The festival of the Yehudim, Passover was at hand
(Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15)
To set the stage for this miracle—the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels—we must look at where it falls in relation to the surrounding text of each account.
Matthew’s version is preceded by the unbelief of Yeshua’s home town synagogue and the description of the beheading of John the Baptist—cousin to Yeshua—the miracle of the loaves and fishes is followed by Peter’s attempt to walk on water. It seems that Matthews account would indicate that Yeshua first withdrew by Himself while the following accounts describe a separate return of the twelve at which time they withdrew together.
Mark’s account is preceded by the unbelief of Yeshua’s home town synagogue and the sending out of the twelve, two by two, after which the beheading of John is described, then the twelve return; the miracle of the loaves and fishes is followed by the walking on water miracle.
Luke’s narrative has the sending out of the twelve, the description of John’s beheading, and the return of the twelve: then the loaves and fishes followed by the “Who do you say I am,” statement of Yeshua and later the transfiguration.
John’s version is unique in that it is preceded by Yeshua attending a feast in Jerusalem and being rejected by those who opposed him there, then the Father’s testimony of Messiah is mentioned and Yeshua explains that Moses will judge the people for their rejection of Him. John then alerts the reader to the fact that Passover is at hand. The loaves and fishes event is still followed by the crossing to Capernaum and the walking on water, but is then proceeded by an extensive discussion concerning Moses and the manna from heaven which is to be understood as a metaphor in reference to Messiah Yeshua, “the bread of life.”
While we don’t know the exact time frames associated to the ordering of these events we can still deduce the writers’ intended theological and chronological, contextual meanings in relation to the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. All the surrounding events and meanings give insight as to the reason for this important—even pivotal—event in Yeshua’s ministry.
Rather than examine this miracle from a single account, verse by verse, I prefer to look at it chronologically and thematically using the main themes from each account as a combined whole. This of course presumes that this was a singularly unique event recorded by each of the gospel writers.
Both Matthew and Mark record a second event that took place in the region of the Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile location. The feeding of the five thousand, the miracle of the loaves and fishes took place near the city of Bethsaida (House of the hunt or House of fishing), a predominantly Jewish area, and close to Yeshua’s home in the Galilee. The fact that the four Jewish writers of the Gospels—I am not alone in seeing Luke as a proselyte—all saw fit to include this miracle, indicates it’s importance; symbolically, historically, religiously, prophetically, nationally, spiritually and metaphorically.
The united themes of this event read chronologically as follows:
· Yeshua in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast (Johns account probably intends the reader to understand a large gap in time between this feast—most likely an Aliyah feast: Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot—and the miracle of the loaves and fishes—at the beginning of Passover almost one year later.)
· The testimony of the Father—G-d—on behalf of the Son--Yeshua (a firstborn)
· Yeshua warns that Moses will judge the peoples disbelief
· Rejection of Yeshua by the people of his home town
· Yeshua sends out the twelve disciples, two by two
· Yeshua grieves over the loss of John the Baptist His cousin (a firstborn)
· The disciples return from their travels throughout Israel
· The time of Passover was at hand
· The miracle of the loaves and fishes
· The miracle of walking on water
· The discussion concerning manna, “the bread of life,” back in Capernaum (Links Yeshua to Moses)
· The transfiguration (Links Yeshua to Moses)
Yeshua in Jerusalem for a feast:
A number of scholars suggest that this was the Passover feast of the previous year, meaning that what follows took place at the beginning of the Passover of the following year.
Yeshua was affirmed by the Father’s testimony:
G-d the Father has testified throughout Scripture concerning His Son Yeshua. He had also poured out the Holy Spirit in a public show of glory over His Son and had testified saying, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Yeshua need not explain Himself to the people on the basis of the required--Torah instruction—two human witnesses. His witnesses were G-d the Father and the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit. G-d the Father had given comprehensive testimony to the validity of Yeshua’s ministry, authority and kingship over Israel and all the earth. Following the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Yeshua’s command over the raging waters was proof yet again to His disciples, of G-d’s testimony of Him.
Yeshua warns that Moses will be Israel’s judge regarding their disbelief in Him:
The centrality of the Jewish reliance on the Torah of Moses is key to understanding the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The Jewish people of Yeshua’s time expected a prophet, a miracle worker and a Messiah who presented in accordance their understanding of the words of Moses as taught to them by their rabbis. The man they were looking for would perform miracles similar to those of Elijah and Elisha, he would show signs like those of Moses and He would reign in power as the son of David, over all the nations of the earth according to the prophecies of Isaiah. Many of these expectations were about to be manifested before their eyes. Therefore Moses would be their judge, for he had written clearly the prophetic words that would prove Yeshua’s rightful position as the one who would be like Moses.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ 17 The Lord said to me, ‘they have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.”
D’varim/Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (NASB)
Rejection of Yeshua in His hometown:
His own friends and wider family/community rejected Him because they believed Him to be of common birth, they were jealous of Him. This is not an uncommon response to the prophets of Israel as testified to by the lives of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and so on. This is in fact would be a clear indication to others that Yeshua just might be the prophet/Messiah they were awaiting.
Yeshua sends out His disciples, two by two:
This was a ministering of the twelve to Israel, hence twelve disciples. Later in the Gospel narrative a new Sanhedrin of sorts is sent out to minister to the wider towns and spread the good news to other nationalities, thus seventy, the Hebrew number representing the nations. However the events surrounding the miracle of the loaves and fishes pertain specifically to Israel and not to the Decapolis and other surrounding areas.
