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Soli Deo Gloria is the writing and teaching ministry of Baruch Maoz in Israel. Baruch is engaged in writing original commentaries on the Bible, and theological and practical works in Hebrew. Some of his books are available in English. His Critique of the Messianic Movement, Come Let Us Reason Together: The Unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church, has been published by P&R, and his Devotional Commentary, Malachi: A Prophet in Times of Distress by Founders Press. Both are available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon while Shepherd Press produced his Devotional Commentary Jonah: A Prophet on the Run.
Baruch has written a series of commentaries in Hebrew on Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Jonah, Nahum and Malachi, Matthew, Romans and Colossians. He has written an Introdution to the Life and Epistles of Paul, an Introduction to Systematic Theology, and edited a modern translation of the Old Testament into spoken Hebrew. He is presently translating the New Testament into Modern Hebrew and engaged in other writing projects. In the pipeline are books on church life and structure, How to Preach and Listen to Sermons, and Daily Christian disciplines. To date, Baruch is the only author writing Christian literature n Hebrew.
Baruch and Bracha are Israeli Jewish Christians who have served in Israel for 5 decades now. Between April 1974 and December 2006 Baruch served with Christian Witness to Israel, most of that time as Israel Field Leader. Betwen May 1975 and December 2008 he served as Pastor of Grace and Truth Christian Congregation in Rishon LeTsion, Israel. Our website reflects the experiences gained in the course of that time.
Our monthly newsletter, MaozNews, is available for the asking, with back-issues to be found on this website (Baruch's Writings/News From Israel). To subscribe, click address at bottom of this page. His faceBook and Linkedin pages serve as blogs and provide almost daily information on the scene in Israel. His postings are also avaialble via Twitter @BaruchMaoz
Following is a link to Baruch's summary to Paul's letter to the Romans (audio, 40 minutes)
August 18, 2016
From My commentary on Colossians (Colossians 3:12)
The next spiritually moral characteristic to which Paul called the Colossians is “humility.” Once again, the relationship between humility and the former qualities is obvious. Sympathy and kindness are the products of humility because humility is what teaches people to love their fellow humans as they love themselves; humility forbids an individual from thinking that his concerns, joys, needs, fears, wants, and ambitions have the right to be of the highest priority.
Humility reminds us that others are worth as much and dear to God as much as we consider ourselves to be. Humility is what enables husbands to love their wives, wives to accept their husbands’ leadership, parents to lovingly respect their children as they bring them up in the Lord, and children to follow their parents’ lead by obeying their loving demands. It is also what enables Christians to bear one another’s burdens, forgive each other, and live together in harmony in spite of their differences.
Pride, on the other hand, is one of the most destructive forces on the face of the earth. It has brought more suffering to mankind than anything else. It lay at the root of Nazi arrogance and of all historical imperialistic aspirations. It laid the ground for Western colonial abuse of Africa, for the suppression of nations under the heel of Islam, for the heinous slave trade, and for both the First and Second World Wars. Pride destroys families, divides churches, and paves a straight path to hell.
We need to remind ourselves how Christ humbled himself, became one of us, underwent our temptations, experienced our misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and mocking rejections, bore our sins in his own body on the tree, suffered, died, and was buried. His humility for our sakes should be the grounds and motivation of ours.
Next, Paul called the Colossians to “meekness.” In Roman times, meekness was considered a fault, not a virtue. In Paul’s day, prowess was either military or political, and the two were often intertwined. Morality, a humble fear of God, and unselfish liberality were signs of feebleness of mind or heart—or both. Today’s values hardly differ. We have merely added keeping up with the Joneses, being aggressive salesmen or entrepreneurs, and standing up for ourselves in society. Paul called the Colossians to go against the grain of their society’s values, as we are called to go against ours, and be known for meekness.
Meekness is not evidence of weakness; it takes a large degree of emotional security to agree to appear to be weak. Nor is meekness an expression of an inability to cope with reality or a lack of ambition or drive. Meek individuals can be ambitious and highly motivated, as was Jesus. A meek person is gentle, not self-assertive, although he may very well be capable of projecting a sense of rectitude and authority that will move others to submit to him.
Living together as we ought, in the family, at church, or in society, involves a good deal of compromise. Even when we think we’re right, we often need to compromise until others come (if they come) to see things as we do. While it is wrong to comprise fundamental principles, we should not make everything a matter of conscience. It is right and good to be highly principled, but meekness should be part and parcel of our principles.
