And The Lord Saw …

 My dear readers, this blog  had never been meant to be a reaction to the events around us – and in all these years I’ve done my best to stick with biblical studies only, and not comment on events which, at one point or another, were filling the media (and trust me, that’s not an easy task when you live in Jerusalem). But of course the crisis that the whole world is now facing can’t be ignored, even on these pages, so for the past few weeks, I have been trying to find a balance between commenting on the situation in the world, and the teaching that I am supposed to present here.  It’s not so difficult, in fact, since the Bible does give us the answers.

Last time, we spoke about the plague in the book of Numbers – and how this plague was stopped; this time, we will speak about the plague in 1 Chronicles – and how this plague was stopped. I hope and pray that somehow, the words of this blog might bring hope and encouragement (and maybe even revelation) to you in these trying days.

In 1 Chron. 21 we learn about a plague that was sent on Israel:

 14 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.”

– and then we read a very enigmatic line:

 “But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and relented concerning the disaster”[1]

What did the Lord see? The English translations usually insert “it” here, and even though it is not clear at all  what this “it” might mean, an English reader can still suppose that the Lord saw some object  – some  concrete, tangible item. However, when we read it in Hebrew, it is very obvious that the sentence doesn’t specify just what the Lord saw. The Lord saw (ראה יהוה) —but, what did He see? What did stop Him? Why did He stop the plague and relent concerning the disaster? Isn’t that the most vital question for us today?

Of course, Jewish commentators noticed this omission and asked this question long ago. For instance, these are the comments that we find in Midrash Mekilta de-Rabbi Ismael:

“And as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld and He repented Him of the evil” (1 Chron. 21:15). What did He behold? He beheld the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah—and immediately His compassion conquers His anger and He redeems and delivers.”

What does this comment refer to? During our Discovering the Hebrew Torah classes, I would usually tell my students about a haggadic tradition that not many Christians are aware of: at some point, a tradition existed in Judaism, stating that Isaac was actually slain or burnt and then rose from the dead. In these midrashim, Isaac is explicitly said to be the lamb of burnt offering:  אתה השה לעלה בני – “You are the lamb, my son”.  “The ashes of Isaac” and “the blood of Isaac,” though contradicting the plain meaning of Scripture, are carefully preserved by this tradition. Some midrashim clearly state that Abraham offered up two sacrifices—he began with the sacrifice of his son and ended with the sacrifice of the ram—but even the commentaries that don’t state this explicitly, still share the same intuition: the important common point is that “the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah'” is to serve forever as atonement and advocate of Israel in every generation. “And whenever Isaac’s descendants are in straits, He… beholds the blood of his Aqedah, and pity fills Him so that He turns away the wrath of His anger from His city and His people” (1,57). According to the midrashim, that is exactly what Abraham is asking for on Mount Moriah.  For instance, in midrash Bereshit Rabbah, R. Phineas said in R. Banai’s name: “He prayed: Sovereign of the Universe! Regard it as though I had sacrificed my son Isaac first and then this ram instead of him (in the stead, tahat, being understood as in the verse And Jotham his son reigned in his stead (2 Kings 15, 7),” where the meaning must be after  him). Abraham continues (at least in midrash): Even so it may be Thy will, O Lord our God, that when Isaac’s children are in trouble, Thou wilt remember that binding in their favour and be filled with compassion with them!”

According to scholarly opinion, sometime between the middle of the second century BC and the beginning of the Christian era, a new doctrine established itself: the atonement for the sins of Israel resulted both from Isaac’s self-offering and from the spilling of his blood. Not only was the Aqedah indeed considered a true and genuine sacrifice, but because of the free consent of the victim – a unique feature distinguishing it from, and raising it above, all other sacrifices – it became the sacrifice par excellence, whose lasting benefits would be felt for all time. Since that time, the Binding of Isaac was thought to have played a unique role in the whole economy of the salvation of Israel and to have a permanent redemptive effect on behalf of its people – and we can see this clearly from our story in 1 Chronicles 21.