Two by two may be a correlation with the Ark: used as a metaphor here for the repopulating of the earth with baptized (the flood) spiritual children. The news of G-d’s kingdom as taught by Messiah Yeshua was to be made known to the tribes of Israel prior to the miracle of the loaves and fishes. When Israel was in slavery in Egypt, word of Moses actions needed time to spread to them prior to their coming out of Egypt into the wilderness.
Yeshua grieves over the loss of John the Baptist:
When Yeshua heard of the death of John the Baptist we are told that He retreated to a deserted place by Himself. He was clearly greatly grieved by the death of His cousin and perhaps reminded of His own destiny. He shows us an example of how to turn to the only one who can truly comfort us in times of great sorrow. The Father is often beheld in deserted places of solitude. The disciples must have returned to the vicinity with Him because Marks version of events has them retreat with Him after the death of John. It is interesting to note that John’s disciples came and took his body away for burial, while Yeshua’s disciples fled after His death.
Passover is at Hand:
Barley is the first grain harvested in Israel at this time of the year. Leaven/yeast is removed from homes, and food without leaven is eaten. Leaven/yeast symbolizes sin in Judaism. Jews from all over the known world would head up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, which is one of the three Aliyah Moadim—going up festivals/Sabbaths.
The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes:
The Passover was near, Jews from the known world were on their way to Jerusalem and had heard of this mysterious prophet of G-d. Perhaps some detoured to find Him? What is certain is that all had cleaned their homes and traveling gear of yeast—the Jewish symbol of sin—and were preparing their hearts to celebrate deliverance from slavery. They were also hoping for deliverance from Roman rule.
Luke tells us that the day was drawing to a close, so that it was toward the late afternoon, perhaps a Sabbath eve.
Upon seeing the crowd Yeshua says to Philip (the obvious person to ask because he came from Bethsaida—John 1:44), “Where can we buy bread for all these people?” He said this to prove Philip. Does that mean Yeshua wasn’t sure of Philip’s loyalty and so had to find out? No, of course not. When G-d/Yeshua seeks to prove someone it is for that persons benefit. We could say, “Yeshua sought to make Philip aware of the extent of his own faith in Yeshua/G-d.” Philip’s response sets up the miracle, by his reasoning that the request is humanly impossible. Andrew adds to the confusion by saying, “Hey, there’s a young man here with five (unleavened, because Passover is at hand) loaves and a couple of fish (probably the local sardines), but that’s not going to feed all these people.” Two loaves may well have been for erev Shabbat, representing the double portion of manna given to Israel every Friday. This is consistent with the theme of this portion of scripture and the discussion that follows.
Yeshua doesn’t miss a beat, “Have the people recline (Passover terminology) together in groups.” There was a large grass area there, probably at the base of the hill/mountain where the disciples had been with Yeshua—thus creating a natural amphitheater for what would come next.
Yeshua took the loaves and said the brakhot for bread—the ha-motzi—and began to distribute them to the crowd. He then did the same with the fish. The text seems to indicate that both Yeshua and the disciples were involved in distributing the food directly to the people, this would dispel the foolish conjecture that suggests the people simple brought out their lunches and shared them. Most Jews attending an Aliyah festival like Passover would travel lite, expecting to buy food on the way, hence Yeshua’s question to Philip prior to the miracle. In addition, the fact that Yeshua suggested that the crowd go and buy food infers that they did not already have food.
This miraculous feeding of such a large group of Jewish men, women and children (approx. 19-28,000) is reminiscent of Moses (G-d’s) feeding of Israel with manna and quail in the desert. Manna being the miraculous bread of heaven and quail being the common bird of that area. Here the manna will be later explained as Messiah Yeshua Himself. The fish—probably sardines—is the common meat of the area.
Three types of fish were primarily sought by fishermen in antiquity in these waters. Sardines are the most likely candidates for the, “two small fish" that the young man brought to the feeding of the five thousand. Sardines and bread were the staple product of the locals. The second type of fish, Barbels receive their name from the barbs at the corners of their mouths. The third type is called Musht but is more popularly known today as "St. Peter's Fish." This fish has a long dorsal fin which looks like a comb and can be up to 45cm long and 1.5 kgs in weight.
The barley bread—eaten predominantly by the poorer classes—brought by the young man was most likely unleavened, given that Passover was at hand—the leaven is always cleaned from Jewish homes and meals prior to Passover—and that the miracle is followed by a discussion that relates manna—unleavened heavenly bread—to the body of Messiah Yeshua—who is without sin, remembering that in first century Judaism yeast is seen as a symbol of sin.
After the meal Yeshua says, “Gather up the fragments that are left over so that none of them may be lost.” Why is the gathering of the left overs so important to Yeshua? Perhaps the number of baskets is a clue, there are twelve, the number of disciples, but more importantly, the number of the tribes of Israel. It is possible that this was meant as a symbol or metaphor for the reconciliation of Israel to G-d at the end of time. Shaul/Paul the apostle tells us that when the allotted number of the members of the nations have come to faith, that the entire remnant of Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:25-26)
The Miracle of Walking on Water:
This shows Messiah’s authority over creation—as the second Adam. This sign affirms Him again as the prophesied one. Elisha, in a somewhat lesser sense also exhibited the authority of G-d over creation when he made the ax head float. (2 Kings 6:4-7) Similarities to the great prophets in the ministry of Yeshua were proofs of His authenticity.