We should beware of being over-righteous (Eccl. 7:16). The Pharisees were over-righteous when they forbade healing the sick on the Sabbath or the plucking of grains to satisfy hunger. Paul warned the Roman Christians not to impose their sensitivities on those who did not share them (Rom. 14:1–12). We must respect each other’s liberties at the same time that we respect their sense of duty. Living together in the family, a church, or in society requires a meekness that does not seek to impose one person’s personality or preferences on another but makes room for frank, respectful, gracious discussion, sometimes resulting in continued disagreement.
Our Lord exemplified a dignified, conquering meekness that should serve as a beacon and a call for us. His meekness as he lived on earth and related to people like us should be the grounds and motivation of ours as we relate to God and to others.
August 10, 2016
From commentary on Colossians (3:12)
What follows is also in the plural. Taking note of this little fact will help us get the point of Paul’s message.
“There is no place for Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave freeman . . . but Christ is everything (all) and in all, “so as God’s holy chosen ones, and having been loved, put on great sympathy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing one another and forgiving each other. If anyone has a complaint against anyone . . .” In these verses, Paul was spelling out the practical implications of the demands grace put upon the Colossians. They were God’s holy chosen ones and were required to act as such. They were holy because God had made them holy by the sacrifice of his Son and the workings of his Spirit; he had cleansed them of sin, released them from its compelling bondage, put his law in their hearts, and made them his in a special way.
They were holy because God chose and separated them from the mass of sinful humanity to be holy and without blame before him. In spite of their many sins, they were God’s chosen ones. They did not choose him; he chose them. They loved because he first loved them, “and having been loved,” it was their duty to love their fellow Christians by putting on the characteristics of true love, all of which are necessary to love as one body in Christ:
First, “great sympathy.” The apostle was speaking of the ability and the honest willingness to see things from the other person’s point of view, with his interests as close to one’s heart as one’s own. He was speaking of the ability to share another’s sorrows, understand his concerns in a loving manner, and support him as he fails; of doing for others what you would want them to do for you. This kind of sympathy is the opposite of selfishness; it is a reflection of the beauty of Christ, who bore our pains and sorrows and underwent the temptations and trials of life that we experience, and is therefore able to succor us to the full extent of our need and beyond. His sympathy toward us should be the grounds and motivation of ours toward others.
Such sympathy is especially necessary for Christians of diverse backgrounds and social standings to enable them to live together in gospel harmony, sharing the grace of God and rejoicing in his goodness. An openness to other cultures, a willingness to bear with radically different personalities, and a realization that our way of understanding or doing things might not be the only way are necessary for a happy marriage, an edifying church life, and a stable society.
“Kindness” is grace’s next requirement. Kindness is a good-natured willingness to please others and do them well. It’s relation to sympathy is obvious. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul called upon his readers, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
He then set before them the supreme example of kindness: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:1–8). Christ’s kindness and his humble generosity should be the grounds and motivation of ours toward others.
Church life is one of the important contexts in which we have both opportunity and need for kindness. It is where we give ourselves to others for God’s sake as disciples of Jesus. Like in a family and, to a slightly lesser degree, in society, a sincere concern for others is what oils the hinges of relationships and transforms them into positive experiences of the kind of grace that is God-like because it exemplifies the Gospel.
Kindness leads us to be alert, aware of, and sensitive to others and their needs. It means that we hold the door for the person entering the building behind us, that we give others leeway and forgive them liberally when they err. Kindness means that we are sincerely and practically committed to other people’s welfare and do not act as if the world revolves around us. Kindness makes us patient under trial and generous when in need. Kindness is simply Christlikeness.
August 2, 2016
From my commentary on Colossians. In summary of 3:1-11
This is the moment to draw your attention to an important fact: the “you” from verse 5 onward is plural. Paul was not addressing individuals in the church but the body as a whole. It is much easier to break bad habits and replace them with good ones when we enjoy the support and encouragement of community. It is much easier to break away from one’s former way of life and adopt another when we are in loving, exhorting, rebuking, inspiring, motivating fellowship with others engaged in the same spiritual and moral pilgrimage. That is one of the reasons why church life is so necessary to Christians. If you have noticed the similarity between the Spirit’s work and that of the church, do not be surprised. The Holy Spirit uses the church for the accomplishment of his purposes. The church is God’s habitation through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
As a community the Colossians had put on Christ. As a community they had clothed themselves with the new man. As a community they were being remade into the image of the Creator. No individual can by himself reflect the fullness of the infinite glory of God. All of redeemed humanity cannot do that, let alone any individual. John heard no solos sung in heaven, no individual performances. What he saw was a congregation so large it could not be numbered.
