There is a little known, rarely taught command that was given to the Church some two thousand years ago known as “provoking to jealousy” (the term used in the King James Version). I dare say that if you queried one hundred active, evangelical Christians as to what “provoking to jealousy” is and the last time they were conscious of God using them in that role, their only response would probably be a confused, glazed-over stare. What is provoking to jealousy, and is it really a command given to the Church? Paul is the New Testament authority on this subject, and is the one from whom we will seek answers. Following are excerpts from Romans 10:18 – 11:33, taken from The Living Bible:
But what about the Jews? Have they heard God’s Word? Yes, for it has gone wherever they are; the Good News has been told to the ends of the earth. And did they understand [that God would give his salvation to others if they refused to take it]? Yes, for even back in the time of Moses, God had said that he would make his people jealous and try to wake them up by giving his salvation to the foolish heathen nations. And later on Isaiah said boldly that God would be found by people who weren’t even looking for him. In the meantime, he keeps on reaching out his hands to the Jews, but they keep arguing and refusing to come. . . . So this is the situation: Most of the Jews have not found the favor of God they are looking for. A few have . . . but the eyes of the others have been blinded. This is what our Scriptures refer to when they say that God has put them to sleep, shutting their eyes and ears so that they do not understand what we are talking about when we tell them of Christ. And so it is to this very day. . . . Does this mean that God has rejected his Jewish people forever? Of course not! His purpose was to make his salvation available to the Gentiles, and then the Jews would be jealous and begin to want God’s salvation for themselves. . . . As you know, God has appointed me (Paul) as a special messenger to you Gentiles. . . . so that if possible I can make them want what you Gentiles have and in that way save some of them. . . . When God turned away from them it meant that he turned to the rest of the world to offer his salvation; and now it is even more wonderful when the Jews come to Christ. It will be like dead people coming back to life. . . . Now many of the Jews are enemies of the Gospel. They hate it. But this has been a benefit to you, for it has resulted in God’s giving his gifts to you Gentiles. Yet the Jews are still beloved of God because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn; he will never go back on his promises. Once you were rebels against God, but when the Jews refused his gifts, God was merciful to you instead. And now the Jews are the rebels, but some day they, too, will share in God’s mercy upon you. For God has given them all up to sin so that he could have mercy upon all alike. Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods!
From the Apostle Paul’s writings, it is undeniably clear that all believers are fully equipped to provoke to jealousy. We make those on the outside jealous for what we have simply by living unhindered, Christ-infused lives boldly and openly before Jews and before all people. Is provoking to jealousy broadly taught in churches today? When was the last time the above-average Christian (those passionately pursuing the things of the Lord) asked for this assignment? Most of us, if presented with the opportunity, would be at a complete loss as to what to do or how to do it. If encountered with this opportunity, we would probably not even recognize it, and I would have been at the top of the list before the Lord thrust me on this unimaginable journey.
The term “provoking to jealousy,” is foreign to most Christians, and Paul must have understood the impending problem because of his warning, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery” (Romans 11:25a – KJV). Sad to say that the mystery (Jews denouncing what was rightfully theirs, thereby allowing Gentiles to be grafted in, which in turn provokes Jews to jealousy) escapes almost all Christians today. We are ignorant of God’s desired outcome: that He could have mercy upon all alike (Romans 11:32). Because provoking to jealousy remains a mystery, it goes without saying that the vast majority of Christians are not “on assignment.” When was the last time any of us woke up in the mornings and prayed, “Lord, your Word says I am to be provoking to jealousy, so would you please send me a precious Jewish person, or anyone else, who I can lovingly provoke to jealousy?”
This seems more like no man’s land, does it not? But, wait until you see how easily it is accomplished. God illustrated provoking to jealousy to me on two different occasions. The first instance occurred when I was privileged to witness a dialogue between a world-renowned Orthodox Rabbi and an equally high-profile, lay evangelical Christian. The Christian hammered away at the Rabbi, telling him that it was a Christian’s responsibility to try and convert him. The Rabbi listened patiently, waiting his turn, and when the Christian finally ran out of steam, the Rabbi responded, “I’ve read the New Testament. I know what Paul says about Gentiles provoking Jews to jealousy, but you have been trying it your way for two thousand years, and it hasn’t worked. Now, let me tell you how to provoke me to jealousy: if you will just love me, you will provoke me to jealousy.” His words exploded inside me! What a phenomenal lesson for the Church! But why should the Rabbi’s simplistic yet powerful response be surprising? Isn’t that exactly what Jesus taught? “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength . . . and thy neighbor as thyself . . . there is no other commandment greater,” (Mark 12:30-31). This love about which Jesus was teaching and the Rabbi was speaking is unconditional love, the only love that is truly Biblical, and commanded. Sadly, though, the Rabbi’s invitation to love him seemed to completely evade the Christian. Oh, how grievous are our missed opportunities!