The Discussion (back in Capernaum) Concerning Moses, Manna, and the Bread of Life:
The link between the miracle of the manna in the desert and the feeding of the five thousand is unmistakable. The “Bread of life,” discourse was intended to be strengthened by the recently performed sign of the loaves and fishes. Yeshua was revealing Himself as the manna from heaven, the bread of life. The crowd asks for a sign, seemingly immune to the obvious sign that has just been performed. Yeshua points them away from Moses and toward the Father G-d saying, “It was not Moses that gave you the manna, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” They respond, “Give us this bread from heaven.” Yeshua answers, “I am the bread of life!”
Yeshua reminds his people that their fathers ate manna and died—the death unto judgment. Yeshua was now offering Himself, the bread of life. Those who eat the life of Messiah will never die. Why did the forefathers die? Through disobedience. Therefore Yeshua is warning that failure to accept His manna will result in eternal death. This He had already pretexted prior to the miracle when He was in Jerusalem warning the people that Moses would be their judge. It was Moses who stood as a mediator regarding the manna in the desert. Now Messiah Yeshua is claiming to be the manifest manna and mediator of G-d, all wrapped up in one.
It is interesting to note that toward the end of the 3rd century B.C. that Rabbi Isaac wrote, “as the former redeemer caused manna to descend (referring to Moses)… so will the later Redeemer cause manna to descend.” Ecclesiastes Rabbah on Ec. 1:9
The bread of life discourse does not refer to pagan magic practice regarding the consummation of power through blood drinking as some have supposed. Yeshua is talking to Jews who despise their Roman rulers and abhor the pagan Roman worship practices however this discourse is offensive to them, not because of pagan links, but because of its seeming direct contradiction to the Torah. Yeshua, did not act outside of rabbinical practice when he used the metaphor of his flesh and blood as a teaching tool. What is clear is that Yeshua was miss understood, not only by the crowd but also by His own disciples.
This event links Yeshua again to both Elijah and Moses, affirming the theme of the narrative surrounding the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This event may well have taken place months later, perhaps even during the feast of Sukkot—booths—given the offer of Peter to build shelters/Sukkot.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
“But after he had gone, a lion encountered the man of G-d on the road and killed him."
“But after he had gone, a lion encountered the man of G-d on the road and killed him. His corpse lay there in the road, with the donkey and the lion standing next to it. In time, people passed by and saw the corpse lying in the road with the lion standing next to it; and they came and told about it in the city where the old prophet lived.”
-1 Kings 13:24-25 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
At first glance the story of 1 Kings 13 seems extremely unfair. Does G-d show no mercy for His servants, those who seek to do His will? Isn’t it hard enough living the life of an Israeli Man of G-d without also running the risk of being killed by a lion for one little mistake, based on a moment of indecision and the deception of another person? “Harsh,” we say, “very unfair. It should have been the lying prophet that got eaten, he was the deceptive one, and it was all his fault. It’s just not fair G-d, why would you allow this?” Our perspective is, of course, based on a temporal view of life. We would prefer to see justice worked out in our days on earth. We claim to believe in the Olam haba—world to come—but we seldom view the scriptures with eternity in mind.
Perhaps if we were to understand this historical account in light of the Meta narrative of G-d, we may find some good news, both for ourselves and for the Man of G-d. I should add, that I don’t use the term Meta narrative in the same way that Christian theological institutions do: I don’t understand the Meta narrative to be gleaned from our critique of the written word of G-d, on the contrary, I see the Meta narrative as the Word critiquing of us. Too many scholars have used reason as an excuse to stand in judgment of G-d’s written word; I understand that in the end it is we who will be judged by G-d’s Word.
To begin to understand this account, we must first understand what has come before. The Kingdom of Israel has been divided between kings: Rehoboam, meaning to enlarge the people—ironic—and Jeroboam, meaning, to contend with the people—appropriate. Rehoboam is king of Judah and the Levites while Jeroboam is king of the remaining ten tribes of Israel. Both kings have proven themselves less than righteous, but our story is concerned with Jeroboam. Jeroboam had recently set up two calves—probably with the view to offer their backs as a seat for HaShem—and has re-pronounced the now infamous statement, “Here are your g-ds, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” This of course mirrors the words and actions of Aaron soon after Israel’s escape from Egypt and is the gravest of Idolatries. He did this to ensure that Israel would not go into to Judah to the mountain of the L-rd to worship. He was concerned that if this happened he would experience a loss of power and that Israel might realign herself with Judah and king Rehoboam. Jeroboam’s actions were the seed of his own destruction, perpetuating the sin that would lead to his downfall and the removal of his house from the face of the earth. (13:34)
Three key phrases
Word of the L-rd--Ha-D’var shel Adonai
Man of G-d--iysh shel Elohim
These three phrases are repeated throughout 1 Kings 13 and give great insight into the intended lesson of this story.
Firstly, the honor, integrity, power and judgment of the Word of the L-rd is at stake. Anyone representing G-d’s word is subject to great scrutiny, because the defiling of His word denigrates G-d’s character in the ears of its hearers. This should be a sobering reminder for us, for all who are a called in Messiah are representatives of the living Word of G-d--Messiah Yehoshua.
