Understanding Paul’s Life and Mission

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The weekly portion of the Torah is Haazinu, Deuteronomy chapter 32. This portion of the Torah is the most important scripture for understanding all of the apostle Paul’s theology. I have to ask myself what was it that changed the attorney general of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to give up his career, his family, and his good name and dedicate his life to bring the Gentiles to know God and God’s commandments through Yeshua of Nazareth! This is a very important question that demands an answer!

Yes, Saul/Paul had a vision on the way to Damascus. In the vision, Yeshua appears to Paul and speaks to him a few words. I believe that the vision was a catalyst that awakened in this great Torah scholar, student of Gamaliel, the Chief Justice of the Sanhedrin, AG of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, to give up all he was and all he had for a vision of a crucified Galilean Jew. What’s more is that Paul was on his way to Damascus on official business to arrest the followers of that same crucified Galilean Jew Yeshua. I believe that several things happened to Paul in consequence to the vision of Yeshua.

Paul realized that the Roman cross was not the end of Yeshua! Yeshua is alive and Yeshua is still active and in control. Paul understood that Yeshua knows him personally, by name. Therefore, Yeshua also knows his mission to Damascus.

He goes to the home of a Jew named Judah, who lived in the cardo of Damascus. Yeshua appears to Ananias and sends him to the house of this Judah to pray for Paul to receive his sight. Paul was blinded by the bright light in the vision.

He finds out from Ananias something shocking: Yeshua’s mission is not only about Israel. Yeshua’s mission is about the whole world, about all the nations, all the “Goyim” (Gentiles)! Here is what Ananias communicates to Paul from the words of Yeshua: You are a chosen vessel of Yeshua to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.

When Paul hears that God, through Yeshua, has a plan for the salvation of the nations and Israel, I am sure that his brain was running at high speed. He must have remembered God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He must have recalled the prophets like Amos 9:7-13, Isaiah 60-62, 66, Zechariah 14… Above all these, Paul must have remembered the reading of Haazinu, Deuteronomy 32…

The main influence on Paul’s ideas, theology, and mission come from this chapter in Deuteronomy, verses 15-22:

“But Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick, You are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, To gods they did not know, To new gods, new arrivals That your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you. And when the Lord saw it, He spurned them, Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters. And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, Children in whom is no faith. They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled in My anger and shall burn to the lowest hell; It shall consume the earth with her increase, And set on fire the foundations of the mountains.’” – Deuteronomy 32:15–22 [NKJV]

Now look at what Paul is programming for the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua, Romans 10:19–11:16:

“But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.’ But Isaiah is very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.’ I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.’ I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.” – Romans 10:19–11:16 [NKJV]

Please note the word “jealousy” in this text, and you will understand so much better what Paul’s ministry was all about, and how much it was influenced by Deuteronomy chapter 32! When you see where Paul is getting his ideas, i.e. from the Torah, you can much better understand Paul’s life and mission.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.