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In This Lesson
He is the absolute, indivisible, incomparable, self-existent Being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Judaism teaches that the true aspect of God is incomprehensible and unknowable. "Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:13-14 NIV). God brought the universe into existence and has graciously revealed aspects of Himself to humankind and interacts with us and the world as He wills.
Judaism has changed very little over the past 6,000 years. Just as they believed 5,000 years ago, so they believe today:
Although the Jews look to the Exodus from slavery in Egypt as the foundation of the nation of Israel, its founding really goes back more than 400 years before that to a promise made to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:2 and 22:17-18). Not only did Abraham believe the promise, but for the next 400-some years, his descendants relied on that promise, too. Even during the significant period of slavery in Egypt, they continued to believe the promise.
Following the Exodus from Egypt which in and of itself is nothing short of a dramatic demonstration of God's love and protection of Israel God established a conditional covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This is where He gave the Law [the Mitzvot] through Moses, which consists of what we commonly call the "Ten Commandments" and other laws governing their worship as well as dietary and hygiene requirements.
During that time God also promised blessings if they faithfully followed the Law and punishment (or more appropriately, discipline) if they broke the Law.
The rest of Israel's history, as recorded in the Bible, is a continuing cycle of blessing for Israel's obedience and discipline for their disobedience to God's Law. Throughout times of victory and defeat, kings and judges, priests and prophets, restoration and exile the Israelites were blessed when they obeyed God and disciplined when they did not.
As a nation, Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. At that time, the Jews scattered throughout the whole world, keeping the hope based on prophetic promises of an eventual regathering to the chosen land God gave to Israel. In 1948, after almost 1900 years had passed, Israel was again declared a sovereign nation and officially reestablished in the promised land. Through a series of miraculous events, including the Jews retaking Jerusalem in 1967, this generation is witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy with respect to God's special nation.3
"The grass withers, the flower fades; but the Word of our God shall stand forever. Go up for yourself on the high mountain, bringer of good tidings to Zion. Lift up your voice with strength, O you who bring good tidings to Jerusalem; lift up, do not be afraid. Say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those with young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and measured out the heavens with a span? And who has shut up the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?" (Isaiah 40:8-12)
See also Jeremiah 10-11.
Israel's God Is a Jealous God
"If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed." (Deuteronomy 8:19 emphasis added)
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
"But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess." (Deuteronomy 30:17-18 emphasis added)
"The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, 'You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.'" (2 Kings 17:35-39 emphasis added)
"All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!" (Psalm 97:7)
"I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols." (Isaiah 42:8)
"But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways." (Judges 2:19)
"They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs." (Judges 3:6-7 NIV)
"And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD." (Judges 3:12)
See also Judges 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1; 1 Kings 11:6, 14:22, 15:26,34, 16:25, 22:52; 2 Kings 3:2, 8:18,27, 13:2, 13:11, 14:24, 15:9,18, 15:24, 15:28; 17:2, 21:2,16,20, 23:32,37, 24:9,19; 2 Chronicles 21:6, 22:4, 29:6, 33:2,22, 36:5,9,12; Jeremiah 52:2.
"And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon." (2 Kings 24:2-4)
"For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon." (2 Kings 24:20)
The Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, didn't simply capture the inhabitants of Judah, but he plundered the city, God's holy Temple, and all the items used in the Temple for service to God.
In fact, according to the Bible, there were three deportations of Jews to Babylon:
These three captivities, and their subsequent return to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, are considered significant events in Jewish history and culture.
"Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man." (Judges 3:15)
See also Judges 4:1-24, 6:1-7:25, 10:6-11:33.
What Did Israel Learn from These Events?
They also learned that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is eager to forgive and restore, especially those whom He loves.
Why Did God Choose Israel?
After Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God promised again: "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22:17-18)
Israel was never supposed to be a sole recipient of God's blessings,
but rather a channel for God's blessings to all of mankind.
The Promise of Blessing
The Nations Shall Know His Name
In fact, the Lord uses the phrase "[they][you]shall know that I am the LORD" more than 80 times in Scripture! (See Exodus 6:7; 7:5,17; 8:22; 10:2; 14:4,18; 16:12; 29:46; Deuteronomy 29:6; 1 Kings 20:13,28; Isaiah 49:23,26; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 5:13; 6:7,10-14; 7:4,9,27; 11:10-12; 12:15-16,20; 13:9,14,21-23; 14:8; 15:7; 16:62; 17:21,24; 20:12,20,26,38,42,44; 21:5; 22:16,22; 23:49; 24:24,27; 25:5,7,11,17; 26:6; 28:22-26; 29:6,9,16,21; 30:8,19,25-26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:27,30; 35:4,9,12,15; 36:11,23,36,38; 37:6,13-14,28; 38:23; 39:6-7,22,28; Joel 3:17.)
God's desire for Israel was that they would go and teach others about Him. Israel was to be a nation of priests, prophets, and missionaries to the world. God's intent was for Israel to be a distinct people who pointed others towards God and His promised provision of a Redeemer, Messiah, and Savior. Although Israel failed in this task, God's ultimate purpose for Israel that of bringing the Messiah into the world was fulfilled perfectly in the Person of Jesus Christ.4Why Israel and Not Some Other Nation?
