Thursday, March 16, 2017

"AGE OF LAW and AGE OF GRACE" OT,NT



In ancient times, prior to the Age of Grace people read the Bible, but at that time there was only the Old Testament; there was no New Testament. Since there was the Old Testament of the Bible, people began reading the holy scriptures. After Yehovah’s guidance of him had finished, Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy…. He recalled Yehovah’s work at the time, and wrote it down. The Bible is a book of history. Of course, it also contains some of the foretellings of prophets, and of course, these foretellings are by no means history. The Bible includes several parts—there is not just prophecy, or only the work of Yehovah, nor are there only the Pauline epistles. You must know how many parts the Bible includes; the Old Testament contains Genesis, Exodus…, and there are also the books of prophecy that they wrote. At the end, the Old Testament finishes with the Book of Malachi. It records the work of the Age of Law, which was led by Yehovah; from Genesis to the Book of Malachi, it is a comprehensive record of all the work of the Age of Law. Which is to say, the Old Testament records all that was experienced by the people who were guided by Yehovah in the Age of Law. During the Age of Law of the Old Testament, the great number of prophets raised up by Yehovah spoke prophecy for Him, they gave instructions to various tribes and nations, and foretold the work that Yehovah would do. These people who had been raised up had all been given the Spirit of prophecy by Yehovah: They were able to see the visions from Yehovah, and hear His voice, and thus they were inspired by HIM and wrote prophecy. The work they did was the expression of the voice of Yehovah, it was the work of prophecy that they did on behalf of Yehovah, and Yehovah’s work at the time was simply to guide people using the Spirit;

HE did not become flesh, and people saw nothing of His face. Thus, He raised up many prophets to do His work, and gave them oracles that they passed on to every tribe and clan of Israel. Their work was to speak prophecy, and some of them wrote down Yehovah’s instructions to them to show to others. Yehovah raised these people up to speak prophecy, to foretell the work of the future or the work still to be done during that time, so that people could behold the wondrousness and wisdom of Yehovah. These books of prophecy were quite different from the other books of the Bible; they were words spoken or written by those who had been given the Spirit of prophecy—by those who had gained the visions or voice from Yehovah. Apart from the books of prophecy, everything else in the Old Testament are records made by people after Yehovah had finished His work. These books can’t stand in for the foretellings spoken by the prophets raised up by Yehovah, just as Genesis and Exodus can’t be compared to the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Daniel. The prophecies were spoken before the work had been carried out; the other books, meanwhile, were written after it had been finished, which was what people were capable of. The prophets of that time were inspired by Yehovah and spoke some prophecy, they spoke many words, and they prophesied the things of the Age of Grace
the work that Yehovah planned to do.



The remaining books all record the work done by Yehovah in Israel. Thus, when you read the Bible, you’re mainly reading about what Yehovah did in Israel; the Bible’s Old Testament primarily records Yehovah’s work of guiding Israel, His use of Moses to guide the Israelites out of Egypt, who rid them of the Pharaoh’s shackles, and took them out into the wild, after which they entered Canaan and everything following this was their life in Canaan. All apart from this are records of Yehovah’s work throughout Israel. Everything recorded in the Old Testament is Yehovah’s work in Israel, it is the work Yehovah did in the land in which He made Adam and Eve. From when God officially began to lead the people on earth after Noah, all that is recorded in the Old Testament is the work of Israel. And why is there not recorded any work beyond Israel? Because the land of Israel is the cradle of mankind. In the beginning, there were no other countries apart from Israel, and Yehovah did not work in any other places. In this way, what is recorded in the Bible is purely the work in Israel at that time. The words spoken by the prophets, by Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel … their words foretell His other work on earth, they foretell the work of Yehovah God Himself. All this came from God, it was the work of the Holy Spirit, and apart from these books of the prophets, everything else is a record of people’s experiences of Yehovah’s work at the time.

What kind of book is the Bible? The Old Testament is the work of God during the Age of Law. The Old Testament of the Bible records all the work of Jehovah during the Age of Law and His work of creation. All of it records the work done by Yehovah, and it ultimately ends the accounts of Yehovah’s work with the Book of Malachi. The Old Testament records two pieces of work done by God: One is the work of the creation, and one is decreeing of the law. Both were the work done by Yehovah. The Age of Law represents God’s work under the name of Yehovah; it is the entirety of the work carried out primarily under the name of Yehovah. Thus, the Old Testament records the work of Yehovah, and the New Testament records the work of Jesus',(Yahushua) work which was carried out primarily under the name of Jesus. Most of the significance of Jesus’ name and the work He did are recorded in the New Testament. In the time of the Old Testament, Yehovah built the temple and the altar in Israel, He guided the life of the Israelites on earth, proving that they were His chosen people, the first group of people that He selected on earth and who were after His own heart, the first group that He had personally led; which is to say, the twelve tribes of Israel were Yehovah’s first chosen ones, and so God always worked in them, right up until the work of Yehovah of the Age of Law was concluded. The second stage of work was the work of the Age of Grace of the New Testament, and it was carried out among the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus worked only throughout the land of Judea, and only did three-and-a-half years of work; thus, what is recorded in the New Testament is far from able to surpass the amount of work recorded in the Old Testament. The work of Jesus of the Age of Grace is primarily recorded in the Four Gospels. The path walked by the people of the Age of Grace was that of the most superficial changes in their life disposition, most of which is recorded in the epistles



At the time, Jesus had done much work that was incomprehensible to His disciples, and had not provided any explanation. After He left, the disciples began to preach and work everywhere, and for the sake of that stage of work, they began writing the epistles and the books of gospel. The books of gospel of the New Testament were recorded twenty to thirty years after Jesus was crucified. Before, the people of Israel only read the Old Testament. That is to say, in the Age of Grace people read the Old Testament. The New Testament only appeared during the Age of Grace. The New Testament didn’t exist when Jesus worked; the people after He was resurrected and ascended to heaven recorded His work. Only then were there the Four Gospels, in addition to which were also the epistles of Paul and Peter, as well as the Book of Revelation. Only over three hundred years after Jesus ascended to heaven, when subsequent generations collated their records, was there the New Testament. Only after this work had been completed was there the New Testament; it had not existed previously. God had done all that work, the apostle Paul had done all that work, and afterward the epistles of Paul and Peter combined, and the greatest vision recorded by John in the island of Patmos was put the last, for it prophesied the work of the last days. These were all the arrangements of later generations, and they are different to the utterances of today. … What they recorded, it can be said, was according to their level of education and caliber. What they recorded was the experiences of men, and each had their own means of recording and knowing, and each record was different. Thus, if you worship the Bible as God you are extremely ignorant and stupid!



