Holy Dual Loyalty
Haftarat Vayikra, Isaiah 43:21–44: 23
Rabbi Russ Resnik
Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, has maintained her high exposure in the news stream for weeks by repeatedly “using anti-Semitic clichés in her criticisms of the American-Israeli relationship” (quoting NY Times columnist Ross Douthat). The particular cliché that seems to have gotten the most attention and pushback is Omar’s recent insinuation of dual loyalty: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” In the wider context of Omar’s rhetoric “political influence” refers to pro-Israel lobbyists and particularly AIPAC, and the “foreign country” is Israel.
Dual loyalty. It reminds me of Haman’s slanderous charge to Ahashuerus, which we’ll be reading next week for Purim: “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose laws differ from those of every other people and who do not obey the king’s laws. It is not in the king’s interest to tolerate them” (Esth 3:8).
I’m not ranking Rep. Omar with Haman, but there is a faint echo. Jews are problematic because they have a different story and different laws (the Hebrew here is datim, which is used throughout Esther mostly to denote the imperial laws and ordinances). They just don’t fit in. In the current iteration, Jews who support the state of Israel—even if they’re critical in their support—aren’t just mistaken; they’re declaring allegiance to a different country. Their priorities differ “from those of every other people.”
Columnist Douthat claims that those defending Rep. Omar “want and I suspect will eventually get a politics that remembers the Holocaust as one great historical tragedy among many, that judges Israel primarily on its conservative and nationalist political orientation, rather than on its status as a Jewish sanctuary, and that regards the success of American Jews as a reason for them to join white Gentiles in check-your-privilege self-criticism, ceding moral authority to minority groups who are more immediately oppressed” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/09/opinion/is-anti-semitism-exceptional.html).
In other words, according to a significant segment of the American political class, Jews ought to just behave and think like everyone else. Otherwise we’re guilty of dual loyalty.
Oddly, I encountered something similar years ago when I first became a follower of Messiah. When the Spirit of God swept into my life as a radical young drop-out in the remote mountains of New Mexico, I was surprised, shocked really, to discover that Yeshua—the Jesus of the goyim—was our Jewish Messiah. I was also surprised to discover soon after that being Jewish really mattered to God. Some of our early mentors supported this idea: Don Compton, who had an outreach based in Santa Fe that he’d named Shalom Ministries before he knew exactly what shalom meant; Pastor Limas at the local Spanish Assembly of God, where we found great encouragement and support at the beginning of our journey. But other Christians seemed concerned about our dual loyalty: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek,” and so on.
One emphasis Don Compton and brother Limas shared was Pentecost. I’m not just talking about the Christian name for the holiday of Shavuot. I’m talking about the baptism in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues, and all the energy and uplift (with a dash of mishegoss, of course) that this entails. And the proof text for Pentecost was the whole book of Acts. As I spent time in this text over the years, I became impressed that it not only pictured an active, dramatic presence of the Holy Spirit, but also an active, dramatic presence of a Jewish body of Yeshua-followers living right in the midst of the Jewish people. These loyal Jewish followers of Messiah were also loyal Jews—lots of them as the Jerusalem elders tell Paul: “You see, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20).
Torah and Yeshua? Jewish and Messianic? These might be dual loyalties, but they’re loyalties that the Lord seems to have linked. The charge of political dual loyalty in modern America echoes historic anti-Semitic slanders. But here’s a holy dual loyalty of an entirely different order.
Messianic Jewish scholar Mark Kinzer provides a fresh and profound interpretation of Acts in his recent book Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen: The Resurrected Messiah, the Jewish People, and the Land of Promise. He comments on the loyalty of Jewish followers of Yeshua:
Jerusalem in Luke and Acts is the city of God and the Messiah, with the Temple Mount at its heart. It is the holiest point in the land of promise, the most precious part that represents the whole. But Jerusalem in Luke and Acts is also the city of Torah-faithful Jews who are devoted to both Jesus the Messiah and the people of Israel. Simeon, Anna, Joseph of Arimathea, James the brother of Jesus, the “thousands . . . among the Jews” who were “all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20)—these are the citizens of Jerusalem whose lives represent for Luke the city’s prophetic destiny. (pg. 265, emphasis added)
Kinzer ably demonstrates that “the city’s prophetic destiny” in turn represents the prophetic destiny of the entire Jewish people, to be fulfilled in and through Messiah Yeshua. Messianic Jews today anticipate that destiny in our dual loyalty to Messiah and to the people of Israel.
This week’s haftarah describes a holy dual loyalty that my wife, Jane, and I have been praying for on behalf of our family, and the wider Messianic Jewish family, for decades.
“Do not fear, Jacob My servant,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land
and streams on the dry ground.
I will pour My Spirit on your offspring,
and My blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am Adonai’s.’
That one will be called by the name Jacob.
Another will write on his hand, ‘Adonai’s’
and will take the name Israel.” Isaiah 44:2b–5 TLV
Jacob’s offspring, the Lord promises through Isaiah, will again identify themselves as belonging to Adonai—and belonging to Jacob, Israel his people. They will call themselves by the Lord’s name and by the name of Israel, and yet their loyalty will be undivided. May the Ruach, the Spirit of God, rain down upon our offspring, our children and grandchildren and their generations throughout the extended house of Israel, to produce new life and a new identity that honors him. This has been our prayer for decades and our haftarah reminds us that it’s based on a sure promise of the God of Israel.