The more united the church is, the more effectively it can reflect the image of Christ and the more effectively it can serve for the formation of that glorious image in each individual Christian. We need one another to serve God in Christ as we ought. The new man is you and me, the pastor and the elder, the deacon and the evangelist, the old and the young, the wise and the foolish, the strong and the weak, together in Christ.
In this new man former distinctions have no place. Their foundations have been removed by the death and resurrection of Christ. “There is no place for Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave freeman . . . but Christ is everything (all) and in all.” That’s it. That’s the point Paul had been making. Christ is everything. He is all and in all.
If you have him, you need no more. There is no advantage to being a Jew and none in becoming or acting like one. If you lack him, you have nothing, regardless of whatever pretensions may be attached to what you have. Nothing else matters. No demiurge, no tradition however sanctified by years and adorned by rabbis, no angel, no abstinence, and no indulgence could ever match him, let alone add to his completed achievements. Jesus did it all. Jesus is doing it all by his Spirit. The Colossians were no longer viewed as “Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman.” They had been circumcised. They had been freed. They had been elevated. They had been united with Christ and, in him, were equal one to another. If they focused on Christ, they would have in him all they needed in an abundance that passed comprehension and exceeded every holy aspiration.
God of our lives and of our salvation, our lives are hidden with Christ in you, and our glory is hidden with him. One in Christ in spite of our differences, different yet one, we are to live without dissensions and without suppressions, in love and holy, happy harmony. We thrill at the thought of our calling and cringe at the thought of our weaknesses and failings. Help us, Lord. Continue your work of transformation. Teach us the self-discipline that is so necessary for holiness and contributes to happiness in you. Glorify yourself in us, and we will give you praise through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
July 27, 2016
To the churches in Israel
It is reasonable to assume that the period of relative but still substantial freedom from which the church of Messiah in Israel now enjoys is drawing near to its’ close, and that harder days will return following the dual process of an increase in religious nationalism and the strengthening of the Jewish Orthodox community in our country.
I fear for the church, and not because of the persecution that is apparently to be expected. Persecution never disadvantaged the church. The Body of Christ knew hard days in the past, and overcame them all by the grace of God. We will overcome by the word of our testimony if we do not love life as we love our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Suffering was always accompanied by God’s blessing and, as it was said some 2,000 years ago, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The more we suffer, the more we will grow.
My fear stems, rather, from a certain trend evident among us, evidenced in the effort to find acceptance by our people. We emphasize the strength of our national loyalty, the depth of our Zionistic commitment, our Jewishness. Be we forget the main issue.
Paul warned in his time, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:2-9).
We are taken up with (commendable) activity in the social area: we oppose abortion, reach out to the homeless, to refugees and to those abusing drugs and other substances. We endeavor to rescues prostitutes and are troubled by the growing spread of homosexualism, but we are still missing the main issue.
The most important matter with which our churches should be occupied with is the cultivation of a fear a God, morally-motivated humility, vigorous holiness and a spiritual perspective that know how to challenge the society to which we belong by the clarity of it holiness.
Such a life-style never enjoyed popular acclaim, nor did it contribute to the popularity of those who endeavored to conduct themselves by such standards. As the Savior said with regard to a different matter, it is with these above all that we should be busy, without neglecting those other matters.
I therefore join Paul’s call and plead with the members of our congregations they we “must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity “(Eph. 4:17-19).
Regretfully, we tend to be far too much like the world. We dress like the people of the world and conduct ourselves too much like anyone else in the world. We enjoy most of the same things and, apart from the content our services are often more like secular concerts while our sermons are geared more to please, entertain and promote a sense of happiness than to exalt the holiness of God and to call us to repentance.
Thank God, not everything we do is characterized by such tendencies, but such is the growing trend among us. It takes courage to dare be different while frankly belonging to Israeli society. When push comes to shove, “our citizenship is in heaven.” It takes the kind of commitment that involves more than good intentions and sincere enthusiasm to put God – in reality – first in the life of our churches and of our individual lives in such a way that those among whom we live will identify symptoms and the presence of God and of a loving fear of him. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Co. 3:1-3).
