The Unchanging Changing God

Leah and RachelSo Jacob did so and he completed the week for her; and he gave him Rachel his daughter to him as a wife. And Laban gave Rachel his daughter Bilhah his maidservant — to her as a maidservant. He consorted also with Rachel and loved Rachel even more than Leah; and he worked for him another seven years.

Jacob’s anger flared up at Rachel, and he said, “Am I instead of God Who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?” She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, consort with her, that she may bear upon my knees and I too may be built up through her.”

When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “It is to me that you must come for I have clearly hired you with my son’s dudaim.” So he lay with her that night.

Genesis 29:28-30, 30:2-3, 16 (Stone Edition Chumash)

So Jacob marries two women, and sisters no less, and “consorts,” not only with his two wives, but with both of their maidservants as well. By today’s standards, even in progressive, secular society, this is beyond scandalous. And yet, in the ancient near east, what Jacob was going and how he was building up a family was considered perfectly acceptable.

But we don’t consider that acceptable today, and certainly not in the Christian church. Did Jacob deviate from God’s plan? Did he commit some horrible sin, some dire mistake as did his grandfather Abraham when Abraham “consorted” with Sarah’s slave Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4)? Ishmael went on to father the Arab nations, who have been a thorn in Israel’s side across history and into the present day. Did Jacob’s actions with his wives and concubines represent the same error?

Apparently not, since without the children produced by all four of these women, there would be no twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants, the Jewish people.

But how is this possible? If God is eternal and His morality is eternal and unchanging, then how can the relationship Jacob had with two wives and two concubines be approved of by God and yet be considered morally wrong and sinful today?

He answered them, Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:4-6 (DHE Gospels)

One FleshJesus quotes from an even older story in the Bible to define what is marriage (and what is divorce) to the questioning Pharisees, but conspicuous in his answer is the absence of Jacob, his two wives, and his two concubines. Certainly, every Jewish person hearing the words of the Master and even Jesus himself, owed their very existence to Jacob and his offspring who he sired with four women, only two of whom he had formally married. But what about “two becoming one flesh?”

And what about this?

And it was when about three months had passed, that Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has committed harlotry, and moreover, she has conceived by harlotry.”

Judah said, “Take her out and let her be burned.”

As she was taken out, she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong I am with child.” And she said, “Identify, if you please, whose are this signet, this wrap, and this staff.”

Judah recognized; and he said, “She is right; it is from me, inasmuch as I did not give her to Shelah my son,” and he was not intimate with her anymore.

Genesis 38:24-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

If not for this rather scandalous act on both the part of Tamar and Judah, she would not have given birth to the twins Perez and Zerah, and Perez is an ancestor of the Messiah.

How ironic that the one son of Jacob who found his wife among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land was none other than Judah, whose name would eventually denote the progeny of Jacob that survives. In the phrase “About that time Judah left his brothers,” the verb “left” suggests not only a physical departure, but also a violation of family mores (see Genesis 38:1-2).

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayetze
“Setting Aside Our Abhorrence of Canaanites,” pg 105
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

All of this suggests, even if we agree God’s morality and ethics are eternal and unchanging, that He is willing to “work with” our current traditions and customs as a means of accomplishing His plan. Otherwise, how can we explain such apparently outrageous behavior by some of the greatest men in the Bible?

Later in the same commentary, Schorsch goes on to say:

The language implies an expansion of the notion of excluded nations. It is not ethnicity that defines the seven original settler nations of Israel, but cultural mores.

-ibid, pg 106

abraham1This makes a great deal of sense, especially in the case of Abraham, who was distinguished from even his close relatives in his homeland, not by ethnicity or genetics, but by a moral and ethical code received from God as the result of “faith counted as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

As the family of Abraham progressed forward in time, it began to be distinguished and then defined by families, clans, and tribes descended from the twelve sons of Israel. Who Israel was to each other and to God was set against the national backdrop of the people groups surrounding them. But then, time continues to pass and circumstances radically change.

By the time the Pharisees and Rabbis, Ezra’s spiritual heirs, came to power after the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism had become a missionizing world religion, constituting as much as one-tenth of the population of the Roman Empire. To maintain the deuteronomic legacy, especially in Palestine, would have severely impeded access to Judaism for prospective converts in a world turned cosmopolitan. Who could be sure that an interested gentile was not a descendant of one of the proscribed nations?

