TMT 097: Exodus 31:18 – 32:04

Exodus Ch. 31 (NIV)

18When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Exodus Ch. 32 (NIV)

1When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us godsa who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,b Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

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  1. James Watkins thinks:

    Hi Dr Footnick!

    I have a burning question that I’ve been carrying arounbd with me for a while, and I would be very grateful if you were able to find a moment to adress it for me.

    But first of all I want to tell you that I love your podcast! I discovered the Ultimate Issues Podcast about 6 weeks ago and then the Torah Means Teacher podcast, and they have quickly become favorites of mine. I’ve already listened to most of the Ultimate Issues, but am only on episode 12 of TMT. You have been great company, parricularly when I was going through the slog of moving house at the beginning of June, and really needed something to keep my mind busy while I was packing and lugging boxes and furniture. Thank you for what you do.

    Anyway, on to my question.

    I will preface it by saying I come to the scriptures from a Christian perspective. I would appreciate your linguistic knowledge of the scriptures, but also just to hear your Jewish take on Genesis 18.

    My recieved teaching about the 3 visitors who come to Abraham is that in Genesis 18 we have the first scriptural example of God taking on flesh. He stops by to visit Abraham on his way down to see for himself what the situation is in Sodom and Gomorrah, and during his visit promises he will return in a year, and at that time Sarah will have a son.

    God goes to visit Sodom and Gomorrah in person not because he is unaware of what is happening there, indeed He knows all things, but because He is a God who walks among His people and knows of their hardship and suffering firsthand.

    There are 3 visitors because 2 of them are cherubim. 2 cherubim acting as guardians are also represented on the cover of the Mercy Seat that protects the 10 commandments, by which God’s people may live, and there are 2 cherubim with swords flashing back and forth stationed at the gates to Eden after Adam and Eve are cast out, in order to make sure that they are not able to re-enter the garden, and eat from the tree of eternal life, which, by God’s word, they have been cut off from.

    Thus there are 2 angelic guardians and the 3rd visitor is God Himself.

    The subject came up in conversation with an Israeli acquaintance of mine (I’m an evangelical Christian, you may not be surprised to learn that scriptural matters come up quite a lot in my conversations ;D). This acquaintance has not studied much, and is not much of a believer, but she was shocked that I would claim that Genesis 18 describes God coming to Earth in human form.

    In then first verse it says that God appeared to Abraham, so I asked her to explain what that meant if none of these men was God. She said she didn’t know, but that she imagined maybe there was some sort of a presence hovering nearby the visitors, or something else, but that God was definitely not one of the humans in the story.

    . I am not sure if your understanding of the identity of the 3 visitors will be more like mine, or more like my friend’s, or perhaps something totally different, But I am extremely curious to know what you have to say about this issue, being the thinking, studying, believing person that you are.

    I am very grateful that you have shared so many of the fruits of your study and knowledge with the world at large, so that I could partake of it. I have the impression that you have had the opportunity to speak with a wide range of Christians, so I don’t know if you have encountered this question before, but I have not had the opportunity to pose this question before to a Jewish scholar who lives and breathes the Penteteuch as you do. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!

    You are a busy person with a lot of responsibilities. If you don’t have time to address this issue, then I understand. If that is the case then please just recieve this message as a friendly hello from someone who really digs what you do. May you be richly blessed by God!

    • Nahum Roman Footnick thinks:

      Thank you for you thoughtful comment and question! What you ask regarding the 3 visitors of Abraham is a new question for me. In all the years I’ve been studying Torah, I have never read that interpretation. I think I have figured out why, and why there is so much confusion when I read some of the Christian commentaries regarding this verse.
      First, the main issue is reading the text in English. The English translation makes the whole narrative far more confusing than it really is. As a good friend, Rabbi Seagal, says “reading the Torah in English is like reading Shakespeare in Hebrew…

      So, if where you read Lord in English is often an interpretation for one of the names of God in Hebrew (the tetragrammaton י-ה-ו-ה‎.) In Hebrew we often say “HaShem” which means “the name” when we come upon this word, but in Torah or prayer we say “A-do-nai” which literally means “lord” or “master” (as it is used in 18:1.) Here’s where we run into issues. We also use that same adonai for a person who is a lord or master (as in 18:3)… It’s like an ancient nomenclature of courtesy and respect, similar to our current Texan culture where we almost always use “Sir” or “M’am” when addressing people. It is simply an honorific address, and not to be taken literally that the individual is a knight or master.

      Now understanding that, take into context what happens just prior to Ch. 18. In ch. 17 HaShem is addressing Avraham and telling him what he must do for the covenant and what will happen. Then Avraham circumcises himself, Ishmael, and all the males in household (i.e. workers.) So in the next verse (which you know as 18:1) HaShem is with Avraham again. Why? HaShem is visiting his loyal servant who just dutifully circumcised himself. It’s a mitzvah to visit the sick and/or ailing. HaShem does so with Avraham. Then, the scene cuts to Avraham looking up and seeing three ‘men’ and rushing off to greet and welcome them (another mitzvah.) The three men we learn in Ch. 19 are indeed angels (though only two are still remaining… i’ll get to that), but in Hebrew they are not Cherubim. Rather they are Malachim which means ‘messengers’. Regarding angelology, Judaism is filled with ideas and beliefs. But for this particular question the Torah makes it clear that they were messengers. So why only two?
      Although the Torah does not mention the names of the angels that went to visit Abraham, the Talmud tells us they were Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. (Bava Metzia 86b)

      Throughout most of their interaction, the Torah does not refer to them on an individual basis, but rather as a group, as it is written, “[Abraham] stood over THEM beneath the tree and THEY ate. [Afterwards,] THEY said to him…” (Genesis 18:8-9)

      There are, however, instances in which the angels act as individuals. For example, only the angel Michael told Sarah that she was going to have a baby (Genesis 18:10). In Sodom, only the angel Raphael told Lot to flee from the city (Genesis 19:17). Similarly, it was only the angel Gabriel that informed Lot that the city was going to be destroyed.

      From these verses, we can derive that an angel can only perform one mission: Gabriel’s mission was to destroy Sodom; Michael’s mission was to inform Sarah that she would give birth in a year’s time; Raphael’s mission was to heal Abraham and save Lot. (Although Raphael’s mission included two tasks, they were considered a single mission since they were both acts that saved people). (Talmud – Bava Metzia 86b, Rashi – Genesis 18:2 and 19:16)

      This now helps us understand the question: Why did three angels come to Abraham, but only two go to Lot?

      The answer is that since Michael’s sole mission was to tell Sarah she would become pregnant, he had no business in Sodom. Therefore, upon leaving Abraham’s tent he went back to his post at God’s Holy Throne. But Gabriel, who was left with his task of destroying Sodom, and Raphael, who was commanded to save Lot, had not yet finished their tasks, and continued to Sodom. (Rashi – Genesis 19:1 and 9:16)

      I hope all this helps and is clearer than mud ;). Again, reading it in Hebrew I had a hard time with your initial question, but reading it in English – I can see how there can be confusion.

      Thanks again and God Bless!!!

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