Hosea on Israel’s relationship with the Almighty

In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posted this week (April 16th 2015), he makes some references to the prophet Hosea. In reading this article I was again reminded of the many references in the Tanakh that declare that HaShem never really left His Chosen People, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather separated Himself from them at times, arguably as part of His loving discipline.

Hosea makes it very clear that the the ‘betrothal’, the marriage relationship between YHVH and Israel is an eternal one, that YHVH is and will always be the Husband of Israel.

Here are some excerpts from the article that help clarify this point:

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon.  The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).

Like other prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of heaven and earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins.  God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel.

Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods.

Yet He cannot abandon them despite the fact that they have abandoned Him.

It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people.

The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and his often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive.

He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16-22)”

It is possible that that reference to ‘leading her (Israel) into the desert’ is a reference to the exiles that Israel has experienced. Yet, all these exiles were only temporary for those who were found faithful. The faithful returned from Assyria, they returned from Babylon, and they have in the last 60+ years returned, and are returning, from the final exile to the ‘four corners’ of the earth[1].

Rabbi Sacks goes on to say:

“… One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call Me ‘my husband’ [ishi];
you will no longer call Me ‘my master’ [
baali]. (Hosea 2: 18)

This is a double pun. Baal, in biblical Hebrew, meant ‘a husband’, but in a highly specific sense – namely, ‘master, owner, possessor, controller.’ It signalled physical, legal and economic dominance.

It was also the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (often portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. The religion of Baal is the worship of god-as-power.

Hosea contrasts this kind of relationship with the other Hebrew word for husband, ish. Here he is recalling the words of the first man to the first woman:

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman [ishah], Because she was taken from Man [ish].” (Gen. 2: 23)

Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control.

Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct.

The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and love in which each makes a pledge to the other to serve one another.

Not only is this a radical way of reconceptualizing the relationship between man and woman. It is also, implies Hosea, the way we should think of the relationship between human beings and God.

God reaches out to humanity not as power – the storm, the thunder, the rain – but as love, and not an abstract, philosophical love but a deep and abiding passion that survives all the disappointments and betrayals.

Israel may not always behave lovingly toward God, says Hosea, but God loves Israel and will never cease to do so.”[2]

The Tanakh repeatedly states that Israel shall be restored to the Land, to Eretz Israel, not because they necessarily deserve to be, but because this return, and re-establishment of their ‘betrothal’ to their Husband, is for His Name’s sake. 

The Almighty declares His sovereignty and His eternal love by returning His People to the Land of Israel.

Today this understanding carries little favour in the Hellenistic Christian world which embraces Replacement Theology. I have a chapter on this issue in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellensim’ – see http://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

 

 

 

[1] see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – http://goo.gl/hwBeoO

[2] – quoted from “http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16788#.VTGfkGSqqkp

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Amazing Ada – joy liberally mixed with grief

Amazing Ada – joy liberally mixed with grief

Some 20 weeks ago, one of my daughters had a 19 week pregnancy scan which for the first time indicated that her unborn baby girl was seriously deformed both physically and in terms of her vital organs.

While medical advice was to abort this very young and unique human being, my daughter, being very strongly pro-life, and strongly supported by her husband, choose to remain pregnant.

It was hard in many ways; each scan added more bad news, yet she embraced her pregnancy and her baby they named Ada (originally meaning ‘jewel’ or ornament). The next 19 weeks to the birth were both good and bad, but my daughter was now unquestionably a mother!

Being a mother was a role we had all seen, as her most desired and important role since she was around 8 years of age herself (now 31).

Because of even more complications the birth was brought forward and a Caesarean birth scheduled. We were all at the hospital and the afternoon went well but Ada was taken immediately to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), so the family didn’t get to see Ada that day.

She survived the night and displayed very early that she was a real fighter. The next day we all got to go one at a time, into the NICU with her mum or dad and see her, and touch her, and talk to her. She was beautiful with huge deep and knowing eyes!

The next few days were mercifully prolonged, as many blood tests were performed to try to determine exactly what was wrong with Ada. At the same time we knew that her heart and lungs weren’t working well enough to keep her alive without being on a ventilator.

After all the tests had been conducted it was now six days since her birth. She had nearly left us a few times but she had also spent a few hours off the ventilator.