Secondly, the Man of G-d is only once called a prophet in this story, and then, only by inference when the false prophet says, “I am a prophet like you.” This is key to understanding the text. The Man of G-d is not just any prophet, he is not like the prophets of Bethel who prophecy in the name of false gods and pretend to speak for HaShem on the occasions that it suits them to do so. The Man of G-d is different, set apart, and from the true throne of David in Jerusalem. He represents the unity of G-d against the multiplicity of false deities in Bethel. The phrase Man of G-d, is the juxtaposition against the term prophet. We would do well to remember that spiritual gifts and appointments bear little weight if they are devoid of relationship. Better to be a Man of G-d than a prophet of the people.
Thirdly, turning or returning--shuva—is a key concept in Judaism. In English we are most familiar with this term when it is translated as repentance. Throughout the Scriptures we are confronted with this term, why? Because it is the catalyst to reconciliation. This term gives us the gospel conclusion to the narrative. Ironically it is the false prophet who returns/shuva in the end. However it is also true to say that the Man of G-d returns/shuva, not to the grave of his father’s, but to the bosom of Abraham, the father of faith. The Man of G-d’s fall is temporary, he awaits the Olam haba, his story doesn’t end with the narrative.
“Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the L-rd, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.”
He came from Judah—the house of David, the coming King Messiah and the tribe that had Levi, the priesthood attached to it at this time—to Bethel—the location of the false gods and pagan worship practices of Israel’s remaining ten tribes. The symbolism here is clear, G-d will not stand for idolatry. The true King will eventual consume all Israel from the throne of David.
Jeroboam was about to burn incense in opposition to the prescribed worship practice laid down by G-d in the Torah. He was engaging in a blatant act of rebellion and idolatry against the G-d of Israel.
“He cried against the altar by the word of the L-rd, and said, ‘O altar, altar, thus says the L-rd, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”
By crying out against the altar, the Man of G-d was speaking against all the idolatry and rebellion of Israel. This foundation for all false worship was going to be desecrated by G-d. Israel understood that blood and the bones of the dead defiled the land. Where the bones of the dead remained outside of the tomb, there was a curse on the land.
The prophecy of Josiah was fulfilled some three hundred years later. An incredible testimony to the power of G-ds prophetic word. (2 Kings 23:15-20)
“Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, ‘This is the sign which the L-rd has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’”
The signs of G-d are not like the pagan practice of interpreting omens, on the contrary, they are real and present, miraculous and unmistakable.
“Now when the king heard the saying of the man of G-d, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, ‘Seize him.’ But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself.”
This was an equally effective sign of G-ds power and the authority of the Man of G-d. This is reminiscent of the events of Moses ministry.
“The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of G-d had given by the word of the L-rd.”
The ash was to be disposed of outside the camp and was considered unclean. The ash on this altar fell into the stone and was absorbed into the porous rock, defiling it to its core. The foundation of the idolatrous practice was broken in two and desecrated by ash.
“The king said to the man of G-d, ‘Please entreat the L-rd your G-d, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.’ So the man of G-d entreated the L-rd, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.”
Even in the face of unrepentant rebellion, G-d is merciful.
“Then the king said to the man of G-d, ‘Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.’ 8 But the man of G-d said to the king, ‘If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 For so it was commanded me by the word of the L-rd, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’ 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.”
This wasn’t a friendly act of reconciliation, it was a manipulative act of deception. Jeroboam witnessed the power and authority of the Man of G-d and that this power was also representative of Judah and the true place of worship. By inviting the Man of G-d into his home he was attempting to show Israel that he had the approval of HaShem and His prophet, thus establishing the false place of worship and, not only maintaining his rule over Israel, but also symbolically annexing Judah and the Levites, G-ds true priesthood. No meal in the Middle East is benign. When you are invited for a meal your peace rests upon that home, you identify with its occupants and are seen to support their way of life.
Knowing this and having had a clear revelation and command of G-d, the Man of G-d refused and in obedience to G-d returned a different way from the way he had come.
“Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of G-d had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father. 12 Their father said to them, ‘Which way did he go?’ Now his sons had seen the way which the man of G-d who came from Judah had gone. 13 Then he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ So they saddled the donkey for him and he rode away on it.”
This prophet was living in Bethel, the center of Israel’s idolatry. Hearing from his sons that a Man of G-d had prophesied the destruction of both his people and his form of worship, he set out to deceive the Man of G-d, hoping to prove his words false and thus save both Israel and himself from the coming doom prophesied by the Man of G-d.
“So he went after the man of G-d and found him sitting under an oak; and he said to him, ‘Are you the man of G-d who came from Judah?’ And he said, ‘I am.’ 15 Then he said to him, ‘Come home with me and eat bread.’ 16 He said, ‘I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 For a command came to me by the word of the L-rd, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’ 18 He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the L-rd, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ But he lied to him. 19 So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water.”
