The Anschluss, the JW’s, and Caesar

At our fellowship one of our members was giving some church history to the group. No surprise, some of the Caesars regarded themselves as gods. I knew this, but what I didn’t consider was that when people wanted audience with him or to deal with government they had to pinch a little incense and burn it to him.

A dilemma arose for some Christians. They of course knew he was not a god, but to co-exist in “his” state, they had to burn incense. Some took the position that since they knew he was not a god, they could actually burn the incense to the true God, and let the pagans assume they were burning to Caesar. Others, took the position that it was offering to a pagan god, whether he was real or dillusional, and would rather die.

My initial spiritual instinct would be to say, don’t do it. Stand by your faith.

Then I was reading the Vienna Prelude and the Prague Counterpoint by Bodie and Brock Theone (historical fiction). The story takes place around the historical backdrop of the Anschluss (reunitification of the germanic peoples of Austria). The main characters are mostly Jews who of course are not having the best time. One is a half-Jewess who by looks can get by as Aryan. Throughout the course of the story she becomes a courier for refugees escaping either from Germany into Austria or, later, Austria into Czeckloslovakia. To do this, she has to become (reluctantly) able to say “Heil Hitler” to move about.

This started me wondering–I made no conclusion, I would love to hear your inputs–would I be willing to say “Heil Hitler” to save a life? Is this the same as pinching the incense to a Caesar with a god-delusion? Is even that wrong, since of course he is not a god? How far should (or could you) go to blend in with a society that you oppose at the core to save lives?

In my mind, I equated the Heil with the pinching and therefore, forbidden. Where the J’s Witnesses come in is that they showed up at my door.

No, I did not convert just to get them to not show up anymore!

I figure, God wants me to witness to them and that’s why he sent them. Don’t they need Yeshua the same as anyone else? Semantically, we agree on many things, so I’m trying to steer the conversation into where we disagree. I’m just not interested in being preached to about things that we already agree on as if I didn’t believe them. So finally, we get to the deity of Messiah.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the ins-and-outs of JW doctrine, but I recalled there was something about Yeshua’s deity. From what I can gather, they believe Yeshua was either a lesser god, or simply godlike. In the first possibility, I pointed out that Yeshua was the God who created everything (to which they seemed to agree, though there may have been some nuance of disagreement that I detected). Therefore Yeshua is the God of Genesis, therefore Yeshua is YHVH. And since YHVH our Gods (Eloheim is plural) is one (compound-unity) Gods, God Yeshua cannot be seperate from God the Father. We didn’t get to the “godlike” part, though I ask, what does “God will provide himself a sacrifice” mean if it does not mean God-himself-is the sacrifice? If all creation is from God, how is a ram anymore God providing, than Isaac was?

Anyway, I pointed out that if Yeshua was not also God, then he could not be worshipped. The JW challenged this. When Yeshua was “worshipped” did it mean what I imagined? So, being a good little bible student, I went to the scripture. It turns out that the Greek and Hebrew equivalents of worship are numerously applied to things other than God without being condemned. The meaning behind the hebrew has to do with bowing, and the greek has the idea of being a dog “fawning” over its master.

Now, this gets interesting, because people are “worshipping” (same word), the caananites (Abraham did), Esai, Joseph, David, and many others, and when it concerns PEOPLE God does not seem to have a big problem with it. The commandment for example, to not bow down/worship, is throughout the torah is explicitely applied to gods, not people. You even have prophets being “worshipped” and prophets “worshipping” King David.

Now, by way of possible consideration, a King of Israel (when godly) was a judge, who stood in the place of God. Their judgment was not to be theirs, but God’s. So perhaps, bowing to David might have meant bowing to the annointing of God, but couldn’t one then make the argument that you could bow to an idol and “mean” it to God?

Further complicating the matter, though Yeshua was “worshipped” in the same literal meaning as David was (and therefore as God was), angels in Revelation and Peter in Acts both refuse to be worshipped in the same literal manner that David, Joseph, Elisha, and etc… tolerated. Did something change? Or perhaps, was it merely a tradition that changed, like saying God’s name “became” obscene, so bowing to anyone/anything became offensive?

I don’t know the answer, I’m willing to listen.

But what I’m wondering really is back to the “Heil Hitler” question. Really, what is permissible to be forced to do and what do you stand your ground on even to death?

A couple starters; the midwives lied to Pharoah. Rahab lied to deliver the spies. David lied to the Priest of God. God directly or through one of his servants condones each of these. FYI though, the commandments do not say do not lie. They say do not bear false witness AGAINST a neighbor. And do not cheat your neighbor. And of course, God hates a lying tongue, but from these examples that seems to mean more one prone to lying, not one who lies under duress apparently to save the life of the innocent.

From the David example, we can also see, appropriating dedicated objects to preserve life is also ok.

From Yeshua, “breaking” the Sabbath to do a holy or necessary work (like eating) is acceptable.

On the other side; It seems illogical that one may violate the Torah’s instructions in war to save life since the instructions by nature are about life and death.

Also; no one in scripture pretends not to be one of Yah’s people or deny their faith to be spared in life. So it would seem, one cannot “lie” about their faith, at least by the example of those who have gone before. And as we showed, you cannot bow to another god to save your life.

Interestingly, this kind of goes along with talmudic (commentary on Torah), which states that every commandment may be broken to save one’s own life, with the exception of: Murder (because obviously, the other person has their own life to save and you cannot stand idly by while another is killed, Leviticus 19:16), Adultery/Incest (they make the association that the Torah says certain explicit sexual transgressions are like murder, Deuteronomy 22:26), and idolatry because the greatest command is to love YHVH with your whole being, thus your life becomes an offering to God.

Some of their logic seems incorrect to me (though Jewish diversity encompasses a certain spectrum of disagreement). For example, if one must not commit adultery to live, then shouldn’t a married woman resist rape even to the point of death? And yet, the commandments on the subject seem to say all she needs to do is cry out for help, and if she is raped then she does not get death “because there was no one to help.” The fact that she lives through the encounter is not a case against her. Also, they exclude Rabbinic extensions of sexual sin from the need to not transgress. For example, sex with a married woman is explicitly forbidden in Torah and therefore they say resist even to death; sex with a married man is not explicit so its ok to do to live. I can see a glimmer of a reason, but that’s not very strong . . .

One interesting idea, is that if the thing being threatened is specifically for the purpose of breaking Torah (ie, you are told to break the sabbath for the purpose of breaking the sabbath; as opposed to you are told to work because the ruler says so but not specifcially because it is to break the sabbath), that is a resist to death situation.

A lot of that sounds very much like what I see in scripture, and what Yeshua would say. It is especially interesting to me that the talmud would seem to agree with Yeshua’s disciples picking grain on the sabbath. It seems to me that the sages were often very much correct, what was missing was not the conclusion but the power to do it. The way Christians teach it, such ideas didn’t come around until the gospels were written. Ironically, the basis the talmud uses for the  idea of commands that may be broken to preserve life comes from the Torah, Leviticus 18:5 “which is a man do, he shalllivein them. . .” The idea being the commandments are given to promote life, not take it for empty reasons.

So, where does that leave us? Pinch the incense? Heil the Hitler? To me it’s still murky, except I think the Rabbi’s are right in two out of the three (and probably the third with nuances), and especially in the case of if being specifically to break God’s torah. But do you think? How do you work this?

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