The Shuvah Project #23 — Attributes of God

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

YHWH—YHWH is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.

-Exodus 34:6-7a

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha (Exodus 30:11-34:35) contained: further Tabernacle instructions regarding the money for atonement, the bronze basin, the anointing oil, and the sacred incense; a section about provision of workers; a section on observing the Sabbath; the sin of the golden calf; the tent of meeting; new tablets; God’s thirteen Attributes of Mercy (see footnote #1); and aspects of the covenant.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we invited readers into a little reading comprehension exercise. We asked that readers try to sum up this entire section of Text by giving it a title and a single-word theme. The blog post title reflects our summary. We also mentioned two possible routes to unpack the sin of the golden calf (see footnote #2). We opted for the more narrow focus. Below, we focus on the short dialogue between God and Moses atop Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32:7-14.

Rabbi David Fohrman, citing Nachmanides, points out something odd in God’s portion of the dialogue. He asks, why is the Hebrew phrase “And the Lord said,” inserted at the beginning of verse 9? It bothers him because we already know God is talking (e.g. the same phrase starts verse 7). No one else has spoken. It’s still God. So, why does the Text need to tell us the Lord said?

They answer… the Text is letting us know there was a designed pause, an intentional moment of silence by God. That is, after God spoke His indictment in verses 7 and 8, He gave Moses space to object and defend the people.

But, how do you defend a people still in the act of the offense? You can’t. So, crickets.

God then hands down the conviction and sentencing in verses 9 and 10.

At this point Moses does speak. In fact, the Text tells us Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. What changed? Why now, especially after an offer to be the founder of a new, great nation?

Maybe Moses recognized something in God’s words.

Rashi, an ancient Rabbi, thinks so. To paraphrase Rashi’s insight… what if God saying “leave Me alone so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them (Exodus 32:10a)”, is not a demand to leave, but an invitation to stay? Think about Moses’ options based on God’s statement: (1) leave and God destroys Israel or (2) don’t leave God alone… and Israel doesn’t get destroyed?

Reading the Text as an invitation to entreat extends even further. 

Here’s the Hebrew for “leave me alone“: יָנַח

Now, here’s the Hebrew for “Noah“: נֹחַ

The Hebrew word for “leave Me alone” actually contains the name Noah! And, if you recall from the Noah and Some post, we wrestled with the question of Noah’s missed opportunity. We waited until now to unpack it further.

Let’s go straight to a Rabbinic interpretation:

One way to read [leave Me alone], the simple way to read it, is; And now Moses leave Me alone and I will destroy them. Another way to read it is; And now Moses, be a Noah to Me. Noah left Me alone when I said I’m going to destroy the world, why don’t you leave Me alone too?

But Moses does not leave God alone, Moses entreated God, vigorously entreated Him. That word [entreat,] guess how many times [those Hebrew letters] appear [together] in the Torah before this time? This is the third time it appears in the entire Torah. You know when the first two times it appears is? With Noah. The first time it appears is when Noah waited on the boat, waited seven days and then sent out the dove to see if the waters had already receded. The next time we have the word; Noah began to build a vineyard for himself and got drunk, after the flood. Noah’s use of this word indicated passivity in the face of the terrible decree of God, or an escape to alcohol after the terrible destruction. Moses takes that same word and will not wait and will not be passive, but; entreats God.

-Rabbi David Fohrman, Epilogue: What is a Man of God?; emphasis added

Regardless of which way you want to read the “Leave Me alone” Text, the underlying implication seems the same, and ancient Rabbis picked up on it.

In fact, there are at least six connections back to the flood (see footnote #3).

Moses entreats. Noah didn’t.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

In our small section of Luke Text (6:6-11) we continue the Sabbath debate from last week, and it looks like the Luke Text is not only Targum of our parsha, but the author includes a Targum within the Text itself.

Let’s examine.

We are told it’s Sabbath and the setting is inside a synagogue (Luke 6:6). There’s a bunch of people gathered, ready for the service to proceed.

We are then told that Jesus says to the man with the paralyzed hand, “get up and stand in the middle (Luke 6:8).” Which may not seem important to know, but maybe it is. In the middle of an ancient, 1st Century synagogue we would likely find what’s known as a bimah (or bema). It is the raised platform from which the Torah portion was read during the Sabbath service.

Is it possible that Jesus invites this man to stand on the bimah and read the Torah portion?