Our churches should focus on cultivating a broad, deep, courageous understanding of God’s word, a nuanced ability to apply moral principles in the fear of God, independent thinking subject to the word of God, a willingness to sacrifice that will express itself, among other ways, in willingness to be rejected by our society, constant self-examination that will lead to constant changes and improvements in our lives and those of our churches, liberality toward those with whom we differ.
“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.?
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God, and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 7-17).
May God be with us to help us as we face the days that are to come.
Mazkeret Batya, July 2016
July 26, 2016
From my commentary on Colossians (Col. 3:9-10)
Finally, Paul called upon the Colossians, “Don’t lie to one another.” This injunction comes almost exactly in the terms of Leviticus 19:11: “You shall not lie to one another.” Honesty is a fundamental obligation. Lying is radically anti-Christian. Dishonesty destroys trust; it undermines the basis on which any healthy human relationship can be established. It is a kind of betrayal, a theft, a form of adultery, denying reality as it is and affirming a reality that does not exist. Those who fear God should be frankly and sacrificially committed to the truth.
God is the God of truth and truthfulness, of integrity. Our “yes” should be as solid as a rock; our “no” as unmovable as a mountain. Of necessity, this means that we will have to think a good deal more before we express ourselves, but I can assure you that this will be a welcome and helpful exercise. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). We would do well to heed the advice of Ecclesiastes, who said, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (5:2).
Once again let us remember that this letter was addressed to Christians. It is people like us—you and me—who need to be reminded not to lie. This does not mean that we should give expression to everything that is in our mind, or even that we should at all times relieve people of their false impressions. But it does mean that we do not say an untruth. A Christian general may well have some of his forces feint in one direction in an effort to cause the enemy to concentrate his forces there, while he actually intends to focus an attack elsewhere. But lying is another matter.
In the past, the kinds of behavior proscribed by Paul were part of daily reality. But the Colossians had been converted. Conversion means change. When something is converted, it cannot remain the same. The Colossians were described as “having removed the old man with his habits and having put on the new man who is being renewed in full knowledge in compatibility with the image of him who is creating him.” The change they had undergone involved removing the old man, whom they were in Adam, “with his habits” of sin. Christians are no longer subject to the control of sin, although often and in many ways are still exposed to its enticements.
The Colossians had then “put on the new man.” They had clothed themselves with who they were in Christ. The sinful habits developed before their conversion no longer had a valid hold over them, but the practical force of those habits needed to be broken and replaced. Having put off, they put on. They did this by the inculcation of biblical principles and biblical motives, and by the insistent development of habits of holiness.
They were not alone in the struggle against the habits of sin and its demands. The new man that they were in Christ “[was] being renewed” by the ongoing activity of God the Spirit; they were being granted” full knowledge” in the sense of a personal, intimate understanding and embracing of God and his will through which they were being increasingly changed “in compatibility with the image of him who [was] creating him.” The image into which they were being changed was the image of God. The “him” being created was the new man. The one creating him was God himself. God's marvelous work of salvation began with faith and repentance, but there was a lot more to it than that. He was at work in their hearts by his Spirit, transforming men and women, boys and girls, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen into his own image.
The ravages of sin were being removed. Increasingly, the beauty of God’s glory was shining forth in them. He was strengthening them in their conflict, rebuking and encouraging them when they failed, renewing their desire for his ways, comforting them, and ever motivating them to greater holiness, sincerer humility, broader kindness, and more substantial integrity. God’s people were being prepared for life in heaven in the happy, holy presence of God.
July 23, 2016
Don’t blame Sykes-Picot JP Editorial Saturday, July 23 2016
“Arrogant to the point of blindness,” British diplomat Mark Sykes and his French counterpart Georges Picot “carved up the Ottoman empire, not unlike a butcher slicing up slabs of meat fresh out of the freezer,” a British columnist charged recently. The diatribe, leveled by Spectator columnist Taki Theodoracopulos, is shared by many, most notably Henry Kissinger, an authority on diplomatic Machiavellianism, who wrote of the Sykes-Picot deal – a deal that had been meant to be kept secret – that it was “the foundation for later wars and civil wars.”
A century on from the deal, signed May 16, 1916, with the Middle East drowning in its citizens’ blood, it is indeed tempting to blame the Middle East’s turbulence on the Anglo-French intrusion and its blending of arrogance, ignorance and brutality. “The Ottoman Sultan (of Constantinople) had wisely divided the Middle East into provinces along ethnic lines,” waxed nostalgic Theodoracopulos, whereas the Anglo-French duo “proved as ignorant as George W. Bush was to be 87 years later. Had they never heard of the Sunni-Shi’a divide?”
