For the week of January 6, 2024 / 25 Tevet 5784
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1 – 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13, 29:22-23
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. (Shemot/Exodus 1:8)
Fourteen years ago, I posted, “The Foundation of Anti-Semitism” (reposted about five years ago). I don’t think that either of those times there was anything specific going on that provoked me to post them apart from the important lesson found in the passage. It was really something to read it again against the backdrop of the war in Israel and the current rise in antisemitism worldwide. What I wrote then still applies to the current situation, but there is a particularly crucial, but too often neglected, element that I would like us to look at.
Since October 7, I have been working very hard to get a handle on the complex relationship between Israel and the Church. Perhaps you have seen or heard my presentation on Israel and the Faithfulness of God, where I map out God’s unconditional promises to the people of Israel, or my message, Our Divine Connections, that explores Paul’s illustration of the olive tree in order to grasp how non-Jewish Yeshua followers (aka Christians) are far more intimately connected to the people of Israel than what many people think. In order to fully get a handle on a biblical view of Israel and its relationship to the Church, the scourge of Christian antisemitism must be effectively confronted.
Most sincere Yeshua followers are not aware of how entrenched antisemitism, Jew-hatred in other words, is integrated into the Christian psyche. In my Israel presentation mentioned above, I spent some time looking at a few familiar New Testament passages that are often taken to suggest that Gentile believers in Jesus are the “true Jews” or the “new Israel.” This is part of the dominant Christian viewpoint known as supersessionism or replacement theology. Many people who see the Church as God’s Israel today aren’t aware of how Jew hatred fueled the development of this viewpoint.
When looking at church history, it is disturbing to see how early non-Jewish Christian arrogance became standard fare in the church. This is despite Paul’s warning against this very thing (see Romans 11:17-24). I am guessing that Paul warned against it because he saw its early warning signs. I cannot say that I have a full understanding as to why Christians have had it out so badly for the Jewish people all these years, but our parsha clues us into a key dynamic at its core.
We read, “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph (Shemot/Exodus 1:8). For the new king to “not know Joseph,” means that he didn’t have regard for the great role that Joseph had in Egypt’s past. Either he didn’t know about it, or he didn’t care. Some have suggested that this king was the first of a new dynasty in Egypt. As a result, he may have naturally lacked awareness. On the other hand, I imagine he would want to know why there was such a large community of non-Egyptians in his domain. There likely would have been people around, the Israelites themselves no less, who could have provided the history. So, he may have known the background, but still, he didn’t care. So what that Joseph made a big difference long before and that the king back then had special regard for his people as a result. That was then; this is now. Tragically, Pharoah had no idea of what was going to happen by disassociating himself and his people from Joseph’s legacy.
The Church has fallen victim to the same error. God did something in a previous time in and through a particular people to create the current scenario. So what? That was then; this is now. The situation changed. By the mid second century, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and only a small number of Jewish people were left in the land of Israel, which was renamed “Syria Palaestina” by the Romans. They did this in an attempt to eradicate any semblance of Jewish identity and attachment to the land. It’s difficult to know how many Jewish Yeshua followers remained in the world by this time. According to Acts 21:20, in the mid-first century, there had been a great number of Jewish believers (tens of thousands, perhaps), but it would not be too long before Jewish Yeshua followers as a distinct community would be no more. The Church, which was intended to be a diverse gathering of Jews and Gentiles, would not only lose its Jewish component but become anti-Jewish. And why? Leaders arose who did not know Israel.
Just as Pharoah had no regard for Joseph, the Church had no regard for Israel,. The Church villainized the Jewish people instead of honoring them for their God-given role in God’s plans and purposes. I wonder how much evil and destruction could have been avoided had the Church remembered Israel as it should have. While we can’t go back in time and fix what went wrong, we can learn from past sins. My heart breaks as I examine how greatly misguided the Church has been in its relationship to the Jewish people. But then, I can hardly contain my excitement when I consider the great blessings that will rain down from heaven when Christians finally realize the errors of the past and begin to regard Israel as God does.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version