One New Culture: The Bonding of a Mixed Multitude (Lane)
One New Culture: The Bonding of a Mixed Multitude
by Lonnie Lane
Being Jewish, I can tell you that we have our own “schtick” – that is to say, cultural idiosyncrasies, words, expectations, ways of looking at life, our own philosophies, things that are funny and things that are not. Every culture has them. My Arab friend Sandra, my Indian friend Shantha, my Norwegian-background friend Nancy – we each have out own paradigm of life and relationships.
I once took a ‘boundaries’ course in which the leader brought in a sociology book which told of how different ethnic groups expressed love and how they valued relationships. These are overly simplistic and may apply more to previous generations who tended more to come from the “old country” than to our own generation, but the point is made that cultures are unique and distinct and help to define who its members are. For instance, Germans tended to keep things clean as a way of showing the others they care for them, Italians eat together with the mothers or women providing great quantities of food, perhaps even standing behind the men while they eat; the Papa is the boss! Orientals tend to defer to their elders and whatever they say goes, bowing to one another is respect. English are polite with one another to the point of not speaking what might be their own feelings if it might not seem “proper,” while Jews tend never to make decisions on their own and every decision is a family matter with everyone giving their opinion. Depending on how many of the Jewish family are around, it could become a significantly extended family matter. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister said he was the prime minister of a nation of prime ministers.
My daughter was once told by a psychologist she knew that her family was entirely too enmeshed; too many opinions influenced her decisions. But the counselor wasn’t Jewish. She came from one of those make-sure-you’re-always-polite and don’t-say-how-you-really-feel kinds of families, so even though she was a get-in-touch-with-your-feelings counselor, her boundaries were very well defined. How could she know what it was like in a Jewish family? What is enmeshed for some is security for others. Boundaries are after all essentially subjective!
Perhaps this “togetherness” is because Jews are never really assimilated, at least not for long. Jews are always seen as “other than” the general populace. Maybe it’s because, having been subjected to enough anti-Semitism since Haman came to dinner at Esther’s place, you never really knew how long home will continue to be home. That kind of rejection tends to instill a certain cohesiveness within the community that says, “We need each other.” Or at least something could happen that we would need each other. So if something comes up that even smells like that kind of “trouble,” wisdom is needed for how to protect and since what happens to one Jew not too infrequently triggers what happens to the others, there is a concern for the whole community. Everyone feels the urgency so everyone has an idea of how to proceed. There’s nothing more bonding to a group of people than a threat from the outside. Even if it’s only a perceived threat. (At times the church has experienced the same kind of threat and cohesiveness.)
This is both negative and positive. My mom and I watch the credits in the movies and TV shows to see who the Jews are. I know others must too. We can’t be the only ones. And we kvell (enjoy with delight) when we find out that someone did something noteworthy that turns out to be Jewish, be it philanthropic, creative or just plain funny. We feel proud like it’s someone we’re related to. On the other hand, hear about someone who committed a crime and there is such a sadness that Jews often feel. There’s a word – shondah which means shame, as in it’s a shondah when someone does something that is really unJewish which is probably to say, ungodly or at least un-Torah-like, even if the Jews involved aren’t really Torah observant. It’s in there. We feel ashamed when we know that a Jewish person has done something to someone or others that brought them harm.
I happened to be in Israel when Itzaak Rabin was shot and killed – by another Jew. The shame in the country was palpable. It was the first time such a thing occurred. It was a terrible thing. We Jews feel a certain sense of pride in being generous, humanitarian, altruistic and generally kind to others. Look at Israel. They give away land thinking the best of those who demand it. Over and over we trust that people will keep their word. We tend to think the best of people and that they will be toward us as we would hopefully be toward them. But when one of us acts in a way that is destructive somewhere, other Jews feel it. Maybe it works the same way for your cultural identification. I can only speak for mine.
I wonder though. Could it be bigger than just being about feelings and cultural identification. Perhaps it’s because God has built it into Jacob’s children. Imagine that out of the whole world there’s this extended family that God has set apart for His blessings and His purposes and who feel a deep sense of spiritual cohesion that causes them to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). This is then extended to those who join themselves to Jacob’s children, the church. This doesn’t mean other cultures and folks are less sensitive to the feelings of others or have less of a corporate sense of identity. But I have given some thought to our particular ways and what might or might not have come from God.
