Entering 2021 From Jerusalem

My dear readers, I’ve been writing this blog for almost five years now, so this is the fifth time I am entering a new year together with you.  It’s interesting that even though in the previous years, I have written the “New Year” posts: ENTERING 2017 FROM JERUSALEM, ENTERING 2018 FROM JERUSALEM, ENTERING 2019 FROM JERUSALEM –  for some reason, I couldn’t make myself write ENTERING 2020 FROM JERUSALEM a year ago. I just published my regular Torah Portions commentary then – and looking back at 2020 today, I am really glad I did that! It has been quite a year, hasn’t it?

Of course, I am not going to write here all the things you know very well: that this year has been a year of great shaking everywhere, that it has changed our personal lives greatly,  that it has changed the lives of the entire humanity. The world is unrecognizable today – and from the vantage point of Israel, this change seems even more drastic: who would have thought ten months ago that by the end of this year Israelis would not be able to travel to the US, but would easily fly to Dubai? Although flying from Tel Aviv to Dubai is good news – still, all these changes, together with a third lockdown and fourth election coming up, feel completely surreal. So, let us try to have a look backward and forward – as I always do in these New Year posts.

The Mystery of the Sealed Book  

As you all undoubtedly would know, there are many voices around speaking about this pandemic as God’s judgment upon a sinful world. I deeply respect some of these people; still, I would dare to express a different, more moderate opinion. The world is drowning in sin, and we all have many things to repent of, there is no doubt about that—in this sense, of course, every situation is a call to repentance and can bring us closer to God. Yet, the first book I wrote was about the biblical book of Job, and it was through the powerful revelation that God gave me then, that I had learned to be very careful in seeing a connection between our sins and our sufferings.

I would like to quote the words of Isaiah that troubled my heart for many years – but have never ever sounded more relevant to me than now:

The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.”[1]

It’s important to understand that the prophet is not speaking about some specific prophecy here:  we are told about the whole vision (hazut hakol), about some global picture and prophecy, about the understanding of God’s purposes and designs, of everything that God has done and is doing in the history of mankind— and, once again, when would be it more relevant than today, when the changes are so global,  when the whole of mankind has been affected by the same global problem. Does the sealed book occur elsewhere in the Bible?

I believe Isaiah is speaking about the very same sealed ‘book’ that we see in Chapter 5 of the Book of Revelation:

And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it[2].

Some might say that this parallel is very forced – that these are two completely different books and there is no connection between them. However, when Daniel speaks of another book: “You, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end“, there is no doubt whatsoever that the sealing of Daniel’s book, like the unsealing of the book in Revelation, comes in a completely prophetic context. Dare we say that Isaiah’s sealed book is not linked to these two prophetic books? I am profoundly convinced that all three books are not only linked, but that they are one and the same book—the book of  the counsels and purposes of God, of God’s end-time plans for mankind, revealed in a vision to Daniel as sealed by God, and shown in a vision to John as unsealed by Jesus.

So we see this closed book, this sealed scroll of God’s decrees, and it is delivered to one who is literate, saying: “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”  Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.”

Let us start with the second reader, the illiterate one. There is no difficulty here: there are enough people in this world who don’t know God’s letters and God’s Word: in this sense, they are indeed illiterate. No wonder, they can’t read this scroll. But what about the first reader? Who is the literate one? Would you agree with me that the literate ones are God’s people: they are not only literate concerning the Scriptures – God’s Word – but are also able to read God’s handwriting in history. They are taught to recognize God, His signature, and His unfolding plan in events around them. And it would seem, who else should read this book, but the one who is literate? Alas!  The book is sealed!  As we read in the book of Daniel, it is sealed by God Himself, or at least by His direct command, and in the book of Revelation, we are told with perfect clarity who the One is that can remove this seal – the only One who ‘is worthy’ to unseal this Book: But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” [3] Once He removes the seals and opens the Book, the literate are able to read it – before that, we can only guess.

A few weeks ago, we spoke about Jacob’s struggle at Peniel. You might remember that I shared with you then a Jewish commentary saying that, while struggling, Jacob didn’t know whom he was struggling with – “for when a man struggles with a force beyond himself he can, at that moment, not be sure whether it is God or Satan who is his adversary, whether a divine or demonic force”. It is only as the light breaks that Jacob realizes whom he has struggled with. It is only as the light breaks that we realize with whom we have struggled. Therefore, even though our lives have changed drastically in 2020, we still can hold to the same principle:   “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law[4].

[1] Is. 29:11-12

[2] Rev. 5:1-4

[3] Rev. 5:5

[4] Deut. 29:29

MAY IT BE A YEAR OF HEALTH, JOY, AND PEACE FOR YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES! HAPPY NEW YEAR, MY DEAR READERS!

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  here (they can still make a good New Year gift!). Also, the insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher marvelous 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

    I suppose Moses asked to see more, but was only allowed a portion. Somethings do indeed belong to the Lord. May we not forget that which is revealed.
    Thank you Julia,
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Well said, Nick. There are so many things that we do not understand, and we spend tons of time trying to comprehend these mysteries – forgetting that they just haven’t been revealed to us. Sometimes, it might even become an excuse to ignore things revealed. Therefore, you are so right: “May we not forget that which is revealed” – and may we not forget why it is revealed: that we may do all the words of this law.