Vayigash 5770/2009

Two Houses?

I usually like to write on a verse or concept found in the Torah text for the week. However, today I find myself captivated by the fact that the haftarah (the prophetic reading) for Parsha Vayigash contains a favorite saying of mine… twice! So, I think I will focus on the haftarah, rather than the Torah portion.

The haftarah portion for parsha Vayigash is the second half of Yechezkel/Ezekiel 37.  This passage contains several references to the very phrase that I find to be the core message of Scripture. My regular readers here will be familiar with this message:

They will be my people, and
I will be their God.

In other words, the key concept behind this blog site heavily influences this section of Scripture. How could I resist commenting on it?

There are some in the Messianic community who like to use this passage from Yechezkel 37 to support a certain doctrine. They believe this chapter has something to do with the composition of the Messianic community itself. According to these people, this passage speaks of Gentiles being joined with the people of the Southern Kingdom, and thereby comprising together a restored Israeli nation.

However, I find this view highly speculative. Worse, putting this view upon our text is an abuse of the Scripture.

If that is the case, then, what does the text say? Let’s take a look at the passage, and see what is actually written there.

First, let’s get a little background…

After Solomon’s death, the kingdom of Israel had split in two. The Northern ten tribes, being the majority body, took the name “Israel”. They were also identified as Ephraim because the tribe of Ephraim was the biggest and most significant of the ten tribes.

The Southern Kingdom, on the other hand, had to create a new identity. Because the two remaining tribes—Judah and Benjamin—remained true to the Judean throne, they took on the identity of “Judah”.

Thus was born the identities of “the House of Israel” and “the House of Judah”. As you might imagine, the reunification of the single nation of “Israel” became the great political goal that captured the desires of the people from that point on.

And so, the two entities, Israel and Judah, took on separate identities and unique histories from the time of Reheboam and Jereboam onward.

Eventually, an empire known as “Asshur/Assyria” came through the Middle East, and captured the Northern Kingdom—the one known as “Israel”. This happened in 722 BCE, nearly 300 years after Solomon. Later, the Sourthern Kingdom—the one called “Judah”—was taken over by the world empire that followed and surpassed Asshur. This empire was called Babylonia, and they captured the nation of Judah in 586 BCE, some 150 years after “Israel” had been wiped out.

Now, Ezekiel and Daniel were from the Kingdom of “Judah”. They spoke and wrote to the captives of the Southern Kingdom during the Babylonian captivity. Their writings explained how Hashem was using the captivity to punish Judah for their sins. They also promised that, at some time in the future, Hashem would bring them back into the land he gave to Abraham and his progeny.

But restoring only the Southern Kingdom of Judah would be an incomplete task. Jacob had twelve sons, not only two. A complete restoration of the family of Jacob/Israel must somehow be effected. What would that look like?

To the people who lived in the lands of Israel and Judah, a complete restoration would have to entail a re-establishment of both Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom). But more than that, the real miracle would be the reunification of the two halves of the original united monarchy—a single “Israel” under the restored Davidic monarchy. This is what Amos 9:11 spoke of, and Acts 15:16 echoed:

On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old;
(Amos 9:11, NKJV)

So, the point of the prophetic message in Ezekiel 37 is that the entire nation of Israel/Judah—a restored complete Israel—would someday be re-established in the Land that was given to the patriarchs. Our text in Ezekiel speaks solely of members of the 12 tribes being restored to a single nation under a single divinely appointed Davidic monarchy. It says nothing at all about Gentiles somehow comprising the people of the Northern tribes.

For this reason, I find the entire premise of the doctrine known as “Two House Restoration” falls flat. Proponents of this teaching will claim that God is only working to bring Hebrews to himself, and anyone who believes he is a Gentile Messianic is somehow really of Hebrew descent “whether he knows it or not”. There are some who falsely believe that Zionism is fundamentally a racist doctrine. But Two House Restoration is truly a racist teaching.

God truly does distinguish between Jews and Gentiles. And God truly does use Israel to uniquely forward his purposes. And God truly does plan to restore Israel to the Land Promised to the Fathers. But the Biblical model does not leave the Gentiles out in the cold. Adonai, the God of Israel, fully intends to bring people from the Gentile nations to himself.

For instance, we took note of Amos 9:11 above, in reference to the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Some who are familiar with that context may have thought that I conveniently forgot the following verse. In fact, verse 12 is crucial to my own view that members from the Gentile nations will be part of the eventual complete Messianic Kingdom:

That they may possess the remnant of Edom,  and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.
(Amos 9:12, NKJV)

“Possess the remnant of Edom”, eh? Now what on earth could that mean? Sounds rather militaristic, doesn’t it? Does this verse speak of the restored Israel dominating the nations, in the same manner they themselves were dominated by Asshur and Babylonia? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the way this verse is interpreted by the members of the first Messianic council:

Shim’on has told in detail what God did when he first began to show his concern for taking from among the Goyim a people to bear his name.  And the words of the Prophets are in complete harmony with this for it is written,

“After this, I will return; and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David. I will rebuild its ruins, I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, that is, all the Goyim who have been called by my name,”  says Adonai, who is doing these things.

All this has been known for ages.

So, the earliest believers understood the Amos passage to be speaking of the fact that the restored Israeli nation would serve as the focal point for calling Gentiles from the nations, to serve under the Messianic banner. Not that Israel would use military might to turn the Gentile nations to their own purposes, but that Hashem would draw people from the nations to himself, and they would voluntarily and willingly come to Israel to take their place in the eschatological Messianic Empire.

So, from Haftarah Vayigash, we learn that Israel will eventually be regathered in full—all twelve tribes… a re-established Davidic throne under King Messiah… in the eternally Promised Land… with Gentile participants seeking the ways of God. I find in this perspective that a number of ideas are ruled out. This isn’t about:

  • Gentiles replacing Israel
    The traditional churches have long taken the position that the Gentile Christians would replace (“supercede”) Israel in God’s plan. This isn’t the case at all. Rather, Israel has always been chosen to be the core of a Messianic planetary kingdom. As Ya’akov said to the council—”All this has been known for ages.” The amazing thing is that the Gentile churches have forgotten this for nearly 2,000 years.
  • Crypto-Jews who think they are Gentiles
    The “Two House” teachers believe that the restored Messianic Kingdom will be comprised only of Hebrews. They literally believe that bloodline will determine membership in the Kingdom of God. This is a worse error than supercessionism, for it makes God a sadist, creating 99% of the world’s population only for the purpose of being fire-fodder.

No, both of these teachings are erroneous. They lack the balanced perspective of Scripture, which teaches us that Israel will be re-gathered, and then serve as the core of a new planetary political structure that we call “the Messianic Kingdom. That is what we are all looking for when we pray, “Lord Yeshua, come quickly”.

The Chabadniks have one thing right. I join them in their well-known declaration/plea… “We want Moshiach NOW!

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