alternate textThis week’s Parashah (Gen 28 – 31) deals mainly with Yaakov’s encounter with Laban, his marriage with Leah and Rachel and the births and name-giving of his children. The Parashah starts off with one of the highlight events of Yaakov’s entire life: Yahweh appears to him in a dream at the place that was later called “Beit-El” (House of Elohim) and repeats to him the same threefold promise that was previously given to his father and also his grandfather: (1) He will become a great nation; (2) This nation will possess their own land, and (3) Yahweh Himself will be the Elohim of this nation and will not forsake them. In this dream of Yaakov, he hears the Hebrew word “vehinei” (“and look”) no less than four times, to emphasize the importance of what was being conveyed to him in the dream: (1) And look, a ladder set up on the earth, and its top reached to the heavens; (2) And look, messengers of Elohim going up and coming down on it; (3) And look, Yahweh stood above the ladder and said, “I am Yahweh, Elohim of Avraham and Yitzchak; (4) And look, I am with you and shall guard you wherever you go.

Yaakov’s endless struggles with Laban and the seemingly wasted years before he finally managed to carry on with his life without Laban looking over his shoulder, is summarized by the names of the two daughters of Laban, Rachel and Leah. The name Rachel means “journey” and the name Leah means “tiredness”. The process to find a life companion and a mother for his children, and in effect, a “mother” for this nation that Yahweh had promised to bring into being “out of his loins”, was not something that happened overnight. It was definitely not a walk in the park! It was a journey that took much longer than he anticipated. It was a tiresome process that took a lot out of him and his two wives and worn them out – so much so that Rachel at one stage cried out: “I have struggled hard with my sister” (Another translation: “I’ve been through a mighty struggle with my sister” – Gen 30:8).

Yaakov is the most well-known and symbolic representative of the people that subsequently became known as “The Jews”. In a struggle with a messenger of Yahweh, his name was later changed from Yaakov to Israel or Yisraél, a name that appears more than 2500 times in Scriptures and has become for us the name that is synonymous with the people that Yahweh has chosen as his covenant people (Gen 17:7), the tribes of his inheritance (Isa 63:17) and the apple of his eye (Deut 32:10). The journey and the tiredness of Yaakov did not come to an end when Yaakov managed to move away from Laban. It is a journey that continues up till this very day and the never-ending tiredness surrounding Yaakov is represented by the ongoing cycle of maltreatment, suspicion, persecution, condemnation and marginalization of the Jews.

Within the text of this week’s reading portion, one may find six verses supporting the truth that, as far back as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Yahweh has chosen his people Israel for a special purpose in this world. The first three of these verses are telling us that sometimes people will be blessed, simply by coming into contact with Israel, or by being connected to Israel, in some way or other:
(1) Gen 28:14 Yahweh said to Yaakov, “And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall break forth to the west and to the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your seed.”
(2) Gen 30:27 And Laban said to Yaakov, “If I have found favour in your eyes, please stay, for I have learned by experience that Yahweh has blessed me for your sake.”
(3) Gen 30:30 Yaakov said to Laban: “Yahweh has blessed you since my coming: and now when shall I provide for my own house also?”

The second set of three verses are telling us that there is sometimes a natural, inexplicable tendency to oppose this nation that Yahweh had chosen as his possession:
(4) Gen 31:5 Yaakov said to Rachel and Leah, “I see your father’s face, that it is not towards me as before; but the Elohim of my father has been with me.”
(5) Gen 31:29 Laban said to Yaakov, “It is in the power of my hand to do you harm. But the Elohim of your fathers spoke to me last night, saying, Take heed that you do not speak either good or bad to Yaakov.”
(6) Gen 31:36 And Yaakov was angry, and rebuked Laban. And Yaakov answered and said to Laban, “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued after me?”