An explanation to enlighten minds. encourage the many to attain the utmost level of inner self-awareness, by way of going together well with the truth, light, love, consciousness, power, wisdom and life.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The "I AM"



The expression “I am what I am” undoubtedly calls to mind Yehovah's response to Moses at Exodus 3:14, though here quoted is the apostle Paul in reference to himself (1Cor. 15:10).  Some look for significance in every instance of the words “I am” in reference to God or Christ, nevertheless, that others could freely use these words is revealing.  This is not to suggest that Paul meant the same thing as God when he uttered these words as translated, only that the words are not intrinsically theological.

A survey of popular Bible translations finds the significant words of Exodus 3:14 translated with “I am” in what is by far the majority.  The Hebrew word so translated three times is ehyeh, also appearing in v. 12 but here almost universally rendered “I will be” or similarly.  With nothing to indicate a change in meaning between v. 12 and 14 it is difficult to imagine why this word is so often translated in two entirely different ways within the matter of only two verses. 

While a few identify this as God’s name, more common is the understanding that this is a designation of self-existence.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia argues otherwise:


 "This [expression “I am”] has been supposed to mean 'self-existence,' and to represent God as the Absolute. Such an idea, however, would be a metaphysical abstraction, not only impossible to the time at which the name originated, but alien to the Heb[rew] mind at any time.  And the imperfect 'ehyeh is more accurately tr[anslated] 'I will be what I will be,' a Sem[etic] idiom meaning, 'I will be all that is necessary as the occasion will arise... The optional reading in the ARV margin is much to be preferred: ‘I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE,’ indicating His covenant pledge to be with and for Israel in all the ages to follow."

The Hebrew expression translated reflected a meaning much more complex than mere self-existence or identification.  Presented were insights into God’s function and character as a Rabbi relates:

"Moses perceived that the people would want to know which attribute of God they can expect to encounter; that is, what their experience of God will be, and what is going to happen to them. God's answer, then, leaves things open-ended. Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh is based on the future tense conjugation of the Hebrew verb meaning ‘to be.’ Often translated as ‘I Am Who I Am,’ the phrase is more accurately translated as ‘I Will Be That Which I Will Be.’ The people will come to know God through their unfolding experiences together."

God’s self-revelation did not restrict him from providing the proper identification Moses requested in v. 13.  Following v. 14 God identified himself as “Yehovah,” saying, “This is My name forever” (v. 15).  While his proper name did much to reveal him, he first expressed here character with ehyeh asher ehyeh,(, translated well by The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, “I shall be who I shall prove to be.” He would become all that was necessary for his people.  

The LXX does contain the words “I am,” yet differently than in any of the texts we will consider.  Whereas ehyeh in v. 12 was properly rendered with the Greek future e;somai(esomai), in Exodus 3:14 it is translated ego eimi ho on (“I am the being”).  This translation—certainly based upon a later interpretation of the text—reflects self-existence but does not substantiate a significant meaning for “I am,” with eimi serving only as a copula. 

Though the translators of the  LXX did not articulate the intended meaning of Jehovah’s words, other early translations proved successful in this effort.  Both Aquila and Theodotion rendered ehyeh in agreement with their translation of 3:12, providing in v. 14 esomai ho esomai, “I will be who I will be.”


Yehovah and I [am] He

On several occasions Isaiah presents Yehovah uttering the words “I am he.”  Translated from the Hebrew ani hu, these two pronouns mean “I” and “he,” respectively, with the LXX translating them ego eimi, (“I am”). It has taken an extreme view, suggesting that the “use of ani hu by Isaiah is a euphemism for the very name of God himself",” while others may suggest this refers to his self-existence. These ideas prove extremely difficult, for here present is language common even today. 

The anaphoric (referring back to what was already defined, in contrast with an absolute statement of existence) use of ani hh is immediately apparent, hu referring back to what is already defined.  For example, if one were to ask, “Who is the author of this book?” I might respond with a simple “I am” or “I am he.”  Of these responses, the first has the predicate “the author of this book” implied from the question’s predicate, the second relies on the anaphora understood between the pronoun and its antecedent in the question.

Beginning in the 41st chapter of Isaiah are several “I am he” statements.  In v. 2-4. Yehovah asked who had done a series of things, with the implication that he had.  Yehovah affirmed that he was the doer of them, saying, “I Yehovah am the first and the last; I am He.”  The meaning was, “I am the one who has done these things.”

What is perhaps the most well known “I am he” statement is Isaiah 43:10 where Yehovah spoke: “You are My witnesses, says Yehovah; and My servant whom I have elected; that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He.”  Up to this point Yehovah had declared himself to be 'their God, the Holy One of Israel, their Savior' (Isa. 43:3).  He identified himself as the one who had cared for his people in the past, delivering them from trouble and putting others in their place for destruction (v. 3b-4).  He would gather his people back together from all over the earth (v. 5-6) and he was their creator (v. 7). He commanded for ‘the nations to be assembled,’ asking, “Who among them can declare this and cause us to hear former things?” (v. 9)  Knowing the nations had no one to supply who could, he continued: “Let them give their witnesses, that they may be justified. Or let them hear and say, It is true.” They were to declare, “It is true,” that Yehovah was the one who could do the things he had proclaimed and that their gods were nothing more than worthless idols. 

