Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing the covenant G-d made to him. This was stated in the little sentence:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
Righteousness prior to circumcision and the Law
We should not miss when this took place. The covenant of circumcision is given later in Genesis 17. Abraham was credited righteousness here in chapter 15 – before circumcision. So, circumcision was not the cause of his righteousness. Neither was observance of Moses’ Covenant since that was given hundreds of years later. The active ingredient for Abraham’s righteousness was his belief. But belief in what?
Belief is about trusting the Covenant
Think what ‘believe’ means. Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that G-d exists. We think that G-d just wants us to believe that He is there. It is true that Abraham believed in G-d’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness. G-d had made a covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son. It was that Covenant or promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and Sarah was in her 70’s. He trusted that G-d would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, is trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.
When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then G-d also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the covenant promise (a son from whom Israel would come) and righteousness.
Righteousness – not from merit or effort
It does not say that Abraham ‘earned’ or ‘merited’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply given to be received.
We instinctively think that more rigorously keeping Jewish observances, or doing more good things than bad things, practicing more self-denial, or meeting obligations enables us to deserve or merit righteousness. Abraham proves this thinking false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise covenanted to him, and righteousness was given to him.
Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it
Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy. When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan. Almost ten years had passed and Abraham and Sarah still did not have a child – let alone a nation. “Why has G-d not already given us a son if he could have done so”? he would have wondered. Abraham believed the covenant of a son because he trusted G-d, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.
Believing the covenant required active waiting. His whole life was interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Harran (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there. The fact that he stayed in the Promised Land demonstrated his trust, maintained even at personal cost and comfort. His trust in the promise made a difference in how he lived his life.
His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being. He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of G-d and continuing with religious observances and good deeds. Then he could have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.
Four hundred years later, the covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai did not nullify this covenant with Abraham. Moses built on it. G-d is one who is willing to make multiple covenants, anticipating that the covenant receiver will experience the blessing of each one.
The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us. Abraham’s belief in the covenant from G-d, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow. We can see this in Isaiah
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn; 2 look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
and I blessed him and made him many. (Isaiah 51:1-2)
If we pursue and desire righteousness then we are called to follow Abraham’s example – to actively trust the covenants of G-d with Israel. Today we know that promise to Abraham has come true. We also know that G-d made several more covenants. The covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai probably receives the most attention. But there are several other covenants, each pregnant with promises, which occur through the Tanakh. For example, consider the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah around 600 BC.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
This promised covenant is expressly given to the ‘people of Israel’ and was to come in effect sometime after Jeremiah since it was given in the future tense. It would build on the Sinai covenant by writing the law in hearts and minds as opposed to stone tablets, promising that all ‘will know’ G-d and receive His forgiveness.
We all have the opportunity to follow Abraham’s example with these covenants, choosing whether to trust or not. When Abraham first received the promise of land in Canaan it was not immediately clear whether this implied remaining in the land or moving to Egypt to avoid famine (Genesis 12:10-20). When Abraham was given the promise of a son it was not immediately clear if this was going to happen through Sarah or her servant Hagar (hence the events of Genesis 16, and the divorce in Genesis 21 with the effects felt even today). Abraham was not perfect in his trust, but he did not give up, working through all the issues that his journey of faith brought before him.
As his physical descendants, Jews should be the first to follow Abraham’s example, learning about and taking hold of all the covenants offered by G-d. Like Abraham it will require a life-long journey, some agonizing choices, thinking differently than the crowd, with many opportunities to turn back. But as well as receiving the promised son and being credited righteousness, Abraham also obtained something else equally precious. As G-d, through the pen of Isaiah said of him.
… Abraham my friend… (Isaiah 41:8)
Friendship with the One who created space and time, birthed the nation of Israel, and who is mysteriously guiding her steps thousands of years later is certainly worthwhile. Since these ancient promises seem to be stirring to life in our day, why not understand the covenants to better generate wise decisions? And why not tackle the one that is most puzzling – the covenant with David concerning the Messiah.
We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us Hashem had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.
The Tanakh – Really a Library
First, some facts about the Tanakh. It is a collection of books, written by many authors, organized into three groupings: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvin. It took more than a thousand years for these books to all be written from start to finish. This makes the Bible a library and sets it apart from other ancient Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds of years, as well as coming from different social positions and living in diverse countries. Though they wrote for the people of their day, and recorded the history of their times, embedded through the Tanakh are predictions or prophecies of the future. Their messages and predictions form unified themes. We looked at one theme on the re-gathering of Israel here. These writers claim that their writings were inspired by G-d, blessed be He. The oldest copies of the books of Tanakh that still exist today are from 200 BC and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are housed at the Israeli Museum Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.
The Riddle in the Garden
We see at the very beginning of the Torah another example of how these writings predict the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind. It occurs in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 when G-d confronts His Adversay, the devil (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after the serpent had brought about the Fall of mankind. Hashem says to him:
“… and I (G-d) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
You can see that this is prophetic with repeated ‘will’s in future tense. There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:
I = G-d
you = serpent/Satan
The offspring of the woman
The offspring of serpent or Satan
The riddle predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:
The riddle says that G-d will cause both the serpent/Satan and ‘the woman’ to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these two offspring and between the woman and Satan/serpent. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan/serpent.
So who might ‘the woman’ be? Here is an example of a unified theme weaving through the writings of the Tanakh. Notice how Hashem, speaking through various prophets in the Tanakh, refers to Israel.
O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20)
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch…. 5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62: 1, 5)
Israel is pictured not only as a woman, but a woman married to Hashem. However, this marriage is not tranquil. When Israel descended into idolatry during the First Temple Period, building on the ‘woman married to G-d’ image, the prophets accused Israel of ‘adultery’. Ezekiel uses stark imagery of Israel as an adulterous wife in chapter 16 and continued with imagery of Judah as an adulterous sister (being in the First Temple period the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was the other adulterous sister). Ezekiel, as a prophet on behalf of G-d, charged
“‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! (Ezekiel 16:32)
Jeremiah echoes a similar accusation:
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3: 20)
The ‘woman’ Israel is also pictured giving birth, like ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3:15.