Oak trees were associated with false worship. Perhaps the Man of G-d was simply taking a break from the harsh sun, resting before continuing? We cannot know why he had stopped. The false prophet—indicated by the text, he lied—successfully deceives the Man of G-d by saying that he is also a prophet like him and that an angel has told him its okay for him to disobey the word of the L-rd. This seems almost unbelievable, after being so resolute, the Man of G-d seemingly gives in without properly considering the poorly reasoned plea of the false prophet. Perhaps he was lonely? Maybe he was weary and through shear physical exhaustion failed to think clearly? We cannot know for certain why he was fooled by the false prophet’s argument. It is interesting to note that many a false religion or cult has begun with the same words, “An angel came and told me…”
“Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the L-rd came to the prophet who had brought him back; 21 and he cried to the man of G-d who came from Judah, saying, ‘Thus says the L-rd, “Because you have disobeyed the command of the L-rd, and have not observed the commandment which the L-rd your G-d commanded you, 22 but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water’; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.” 23 It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet whom he had brought back. 24 Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body. And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown on the road, and the lion standing beside the body; so they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.”
When we are disobedient to G-d’s word, He may use even the false prophet to speak truth to us in order to discipline us. The punishment of the Man of G-d was not death, rather the text tells us that the punishment was that he would “not be buried with his fathers.” For an Israelite of his time, this was abhorrent. Burial with ones fathers was symbolic to the household, a sign of the Olam haba/Abraham’s bosom and of G-ds continued blessing over future generations. Israel has always been a people of the land, to be buried in the tribal tomb is a way of identifying with the promises of G-d concerning the land.
The punishment meted out to the Man of G-d may seem harsh to us, but let’s consider what was at stake. G-d was warning an entire nation that if they did not return/repent--shuva—He would wipe them out. Remember the wonderful grace and mercy of G-d, it is His will that none should perish, so when He is moved to act against our rebellion, He intends for what He says to be unblemished. The warning must be seen by the Israelites to be authentic, so as to inspire fear and returning/repentance/shuva. The Man of G-d has effectively clouded the word of G-d by showing the local Bethel community that he can’t keep the word spoken to him. In order to affirm the truth of this word, G-d must show that He is Holy and that what He has said will come to pass. He does this by putting the Man of G-d to death in a miraculous and unusual way, so that it will bear witness to Israel, Jeroboam and yes, even the false prophet through who He spoke the judgment against the Man of G-d.
Lions kill either out of hunger or for the purpose of bringing food back to the pride. This lion neither eats nor drags away the body of the Man of G-d, nor does it eat the donkey. This is a clear sign from G-d that affirms the truth of His word. Is there symbolism in the Lion and the donkey? I don’t believe there is. But, for the sake of conjecture, how about: the lion represents Judah and the donkey? Well, maybe he represents Jeroboam? After all, Jeroboam did act like a donkey’s ass.
“Now when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard it, he said, “It is the man of G-d, who disobeyed the command of the L-rd; therefore the L-rd has given him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of the L-rd which He spoke to him.” 27 Then he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And they saddled it. 28 He went and found his body thrown on the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside the body; the lion had not eaten the body nor torn the donkey. 29 So the prophet took up the body of the man of G-d and laid it on the donkey and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet to mourn and to bury him. 30 He laid his body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!”31 After he had buried him, he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of G-d is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the thing shall surely come to pass which he cried by the word of the L-rd against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria.”
The Man of G-d has been killed but his body has not been desecrated. G-d honors him and keeps his body whole for burial. The false prophet sees this as a sign of the truth of what the Man of G-d has said and returns/repents/shuva, to G-d by identifying with the word spoken by the Man of G-d. He declares to his son’s that what the Man of G-d has said will come to pass according to the word of the L-rd. As an affirmation of this he asks that his bones be buried with the Man of G-d when he dies. We should note that the mention of Samaria indicates that this account had to have been recorded at least fifty years after it happened. It was probably passed on as oral tradition, perhaps this is one of the reasons for the unnamed Man of G-d. When this prophecy was eventually fulfilled some three hundred years later, the bones of the Man of G-d and the prophet were not brought out and used to desecrate the altar. This can be seen as a final confirmation of the Man of G-d’s eternal condition in the bosom of Abraham and so into the Olam haba. This also applies to the repentant/returning false prophet who in realizing his own sin and the Holiness of G-d returned/shuva to the G-d of Israel through his representative, the Man of G-d.
“After this event Jeroboam did not return from his evil way, but again he made priests of the high places from among all the people; any who would, he ordained, to be priests of the high places. 34 This event became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to blot it out and destroy it from off the face of the earth.”
Unlike the false prophet of Bethel, Jeroboam did not return/shuva to G-d, in fact, in stark contrast he returned/shuva to his evil ways and compounded his rebellion by appointing non-Levites as priests in defiance of the words of the Man of G-d. 2 Kings tells us of the terrible result of Jeroboam’s sin, which ended with his family line being completely removed from the face of the earth.
If we are certain of G-d’s Word, let us keep it, regardless of the prompting of others, even others of our faith, for even if we are all prophets, we are not all people of G-d. Prophecy is no substitute for relationship with G-d through His son our Messiah Yehoshua.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
“The whole earth used the same language, the same words. 2 It came about that as they traveled from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shin‘ar and lived there.3 They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them in the fire.” So they had bricks for building-stone and clay for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city with a tower that has its top reaching up into heaven, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.” 5 Adonai came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 Adonai said, “Look, the people are united, they all have a single language, and see what they’re starting to do! At this rate, nothing they set out to accomplish will be impossible for them! 7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language, so that they won’t understand each other’s speech.”8 So from there Adonai scattered them all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 For this reason it is called Bavel [confusion] — because there Adonai confused the language of the whole earth, and from there Adonai scattered them all over the earth.”