-ibid

I know people in the community of Jesus faith who discount the validity of conversion to Judaism because it is not presupposed in the Torah, as if closure of Torah canon constitutes closure of the will of God. My recent commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference have shown me (not that I was unsure of MacArthur’s opinions before this) that he closes Biblical canon with a bang at the end of the Book of Revelation and declares that the Holy Spirit isn’t in the business of working miracles or even talking to people anymore.

And yet, even within the Biblical canon, we see time and time again how God, unchanging and eternal God, seems willing to adapt how He interacts with human beings across the varied mosaic of history in order to accomplish His ultimate goal of reconciling man to Himself and ushering in the Messianic age.

I’ve been struggling more than a little with trying to reconcile the Jewish Torah, Prophets, and Writings, which Christians call collectively, the “Old Testament,” with the later Christian scriptures or the “New Testament.” Even though the books of the Tanakh represent a widely diverse set of writing styles and writers, it yet preserves an overall Jewish “flow” of prophesy aimed at the national redemption of Israel, and the restoration of God’s physical rule on Earth and among all the nations. The Christian interpretation of the later writings shifts the focus away from national Israel and the Jewishness of Yeshua faith, and makes it all a story about God’s plan for personal salvation of all people in a single, homogenized group called “the Church.”

But “the Church” is never mentioned in the Tanakh. If the Bible is supposed to be a unified document, Torah, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha, then I would expect that overarching Jewish flow of prophesy to be seamless and unbroken across the “Testaments.”

But it isn’t.

DHE Gospel of MarkHowever, is the fault the document we have that we call the Bible, or is it how different groups interpret it? Certainly Christians see the “Old Testament” in a radically different light than Jews see the Tanakh.

Is my search for Biblical reconciliation and the face of the One, Living God across all history doomed to failure? Is there no way to understand an adaptive God and yet find Him eternal and unchanging in all of the pages of the Bible?

Frankly, one of the only places I’ve been gaining traction so far in my quest is by watching and reviewing the different episodes of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) television series (available for free viewing online) A Promise of What is to Come. That’s because this program is written and formatted to present familiar concepts in Christianity, such as the Gospel Message, the meaning of the title “Messiah,” repentance, and the parables of Jesus, all from an exclusively Jewish perspective.

The key to understanding the Bible, all of it, is to put yourself in the place of the original writers and especially of the original audience. What were the first century Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel supposed to take away from his message? What is “the Good News” from an ancient Jewish point of view? Is the Jesus Christ of the Christian Church really the Jewish Messiah, Son of David we see prophesied by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah? Is there some way to make sense of how God seems to change His methods and motives based on changes in ancient (and modern?) cultural mores, and still to recognize that He is One God, a single, unified, creative, entity?

In an ultimate sense, the great Ein Sof God of the Universe is entirely unknowable. How can the small and finite know the limitless infinity?

And yet, God gave us a Bible written in human languages by inspired human beings to other human beings in need of inspiration so that we can know Him. God wants us to know Him and to draw close to Him. We read how Abraham drew close to God. We read how the God of his father became the “Dread” of Isaac. We can see how God turned the fugitive son Jacob into Israel, the father of an empire.

And we can read how one, lone, itinerant teacher changed the course of the world through his teachings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of Glory.

walkingThe search for God is not a search for an ultimate answer that once we possess it, we may rest in our knowledge and sit assured in our complacency. It is a never-ending process, a trail winding through the mountains, a sea without a shore, a lifelong journey of ever greater discoveries and an ever closer walk with our God.

There is an answer, just as there is a final peace, where each man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make him afraid (Micah 4:4). But that time has yet to come. And until he comes again, we remain a traveler without a home, a bird without a nest, eternally walking, eternally in flight, until home comes to us in the Kingdom of God.

May Messiah come soon and in our day.

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9 thoughts on “The Unchanging Changing God”

  1. I really do love that verse, Micah 4:4. A couple hints that are not available in the English is that, “sit,” here actually means to dwell or remain, in other words, not a temporary situation. And the phrase, “make afraid,” has a connotation of trembling or to be terrified, which expands the meaning. With out metaphorical vines and fig trees, we still have many to make us afraid, and no guarantee that our vines and fig trees will remain ours.