There is no arguing that what happened in 1916 was colonialist machination and conceit at their worst. The deal that was concocted while Allied armies were being butchered in Verdun, nonetheless looked to the day after victory, whose biggest prize – from the European viewpoint – was to be the Ottoman Empire’s severed limbs. Though victory indeed resulted in the Sultanate’s dismemberment, no one in London or Paris thought of colonizing the other monarchies that vanished in the Great War’s aftermath – Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. This fate was reserved for the Middle East, in which European diplomats saw what they saw in Africa, India and China: strategic frontiers and fair game.
It was against this backdrop that the deal ignored previous commitments to the Sharif of Mecca by Britain’s Viceroy to Egypt. That is also why Sykes and Picot struck their deal behind the back of the Zionist movement, and at its expense, as they designated international rule for the Holy Land. All this was happening in the very London where at the very same time Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann was lobbying for the adoption of the Balfour Declaration.
Ploys aside, the deal’s infamy stems from its masterminds’ woeful unawareness that nations long dormant would imminently come alive, and that the imperialism the pair were serving was on the eve of demise. The secret pact was publicized by Vladimir Lenin himself, who inherited it from Czar Nikolai soon after unseating him and learning that the Russian monarch had agreed to endorse the deal in return for part of what now is Turkey. Discrediting the deal as imperialism’s embodiment, Lenin’s scoop helped his propagandists glorify communism as the post-colonial future’s harbinger. And it stuck. That is why, a century on, pundits are still tempted to blame the region’s woes on foreigners.
It was the victors of World War I, goes this rationale, who forced into political straightjackets antagonists such as Iraq’s Sunnis and Shi’ites, or Syria’s Alawites and Sunnis, or Lebanon’s Shi’ites, Sunnis, Druse and Maronite Christians. Though Sykes and Picot did not actually redo the atlas, but merely drew the line between the prospective British and French spheres of influence, their deal was soon fleshed out by the cartographers who penciled borders that later proved unworkable, and in some cases have also become irrelevant, from Libya to Iraq and Syria.
That is, of course, true. However, when seen in the broader context of post-colonial history, this external impact does not explain Arab civilization’s crisis, nor does it excuse it. The modern Middle East marched forth over colonialism’s dead body. This sequence was most forcefully displayed in 1956 when Egypt wrested the Suez Canal from British and French interests that controlled the strategic waterway through the Suez Canal Company.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser did not win the consequent war, but he did gain the canal, and he did chase the European powers away from their last Middle Eastern strategic asset. The Arabs, then, were no less victorious in their clash with colonialism than were the Chinese, the Indians, the Kenyans or the Vietnamese. The difference was that with the powers gone, Middle Eastern conflicts flared frequently in ways that were difficult to relate to the colonialists’ legacy. The stuffing by foreigners of local rivals into single polities did not cause the bloody Iran-Iraq War ? because the imperialists did properly separate the Persians and the Arabs ? nor could Europeans be blamed for the strife along the years between Morocco and Algeria, or Libya and Egypt, or Iraq and Kuwait, all of which pitted Sunni Arabs against each other.
Moreover, if the borders demanded redrawing so as to better reflect ethnic and religious identities, why did the Arabs not get down to this business by themselves, say, through the Arab League? Who would have stood in their way had they asked the international community to recognize, say, a Sunni state between the Syria and Iraq the imperialists once mapped?
In India, for instance, the British also bequeathed a sectarian tinderbox back when independence loomed, and the assassinated Mahatma Gandhi was but one of its victims. Conflict with Pakistan, the violent emergence of Bangladesh, and the unsolved dispute over Kashmir are also seen as colonialism’s farewell gifts. However, the subcontinent has produced a generally accepted political framework where an agricultural revolution was followed by an industrial revolution that soon sparked much social mobility and expanding prosperity. The same can be said of Vietnam, whose splitting and bleeding in the wake of foreign intrusions were followed by a post-ideological quest to manufacture, trade, profit, prosper and to live and let live.