You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land. …
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord. 18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life. (Isaiah 26:15, 17-18)
The prophet wrote of an initial hope that the offspring of this birth would result in ‘salvation to the earth’ bringing of life to peoples ‘of the world’. But because of her sins, this hope is frustrated, and Israel only gives ‘birth to wind’. The fact that there was an initial high hope for the offspring of this woman was based on the promise of Genesis 3:15. That promise had raised expectations, but in vain (for the time being).
However, the Divine Program begun by Hashem would still see the anticipated offspring. First, the Woman needed to be restored.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful… 21 “Set up road signs;
put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
return to your towns. 22 How long will you wander,
unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
the woman will return to the man.” (Jeremiah 31: 4, 21-22)
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth. 6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God. 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back. (Isaiah 54:5-7)
The Woman – not Eve, but Israel
With only superficial reading, most people assume that ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3:15 is Eve. But this promise is not about her. Eve did not live in enmity with the Serpent/Satan. But Israel? Throughout her long history from Egypt even into our day Israel has experienced relentless ‘enmity’ – from all sides. When you think of the millennia of visceral anti-Semitic hatred of Jews that been perpetuated by so many nations all over the world (Pharaoh of Egypt, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians under Haman, Greeks in the time of Maccabees, Imperial Rome, Roman Catholic Church, Spanish expulsions, Russian pogroms, French Dreyfus affair, Nazi Shoah, extremist Islamic incitement against Israel, today’s BDS movement – to name just a few) one can see a diabolical enmity directed against Israel. For sure, the Woman Israel has experienced enmity.
If Genesis 3 refers to Israel this means that the nation Israel was foreseen, even ordained, by Hashem at the beginning of human history. The call of Abram in Genesis 12 was a logical application of the strategic promise uttered in Genesis 3, not a random event in history. If so, the calamities and triumphs of Israel cannot simply be explained by secular forces. There are plans and intentions that go deeper than that. Before we look at them, what else can we uncover from this riddle in Genesis 3:15?
In the Brit Chadasha the riddle of Genesis 3:15 is expanded as it describes in vivid imagery the enmity this woman will experience:
12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him….
13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—… (Revelation 12:1-17)
This picture of a woman giving birth to an offspring in the presence of a dragon/serpent/Satan is a direct allusion to the promise in Genesis 3:15. From the point-of-view of Brit Chadasha ‘the woman’ of Genesis 3:15 is unequivocally Israel. In Genesis 3:15 the details are not filled in, but in Revelation they are. Since this concerns Israel, and her struggles with her enemy, it is prudent to at least be informed about this view point, and to understand what it means. It may be that your life will be caught up in this struggle. But before we delve too deeply into those details here, let’s return to the Garden to reflect on the offspring of the woman.
Who is the Offspring?
Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is called ‘he’ we can make some deductions. As a ‘he’ the offspring is male and therefore is not a ‘she’ and not a woman. As a ‘he’ the offspring is singular and therefore not a ‘they’, so not a group of people or a nation. As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’. The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. G-d had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human. This ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.
Notice what is not said. It does not say that this ‘he’ will come from the woman and a man, but only mentions ‘the woman’. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers. Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’ because of this father-son bias. But here it is different – there is no mention of the offspring (a ‘he’) from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man. This makes sense if ‘the woman’ is referring to the nation of Israel.
These observations consistently follow in Revelation vision of the woman and the dragon. There the woman gives birth to a male child – a ‘he’. Again no involvement of a man is mentioned. When Revelation says that the male child “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” it quotes Psalm 2:9 – the Psalm that first introduces the title and concept ‘Messiah’ in the Tanakh. The meaning is unmistakable – the male child born of the Woman Israel is the Messiah who “will rules all nations”. Once again we see this theme between Israel, the Messiah and the nations.
‘Strike his Heel’??
What does it mean that the serpent/Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles in Africa. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because snakes lay in the long grass and would strike the foot – our heel – to kill. After that experience the riddle took on new meaning. The offspring of the woman would crush ‘the head’ (i.e. destroy) of the serpent, but in return he would be killed.
The offspring of the Serpent?
Who is this offspring of Satan/serpent? Daniel in his book in the Tanakh saw a vision, many pages and thousands of years after the Riddle in Genesis 3, of a coming person pictured as a horn on a beast. Note the description:
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
9 “As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.
11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The Interpretation of the Dream
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.
26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ (Daniel 7:7-27)
This describes a conflict between the ‘he’ who will rule all nations – the Messiah – and the boastful horn of the beast. This conflict will engulf the ‘holy people of the Most High’ – the Woman described in Revelation. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with details filled in later. The countdown to a global contest between Satan and Hashem started long ago in the Garden. Israel was foreseen to have a central role in that conflict. As a nation that has gone through so much blood and fire, but thrives still, it could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.
We saw that G-d created man His Image, but that image was corrupted. How did this occur? The Torah records that Adam and Eve ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. That tree represented a free choice to remain faithful to G-d or not. They had been created by G-d and placed in the Garden. But they had had no choice in these, so G-d allowed them to choose regarding their friendship with Him. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam and Eve to G-d had to be chosen. This choice centered on the command to not eat from that one tree.
How did this happen? Genesis in the Torah describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’. The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – a spirit adversary to G-d. In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone. In this case he spoke through a serpent.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORDGod had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis3:1-7)
Their temptation (and choice) was to ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted G-d for everything, but now they could choose to become ‘like God’ – to trust in themselves and be their own independent god.
In choosing to become independent they were changed. Right after they ate they felt shame and tried to cover up. The account highlights further changes
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:8-13)
The account implies that G-d came regularly to meet with Adam&Eve as friends do, but this time they were hiding from Him. When G-d confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and G-d who made her). She blamed the serpent. Neither accepted responsibility.
As descendants of this changed Adam we have this same disposition. Some misunderstand the Bible and think we are blamed for Adam’s choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from G-d.
This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.
That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Tanakh gives a picture to understand this better. It says:
Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)
This describes soldiers who were slingshot experts and would never miss. The word in ancient Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .
Just after the giving of the 10 Commandments, the Torah states that:
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20)
The ancient Hebrew word translated ‘sinning’ is תֶחֱטָֽאוּ. It has the same root as the ‘miss’ for the expert soldiers. The soldier shoots to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in G-d’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.
This missed-the-target picture of us is not happy or optimistic. People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”. But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth? I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue. We can’t ignore them. All the systems of law, police, locks, security, failed peace treaties that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong. At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.
Mankind has a problem. We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions. But G-d did not leave us in this predicament. In the sentences that follow in the Torah’s account of the Garden, Israel’s coming is prophesied using a riddle. Understanding that riddle will help us make sense of the Tanakh and understand G-d’s role for the people He made an “everlasting covenant” with. We look at this next.
The Tanakh is remarkable in that, though it is the foundation for Jewish heritage, culture and history, it also includes all nations and peoples in its scope. When the Bible begins with creation and declares that man was created ‘in the image of G-d’ this includes all peoples, Jew and Gentile. This explains why all human life is precious. However, the Tanakh continues on from creation to reveal a serious problem – highlighted in this Psalm of David.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
Since this says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’ it also includes all peoples and nations. Though we were all made ‘in the image’ of G-d, blessed be He, something has wrecked this image in us so that, from G-d’s point-of-view, we are now corrupt. Corruption is shown in a chosen independence from G-d (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking G-d’) and also in not doing ‘good’ – not even one of us!
Picturing Elves and Orcs
To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil. Elves are beautiful and peaceful (ex. Legolas). But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past. The original elf image had been wrecked in the orcs. In a similar way the Psalm says that all people have become corrupted.
God had made elves but we have become orcs.
For example, we understand ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour. But we do not consistently live by what we know. Like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer, our moral code is there – but it is infected. The Biblical view of mankind begins with all people as good and moral, but then also corrupted. This fits with what we observe about ourselves, and the world around us. In all nations and down through history, mankind has failed to consistently live up to the moral high road that we sense with our conscience. But this raises a question: why did God make us this way? We know right and wrong yet are corrupted from it. As atheist Christopher Hitchens complains about the 10th commandment prohibiting coveting:
“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., coveteous ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.” Christopher Hitchens. 2007. God is not great: How religion spoils everything. p. 100
But he misses that the Bible does not say that G-d made us this way, but that something terrible happened after we were made. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and were corrupted.
The Fall of Mankind
This event is sometimes called The Fall. Adam, the first man, was created by G-d and there was an agreement between them, like a marriage contract of faithfulness. The book of Hosea in the Tanakh describes it like this:
Like Adam, they have broken the covenant… (Hosea 6: 7a)
Adam broke the covenant or agreement he had made with G-d. The consequences of that affect all peoples, both Jew and Gentile, even today. The promises of G-d to Israel, the Bible, and even Israel itself are impossible to understand if we ignore what Adam did and the results that followed. In fact, though the events of Adam happened long before Abraham lived, the seeds of Israel itself are bound up in the events of Adam. To understand why we need to observe what happened with Adam.
Previously, I argued that Ezekiel had foreseen the Jewish exile and subsequent loss of sovereignty in the land of Israel 606 BCE -> 537 BCE -> 1948 CE as he prophetically lay on his side for 430 days. This addressed Sam Harris’s demand that the Biblical prophets foretell something specific for our time.
The Prophetic Timetable for Jerusalem
This same sequence also holds true for the city of Jerusalem and the Kotel (Temple site) – it is just shifted from the above dates. To see this we need to know some details of Jewish history. The Jewish Kingdom of Judah lost its independence to the Babylonians in 606/605 BCE when it became subject to Babylonia, and the first wave of deportations to Babylon occurred. Daniel was in this group of exiles. This started the countdown for Jeremiah’s 70 year exile. However it was not until the failed revolt a few years later that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, destroying and burning both the city and the First Temple. The accepted date for this is 586 BCE. This started the exile and desolation of Jerusalem proper.
The Jerusalem Temple – also desolate for 70 years
The Jews returned under the Persian Emperor Cyrus’s Edict in 537 BCE that fulfilled the 70 years of exile that Jeremiah had predicted. But after returning they were not able (because of lack of interest and local opposition) to rebuild their temple. That work was not begun in earnest until 520 BCE under the promptings of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The Second Temple was finally inaugurated in 516 BCE. So from 586 BCE to 516 BCE the Temple was also desolate for 70 years. The length of time was the same as that of the formal exile, but the start and end dates were shifted over 19 years.
Jerusalem in 1967
I suggested that the re-birth of Israel in 1948 was the conclusion to Ezekiel’s prophesy but this did not include Jerusalem. In the 1948 war of Independence Israel did not get Jerusalem as it was not able to hold the city of Jerusalem or the Kotel and it was lost to Jordan. It was later, in the six-day war of 1967, that Jerusalem with the Kotel was regained by Israel.
In other words, the prophetic schedule given by Ezekiel (and Leviticus) can shift so that Jerusalem also fits the prophetic timetable of national exile. The dates of 586 BCE (destruction of Jerusalem & First Temple) -> 516 BCE (restoration of 2nd Temple) -> 1967 CE (return of Jerusalem & Kotel to Israel) matches the predictions of Ezekiel exactly as the dates of 606/05 BCE (first exile of Israelites to Babylon; Kingdom of Judah under Babylonian power) -> 537 BCE (first Jewish return from exile under Cyrus) -> 1948 CE (re-birth of modern Israel). Both sets of events follow the same intervals and thus both are fulfilled with Ezekiel’s drama of lying on his side. As the saying goes, Ezekiel “killed two birds with one stone”.
Coincidence or Prophecy?
So what are we to make of this? On the one hand it does not hurt to be cautious. If you look long and hard enough you can match some sequence of numbers matching different historical events. For example, the interval of 2300 days is prominent in Daniel 8. World War II was very close to being 2300 days long. Is it possible that WWII is a ‘fulfillment’ of Daniel’s 2300 days because of the close match? We would see this as a coincidence since the context of Daniel 8 does not fit WWII. Why would we treat Ezekiel’s prophecy differently?