The amazingly professional and caring approach of the medical staff was always evident. For example it would take 4 nurses 15 minutes to maneuver Ada (with all the many tubes and sensors attached) to be placed on her mum or dad for skin to skin contact.

There were many prayers and we were all regulars at the maternity hospital during that week.

The doctors and medical experts, having determined there was nothing that could be done for Ada had organized for her mum and dad to take her home the next day to pass away in their arms in the comfort of their home. But Ada had other ideas.

Only some 20 minutes after the hospitals Chaplain had visited and shared a blessing with some of the family gathered around Ada in NICU, Ada pulled out her ventilator tube – she clearly disliked having the tube down her throat. To re-insert was not a pleasant procedure for Ada and she was normally sedated for it. Rather than put her through this again, her mum and dad took her up to her mum’s room in the hospital and they shared the last very special hours with her and she slowly and peacefully passed away, to rest,  in the early morning hours of the 7th day.

Many, both medical practitioners, and religious people, including Pastors had thought that she should have been aborted 20 weeks earlier (to presumably save someone some pain or suffering).

Instead her parents had let the Giver and Taker of Life determine Ada’s lifespan. As a result, her mother was emphatic that the week since the birth had been the best week of her life!

Yes, it was hard to part with her. It was very hard to see her two parents carry her coffin to the Funeral car to travel to the cemetery. It was hard to witness that very small white coffin (though beautifully decorated with words of love and care from her family), lowered, again by her mum and dad into the grave. I will miss my beautiful grand-daughter for far too long.

But is what also a time of joy, a time to celebrate the life and love we were blessed with through this beautiful and perfectly innocent baby girl. She united a family in our love of her. Her light shone very brightly for the short time she was with us.

She was more than worth fighting for.

Among the many beautiful words, kind thoughts and prayers we received, I particularly liked this poem from Leon in South Africa:

Let me come in where you are weeping, friend

And let me take your hand

I, who have known a sorrow such as yours,

Can understand.

Let me come in, I would be very still

Beside you in your grief

I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend

Tears can bring relief.

Let me come in, I would only breathe a prayer

And hold your hand

For I have known a sorrow such as yours

And understand.

As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them. Amen

Here is also just a few scriptures that I found of some comfort:

Ps 16:7,8,11

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
 in the night also my heart instructs me.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 Psalm 73:26

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Isaiah 25:8
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign YHVH will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. YHVH has spoken.

Isaiah 40:18-31
Do you not know? Have you not heard? YHVH is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in YHVH will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

When some said that God had forsaken them , He answered through the prophet Isaiah:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” – Isaiah 49:14-16


My Prayer for the Funeral Service:

Blessed are you, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who fashioned us with justice, nourished and sustained us and knows the sum total of all our lives and will restore and resuscitate us with judgment. Blessed are you Father God who resurrects the dead.

Of Father God, Almighty King and Creator, you spoke through your prophets like Moses and Daniel and through your great Kings like David and Solomon, that when we die we sleep with our ancestors.

But you also said to Daniel that many of those who sleep, the sleep of death, shall awake, some to everlasting life.

So thank you Father, for giving us the certain knowledge and great hope that Ada who now sleeps, will awake on that Great Day and because of her absolute innocence, be resurrected into Life in the World to Come.

She will awake to a life of perfect peace and joy, a life with no suffering or pain, and she will stand proud and tall, beautiful and strong!

Oh Father, you gave a jewel to us, an ornament so pure, in Ada was your grace proclaimed, in her your heart revealed.

We thank you Father for sending her and for all the love she shared. Father God, you gave this unique and precious gift of Ada to <her parents> and all our family. You gave almost 40 weeks of life to this amazing child. You gave us the sound of a cry. You gave us those most beautiful eyes, You gave us the opportunity to meet this child. You gave her mother the best week of her life.

Father God, thank you for her beauty, which shone so brightly though only for a moment.

The passage of years will never fill the void in our hearts, nor can time soften the pain of bereavement. Though Ada is no longer in our midst, her memory shall forever be enshrined in our hearts.



O merciful God, Giver of life, you have recalled what is yours, and we thank you that you now hold her close to you. We ask that you give us all the strength we need as we still grieve in our separation from our adorable baby Ada.

We also ask that you surround <her parents> with your gentle but powerful embrace and carry them through the dark times and also lift them onto the highest mountains of joy and peace as they remember the best times of their lives entwined with Ada’s.

