Discussing Torah matters because the Torah matters

Benjamin: A Picture of Jewish Believers

In the book of Genesis, more is written about Joseph than any other character. The book builds up to his life; it ends with his story. Joseph, we know, is a picture of Jesus. But let’s not stop there. Let’s build onto that connection. Let’s take the next step. 

We have already discussed how Ephraim and Manasseh represent Gentile believers (click here to see that connection made). Today I want to talk about Benjamin. A smile comes over my face every time I think about him. Because what we find is that Benjamin is a picture of the Jewish Messianic believer. For throughout the last 2000 years, there has been a steady line of Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah. In the beginning there were many, then it narrowed in number, and today again there are more and more coming to faith and accepting Jesus as their Messiah. Writing today, I hope to show how these Jewish believers are represented by Joseph’s beloved brother Benjamin. 

1. For starters, the Apostle Paul epitomizes a Messianic Jew. Of course, Paul is of the tribe of Benjamin! As he writes in Philippians: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews . . . But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

2. We’ll note that Benjamin was the only son born to Israel. All the other sons were born to Jacob. It was during Jacob’s wrestling match with God that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and it was after that name-change when Benjamin was born. Benjamin himself had a name change, the only son of the 12 to have one. At his birth, his mother Rachel named him Benoni, meaning son of my sorrows. Interestingly, Jews who have placed their faith in Jesus have been a source of sorrow to the Jews who have not. Indeed, when a Jewish person gives his life to Jesus, it is not uncommon that his Jewish parents sit shiva and mourn him as though he had died. He becomes a Benoni, son of my sorrows. But you see, the Father disagrees. God, like Israel, changes it from Benoni to Benjamin, son of the right hand. So what appears as a source of sorrow to the Jewish people God says No, this one is a son of the right hand. The right side represents strength and spirit. In strength the Jewish believer stands with what he knows to be true, having the spiritual eyesight to recognize Jesus for who He is––just as Jacob recognized God in the wrestling match, and so became Israel. 

3. Benjamin’s birth is connected directly to Joseph. This is easy to miss, but remember what Rachel said when she gave birth to Joseph. Why did she name him Joseph? Joseph (יוסף) means to add or do again. Her words are found in Genesis 30:24: “And Rachel called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!’” God later added to her another son––Benjamin! So Joseph’s very name is attached to Benjamin. Joseph’s name is a prayer that God would add another son. And God answered that prayer. The connection here is that the re-birth of a Jewish believer is connected back to Jesus, just as Benjamin’s birth is connected back to Joseph.

4. Benjamin is born just on the edge of Bethlehem, the town Jesus would be born in. The other 11 sons were born north of this area, while Jacob was serving Laban and so on and so forth. Rachel was pregnant with Benjamin as the family journeyed southward, giving birth to him on the road between Bethel and Ephrath. Genesis 48:7 tells us that Ephrath is Bethlehem. It is interesting to note that Benjamin was born on the road, not at home. This makes me think of the diaspora, Jews living outside Israel, away from home so to speak, coming to faith in Messiah around the world. They are born again “on the road.” 

5. Benjamin did not participate in the sell of Joseph. Jacob sent Joseph to go out and check on his brothers, but Benjamin stayed at home. Benjamin had no part in the betrayal of Joseph. In a similar sense, Jewish believers are those who do not disown Jesus as their brothers do. 

6. Benjamin is not imprisoned with his brothers. When Benjamin’s brothers went to Egypt, they were imprisoned for about three days (imprisoned for two days, then set free on the third day). Benjamin was never in prison whereas all the rest were. Another way to say this is, Benjamin enjoyed a freedom that the other brothers did not––freedom from guilt, freedom from prison. He had a level of freedom that the other brothers didn’t experience. But those brothers (the Jews, the sons of Jacob) will know such freedom after 2000 years, themselves being set free in the third millennium.  