With verse 10 Yehovah identifies Israel as 'his witnesses.'  They witnessed how he had done everything proclaimed, so they knew with confidence that he would come to fulfill his future promises.  Yehovah says, “I am he,” meaning he is the one he claimed to be, having done all that he said as they had witnessed, and that it was he who could 'declare this and cause them to hear the former things.'  He subsequently identified himself as God and stated clearly that ‘there is no savior besides him’ (v. 11-12). With “I am he” (v. 13), he is this one, the one who ‘declared, saved and proclaimed.’

In Isaiah 45:22 God stated: “I am God, and there is no other.”  Everything he had said would come to pass (v. 23).  All who recognized Yehovah would know that he was the one they would have to turn to, while all opposed to him would feel ashamed (v. 24). The context, continuing into Isaiah 46, defines why those who opposed Yehovah would feel ashamed: “Bell has bowed; Nebo stoops.”  These idols were seen as unable to support even themselves, having to be carried upon animals (Isa. 46:1).  They proved unable to deliver those who served them (v. 2).  Yehovah thus instructs his people to listen to him (v. 2).  Finally he says, “Even to old age I am He” (v. 4). 

Yehovah had affirmed his position as the only God in contrast to the idols of the nations; he proclaimed how their gods had failed, unable to care for their worshippers.  From their birth to old age he is the God of his people and he would care for them, carrying their burden just as the people of the nations would for their idols.

The last “I am he” statement at Isaiah 48:12 discusses God as the deliverer of prophecy.  In the past he warned his people of coming events, and the warnings had proven correct.  With Israel he had done the same but they had not listened.  Even so, he affirmed himself as the one who had done these things, identifying himself by Isaiah as 'the God of Israel, Yehovah of Hosts' (v. 2).  With “I am he” Yehovah spoke of himself as the doer of these things.

As this brief review indicates, there is no reason to find a mystical significance with Yehovah’s use of “I am he.”  These words did not here refer to self-existence or somehow denote the name of God.  They served only to identify God in each immediate context as the one he was there claiming to be or as the doer of the works he proclaimed.



Jesus and I am [He]

Recorded in John 9 is the account of a man healed by Jesus.  Blind from birth (v. 1) the man was known to beg for money (v. 8).  Having been healed, he found those knowing him to be perplexed at his new found sight, perhaps even doubting who he was.  They asked, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?”  In response the formerly blind man said, “I am” (v. 9, literal).

With the words “I am” the man was not claiming to possess the divine name or eternal existence.  The inquiry was into his identity, being asked if he was the blind man who would sit and beg.  Though newly granted sight he was this one, so with the words “I am” the man addressed their inquiry.  For him to say, “I am,” was the same as saying, “I am he who used to sit and beg.”

Jesus made similar use of “I am.”  Speaking of future false messiahs he foretold of ones who would come 'in his name,' saying, “I am” (Mark 13:6).  These would claim to hold Jesus' position or perhaps be Jesus himself.  This use of evgw. eivmi, would undoubtedly correspond to his own even if a mystical connotation were involved, for they would be claiming to be him!  Yet by saying ego eimi, or “I am [he],” the meaning was only “I am the Christ” as Matthew’s parallel account reveals (Mat. 24:5).  Neither the divine name nor eternal existence were contemplated in the expression. 

Mark 13:6 and John 9:9 establish a precedent for the contemporary use of evgw. eivmi by Jesus and others.  Rather than a special theological meaning, the expression was part of common speech.  So to explain:

“To establish identity the formula evgw., eivmi is oft[en] used in the gospels (corresp[onding] to Hebr[ew] ani hu] Dt 32:39; Is 43:10), in such a way that the predicate must be understood fr[om] the context: Mt 14:27; Mk 6:50; 13:6; 14:62; Lk 22:70; J 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 13:19.” 

We will examine a portion of these to demonstrate a consistent pattern of use.  In John 8:24 Jesus provided one of his more significant statements, saying, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."  Demonstrated in what follows is that his listeners understood an implied predicate, with the Jews subsequently asking, “Who are You?”  Examining the context to understand the meaning remarks: 

“What they were required to believe is not explicitly stated... it is o[ti evgw, eivmi 'that I am,' which supposes has the pregnant meaning 'that I am, that in me is the spring of life and light and strength'; but this scarcely suits the context.  Supposes it means 'that I am the Messiah'.  But surely it must refer directly to what He has just declared Himself to be, 'I am not of this world but of the things above... This belief was necessary because only by attaching themselves to His teaching and person could they be delivered from their identification with this world.”

While other views are legitimate he may have overlooked a prior verse of significance.  In v. 12 Jesus identified himself, saying, “I am the Light of the world.”  Note how tradition held that “Light was one of the names of the Messiah,” making his claim Messianic.  The Jews rejected this, accusing him of having given false testimony in 'bearing witness to himself' (v. 13) while likely failing to understand the full significance of his words.  Jesus refuted their false accusation (v. 14-18), followed by an exchange where they continued in their lack of understanding.  They would 'seek him' and still 'die in their sins' (v. 21) because they would not believe that he was the one whom he claimed to be (v. 24), that one being “the light of the world.”

Jesus continued his exchange, speaking of the Father as the one who sent him, but they continued in their misunderstanding (v. 25-27).  Jesus explained that they would come to understand the things they had not: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (v. 28).  Upon his death they would know he was the one he had claimed to be.

In John 13:19 Jesus made an “I am” statement that should prove no more difficult to understand than any other.  Beginning in verse 13 Jesus confirmed that he was “Teacher and Lord,” as his disciples had identified him.  Setting a pattern in humility for them he took to washing their feet (v. 14-15).  “A slave is not greater than his master,” so if their Lord would wash their feet how much more should they be willing to wash the feet of each other (v. 16-17).  He explained: “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He” (v. 19).  Jesus was telling what would happen beforehand to confirm their belief in who he was, their “Teacher and Lord.”