The Arab Middle East did not follow these patterns. A country like Algeria, which defeated colonialism in the 1950s as impressively as Vietnam did in the 1970s, proceeded from there not to a post-ideological pursuit of prosperity, but to a bloody civil war that cost at least 100,000 lives. In that case, one can argue that intra-Arab strife was caused not by the arrival of foreigners, but by their departure. Out in China, by contrast, economic enthusiasm did not wait for colonialism’s final defeat. It began well before Britain’s departure in 1996 from Hong Kong, and then continued in earnest, defying doomsday prophecies.
The opposite of this has happened in the Middle East. Here, the last colonialist holdout, Aden, was evacuated by the British in 1967, only to join a Yemeni civil war that involved other Arab countries, and which in some ways is the same Yemeni war that is raging to this day. China’s sort of post-colonial prosperity has never been pursued, much less achieved. Some, most notably the late literary theorist Edward Said, argued that the colonialist era’s damage has not been in the creation of untenable states, but in the very fracturing of a Middle East that was meant to be the kind of borderless expanse it was under the Ottomans.
Such nostalgia conveniently forgets several facts. First, the Middle East was commercially free under the Europeans, much as it had been under the Ottomans. Many Arabs and Jews still remember, fondly, the relative ease with which people and goods traveled between Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut during the British and French Mandate periods.
Second, there have been two post-colonial attempts to integrate the Middle East. One was in the name of nationalism, the other in the name of globalization. One was led by Nasser shortly after the Suez Canal’s nationalization and resulted in an Egyptian-Syrian unification that lasted but three years. The other attempt was Shimon Peres’s in the 1990s, as foreign minister and then as prime minister, when he promoted his New Middle East plan. The Arab elites rejected that vision, as expressed by the Egyptian publisher of Peres’s book, who prefaced it with the statement: “Shimon Peres proves unequivocally that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are authentic.” It was part of a broader culture of recrimination that made Arab academics, literati, clerics and politicians blame Arab civilization’s crisis on non-Arabs, rather than engage in introspection and encourage impartial diagnosis of the region’s social decay, economic stagnation and political violence.
The escapism was mapped and decried by the late Lebanese-American scholar Fouad Ajami, back in 1998, in his “The Dream Palace of the Arabs.” There has been, however, a contrarian school that, indeed, preached introspection and advocated self-help. Syrian Philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-Azm argued back in 1967, in the wake of the Six Day War, that the Arab world must secularize, democratize, embrace feminism and free its universities if it is to seize the future.
More recently, the 82-year-old al-Azm attacked in harsh words, from Damascus, the Assad regime for having built a police state that promotes cronyism and, as he put it, pits clan against clan. Al-Azm is a Sunni and therefore his attack could be dismissed as his natural place within the Syrian conflict. It isn’t. Phrased in secular terms, and lending supreme value to modern education, his is a towering intellectual’s charge sheet against tyranny, theocracy and obscurantism throughout the Arab world.
Another such soul-searcher was the late Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel Laureate who was attacked by a knife-wielding Islamist who tried to assassinate him for his advocacy of peace with Israel, which Mahfouz saw as a bridge to Arabdom’s modernization. Mahfuoz and have been banned by Arab censors. That is why other Arab dissenters ended up in the West. Ajami left Lebanon for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; liberal theologian Nasr Abu Zayd, who saw the Koran as a literary rather than purely divine work, and was declared an apostate by Egyptian clerics, fled to Holland where he spent 15 years, before returning to die in Cairo; and Syrian-born Ali Ahmad Said Esber, better known as Adonis, the greatest living Arab poet, has been based in Paris for 60 of his 86 years.
A critic of what he has called the Syrian police state, Adonis says the Arab world’s main problem lies in the role it allows religion to play in its affairs. “Religion is not the answer to problems anymore,” he said in a recent interview with the New York Review of Books. “Religion is the cause of problems.” This thesis, which was shared by Mahfouz, making both him and al-Azm major villains in the eyes of Arab Islamists – has nothing to do with European imperialism’s visitation of the Middle East.
Neither do the non-religious causes that are counted as obstructing Arab civilization’s path to progress, as voiced by critics like al-Azm, and listed by British journalist Brian Whitaker in his book “What’s Really Wrong with the Middle East:” the elites’ fear of social mobility; the suppression of women; education to obey authority and discourage criticism; and the cultivation of tribalism, which makes millions value family more than society, state, morality and law.
Where these problems originate and how they can be treated are weighty questions, but no case can be made that they are the fault of two long-dead Europeans.
July 12, 2016
It is redundant to say that the State of Israel...