-Genesis 11:1-9 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
This account is preceded by the Table of Nations—seventy in total (Genesis 10). This is where Judaism finds the basis for the symbolic interpretation of the number seventy as representing the nations. Thus, seventy elders in the Sanhedrin, seventy palm trees at the oasis on Israel’s journey in the desert, seventy disciples sent out by Yeshua, and so on.
It is interesting to note that while the nations as a whole are mentioned—out of chronology, obviously a literary tool--prior to Babel, the descendants of Shem—Semites—are singled out after this event. Also, in the Table of nations, Shem, Noah’s first born, is listed last, so as to have his offspring named just prior to the story of the tower of Babel. This lineage is continued onward from Peleg following the story of the tower.
Genesis 11:10-32 gives us the lineage from Shem to Abram/Abraham, who would be ha-Ivri—the Hebrew—grandfather of the nation of Israel (Jacob). It seems that G-d intends a type for the Gospel here; the efforts of humanity to reach deity are futile, G-d himself will use the weakest of nations, even a single man, to bring about His saving work, thus redeeming humanity and saving us from ourselves.
What Language did the whole earth speak? It is important to remember that this account takes place before the previous chapter’s lineage chronologically speaking. This event is post flood, when the population was beginning to re-emerge, so the number of people involved, while substantial, would not have been even remotely comparable to later world population estimates. Therefore it is more than reasonable to expect that they shared the same language or had a lingua franca—unifying language—spoken by everyone as a bridge between the various people groups and their unique tribal dialects—in much the same way English is used as a trade language today throughout the world.
There are many debates as to what the common language may have been. The Hebrew folk singer Ehud B’nai sings, “When the L-rd said, ‘Let there be light,’ it was in the language of the Hebrew man.” While this may be overly optimistic on his part, as a Jew I tend to want to agree with Mr. B’nai. After all, the text of the Torah has been passed down to us in Ivrit—Hebrew. The truth is that there is no way to prove conclusively what that singular language might have been. Perhaps it was Te Reo? In the end it is probably best not to claim ownership of something this mysterious, after all, “the hidden things are unto G-d alone.”(D’varim/Deuteronomy 29:29)
The additional statement of verse 1, “the same words,” may denote understanding. Meaning that they not only comprehended each other, but also understood each other and shared a common ethos. The Hebrew dvar—spoken word—may indicate the concept of a shared story or lineage, as in oral tradition. This corresponds to the flood narrative. The terms “Language” and “same words,” find their juxtaposition in verse 7. G-d takes away both their common language and their common purpose. Why? Because their speech and purpose were in opposition to the speech and purpose of G-d. Their (Humanity) word--dvar—sought, in pride to exalt itself. G-d’s Word--Dvar--came down, humbling Himself even unto death on a cross. (Yochannan/John 1:14)
They journeyed from the east—that is the area surrounding Ararat, where the ark rested and the sons of Noah began to repopulate. Their journey took them from the vineyards of Noah to the plains of Shinar, Babel/Babylon.
The author—Moses/Joshua, I see too many flaws in the redactive theory to give it any serious attention—is writing this for a Hebrew audience who are familiar with the concept of mud/clay and straw, given their history of slavery and brick making for Pharaoh in Egypt. In the Promised Land Israel used stone for altars and larger construction projects. Stone was readily available in Israel/Canaan, while clay was the predominant resource in Mesopotamia.
Why does the author detail the building materials and process used to build the Ziggurat—ancient pagan temple, usually associated with the worship of the heavens? It is more than likely that this description reminded Israel of her slavery. It is possible that slaves were used for the tower project. Or, with the future in view, perhaps the author was pointing to the Hebrew altars—method of worship—humble stone structures, standing in stark contrast to the majestic Ziggurat—pagan temple tower.
“Let us build a city with a tower—Ziggurat, temple—that reaches the heavens.”
This prideful statement is echoed in Yeshiyahu/Isaiah 14:13-14, a passage often attributed to ha-shatan—the adversary, the Devil, Satan.
“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Isaiah 14:13-14 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“Otherwise we will be scattered over the whole earth.” The people saw safety in numbers, security in their own combined efforts. In their attempt to achieve their own security without G-d, they reaped the very thing they were most afraid of and were scattered throughout the earth. (V.8-9)
As we read of this tower to the heavens we are also reminded of Jacob’s dream at Bethel regarding the ladder or stairway to the heavens. (Genesis 28:17) Yeshua tells us that He is that ladder/stairway. (Yochannan/John 1:51) The anti-thesis to the tower of Babel.
“The L-rd--HaShem—came down…”
There is a literary irony here. G-d descends in order to see the highest of humanity’s achievements. This is also a beautiful type for Messiah, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Yochannan/John 1:14)
“To see what the children of humanity—Heb. bene ha-adam-sons of men, a juxtaposition to Heb. bene ha-Elohim-sons of G-d/gods--were building.” Sons of men is interpreted by some, to mean non G-d fearers or pagans: Sons of G-d is interpreted to mean G-d fearers or worshippers of YHVH.
We know that in Him—G-d—all things exist and have their being (Acts 17:28). G-d need not come down or see; both these terms are meant to convey to the reader the present and continuous reality of a G-d who continues to participate in His creation. Yeshua said, “My Father is always at His work.”(Yochannan/John 5:17)
“Adonai said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they have begun to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”
Not, “nothing will be impossible for them” but “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” The purposes of fallen humanity will never equate to the higher thoughts and purposes of G-d. We may achieve all that we set out to achieve, but in the end it will lead to death. G-d’s purpose here is not to stunt our growth, rather He works to protect us from growing in vain. A plant rooted in poisoned soil may grow for a time but eventually it will die, rotting away from the root. G-d would have us planted in good soil: sometimes that means He will turn over the field, replace the soil and start again with a new crop.
“Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Us? Some believe this refers to the Unity of G-d: Father, Son and Spirit. Others hold the view that G-d is speaking with the heavenly council of angels. Both interpretations are acceptable, there is no need to choose one over the other.
The terms: confuse, language and not understand, counter their positive forms in verse 1. It was Impossible for humanity in its fallen state to maintain a universal tongue, in light of the powerful work of G-d. The text doesn’t tell us how long the confusing of the language took, it may have happened instantaneously or over a period of time. Either way, the result is the same.
“The L-rd scattered them from there all over the earth and they stopped building the city.”
The very thing humanity sought to protect itself against was brought about by G-d. The L-rd disturbed their security and pride, scattering them throughout the earth and leaving them vulnerable. G-d did this for the good of humanity, that we might seek out the security found in Him rather than pursue false security through our own efforts.
The word Babel is of Akkadian origin and means “gateway to a god.” Babel is also the Hebrew word for Babylon—the location of these events—this word probably had its inception at the time of this event in earth history. The Hebrew author—Moses/Joshua—clearly intends a word play with the similar Hebrew word balal, meaning “confusion.” Why then does the author, inspired by G-d, use Hebrew characters to name the city by transliterating the Akkadian word? Remembering that this is the first mention of the name of this city in the Scriptures. Should he not have simply used balal to name both the city and affirm the story, thus avoiding confusion? Perhaps we should take note of the two clear meanings here and the chronology of the events of the text. We must remember that all the Nations spoke one tongue—possibly a lingua franca—and that the intent of their building was to reach G-d or a god through their own efforts, thus Babel—gateway to a god—this they sought in accordance with their fallen pride. We call this idolatry—the root of all evil. Now, having failed—the author writing this retrospectively—they have had their language confused--balal.
How does the author best show the reality of what has taken place? Perhaps he shows us by using the Akkadian word transliterated into Hebrew –Rashi in his famous commentary, did a similar thing with French words, transliterating them into his own form of Hebrew. The author of Genesis is aware that a Hebrew reader will observe the word play—or miss-spelling as it were—and glean both meanings, having understood the story to teach a profound and pivotal spiritual truth. What is that truth? That humanity in its arrogance seeks to reach G-d by its own efforts (Babel), and G-d, knowing that by trying to do this humanity will destroy itself, comes down and confuses (balal) their efforts; thus slowing humanity’s rapid journey toward its own extinction—both physical and spiritual, Hebrew culture does not separate the two.
In this account we learn that our own attempts to make a way to G-d will end in confusion. All that we do for G-d is sin, while all that we do from G-d is righteousness—right action born of the Spirit in Messiah—because of His blood sacrifice for us.
We are saved through G-d coming down, not by our going up.
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son’s foreskin
“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the L-rd met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at his’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a husband of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “A husband of blood”—referring to the circumcision.”
This passage of scripture has been interpreted in a multiplicity of ways. I don’t pretend to have determined it’s meaning with absolute resolve but I do believe the following interpretation has sound support scripturally, linguistically and culturally.
Whether we presume a Mosaic or redactive authorship of the text, the fact remains, we must accept that the author—inspired by G-d—intended for this rather unusual section of Biblical narrative to be understood in the wider context of the surrounding text and with respect to the metanarrative of Hebrew/Christian Scripture. With this in mind we must consider several important pieces of information prior to beginning to unravel Shemot/Exodus 4:24-26.
The narrative of Exodus 4 is concerned with several key issues that directly affect the mystery of verses 24-26. The text focuses on the following:
1. Moses return to Egypt
2. Moses position as G-d’s mouth piece
3. The hardness of Pharaoh’s heart
4. The fact that Israel is G-d’s first born
5. The tenth plague—the death of the first born
6. The concept of covenant circumcision
Moses is taking his wife and two sons with him on this journey. He is aware that G-d has specially chosen him as His representative, to warn Pharaoh and lead Israel out of Egypt.
Moses had returned to live among his captive people Israel prior to fleeing Egypt and finding solace in the wilderness of Midian. Therefore he would have been aware of the Abrahamic covenant concerning circumcision practiced by the Hebrews in Egypt. However he married Zipporah in Midian where circumcision was most likely practiced as a coming of age ritual rather than at the required Abrahamic covenant age of eight days. Moses sons’ names were, Gershom (Stranger, sojourner) the first born, and Eliezer (My G-d is powerful/strong) the second born. Moses himself was the younger brother of Aaron (first born) and Miriam (his older sister). The Midianites worshipped G-d as El or Elohim, but did not Know Him as “I AM” or as El Elohay ha-Yisrael—G-d, the g-d of Israel. The Midianites practices of worship were different from Israel’s and they did not yet understand the special covenant and call G-d had placed on the nation of Israel.
“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the L-rd encountered him and sought to put him to death.”
Who is the “him” in this verse?
A number of English translations render the Hebrew “him” as “Moses,” Why? One of the reasons is that English grammar usually refers back to the nearest named object when an unspecified pronoun is used to name a speaker. However this is not always the case with the Hebrew language. In fact the Hebrew language often places emphasis on the verb rather than the noun/object. In this case, what is happening to “him” is the key to “his” identity.
