulling together to make their repatriation work. [A shameful example of the latter infraction involved many of the less fortunate poor of repatriated Jewish society having to sell their land and their children(!) to wealthier Jews in order to settle usurious debt interests imposed upon them by the latter. (Nehemiah 5: 1-13)]
And, as might be expected, with the eventual demise of the above-mentioned leaders who managed (only temporarily) to stem the persistent tide of Jewish rebellion, such moved ahead virtually unobstructed thenceforth. Thus we find the mournful expressions of Malachi, as he closes the Hebrew [Old Testament/TANAKH] canon, after 1500 years!
[God speaking to the Jewish priesthood thru Malachi] "A son should honor his father, and a slave his master. Now if I am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the reverence due me? - said the LORD of Hosts to you, O priests who scorn my name?...But you have turned away from that course: You have made the many stumble through your rulings, you have corrupted the covenant of the Levites - said the LORD of Hosts..." (Malachi 1:6; 2:8)
We can easily imagine that if the priesthood (the "keepers of the keys") were acting in this obtuse fashion against their God of covenant, then most of the remaining repatriated Jews (for whom the priests were to set the example!) were certainly doing no better. Malachi confirms this by pointing out the deteriorating circumstances of the family unit, (by all accounts, the most fundamental and important component of any human society) in that many Jewish family heads were treacherously dismissing their wives via shamefully-contrived petty divorce decrees and thus "...covering with tears [of abandoned wives and children] the alter of the LORD..." and trampling shamelessly on their covenant of marriage (as they had been trampling on their covenant with God all along!) in a vain and frivolous pursuit of personal pleasure - and this a mere 100 years after their repatriation! (Malachi 2:13-16)
Such an attitude may again be contrasted, very instructively, with the deeply respectful attitude of the patriarchs, through whom their descendants, (i.e., the Jews we are now discussing) obtained their very privileged covenant relationship with God, but which they persistently refused to honor! It is as the faithful Jew John (the Apostle) said 400 years later, "...he who does not love his brother, [or his wife!] whom he HAS seen, cannot love God, whom he HAS NOT seen..." (1 John 4:20) The morally impoverished condition of restored Jewish society at the close of the Hebrew canon certainly confirms the veracity of that Biblical axiom...
6. Post [Hebrew-] Canonical Period to Arrival of the Messiah
[c.440 years. There were no canonical writings during this period]
The remaining four-and-a-half centuries following the close of the Hebrew canon until the arrival of the Messiah (a Messiah NOT acknowledged by the Jews (even to this day!) ) continued on such that, by the first century of the Christian era, Jewish society in the Promised Land had evolved with all sorts of interesting new accoutrements which were the natural evolution of the conditions we have been discussing from the beginning our narrative.
The Jews living in the Promised Land since their repatriation (following the Babylonian exile) have lived under the domination of three subsequent imperial powers: the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and by the time of Christ, the Romans. The territory is now under Roman provincial governance. so much so that even the appointment of the Jewish high-priest is inappropriately influenced by political meddling which is taking place between the Jewish ruling hierarchy and the Roman imperial government. It is no surprise then, that the Temple and its precinct (the purview of the priests whom Malachi derided (as cited above) for their hypocrisy over 400 years earlier!) have now acquired the jingling mercantile characteristics of a bustling and hugely successful commercial mall. The Messiah is incensed at this utter perversion of levitical format; and in full accord with Hebrew prophecies uttered centuries earlier, he proceeds to drive the Jewish merchants and their lowing fluttering stock out of the temple with a whip made from ropes! (Psalm 69:9), Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-17)
And as if that weren't bad enough, a new and elite hierarchy of pompous "movers-and-shakers" of Jewish society (Sadducees, Pharisees and their sycophantic coteries) have emerged as a shameless cabal of self-serving, frighteningly oppressive and luxuriously bedecked fat-cats, dripping with phylacteries, and rimmed with elongated swishing fimbriae as they sweep exultantly thru the streets of Jerusalem, self-righteously intoning long flatulent prayers in the public broadways, (to be seen and admired by men) devouring the property of widows, despising the common Jew [traditionally, עם הארץ (Hebrew, meaning (derogatorily) "people of the land") ] burdening them with endless pre-talmudic legal minutiae and "traditions" which extended onerously beyond the comparatively simple precepts of [written] Torah. (Matthew 23:13-33; Revelation 2:9; 3:9)
It is into this oppressive and contorted environment that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah arrives - fully aware of the extreme peril to himself as he proceeds in his mission from the God of Israel to salvage what he can from a people who have essentially been decomposing since their inception.
