By Brad W Maston
7 Reasons Why Every Christian Should Study Jewish History…
7 Reasons Why Every Christian Should Study Jewish History…
With so many Biblically illiterate Christians in the world today it could be argued that a knowledge of Jewish History should take a back seat to Christians learning more about the Bible. To this point, I happily concede. It ought never to be the case that a believer should pursue any extra-biblical scholarly endeavor over their study and application of the Bible. It is Bible study that brings growth and equipment for the Spiritual Life. This is beyond question, biblically speaking.
With the above point written, it must also be admitted that there are other disciplines of knowledge and understanding which have monumental benefit to every believer. I have known many believers who would have benefitted immensely from a good course in simple logic, or even in basic reading! Rather than list each of these disciplines which may bless a believer I would submit to the reader 7 reasons why Christians ought to be literate in Jewish History:
1 – Jewish History is primarily found in the Bible
The bulk of the account of the Hebrew people is found in the Bible. Starting with Abraham who lived around 2000 BC and continuing through the Gospel accounts to the end of the epistles there is no way to understand the Bible without a working understanding of Jewish History and Culture. For a believer to have even a functional understanding of the Bible they must know more about Jewish History than most American’s know about American History. Having had such a solid start it is very natural for a Christian to want to learn more about the history of this people group on into the present day.
2 – The Jews are God’s beloved earthly people
God tells the Jews repeatedly how He feels about her. In fact, this language is so tender and warm that the Church frequently tries to hijack these terms and apply them to ourselves. However, the statements made to ethnic Israel are striking. Deuteronomy 4:37-38 gives us much of this language:
37"And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, 38driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day (NKJV).
God tells them that He has an attitude toward the ethnic Israel: Love. He acted upon that attitude and chose them and their descendants forever. That choice resulted in God delivering them by a special exercise of His divine power, and provided for them by giving them the Land of Israel as a permanent possession.
Zechariah records God’s attitude towards Israel:
“For thus says the LORD of hosts: "He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye (NKJV).
If you have ever felt the scrape of any foreign object upon your eyeball, you know the power of this metaphor. The way that a person will flinch, seize up, draw back, and throw their hands over their face to protect their eyes is a picture for God’s loving association with Israel. The God who loved and saved the believer in Christ by grace through faith feels this way about the Jewish people. does it not make great sense that the believer would have a similar interest and love for those whom God takes such special care?
3 – The Survival and the success of the Jewish people is a sign of the trustworthy nature of the Bible and the God revealed therein.
God made earthly promises to the people of Israel. The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17), The Land Covenant (Deuteronomy 30), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7) and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) are all filled with permanent and eternal language of God’s faithful and forever promises to the Hebrew people in their promised ancestral homeland. This means that if the Jewish people were wiped out then it would be clear that the Bible would be false and the God revealed in the Bible a sham.
This, however, is not the case. The uncanny survival of the Jewish people isn’t only the remarkable tale of a courageous and innovative ethnic group: it is the story of the faithfulness of Almighty God who has staked His very word and character upon His ability to preserve and protect a particular ethnic group. While Edomites, Amalakites, and the whole host of other ancient peoples are long since forgotten the Jews persist on – because God, Himself, wills it to be so. The story of the Jewish people is a story that God is still telling now – and it is wonderful in our sight.
4 – Jewish History and Culture still speak of, and give powerful illustration of, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
While the destruction of the temple has changed all of the great Jewish Holy Days to one degree or another there is no question that the modern celebrations still attest to the accuracy of the Bible – and point to the Messiah. Steven Ger and Zola Levitt, among many others, have done amazing work in looking at the messianic foreshadowing and meaning to each of the Jewish feasts. I will not attempt to summarize those volumes of study here. This article will content itself to say that the entire Jewish calendar still speaks of Jesus Christ – each observance cries out with more information about the Savior. While many of the modern observations have changed over the last two thousand there is no question about the original purpose of those feasts (to point to Messiah) has been substantially preserved and is still of amazing value to the one seeking to know Jesus fully.
5 – Knowing more about the Jewish History will give confidence, compassion and grace when sharing the Gospel with Jewish people who have not yet trusted Christ.