Also Father, I beseech you that you open the hearts and minds of everyone here today. Circumcise our hearts anew Father God, so that we may all know your grace and mercy, Your loving kindness that endures forever. Open our eyes Lord so that we may all return to you, so that we may all be in right standing before you and so in turn, on that Great Day, and in the World to Come we may be united with Ada once again.

Amen

 

The Ten Happiness Principles: #1

Finding Happiness and Finding God: 

One of the greatest minds of this era, and one of the greatest thinkers in Judaism is, in my opinion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the very recently retired, Chief Rabbi of London). He gives what he believes are the top ten most important things we can do to find happiness. I wish to give his top ten and expand a little on each one through the next 10 short blog posts.

Some research studies have shown the Westerners, despite years of improving economic conditions, are generally no more happy than they were, and continue to seek the answers to their lack of happiness, through the masses of pop psychology offerings.

Research does appear to suggest that the wealthier people are, the happier they are (to some degree at least) and yet, research also seems to suggest that when adults have children they end up being less happy!!?

Given all the significant challenges of trying to quantify such as elusive emotion, or state of being, as happiness, perhaps we shouldn’t rely to heavily on such research!

At the same time, we all can reflect on our own personal experiences and on anecdotal evidence from the life experiences of our closest family members and friends, and how their happiness has changed through various significant life events.

For example, I saw first-hand how someone, very close to me, overcame a life-time of severe depression by taking on a job which involved taking significant responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable members of society.

I believe that these 10 Happiness Principles are 10 action steps which are foundational to a good and happy life. elizah1

Happiness Principle #1:  Give thanks:

Being appreciate for what we have is always a good approach that demonstrates a good attitude. There seems no question that those who are appreciative for whatever good, no matter how small or great, that comes their way, are generally much more content with their lives, and hence less jealous of others and consequently happier.

Part of this appreciation is the recognition that we normally have no control over the circumstances, or country, or economic state we are born and grow up in, but as adults, we do have control over how we respond to our personal circumstances.

As Rabbi Sacks states it: “For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends.  It depends on how we respond to what happens to us.” 

Of-course, that’s easy for him to say!  In reality, the practice of a good attitude is never easy!

To awake and start the day by being thankful that you have the day, that you are alive is a great start. Even being thankful that your normal bodily functions are working helps to engender a sense of calm and serenity.

The first waking prayer of Judaism fits this mold. It states: “I thank You, living and eternal King, who has restored my soul in mercy. Thank You, God, for giving me back my life.”

Giving thanks to the Almighty is a very common refrain in the Psalms. Just a few examples are Ps 7:17. 9:1.18:49, 30:4, 33:2, 35:18. 44:8, 45:17, 53:9, 54:6. 57:9. 75:1, 79:13 and so on.

The wording of Psalm 107:1 is often repeated: Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.”

This attitude or thankfulness is also quite common in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example see 1 Thessalonians 5: 14-18

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you.

If  you take the time to read through just some of the many Psalms that speak of giving thanks you will also see what Happiness Principle #2 is.

Next: Happiness Principle #2

The Great Craftsman and Father

Torah Portion: Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) – the making of the Tabernacle:

“How many are your works, Lord; in wisdom You made them all” (Ps. 104: 24).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the word “wisdom” here – as in the many times it occurs in the account of the making of the tabernacle – means, “precise, exact craftsmanship” (see Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, III:54).

For some 40+ years now Physicists have been increasingly demonstrating that the creation of the Universe is extremely, mind-numbingly precise. In 1973-74 Brandon Carter, a British mathematician proposed that the universe appears “designed” for the sake of human life.

More than a century of astronomy and physics research has yielded this unexpected observation: the emergence of humans and human civilization requires physical constants, laws, and properties that fall within certain extremely narrow ranges—and this truth applies not only to the cosmos as a whole but also to the galaxy, planetary system, and the planet humans occupy.

This proposal and understanding is now called The Anthropic Principle. To state the principle more dramatically, a preponderance of physical evidence points to humanity as the central theme of the cosmos (for more on this see my 4 part series on Intelligent Design at www.circumcisedheart.info ).

But note also from Ps 104:24 the importance of order, of precision, of exactness. This Universe, with us human beings as its central focus, has been created with such incredible care.

We have also been created in the image of the Creator Himself. That is, He has instilled within us, the power to create, and to create with precision and great care as well.