Next, we are told, “Then Jesus said to them (Luke 6:9a).” Here’s the thing, that them is the Greek transliterated word autos. Throughout the NT writings, autos is used 1,952 times as him, but only 121 times as they. What’s more, in the very next verse when autos is once again used to describe who Jesus is looking around at, it comes with the modifier pas (Greek for all). Which raises the question, why wasn’t the previous use in verse 9 also, “autos pas”, or “them all”?

So, is it also possible that Jesus isn’t speaking to the assembly, but to the man himself?

When taken together, these possibilities suggest that Jesus might be asking the man to give his interpretation of the Torah portion; a standard 1st Century practice — read the Torah portion and give a really short interpretation. But, instead of just inviting the interpretation, Jesus prompts the man:

I ask you: which is it lawful on the Sabbath to do, good or evil; to save life or to destroy it?

-Luke 6:9b

Our Torah portion used the very same language in the dialogue between God and Moses. God wanted to be left alone so that He could destroy life. Moses argued that Egyptians would then say this God brought His people out with evil intent.

What if the man in the Luke Text read our Torah portion (Exodus 30:11-34:35)?

A Targum within a Targum!

If true, then it suggests Jesus’ restoration of the man’s hand is commentary on the Torah portion. What do we make of it?

Section Three (missing the mark):

So, pastors…

How would you respond to the decree of destruction waged against an entire community?

Rabbis asked and answered this regarding Noah and Moses… 

[Noah] was passive and accepted what God said. [Moses] was active and opposed God. Ironically, [Moses] becomes: “man of God” (Deuteronomy 33:1).

-Rabbi David Fohrman

What’s telling in this regard, from the pulpit, the hope in Jesus so easily becomes —  and instills — a hope for the rapture. The pastors conveying the misconception that the NT God is one of love, while the OT God is one of wrath are the same people desiring a God “that will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7b).” Interestingly, Rabbis, in their creation of the prayers for repentance, understood a different God of the OT (see footnote #5).

Section Four (real-world applications):

What if the narrative isn’t about rapture? What if it’s just one of mercy, compassion, faithful love, and forgiveness? What if…

As we see over and over again, the Torah is not a story of perfection, but of deep struggle, and of a love that prevails. It teaches us, even today, that no matter what stage of our lives we are in, we can always come home. Closeness is yours for the taking, just as long as you want it.

-Rabbi Emu Shalev

Return home. T’shuvah!


Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 35:1-38:20; Luke 6:12-19

Footnotes:

  1. Our Torah portion is used by Rabbis to compile God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy used during prayers of repentance. More on God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy.
  2. The expansive Exodus chiasm is also worth your time. Here’s the brief outline of that chiasm direct from Aleph Beta:  Screenshot 2019-02-21 09.06.02These mirrored sections range from Exodus 24:1 through to Exodus 40:38. At the center of it all — the center of gravity — the golden calf debacle. To learn more, in more detail, head to the Aleph Beta videos on (1) A Giant Chiasm in the Book of Exodus, and (2) A Closer Look At God’s Presence.
  3. Aleph Beta’s connections to the flood: (1) the Hebrew word for corrupted in Exodus 32:7 is the same that God used to describe the state of humanity in Genesis 6:11/12. (2) In Exodus 32:10 God says he’s going to destroy and start anew with Moses likewise in Genesis 6:17-18 God says the same of Noah. (3) In Exodus 32:14 God relented of the evil He would do to His people; whereas, in Genesis 6:6/7 God repents of making humanity. (4) In Genesis 6:7 God planned to blot out humanity; whereas, in Exodus 32:32 Moses says to blot him out if God won’t forgive Israel’s sin. (5) In Exodus 32:8 God says the people turned from “the way”, likewise in Genesis 6:12 God says all flesh corrupted “the way.”
  4. Rabbi David Fohrman distinguishes between the two Hebrew words for “why”. He suggests that one form is a scientific why that asks what happened in the past to create the current state. For that form, madua (Hebrew), he points to the burning bush Text. The why in our Text, is lamah (Hebrew). It is better understood as “for what” or what are the consequences. So, the better interpretation might be “what are the consequences of Your anger God?” 
  5. “The Hebrew phrase “v’nakeh lo y’nakeh” (meaning “and who cleanses but does not cleanse”), in Exodus 34:7, is a common biblical grammatical form that uses repetition to stress the action. The Rabbis ingeniously cut off the verse after v’nakeh, thus changing the meaning to indicate that God does forgive all sins. This remarkable midrashic transformation has become the standard format whenever this Torah verse is used in a synagogue service. Although it may go beyond the plain meaning of the biblical text, the change is consistent with the general concept of the passage-the merciful and forgiving nature of God (Source).”


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