Unwittingly feeding my thoughts in the wake of reading EP Sanders’s seminal Paul and Palestinian Judaism, my rabbi friend said a remarkable thing in front of a classroom of Evangelicals last night.
Paraphrasing grossly, he said:
If you’ve ever held the notion that Judaism is some sad religion of people trying desperately to earn their way to God, it’s just plain wrong. That concept is a Medieval Christian creation. That’s not what Judaism is, or has ever been about.
The Jewish story is a love story. For God so loved the world, He sent us the Torah. The exodus event, you see, was our engagement to the Lord. We had to then wait seven weeks before the relationship could be consummated. When Moses receives and delivers the Torah at Sinai, that is our wedding with God.
He then quoted Hosea 2:19. “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy” (ESV).
It’s a stunning and, I believe, accurate picture.
It has been said many times (in fact, I heard someone say it this weekend) that Christianity is the only religion in which God comes pursuing humanity. In all others, humanity strains for God. It’s simply not true.
Jews were never trying to earn their way into God’s good graces. They all understand: the Creator came to them first. God pursued them. Their appropriate response of gratitude is to obey the Torah He had so graciously given.