Legitimacy. Israel has never seemed to have it in the eyes of the world. Abraham was given the Land of Israel by God, yet the world did not recognize his claim. He dwelt in the land of Canaan as an alien and stranger. Hebrews 11:9 says “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as [in] a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: “
When Sarah died, Abraham had to purchase the land from Ephron the Hittite. The land was his, but he had to buy the land from those who dwelt there. Isaac and Jacob and Jacob’s sons dwelt in the land, but it was not considered theirs by the world.
When Israel returned from Egypt, they had to fight for the land that was promised to them. They fought the Canaanites for over 400 years until the reign of Solomon. After they were taken to Babylon and later returned, the current inhabitants of the land opposed Nehemiah’s attempts to rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah 2:19 says, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard [of it], they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What [is] this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?” They appealed to the world authority and claimed Israel had no right to come home and rebuild.
In modern times, the State of Israel was reborn. Our people returned there from around the globe, yet the world even now questions the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. It is apparent that seeking approval from the world around us is a fruitless endeavor. The UN voted Israel into existence and has opposed Israel ever since. Israel’s true legitimacy now, as always comes from God who formed us, not from the world, who rejects us.
The Messianic Jewish experience in the last century parallel’s Israel’s experience. We have been called to dwell among our people, Israel, yet we are told by our own people that our claim to being Jewish is not legitimate. We have been told by the church that we don’t have the right to rebuild the Messianic Jewish presence among our people; that to be other than the church is to rebel against the King. They would prefer that we blend and assimilate among them.
Messianic Jews have a calling from God to live as Jews who follow Yeshua and to live in community with our people. The modern beginning of our movement was not well-organized or thought out. Like the many Jews who returned to Israel after it was established, who brought the customs and traditions from the countries from which they came, many Messianic Jews came with the theological customs from which they came as well. Some Messianic Jews sounded like Baptists or Pentecostals, or Charismatics. Some sounded like Reform Jews, others like Orthodox Jews. The one thing tying us together was that we were all Jewish, and we all believed in Yeshua as Messiah.
As the Messianic Jewish movement matured, some of the excesses and strangeness’s we brought with us out of our exile has been rethought and reworked, in light of our living among our people. Eventually we came to a balance in our lives as Jewish followers of a Jewish Messiah. More and more we began to embrace the Torah as our lifestyle, finding ways to lift up Yeshua as the center of the Torah, as Paul said in Romans 10:4, “Yeshua is the Goal at which the Torah points for righteousness to everyone who believes .” Our experience parallels the Jewish experience of returning from exile. Just as Abraham came to the land he was promised by God, and lived as an alien and sojourner, so Messianic Jews have been told we are aliens. As Israel was not welcomed but had to fight to take the land promised to them by God, so we were not welcomed and have to maintain a strong stand to stay among our people.
As Jews returned under Nehemiah and were ridiculed and opposed by the peoples around them, so we have to endure the ridicule and opposition of Christians who tell us we should not be returning to our own traditions and living as Jews among our own people. Yet like our ancestors before us, we are returning as God has called us.
When the Jewish people returned to Israel after the exile from Babylon, they had no tradition of life in the land. They found their balance in the Torah. Ezra transliterated the entire Torah from paleo-Hebrew script into Babylonian script so people could read it. He commanded they put away their pagan wives. They had to learn again to live as Jews in their own land. As a movement, we too have had to learn to put aside the pagan things we learned along the way and have had to re-learn to read the Torah in a way that made it part of our lives. It was a move of God that brought our movement into existence, and we were entrusted with the job of living among our people, and passing our faith on to the next generation. Our ultimate legitimacy, like Israel’s, comes from God who called us into existence, not from the world, nor from our own Jewish people, and we shall stand, because it is God who has established us.