Can we love – unconditionally? If so, then we are ready for our provoking to jealousy assignment; we have all the necessary tools. And, thankfully, we do not have to be Bible scholars, which God understands most of us are not. If that were a criterion, about ninety-nine per cent of us would be left at the starting gate.
The other occasion when I witnessed a Christian provoking to jealousy was when I had received word that the husband of a dear, Orthodox Jewish friend had died. Most Jewish funerals occur within twenty-four hours of death because they do not embalm. They take literally the Genesis 3:19 passage, “… for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” I was thankful for the call because in most instances, it is too late to attend services if you find out about the death in the newspaper.
This funeral was held in a small chapel on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery. After the service, we walked directly to the adjacent burial site. When everyone was in place, the Rabbi said a few words, the Cantor chanted, and the burial commenced. The Jewish leaders in charge placed the coffin in the ground and covered it with the mandatory concrete slab, followed by the dirt. There were hired laborers to come in afterward and complete the task, but the work was done primarily by the Jewish men officiating.
We had torrential rains in Memphis the day before, and the grounds were completely saturated. They were not shoveling dirt; it was literally mud. I was on the sidelines taking in everything. The Rabbi shoveled a while, and then the Cantor took the shovel and made a few digs, and then another Jewish man who was part of the leadership took his turn, and so on. Then, quite by surprise, an African-American man standing in the background parted the onlookers and stepped forward. He was meticulously dressed in a light, chocolate brown suit, with a pristine white shirt and a perfectly coordinated tie. He could have been featured in a men’s fashion magazine; yet, he seemed oblivious to his fine attire or the mud. He reached for the shovel, never making eye contact with the Rabbi. I was aghast. “Can he do such a thing – is that allowed?” And, he quite possibly may have entertained the same thoughts, but he did not let anything stop him. He took the shovel from the Jewish hands and began diligently filling the grave, side-by-side with the Jewish leaders. The Rabbi took the final strokes, and then asked the family to line the sidewalk so that all present could file past, expressing condolences as we left the cemetery. I followed along and headed for my car, overwhelmed by what I had just witnessed.
As I proceeded to my car, it just so happened that I was walking by the uninvited grave digger. I could not restrain myself and said, “What you did truly blessed me.” He seemed somewhat embarrassed, and for whatever reason said, “I’m not Jewish” (maybe to justify his actions for fear he might have overstepped his bounds). I told him I was not Jewish either, that I was Baptist. He said, “I am Methodist.” It was obvious this conversation was making him uncomfortable. He then said in somewhat of a reprimanding tone, and probably to end the mostly one-sided conversation, “I did it because I love them!” He got it; he understood and exercised perfectly the provoking to jealousy command, although apparently oblivious of his role. He had cultivated a relationship with the deceased during his lifetime and then loved him to the end – literally.
A couple of days later, I visited in the home of this family who was sitting sheva (the seven days of mourning when the family receives those wishing to pay their respects). We were all in a large circle in the living room making light conversation when one of the Jewish ladies who had been at the funeral spoke up and said, “Something happened at the cemetery that I will never forget.” Tears welled up in her eyes and began running down her cheeks. She continued, “I could not believe that man (our African-American, Methodist man) would help shovel the dirt.” Many similar comments followed from all around the room, each echoing the same sentiment. That man had literally provoked to jealousy every Jew (and this Gentile) at that funeral – by his selfless, unconditional, loving act of servitude. He had dared to cross that invisible, yet ever-present, Jewish-Gentile dividing line and follow his heart. He dared to step out in faith. He brought Paul’s charge to life – he fulfilled the command. And, incredibly, his selfless act had the ripple effect of not only touching those in attendance, but, by word of mouth, many others who had not been present that day.
How many of us are willing to step out of our comfortable Christian confines (our ruts) and cross over into that taboo (or so we have been taught) world of Judaism, picking up whatever lowly instrument God provides, and stoop to shovel whatever it is with which we are presented? That is the kind of person God will use on this assignment. But, surely, since Jesus stepped from His comfortable confines of Heaven and stooped to pick up the humiliating instrument of the cross for us, we can avail ourselves to Him in this possibly uncomfortable arena.
