Reformation Thought: Grafting
I don’t consider myself much of a farmer. Yes, we raise tilapia, have several beehives and half a dozen milk goats. We have laying hens, a greenhouse and raised garden beds. We even have eight or nine fruit trees and a dozen or more fruiting vines. Still, I only reluctantly claim any ability to grow anything. The real reason is that I know I do not have the proverbial ‘green thumb.’ Just check the spot where I have managed to kill two beautiful apricot trees. It stands as a testament to the many other plants that I have tortured or terminated in any number of dumb ways.
Maybe that is why I consider grafting to be one of the so called ‘holy grails’ of farming. There seems a certain mystery to it, but I aim to learn more about it this year. Someone recently told me of an article about how to graft tomato plants for increased yield and multiple varieties on a single vine. Sounds like a new way to destroy formerly green plants that I’m itching to try. But, I digress.
Grafting is indeed a tricky piece of husbandry whereby a branch or bud from one plant or tree can be trimmed and inserted into a notch in a strong(er) plant for the benefit of nourishment from the root stock. The cutting by itself, in most cases, will die. However, if someone who knows what they are doing can trim it up and properly graft it into a choice stock/stump, it will bear much fruit.
Paul rightly uses the grafting metaphor in Romans 11:17-24 when he explains how Gentiles ‘become partakers of the rich root of the olive tree.’ At least six times in those eight verses he uses the words graft and grafting.
I have long understood myself to be a full partaker of the blessings of the covenants through faith in Yeshua. He is the rich root (John 15) and Scripture in multiple places identifies Yahweh as the husbandman. I’m not sure I ever really studied out the fullness or the root of Paul’s analogy. (Pun intended… lol!)
Ephesians 2 clearly details that we are now members of the Commonwealth of Israel. Ephesians 4 articulates a lot of ‘ones:’ one body, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc. Galatians 6:16 calls us the Israel of God.
Somehow in the middle of understanding that I was a full partaker, I had this lingering thought in the back of my head that made me feel like a ‘second class’ citizen or even a ‘redheaded step child.’ (Apologies to any redheads…) I guess the reason is because I had never traced the root of Paul’s metaphor and understood that he was not teaching anything new. In fact, he was teaching a very old concept.
First, where does Paul get the olive tree part of his metaphor? Ever thought about that? Me neither. Look at Jeremiah 11:16! The sin of the House of Israel and the House of Judah led to Yahweh judging His ‘green olive tree’ previously ‘beautiful in fruit and form.’ Here is where Paul gets the idea of branches being broken off for unbelief. (Rom. 11:21-22)
More importantly, where does Paul get the idea of grafting in Gentiles? I always thought that his ministry to Gentiles was something new. Yes, I knew Israel had been called as a ‘light to the nations’ but assumed that they simply had never fulfilled this calling.
If we dig a little deeper, we find that, while Paul did have a specific ministry to the Gentiles, he wasn’t doing anything new. Yahweh had made a place for non-Hebrews- often called foreigners, aliens, or sojourners- to be a part Israel from the very beginning. In fact, Abraham himself was an alien and sojourner when Yahweh called him into relationship, but that is getting ahead the story.
Perhaps the clearest example with which we are all familiar is Ruth. She was a Moabitess who chose to join herself to Naomi and more importantly, Naomi’s Elohim (God). Ruth 1:16-17 says,
“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may Yahweh do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.’”
Notice that Ruth joined herself to Israel and not the other way around. Not only does she know Yahweh by name, but she understands that she is joining herself to a destiny, a land, a people, and to Yahweh, Naomi’s God. She has a very clear understanding of what it means to be grafted in. But, where does she get this idea? We keep going back.
A study of Moses reveals literally a couple dozen references to ‘the alien who sojourns with you’ and ‘the foreigner who dwells among you.’ Numbers 15:14-16 is a clear example of Yahweh’s provision for those who are not of physical Hebrew descent.
“If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to Yahweh, just as you do so shall he do. As for the assembly (kahal/church), there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual (olam) statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before Yahweh. There is to be one law (Torah) and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.”
Exodus 12:49 echoes almost verbatim,
“The same law (Torah) shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”
We should not be surprised at Yahweh’s provision for the alien who sojourned. In fact, many non-Hebrews had apparently partaken of Passover. They had entered under the blood of the Lamb, passed through the waters of the Red Sea and come to the base of Sinai to hear the expectations of proper obedience as a response to Yahweh’s loving salvation. Exodus 12:38 tells us that “a mixed multitude also went up with them.” Here is the first major example of grafting in, though we could go further back to Tamar (Gen. 38) or even to the calling out of Abraham who was the first Ivrim (Hebrew, meaning ‘crossed over’).
When Paul teaches that all who are of the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 9:6-8) are children of the promise and therefore regarded as descendants we understand what Ruth understood. Like her, when we place faith and trust in Messiah, we are grafted in and no longer identify ourselves as outsiders or even Gentiles, but as members of the Commonwealth of Israel. We are recipients of the promises that include a destiny, a land, and a people in addition to being, like Abraham, called a friend of God (James 2:23; 4:4). There is no difference in Jew or Greek, we are all one in Messiah. The yet unfulfilled promises to Israel involving land, destiny and kingdom, both physical and spiritual, belong to all who believe. Ezekiel 37:24-28 speaks of all who are grafted in having One shepherd with one statue residing in the land forever. We are the dry bones that will yet live again (Ez.37:11-14), one of the two sticks joined in His hand (Ez. 37:19)! (See Ez. 36 & 37 for larger context.)
If we are grafted in, then we are not a separate plan, or a second option. Yeshua Messiah’s ministry was one of propitiation and restoration as he reconciles us to Yahweh that we might walk in obedience to the fullness of what it means to be His chosen people, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood. We are grafted into the rich Root of Israel.
An important closing point is that we do not replace Israel. We are joined to Israel! Like Ruth, we are grafted to a destiny, a people, a land and to Yahweh, Elohenu Melech ha’olam! (Yahweh our God, King of the Universe.)
If you want to study more about who we are in Messiah, here is a terrific teaching that digs out many Scriptures identifying and explaining Israel’s prophecy over Manasseh and Ephraim: http://119ministries.com/the-lost-sheep
The Reformation is only beginning. We must seek to worship in spirit and truth.
The next Reformation Thought: Manipulatives.