In the last blog entry, Idolatry Repercussions, we discussed how the Jews returning from the exile in Babylonia & Persia were acutely aware of the disastrous consequences of their national tendency toward idolatry. Their spiritual leaders devised strategies to ensure that Israel never again thought about the LORD in the same way the pagans thought about their man-made idols. However, some of the measures they took to prohibit this elevated God to such a lofty position that it was almost impossible for ordinary people to relate to God in personal and tangible ways.
Dr. Lewis Goldberg explains what happened. “Jewish literature after the first century abounded with a variety of names for God. In particular, during the first century specific names were being used so as to carefully protect the being of God from contact with His creation, including man.” In addition to the commonly used substitutions for YHWH (HaShem, Adonai), there were a number of other terms used to identify God without cheapening His identity including “heaven” and “power”.
Dr. Goldberg asked a very poignant question. “What does all of this de-anthropomorphizing activity mean for first century Judaism’s view of God?” His answer is very revealing. It identifies one of the major problems that existed for both first century Jews and for those living today in accepting Yeshua as their Jewish Messiah. “He (God) became far removed from the average Jewish person. A warm, loving, vital relationship was lost, in comparison with how the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, for example, spoke of God. God became ‘wholly other’”.
This created a chasm between God and the Jewish people and has made it almost impossible for Jewish people to think of Jesus as being both their human Messiah and also God. The “traditions of men” which are rooted in the exile experience were taught to the returning captives.
By the time the Jews returned from Persia, Hebrew was no longer the daily language of the people. It was Aramaic. Ezra and the Sopherim (Scribes) recognized that the people no longer knew the Torah and what it taught. They set about to change that by reading it to them. However, when the Hebrew Scriptures were read, interpretation in Aramaic became necessary. This informs our reading of Nehemiah 8:8.
“They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
You may be thinking, “Why did the Jewish people need someone to translate the Word of God to those returning from exile?” God used the dispersion of the Jewish people to prepare the entire world for the first coming of Jesus. Not only did the Jewish people need to have someone translate the original Hebrew for their understanding, the people of the Gentile nations also would need to have the Bible translated into the languages they spoke.
This blog is part of s series that will focus on the Life of Messiah, Jesus Chris. It is critical to understand what are sometime identified as the “Silent Years”, the four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew, if we are to have any hope of truly understanding the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. Please watch the following video before proceeding with this posting.
#2 Life of Messiah – Translations
Judaism – From Ezra To Yeshua
As the years unfolded between the time of Ezra and the first advent of Messiah, the interpretations of the Sopherim continued to unfold. These interpretations are known as the Targumim. An Aramaic term was frequently used in the Targums in place of the name of God. That word was memra. The concepts of the memra were used to explain the intermediary activity of a holy God to the benefit of sinful man. Like the other Hebrew terms for identifying God that we have discussed, memra was an Aramaic term used as a literary device. Its purpose was to protect the people from the temptation to reduce the idea of God to the level of the pagan deities of the Goyim (Nations).
Please watch the next video before reading further.
#2 Life of Messiah – Memra
Six Characteristics of the Memra
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Distinct from God, yet the same as God – The idea of this concept is supported by Old Testament writers in Isaiah 9:8; 45:21–25; 55:10–11, and Psalm 147:15. The concept was not lost in the writing of the New Testament. This can be seen in Hebrews 4:12.
Agent of Creation – With just a word, all that has been created was spoken into being. Imagine this. Once there was absolutely nothing, God spoke, and matter appeared. What one believes about Creation drives everything else they believe about God. Creation captured the imagination of Moses in his recording of Genesis 1. The writer of Psalm 33 exalted in the creative power of the God’s Word. Once again New Testament writers echoed the First Testament writers in Hebrew 11:3 and 2 Peter 3:5.
Agent of Salvation – Mankind has never been able to save himself. Thus, it became necessary for God to intervene. In Psalm 130:4–7, the psalmist equates hope in the Word with hope in the Lord. Hebrews 1:1–3 and Hebrews 10:19–22 reflects this same correlation by a New Testament writer.
Means by which God becomes visible – In the Old Testament, a theophany was God making Himself visible to humanity in some way. When “the Angel of the Lord” appeared to an individual in the Old Testament, this was the pre-incarnate Son of God. The Shekinah is also an example of God manifesting himself in a visible way. Take a few minutes and look up Genesis 15:17; 16:17–14, Exodus 3:2; 40:34-38, Judges 2:1–5, 2 Samuel 24:16, and Zechariah 1:11–21. New Testament references include Mark 9:2-8 and Hebrews 10:19–20.
Means by which God signs His covenants – As a promise to make payment for goods and services rendered, no one would take a check that is not signed by the promissor. God was the single signator to His unconditional covenants. Look up Genesis 15:1–18, Exodus 24:8–17, Psalm 106:8; 119:89, and Isaiah 40:8. You have probably noticed that a number of the New Testament citations come from the book of Hebrews. See Hebrews 8 through 10 and Hebrews 10:19–22.
Agent of Revelation – We only know about God because He chose to reveal Himself. He wants to be known by those He created. See Genesis 16:1, Jeremiah 7:1, and Ezekiel 1:3. Once again in the New Testament look at Hebrews 1:2.
John, the writer of the fourth Gospel, communicated in the Greek language. Speakers of a different language other than their mother tongue are forced to interpret the concepts they intend their hearers to grasp. This was true for John. Logos is the Greek term for “word”. The Hebrew term is davar. But remember, in John’s day Hebrew was no longer in everyday use. Jesus more than likely spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and also Latin. But for the everyday people of the Galilee like John, Aramaic is what they would have been most comfortable with.
John was not a Hebrew scholar. He was not a Greek philosopher. He was a Jewish fisherman that saw, touched, and heard the Word of God, the Word made flesh. In his prologue, he gave a nod to the concept of the memra in order to communicate with everyday people, while at the same time correcting the wrong doctrinal teaching of the Jewish religious leaders.
God had indeed become a man.
As an exercise, Read John 1:1-18 and see if you can identify the verses where John had the six concepts of the memra in mind.