Is God an Absolute Singularity? The Nature of God | The Word Made Flesh, part 1 of 4


Introduction

This essay deals with the issue of whether Yeshua the Messiah is, a) simply divine – ordained, and emanating from HaShem, but separate from Him and non-deific, or b) deity – sharing in the deific nature as one with HaShem. This essay deals with the issue of whether Yeshua the Messiah is, a) simply divine – ordained, and emanating from HaShem, but separate from Him and non-deific, or, b) deity – sharing in the deific nature as one with HaShem.

This essay is narrowly focused on the above and we will use Scripture alone as our authority. Why? Because Scripture is how HaShem reveals Himself to humanity; it’s His voice and instruction to us today. Scripture is the primary way God reveals Himself to humanity and there is no higher authority for how we are to understand the nature of God than the words He Himself has given us.

We will not spend any time discussing Yeshua’s humanity. That He was fully human should be abundantly clear. There is abundant Scripture attesting Yeshua’s humanity. And, after all, He was born as a baby of a woman, grew up into adolescence, and, eventually, into manhood. Within the context of this essay, the “humanness,” or humanity, of Yeshua is assumed and uncontested.

We are also not discussing the merits of Yeshua’s claim of Messiahship. That He was and is the promised Messiah of Israel and, by extension, of the world is also assumed. His credentials in that regard are without dispute.

I am not trying to explain the entire nature of God; that is impossible. We know from Scripture that we cannot fully know the nature of God while we live in these earthly bodies. When we are transformed into what we will be when Messiah returns, we will fully know as we are fully known.

As it is, the sole issue at hand as we progress is whether Yeshua the Messiah is deity – sharing in the person and nature of God Almighty.

As we move through this together, our primary concern is what God says, not what men’s ideas are.

You may hear ideas about God that go against what we’re going to see as we move forward. Our authority is the Word of God – the Bible. Any other ideas need to be submitted to a plain and clear reading of Scripture. If what we hear from others, whether they be Christian commentators or Jewish sages or rabbis, needs to be submitted to what the Scriptures say. Anything that contradicts a clear reading of Scripture must be rejected.

Whatever conclusions we reach should be based, not on a single passage of Scripture alone, but on the full counsel of the Word of God. While the possibility for individual passages to be explained away exists, the full body of Scripture cannot be dismissed.

One last note: the word “lord” show in small caps (“Lord”) is used throughout this essay to denote the sacred name of God.

This essay is given in four parts, each corresponding to a weekly message I gave in August-September of 2018. If you notice any errors or omissions, please let me know and I will make the necessary corrections.

My wife, Judy, has assisted in the “translating” and editing of my notes into essay form. Without her help this probably still would not be finished, and I am very grateful to her.

With those details laid out, let’s begin.


The Sh’ma

To begin this study, we are going to start with one of the most well-known verses in the Tanakh about the nature of God, the Sh’ma.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Let’s look at the word for “one” in this verse. This is the Hebrew word אֶחָד (echad). Echad simply means one. It doesn’t mean many-in-one and isn’t meant as a statement of God’s plurality. Deuteronomy 6:4 is meant as a statement of monotheism. In contrast to the nations around them, there are not multiple gods masquerading as Adonai. There is one and only one God.

However, the word echad doesn’t preclude a compound unity or complexity within God, either. If God wanted to communicate that He is one God in the absolute strictest sense, there is another word He would have used, יָחִיד (yachid).

From Dr. Michael Brown:

“…’echad‘ simply means ‘one,’ exactly like our English word ‘one.’ While it can refer to compound unity (just as our English word can, as in one team, one couple, etc.), it does not specifically refer to compound unity. On the other hand, ‘echad‘ certainly does not refer to the concept of absolute unity, an idea expressed most clearly in the twelfth century by Moses Maimonides, who asserted that the Jewish people must believe that God is ‘yachid,’ an ‘only’ one.

There is no doubt that this reaction by Maimonides was due to exaggerated, unbiblical, ‘Christian’ beliefs that gave Jews the impression that Christians worshipped three gods.

Unfortunately, the view of Maimonides is reactionary and also goes beyond what is stated in the Scriptures. In fact, there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that clearly states that God is an absolute unity.”

When Maimonides writes that Jews should think of Adonai as an absolute, strict one, as yachid instead of echad, he is stepping outside the bounds of what Scripture repeatedly says.

He wasn’t writing in a vacuum. He wrote in direct response to the perceived polytheism of Christianity. He’d grown up in the time when the Crusades had been ongoing and had seen the destruction the “Christian Church” was bringing upon devout Jews. He was following in the path of Rashi, who started the concerted effort to reinterpret the various prophecies of Israel’s ultimate Messiah so as to contradict the “Christian” perspective originally derived from Judaism.

Echad in Scripture

There are many other places we find echad used in ways that show a plurality within the single “one.” We’re just going to skim through a few quickly:

Genesis 1 – Evening & morning – “yom echad” – one day. There are two components to a single day: one day, two components.

Genesis 2:24 – Man & woman – one flesh; one = echad.

Genesis 11:6 – Tower of Babel. God says the people are all echad and they all have echad language.

Exodus 36:13 – HaShem tells Moses to join the various pieces of the Tabernacle together so that it will be echad – one.

God as a Compound Unity

Saying that God is a compound unity is in no way outside the bounds of what is hinted at or allowed by Scripture. In fact, look at the first thing God says about Himself:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

The first thing the one, true God, the Creator of the universe tells us about Himself is that He is compound in His unity. He says “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” There are rabbinic arguments which say he was talking either to the earth or to the angels. Neither of these arguments make any sense. Man is not made in the “image” or “likeness” of the earth. None of the angels were involved in Creation.