...is in crises; it has been so since its' founding. Indeed, the Jewish people have faced repeated crises every time we turned our backs to the covenant God made with our forefathers. Such will continue to be the case until we forsake our national rebellion, put our trust in the savior he sent, fly the banner of his kingdom and submit to his perfect ways. God is the Lord of our destiny and, so long as we rebel against him, we bear the consequences.
Economic pressures that are the normal course of life in Israel are compounded by security threats looming on our borders (ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas), vicious attacks on our citizens, growing international isolation on the political level contrasted with increased clandestine military cooperation, increased social tensions between Ethiopian and Caucasian Israeli's, between Israeli Arabs and Jews, between the political left and right of our society and a yawning vacuum in leadership. On the other hand, our economy continues to flourish, the recently-achieved agreement with Turkey and Egypt's open relations with us are reasons for encouragement, as is the probable increased stability of our Government due to the broadening of its' parliamentary base.
Prime Minister Netnayahu is under renewed investigation, this time in relation to professed lucrative relations with notorious criminals. Two of the PM's prominent advisors are also under investigation for dishonest dealings, falsifying tax returns and the abuse of authority. Rumblings in Netanyahu's Likud party and initial steps being made toward the formation of a viable political alternative to the Likud and to Netanyahu are being made and contribute to the political unrest.
Efforts to bring down the price of housing have so far not been crowned with success. Nor has the cost of living been reduced. I was recently astounded to learn, for example, that the cost of a single wooded step -- a plank covering a cast concrete step -- is $387 (!). The cost of the cheapest model of the Honda Fit is is just over US$24,000 ($15,890 in the US), and a Kitchen Aid mixer costs US$500 ($269 in the US). On the other hand, the price of Listerine mouth wash has been reduced. A 500 ML bottle now costs "only" $12.65, more than three times its' cost in the US.
No progress has been achieved with the Palestinians and negotiations between the sides have not been resumed. Egypt is seeking to bring the two sides together, while Europe is threatening an imposed solution. The US, including a growing number of US Jews, is increasingly critical of the Israeli Government's declared policies. The spate of attacks on Israeli civilians, recently climaxed with a shooting incident in a Tel-Aviv coffee house and the cold-blooded stabbing of a 13 year-old child asleep in her bed have all naturally impacted the atmosphere of the Israeli public, deepening the sense of angry despair.
The churches continue to grow in size and in number while increasingly engaging the social challenges of our society. Israeli Jewish Christians are becoming more visible to the public in various contexts and in a positive sense. What we desperately need is a biblical yearning for godliness and a solid grounding in the word of God. We need to challenge society by our fear and love of God more than by our kindness, by our spiritually-motivated morality more than by our Zionist credentials. We need to challenge our world by being courageously other-worldly. To those ends we need to be exposed to the kind of preaching that will call us to self-examination in the light of God's holiness, to repentance and to sacrifice in the service of Christ.
Of course, our needs and shortcomings are no different from those of the church elsewhere (small comfort to be found there!). We all need to dare measure ourselves by standards that radically differ from those of the world. True spiritual life is not to be measured numerically, nor by the social standing of our congregants. Its' criteria differ in every way. They are, rather, a heartfelt affection for God, a sincere humility in the fear of God, a love for God's word and for his church, an earnest longing for holiness, these and similar attributes are of the essence of biblical spirituality. It is these that we in Israel must endeavor to cultivate in our personal lives and in our churches.
July 08, 2016
A nation at war with itself
Tragically, the USA has become a nation at war with itself. Internal tensions, fomented and utilized over the years by those who should have labored to unite the nation, are now coming to a head. Dark days loom ahead unless the present course is reversed - and no more effective reversal can be imagined but that created by God's blessing on the preaching and the living out of the Gospel. We must pray!
July 05, 2016
From my commentary on Colossians, To be published 2017 by Founders Press
“[And] in which you conducted yourselves when you lived in these things.” By reminding the Colossian Christians of their past, Paul was urging them not to return to their former ways by focusing on ritual and purportedly spiritual exercises instead of on the realities that serve to make up biblical holiness. Further, he called upon them to exert still greater moral efforts: “But now put away you also all these things: fury, anger, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech from your mouth; don’t lie to one another.”
