Shoah in the Bible?

Two events have dramatically impacted the welfare of Jews in modern times.  The remarkable re-birth of the Nation of Israel, and its growing prosperity, today is the more visible of these two events.  But just a little further back in time lurks the second event – the Holocaust or Shoah.  This unspeakable evil saw the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.  Yad Veshem is the best reference for the Shoah.  Here we want to explore whether the Bible had anything to say about it.  That may sound absurd since the last book of the Tanakh was written about 2400 years ago.  How can books written 2400 plus years ago say anything about what happened just over a generation ago?  The prophets of the Bible claimed that G-d inspired their writings, and as proof, made many detailed prophecies of the future.  The re-birth of Israel, even its date, and the six-day war of 1967 were predicted by these prophets of the Tanakh.  So is it conceivable that they also foresaw the Holocaust?

Moses had predicted the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel, which happened twice.  The prophecies of Moses, though matching these exiles, do not describe the Holocaust.

But Psalm 102 does.  We may not see it because it is written in the first person so we assume it is only describing the Psalmist’s life.  But other passages in the Tanakh are also written in first person but are not ultimately referring to the writer.  For example, Psalm 16, written by King David, states that G-d ‘will not abandon me to the realm of the dead’ (v.10).  But David has been buried in Jerusalem for 3000 years, so the ‘me’ must refer to someone else.  For this reason, many think that this is a Messianic Psalm, and not about David per se, even while it is written through his eyes.

The ‘I’ in Psalm 102 describes a communal experience.  Thus the ‘I’ could very well have the Jews in mind.  So let’s take a look at Psalm 102 to see if it describes the Holocaust.

Psalm 102

Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.

The psalmist is in great distress.  His distress centers on his life vanishing up in smoke while his bones burn – bringing to mind the ovens of the death camps like Auschwitz where smoke rose continuously as the bodies – and bones – were burned.  Holocaust victims, being emaciated skeletons, fit the Psalmist description as being ‘withered’ and ‘reduced to skin and bones’.

6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

At a recent Holocaust memorial service I heard a survivor describing his isolation as he hid for two years behind a false wall in the upstairs attic of a rundown mill.  Feeling like a ‘lonely bird on a roof’, the psalmist describes a similar experience of isolation.  The owl is an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:16-18).  The movie Zookeeper’s Wife describes how Jews were fed pork at the Warsaw zoo and how pork was smuggled into the ruins of the ghetto to feed the people.  Their choice was to be unclean or to starve in their ruined ghetto.

‘Among the ruins’ – a snapshot of the ruins of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania
‘Among the ruins’ – a snapshot of the ruins of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania

8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

Under the Nazis and their collaborators the term ‘Jew’ was used as a curse and Jews across Europe were taunted while millions were reduced to ashes.

10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

The inescapable conclusion for those going through the Holocaust was that G-d had indeed thrown them aside in great wrath.  Approaching sunset (‘the evening shadow’) describes the psalmist’s desperate sense that his life will end shortly, and captures the same desperation felt by those in the Shoah knowing their days would end shortly.

12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

The tone and perspective of the Psalm now changes.  The focus is on Hashem who will ‘rebuild Zion’ at the ‘appointed time’ and use the nations to do so.  Though it would have been impossible to imagine it in the depths of the Holocaust, barely three years after it was over, Israel was born, through a mandate of the nations in the UN.  Shortly thereafter, Zion itself was restored to the Jews and they have rebuilt it.  The Psalmist’s abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of his affliction to the rebuilding of Zion, foresaw the same abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of the Shoah to the building of the modern state of Israel.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

The Psalmist clearly states that the Psalm was not written for himself or for his generation.  It was written for a ‘future generation’ – for those who were not yet a people, or nation.  This Psalm was written for the generation just before Israeli Independence (‘A people not yet created’) who would see the creation of the nation centered on Zion (Jerusalem).  That was the generation that lived through the Holocaust, those that were ‘condemned to death’ but were ‘released’ so that G-d could be praised in Zion.  We see the future-focus of the Psalm here as well as a communal emphasis.  No longer is it an ‘I’ but it is ‘a people’ released from death.  It anticipates the Jewish generation that survived the Holocaust to see the state of Israel born.

In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
24 So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

The Psalmist closes with the reminder of the unchanging nature of G-d, even as all things in the physical world wear out and decay.  Then it is promised that the ‘children’ of the servants who passed through the great affliction (i.e. the Jews born after the Holocaust) will be ‘established’ before this unchanging G-d.

The description of the afflictions, the abrupt transition to the rebuilding of Zion, and that it was specifically ‘written for a future generation’ which would see G-d ‘release those condemned to death’ make it reasonable that the Psalmist was, thousands of years ago, foreseeing the affliction of the Shoa.  Of course, many of us today find it difficult to  accept the idea of prophetic foretelling.  But given that the warnings in the Tanakh about exile into foreign Gentile lands, the re-gathering back to Israel and Jerusalem, including even the timing, are verifiable prophecies, we should at least be open-minded about it.

If there is even a possibility that Psalm 102 was prophesying the Shoah and subsequent rebuilding of Zion then that leaves an important question for us.  After all, the Psalm does conclude with

The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.

It is essential for the ‘children of your servants’ (the generation after the Holocaust) to understand what it means to ‘live in your presence’ and to ‘be established before you’.  After all, Psalm 102 moves to this conclusion.  Perhaps the Divine Author inspiring the human Psalmist is calling those on the Post-Holocaust side of history to seek out His Presence.  Here is His Promise for those who do:

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Perhaps a good place to start is with Abraham.

 

4. The Promise in the Garden – First Hint of Israel

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:

  1. I = G-d
  2. you = serpent or Satan
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of serpent or Satan

The riddle predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:

Relationships between the characters in the Promise
Relationships between the characters in the Promise

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 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.

The Woman?

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….
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, this was called ‘adultery’ by the prophets.  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)

This ‘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)

There had been 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.

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)

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.
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.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
Isaiah 54:5-7

With only superficial reading, most people assume that the ‘woman’ referred to 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 step 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.  But is there more we can 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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 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.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.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.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 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 child14 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’ in Genesis 3 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 Promise 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.

These observations follow through in the Revelation passage.  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 Promise in Genesis 3, of a coming person pictured as a horn on a beast. Note the description:

“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.

“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.

“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.’

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.  It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.

3. …And missing our Target

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 LORD God 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.

2. But Corrupted … like orcs in Lord of the Rings

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

Orcs are ugly in so many ways, but they were simply corrupted elves

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.

The elves, like Legalos, were noble and majestic.  That image was corrupted in orcs

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.

Jerusalem & the Hebrew Prophet vs. Jewish skeptic (Pt 3)

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.

Applying the same prophetic timetable that we had used for Israel but now using Jerusalem dates (destroyed 586BCE, Temple rebuilt 516BCE, regained 1967CE) we get the following result:

586BCE + [70+(360*7)]*360/365.24 + 1 => 1967CE [1]

Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper
Ezekiel foretells the dispersal and re-gathering to Jerusalem, as a frame-shift of the schedule of Israel proper

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.


[1] 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.