Talk about an outside threat, what about life in Egypt as slaves? Suffering together is bonding. Or can be. But how about sharing such an experience as being liberated by God to leave Egypt, to be entirely free for the first time in their lives – in generations even? This must have been an extraordinarily joy-filled experience. Imagine what it must have taken to pull all that together. What a thing to share. It was so significant that it remains the single most profound moment in Jewish history. Nothing except for the Resurrection of Yeshua comes close to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt’s dominance. The most powerful government on earth was brought to its knees by God on Israel’s behalf. It is God’s crowning event, second only to the Resurrection.
Every year of my life I have celebrated Passover and we have read the story of the deliverance from Egypt. It’s not just a story of what happened to my ancestors centuries ago; it’s my story! It belongs to me just as it belongs to every Jew I know. No matter how little a Jewish person may be involved in their Judaism, Passover is rarely ignored. Even if someone isn’t keeping the no-yeast rule, Passover is still a bonding experience.
But now consider that a mixed multitude left Egypt with Israel. That means Gentiles, right? Non-Jews who were part of the Exodus. As the Scriptures give account: “Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock” (Ex. 12:37, 38).
What an incredible collection of folks. Who made up this “mixed multitude”? Who were these non-Hebrews? Perhaps they were slaves themselves, captured when Egypt overtook their own lands. They may have been Egyptians who experienced all the plagues and witnessed the impotency of Egypt’s gods and the power of the God of the Hebrews, now realizing He was the only true God. Perhaps each of those families who chose to leave Egypt with Israel had suffered the trauma of losing a son, a first born son, the evening before. Perhaps these first born were grown men, fathers, husbands, brothers as well as sons. These had to have been people who no longer felt any loyalty to remain subjects of Pharaoh whom they no longer revered. These incidents may likely have been great crises for them. In each case, there had to be a personal history that brought them to leave Egypt with the Jews.
Perhaps they left with great sorrow. Or perhaps they joined in Israel’s joy. But with great expectation they all moved forward into a new life, a life of freedom from oppression or false religions. Can you imagine the noise, the excitement, the confusion, the hustle and bustle to put it mildly. They were experiencing together what no people before or since would ever experience. What an incredible journey they were about to embark upon together as they each left behind the life they’d known till then.
Shortly into their journey, however, they find themselves up against a river they cannot cross with Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them speedily. Trapped. All seems lost. Despair feels all too familiar to them. But they are about to see God’s Hand again, not in plagues He protected them from this time, but in a supernatural miracle on their behalf. They had experienced a strong wind blow before, a wind of judgment when God brought locusts upon Egypt, and they had known the wind to clear the land of the locusts (Ex. 10:13, 19). We know that wind! We know the Holy Spirit came as the sound of wind when the disciples received the Spirit at Shavuot (Pentecost): “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind …And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts 2:2 &4).
So we know that the Spirit of the Lord has come in power as a mighty wind when God is ushering in a new thing He is doing among His people. And that is exactly what happened when Israel was threatened with destruction by the Egyptian army. “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided” (Ex. 14:21). And just as the Lord with the wind of His Spirit had cleared the land of locusts, He cleared the land of the Egyptian army by drowning them in the sea that now closed over them right behind the “mixed multitude” that He was leading to safety on the other side of the river. And so He set them free again. So much for the enemy destroying God’s people! Makes you want to shout HalleluYah, doesn’t it?
Well, how much of a bonding experience do you think THAT was? They saw it happen, all of them. How much did that give them to talk about? God delivered them all, not just the Hebrews. Every one of them found safety under His wings of protection. What joy is recorded as they sang and danced unto the Lord – “the horse and rider hurled into the sea.” (Ex. 15:1)
And so their journey continues. Everyone was needing to help everyone else, I would think. The blessings and the favor of God were mightily upon them. The grace of God was there to facilitate this whole enormous process of a million people give or take, including their kids, animals and “stuff.” Did you ever try and get a group of people who aren’t sure where they’re going or who have never been this way before organized? Should you really have taken that with you? I really need this, but it’s heavy. How will we manage to carry it all? Where are the boys; we need the boys to help and they’re playing with the goats. The baby won’t stop crying. What do you mean you’re hungry now? Not now! And I wonder how many times the kids asked, “Are we almost there?” Did they sing as they went? Did they laugh? Did they share and help one another? What was it like? How long did it take them to realize no one was sick anymore? Or that their shoes weren’t wearing out?
Once they left Israel, God tells Moses something very important. He tells him that the Gentiles are to be under the same law (literally instructions, or Torah) as the Jews. “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you” (Ex. 12:49). For the rest of the journey – that would be forty years – there is no mention of “them” and “us.” Well, yes, there is that one requirement of circumcision in order to participate in the keeping of Passover (Ex. 12:48), so since the distinction is no longer mentioned in Scripture between the Hebrew and non-Hebrews, we must assume our Gentile friends submitted to circumcision in order to be a part of the Hebrews in every way. For from then on, no distinction is made.