Why are we discussing this story today? Even though modern Christianity, whatever its form (Catholic, Orthodox or evangelical), is worlds apart from modern Judaism, we cannot miss the important point here: that nascent Christianity (which at that time was not “Christianity”), and nascent Judaism shared the same intuition of development of the biblical theory of Redemption—a fact that brings both religions closer together, because we see the same motif of redemptive death of the Righteous bringing salvation—but with a different redemptive personage in the center. I believe that now, with all that being said, you are able to read the story from 1 Chronicles in a different light: What did the Lord see?

 

[1] 1 Chr.21:14,15 (NIV)

 

My dear readers, in these trying  days we all need encouragement .  Besides, the Passover is approaching – and this is the time of gifts! Therefore,  once again and just for  a few days  before Passover (starting tomorrow , April 3),   you can freely download from Amazon   my book , this time “Unlocking the Scriptures” .  I  really hope it would bless and encourage  you – and if you liked the book and want to bless me also, please take a few minutes to write a review on this book on Amazon. 

 If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible,  I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Nick

    Redemption, sacrifice, and Messiah ideas from Scripture will one day unite, instead of divide. Until that time, we seek, with the help of great teachers past and present. Thank you Julia for sharing!
    Nick

  2. Donna

    Hi Julia. I am also a writer and I have been researching, writing, editing, and broadcasting the words of the scriptures now for over 30 years on the radio to an audience of over a million listeners. I have 52 lessons for both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and other pertinent scriptures. Its impossible to relate to you how much I was directed by the Holy Spirit in compiling these lessons from some of the greatest religion preachers and writers and disciples. I do not claim scholarship for them as they belong to the Lord; but I have to say it was a wonderful experience to be thus tutored. I am offering free downloads from these lessons. The most important of all my lessons are now posted (five of them) on a new podcast..
    If you and your followers would go to https://christintheamericas.podomatic.com and at least listen without judging them, I would be so appreciative.

    My grandmother was Jewish, and my other grandmother was of the Tribe of Joseph, and these lessons are for all of the House of Israel. The particular story, of these lessons on the web site I listed above, tell about a people who left Jerusalem before they were overcome by Babylon, and were brought to the American continent by God! They brought with them their Jewish scriptures, and thus knew of the Commandments of the Lord. Unfortunately, like most civilizations, when they were righteous they were blessed, and when they were evil they were destroyed – just like their forefathers in Jerusalem. They were taught here about the Messiah, and the promise that He would one day appear unto them. They doubted, and became very wicked, and so the Lord was forced to destroy many cities and many died. Suddenly – He does come after there is much destruction ….. He appears to them right after the resurrection…. its a true and fascinating true story. The love He shows to the remaining Jewish Nephites, is beyond words. You will learn who HE is and what he taught. You will also learn of the comparison in the Americas and their destruction of they don’t repent in Lesson 44.

    My master web site for all my writings is gospeldoctrine.org At any rate you might find these lessons interesting. Please don’t judge before listening. Thank you for all you do in spreading the truth as you understand it. Warm regards, Donna Max ….. donnapaulmax@hotmail.com

  3. Oliver Hirsh

    another possible perspective: since God as infinite Love cannot see evil (Habakkuk 1:13) or anger (Gen. 18:32), we His people wake to this redeeming realisation as driven by necessity and conscience. Bless you for expressing the congruence of genuine monotheism!

  4. hernog57

    Very nice study, Julia (if I may call you that). I think it sad the rabbis have perverted the word of God: If the blood of Isaac had indeed covered Abraham’s children, then why did 70,000 men of Israel die. Why didn’t Isaac’s sacrifice apply to them?
    As to what did God see, the test of the passage tells you. No need to ‘add’ to scripture. God saw David and the elders of Israel in sack cloth and ashes offering sacrifice on Ornan the Jebusite’s threshing floor. The site He had chosen for the temple to be built which David had bought at full price.