7. Joseph’s cup is hidden in Benjamin’s sack, the cup being a picture of Messiah’s cup. It’s a symbol. It’s a picture. And what was the cup made of? Silver. Silver is always a picture of redemption. Wherever we see silver, we see redemption. And unbeknownst to his brothers, Benjamin had such a treasure hidden in his sack, placed there by Joseph. What the Orthodox Jewish community doesn’t realize is that their Messianic counterparts have a treasure hidden in their sack, put there by Jesus.

8. Benjamin receives a greater portion than the other brothers. When they sit down to feast, Joseph gives all of his Jewish brothers a large portion, but to Benjamin he gives five times as much! (See Genesis 43:34.) In Hebraic thought, 5 is the number that represents grace. Because of Joseph’s actions, Benjamin experiences a blessing of grace that is more rich than what the brothers experience. 

9. Benjamin’s life is closely bound to his father Israel. This is what Judah says as he pleads with Joseph in Genesis 44. He says in verse 30, “...my fathers life is closely bound up with the boy’s life...” In other words, the life of Benjamin––representing a Jewish believer in Messiah––is still bound to Israel, still bound to the fathers, still bound to the covenants and the promises. He never ceases being Jewish. 

10. Benjamin is the youngest brother. In parallel, Messianic Judaism is just 2000 years old, whereas Judaism as a whole has been around since Abraham 4000 years ago. Messianic Judaism is like the youngest brother in Judaism, and like Benjamin, it is the smallest among them. Psalm 68:27 begins, “Look, the little tribe of Benjamin leads the way...” Although the tribe of Benjamin is the smallest of the tribes (1 Samuel 9:21), Benjamin leads the way! Think about it: Benjamin was already with Joseph when Jacob and the family arrived! When all the other brothers departed from Joseph and journeyed back to Jacob, Benjamin alone remained with Joseph. So get the picture: here’s Jacob––here’s Israel––at a later time, arriving and coming to Joseph. But Benjamin’s already there! So too, in the future, Israel will return to Jesus, but look! Benjamin is already there with Him. 

11. Benjamin is absent for most of the Genesis narrative. Why is this? It is because this narrative at the end of Genesis is about Joseph drawing in the other ten brothers. Bringing them back. Testing them. Seeing if their hearts have changed. Personally I think one of the things that God is going to require of the Jewish people in the days to come is that they will be given an opportunity to embrace their Messianic brethren, and this will be the way that God tests them. As it happens right now, when a Jew becomes a believer in Jesus, he’s cast aside. You see, you can be an atheist yet still a Jew. You can be a Buddhist yet still a Jew. You can be anything you want to be and still be a Jew, but the moment you become a believer in Jesus Christ, they say you’re not Jewish anymore. Why is that? What’s that all about? I think there’s a day coming when the Jewish people as a whole will have to reassess Messianic Jewish believers, asking should we continue to reject them? Or should we finally embrace them as our own? Because here’s the thing: Joseph will reveal himself to the brothers only after he sees their hearts have changed, and they don’t do to Benjamin as they once did to him.

Christ is King! said the moon

It takes the moon ~28 days to orbit the earth. In that time, it moves through various phases of light.

Hebrews pay close attention to the moon because the Jewish monthly calendar is based on lunar cycles. Toward the beginning of the moon’s cycle, it appears as a thin crescent, signaling a new Jewish month. The moon grows until it is full, the middle of the month, and then it begins to wane until it cannot be seen. It remains invisible until the thin crescent reappears, and the cycle begins again.

Here’s what the phases look like against a Western calendar. It might as well be any month of any year, but in this example we’re looking at January 2016:

Having seen the phases of the moon, let’s pivot our thoughts to the first page of the New Testament. Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Starting with Abraham, Matthew moves through the genealogy name by name until he arrives at Jesus 42 generations later. In verse 17, he summarizes the list by saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is King. Calling Him the son of David is not just a historical fact but also a reference to Jesus’ right to the throne. When Matthew wrote this note about 14 generations, I have to believe the number 14 jumped out at him because in Hebrew the name David equals 14. 