Another clue to the identity of the “him” in verse 24 is the theme of “first born sons.” The verses directly prior speak of the fact that Israel is called G-d’s “first born son,” followed by a warning regarding the coming tenth plague, the death of the first born sons of Egypt.
In addition we can assume that Moses was circumcised at eight days of age due to the devote nature of his parents and their willingness to hide him from pharaoh’s murderous edict against Hebrew boys.
It remains that Moses two sons are the only candidates for not having been circumcised—covenanted to G-d as Israelites through the rite of circumcision. Given that the theme of the text is in reference to the “first born,” I believe we can, with some confidence interpret the “him” in question to be Gershom, Moses first born son. For whatever reason, Gershom had not been circumcised and therefore had not entered into the covenant of G-d’s “first born,” that is, Israel. G-d is no hypocrite, nor does He abide Hypocrisy. He could hardly threaten to kill Egypt’s first born for their disobedience when His own spokesperson had not obeyed G-d by sanctifying his first born son through the blood covenant of circumcision. Moses was to represent G-d’s house, therefore Moses own house must be in order.
It is interesting to note that the Septuagint—an ancient Greek translation made by Jewish Rabbis—translates the Hebrew “L-RD” as “Angel.” We can therefore read “The Angel of the L-rd.” This links the passage to other famous physical meetings between G-d and men like Abraham, Jacob, Joshua etc.
Perhaps the best reading of Exodus 4:24 is:
“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Angel of the L-rd encountered Gershom and sought to put him to death.”
“Then Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at his’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a husband of blood to me.’”
The son in question—if we agree that Gershom is the threatened individual in the previous verse—is Moses first born Gershom. This is pretexted by the reference to Israel as G-d’s first born and the warning against the first born sons of Egypt.
It is interesting that it is Zipporah who conducts the circumcision. Where is Moses? If a father’s son is threatened surely he would be the first to act? Clearly Zipporah understood the importance of her husband’s G-d’s covenant requirements. Perhaps Zipporah, thinking the Israelite practice to barbaric, had prevented her husband from circumcising her sons? Is Zipporah’s prompt response an act of submission to the G-d of Israel? The circumcision itself initiates Gershom into the Abrahamic covenant and makes him a member of the house of Israel. The blood is a symbol of that covenant.
Who’s feet did Zipporah touch?
There are three possibilities:
1. The feet of the Angel
2. The feet of Moses
3. The feet of Gershom
The Angel of the L-rd requires no sanctification so to touch His feet would be redundant.
Moses is unlikely due to the fact that he does not seem to be otherwise mentioned in this brief encounter.
Why does Zipporah touch the child’s feet with the bloody foreskin?
The most likely answer is that Zipporah touched Gershom’s feet with the blood as a symbol of sanctification.
One explanation is that this is a foreshadowing of the blood protection of the lamb on the doorposts of Israel’s homes in Egypt.
Feet are a symbol of journey. Perhaps this indicates the sanctification of Gershom/Israel’s path forward from this point.
Another less likely view is that feet is a euphemism for genitals.
The most important aspect of this circumcision is the covenant aspect. By the practice of this rite Zipporah is submitting the life of her son to the G-d of Israel, entering him into the blood covenant of Israel. By doing this she protects him from the Angel of the L-rd, thus foreshadowing the blood protection of the Passover Lamb.
To who was Zipporah speaking when she said, “You are indeed a husband of blood to me”?
Given that Moses has not yet been referred to in our interpretation and she could not have been speaking to her son, the most likely answer is that she was speaking to the Angel of the L-rd. As previously mentioned, while Midian may have known G-d as Elohim they did not know Him as the G-d of Israel. Here Zipporah is acknowledging her marriage to the G-d of Israel, her submission to El Elohay ha-Yisrael—G-d the god of Israel.
Perhaps the best reading of Exodus 4:25 is:
“Then Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son Gershom’s foreskin and threw it at his’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a husband of blood to me.’”
“So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘A husband of blood’—referring to the circumcision.”
The result of Zipporah’s action was that the L-rd let Gershom alone. This was only possible through the blood covenant of circumcision which brought Gershom into the people of Israel, protecting him from the L-rd’s judgment. The statement, “Husband of blood” is repeated to emphasis the importance of the blood covenant in redeeming G-d’s people. This is seen as a foreshadowing, not only of the Passover lamb of Egypt but also of our Passover lamb the Messiah Yeshua—Jesus. It is also important to note that the placement of the second “Husband of blood” statement after the relenting of the L-rd, affirms the probability that Zipporah is referring to G-d rather than her earthly husband Moses. In this we can also read a foreshadowing of the references to Israel as G-d’s wife in the Prophets and Writings of the Tanakh, and later the references to the Ecclesia—Church—being the bride of Messiah.
In conclusion it seems that the more helpful translation of the text of Exodus 4:24-26 would be as follows:
“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Angel of the L-rd encountered Gershom and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son Gershom’s foreskin and threw it at his’ feet, and she said(to the L-rd), ‘You are indeed a husband of blood to me.’ So the L-rd let Gershom alone. At that time she repeated the statement, ‘A husband of blood’—referring to the (covenant of) circumcision.”
Or… I’ve got it completely wrong and the NIV translation is correct?
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.