A physical response has led some Trinitarians into wild speculation on the meaning of Jesus' words at John 18:5-6.  There would undoubtedly be little controversy surrounding Jesus' final use of “I am” recorded in John 18:5-6 were it not for this.  Accompanying men sent by “the chief priests and the Pharisees” (v. 3) Judas approached, prompting Jesus to ask, “Whom do you seek?” (v. 4)  The men responded, “Jesus the Nazarene,” to which Jesus said, “I am [he]” (v. 5, literal).  The apostle records what next took place: “So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground.”  When the men expressed that they were seeking Jesus, his response only articulated that he was the one they sought.  He outspokenly confessed he was “Jesus the Nazarene.”  There was not an extraordinary significance to his words as 'a euphemism for God's name’ or a connotation of eternal divine being.  The interpretive methods of the Trinitarian looks not to what was said for the meaning, but to an ambiguous physical response.  That those with Judas fell back when Jesus said evgw. eivmi is interpreted to mean that they understood him claiming to be God Almighty. “[John's] narrative indicates... that Jesus identified Himself voluntarily... And evgw. eivmi in v. 5 may mean simply, 'I am He of whom you are in search'... The words which follow, 'they retired and fell to the ground,' then, imply no more than that the men who came to make the arrest... were so overcome by His moral ascendancy that they recoiled in fear.”

"The frank, open, and fearless manner in which Jesus addressed them may have convinced them of his innocence, and deterred them from prosecuting their wicked attempt. His disclosure of himself was sudden and unexpected; and while they perhaps anticipated that he would make an effort to escape, they were amazed at his open and bold profession."

Jesus' “I am” statements corresponded to the common meaning of ego eimi as used by his contemporaries.  There are undeniable similarities with the use by the blind man in John 9 and Yehovah in Isaiah yet never is the divine name or eternal existence in view.

Before Abraham came to be, I am

As a man of only 30 years Jesus began his ministry.  His young age undoubtedly left the Jews perplexed when he said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Understanding Jesus to mean that he had seen Abraham while he was still alive, they also knew he was “not yet fifty years old” (v. 57).  Perhaps feeling they had caught him in a lie they inquired further, to which he responded (v. 58).

The meaning of Jesus' response has been strongly debated with his most well known “I am” statement.  While often paralleled with his other such statements, “I am” is here used differently than in the passages already considered.  It is correct in observing the distinction though understating the extent to which it exists:

“This use of ego eimi, is slightly different from that in vv 24 and 28, where 'I am he' is clearly in mind, whereas no predicate is intended here.”

The phrase is here existential, as eivmi, is no longer a copula with an implied predicate.  Per the context, focus is upon his existence in relation to his human age. It is suggested that eivmi, is “really absolute,” agreeing with the standard “I am” translation.  The lack of evidence or defense for this interpretation makes it difficult to provide any significant interaction with this position, but heading under which it  provided the reference is telling, for it may imply a recognition that from grammar alone, and not theology, John 8:58 might best be understood differently.

An interpretation of John 8:58 was presented at the conclusion of a discussion of what it identified as the Greek progressive present, though confessing the name to be poor. Better identify this construction as a “Present of Past Action Still in Progress” (PPA), with explanation:

"The Present Indicative, accompanied by an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past time, is sometimes used in Greek, as in German, to describe an action which, beginning in past time, is still in progress at the time of speaking."

The present indicative in John 8:58 is eivmi,, while the adverbial expression referring to past time with the accompanied action is prin Abraham genesthai. The action of existing began in the past (or, if eternal, was perpetually ongoing) and continued up until the point he spoke.  He did not merely exist in the past so that he would say “I was,” or only at the present, but his existence was from a time before Abraham, through Abraham's life and in duration up until the moment he made this statement.  

"The verb 'to be' is used differently, in what is presumably its basic meaning of 'be in existence', in John 8:58: prin Abraham genesthai ego eimi, which would be most naturally translated 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born', if it were not for the obsession with the simple words 'I am'. If we take the Greek words in their natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction."


Suggested, regardless of the translation, is that the contrast between Abraham as one who “came to be” and Jesus as one who 'is' demonstrates eternal preexistence. 

“It is important to observe the distinction between the two verbs. Abraham's life was under the conditions of time, and therefore had a temporal beginning. Hence, Abraham came into being, or was born (genesthai). Jesus' life was from and to eternity. Hence the formula for absolutetimeless existence, I am (ego eimi).“

Further support for eternal preexistence is presented from the LXX of Psalm 89:2 An exact translation is difficult because of the reference to “ages” without clarifying if the thought was of past ages alone or all ages past and future.  The preceding verse of the Psalm highlights what God “has been” in reference to past “generations” so the former seems probable.  As such, the translation “you have been” is most appropriate.  To the psalmist God had been in existence when the earth was formed and throughout all past generations up to that time.  If, however, the reference is to all ages past and future the most appropriate rendering would be “you exist.”

Yehovah has been “in all generations” (v. 1), “before the earth and the world were formed, even from age to age” (v. 2).  For Yehovah 'a thousand years is as a day' (v. 3).  There is little doubt that God's eternal preexistence is here in view, but these statements extend beyond Jesus' words in John 8:58.  Even so Jesus’ contrast between the present indicative with the infinite could indicate eternal preexistence, but this is not expressly articulated.  In fact there is equally supportive evidence that this construction does not necessitate eternal preexistence.  An early text in the extra-biblical TheTestament of Job demonstrates as much:

Testament of Job 2:1 “For I have been [ego gar eimi]] Jobab since before the Lord named me Job.”  

Though eimi is here a copula, the correlation to John 8:58 in that both are a PPA is unaffected.  Those maintaining a grammatical argument insisting that Jesus is eternal as one who 'is' in contrast to Abraham who “came to be” must also insist that Job was eternally Jobab as one who 'is Jobab' in contrast to when he was only “named Job.”  He may not have eternally preexisted but he at least had the name assigned to him from all eternity.  This is an argument that cannot be sustained.