The Persistent Theme of Dispersal and Re-gathering
Ezekiel’s ‘lying on his sides’ prophecy is not being matched with any event that ‘fits’ but with his explanation of it. Here is what Ezekiel wrote that the 430 days on his side meant:
I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. (Ezekiel 4:5) ….
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 5:8)…
and a third [of the Jews] I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword (Ezekiel 5:12b)
To then assign a meaning of 430 years of exile and punishment for Israel and Jerusalem is not assigning any meaning to the prophecy, but the meaning that the prophet himself put on it. This prophecy of exile and punishment is part of an overarching theme that runs through the Torah and Tanakh – this theme of a dispersion and a re-gathering of the Jews. It starts with Moses and continues through other books of the Old Testament including Isaiah. and Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones.
This ensures that we are not just grabbing any set of numbers presented in Ezekiel and looking for any set of events that matches these numbers. Moses and Ezekiel (along with Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and a few others) together develop a consistent theme with some remarkably precise elements within that theme. Ezekiel matches modern-day Israeli events with a precise and measurable chronology. I know of no other writings, modern or ancient, that does this in a remotely comparable way.
 As in the previous timetable there were 430 years of exile, 70 of which were paid in the initial exile but the remainder (430-70=360) multiplied by 7 as per Leviticus. This is the ‘[70+(360*7)]’ part of the calculation. We, like before and like in Daniel, convert to 360 day years (the ‘360/365.24’ factor). The ‘+1’ because there is no year 0 in going from BCE->CE. These factors are exactly the same as used in the previous calculation of the exile of Israel. What is different now is that we start with 586 BCE rather than 606 BCE since we are starting from the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. 586 BCE is like -586 so the whole equation become -586 + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 = 1967, which corresponds to 1967 CE.
We saw how Ezekiel’s vision of Dry Bones coming back to life predicted the modern re-birth of Jewish Israel. We also saw how Jewish skeptic Sam Harris was unimpressed with Bible prophecy. He wanted to see a time-specific prediction relying on the Torah. As if anticipating this challenge, Ezekiel was also commanded to do out something bizarre. Here is what G-d, blessed be He, commanded him to do in a prophecy acted out:
4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel.
6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege. (Ezekiel 4: 4-8)
Ezekiel was commanded to remain bound on one side and then on the other for over a year! To give a little background, Ezekiel was writing from Babylon just before the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem (thus the reference to a siege). This siege lasted many months but finally Jerusalem was conquered in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the city was burned, the First Temple destroyed and the Israelites sent to exile in Babylon. Ezekiel would soon meet the captives brought from the siege of Jerusalem after he had acted out this prophecy.
But why were the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem? They had defeated the Jewish nation in a war in 606 BCE and so the Israelites had, in effect, lost their independence that year. Most were permitted to remain in Judah, but some, like Daniel, were sent to Babylon in this first wave of deportation that occurred in 606 BCE. The Jews in Jerusalem at first grudgingly swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Babylonians but later on revolted against them. So the Babylonians came and laid siege to Jerusalem, mercilessly crushing it in 586 BCE. The kings of David have never reigned since then.
Note how Ezekiel referred to the ‘House of Israel’ and the ‘House of Judah’. After Solomon, around 900 BCE, the Israelites had split into two political countries – Judah and Israel. This was a similar situation to Koreans today – one people divided politically into the two countries of North and South Korea. The ‘House of Israel’ had already been conquered as a political entity around 722 BCE by Assyrian. See more details on history of Israel here.
In this acted drama, Ezekiel prophesied a period of 390 days + 40 days = 430 days, with each day representing a year (v. 5 & 6). So he was prophesying 430 years to pay ‘for sin’. Where does this idea that such a payment for sin was required? The parting Blessings and Curses of Moses stated that if they sinned they would pay for their sin in being exiled from their land. So Ezekiel was now prophesying from this principle rooted in Deuteronomy that they were to enter 430 years of exile.
The 360 day year
Today we commonly use the 365.244-day year (the Gregorian calendar) and the traditional Hebrew calendar based on lunar months with extra ‘leap-months’ added to keep lunar year from moving away from the solar year. In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360-day calendar was common, and it was the year length that Daniel used and is the basis of the prophetic year used in the Torah. We will need to convert Ezekiel’s 360-day years to our solar years to understand his prophecy in our calendar. But there is another twist to consider first.
Jeremiah’s 70 year Prophecy of Exile
While Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying 430 years of exile his contemporary, Jeremiah, living through the siege in Jerusalem wrote:
8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, (Jeremiah 25:8-12)
Jeremiah prophesied 70 years … not 430. So which was it – 70 or 430? It turns out that in 539 BCE the Babylonians were conquered by Medes and Persians. King Cyrus of Persia then permitted the Jews in Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem.
So the Babylonian exiles arrived back in Jerusalem 537 BCE. From the initial deportation in 606 BC to 537 BC – Jeremiah’s prophecy of destruction of the Babylonians and return to Jerusalem in 70 years was fulfilled. Now this is precise, but not impressive. Sam Harris would certainly point out that it would have been easy for later editors of Jeremiah’s book to insert the ‘prophecy’ to ensure a ‘fulfillment’. Since the earliest existing copies of the prophetic books are the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200-100 BCE we cannot be sure that it did not happen this way. If this was all we had we would have to agree with Harris that it would be inadequate evidence of Omniscient prophecy.
The Leviticus Principle
But is there not also a contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel? They seem to be predicting mutually exclusive things – one an exile of 70 years and the other an exile of 430 years. It would be impossible for both to be right. Or is it? Because if you go to the ‘principles in Leviticus’ that Harris had asked for you will see the following:
if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: … 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.
18 ” ‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven timesover.19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…
21 ” ‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve…
23 ” ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over….
27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over…
40 ” ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. (Leviticus 26: 14-43)
G-d, blessed be He, stated that if they did not obey the Law they would be defeated by their enemies who would rule over them (v. 17). This warning provided the background for Jeremiah’s declaration of a 70 year exile which started with the first Babylonian deportation (606 BC) and ended when a Jewish remnant returned back to their land in 537 BC.
