Identifying with God’s Call and People
The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday found in the Book of Esther that celebrates God’s delivering His people from destruction. Purim is recognized each year in Jewish communities around the world (this year March 16-17) with various services, get-togethers, and activities.
Esther and her cousin Mordecai are the heroes, but earlier in their lives we find that they, like us, had some rather weak moments.
“…if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt” (Lev. 5:1).
In the story, Esther becomes Queen of Persia, and wife of Ahasuerus, but she repeatedly hides her Jewish identity: “Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known” (Esther 2:10). “Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her…” (2:20).
Presumably, Esther hid her Jewish background by not disclosing the truth in the Babylonian palace. In God’s eyes not telling the truth is just plain sin,
“Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt” (Lev. 5:1).
Why not identify with the Jews?
Esther concealed her identity at the prompting of her cousin Mordecai. Why did Mordecai tell Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity? We must understand that years earlier, through the prophets, God had called His people to return from exile in Babylon to their homeland of Israel. Those that heeded God’s call left Babylon.
“Why are you still here?”
But for others, life was pretty good in Babylon, so they chose to stay there: disregarding, or at least not identifying with God’s Chosen People. Since the Jewish residents of Babylon weren’t identifying with the call of God, they therefore didn’t identify themselves as the people of God. It is the same principle for us today.
If you won’t identify with God’s call, you won’t identify with God’s people. After all, in Babylon, as soon as it would be mentioned that they were Jews, the obvious response would be, ‘but I thought God called you back to Israel. Why are you still here?’ Hence their lack of faith and resulting shame would be revealed to everyone.
Heeding the Call: It’s for Everyone
Identifying with the call of God has always been evidenced by identifying with the people of God. Notice this in the life of Moses. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Messiah greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26).
“God will not forsake a people whom He foreknew!”
Though not Jewish herself, Ruth identified with the people when she identified with their God. “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Though Paul was called to the Gentiles he lived as a Jew and identified himself with his people throughout his ministry. But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia.” “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God will not forsake a people whom He foreknew!” (Acts 21:39; 22:3; Rom. 11:1-2).
Why did Paul do this? Was it just mere ethnic chauvinism? No! By identifying with God’s people Paul was identifying with God’s faithful promises and unchanging purpose. This may have been Paul’s personal commitment; but what was his influence on other Jewish believers? Ask Timothy!
“Do we believe God will be faithful to His promises”?
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple there named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew his father was a Greek” (Acts 16: 1-3). Paul identifies Timothy as a Jew through circumcision. Why? Who would know? Timothy would know.
Whether it was Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Paul, Timothy, or yourself, the challenge of faith is always…”Do we believe God will be faithful to His promises”? and therefore…Will we identify with Him and His people?
God will Force the Issue
Esther’s failure to identify with God’s purpose and people was symptomatic of the problem of all the people that stayed behind in Babylon. Since God cared for His people, He confronted the problem head-on by allowing an anti-Semitic man named Haman to arise. This forced the issue of identification with God’s people (Esther 3&4).
Gentile believers need to identify with the Jewish people by standing against anti-Semitism, pro-actively sharing the Good News with Jewish friends, praying for the Peace of Jerusalem, and identifying with ‘the Remnant of Israel’ (the Jewish believers in Yeshua).
That’s why so many Bible believing Gentiles are attending messianic congregations: they are identifying with God’s unfailing promise to Israel by identifying with the Jewish people.
If it’s Good enough for Yeshua…
Jewish believers need to identify themselves and their children as Jews. That’s one reason messianic congregations are available: to help Jewish believers to grow spiritually and testify powerfully “Am Yisrael Chai B’Yeshua HaMashiach” “The people of Israel live in Yeshua the Messiah!”
Even Messiah identified with our people. He could have come as a Persian, Greek, or Roman but chose rather to be identified as a Jew. Messiah identified with us to save us.
“…to boast in a faithful God who has not forsaken Israel”
“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him…For I say that Messiah has become a servant of the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…for He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (John 1:11, Romans 15:8, Heb. 2:11). Those who identify with Him are saved in Him.
The Son of God (Hebrew: Ben haElohim), came in the flesh, identifying Himself with us all (Phil. 2:5-8). But even in this, He came as a humble Jewish carpenter. If we’re ashamed of identifying with the Jewish people, are we not denying the purpose of God in Messiah?
Therefore, Paul proclaims his Jewish identity in the book of Romans: not to boast in the flesh, but to boast in a faithful God who has not forsaken Israel.
God Can Restore You!
Through a turn of events, and by God’s grace, Esther repented (Esther 4:16) and eventually became a hero. We, as well, can repent of any failure to identify with God or His people.
We, like Esther, can also play a significant role in God’s work in this world. As a believer in Yeshua, whether you have a Jewish or Gentile background, isn’t it time for you to identify with God’s people, promises and purpose?
Those identifying with God’s purpose will identify with God’s people. Messiah identified with us to save us; those that identify with Him (have faith in Him) are saved in Him.
March 20th, Sunday at 5:00 pm we will be celebrating Purim at Hope of Israel Congregation. It will be a joyous time for the whole family, and a great opportunity to invite your Jewish friends to hear some Good News. Make plans to be there and, Happy Purim!