Provided by eimi is a differing point of emphasis, not necessarily an absolute contrast.  Job was already Jobab, but we are not told that he was always Jobab and never so “named.”  Similarly, while John 8:58 does not tell that Jesus “came to be,” this does not indicate that he never did.  Jesus' words likely provided a similar differing point of emphasis, pointing to his existence prior to, during and after Abraham.  In question was not if or when Jesus came to be, only how he had seen Abraham.  To answer how he had been alive from a time before Abraham all the way to the point when he spoke, without interruption, is explained this way:

Jesus' did not claim that he only “was” before Abraham, Neither did he claim only to 'come to be' prior to Abraham, for Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel all could have maintained this though they later died. It shows duration, so while Jesus existed for some time before Abraham, his existence continued through Abraham's life and then up until the time he spoke.  While just over 30 years of age in the flesh he had in fact existed continually for thousands of years prior and beyond.  

Perhaps not surprisingly Trinitarians often point to the Jewish response for identifying Jesus’ meaning.  One apologetic work argues:

“The reaction of Jesus' critics to his statement—attempting to stone him (John 8:59)—confirms that they thought he was making a divine claim.  Had Jesus stated only that he had been alive longer than Abraham, they might have regarded such a claim as crazy (as they apparently did with regard to his earlier comments, vv. 48-57), but not as an offense meriting stoning.  Of the offenses for which Jews practiced stoning, the only one that seems to fit the context here is blasphemy.  Claiming to be older than Abraham might have been judged crazy, but it would not have been judged as blasphemy.”

Whether Jesus claimed only to be “older than Abraham” or eternal his words could have been interpreted as “crazy.”  Both could have been interpreted as blasphemy.  No human can live for the duration Jesus expressed, whether it was from eternity or only a limited time before Abraham.  To claim such existence would indeed have been a “divine claim,” but not necessarily as the Almighty. 

The Jews could well have interpreted Jesus' words to be of self-deification, assigning to himself deity as emperors commonly did, but here including the notion of preexistence.  It was not necessary for Jesus to be Yehovah, but if he was understood as claiming to be a god in opposition to Yehovah their reaction would have been entirely appropriate.  Otherwise his claim may have been interpreted as “a self-claim that was an affront to God’s presence,” claiming for himself a divinely granted position and corresponding existence that they did not believe him to possess.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

"ESTHER"




The Talmud assumes that the Torah must hint to Esther and the Purim story, even though her appearance on the stage of Jewish history did not occur until many centuries later. Yet Esther is so significant a character, and has so much to contribute to our national heritage, that she must be represented somewhere in the Five Books of Moses.

Where do we hear about Esther in the Torah? [It says in Deuteronomy 31:18:] "And I will hide, really hide my face from them." (Talmud - Chullin 139b)

The allusion to Esther in the Torah is a description of hiddenness and despair. As a consequence of the Jewish people distancing themselves from God, God hides His face from them to the point where He is no longer felt in their lives. Of course, God never actually leaves the people, but seemingly random and meaningless events make it appear as if He is no longer there.

The Purim story is set in such a time period. En masse, the Jewish people attended Achashverosh's seven-day feast, indulged themselves in the Persian hedonistic culture, and left Judaism behind. In Heaven, a decree in pronounced:

Satan stood before God and told Him [that the Jews sinned at the feast] and said: “Master of the Universe -- until when will you stick to this nation who remove their hearts from you?”… At that time, God said: “Why do I need this nation for whom I have done many miracles. I will obliterate them from existence…” Immediately God said to Satan: “Bring me a scroll and I will write destruction upon it.” (Midrash - Esther Rabba 87:13)

The hiddenness is about to begin in earnest. For as is well known, there is no mention of God's name in the Megillah at all.

There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai, the son of Yair… from the tribe of Binyamin… He reared Hadassah, she is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, because she did not have a father or mother. The girl was beautiful of form and appearance, and when her parents died, Mordechai adopted her as his daughter. (Esther 2:5-7)

Esther first appears with two names: Hadassah and Esther. "Hadas" is a myrtle, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) explains:

Hadassah: myrtle leaves are sweet smelling, and used as a metaphor to describe righteous people. Esther: from the root of "hester," hidden, as she kept her words hidden (when she refused to disclose her nationality when chosen as queen). Also, it is similar to the Persian word "estehar" which means moon/crescent, a reference to her beauty; the nations would see her and say she is beautiful like the moon.

These explanations point to Esther’s beauty (the sense of sight), fragrance of the myrtle (sense of smell) and the hiddenness associated with her name. Perhaps a theme will present itself where Esther will need to use all her senses to grope her way -- through the maze of hiddenness, to a sense of clarity and light.

Esther is Mordechai's cousin, so she comes from the tribe of Binyamin, the son of Rachel. As such, she shares some traits with Rachel and her various descendants. For one, she is "beautiful of form and appearance," which was also a description of Rachel (Genesis 29:17). Esther is actually considered one of the four "beauties" of the world, according to the Talmud (Megillah 15a). Esther’s silence, or ability to hide a secret, seems to run in the family as well:

Rachel excelled in the art of silence (when keeping from Yaakov the
switching of Leah at her wedding). And so did all her descendants hide
information: Binyamin knew about the sale of Yosef and did not tell.
Shaul: "and the matter of the (coronation to) kingship he did not tell.”
Esther: "Esther did not tell of her birthplace or her nation." (Midrash -
Breishit Rabba 71:5)

Silence, or the ability to keep a secret, is a root trait of Esther, inherited from her ancestor, Rachel, who refused to divulge Leah’s secret on her wedding day. This seems to be a skill, or an art, which is not just a result of extreme compassion (as in the case of Rachel), but rather an expression of humility, modesty, and putting oneself aside for a greater cause. When one refuses to reveal private information, it seems s/he is willing to let a higher authority take control of events and not take an active role in changing the course of history. In Esther's case, it is Mordechai's authority to which she concedes:

She did not tell of her nationality or birthplace, because Mordechai commanded her. Esther continued to do as Mordechai told her, as she had done when under his care. (Esther 2:20) Modesty, or tzniut (concealing, covering up) is also mentioned as a family trait of Esther's:
In the reward of Rachel's tzniut, she merited that Shaul descend from her. And in reward of Shaul's tzniut, he merited that Esther descend from him. (Talmud - Megillah 13b)


We see Esther's personality initially taking shape as a beautiful, righteous, modest, retiring, shy and quiet young girl, who grows up as an orphan in Mordechai's house, allowing him to take charge and submitting to his authority.