Then v. 18 says ‘If after all this…’ (i.e. the sequence of events from disobedience, conquest, exile and return) they still remained ‘hostile’ to G-d and did not ‘listen’ to His commands the punishment for sins would be multiplied seven times over. This is repeated directly in v. 21, 23 and 28. Events unfolded just that way. The Jews were to return to the Land to renew their hearts – which they never really did. Only a small remnant returned … they struggled for years to be motivated to rebuild the Second Temple which they grudgingly accomplished but few were interested in putting out the effort … Nehemiah brought another group 80 years later when permission to rebuild Jerusalem was given. But as a people they continued to pursue their own interests and are scolded by Nehemiah for their exploitation of the poor and intermarriage. Malachi, the last book of the Tanakh written, was a plea for them to remain faithful in their marriage covenants and in their offerings to G-d – which they did not do. They remained hostile to Him.
So the punishment, according to this Leviticus principle, was multiplied seven times over. Only after the full seven-times payment was made would G-d, blessed be He, remember the covenant made with Isaac, Abraham and the land (v.42). What was that covenant? G-d had promised Abraham that He would give his descendants the land. In other words, only after the full seven-fold payment was made would Jews be allowed to claim and rule that land that G-d had originally promised to the Hebrew patriarchs. When they returned by Cyrus’s Edict they only did so as a vassal province within the Persian Empire. The Persians still ruled and controlled the land. Jewish rule would have to wait until the seven-fold payment was made.
Leviticus, Jeremiah & Ezekiel Converge – in Modern Day History
With the insight from the ‘principle in Leviticus’ we can understand Ezekiel’s prophecy. He had predicted 430 years of exile for their sin. They paid 70 years (as per Jeremiah) which brought the ‘debt’ down to 430 – 70 = 360 years. This remainder was multiplied by seven (as per Leviticus) to get: 360 * 7 = 2520 years.
Let us now convert these to our solar years and put it on a timeline:
The Babylonian exile lasted from 606 BCE -> 537 BCE = 69 years. This was exactly as specified by Jeremiah if we convert his timeframe into solar years (70 years * 360/365.2422 = 69 Gregorian solar years of Jeremiah’s exile).
Ezekiel’s remaining seven-fold years would be:
2520 years * 360/365.2422 = 2484 Gregorian solar years of Ezekiel’s exile
Adding 2484 years to 537 BCE (when the exiles returned and this seven-fold period started) we come to 1948 AD.
What happened in 1948? That was the year Israel was re-born as a modern nation – an independent and self-ruled Jewish country. Most remarkable, Ezekiel, with some ‘principles from Leviticus’, saw it 2500 years ago – precise to the year!
So let’s reflect. Sam Harris challenged the Bible to predict something for “the latter half of the 20th century”, using “principles from Leviticus”, and doing so would show it to be a “product of omniscience”. Harris gave this challenge because he figured it was impossible – but he never actually looked. He thought that ‘within half a century’ was hard enough so no one would attempt it. Ezekiel, with some principles from Leviticus, was bang on to the year starting about 2500 years ago, in predicting the re-birth of Israel in 1948, and in the process, managed to resolve a seeming contradiction with Jeremiah. I’d say that is pretty good. At the very least, whether we are Zionist, anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox, Reformed – or Christian, Muslim, atheist or something else this is something worth being informed about even as we may weigh the implications differently. In my next post I will look at how Jerusalem and the Temple Mount (Kotel) fits Ezekiel’s (with some principles from Leviticus) far-seeing predictions.
 537 BCE is like -537. So -537 + 2484 + 1 = 1948 (the +1 is because there is no 0 on this number line, it goes from -1 to +1 (1 BCE –> 1 AD) – in an interval of 1
We saw how Moses in the Torah and how Isaiah in the Prophets (Nevi’im) prophesied the dispersal, exile and the re-gathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel – events that are facts of Jewish history as well as modern-day happenings. In doing so, they pass the test for Divine inspiration laid down long ago in the Torah
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18: 21-22)
It is because these are persistent prophecies throughout the Tanakh that add credibility to this evidence. For example, take the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived during the first exile (550 BC) in Babylon as shown in the timeline.
In his book he describes a bizarre vision
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10)
A man is whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle as they join together forming skeletons, and then dead flesh and skin wraps around the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army. This sounds like a script from a horror movie for Halloween! But Ezekiel was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He claimed that this script was a message from G-d Himself, Blessed be He. To remove all guesswork, he explicitly wrote the meaning of his vision
1 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
One Nation Under One King
15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)
The Jews in Ezekiel’s day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after this vision, but that was a return only from Babylon, and they remained only a province within the Persian Empire. Ezekiel wrote of a return from ‘the nations’ ‘all around’ back to Israel where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or government. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948. For a nation of 8 million people, having 40% of the population do aliyah from almost half the countries of the globe in the 70 years since independence, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.
But some who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris, a well-known Jewish American atheist. Here is his objection:
“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60
Harris mocks the prophecy in the Bible as being just coincidence. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen just by chance. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had prophesied timing it to the 20th century and linking the prophecy back to Leviticus. That would be real sign of G-d!
Unfortunately for Harris, Ezekiel was not yet finished. Because Ezekiel, in another really dramatic prophecy does predict the time – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … the book of Leviticus. We take it up next here.
The inventory of ancient Jewish writings eclipses that of other nations. Even classical Roman and Greek writings dwarf in comparison to Jewish writings. The Talmud alone (completed about 500 CE) is about 6200 printed pages long. The website earlyjewishwritings.com also list the Tanakh, the Maccabean writings (often called the apocrypha), the voluminous writings of Josephus (1st century CE), and the writings of Philo in their catalogue of ancient Jewish writings. Through the Middle Ages, Jewish scholars like Maimonides kept adding to this impressive list of writings. Today Jewish writers stake out positions and forge new ground in almost every area of human thought. They are often at odds with each other, disagreeing in heated exchange in politics, ethics, philosophy, and directions for the nation of Israel. Apart from the sheer magnitude of the writings is the diversity of viewpoint that is passionately argued in almost every direction.
It is in this context of the richly varied and extensive Jewish writings that make the Jewish unfamiliarity with, and distance from, the Brit Chadasha writings all the more noticeable. Further, it is ironic that the Brit Chadasha is arguably the most read collection of writings outside the Jewish world. What to make of this? Before delving into this here are some facts about the Brit Chadasha – also known as the New Testament of the Bible.
