Rebecca de Graaf would never speak the name of Jesus (1907-1995)
My parents were Jews and both my grandparents were devout Jews. Together with my sister I went with them to the synagogue in The Hague and Leiden. I studied music at the Royal Conservatory, graduated in piano and entered into the life of entertainment. All in all it was a life of amusement, with the usual ups and downs. I hardly practiced my religion, as thousands like me, but I knew that I was Jewish. Believing in God or not, according to our leaders, a Jew will remain a Jew. But in 1932, when I was 25-years old, I had to deal with a large disappointment in my life. I didn’t see any way out and went to my Jewish friends. They couldn’t help me, they had no helper themselves. I had to find my way out myself.
At that time we had a shop in the centre of The Hague. I liked to visit our neighbors who also had a shop. They were not Jewish, but real believers and lived according to it. One day I found a Bible in the back of their shop. I had never read a Bible before and by ‘coincidence’ I opened it at John 5:39, where it says ‘Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.’ Here Jesus speaks to us Jews. I didn’t like the name Jesus, I never pronounced that name. That name was for the gentiles, not for us. Yet I realized that in fact I didn’t know our own Tanakh and that Jesus had to draw my attention to precisely that. I decided I would go and read the Bible.
A personal God
I read the Bible from the beginning to the end. It was just as a Jewish scribe in Jerusalem once said to me, ”When we hold the Bible, the Bible holds us.” There were parts I didn’t understand at all, but what I understood I took in eagerly. At the Jewish school in The Hague I studied the history of our people, but what I discovered now was ‘Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel.’ God started to speak through His Word to me. It felt as if I had come home and so it was. The Jew Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans ‘For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ Romans 11:29. Without repentance, God will not change his mind that is certain!
As a Jew I was touched how the Eternal, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, guides us as a people, helps us and when necessary punishes us, but also gives promises of restoration, so that our heart will not collapse. The Psalms especially became my ‘home’. Imagine that you read in Psalm 32:8 ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye.’ This touched and moved me so! I understood that there was a God Who saw and sees me personally. Then I started to understand that the following verses were applicable to me as well ‘Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.’ Psalm 32:9 and ‘Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.’ Psalm 32:10, what an experience!
A new covenant
But when the one thing is true in the Tanakh, then that is a guarantee that we can also believe the other. Thus the Lord of Israel tells us that there will come a new covenant for our people (Jeremiah 31:31). When I heard that for the first time, I thought, “What now? Don’t we Jews have to keep the law of Moses? That is what always has been taught to us?” Yes, the law and its commandments and ordinances are holy and good. The Jew Paul also said so ‘But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless…’ 1 Timothy 1:8,9.
Apparently the God of Israel thinks the law is not enough, because He clearly spoke about the new covenant ‘“Behold, the days come,” saith the LORD, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…’ Jeremiah 31:31,32. The law of Moses, though holy and good, is not sufficient for a human to come into a real relationship with God. This dispels the saying, that we Jews so much like to use, and me too in earlier days, “That Jesus is good for the gentiles, but we don’t need a Mediator!” This new covenant is not an invention of believers from the gentiles, but a promised and fulfilled prophecy given by God through the mouth of Jeremiah. Moses himself wrote in Deuteronomy 18:18 ‘“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him.”’
But is Jesus the Messiah?
So I found myself still on Jewish soil believing that one prophet that came forth out of our brothers! But, so I heard one of my Jewish friends say, “That doesn’t mean that that prophet is that Jesus, in which so many gentiles believe.” That was correctly observed. That was for me the all dominating question, “Is Jesus the Messiah?” To whom did Moses refer here? It could also be Joshua, the successor of Moses, but Joshua was not a prophet like Moses described him. Joshua was more a general like, for example, Moshe Dayan. Again I started reading the Bible, I wanted an answer and especially from the Tanakh and there I fortunately started to recognize Him. Through the prophets especially and the fulfillments of their prophecies, His portrait became more and more clear to me.
Is it then also because of the fulfillment of prophecy that so many from the gentiles have accepted Jesus? Again the Scripture has a clear answer. Psalm 118:22 says ‘The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.’ That means Jesus, that has been rejected by a part of Israel (the leaders), has been accepted by the other part of Israel and the gentiles as a living stone, chosen by God and precious (see 1 Peter 2:4). Also the God fearing Simeon confirmed this when he took the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple and said ‘“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles (according to Isaiah 49:6), and the glory of thy people Israel.”’ Luke 2:29-32. Then Simeon continues and says ‘…“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against.”’ Luke 2:34.
For two thousand years ‘that Jesus’ has been a sign that has been spoken against. For the leaders and the others He is a stumbling block. For the other part, including me, hallelujah, and many from the Gentiles, He is the stone on which we stand; a rock that cannot be shaken. I want to listen to Him according to the command of Moses, I want to follow in His footsteps, where the prophets have spoken about. As a Jew I am on the good Biblical way. I didn’t lose my identity, on the contrary, only now I am a real Jew, complete with Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.