She had absolutely no interest in assuming a position of royalty, or of making herself public or obvious in any way: When Esther’s turn arrived… to come to the king, she didn't ask for anything. Whatever Hagai… the guard of the women said, she did, and Esther found favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. (Esther 2:15)
Esther’s approach was the opposite of the other women: They wanted to beautify themselves before the king, but Esther preferred to be looked down upon, so that she could quickly return to the house of Mordechai. 

It is interesting to note that each time the Jewish people confront Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people, the battle is led by a descendant of Rachel’s sons Yosef or Binyamin. The first battle -- the Jewish people facing Amalek after leaving Egypt (Exodus 17:9) -- was fought by Yehoshua, the son of Nun, from the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Yosef. The second time was fought by King Shaul, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Binyamin (1-Samuel 15:1-3). And in our story, Esther and Mordechai, from the tribe of Binyamin, confront Haman, the Amalekite.

It seems there is a specific compatibility between the children of Rachel and defeating Amalek, the grandson of Esav.

Rachel was always meant to be Yaakov's wife, as opposed to Leah who was initially destined to marry Esav. As a result, her (Leah's) descendants don't have the necessary strength to be Esav's spiritual nemesis. (Tifferet Tzion - Breishit Rabba 73:5)

The Midrash (Tanchuma - Ki Tetze) describes a moral struggle between Esav and the sons of Rachel. Esav can claim against all the tribes that they are no better than he, since they also wronged their brother, by selling him into slavery and conspiring to kill him. Yet this claim doesn't hold water with regard to Yosef (who was sold) and Binyamin (who was not around at the time of the sale).

In general, it seems that the descendents of Yosef and Binyamin are destined to fight and overcome Amalek throughout the generations. Specifically, Mordechai, from the tribe of Binyamin, has a distinct aversion to bowing down to Haman, while the other Jews rationalized that the danger outweighed any halachic difficulties. As the Midrash (Esther Rabba 87:9) describes:

Mordechai said: "Moshe warned us in the Torah: 'Cursed is the man who makes a statue'… This evil man (Haman) makes himself into an idol! Especially I [should not bow], since I was born in the home of the king (i.e. all the tribes were born outside of Israel, and my ancestor was born in Israel)." Immediately, this was reported to Haman, who sent back: "Your grandfather Yaakov bowed down to my grandfather [Esav]." Mordechai answered: "Binyamin was not yet born at that event."

Mordechai claims he had special reason to stand his ground against Haman: He was born in the "palace" -- God's home, the Land of Israel. His only boss can be God Himself. Furthermore, Haman’s excuse regarding Yaakov bowing down to Esav years earlier was not applicable to Mordechai, since his ancestor Binyamin was not part of that subjugation.

In the Purim story, Esther is taken forcefully to the king's palace. "And Esther was taken to the house of the king" (Esther 2:8). She certainly has no interest in being queen, and even though all the other women decorated and prettied themselves in order to find favor in the king's eyes, Esther remained hidden in Mordechai's house (for three years) until she was finally found and forced out by the king's officers. Even then "she did not request anything" to make herself more desirable.

This must have been a dark, devastating event in her life, especially according to the commentaries which state Esther was actually married to Mordechai.

“Every day Mordechai walked in front of the palace." Mordechai said: “Could it be that this righteous woman should be married to such a despicable man? Maybe something will happen to the Jewish people in the future and she will be in the position to save them.” (Mechilta Beshalach - Amalek 52)

Mordechai felt that if such a tragic occurrence were to happen to such a righteous girl as Esther, something must be brewing in Jewish destiny to necessitate it. Yet Esther doesn't have the benefit of such a hint. She is just spending her days and months in the palace, and -- as commanded by Mordechai -- silently guarding her identity and trying to practice Judaism in secret. Her relationship with Mordechai is not public and she communicates with him though a messenger, one of her servants.

Mordechai becomes aware (through prophecy) of the serious decree against the Jewish people in Heaven and the corresponding decree sent by Haman and Achashverosh to destroy every Jewish man, woman and child. He tears his clothing and wails in the streets of Shushan, "crying a loud and bitter cry" (Esther 4:1). 

Esther hears about Mordechai's strange behavior and sees it as completely uncharacteristic of him and of their tribe. "The queen was very shaken" (Esther 4:4). She sends him clothes to wear and tells him to remove his sackcloth. Esther is not used to such public displays of emotion; Binyamin is the tribe who excels in keeping things silent and hidden. To rip one's clothes and walk through the streets screaming is extremely inappropriate. When Esther is unable to persuade him to calm down, she asks what happened and Mordechai sends the message:

The son of happenstance (Amalek) has come upon us, as it says (Deut. 25:18), "who has chanced upon you on the way." (Midrash Esther Rabba 8:5)

Mordechai tells Esther that Haman is a descendant of Amalek and poses a serious threat to the Jewish people. He asks Esther to "go to the king and beg and request for her nation." Esther at first answers with hesitation: "Everybody knows that if a man or woman goes to the king uninvited, the law is that he be killed. And I have not been called to the king in 30 days" (Esther 4:11, paraphrased).