Actually, that's a question to which the Bible never gives us a direct answer. It was not because of any special size, nature, or attraction. In fact, the nation of Israel was the least in number among all the nations. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 emphasis added)
The only reasons the Bible gives for God's choice of Israel are because of His love for them and His everlasting covenant with Abraham. Does this mean that God loved Israel more than other people? No. How do we know? Because it was always His plan to bring forth the Messiah through Abraham's seed so He could love and bless everyone.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
The Messiah had to come from some nation of people, and God chose Israel. Was it really necessary for God to have a "chosen" people? Probably not. But, that's how He decided to do it. Thus, you could accurately say that Jesus Christ is the ultimate reason why God chose Israel to be His special people.
What Is His Name?5
The name "YHWH" literally means "the self-existent One" and relates to God as He truly is. He is a non-created, eternally-existent Being who transcends the universe.
How Do You Pronounce the Name?
Traditional Judaism teaches that the four-letter name of God, YHWH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest in the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur. Throughout the entire Yom Kippur service, the High Priest would pronounce the name YHWH "just as it is written"6 [Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh] in each blessing he made. When the people standing in the Temple courtyard heard the name, they would prostrate on the courtyard floor. Since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the name is never said in religious rituals by Jews; thus, the correct pronunciation is currently disputed.
Two Other Common Names for God
"Elohim" is the name, or designation, of God that occurs first in Scripture in Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth." (TS98) The Bible uses the name "Elohim" most often when God is presented interacting with His creation especially in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible).
Scripture uses the name "Elohim" when emphasizing God's might, creative power, and His justice and rulership. The name denotes the power and pre-eminence [conspicuous glory] of God and is especially used in relation to God's sovereignty, creative work, and mighty works for Israel. Variations of this name include "El" [God], "Elohai" [my God] and "Elohaynu" [our God]. In the Pentateuch the name "Elohim" portrays God as the transcendent Being, the Creator of the universe.
The Two Names in Scripture
Therefore, they insert the vowel points of the name "Adonay" between the consonants of the Tetragrammaton to remind readers to pronounce "Adonay" instead of the sacred name "YHWH". And when the scrolls use the compound words " Adonai" or " your Adonai", they read it "Adonai Elohim" or "Adonai, your Elohim".
Does It Matter Which Name We Use or How We Pronounce It?
God is not a legalist. That is, He isn't as much concerned about our rituals, performance, rules, habits, cultures, or appearance as He is the content of our hearts. "But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7)
God did not reveal His sacred name, and certain attributes of Himself through other names, to imprison us with legalistic confines or constraints on how, when, and where to use His names. Rather, He revealed His name and attributes so we would better know this eternally-existent, incomprehensible, and transcendent God so we could draw near to Him, fellowship with Him, and learn to trust Him to care about every detail of our lives.
I maintain that it does not matter to Him how we pronounce His names or which names we use when talking with Him [praying]. What matters is that we study all that He's revealed to us through His names and that we do pray and seek to know Him as intimately as He wants to be known by us!
Regardless of which pronunciation or transliteration one uses, I am deeply grateful that our Elohim doesn't let our awkward fumbling of His name come between us, but He still welcomes us into His presence and showers us with His extravagant love and mercy!
Who Is God to You?
God's Word tells us we've all sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God. No matter how "good" you are, whether you came from a Christian home or not, whether you're a pastor or a drunkard, a faithful husband or adulterer. Whether you tithe your income or gamble every cent on the lottery; whether you "keep the Saturday Sabbath", think of Sunday as the "Sabbath", or get drunk on Saturday and play golf on Sunday; whether you observe Christmas and Easter or only the Old Testament feasts . . . . none of these things matter when it comes to the issue of where you'll spend eternity. None of them will get you any more saved or any more lost.
"...For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:22b-24 emphasis added)
The Bible says: "...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
Do you know this "knowable" God? Is He your personal Lord and Savior not because you're a "good" person, but because you know you're a wretched, despicable sinner in need of His grace? "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6 KJV) [Note: The word used here for "filthy rags" literally means menstrual cloth as seen in Leviticus 15:33, 20:18, and Lamentations 1:17.] Imagine that! God's Word says that every single "righteous" thing we ever do is like a menstrual cloth compared to the holiness of our righteous God!
So, who is God to you? As we mentioned in the study about His six personality traits, He wants to be known by you; He wants you to approach Him, not only for your salvation, but for all of life's problems; He wants to create in you a new and clean heart; He wants to forgive all your sins past, present, and future; He wants you to be honest and transparent with yourself and with Him; and He is fully capable of handling all your needs, all your shortcomings, all your sins, all your confessions, all your problems, and all your hopes for the future!
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11)
If you can't honestly say you know God on this intimate level, I encourage you to go to Him now and receive the love and grace He so anxiously wishes to bestow on you!
"And you shall seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
5 "The Names and Attributes of God", My Redeemer Lives Christian Ministry, np. Web. 15 August 2012. <http://www.myredeemerlives.com/namesofgod/namesofgod.html>6 Harris, Stephen L. Understanding the Bible: a reader's introduction, 2nd ed. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. page 21.