Furthermore, there are other places where HaShem uses the exact same language where neither of these options are a possibility. This is especially true in Genesis 11:7 (see below).

Here are a couple other places in the Tanakh that we see this:

Let us go down and there confuse their language. (Genesis 11:7)

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

There is no earth in the Isaiah passage. There are no angels in the Genesis 11 passage and the earth wouldn’t need to “go down” since “down” is where the earth already is and where HaShem is going.

An argument has been made that to use the plural form in these verses is done to denote honor and esteem. To that I would ask why would God need to show Himself honor and esteem? And, if God is showing Himself honor and esteem, doesn’t that in itself hint at a compound unity?

There are other Scriptures we can use, but this is sufficient to make the case for a non-strict, extreme oneness for God.

To summarize, Adonai our God is one. One like a husband and wife are one, like evening & morning are one day. He refers to Himself as “us.” No one is saying this about Him; He’s saying it about Himself and He repeats it several times.

The Angel of the Lord

Now that we’ve worked this far, we’re going to look at places in the Tanakh where we see God functioning as with complexity in His unity, through the Angel of the Lord. There are several places in Scripture that refer to the “Angel of the Lord” in a way that connects Him with God Himself. He functions as a divine figure having authority reserved for God Himself.

As we read these, remember that the word used for angel is מַלְאָךְ (malak), which means “messenger” – not “supernatural winged creature.” The term malak is usually used to denote when this messenger is a non-human, divine being. There are also times in Scripture where malak is translated as “messenger” when it’s clear the messenger is non-divine and human in nature. (See Genesis 32:3, 6 for an example.)

Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The Angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son… Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees;” for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” (Genesis 16:9-13)

First, Genesis 16:9-13. The “Angel of the Lord” speaks to Hagar, but then we read that the Lord Himself spoke to her. Someone might say, “Well, maybe she was referring to the messenger as if he was the One who sent Him.” But if that was the case, then Scripture wouldn’t say she called the name of the Lord (God’s sacred name) “El Ro’i?” Hagar wouldn’t immediately go on to say “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” if she only saw a simple malak.

Another example is in Genesis 22:11-18, where the “Angel of the Lord” speaks with Abraham regarding the sacrifice of Isaac. The Angel of the Lord makes a clear distinction between Himself and Elohim, and yet He Himself has asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. In doing this, the Angel of the Lord also clearly connects Himself with the God of verse 1 who was testing Abraham. The angel makes a clear equivocation and distinction at the same time, communicating both simultaneously that He is God and He is distinct from Him.

Also, Genesis 31, when Jacob encounters God in a dream, we see the Angel equating Himself with God.

And lastly, in Exodus 3, the Angel of the Lord appears to Moses, but the Lord calls to Moses. Then God tells Moses that he has seen the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Again, these are words from God’s own mouth. No one put them there but God Himself. The Angel of the Lord is God. This is where God says, “I AM Who I AM.”

The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.   (Exodus 3:2-7)

God is timeless, uncreated, and self-sufficient. He does not depend on anyone either for His creation or existence. He always was, He always is, and He always will be. And this is who the text tells us the Angel of the Lord is. That’s what “I AM who I AM” means.

Some might argue that the Angel of the Lord is just another way of referring to God Himself. But look at Genesis 21, Judges 5, 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, 2 Kings 1, 2 Kings 19, 2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 37, and Zechariah 1. In all these places there is a clear distinction made between the Angel of the Lord and the Lord Himself.

Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does the term “Angel of the Lord” appear and the context suggests Him to be an ordinary or created angel or merely a messenger. On the contrary, quite a number of Scripture references equate the Angel of the Lord and HaShem Himself.

The Spirit of the Lord

Obviously, the Spirit of the Lord is God. It’s impossible to say the Spirit of God isn’t God. This is a given and the scriptural references for it are far too numerous to list.

However, what does deserve our attention are a few passages which distinguish the Spirit of God in a similar way to how the Angel of the Lord is distinguished.

As this isn’t a main point in this essay­­, we’ll only look at two references:

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.   (Isaiah 63:9-10)

The Holy Spirit is set apart from the “Angel of His Presence”. The “Angel of His Presence” can be understood to be the Angel of the Lord. In this chapter, we also see the “Holy Spirit” and Spirit of the Lord used interchangeably.

You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:29-30)

Adonai sends forth His Spirit. He’s sending His Spirit and the picture is that He’s sitting enthroned while His Spirit goes out from Him and remains wherever it’s sent. It’s His Spirit which brings life.

So, we can see that the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord are all used interchangeably and are also all distinct from one another.

Before we finish up, let’s look at another passage which ties this together:

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another. Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. Surely My hand founded the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand together…

Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.”

(Isaiah 48:11-13, 16)

We see in this verse very clearly that God – HaShem – is speaking. He created the heavens and the earth. He says He will not share His glory with anyone else. This includes angels. But then in verse 16, he says “now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.” God Himself is making distinctions between the various emanations by which He reveals Himself to us.

Conclusion

Between God presenting Himself as ‘echad’ instead of ‘yachid,’ the simultaneous self-identification and distinction of the Angel of the Lord with and between the Lord God, HaShem referring to Himself several times as “us” in instances that cannot include a consistent third party, and the distinction between the Lord, the Lord God, and the Spirit of the Lord, we can see there is self-described, self-revealed complexity within the oneness of God.

In the next section, we’ll explore the nature of the Messiah and answer the question: Is God the Messiah?