Esther assumes that she will soon be called to the king, and then she can make the effort to help. Esther did not sense the urgency of the matter, given that the decree was not to be carried out until 11 months later, in the Hebrew month of Adar. Esther figured she had time to act, and why put one's life in jeopardy unnecessarily?

Mordechai replies with a harsh, almost threatening warning: "Don't imagine you might escape in the house of the king out of all the Jews. Because if you are silent now, relief and salvation will come to the Jewish people from another place, and you and your father's house will be lost." (Esther 4:13-14)

It seems that Mordechai is trying to impress upon Esther the imminence of the disaster and the scope of the tragedy, though he cannot convey through Hatach (the messenger) all the details of his prophetic information. He also clarified to Esther that although modesty and silence are normally important traits, there is a time and a place where one has to speak up and take assertive action. By way of a hint, he told her that her father's house was responsible for the tragedy because (King Shaul) didn't get rid of Amalek completely, and it is her mission to fix this mistake. 

Esther didn't take long to get the message. From here on, her personality takes a turn. She becomes the initiator, the active leader, the decision maker and commander. No longer does she blindly execute Mordechai's orders, rather she orders him herself:

"Go and gather all the Jews… and fast for me for… three days and nights, and I and my maidens will do the same. And I will go the king, not according to the law. And if I am lost, I am lost.” And Mordechai passed (transgressed) and did everything Esther commanded him to do. (Esther 4:16-17) "Three days and nights:” these are the dates 13, 14 and 15 of Nissan. Mordechai sent her: “But isn't one of those days the first night of Passover?” She sent back: “Elder of Israel, if there are no Jewish people left, for whom is Passover?” Immediately Mordechai heard and admitted she was right. (Esther Rabba 8:7) "And Mordechai passed:” He transgressed, i.e. he fasted on the first day of Passover(Talmud - Megillah 15a)

Esther concluded that all the Jewish people have to unite in order to avert this catastrophe. So Esther commanded Mordechai to transgress the Torah laws of eating matzah, drinking wine and celebrating the Seder night, and to instruct the entire Jewish people to do the same! Esther is a prophetess and as such can command to break a Torah law on this one-time basis. From here on, she takes upon herself the mantel of prophecy and acts with the decisiveness and courage befitting a queen.

By choosing to accept Mordechai's challenge of going to the king unannounced and telling him about the plot to eradicate her nation, Esther was putting her life at risk for the sake of the Jewish people. But she was doing more than that.

"I will go to the king, not according to the law. And if I am lost, I am lost" (Esther 4:16). [Esther was saying:] “As I will be lost from my father's house, so I will be lost from you, [Mordechai].” (Talmud - Megillah 15a)

According to one opinion in the Talmud, Esther was actually married to Mordechai. Despite having been forced to live with Achashverosh, Esther retained her status as a married woman and -- according to Jewish law – would be permitted to resume being Mordechai's wife as soon as the Achashverosh episode were over. However, at this turning-point, Esther now plans to willingly choosing to approach Achashverosh. She fears this will automatically change the relationship from passive to active, and will consequently forbid her -- as an adulterous woman -- from ever returning to her husband, Mordechai. With the words "I will approach the king, not according to the law," Esther is referring not only the law of the kingdom, but to Jewish law as well.

Esther takes the double-risk, physically and spiritually, for the sake of the greater cause. "If there is no Jewish nation, for whom is Passover?" The entire Torah is for the Jewish people. If they are at risk of annihilation, what other considerations can possibly apply? Esther now sees herself as a catalyst for the redemption. She is no longer as a girl from a specific family with her own individual set of circumstances. She is taking responsibility for the nation.

Esther doesn't proceed flippantly. She is determined to save the Jewish people in the most effective way. First, by having the entire nation fast for three days and nights, she sets the stage for God's mercy and compassion. Then, only on the third day, does she dress up in royal clothes and approach the inner chamber of the king. Rabbi Levi said:
“As Esther approached the house of idols, the presence of God left her, she said, ‘God, Oh God why have You left me’ (Psalms 22). Could it be that You judge me as premeditating and willing, instead of as one who is coerced to transgress?" (Talmud - Megillah 15b)
The Talmud shows us the inner workings of Esther's heart: plunged into complete darkness and not feeling God alongside her. She doesn't have a clue whether what she's doing is approved in the eyes of Heaven. Maybe God considers her act inappropriate? Her prophecy fails her when she needs it most. Physically, too: Esther is going to the king on the third day of fasting. What she most have looked like! She is truly risking her life by going to him in this state. But she understands that the "natural" is not a factor in this equation of salvation. Esther is completely convinced that the situation -- so severe and clearly Heaven-sent -- demands a miraculous turn-about. Esther purposely doesn't wait around for the king to call her on his own and for nature to play itself out.

That night, Esther invites Achashverosh and Haman to a party at her house. At the party, she invites them to another party the next day. Why is Esther behaving this way? Why not rush to get her request over with as soon as possible?

The Talmud and Midrash offer many answers to this question –, in fact. But one shows Esther bent on finding a solution to the root problem (not just the symptom), and places her among the great leaders and strategists of the Jewish
people:

So that the Jewish people will not say: "We have a sister in the house of the king" and consequently will not beg wholeheartedly for mercy. (Talmud - Megillah 15b)

Esther realized that in order to bring about God's compassion, the Jews would need to realize there is no one else upon whom to rely. If they felt that Esther could succeed on her own, they might half-heartedly pray, fast and repent --while deep in their heart relying on Esther to save the day. However, after three days of fasting and praying, if the rumor spread that Esther seemed to befriend the the Jews would wake up, take responsibility for the dire state of the nation, and realize that "We have no one to rely on except for our Father in Heaven."

Also, Esther may have been waiting for some sign from God that this was the right avenue to take. She was still in the dark, acting purely on the basis of her own understanding, and knowledge of God's love from previous experience. But right now, nothing pointed out to her that God was with her and that He would back up her attempt to overcome Haman.