The Brit Chadasha, like the Tanakh is a collection of writings (27 in total) all authored by devout Jews.
The Brit Chadasha is organized into 3 groups. As the Tanakh is grouped into the Torah, Neviim and K’tuvim, the 5 books of the Gospels and Acts correspond to Torah, the 21 letters correspond to K’tuvim, and the book of Revelation corresponds to Neviim. They were written in the period 50-90 CE.
The main character of the Brit Chadasha is Jesus (or Yeshua) of Nazareth, also a devout Jew. Though he himself did not write any of the books in the Brit Chadasha, his followers did. They presented Yeshua as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Of course, once the person of Yeshua, or Jesus, is raised, we understand why the Jewish writings about him, the Brit Chadasha, are overlooked by Jews. Among the many reasons that come to mind:
Jesus was not the Messiah, so was a pretender and false.
Doctrines associated with Christian followers of Jesus, such as the divinity of the Messiah and the Trinity of G-d are incompatible with Judaism.
The followers of Jesus, Christians, have persecuted Jews since they viewed Jews as guilty in the execution of the innocent Jesus.
There is such an incompatibility between the Brit Chadasha and Jews that the very cultural essence of Jewishness is threatened by it – so best to shun it.
Whether we are observant Jews or not, the issues surrounding Jesus happened so long ago, and Jews have so moved on, that there is no use in opening up old scars.
It may well be that Yeshua was a false Messiah. But Wikipedia reports a long list of Jews who have claimed to be Messiah down through history, including Bar Kochba, whose rebellion against Rome in 132-135 CE was a Jewish disaster, the Roman Emperor Vespasian (who led the war that destroyed the 2nd Temple) claimed as Messiah by the Jewish Josephus, down to the 20th century Schneerson (died 1994) in Chabad Messianism. Though we probably reject these (and the many others) claims as false, the claimants are not rejected as un-Jewish. Wrong yes, but within the Jewish family still. Why is it different with Jesus?
It is true that Christians have persecuted Jews down the centuries. But anti-Semitism is more complex than simple Christian persecution. Almost all empires and ideologies have had episodes of anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism narrated in the Tanakh (Egyptian infanticide in time of Moses, Assyrian obliteration of Samaria, Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Persian persecution under Haman), the violent Greek wars of the Maccabean period, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (66 – 135 CE), Islamic rivalry with Israel today especially over the Kotel, reveal a more complex root of anti-Semitism.
Two thousand years of Christianity has also created a heavy non-Jewish footprint on Yeshua and the Christian church has filtered him so that most Jews hardly recognize his Jewishness. But here is the advantage of the Brit Chadasha. They are first and foremost Jewish writings. The word ‘Christian’ appears only 3 times in the whole Brit Chadasha – and 2 of those times the words are recorded from pagan Gentiles. The Brit Chadasha provides the reader with first-hand access to Yeshua and his immediate Jewish followers so we need not view him second-hand through the Christian filter.
It is also true that Jesus, through the pens of the Brit Chadasha writers, is especially critical of the Jewish leaders of his day, and that there is a sharp conflict between them, culminating in his death. But does this make the Brit Chadasha anti-Semitic or un-Jewish? The prophets are also at times critical of the Jewish people. For example, not the stern tone of G-d, towards the Jewish people in these passages.
I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. …
21 “‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. (Leviticus 26:19, 21)
The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. (Deuteronomy 28:20)
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3: 20)
The criticisms of Jews in both the Tanakh and the Brit Chadasha have been used by anti-Semites as pretexts to rouse hatred against Jews. But that does not make these writings anti-Jewish or un-Jewish. Note the heartfelt longing for the Jews expressed by both Jesus and by Paul in these passages from the Brit Chadasha
As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. (Paul in Romans 9:1-4)
Christians have coerced and persecuted Jews down the centuries, but Jesus and the New Testament authors took a very Jewish approach – they argued, debated, wrote and expressed their viewpoint. Even if we do not accept their argument, their approach was commendable – letting each person choose by conscience according to whether they were persuaded or not.
And the basis of their arguments were also very Jewish. The Gospels record Jesus as saying:
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:46)
That approach allows us even today to examine his life and claims against the standard of the Torah – if nothing else, a very Jewish standard. One need not simply be motivated by piety about Jewish issues, but for insight regarding present-day concerns. Since 1967 when Jerusalem was regained it has become a focal point for all sorts of tension. The words of Jesus, penned somewhat before the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE are pertinent and implicate all of us today, whether orthodox, conservative or secular. In the Gospels Jesus predicts the coming Roman destruction of Jerusalem, but also looks far beyond when he said
They (i.e. Jews) will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)
Jesus predicted that the time for the Gentiles to ‘trample’ Jerusalem would one day end, indicating that Jews would one day regain it. Since this happened in 1967, and the impact of this is affecting all of our lives, it may be worthwhile to investigate further see if there are other forewarnings. After all, this one prediction, fulfilled after almost 2000 years, does pass the Torah test for prophecy, which Moses gave to separate the false from the true.
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
This is the approach I started to take many years ago. To examine Jesus and the New Testament in the standard of the Torah, the Nevi’im and Ketuvin, both to be informed first-hand about him and also to follow the example of the tribe of Issachar who, in the last book of Tanakh, were described as
…men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32)
Surely we have nothing to lose and only to gain if we approach the Brit Chadasha in this manner.
The Times of Israelpublished an intriguing article describing how Christians are beginning to celebrate Passover – complete with the traditional Seder meal. The article states that the largest Seder gatherings (with over 600 together) are being celebrated by Christians along with Jews, a trend that has been developing “within the past 20 or 30 years”. To my mind this raises some worthwhile questions:
Why are Christians celebrating Passover?
According to the article, these are Passover celebrations “in which Jesus Christ stars as the paschal lamb”. But why would Jesus Christ be celebrated as the paschal lamb? If we look into the gospels (the eyewitness accounts written by the Jewish followers of Jesus) we learn when Jesus was arrested, brought to trial and put to death.
