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  • Daniel Botkin

Being an Israelite In Deed

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all?

And Yeshua answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

Bible-believing Christians claim that their faith, their manner of life, and their way of worship is based on the Bible. For the most part, I believe this is true. Real Christians believe in Jesus as the Son of God who paid the penalty for their sins so they can be forgiven and have eternal life. Of all Bible truths, this is by far the most important, because without Jesus as their Savior, people remain dead in their trespasses and sins.

Sincere, Bible-believing Christians who know Jesus as their Savior love God for sending His Son. And loving God is the most important of all God’s commandments.

Christians base their treatment of their fellow man on the “Golden Rule” that Jesus gave: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is [or ‘this sums up’] the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Christians who try to follow this Golden Rule by treating people with kindness, by helping the poor and needy, by ministering to the sick and lonely, etc. are loving their neighbor. And loving one’s neighbor is the second most important of all God’s commandments.

So Christians do have a handle on the two greatest commandments from which all the rest of the Law and Prophets hangs. Unfortunately, many Christians neglect quite a few of those various things that hang on the two greatest commandments. Christians need to realize that if they embrace the two greatest commandments, they are also at the same time embracing all the commandments that are attached to the two greatest commandments.

When Jesus said there is none other commandment greater than these two commandments, He was not dismissing the importance of the other 611 commandments of the Torah. He was saying that these two commandments are the most important, and that they sum up the entire Torah.

It might help to look at a visual aid to understand how (and which) other commandments “hang” on the two greatest commandments. The two greatest commandments are a summary of the Ten Commandments (our love for God is expressed by obeying the first five of the Ten; our love for our neighbor is expressed by obeying the other five), and the Ten Commandments are a summary of all the other commandments of the Torah.

In other words, each of the various commandments of the Torah can be categorized under one of the Ten Commandments, just like each of the Ten Commandments can be categorized under one of the two greatest commandments. (The categorization as shown in the diagram here is only partial, not exhaustive, because of space limitation. Examples are listed to show the general idea.)

Jesus was also pointing out that a person’s obedience to all the other 611 commandments “hangs” on that person’s obedience to these two greatest commandments. In other words, your obedience to any commandment is dependent on your love for God and/or your love for your neighbor.

It is interesting that the Hebrew word talui can mean “to hang from” in a literal physical sense (“The coat is hanging on the hook”), or “to depend on,” like one thing being dependent on some prior condition or circumstance (“The success of the picnic depends on the weather”). In that sense all the commandments “hang” (i.e., depend) on the two greatest commandments. The more you love God, the less inclined you will be to worship other gods, to bow to idols, to take His name in vain, to profane His Sabbath, or to dishonor your parents. The more you love your neighbor, the less inclined you will be to murder him, to commit adultery with his/her spouse, to steal from him, to lie about him, or to covet his possessions.

I think most Christians would agree with the general principle I have presented here. But in practice, Christians run into a problem when we look at some of the commandments that hang from the two greatest commandments. Specifically, Christians run into a problem in regards to God’s Sabbath, dietary laws, and other various commandments given to distinguish Israel from the nations. Christians generally relegate those commandments to the “just for the Jews” category and ignore them.

Christians need to see that when they embrace the two greatest commandments, they are also embracing the Ten Commandments that are embodied in the two greatest commandments. And when they embrace the Ten Commandments, they are embracing all the commandments that are embodied in the Ten Commandments.

It’s a package deal. It is very much like marriage. When you marry a spouse, you take the whole person and everything embodied in that person. A man does not say to his bride at his wedding, “I take thee to be my lawfully wedded cook, dishwasher, and housekeeper.” At least he’d better not! He marries the whole person and everything embodied in her. And when Christians embrace the two greatest commandments, they embrace everything embodied in those two commandments.

But what about the argument that various commandments given to distinguish Israel from the nations are just for the Jews?

First of all, the phrase “just for the Jews” is not in the Bible.

“But Daniel, wasn’t the Torah given to the Jews?”

Yes, but not just to the Jews only. The Jews were just one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Torah was given to all of Israel. Furthermore (and this is important, Christian friend), the nation called “Israel” that received the Torah at Mount Sinai included non-Israelites who had left their paganism and joined themselves to Israel to worship the God of Israel.