The messianic prophecy penned by the faithful Jewish king David at Psalm 22:4-8 describes what the Messiah had to contend with while dying for his own people: Says the Messiah prophetically, "In you [God] our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] trusted... But I [the Messiah!] am a worm... scorned by men, [i.e., fellow Jews] despised by people, [fellow Jews] All who see me [fellow Jews] mock me; they curl their lips, they shake their heads. [They say] Let him commit himself to the LORD; let Him rescue him, let Him save him." (Note the uncanny prophetic parallel presented by the Bible chronicler Mark (at Mark 15:29-32) as he describes the [Jewish] ridiculers of their dying Messiah: "And those who passed by [the dying Christ] derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, 'Save yourself! ...' So also the chief priests(!) mocked him with one another with the scribes...")
It is of the utmost importance that the reader now be attuned to the absolutely critical nature of this historic juncture in the 1500-year Jewish "covenant" dispensation - which is now at the point of imminent implosion. God has been dealing with his people (who, from the very beginning he has characterized as "stiffnecked," and "defiant") for 15 long centuries. He has sent his prophets to them at every stage of their existence as a nation, and they (the nation of Israel) have, as a whole, consistently refused to be moved to a sustained and lasting appreciation of their extremely privileged status as God's "treasured possession among all the peoples,"
IT IS AT THIS TIME then, during the missionary tenure of the Messiah among the Jews, that they are given their FINAL opportunity to live up to their national covenant with God, which opportunity, if failed, will result in their total and definitive expulsion from their land as well as the complete severing of their unique covenant relationship with the God of Israel - an historic juncture of truely immense and critical implications for the Jews.
Sadly, as Biblical history reveals, they fail to grasp the weight of their privilege and they remain instead as they have, for the most part, always been: "stiffnecked and defiant." It is in the midst of this continued shameful backdrop, that Christ, just days before his execution at the instigation of the Jewish religious leadership, declares to them the following: (addressing Jerusalem as the figurative bedrock of the entire Jewish nation) "O Jerusalem Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. [i.e., the formal covenant between God and the Jews is finished!] For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he [i.e., the Christ (the Messiah)] who comes in the name of the LORD.'" (Matthew 23:37-39) Of course, the Jews adamantly refused to "bless" their Messiah and, instead, days later, (at the strenuous behest of their religious leadership) clamored for his death at the hands of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate.
A reading of the Gospel accounts of Christ's kangaroo trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin and his subsequent public condemnation before the court of Pilate make the complicity of Jewish leadership (and their manipulated Jewish public) undeniably clear in this matter. (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19) Furthermore, at the Jews' public condemnation of the Messiah before Pilate, they cried out in mob-unison, "Away with him! Away with him! ... We have no king but Caesar!," "His blood be on us and on our children!..." (John 19:15; Matthew 27:25) This brazen denial of their own Messiah, and their astonishing voluntary invocation of the curse of blood-guilt upon themselves for such denial, has clearly led to subsequent divine retribution being visited upon them in the centuries thenceforth, as stipulated by the terms of the covenant which they had vowed to keep but which they had instead repeatedly broken. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68)
Thus, at Christ's death, God's FINAL withdrawal from his covenant obligations to the Jews becomes cumulatively evident, starting immediately with the ominous mid-day eclipse of the sun and accompanying earthquake, as well as the highly symbolic renting of the Sanctuary curtain at which instant, in God's sight, Jewish Temple sacrifice, gift-offering and divine atonement for the Jews cease to have meaning. (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 27:45-51) The Jewish covenant dispensation is summarily brought to a finish. The Jews' sacred and privileged national relationship with their God is over. They are no longer God's "treasured possession among all the peoples."
Regarding the PROFOUND implications of the "ripping of the Sanctuary curtain," at the moment of Christ's death, as recorded by the Gospel writers Matthew, (at VS 27:51) Mark (at VS 15:38) and Luke (at VS 23:45)...
Relative to this, and of far more ominous concern for us today, however, is the total lack of understanding of these matters on the part of Jewish and Judeo-Christian cultures -
which has led to the historically recent agenda-driven "political reconstitution" of the modern "State of Israel" in the land of [former] Palestine. This, of course, was accomplished at the expense of hundreds of thousands of indigenous (Islamic) inhabitants of the region (i.e., Palestinians!) who have since been forced to live elsewhere, [most in crowded refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East] while Israel now occupies their land! - a fact which incenses the Islamic world who are keenly aware of this crass and on-going injustice.