Let’s take another look at the lunar phases, this time seeing the cycle as a progression in kingship...

In our example here, January 10th shows the first sliver of light coming into view. This is the time of Abraham. 

We go 14 days forward to January 24th, when the moon is full. This is the time of King David (14 generations after Abraham).

Advancing 14 days from the full moon, we travel half the orbit and reach what’s called a New Moon, something equivalent to January 9th. At this time, the light is withdrawn; the moon is completely dark. This is the time of the deportation to Babylon (14 generations after David). 

Another 14 days pass, and again the light is full. We’re reminded of King David, except this time it’s the Son of David who has come into view. It is the time of Jesus Christ (14 generations after the deportation to Babylon). Praying to God in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Passover, Jesus our King is clothed in the light of the full moon. 

To recap:

14 days later...
14 days later...
14 days later...

The moon is all the time rehearsing Jesus’ genealogy as it recounts the history of God’s People.

Another Look at Slavery in the Bible

God, giving His Torah to Moses atop Mount Sinai, declares His Will for the Redeemed Community. Included in His Law are rules that regulate a form of slavery among His people. (“Servant” and “slave” are the same word in Hebrew: ebed.) How can this be? How can God permit such an institution to exist in His holy land? 

I want to explore this question. To begin, we must understand the focus of God’s Law. God prioritizes obligations over rights, so the focus of the Law is on what you owe to others, not on what is owed to you. This simple adjustment in focus is essential to understanding the Torah’s version of slavery. It is so crucial in fact that I would have you click here for the full length explanation before continuing forward.

Secondly, we must understand that the Torah permitted slavery only under certain guidelines, guidelines of wisdom and compassion. We can’t isolate any one law from the rest. Rather we must bring the laws together so we can see the entire landscape that God is painting.   

Rule #1: Don’t be like Egypt
Exodus 22:21 commands: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” God is pointing at the Egyptians and saying, “That is exactly what NOT to do.” Don’t be prejudice against the stranger (like Egypt was); don’t subjugate the stranger (like Egypt had); don’t mistreat or oppress other people (like Egypt did). If you follow after Egypt’s example, then you have violated the boundaries of Torah. 

Rule #2: Protect runaway slaves.
This law is like a safeguard which ensures a slave will receive rightful treatment. How so? Well, if a slave is mistreated at the hands of a Jewish master, the slave is to respond by running away! By high-tailing it out of there! And God commands, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. [The slave] shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he chooses within one of your towns, wherever it suits him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). “Do not wrong him” God reiterates (Deuteronomy 23:16). This runs counter to America’s Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and Compromise of 1850, which enforced the capture and return of fugitive slaves. The Torah says that a runaway slave should be welcomed and protected 
wherever the slave chooses to go. Thus, masters are kept in check. If a master is too harsh, the slave is incentivized to run away, and in such cases, God stands on the side of the slave––not the master.

Rule #3: No forcible slave trade! 
Forcible slave trade is outlawed by the Torah. There is no place in the covenant community for people to use force against someone to make him or her a slave. Servanthood in and of itself is not evil, but forcible slave trade is evil. Exodus 21:16 is clear: “If a man steals and sells another, and [the victim] is seen in his hand, then [the kidnapper/slaver] shall be put to death.” Bill Bullock, writing as The Rabbi’s Son, comments: “The instruction to refrain from a slave trade was particularly appropriate concerning the descendants of Jacob. Never again, God is saying, will Judah or any of his brethren sell or lay hands on a Joseph to sell him, either for vengeance or for profit. If any member of the Redeemed Community has not learned this critical lesson from the era of Egyptian bondage (all resulting from the sale of a person into slavery), he is a danger to the community and is to be put to death according to legal process in order to purge the community of the spiritual sickness he represents. 