That night, between the first party and the second, Esther received the sign she was waiting for. The sleeplessness of the king prompted him to recall Mordechai's favor of years before. This "coincided" with Haman's approach to the palace, which led to the famous leading of Mordechai through the streets of Shushan in royal garb on the king's horse. Amazingly, Haman, the second in command, was honoring his arch-enemy, the Jew, causing himself such humiliation in the process! This was the miraculous sign that Esther, to show her that at this moment, the redemption had begun.

Although she had strategized, Esther was not certain that inviting the enemies of the Jews to a party was the right way to go. Nor could she know that Achashverosh would react favorably to her. There was a distinct chance that this tactic would arouse his jealousy, allowing him to assume that she liked Haman personally. In such a case, the king would have them both executed. This was a risk she was willing to take, since if that’s how things played out, Haman's decree would also be annulled and she would be saving her people from destruction.

Esther was so busy praying and conversing with God at this second party, that when asked to name the evil executor of the "final solution,” she inadvertently pointed to the king himself:

"An evil man and an enemy is this bad Haman" (Esther 7:6). Rabbi Eliezer said: “This teaches that she pointed at Achashverosh [even as she said: "Haman"] and an angel came and pushed her hand to be directed at Haman." (Talmud - Megillah 16a)

Esther was acting now as a prophetess, speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth, focusing intently on her goal of reaching a spiritual turn-about which would cause the physical destiny to change as well. She was so aware that real salvation lay only in the heavenly courts that she didn't even realize she was pointing at the person she was speaking to, since in reality, he was an evil enemy as well and she was speaking to God. Natural events and circumstances were just tools to approach "the King of all Kings" and beg for His mercy and compassion.

And so it was: The wicked Haman fell onto Esther, angering the king, who 
immediately ordered Haman to be hanged on the gallows which he had built for Mordechai. It had all come full circle.

After the showdown at Esther's party, the demise of Haman, the reformation of the decree which allowed the Jews to defend themselves in any future war, the incredible victory of the Jewish people over their enemies, and the final hanging of Haman’s 10 sons, there was yet another momentous event: The Jewish people reached such a high level of recognition and appreciation of God that they reaccepted the Torah out of love:

The Torah was (initially) forced upon the Jewish people, as God held the mountain above their heads… Rava said: “However, they accepted it later out of choice, in the days of Achashverosh, as it says (Esther 9:27): ‘The Jews accepted and kept all the words’." (Talmud - Shabbat 88a)

Esther asked to write down this record of events in a scroll. God's hidden but 
unique supervision had to be set down in print, for generations to come, so the nation would have an understanding of how to relate to God in times of complete darkness and despair. What happens when everything looks bleak and you can't find God anywhere, when you don't know if He is approving of your actions or not, or even feel the tiniest spark of holiness or spirituality? That is when you must place your trust in God, and go forward relying on your inner voice of clarity and reason knowing that God never leaves His nation. It is then that you must do everything possible to reestablish the lines of communication between God and the Jewish people.

The Sages agreed with Esther’s assessment, and established a holiday in her merit and a scroll in her name, which will exist for eternity:

“And the days of Purim will not pass from amongst the Jews, and their memory will never cease from their descendants.” (Esther 9:28) All the books of the prophets and all the writings are destined to be cancelled out in the days of the Messiah, except for the Megillah of Esther which -- like the Five Books of Moses and the Oral Law -- will never be nullified." (Maimonides - Megillah 2:13)

It is hard to see the happy ending for Esther, personally. She remains married to the Persian hedonistic King Achashverosh, she never returns to Mordechai (if in fact she was married to him), and in any case never goes back to living a normal Jewish life will all that entails. She is recorded as being the Queen of Persia for years to come and the mother of the next Persian King Daryavesh, who eventually allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and begin rebuilding the Temple and their independent lives in the Holy Land. Esther is destined to be the Jewish representative in the royal household for the rest of her life, helping her people from afar, saving them initially from destruction and then supporting their cause, spiritually and nationally. Esther sacrificed everything for the bigger cause: The opportunity to live among the people she loved and even her own spiritual fulfillment in this world (and as far as she was concerned, in the next as well), for the cause of good and for the nation of Israel.


In his book, Pachad Yitzchak, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner explains why certain holidays will cease in the messianic era, except for the story and holiday of Purim. He compares it to two people walking in the dark, each with a mission to find their friend in the darkness. One uses a flashlight and quickly finds his acquaintance, but the other, without the benefit of a light, is forced to use his other senses. Through listening carefully, feeling his way through the obstacles, and even sniffing the air for subtle nuances of scent, he finally learns to recognize his friend. When the sun comes up, the first fellow no longer would need his flashlight and discards it as unnecessary. However, the second person, who has groped his way through the darkness, has developed a skill in the process and sensitized himself to unique aspects that he’d never have realized had he not been lacking his eye-sight. Therefore, for him, even when the sun has risen, he retains the internal richness he has gained, and the relationship with his friend benefits from the intimacy that was reached as a result of the nocturnal experience. Esther had to walk through the dark to find God, without the benefit of open miracles and signs, huge flashes of inspiration or insight. No plagues, splitting of seas, pillars of clouds and fire, or even flasks of oil lasting for eight days. For her, the darkness continued for a lifetime.

But she taught herself and the Jewish people skills which they could use throughout the years of exile and hiddenness: Place your trust in God, to know with a conviction and clarity that God is listening, even when He is deeply hidden. Unite as a people and act to arouse His mercy -- even risk your life --knowing that He will respond to save His people. This sensitivity she developed within herself and the level to which she elevated the Jewish people, will remain within our collective psyche throughout the generations and will enrich us even in the messianic era. In that great era of light and clarity, all the other holidays which posed as mere flashlights throughout the years will no longer be necessary. They will fade into insignificance. Purim and Esther's message, however, will illuminate for eternity.