God told them all, assuming that the Gentile males submitted to circumcisions, that from that time forward, they who had experienced this incredible deliverance and were now a part of the covenantal Israel, were to observe the feast of Passover for all their generations.
“Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel…. You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance” (Ex. 12:13-15, 17).
Could it be more clear? Those whom God brought out of Egypt who were either already Hebrews or who committed themselves to Israel’s covenant with God were to keep the Passover for a permanent feast. The descendents of these same people centuries later were still keeping the Passover. Some of them may have been in Jerusalem that very day when Yeshua became the Passover Lamb who took away the sins of the world, as John the Immerser declared (John 1:29). It happened precisely in keeping with the observing of the day as God had commanded Israel back in the Sinai desert.
At the same time the sacrificial lambs were being inspected early in the morning to be sure they were pure and without blemish, Yeshua was being “inspected” by Pilate and Herod and found to have no cause for the charges brought against Him. Nevertheless, the charges against Him brought the judgment of crucifixion though no one was aware that He was laying His life down Himself as the atonement for mankind’s sins. There would have been that day, every priest on duty for the purpose of sacrificing the thousands of lambs men brought into Jerusalem for that purpose. At the third hour (9:00 a.m.) when the first of the lambs were sacrificed as burnt offerings, just as the smoke ascended from the alter, all the priests would have lifted up their hands to sing the priestly blessings, Yeshua’s hands would have been stretched out and nailed to the cross . Scripture mentions that it was the third hour to emphasize that Yeshua was the morning sacrifice on this Passover day.
It appeared that all went as usual for Passover in the Temple, even in this enormous undertaking. Those in authority who wanted to be rid of Yeshua thought the matter over and done with. But something was amiss. Something strange happened this day. A strange darkness, beginning at noon like an eclipse – somewhat like the plague of darkness that happened many years before in Egypt that silently proclaimed that God Himself was being disregarded – now enshrouded the Temple and all of Jerusalem. In the Temple court, the fires of sacrifice burned brightly, but the sky stayed darkened for three hours.
Just as the lambs were to bring forgiveness for those who brought them to be sacrificed, Yeshua cried out for God to forgive not only for those who were responsible for His crucifixion, but for all mankind. At some point, all the priests stood in rows with basins of gold and silver with rounded bottoms so they cannot be set down lest the blood would spill out. As each lamb was sacrificed and its throat slit, the blood was caught in a bowl. One priest handed it to the next till the last priest in the row splashed it up against the base of the altar. The white polished stones of the huge altar were covered with the blood of the lambs. Channels and gutters cut into the stones on the floor carried away rivers of blood. As the last lamb was drained of its blood, at that same moment, the last drops of blood bled out of Yeshua’s body, just as all sacrifices are drained of their blood. With supernatural ability He cried out and breathed His last and died.
We know that wasn’t the end of the story. Three days later He rose from the dead and lives forevermore at the right hand of God. There is no greater bonding than being one in faith in that reality. We who are one in Messiah, having accepted Him as our atoning Lamb of God who took away our own personal sins, share this eternally bonding experience as “one new humanity” in Messiah. There is no more fitting celebration than Passover. Passover, of course, is the type of what we call “communion” as we remember that Yeshua gave his life’s blood and His body for the remission of our sins.
The requirement to participate is still circumcision – that is, of the heart. In truth, that’s what it always was. Physical circumcision was and remains an outward sign of the covenant with God for the Hebrews. But there is just as meaningful to God a circumcision of the heart. As God told Moses, “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut. 30:6).
Let us live then, bound together by His Spirit. Let us be the culture of the collective people of God who may exhibit our own national or ethnic expressions, but in even greater measure may people “recognize [us] as having been with Yeshua” (Acts 4:13) because of our love for one another and because we carry His integrity and bear His generosity of spirit at all times. As for everyone having something to contribute, like the Jews, each with an opinion, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
Hopefully, we will have no cause to experience the cohesiveness that persecution brings, nor to feel shame at another Believer’s actions. But rather may we be a people who, with concern for the whole community of believers, bear one another’s burdens, as we “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). May the wind of His Spirit come upon each of us to bring complete deliverance and freedom that we may live in a manner worthy of Him who has set us free indeed. And may we be “wind-bearers” through whom He can impart that same freedom to others that they too may share in this eternal bonding which we share.
Reprints of this article is permitted but must include: Reprinted by permission of Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.