Rule #4: Reasonable discipline is allowed; unreasonable discipline is forbidden.
“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their keceph (silver)” (Exodus 21:20-21). 
The Rabbi’s Son comments on this law, saying, “God wanted them to know that He saw all of their wounds, but that it is not His way to automatically intervene just because someone is getting beaten. Of course, acts of cruelty are inconsistent with the Holy One’s ways. But servants, like all human beings, are fallible. They may try to come in, take over, and take advantage of the master. To counter this, reasonable discipline of servants is permitted.” 

Rule #5: Unreasonable discipline results in the early termination of the trust agreement.
“If cruelty were to go unpunished in the Holy One’s community, how would the Holy One’s community be any better than Egypt or Babylon or pagan Canaan? Therefore the Holy One decrees that cruelty by the master brings about an early termination of the trust agreement. Indeed the Torah makes it clear that if a master does anything which disfigures a servant (such as putting out an eye, or even knocking out a tooth), the master has forfeited the right to the servant’s labor for the rest of the contracted six year term, and must send him out with full provisions to enable him to become a self-sufficient member of society.” This comes from Exodus 21:26-27 which says: An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth. Then Deuteronomy 15:13-14: And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him.

Rule #6: Time off and fellowship is a must!
According to the Torah, all slaves are to be freed from their burdens once a week on the Sabbath Day (Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:14). Since all holidays are considered Sabbaths as well, slaves get every holiday off: Passover and Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, several days for Sukkot. Moreover, all slaves get to “rejoice before the Lord and fellowship with their masters, and take part in eating the freewill offerings and the finest vow offerings” (Deuteronomy 12:10-18). At the same table, masters and slaves fellowship and eat the finest food side by side. The Torah commands, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deuteronomy 25:4). If the law reaches down to a servant animal, then certainly it applies to servant human beings. The principle here is that whatever helps you collect blessing should enjoy a share in that blessing. If someone is serving you, don’t hold out on them. Allow the laborer to benefit from the blessing as you are benefitting from the laborer. Contrast this to accounts that tell of African-American slaves forced to prepare food in their master’s kitchen while they themselves were starving. Such cruelty is prohibited by the Torah! According to the principle laid down by Deuteronomy 25:4, slaves partake in the fruit of their toil. 

Rule #7: Female slaves must receive proper treatment.
Abraham and Hagar come to mind. If you recall, Hagar was Sarah’s slave given to Abraham to be his wife (Genesis 16:3). When Hagar was mistreated by her master Sarah, Hagar fled (16:6), and had a right to do so. Hagar returned, though, and as long as she remained in Abraham’s household, she––being a female slave betrothed to Abraham––had a right to food, clothing, and martial rights (intimacy). This is what the law says: “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she [does not please] the master who has selected* her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects* her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money” (Exodus 21:7-11 NIV). I have asterisked the word selected.” In the King James Version, the word is betrothed.” In the Hebrew, it is the word yaad. To get a sense of this word, ya’ad is used when referring to the way God communes with man in the Tabernacle, which connotes a level of closeness and intimacy. Ya’ad is also used to describe the way people banded together in the rebellion of Korah. In that context, it connotes a common interest, a like-mindedness. And this is what the buyer is seeking, be it for himself or for his son. This explains why she is not to go free as male servants do,” because the idea is to have a forever-relationship in which there is like-mindedness, common interest, connection and intimacy. Now also note that I have bracketed the phrase “does not please.” This is actually the Hebrew idiom evil eye,” meaning selfishness (Reference). In other words, if she is uninterested in her master and thus displeasing to him, her father can redeem her––buy her back, undo the transaction. If, however, she pleases her master (or her master’s son), the Torah commands that she must never be neglected. For if she is, the arrangement is voided and she is a free woman. She will not be stuck in a bad relationship.

Stepping back, the point I’m trying to make is this: the Torah permitted slavery only under certain guidelines. We can’t isolate any one law from the rest. Rather we must bring the laws together before we begin to appreciate the picture that God is painting. His definition of slavery and servanthood is much different than the world’s version of slavery.