So if we are to be all that we have been designed to be, we too need to align ourselves with our creative wisdom; with our ability and natural affinity for the creation of order. When we align our lives with the order and instructions (laws) of our Creator, then we separate ourselves from the creation that was not ‘made in His image’ and we in turn approach holiness (separation to God). order 2

The Almighty is Spirit and is so far above and beyond our limited minds that it is very hard to fully grasp His ‘wisdom’, His order and precision.

In describing the Tabernacle in such precise detail though and promising to dwell or live amongst the children of Israel (“They are to make me a sanctuary, so that I may live among them.” – Ex 25:8), the Almighty not only enables the Jewish people to emulate His creative precision and order in their creating of this ‘meeting place’, but he practically and dramatically aligns Himself with them.

The call to build a Tabernacle may seem very strange though, as we know that the Almighty can not be contained within this Universe; and also that He is already everywhere within this Universe as well!

In Psalm 24:1 we read “The earth is YHVH’s and the fullness thereof, …”

We also read in Isaiah 6:3 “And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is YHVH of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

That is, everything is God’s and God is in everything. So how can we give Him anything and how can he dwell in a Tabernacle made with human hands?

Part of the answer to the question of everything already belonging to God, is that there is one thing that does not belong to Him, and that is the ‘fear of heaven’. The Almighty has given us the gift of free will. It is always our choice as to whether we give Him our hearts; whether we ‘circumcise’ our hearts. Whenever we give gifts to God (as per Ex 25:2), the real gift is not the object but the repentant and obedient heart that does the giving.

So the Tabernacle enabled the Jewish people to demonstrate their ‘circumcised hearts’.

May I also suggest though, that when we consider the background of these slaves in Egypt, we can imagine how they would have struggled for a great many years to accept the presence and protection of their God throughout this ordeal. Now, He has rescued them from Egypt; He has demonstrated His awesome power and bestowed great blessings upon them. But they are perhaps still reprehensive and anxious like small children. They may need much assurance and comfort.

So how can this loving Father demonstrate on a daily basis that He truly is with His people?

He can create a place amongst them, where in a physical as well as spiritual manner, the people can see and sense His presence; His protection, salvation and love. More than the daily miracle of the Manna, the glory of God emanating from the Tabernacle presents a visible and tangible reminder of His presence.

As usual, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings this all out most eloquently in his Torah Portion here –http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/139679273.html

Revealing God: Kindness in the midst of awesome power

In this weeks Torah Portion (Exodus 6:2-9:35) we read about the story of Exodus and the great plagues of Egypt.

The Pharoah, the King of Egypt has for months and months hardened his heart against the Hebrew people despite all the increasingly miraculous events demonstrating the great power of he Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Then we read about the great plague of hail and finally, Pharoah recognizes the righteousness of YHVH and his and his peoples own sinfulness.

What was it that lead him to recognize YHVH at this time when he had already witnessed YHVH’s great power?

He already knew that the God of Israel was a mighty god who had great power over nature, but in the events surrounding this plague he saw the kindness of YHVH.

Just read this section of the story below:

Exodus 9:13
Then the LORD said to Moses, Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.

14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.

15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.

16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.

18 Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.

19 Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.

20 Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses,

21 but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field.

22 Then the LORD said to Moses, Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.

23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

24 There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

25 The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.

26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.

27 Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.

Read verse 19 again:

“Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.”

Remember, that the Pharaoh is a man of great power over his nation and people. Yet here, in the midst of this great display of Someone else with incredible  power, the Pharaoh sees the Great Power offering a way out, offering a hand of kindness, to those who heed His warning from amongst the Egyptians.

Some of the Egyptians did hear and heed this call, this offer of kindness and brought their slaves and animals inside and saved them from the great hail.

Pharaoh recognizes the God of Israel, not just because of His great power, he had been witnessing this already for some time, but because of His grace, His offer of kindness extended even to the Pharaoh and his people.

Here is a great example that kindliness is Godliness; that extending ‘unmerited favour’ (grace), especially from a position of great power and authority, so powerfully demonstrates the truth and validity of God, and especially to those most resistant, most ‘hardened’ against Him.

When we reflect on this powerful message we might like to consider how, we being made in the image of God, might be effective in helping others to recognize Him.