Over the past few months I have been doing some research to try to find out how it happened that the beliefs and practices of modern-day, Bible-based churches, denominations and faith communities are so obviously different from the beliefs and practices of the earliest assemblies and followers of Y’shua the Messiah. There are many possible reasons for these changes and we cannot go into all of them today. One is reminded of the warning of the apostle Sha’ul (Paul) when he had a very serious conversation with the elders of the assembly of Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves shall come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men shall arise, speaking distorted teachings, to draw away the followers of Messiah after themselves” (Act 20:29-30). It may not have been his intention, but these words turned out to be a prophetic word, and became true very shortly after this meeting. Many of the so-called teachers that came upon the scene after the early apostles, had the effect of savage wolves upon the early assemblies. They did not spare the flock. They came up with distorted teachings. And instead of guiding the believers to become better followers of Messiah, they deceived them into becoming followers of themselves.

I would like to single out just one aspect: The teaching that later became known as supersessionism or replacement theology. This teaching came to the fore during the 2nd Century and basically says that the New Covenant Church (consisting of those who believe in Y’shua) has replaced, or superseded, the Old Covenant Israel. The promises that Yahweh had made towards Israel can now simply be transferred to the church. The “old” or “ethnic” Israel is determined by physical descent. The “new” or “spiritual” Israel is determined by belief in Y’shua. The new Israel is now the authentic Israel, the genuinely chosen people of Elohim. The old Israel is called by some “a fossil, the empty remnant of a people once beloved by Elohim, whose disobedience made possible its replacement.”

Around the year 150 a.M. the Church Father, Justin, said, “For the true spiritual Israel are we who have been led to God through the crucified Christ.” Later in 2nd Century, another Church Father, Tertullian, said, “The cessation of the old law and of the carnal circumcision was declared … the observance of the new law, the spiritual circumcision and the voluntary observances of peace have come in its place.” For Barnabas (also in the 2nd Century) Yahweh already rejected the Jews as a result of their making of the golden calf in the wilderness. Mosheh broke the tablets to signify that Yahweh had withdrawn their election, preserving it instead for the Christian Church. Much later, in the 4th Century the influential preacher, Chrysostom (whose name means “golden mouth”), came along and presented a series of sermons in which he degraded the Jews to the lowest level possible, saying things like, “they built a brothel in Egypt, made love madly with the barbarians, and worshipped foreign gods”; “reduced by gluttony and drunkenness to a state of utter depravity, they would not accept Christ’s yoke” and “The Jews killed the Son of your Master …Will you so dishonour Him as to respect and cultivate His Murderers, the men who crucified Him?” Based on these and other similar views of the early Church Fathers, an expert of Replacement Theology by the name of Rosemary Ruether has written, “The nature of the Jews becomes fixed through this history as one of rejection of (Yahweh) and monstrous evil, and the logical culmination is the murder of (Y’shua), justifying then Yahweh’s final rejection of them.

We can thank Yahweh today that many honest believers have turned their backs upon the lie of Replacement Theology. It is simply not true to the message of Scriptures, as a whole, and a text like Romans 11:1, in particular, “I say then, has Elohim rejected His people? Definitely not!” The problem with Replacement Theology is not only that it reduces the Jews and Judaism to an inferior position. It is outright contrary to the repeated message of both the Old Testament and the New Testament that despite their disobedience, despite their stubbornness, and despite their sinfulness, Yahweh could not find it in his heart to reject the people of Israel. Hos 11:8 “How could I give you up … How can I put you away? … My heart turns within Me, and all My compassion is kindled.” But even more than the degrading effect of the Replacement Theology upon the Jews as fellow human beings and the distorted view that it promotes of Yahweh as an Elohim who doesn’t honour the promises that He has made, it was the early representatives of Replacement Theology, more than anything else, that suggested to the church an untested path away from the Torah, away from a proper understanding of the Biblical prophesies and away from the true message of Y’shua the Messiah. What we should be avoiding, at all costs, in our walk of faith – what Shaúl was trying to warn the elders of Ephesus about in Acts 20 – are not those petty things that so often become an unnecessary bone of contention in the fellowships of believers. What we should be on the lookout for, above all, are those views and those people who bring distorted teachings, gathering people around themselves and their own ideas, and not around Y’shua, the true Shepherd of his flock.

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