“Put away” is a conscious, deliberate act, here described as something that the Christians in Colossae were to do rather than wait until it was done by God for them. It involves intended moral action, an exercise of self-discipline that eventually will lead to the breaking of bad habits and the forming of new ones. It entails premeditation, self-examination, and the lack of moral compromise. Our goal is not to weaken the habits of sin but to rid ourselves of them. With that in mind, as Moule put it, we must not allow ourselves to “sin on a moderate scale.”12 Rather, we should work at killing sin every time it raises its ugly head, the very moment it does so.
It is worth reminding ourselves that Paul addressed these warning to Christians. Yes, Christians are susceptible to the worst of sin. They too—we too—need to be reminded that moral exertion in the fear of God is an ongoing duty. We are to put away, set aside, remove from ourselves and from the habits of our lives and to take control of those moments when we are so angry we do not control what we say or do. “Anger,” not all of which will be unjustified, must never be allowed to be the sole determining factor of our actions.
There will be times when it will only be right to be angry. “God . . . feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11) as he looks down on mankind’s wickedness. But “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Certainly, anger should not be what characterizes us, or our relations.
Paul exhorted the Colossians to “put away . . . malice.” Regardless of what others do to us, we should never act toward them out of malice. We should not harbor any desire for their ill. The only way to do that is to avoid bitterness and the only way to avoid bitterness is to forgive, heartily, sincerely. This we can do if we realize that the worst of deeds done to us are tools in the hand of God. If he wills, no fire can so much as singe our clothes, no lion can harm us. However unkind people may be, we should turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, concede our cloak, and be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and brave enough to recognize that we can, by the grace of God, derive good out of every evil.
Blasphemy is the next sin the Christians are exhorted to put off. To blaspheme is to desecrate the honor of God by word or by deed, the avoidance of which is the logic behind the prohibition, “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes his name in vain” (Ex. 20: 7). In the Roman era, as in our day, it was common to vow as well as to curse in the name of the gods. Christians are forbidden to do both (“Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King” [Matt. 5:34–35]).
We also blaspheme when we disparage the image of God in man by belittling someone in word or in deed, when we rob him or her of their dignity or of hope, and when we deny them the liberties and duties that are the privileges of mankind. Slavery is a form of blasphemy, as is prostitution, moral manipulation, deceit, scorn and the withholding of the basic necessities of life.
We blaspheme the name of God by lifestyles and actions that run contrary to our claim to love and serve God. It is not possible to honor God without honoring our fellow humans, nor can we truly love God unless we love our neighbor as ourselves. We should be very careful in all things that pertain to God, so as to honor him at all times. We should be very careful of God’s dignity. Loving him inevitably means that we are eager for others to love him too, and that we exert ourselves in ways that honor him rather than attach shame to his name. Israel failed in this respect by the way it conducted itself as a nation (Isa. 48:11; Jer. 34:16; Ezek. 20:9).
I have deep respect and love for Baruch Maoz, and the work that he is carrying on in Israel, despite obstacles and opposition. He has been a dear friend for many years. I’ll never forget doing a conference for him in Israel several years ago. I pray that God may use his sound theology, helpful preaching, excellent books, and numerous gifts for the conversion and spiritual maturation of thousands of Israelis and for the abundant glory of God. Rev. Joel R. Beeke, Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Author
Baruch Maoz has been a minister of the gospel, author, publisher, and voice for believers in the land of Israel for four decades. I have seen firsthand the fruit of his ministry and I cannot recommend it too highly. Baruch’s preaching, teaching, and writing ministry should be supported by all who care about the gospel and its impact in Israel and beyond! Pastor Jerry Marcellino, Audubon Drive Bible Church, Federation of reformed Evangelicals – Laurel, Mississippi
Knowing and embracing our Lord’s clear directive to bring the Gospel to the “Jew first” I, along with BPC have been extraordinarily blessed to work in partnership with the effective biblical and faithful ministry of Baruch Maoz. His ministry of evangelism, discipleship, along with his strategic and insightful writing/translation projects, only enhance my opportunity to recommend him and his ministry. Rev. Harry Reeder, Senior Pastor, Briarwood Presbyterian Church (PCA), Birmingham AL
Tom Ascol of the Founders Movement writes: "Baruch and Bracha Maoz serve in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Baruch has served as a pastor, publisher, author and church reformer in his homeland of Israel. He has ministered several times with our Grace Baptist Church family in Cape Coral and our people have come to love Bracha and him dearly. I highly recommend his and his ministry to any church that values expositional preaching and the gospel of God's grace." Dr. Thomas Ascol, Grace Baptist Church (SBC), Founders Movement, Cape Coral FL
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