My all-time favorite verse is, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37).
Do we have ears that can hear the plea in this verse? Can we pray for more laborers to come into God’s harvest field – even if it means us? And, incidentally, this is a red letter verse – Jesus is the Spokesperson! Jesus, himself, is the One pleading for us to pray for more workers in His Father’s fields. Can we, with arms reaching upward toward Heaven, exuberantly respond and say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” There is no doubt that this is one exciting field, to which I can personally attest, and there is also no doubt that this field is near to the heart of God.
The prophet Jeremiah said (8:20), “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” Oh, my friend, open your ears to God’s cry and His call. Counter Jeremiah’s woeful lament with, “Not in my field and not on my watch!”
Many years ago, I had a powerful dream (or vision) that, on occasion, is resurrected and replayed for my continued consideration. This was a powerful experience that I knew was from the Lord. In this dream I witnessed the progression of my spiritual journey. The setting was a row of houses on a city street. I began at the first one, and moved from house to house en route to my final destination. The houses were lined up, one after the other, and after a brief stop at one, I would move on to the next. These houses represented the different churches where Ken and I had been members. In some, there were people inside to greet me – the ones who had a personal impact on my spiritual walk. There were probably five or six such houses on my route.
At the end of these houses, yet in line with and somehow connected to them, was a man sitting outside in an old wooden ladder-back chair all by himself with a board game on his lap. He called out to me to come and play (I do love board games.), but I declined because I knew I dared not get side-tracked.
Suddenly, there was a driving force inside me, and I realized that my predictable, spiritual course, as I knew it, was about to undergo a profound transition. The status quo no longer held any allure. I knew I could not stay this course any longer, even though I loved these places and loved these people.
The total distance I covered seemed no more than one side of a city block. Each structure was on the same side of the street, one right after the other, and following the man playing the board game was an open field where there was space for more of the same-type structures to be built. Following the open field was an intersection. I reached the intersection and paused; I was at a critical juncture in my spiritual journey. I could either cross the street and continue on as usual, or I could turn to the left or to the right. I do not recall ever looking to the left, but I intuitively knew I did not want to cross the street. As I stood there trying to find my way, I was suddenly intrigued by activity some distance off to my right. As I gazed down that road, I saw a single, burning light hanging from a power line, and dark-skinned people slowly, one-by-one, beginning to gather underneath that light. It was the light and those people that held the allure for me, and so strong was the compelling that I could not be stopped. I had to go where they were. My choice was made. I turned to the right.
At this point I was conscious of Ken, my precious life partner, who was a short distance back. I had already turned right at the intersection, and he was now approaching the intersection and also had his own choice to make. I was so hopeful that he would make the same choice as I had made. After he stood there for a while, he called out to me to come back and cross the street with him, but I just could not be deterred from that light or those foreign-to-me and different-from-me people. However, I was ever-conscious of him and hopeful for the choice he would make. Then I saw him turn to the right toward me, and the dream ended.
I knew this Light and I knew these people because I had read about them in the prophet Isaiah (9:2): The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Had my life up to that point been a mistake? Of course not! It was that wonderful spiritual journey that had brought me to my Savior and the Holy Scriptures. Was I merely playing games up to that point? Certainly not! My fellow church members had a positive, godly impact on my life. Oh, how tender are my thoughts toward each of those matriarchs and patriarchs. They helped mold my life. However, God had a new direction for me, and if I were to remain in that status quo position, then I would be the one playing a game, one at which I would never win.
In this dream I was the one who had to make the break; I had to determine to change my course. It is true that God’s hand was heavy upon me, but the choice was still mine.
The Lord taught me so much while writing and researching my previous book (Ruth 3,000 Years of Sleeping Prophecy Awakened). One of the most critical and pivotal junctures in that story was also at an “intersection of choosing.” It had to do with the relationship between Jewish Naomi and Gentile Ruth.