Those of us who are parents can certainly use this approach in our interactions with our children, and quite probably almost all parents do to some degree. We might even reflect on how this kindness of our own parents helped us come to recognize the truth and righteous of the Almighty.

What about other situations where we have some power over others who we know, who have hardened hearts and don’t accept the God of Israel?

We might wish to try and teach them of all His awesome power and how He is manifest in this Creation of His. And yet, perhaps they already know this, even in their hardened hearts?

Perhaps what will most impact them is where we offer them a kindness, a hand of grace that is unexpected and even seemingly uncalled for. Surely this is how we can best demonstrate in our actions that truth that ‘God is righteous’ and that He loves us.

Shalom!

Thanks to Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier for sharing this insight – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/shmuz/185780532.html

Les Miserables: Reconciling God’s attribute of Justice with Mercy

The Tanakh (OT) teaches that the ultimate Lover is He who combines in a perfect blend, justice and mercy (also called loving kindness or grace – unmerited favour).

In Hebrew the word transliterated as ‘elohim’ (often just as God), means ‘God of Justice’ and the word for God that can’t really be transliterated  at all, YHVH means ‘God of Mercy’.

Thus in Exodus we see the Creator of the Universe being described by as the embodiment of both justice and mercy:

“And Elohim (God of Justice) spoke unto Moshe saying: I am YHVH (God of Mercy)” – Ex 6:2

Quoting Rabbi Jeff Kirshblum: The verse (Exodus 6:2) seems to be contradictory. How can the God of Justice declare Himself to be the God of Mercy? Justice seems to be strict and unyielding. Mercy seems to be lenient and bending.

(This very challenge is addressed in the play, now just out as a movie, Les Miserables – more on this later).

The ancient pagans were confronted by that very problem. How could there be Justice and Mercy co-existing in the world. They concluded that there must be more than one god: gods who constantly struggled for supremacy. The Egyptians in the time of Pharaoh envisioned the great fight between Set, the god of justice, and Horus, the god of mercy.

G-d tells Moshe that there is only one G-d. He has both attributes and each one is constantly present. It is only our lack of perception that has difficulty uniting Justice with Mercy. This concept sums up the very basic philosophy of Judaism. “Hear O Israel! YHVH (the G-d of Mercy), our Elokim (the G-d of Justice), G-d is One” (Devarim 6:4)…

In our own families we play a G-d-like role. We too must temper our Justice with Mercy. Justice and punishment can never be inflicted in a state of anger. Such a punishment will convey the wrong message. Justice can only be served when the punishment is carried out in a state of love…

I once saw a small child run out into the street. A car was rushing by. The driver slammed on his brakes, screeching to a halt inches in front of the child. The mother, who had seen the whole incident from the porch, came running out to her child. She picked up her precious youngster. She hugged him dearly; then she slapped his hands hard. She had tears in her eyes. She screamed at him, “Don’t you ever run out in the street again.” She shook him hard. “Never, ever run out in the street. I love you, poor baby.”

That was Justice and Mercy.” – from http://www.torah.org/learning/outsidethebox/5764/vaera.html

Judaism understands that love is this perfect blend of justice and mercy. When those of us who are parents reflect on how we best deal with our children, perhaps this can teach us this fuller meaning of love. As a parent we learn to give, we learn to put our children’s needs before our own, to recognize that often, their needs must come first, but as they grow we also learn how vital it is to exercise fair judgment with them, to demonstrate and practice justice as well as grace/mercy if we are to raise well-balanced and capable children.

In his famous discourse on loving kindness, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler states that: ‘Giving leads to love’.

Gila Manolson writes:

“True giving, though, as Erich Fromm points out, is other-oriented, and requires four elements.

The first is care, demonstrating active concern for the recipient’s life and growth.

The second is responsibility, responding to his or her expressed and unexpressed needs (particularly, in an adult relationship, emotional needs).

The third is respect, “the ability to see a person as he [or she] is, to be aware of his [or her] unique individuality,” and, consequently, wanting that person to “grow and unfold as he [or she] is.”

These three components all depend upon the fourth, knowledge. You can care for, respond to, and respect another only as deeply as you know him or her.” – see http://www.aish.com/d/w/48952241.html

Consider how well these 4 attributes are actualized by our Father, the Creator of the Universe. He cared enough to create this world for us and to create us. He takes responsibility for it on a daily and moment by moment basis and yet is also able to delegate some of this responsibility to us, even giving us greater and greater responsibility as we grow and become more capable of handling it.