The body of people called Israel in the Bible was not (and is not) limited to the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exclusively. Israel included (and still includes) any and all people who join themselves to Israel to worship the God of Israel - people like the mixed multitude of non-Israelites who came out of Egypt with the Hebrews, and non-Israelites like Rahab and Ruth, who were included in the ancestry of Israel’s Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.

Christian, if you believe in Israel’s Messiah, you are now a part of Israel, whether you like it or not.

Paul stressed this truth when he wrote to the Ephesians. After telling them we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8f), with the expectation that we will walk in good works after we are justified (Eph. 2:10), Paul reminded them of the importance of their identity as members of Israel:

“Wherefore remember [don’t forget!], that ye being in time past Gentiles [your days as a Gentile are finished] ... That at that time ye were [past tense; no longer] without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel [your status as a non-Israelite is now in the past], and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now [in contrast to your past status as a Gentile] in Messiah Yeshua ye who sometimes were far off [past tense; far off from Israel and her covenants] are made nigh by the blood of Messiah. For He is our peace, who hath made both one [both Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus], and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us [the wall that separated Gentiles from Israel unless the Gentiles underwent a formal conversion to rabbinic Judaism] ... Now therefore ye are no more [i.e., not any longer] strangers and foreigners [no longer non-Israelites], but fellowcitizens [citizens of the commonwealth of Israel] with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:11-19, commentary in brackets mine).

True Christians understand the truth of salvation by grace through faith, as expressed in Ephesians 2:8f. Most Christians understand that after we are saved by grace, we are expected to walk in good works which God hath before ordained, as expressed in Ephesians 2:10. But few Christians grasp the verses that follow, which express the importance of seeing themselves as members of Israel.

Why does Paul go to such lengths to explain the Christian’s new status as an Israelite? One reason is because if the Christian still thinks of himself as a Gentile, as someone separated from Israel and from Israel’s Torah, then how will he know what sort of “good works” he is supposed to walk in? Who gets to decide, and how do they decide, which sort of works are “good works”?

Many Christians know they are supposed to walk in good works, but they miss the importance of letting the Torah define what “good works” are. Notice that the “good works” Paul speaks of here are works “which God hath before ordained.” The “good works” which God long ago ordained for Israel was that Israelites should walk in obedience to Israel’s Torah. If you do not believe this, please read and consider Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. It talks about how good it is to walk in obedience to God’s Torah.

Christians have a handle on the importance of the two greatest commandments, and they make a sincere effort to live by those two commandments. But most Christians do not have a handle on the fact that those two commandments (and all the commandments that hang on those two) were given to Israel, not to the Gentile nations.

Look again at Jesus’ reply to the scribe’s question about the greatest commandment. Before Jesus said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” He first said, “Hear, O Israel....”

Think about the significance of this! A scribe asks Jesus to tell him which is the most important of all God’s commandments, and He answers:

“The first of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel.”

Before He tells you to love God and to love your neighbor, He tells you to “Hear.” And what you are to “Hear” are the words “O Israel.” You must hear that you are part of Israel, and no longer a Gentile.

The two greatest commandments are not detached from “Hear, O Israel.” The two greatest commandments do not stand apart from Israel, because they were given to Israel.

“But Daniel, doesn’t the Bible teach that Gentile believers are under a new covenant?”

No. Look again at what the Bible says about the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12. The new covenant is not made with Gentiles. It is made only with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Gentiles are not promised a single thing in the new covenant. They are not even mentioned. The new covenant is for Israelites, not for Gentiles.

The only way a Gentile can claim any benefit from the new covenant is to change his status and become an Israelite. And this is exactly what happens when a Gentile puts his faith in Israel’s Messiah Jesus. His status as a Gentile comes to an end, even if he does not realize it. God regards him as an Israelite, a citizen of Israel, just like Rahab, Ruth, and other Gentiles who left their pagan ways and joined themselves to the God of Israel.

Christian friend, continue to put the main focus on the two greatest commandments. But please take a look at all the wonderful details embodied in those two commandments. And stop thinking of yourself as a Gentile. God no longer regards you as a Gentile, but as an Israelite. So be an Israelite in deed as well as in creed.

| DB


Image (Top): Psalm 76 by Daniel Botkin from his Psurrealistic Psalms Gallery. Visit Daniel’s art website to see all his art pieces or to commission an art piece:

Image (Middle): 10 Commandments Chart illustration by Daniel Botkin.

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