    I wonder if you meant to say that the Ein Sof was unknowable in his entirety, rather than entirely unknowable? We shall know fully as we are fully known. We shall be like him, and see him face to face. For now, its like the way my cocker spaniel knows me: I feed him, pet him, let him out, take him to the vet (which he doesn’t appreciate.) He probably ascertains when I am pleased and when I am upset, but we don’t discuss the latest book I am reading or even how long the 2009 Silverado Cab should be left to decant. Surely he would be eager to do these things, but he can’t.

    That disobedience and missing God’s best can be turned around for good shouldn’t be a validation of those choices, but rather evidence of mercy and covenant faithfulness. The thing about the road not taken by a biblical character or anyone else is that it is all speculation. We can wonder what might have transpired if Rivkah informed Ya’acov that he didn’t need to be concerned because the Holy One had promised that the younger son would be preeminent, and Ya’acov trusted that he would receive what was ordained him from heaven and not believe this fulfillment required conniving on his part.

    Rahab the prostitute was also in the lineage of David, and so Messiah. And if anyone tells you Rahab was not a prostitute but an innkeeper, the Hebrew, “zonah,” doesn’t mean anything else except prostitute, and is used in the same pejorative manner in Israel today.

  2. I got a sense that Micah 4:4 was more about the Jewish people dwelling securely in their land, never again to have to be afraid of terrorism or war.

    I have a hard time with the idea of ever being able to wrap my brain about the entirety of God. I know prophesy talks about us KNOWING GOD more so than any of the ancient prophets ever did, but I’m content to wait and see if I’ll ever be able to actually comprehend infinity.

    That God has been involved in such “messy” human affairs and not so much as raised an eyebrow (metaphorically speaking) gives me hope for the rest of us, that God can see past our “messiness” as well and cherish the child He created in each of us.

  3. Yes, I agree the verse speaks to Israel as a nation as well as individuals. Currently the Israeli government owns most of the land, so I believe in the messianic kingdom, the tribes will each be given their allotment. We also have to keep in mind that yadah is experiential knowledge, not intellectual understanding. I’m sure you are aware that you cannot add another wife and a couple concubines for good measure, and then claim that it seemed alright for Ya’acov. I like what Bill B. said in his last parsha, that what we are told about our forefathers is to teach us, not necessarily to imitate everything they did.

  4. Yes, people often ask “Where was God?” during this catastrophe or that affair, and we often fail to think of Him bearing up with our “messiness.” One of my favorite Chasidic stories is “The Palace and the Pigeons.” Rabbi Tzvi Freeman retells it and comments on it at the Chabad site. A beautiful picture of having to destroy “home” in order to gain the precious jewels. Also, this meditation from Rabbi Tzvi helps me to “see” the way to Him better:

    We are imprisoned because we have exiled our G‑d.
    As long as we search for G‑d by abandoning the world He has made, we can never truly find Him.
    As long as we believe there is a place to escape, we cannot be liberated.
    The ultimate liberation will be when we open our eyes to see that everything is here, now.

  5. The sense of galut, exile, helps me to understand why we’re here and that God is here with us. He seems to change because we cannot comprehend Him in full. We are in exile since the Fall and He desires to be with us in our exile. His Name, His Schekina, has dwelt among His people.His Moshiach has been with us. His Spirit is now with us. His Moschiach will come again. We are supposed to know this during the exile – that He is in exile with us – and listen to His voice. I do not understand why; perhaps we’re supposed to learn something, to behave as Aveinu Melchaeynu, our Father, our King, would have us behave. But knowing that we are in exile and that He is with us has much to do with why we should love Him and listen to His direction while here. One day, when the galut, the exile, is over, we will understand.

  6. Good old Job has some insight here: Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. Job 13:15 There are some interesting hints here. The word picture for, “qatal/slay,” might be, “what lies behind or follows when the snake (wicked, deceitful, passion-led) authority wraps itself around me. The word translated, “hope,” or in some cases, “trust,” is not the expected, “tikvah/hope,” or, “bitachon/trust.” The Hebrew is, “yachal – to wait/await,” and the word picture includes the idea of authority, but added to that is the hand providing a protective fence. So, even when powerful wickedness surrounds me, I await the powerful hand that will surround me instead with protection. The context seems to indicate that the fulfillment may be in the olam haba, rather than in this life. Also: For Ani yadati Goeli chai (I know that my Redeemer liveth), and that he shall stand up at Acharon (at the Last) upon aphar (dust, the earth); OJB Job 19:25

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