Also, no-one could possibly respect each and every one of us as our heavenly Father does!  He knows oh so intimately how unique and gifted each of us are because He made us that way and gave us the environment to allow our potential to grow and unfold.

Finally His knowledge of us, is superior to our own. So superior in fact that He calls us to know Him, rather than seek to know ourselves[1], because it is through knowing Him that we may grow to fully be all the reflection and image of Him that he planted within us, and in doing so, come to know who He meant us to be.

In fact, Jeremiah summed up these attributes of the Almighty very well when he wrote:

Here is what Adonai says: “The wise man should not boast of his wisdom,
the powerful should not boast of his power,
the wealthy should not boast of his wealth; instead, let the boaster boast about this:
that he understands and knows me —
that I am Adonai, practicing grace,
justice and righteousness in the land;
for in these things I take pleasure,” says Adonai.’ – Jeremiah 9:22-23

If we strive to be like Adonai, then surely we will heed the call of Micah 6:8 and Matthew 23:23.

Which leads me back to Les Miserables. The brilliant teacher, Rabbi Benjamin Blech has written a great article on Victor Hugo’s examination of the challenge of justice and mercy in his play.

I heartily recommend a read of his article ‘Les Miserables and the Bible’ – see

http://www.aish.com/ci/a/Les-Miserables-and-the-Bible.html

Clearly, if we desire to gain the full mercy of our Father we need to learn to repent[2]. I also recommend this article that I have quoted a little from:

“On Rosh Hashana (Yom Teruah), which is a day of judgment mitigated by mercy, a person must establish his right to be present in the next world by answering the objections of the prosecution. One must pass through the dark corridors of justice before he can bask in the sunshine of mercy. On Yom Kippur one is armed with the benefit of the decisions of mercy before he is subjected to the harsh scrutiny of justice.” – from http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/theme/48955531.html

I also love these words from a brother on Facebook recently:

Repentance is the key, a return to God and His Torah (instructions) through Yeshua the Messiah. Repentance is not just a mantra, is not empty words recited by a preacher and repeated by the penitent. Repentance is not just a passive emotion and a resolve to do better. It is not a new year resolution. Repentance is an attitude change, a change of perspective and direction, an active work, a setting right of wrongs done to God and our fellow man, a hunger for justice to be done, a choice to live in obedience to Torah(instructions) given to us by God. Repentance bears fruit, works and deeds of kindness, it produces a gentleness and a zeal for God, a separated life. Repentance changes one personally and can change a society corporately. A person or people bearing the fruits of repentance will enjoy the blessings and protection of our heavenly Father.” – Leon Hargreaves (FB Post – 26/12/2012)

Shalom, Paul


[1] “The aim of Hebrew religion was Da’ath Elohim (the Knowledge of God); the aim of Greek thought was Gnothi seauton (Know thyself).  Between these two there is a great gulf fixed.  We do not see that either admits of any compromise.  They are fundamentally different in a priori assumption, in method of approach, and in final conclusion…
The Hebrew system starts with God.  The only true wisdom is Knowledge of God.  ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’  The corollary is that man can never know himself, what he is and what is his relation the world, unless first he learn of God and be submissive to God’s sovereign will.  
The Greek system, on the contrary, starts from the knowledge of man, and seeks to rise to an understanding of the ways and Nature of God through the knowledge of what is called ‘man’s higher nature’.  According to the Bible, man had no higher nature except he be born of the Spirit.
We find this approach of the Greeks no where in the Bible. The whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach… “  
- Prof. Norman H. Snaith  “Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament”

[2]The ability to recognize our sin, to take responsibility for it and to repent is at the core of what is meant by the idea of a Messiah.… the courage to admit guilt, to take responsibility, to change. This is the lesson that the Messiah will one day teach the world. Man controls his destiny. No matter what mistakes he has made, man can fix them.” –  Rabbi Ari Kahnhttp://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48914512.html

Genesis Repunctuated – Part 2:

In the last two posts I tried first to show that God’s Words have the power to create.

I referred to some verses from both the Tanakh and the NT such as:

“By the word of YHWH were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their hosts… For He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood firm” Ps 33:6,9

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.” Ps 148:5

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which were visible.” Heb 11:3

“…by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water” 2 Peter 3.5

God speaks and it must happen.