One would certainly think that the compelling historic and scriptural confirmation of the cessation of divinely-instituted Levitical Judaism would galvanize sensitive Jews to re-examine their status as a nation vis-a-vis their God and their Messiah. Instead, however, (and in the typical fashion defined by their long history of conflict with God ["Israel" iterum: Hebrew, ישׂראל, meaning "contender with God"] ) they have gone on without him, (as they generally did in the past anyway!) only this time, defiantly erecting their own "house" [i.e., the Talmud] - a "house" of incredibly complex religious self-justification which they can pack up and carry with them wherever they might flee - in the forced vacuum of non-compliance with Torah, while stubbornly refusing to accept the fact that their real house has (indeed) been abandoned to them. [Please read the Apostle Paul's commentary on this matter in his letter to the Romans. (vss 10:1-3) Bear fully in mind that Paul (a former Pharisee who would certainly understand the prevailing Jewish mentality here) is speaking of the zeal of Jews who have (in their ignorance) failed to recognize their Messiah, pointing out that zeal does NOT trump ignorance...]
Since that black day in Jewish history, like a woman who has foolishly rejected the protective care of a loving, loyal, endlessly forgiving and thoroughly unappreciated husband, (i.e., God) Israel has been handed her divorce decree in finality and has since wandered about the earth homeless, restless, harried and frightened, (like a dried leaf driven by the wind and chased by shadows - Leviticus 26:36-39) as she desperately seeks respite from her own self-inflicted wound. Her incredibly mournful and pained subsequent history (e.g., European pogroms, persistent and hounding rumored suspicions, dark accusations of complicity in "all-things-evil" by gentile cultures - from one end of the earth to the other, the nazi holocaust, etc...) have (understandably!) induced her to regard herself as abandoned by God! She need only remember that, at her own insistence, ("His [i.e., the Messiah's] blood be on us and on our children...") she is where she is.
Now, (and since the ignominious conclusion of the Jewish dispensation) it is only by recognizing and accepting their Messiah (i.e., blessing him who came to them in the name of their God) that individual Jews may expect to be relieved of their persistently dreary and hounded circumstances. (Please see item 3 in box below)
At this point in our narrative, we may focus again on the original question being treated here, i.e., "Judaism or Christianity - Who's got it right?," and reasonably conclude that the answer, as it pertains to the Jews, is: They do NOT have it right. (...although they once did!)
In view of this, (and this is very important!) we must still bear in mind that Israel was legitimately handed the torch of obedient worship of God 3,500 years ago at Sinai, and despite her miserable management of that worshipful dispensation, Judaism was officially the [only] worship Biblically sanctioned by God during that time. This means then, that WHILE this privileged Jewish dispensation was formally in effect, if one were to ask, "Who's got it right?" the strict answer would have been: "The Jews," with the understanding, of course, that only relatively few of them ever appreciated the fact.
As we have seen, however, this special dispensation no longer exists for the Jews as a nation - nor has it for the last 2000 years.
Before we move on to the treatment of our question as it relates to Christianity, there are three very cogent items which must be dealt with here regarding the Jews. Two of these items are acknowledgments which must be accorded to the Jews concerning the vital legacy which they have left the world-at-large, and for which the world-at-large owes them an incalculable debt of gratitude. The third item is a brief discussion regarding the hope which remains for
them, despite their loss of covenant status as God's "treasured possession among all the peoples..."
So Where Does CHRISTIANITY Stand in the Midst of All This?
At this critical point of phenomenal historical transition, (where Israel ignominiously drops the "torch" of acceptable worship of God, and it is instead given to the small and courageous band of Jews who became disciples of the Messiah) we have the inspired writers describing the tremendous efforts of these ones as they labor tirelessly to establish the young and vulnerable Congregation of "called ones" out of the now-defunct system of Judaism. The new Christian dispensation begins here in earnest. [The reader is encouraged to review the inspired Biblical book, Acts of the Apostles, to experience the exciting historical (and eye-witness) events relating to the establishment of the Christian congregation 2000 years ago.]
