Holy Chutzpah – Introduction

Holy Chutzpah – Introduction

Holy Chutzpah.

“There is a Jewish assumption that an intimate faith in God requires tenacity, and that faith in God can be defined as a bold persistence.” (Brad Young, Jesus, the Jewish Theologian). 

Chutzpah (hoots-pah) is a Yiddish word that long ago entered English usage. It is from the Hebrew word, “hutspah,” which means insolent or audacious. Chutzpah is a neutral word that can be either positive or negative. Chutzpah can be righteous or unrighteous, holy or unholy. It is an idea difficult to define, so there are a lot of synonyms for it, especially in the biblical sense: spiritual audacity; brazen gall; tenacious stubbornness; headstrong persistence; outrageous guts; shameless nerve; feisty assertiveness; brazen impudence; unyielding boldness; courageous spine; expectant defiance. The Holy Scriptures, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, are overflowing with examples of holy chutzpah. One wonders not only if it’s a job requirement for saints and prophets, but also a faith requirement for all believers. In fact, God seems to love chutzpah in us when it is based on our ultimate trust in Him and His character, our unselfish motives, our yearning for justice and mercy. Chutzpah in front of others becomes holy when it is done in obedience to the Lord and is an outworking of our faith in Him. As Rabbi Schulweiss once said, “Spiritual audacity toward God finds a place of honor in Jewish religious thought.” The rabbis of old have always insisted that chutzpah is a valid expression of faith. Just a quick glimpse at the Gospels reveals that Jesus and His followers fully embraced the ancient Jewish ethic of holy chutzpah. When Jesus saw chutzpah in action, He usually said things like, “Great is your faith!” Maybe Christian scholar Dr. Brad Young said it best. “True faith requires bold perseverance. Sometimes it is expressed by brazen impudence. Faith can be defined as chutzpah. Persevere with unyielding tenacity.” (Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian).

In our Bible study of chutzpah, we will find that spiritual audacity is rather commonplace in the heroes of the Faith. It’s clear that the Lord likes it when His followers become a little feisty for the right reason. It’s okay to be boldly assertive if the situation calls for it. One doesn’t, though, have to be obnoxious or rude when showing chutzpah. It doesn’t require one to be offensive or arrogant. We will see in this study that sometimes we need to challenge God in humility; pray with a stubborn persistence that borders on obsessive; obey God in front of others with a brazen confidence. Sometimes when one shows chutzpah, one becomes a holy fool, and the believer doesn’t need to be a bit self-conscious about it. God is there backing us up.

We are going to discover several biblical leaders with chutzpah who have paved the way for our own spiritual audacity. There is Abraham bargaining with God, and Moses questioning God’s judgment. There is David way in over his head with a giant, and Jacob relentlessly wrestling with a divine figure and boldly demanding a blessing. We will see prophets like Elisha putting a curse on some teenaged thugs, and Elijah taunting hundreds of pagan priests all by himself. And that’s not nearly the end of examples of chutzpah in the Hebrew Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus taught about chutzpah in prayer and behavior with several parables. And of course, Jesus Himself, the inventor of chutzpah, wasn’t shy when He cleared out the Temple with a whip, or declared to Pilate that he was powerless. We will see that, as evidenced in Scripture, sometimes only holy chutzpah will do, as we join with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in advancing the Kingdom.

[For this topic and this article, I owe thanks to all the friends and teachers who have engaged me in conversation, as well as two books in particular… Lois Tverberg in her Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, and Dr. Brad Young in his Jesus, the Jewish Theologian.]