In that book, it was Gentile Ruth who stepped from her comfort zone (Moab) to embrace a foreign-to-her people (Jewish) and a different-from-her culture (Judaism). What if she, like her sister-in-law, Orpah, had never budged from Moab? Most of us are very familiar with, and many can even quote, those endearing words from Ruth to Naomi at that juncture (1:16). However, rarely, if ever, do we include the seventeenth verse – the continuation of Ruth’s discourse. Many have even had that sixteenth verse read during their wedding ceremonies, but they omit the more ominous seventeenth verse. Let us look at all of Ruth’s words: (16) And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: (17) Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. In verse sixteen and continuing into the first part of verse seventeen we see Ruth’s vow to Naomi, but the latter part of verse seventeen is Ruth’s vow to God. In that second vow she stated that if – for any reason, except death – she failed to keep her vow to Naomi (that of constant companionship), then God was to step in and deal with her very severely.
Who moved in the story of Ruth? Who crossed over from her comfort zone into that no-man’s land? (Israel was the enemy nation of the Moabites.) And, who benefitted from Ruth’s selfless, determined resolve? Of course she did, but so did Naomi, as well as all the Jewish people and ultimately the whole world. Ruth was on a Kingdom assignment, an assignment that culminated in her becoming the great-grandmother of King David – the lineage of Jesus! (Incidentally, the Encyclopedia Judaica reports that Orpah, who turned her back on Naomi and remained in Moab, went on to be the great-grandmother of Goliath. Do you see the importance of our choices? Ruth and Orpah/David and Goliath . . .)
There is one additional aspect of Ruth’s vow that I believe must be understood. Naomi had no role in keeping any part of that vow. Ruth placed the whole of the vow solely on her own shoulders – no matter what Naomi did or did not do! It was a one-sided vow with all responsibilities for its keeping resting entirely on Ruth. The understanding of this element is absolutely critical.
How many of us have stopped to consider that God’s two favorite people groups are His Chosen and His Church? We are His absolute favorites! (And, please note that all people in the world can fit into one of these two groups.) Yet, there is a despicable, prideful division separating the two that bears the stench of hell and the devil. God loves sweet-smelling aromas rising to His throne, but unfortunately, where Israel and the Jews are concerned, the fragrance given off by many Christians, and some entire churches and denominations, is a far cry from what God genuinely desires.
There is potentially limitless power roaming free on the earth today, which few fail to grasp. It is the untapped resource of a unified Israel (all Jews) and the Church (true, evangelical Christians). The possibilities could be earth-shattering. If these two forces were as inextricably woven, as was the relationship Ruth vowed to Naomi, there would be limitless Kingdom work abounding in our world today. No force on earth could stop it.
What if the true Church determinedly moved? What if she denounced her arrogance, ignorance and pride (Romans 9, 10 and 11) and embraced God’s Chosen People, vowing to love Israel and the Jewish people unconditionally – till death us do part? What if the true Church made the same one-sided vow as did Ruth?
What if pastors all over the world prayerfully, reverently and fearfully began embracing the Jewish roots of Christianity? What if the priceless Jewish roots of our faith were embraced and spewed forth from every pulpit of every genuine Church of the Living God all over the face of the earth? What universal impact would that have?
What if pastors moved from their comfort zones and began building relationships with area rabbis? What if pastors and rabbis made it a matter of priority to meet for lunch, or coffee, or just simply to meet once a month, working toward bridging that unnecessary, ubiquitous chasm that divides, while gleaning rich truths each from the other?
A starting point might be to hold Passover Seders in our Churches. Jesus observed Passover right before his death, revealing to those present that He was the fulfillment of the Passover promise. Nothing has changed; it is still all about Him. What an incredible teaching tool because every element in the Seder points to the perfect Lamb of God and His shed blood of redemption. What could be more fitting?
Oh, fellow believers, this division has gone on far too long. We have grieved the heart of God in this matter much too deeply. For the Lord’s sake, let us take that first step, and every step thereafter, if need be. He moved for us; certainly, we can move for Him and for His Kingdom’s sake.
I close with the precious words of our Lord.
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. John 13:13-16.
Prayer: Oh, Father, have exceedingly great mercy and pardon on us! Please prick our hearts in this matter of Jewish-Christian relations. Please give us your understanding. Let us not continue doing things our way any longer. Let us be willing to move wherever and whenever you so choose, especially as relates to your Chosen People. Strip our attitude of superiority and replace it with the very same servant heart that was at home in your Son. “Here am I, Lord”; I yield to your will in this matter, and I commit myself to be totally surrendered and to be used to bridge the great divide between your Chosen and your Church. Let me never again be a divider, but always a repairer of the breaches, I pray in the Perfect and only Name of Jesus, Amen.