A Note of Particular Interest:
To provide a complete record of this momentous historical transition of divine favor from the Jews who FAILED to follow their Messiah, (i.e., the nation of Israel as a whole) to the Jews who DID follow their Messiah, (i.e., the "Messians" (i.e., the "Christians," who were a mere fractional minority of the Jews of Israel) the canonical writings (the New Testament) were produced by their inspired Jewish "Messian" (i.e., Christian) authors over a period of about 60 years, commencing shortly after the death of the Messiah, and concluding with the writings of the Apostle John at the end of the 1st century C.E.
These inspired writings made it very clear that an ominous pattern was beginning to manifest itself all over again: As was the case with the nation of Israel, so it was occurring with the Christians... That is, shortly after their divinely implemented and auspicious beginning, trouble started to manifest itself very quickly, such that, nearing his death, the Apostle John indicated that already, "antichrist" influences were menacing the purity of Christianity. (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7)
Realizing this as well, the Apostle Paul provides a long-range assessement of the dark times ahead in the centuries to follow, as Christianity slowly but surely morphs into a sham representation of its originally-intended self - exactly as did Judaism. Here Paul speaks of those "...who would arise from within the brotherhood and begin distorting the truth and deceptively leading others astray." (Acts 20:28-30) Thus, by the early 4th century, this foretold religious apostasy [i.e., Greek apostasiV meaning "standing away from," i.e., "stationed outside the 'border' of divine definition..."] is in full swing and continues seemingly unabated throughout the Dark Ages and on into our own modern era.
In the light of history's incontrovertible witness to this fact, it becomes apparent then, that the Christians (on the whole) have fared no better than the Jews in their attempt to maintain sustained and acceptable worship of God. Even the most cursory review of Christianity's sordid history following the death of the Apostles presents undeniable evidence of its progressively "unChristian" behavior over centuries of time (e.g., its Crusades, its Inquisitions, its countless political compromises, its shameless political meddling, its intrusive mode of colonial expansion, its undeniable serpentine involvement in WWI, WWII, (and subsequent wars of the 20th century...) its continued involvement in other shocking and morally repugnant activities as we embark on the 21st century, etc., etc...)
Having determined that Judaism certainly doesn't have it right anymore, and that Christianity, (although divinely sanctioned to pickup and carry the torch which the Jews dropped) has obviously fallen victim to the same progressive malaise that ultimately affected the Jews, can it be said that Christianity has it right?!
Ironically enough, yes it can! However, we must be very careful to understand the consistently-patterned Biblical context which clarifies this strange assertion: Recall in our discussion above regarding the Jews that "Israel was legitimately handed the torch of obedient worship of God 3,500 years ago at Sinai, and despite her miserable management of that worshipful dispensation, Judaism was officially the [only] worship Biblically sanctioned by God during that time.' This means then, that WHILE this privileged 1500-year Jewish dispensation was formally in effect, if one were to ask, "Who's got it right?" the strict answer would have been: "The Jews," with the understanding, of course, that only relatively few of them were genuine practitioners."
By the same token, (and please note the familiar pattern here!) Christians were legitimately handed the torch of obedient worship of God 2000 years ago, and despite their subsequent miserable management of that worshipful dispensation, Christianity is officially the [only] worship Biblically sanctioned by God today. This means then, (in exactly the same way it applied to the Jews) that WHILE this privileged [as yet] 2000-year Christian dispensation is still formally (and very tenuously) in effect, if one asks, "Who's got it right?" the strict answer is: "Christianity," with the understanding, of course, that only relatively few are genuine practitioners...
[Of confirming interest in this regard are the Messiah's words recorded at Matthew 7:13,14; 21-23, in which he points out that only relatively few of those who loudly proclaim to be his followers really are...and the rest are basically "outlaws!" [Greek: "ergazomenoi thn anomian," literally, "[ones] working [doing] lawlessness."]
Thus, although we have arrived at the fundamental answer to the question originally posed by this narrative, i.e., "Christianity has it right and Judaism does not..." we immediately see that our answer begs a much more granular examination of things (beyond the scope of this narrative) in order to filter through the veritable sea of hypocritical Christianity in a quest for its relatively few genuine practitioners.
And if the pattern which we have been discussing thus far has any continued historical applicability, it would appear that hypocritical Christianity is now in its own historical extremis. (just as hypocritical Judaism was 2000 years ago before it was cast off by God...) Therefore, now would be a good time to continue the more granular quest for "those [relatively few] who still have it right" within the global "Christian" community... (cf Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)
- FINIS JEW?/CHRISTIAN? -