By God’s grace, the Jews are plentiful today. Throughout the world they live and move and continue to bless the societies in which they have part. Yet for many Christians it can be very difficult to understand why the Jewish people don’t come to Christ more easily. On the other end of the spectrum we find that Christians will often avoid sharing the Gospel with Jewish people at all, assuming that they are somehow not candidates for salvation by faith through grace in Jesus Christ. The mix of confusion and trepidation come, in many cases, from a lack of understanding.
Until a person knows what a great amount of persecution the Jewish people have received at the hands of so-called Christians we cannot see clearly why the gospel message is so disturbing. Throughout History various “churches” caused unspeakable damage to the collective psyche of the Jewish people. Not only that, but the unsubtle Anti-Semitism of the common Christian error that the Church has replaced Israel and assumed her blessings is not missed by the Jewish People at large. If we don’t understand the Bible and Jewish History correctly we become another set of people who stole the greatest legacy of the Jewish people, appropriated it to ourselves and then declared that they are no longer allowed unless they become “like us”. Even a cursory understanding of the Jewish people gives the Christian a sensitivity and understanding to share the good news of the Messiah with sensitivity and love – and show that Jesus came to be the Jewish Messiah – not to end Judaism but to be its consummating leader and representative.
6 – Jesus IS Jewish.
Without question, Jesus Christ’s life and earthly ministry is the centerpiece of the Biblical record – and Jesus was ethnically Jewish, He was raised in a Jewish household and lived His entire earthly life in the predominately Jewish world of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.
Every moment of Jesus earthly life was dominated by things that we would now say are Jewish in every way. His diet was dictated by Kosher laws. His schedule was rooted in the rhythm of the observation of Sabbath and the Jewish calendar. Those who were considered wise would have been the teachers of the Law, and Jesus himself would have learned to read Hebrew at their feet as a young child.
The New Testament provides clear proof that Jesus observed all of the Jewish feasts and Holidays and, while He challenged MANY Jewish Rabbinic traditions of His day He never broke the Law of Moses. When Jesus argued with people, he did so in the Jewish style, using the Hebrew Scriptures. When He returns it will be as the Jewish Messiah reigning over the Jewish Nation from the throne of Israel.
7 – The Jewish People still have a large part to play in the Conclusion of God’s Redemption of Planet Earth
Finally, the story of the Jewish people is not even nearly over. The History of the Jewish people is amazing, and striking, miraculous and hopeful – but it many ways it is just getting started. The next major period of prophecy that lay ahead for the planet earth is known popularly as the Great Tribulation. God will remove the Church from the earth and return His focus to the fulfillment of all of His covenant promises to Israel. This is what beguiles the non-literal interpreter so greatly about Revelation. The central story is that of the Jewish people once again, and the non-literal interpreter must try and imagine a way to remove or replace every single time a reference is made to what is clearly ethnic Israel and the Jewish people. While the schemes of these various well-meaning theologians are very clever at times the biggest weakness is this: They are unnecessary. The plain sense of God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people makes sense. There is no need to allegorize or re-interpret their simple meaning – it is absurdly clear. No matter how clever the scheme, or how convincing the argument, it always crumbles in the face of the reality that there was never any need for the devised explanation. The Study of Jewish History is the study of what the Lord is doing to prepare for the next major step in human History. To be sure, no one knows the day or the hour, but by watching Israel we can appreciate the majestic and powerful plan of God – whether Jesus returns tomorrow, or yet a thousand years hence.
This is a wonderful time to live on planet earth for many reasons. The greatest reason is the amazing amount of information that is now available. For many people learning more about the story of God’s people is only a click away. So many wonderful resources are available to this end. While every resource used must be read with discernment there are more good resources available than ever before. Oh believer, take advantage of this opportunity – of this wealth of information with which God has made clear His character, His plan and His will. To learn about the Chosen People is to learn about the Faithful and Almighty God who Chose them.
Bradley W. Maston is a Pastor at Fort Collins Bible Church in Fort Collins, Colorado (www.fortcollinsbiblechurch.com). He holds a BA in Music from Colorado State University, an MA in Biblical Studies from Channel Islands Bible College and Seminary and is currently studying and teaching at Scofield Biblical Institute and Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Ph. D. in Jewish Studies. He is the author of several books and commentaries which are available in print and electronic format at Amazon.com the most recent of which is A Brief History of the Jewish People.