  5. Beth

    Shalom Julia, I am not sure about this because I am not so learned. I see God looking down at the time when His only begotten Son would be the Supreme Sacrifice and knew what was in Abraham’s heart. Jesus died and rose again and then ascended into heaven. If Isaac died being a sacrifice, and rose again, then he died twice. (Genesis 35:28,29 — days of Isaac were a hundred and four score years. V29. —Isaac gave up the ghost and died —- and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. It also says in the Word of God — “It is appointed unto man once to die.” I stand under correction. I am most grateful for you and always look forward to your blog. God bless you in all you do.

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Beth, of course, I agree, this interpretation clearly contradicts the plain meaning of the Scripture. I am not defending this approach, it was just important to me to show that this whole theme – redemption and salvation through sacrificial blood – was present in the Jewish texts as well, even before the New Testament. We can see it as a human intuition of the future sacrifice.

  6. Oliver Hirsh

    Another possible perspective: as infinite Love, God knows neither evil (Habakkuk 1:13) nor anger (Gen. 18:32), but we glimpse this redemptive truth by degrees and as urged by conscience.
    Bless you for seeing the congruence of true monotheism!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your comment Oliver, it is indeed another possible perspective.

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your comment Oliver, it is indeed another possible perspective.

  7. jane z mazzola

    Dear Julia, You & I were introduced (email) & commented several years ago, by your colleague, Dr. Eli. I wrote review for your first book. I’ve kept all your posts, since I have continued the email w/eteacher, although not taken courses recently. Been subscribing to IBC. But today, I read this post…you are a wonderful writer, expositor, & commentator (maybe redundant wording!). This post today is very insightful in comparison, an idea of Issac as symbolic forerunner of Jesus, but still not sacrificed, ram instead. Harkens to some words of Paul/Shaul, @ “would a good man die for another? Maybe for a good man, but not for evil” (paraphrase) W/our current quarantine, I’ll take time to read all your past posts. I had been waiting for your course through IBC, but maybe legal logistics intervene. “What DID God see?” An intuitive reflection on His own created creature, mankind? With pity overtaking anger. May it ever be so! I’ll take this opportunity to read your new writing on Amazon that you generously mentioned. Blessings & Shalom for you & yours & all in Israel, Jane Mazzola

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Jane, in fact I do remember you very well because yours was the first comment I saw after I had taken the blog over . Thank you for your generous words (it doesn’t sound redundant to me – ). I still think that my course at IBC will happen one day, but of course, with our current situation, nobody can promise anything. Many blessings – stay safe and healthy!

  8. Marge Schwartz

    The midrash is rediculous because the ram, a type of Yashua, was sacrificed in the place of Isaac..

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Marge, I think it’s important to see that this whole theme – redemption and salvation through sacrificial blood – was present in the Jewish texts as well, even before the New Testament – that’s why the midrash decided “to kill” Isaac.

  9. Dr. Maureen Sanger

    Julia, Shalom and Blessings for you and the family. This is wonderful to “see” in this present time. Perfect.
    Thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      It’s wonderful to hear from you Maureen, I am always thrilled to “see” you on these pages. Chag Sameach! Have a healthy and happy Passover and Easter!

  10. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Julia for your teachings ! My prayers are that you and all those you hold dear stay healthy .I already have all your books and have given them very high ratings. I am elderly and can’t afford the cost of tuition for your course. Your books are very helpful to help me understand the Bible.
    I believe that what the Lord saw was how the future would be if Isaac were sacrificed .People would then find it even harder to accept Yeshua as the true Savior . I believe the Lord knew how much it hurts for a father to see his son suffer and die .There can only be one messiah…Yeshua

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Gladys, for your kind words and for your prayers, I so appreciate it! I am so glad to hear that my books help you understand Bible, this is the best compliment you can honor me with. Health and Blessings!