“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:28, 39-40)
This all happened on Passover Day. In fact, the well-known ‘Last Supper’ of Jesus was his Seder meal celebrated with his disciples – also on Passover since Passover began at sundown on Thursday evening. With Jesus’ Last Seder, arrest, trial, and execution all occurring on Passover there is a direct historical link between Jesus and Passover.
Moses, Passover & Jesus
But when one looks back at the account of the first Passover, in the Torah, when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, then this link takes on special meaning. The complete Torah account is here, but when G-d, Blessed be He, explained to Moses how Passover (Pesach) would unfold it states:
For that night, I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and animals; and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt; I am Adonai. 13 The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over you — when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you. (Exodus 12:12-13)
The blood of the Paschal lambs was a sign to the people, not to G-d. Though G-d would look for the blood, and when He saw it Death would pass over (Pesach), the blood was a sign to ‘serve you’ – the people, and by extension to us who read the account in the Torah. But in what way was the blood a sign to the people? Think what signs do by considering these signs.
When we see the ‘skull and crossbones’ sign it makes us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The ‘√’ on Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this on Nadal. Signs are made to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to what it points to. In that first Passover, death hung over every household in Egypt. Over every Hebrew house as well as all Egyptian houses. But the blood of the Passover lamb, painted on the doorposts, would cause death to pass over. Death today also hangs over every household – Jewish as well as Gentile – since we are all destined to die.
In the eye of his first followers, Jesus’ death was seen as a triumph. As one stated
For the Messiah’s love has hold of us, because we are convinced that one man died on behalf of all mankind (which implies that all mankind was already dead), (2 Corinthians 5: 14)
In the same way that the Passover lamb died on behalf of any Hebrew who put its blood on his doorway, Jesus was understood to have died on our behalf. Thus, not only is there a direct link by calendar date between Passover and Jesus, but the meaning of the respective deaths were the same. For this reason one of the titles given to Jesus by his contemporaries was:
The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)
Jesus was designated as the pashal lamb of G-d. So it makes sense that Christians see the Jewish roots of their faith and want to participate in the celebration of Passover.
Why is Easter on a slightly different date than Passover?
Jesus died on Passover. Easter is the Christian celebration of the death of Jesus, with Good Friday remembering his death and Easter Sunday recalling his resurrection. In that case should not Easter and Passover occur on the same day? At first they were celebrated on the same day. But In 325 CE the Christian Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after equinox on March 21. This changed how Easter was calculated, moving it off from the Passover date. Easter and Passover now are usually very close in the calendar, usually just a few days apart.
Because of this change in the dating of Easter, Christians largely forgot the Jewish Passover roots of Easter. As one of those interviewed for the Times of Israel article said, “A lot of times, Gentile Christians are willfully ignorant, sometimes even surprised by the connections between Judaism and Christianity”. Learning about and celebrating Passover serves to inform Christians about Jewish roots to their faith. The flip-side is also true – with the Christian camouflage that has increasingly been painted on Jesus, Jews have not been able to see him as Jewish. His Jewishness has been hidden from them.
Is Jesus a legitimate Jewish pursuit?
There is wide diversity in what it means to be a Jew. A Jew can be secular, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, reformed, conservative, and even an atheist. One can be a Zionist Jew – but one can also be anti-Zionist and still be a Jew. Most Jews are heterosexual but there are LBGT Jews. Some are observant, others not, and still others only partially so. Whatever categories one uses to classify people: whether language, clothing, religion, country of residence, wealth, education, skin color, political views or sexual orientation – Jews will fill in all the categories – and still be considered a Jew. Wrong perhaps, misguided even, but nonetheless accepted as part of that broad family of Abraham.
The Times of Israel Passover article showed that this Jewish diversity now extends so far as to also include the ‘Messianic Jew’. These are Jews who believe that Jesus (Yeshua as they call him) is the Messiah promised in the Tanakh. For centuries this has been considered self-contradictory. If one was a Jew he/she did not think about Jesus, let alone believe in him, or if one believed in him one could not be a Jew. But it was decisions made long ago, like detaching Easter from Passover, creating medieval ghettos and pogroms in Europe, to the later anti-semitism in the Christian West, that diverted attention away from crucial historical facts:
Jesus of Nazareth, arguably the most influential person to have lived on this planet, was a circumcised, practicing Jew descended from Abraham, fully learned in the Torah.
His immediate followers were also all observant Jews, adhering to the Torah.
All the books of the New Testament were written by Jews (with the possible exception of Luke)
At the close of the 2nd Temple Period and even up to the time of the Bar Kokhba (135 CE) rebellion it was a very Jewish preoccupation to discuss, debate and argue over whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah or not. The Roman Historian Suetonius describes the effect this debate had in Rome.
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome” (Life of Claudius xxv 4)
In other words, Jews in the city of Rome were discussing and debating about Chrestus (i.e. Jesus Christ) so intensely that the Roman Emperor Claudius was irritated and expelled all of them (Messianic or not) from Rome (in 49 CE).
Notice how the Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (writing about 90 CE) writes about James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth and the first leader of Jesus’ Jewish followers in Jerusalem, (who also wrote the book of James in the New Testament)
Ananus took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper and very insolent; he was also of the sect of Sadduccees, who were very rigid in judging offenders … assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, whose name was James, and some others, … formed an accusation against them … and delivered them to be stoned. But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done, they also sent to the King (Agrippa) desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter IX, 1
You can see how the debate went back and forth amongst the Jews concerning James, the brother of Jesus. No matter what ‘side’ of the debate they were on it was obviously a very Jewish concern. Josephus even writes directly about Jesus, and in a way that indicates he personally was moved back and forth in this debate
At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive. .. Accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day… ANTIQUITIES Book XVIII, III, 3
Whether Jesus was the Messiah or not, the arguments for and against, can be taken up later. As both Jews and Christians are re-learning the ancient Jewish roots of Easter and the link between Passover and Jesus, it suffices to remind us that this is an authentic Jewish question, not to be relegated simply for Christian Gentiles to discuss. Passover itself shouts to the Jewishness in the puzzle of this man Jesus of Nazareth.
