Girl Meets God

A convert from Judaism to Christianity is surprised to find solace among Messianic Jews.

Continued from page 3

After I've spent more time than is respectable in the bathroom, I return to my seat next to Steven, settling in for more praise music, a Torah reading and the homily. Across the aisle, a redheaded little girl in a white straw hat smiles at me and dances a little dance.

The rabbi is in the middle of a sermon series on the Book of Joshua. "Well, that's refreshing," I whisper. "A whole sermon series on something from the Old Testament. You would never hear that in a regular church." Steven shushes me before I can climb onto one of my favorite soapboxes, the Christians-think-the-Bible-starts-with-Matthew soapbox.

This week's sermon is on chapter 7. In chapter 7, Achan, from the tribe of Judah, steals some silver and gold and a beautiful robe; Joshua takes Achan to a valley and he is stoned to death. Ever after, the Book of Joshua tell us, that valley is known as the Valley of Achor, which means "trouble."

The rabbi proceeds to read this chapter just like rabbis read in the Talmud, the fifth-century compilation of Jewish oral tradition. "Where else is the Valley of Achor mentioned in the Bible?" he asks. This was a favorite rabbinic strategy-if a word appears only two or three times in the Bible, then God is telling us that when we come across one mention, we should think of the other passages that use the same word. This, for example, is how the rabbis figured out what activities were forbidden on the Sabbath. There are two words in Hebrew for "work,"

avodah

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and

malacha

. In the Torah, we find

avodah

a lot, but God used

melacha

only twice-in the list of 39 activities that went into building the tabernacle, and in the verses, like Exodus 31:15, that forbid working on the Sabbath: "For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord." The rabbis reasoned that He used

melacha

in those two places so that we would make a connection: the tabernacle activities must be the activities that are forbidden on the Shabbat.

Achor shows up in Joshua, and then again in Hosea 2:15, where God promises to turn the Valley of Achor into a door of hope. "And what does God mean," the rabbi at Brit Hadasha now asks, when He speaks of transforming this valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, into a door of hope? He tells us in John 10:9, when Jesus declares, 'I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved.' The door promised in Hosea, a promise that in turn looked back to Joshua, was Jesus, the only door that could undo the trouble of Achor."

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