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B'Midbar/Numbers 15:15 One statute for you and for the sojourner who sojourns ... like you like the stranger shall it be before the L-rd.
This is the middle verse of a block of three (14-16) verses that say "four times, in four different ways, that the law is the same for a citizen and a resident alien." (Friedman). Why the repetition and the differences? The first one (v. 14) speaks of an Israelite and a stranger who bring fire offerings to HaShem; all the fire offerings are brought in the same way. The second - the first part of our text - says that there is only one law, not one for the Israelites and one for sojourners. The third - the second part of our text - states that both Israelites and strangers are held accountable in the same way by HaShem. Finally, the fourth instance (v. 16), confirms that the same rituals and rules of worship apply to Israelites and strangers living in our midst. The text moves from the particular, fire offerings, to the general - one law, one standard - and part-way back again: rules for worship.
Rashi picks up on the words , "like you, like the sojourner", and comments, "like you, so shall the convert1 be" - an identity statement. He then gives some other examples to demonstrate that this short verbless "like this, like that" construction is a feature of biblical Hebrew: "'like the garden of the L-RD, like the land of Egypt' (B'resheet 13:10, JPS) means 'so was the land of Egypt' and 'Like me, like you; like my troops, like your troops; like my horses, like your horses' (1 Kings 22:4) means 'I am like you; my people are like your people'", implying we will fight alongside each other as one. RabbiHirsch, basing his argument on a Talmudic discussion (b. Keritot 8b), affirms that this extends to complete equality: "One duty, one law, the same rights. Just as here in offerings so altogether there is complete equality before G-d, i.e. in all relations of man to G-d and G-d to man."
Rav Sha'ul makes the same point for Gentiles and other categories of believer in Messiah: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one" (Galatians 3:28, CJB). It is not that the differences between these groups is removed - on the contrary, if anything they are sharpened as they take on their biblical roles and identity - but that they have equality before G-d; their standing as co-heirs with and in Messiah is identical. All believers in Messiah in good standing are equal before G-d, regardless of background, birth or social status.
Richard Elliott Friedman takes a related but slightly different approach to argue that, "this is an essential principle of the Torah: Israelites are not privileged over anyone else. A country must treat everyone who lives in it fairly, with equality under the law." TheRambam points out not only how the law applies to everyone, but why it must: "The Law does not pay attention to the isolated ... it is directed only towards the majority and pays no attention to rare happenings or the damage that may occur to individuals. It will not be possible that the laws be dependant on changes in the circumstances of individuals and of times ... on the contrary, governance of the Law ought to be absolute and universal, including everyone, even if suitable only for certain individuals and not suitable for others; for if it were made to fit individuals, the whole would be corrupted and you would have something that varies" (Guide for the Perplexed 3:34). Perhaps James had something of the same idea in mind when he wrote, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10, NASB); a break in one part of the law still makes you a law-breaker no matter how big or small that part may be.
Rabbi Judah the Prince takes another line from "like you, like the stranger: "Rabbi says: 'As you' means as your forefathers: As your forefathers entered into the covenant only by circumcision, immersion and the sprinkling of the blood, so shall they enter the Covenant only by circumcision, immersion and the sprinkling of the blood" (b. Keritot 9a). On the face of it, Rabbi Judah is talking about conversion; just as the Jewish people themselves entered into the covenant with G-d by circumcision, immersion and the sprinkling of the blood, so those who come into the Jewish people as converts enter in the same way. At Sinai, the descendants of Abraham were all assumed to be circumcised, they were told to "consecrate themselves and wash their garments" (Shemot 19:10) and then "Moshe took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant, which the L-RD has made with you'" (24:8, NASB). Since the making of the Covenant at Sinai was a one-off event, converts during biblical times were not sprinkled with blood; instead that phrase was taken to mean "offering the sacrifices", so that once a convert had been circumcised and immersed in the mikvah, they completed the process by offering a burnt offering and a sin offering. Since the destruction of the Temple, rabbinic Judaism has substituted an explicit commitment to keep all the commandments for the act of sacrifice. The morning prayer service includes reading of some of the Bible passages describing the sacrifices and rabbinic commentary on those, following the idea that studying the sacrifices is as much as HaShem has allowed the Jewish people to do since He allowed the Temple to be removed, so He will accept study in place of practice until such time as the Temple is rebuilt.
If we follow the line that everyone comes to G-d in the same way - by circumcision, immersion and blood - can we say that believers in Messiah fit that pattern? Moshe tells the Israelites that "The L-RD your G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live" (D'varim 30:6, NASB); Rav Sha'ul tells the believers that "it was in union with him that you were circumcised with a circumcision not done by human hands" (Colossians 2:11, CJB) and "it is we who are the Circumcised, we who worship by the Spirit of God and make our boast in the Messiah Yeshua!" (Philippians 3:3, CJB). That seems to cover the first criteria: believers in Messiah are circumcised in their hearts, rather than in their flesh2; this applies both to men and women and to both Jew and Gentile. It is the work of the Spirit who enables us to "put off the flesh" (Colossians 2:11). Baptism is the direct equivalent to immersion in the mikvah; in the first church, it was exactly the same thing - that was how baptism was done. Baptism is both a sign and a sacrament; a sign of obedience and submission, a sacrament bring new life in Yeshua: "We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4, NASB). The blood, of course, is the blood of Yeshua, shed on the cross, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Ephesians 1:7, NASB), so that those "who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah's blood" (2:13, CJB).
Do we, however, miss a trick if we neglect the question of commandments? Are not believers required to make a commitment to follow Yeshua's commandments? Without such a commitment, simply signing up by saying the Sinner's Prayer and then "living the life of Riley" makes a mockery of Yeshua's own words, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love" (John 15:10, NASB), as well as the idea of heart circumcision, baptism and the blood. There must be a commitment to obey Yeshua, to become a disciple and to learn to follow Him, as Yeshua said: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34, NASB).
That bring us neatly back to our original text and its context in the surrounding verses. Believers are to offer themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1); there shall be one standard followed by all believers and to which G-d will hold us accountable, loving G-d with everything that we are and our neighbours as ourselves; worship, though offered in many different styles, shall be in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Truth and justice is to be found in and among the people of G-d and shared with the world living around us, as we invite them to join our worship and song to G-d, belonging and believing in the G-d of Israel, becoming part of His kingdom and finding their true life in Yeshua. This is what "like you, like the stranger" means; wanting them - whoever 'they' are - to be able to be like us, to share in G-d's blessing so that there is nothing that we have or are that they too cannot have and be in Messiah.
1. - Rashi follows the rabbinic tradition that the word in much of the Torah really means a convert to Judaism rather than the simple text meaning of a stranger or foreigner sojourning among the Israelites; that the Torah is using 'sojourner' as a code word. While we do not support that view, it does not alter our argument in this context.
2. - Although male Jewish believers in Yeshua will of course be physically circumcised as well.
Further Study: Mark 8:34-38; Galatians 3:26-29
Application: Are you committed to following Yeshua, pursuing justice for all (D'varim 16:20) and doing whatever He says it takes to make the Kingdom of G-d visible in this world?
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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