Probably the most influential book in the Prophets (Nevi’im = נְבִיאִים ) of the Tanakh is Isaiah, named after the human author – Isaiah – who lived in the First Temple Period around 750 BC. The figure below shows where he sits in a historical timeline. This timeline is taken from History of the Jews, zoomed to the two Temple periods.
The Welcome article highlighted the curious fact that Jewish history is like a dance between The Book (Bible), the Land (Israel), The People (Jews) and other Nations. No other nation has such a complex dance. If Moses’ Blessings & Curses have controlled the broad movements of this dance for the last 3500 years, Isaiah’s prophecies are guiding its precise steps into our times. Isaiah also added a new partner into this dance (though he is not the first to do so, but this new partner takes prominence in Isaiah). This is seen in his far-reaching vision of history in Isaiah 11.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2)
Jesse was the father of King David who founded the city of Jerusalem about 1000 BC. When Isaiah wrote these words Jesse had been dead 300 years but through David the royal dynasty from Jesse was ruling in Jerusalem in Isaiah’s lifetime. Isaiah prophesied that this dynasty, like a tree felled by an axe, would one day be reduced to a ‘stump’, i.e., the kingdom would fall. But then after this dynasty a ‘Branch’ would ‘shoot’ up from that very same stump. This Branch was a ‘him’ (male human) who would ‘bear fruit’. Who would this Branch be? What kind of ‘fruit’?
As Isaiah continued it is not immediately clear whether he was speaking metaphorically or literally. But then he wrote what, for us in the 21st century, should make us sit up and take note:
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Sea.
12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11: 10-12)
Isaiah predicted a re-gathering of the Jewish people (as Moses did in his Blessings and Curses) but Isaiah wrote that this would be for the ‘second time’. Below is the Timeline from History of the Jews with the re-gatherings of Jews to Israel (in green) and Isaiah in red. You can see there have been two different re-gatherings of Jews from the nations back to Israel, both after he lived. From Isaiah’s time (750 BC) you might think that he was writing about the re-gathering of Jews to Israel from the Babylonian captivity but because he specifically wrote of the ‘second time’ we know he is looking beyond that re-gathering. The ‘second’ (and only other) re-gathering is the one that is happening now, as part of the re-birth of modern Israel. His description of the re-gathering from the ‘four quarters of the earth’ (i.e. from North, South, East, West) precisely describes what is occurring today as Jews from every continent on the globe are now doing Aliyah to Israel in a precise and literal fulfillment of what Isaiah wrote 2700 years ago.
Some of the countries he lists are obscure because he is naming countries in 750 BC. But the countries he specifically lists: Elam (= Iran today), Cush (= Ethiopia today), Babylonia (= Iraq today) along with Egypt are countries almost emptied of Jews making Aliyah to Israel since 1948.
Isaiah continues with further details surrounding this ‘second’ re-gathering. To help us identify countries Isaiah mentions, a map compares countries named in his passage with those today. Isaiah continues:
Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be destroyed;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.
They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them. (Isaiah 11:13-14)
You can see that in the 1st Temple Period the Jews were politically divided into two rival kingdoms – Judah & Israel. The situation then was like Koreans today who are one people divided into two opposing countries – North & South Korea. The rivalries between the two Jewish countries in the 1st Temple Period are detailed in the Tanakh in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
Re-gathering to one nation
When Isaiah looked into the future and wrote
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim (v 13)
He meant that when the Jews re-gathered for the 2nd time from this world-wide exile they would not be politically divided anymore, but united into one nation. That was not a foregone conclusion when he wrote in 750 BC but it happened in 1948 when a United Nations resolution birthed one single modern Jewish state: Israel.
Israeli & Six-Day War
Looking closely on this map of the nations in Isaiah’s day we see Philistia on a coastal strip between Judah and the Mediterranean Sea and Moab, Edom and Ammon directly to the East. Note the states in the corresponding places today and we can see that they are Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan. The West Bank was captured from Jordan in the six-day war of 1967. Knowing this Isaiah’s prophecy makes sense to our modern ears.
They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia (i.e. Gaza) to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will subdue Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.
Isaiah foresaw the Israelites returning from that second, far-in-the-future and world-wide exile and predicted the birth of the one Jewish state. Then, he predicted, the Israelites would ‘swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west’. He foresaw a very quick (‘swoop down’) incursion of Israel into Gaza – just as it happened in the Six-Day war. In that same war the West Bank was won from Jordan, resulting in the ‘subduing’ of the people of Edom, Moab and Ammon – the modern-day Israeli control of the West Bank. It is like Isaiah was 2700 years ahead of events of our time.
Perhaps you agree with me. Or perhaps you think I am reading way too much into Isaiah. But the fact is that Isaiah was part of a very select group whose writings are in the Tanakh. This theme of predicting the fortunes of Jews, the land of Israel and surrounding nations run through the other writings in the Tanakh and indicates that Isaiah is not just some lucky historical coincidence. The theme that began with Abraham, was developed by Moses, is now extended by Isaiah. The prophets of Tanakh hardly ever met since they lived several hundred years apart. You can imagine the immense difficulty in coordinating a consistent theme with others you have never met. Look at the difficulties our political leaders are having in coordinating a consistent response to all the events today – and they communicate regularly.
But so what anyways? So what if Isaiah foretold details of the modern-day re-birth of Israel. So what if he and other writers of the Tanakh foresaw the global re-gathering of Jews? What difference does that make to you and me?
Isaiah and the other writers of Tanakh never claimed to have innate powers of foresight. He claimed that G-d, blessed be He, who created our planet and the universe, who is sovereign over all states, both Jewish and non-Jewish – revealed this to him. And if he was right about these things visible today then we have reason to take him seriously about his Source.
Even so, much remains still to be understood about what Isaiah wrote. He began this passage with a coming ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’ which would coincide with the ‘second’ regathering of Jews to Israel. How is this ‘shoot’ to be understood? Before we take up that question it will be worthwhile to see what another writer of the Tanakh wrote about the dance between Jews and the land of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel, who lived 200 years after Isaiah described in exact detail the time of this re-gathering. From where we sit, during this re-gathering, we can check if what he prophesied was accurately predicted. We do this next.