I then suggested an alternative approach to understanding the Genesis account of Creation. Before time and space existed, in the ‘eternity’ before our Universe existed, the Creator declared (proclaimed or gave a series of  ‘fiats’) to the Host of Heaven what would happen.

Thus His fiats were separate to the outworking of them. They stand alone as a summary of His intent, His plan, His purpose (echoed in the Gospel of John’s proplogue). This has many significant implications. For example, it means the process of creating, especially in terms of its timing, it largely independent of the order of His fiats.

To reiterate, given that God speaks before His Creation unfolds, the order and timing of events need not be identical to the order in which they were first pronounced. Thus for example the fossil record, while similar to the order in Genesis 1, is not, and need not be the same.  Assuming that all of the creative processes were started in the same order as the proclamations, but acknowledging that different processes may take differing lengths of time we would then expect some overlap in the various periods of active creation.

Many critics accuse Genesis 2:4-25 as being a second and contradictory creation account. They argue for example, that in Genesis 1 God created the vegetation on the 3rd day and Adam on the 6th, yet in Genesis 2 Adam is created before the Garden of Eden and then placed in it. We also read in Genesis 1 that God created animals on the 5th day and Adam and Eve on the 6th, yet in Genesis 2 we read that after God had created Adam he created the animals to see if one would be a suitable partner for Adam and only then did he create Eve.

When we view Genesis 1 as divine proclamations we no longer see any conflict here as having declared what was to take place the timing and order is left unstated. It seems obvious (especially with the great cosmological understanding of the Universe’s evolution that we now have), that the stars and planets need to be formed; and the vegetation on the earth established before the many animals were created and all this long before the earth was ready for the arrival of man.

Is there any other approach within Judaism that seems consistent with the ‘fiat theory’? The Talmud (Chagiga, Ch. 2) argues that Genesis 1 to the beginning of Genesis 2 is given in parable form, but particularly as a poem with a text and a subtext. This understanding is certainly supportive of the re-punctuation approach I mentioned in the last post.

It appears that some early Jewish sources (eg. Nachmanides – 13th century Spain) believed that the Bible’s calendar is in two-parts. They argued that in the closing speech that Moses makes to the people, where he states “consider the days of old, the years of the many generations” (Deut. 32:7), Moses was indicating that the ‘days of old’ are the Six Days of Genesis and that ‘the years of the many generations’ is all the time from Adam forward. Again, this understanding finds some harmony with the Fiat Theory in that a distinction is made where the Six Days are measured differently.

So what are the broader implications of the Fiat Theory if it is correct? Firstly, its internal consistency is very strong as it fits so well with the principle that the ‘word of God’, or the breath or plan of God, once expressed will be fulfilled.

Further though, it means that science (specifically astronomy and cosmology) and biblical creation are not in serious conflict. We can therefore accept that the scientific understanding that the universe is some 13 (currently thought to be 13.7 Billion +/- 200 Million) Billion years old may prove to be correct and that man may well have lived on the earth thousands of years earlier than 4000 BCE. It also means we don’t need to reject the great many legitimate scientific tools and methods for measuring time and ages.

It certainly seems to me that the Fiat Theory carries the lightest burden of proof and offers the greatest degree of freedom as well as very good agreement with much of established science.

It also fits beautifully with the rising paradigm that is Intelligent Design, the new appreciation of the glory of God.

I also think though, that it is important to recognize that the Tanakh and in particular Genesis is not a ‘Book of Science’. The brilliant Chief Rabbi of London, Jonathon Sacks puts it very well:

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will, and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on the questions:

  • What shall I do?
  • How shall I live?
  • What kind of person should I strive to become?

It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?” …

As the rabbis put it (Bereishith Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.”

The Torah remains God’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand, and on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming God’s partner in the work of creation.”

– see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/173307801.html – I strongly recommend reading the whole article – Sacks is most insightful!

For more on the Creation of the Universe, as well as the creation of the Next Universe, see my podcast from a speech I gave to Christian Restoration Fellowship (Australia) some years ago – http://pfherring.podomatic.com/player/web/2009-02-21T16_17_38-08_00

The background paper is here: It’s Life Jim, but not as we know it

Next: Other approaches worthy of consideration …
Coming Soon: Aubrey and I present a podcast on the Hebraic Mindset