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(Num 4:21 - 7:89)

B'Midbar/Numbers 7:89   And when Moshe came to the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him


The word offers some fascinating insights into the way that G-d speaks to or engages with mankind. This particular form - a masculine singular hitpa'el participle from the root , to speak - only occurs three times in the Hebrew Scriptures: here and twice in the book of Ezekiel. In the verse "And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard [Him] speaking to me" (Ezekiel 2:2, NASB) the word 'Him' is not present in the Hebrew text; similarly, in "Then I heard [one] speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me" (Ezekiel 43:6, NASB), the word 'one' is not present. Both are pronouns supplied by the translators as subjects for the participles, the same function as the word - the voice - plays in our text above. The hitpa'el stem usually conveys the idea of a reflexive or a repetitive action; for example the root , meaning to close, stroke, caress, in hitpa'el means to delight oneself, to be dazzled or blinded.

The commentators are not happy about the idea of G-d speaking to Himself, for a number of reasons. First, there is the general consensus that it is improper that G-d should be thought of as speaking to Himself, as if this were mumbling or a sign of absent mindedness! What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos, as usual, is unhappy with the anthropomorphism and, supported by Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra, changes the verb to "that was speaking". Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi and Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno, on the other hand confirm that G-d was speaking to Himself as a means of communicating with Moshe, so that Moshe overheard, rather than being directly spoken to - thus avoiding the issue of G-d directly speaking to a human being. The Sforno comments "it is by elucidating out loud to Himself that HaShem imparts knowledge and goodness to others through the generosity of His influence", while Rashi adds, "It is the honour of the One who is Above to speak in this way: He communicates to Himself and Moshe would hear on his own."

Some scholars think that although the What Is ...

The Masoretes: A group of scholars working in Tiberias between the 6th and 10th centuries CE to preserve the pronounciation and hence traditional reading and meaning of the Hebrew text of the Bible by annotating the unpointed consonantal text with vowel and trope (tune/chant) markings; it appears that most of the Masorete were Karaites, but this did not stop their work becoming the authoritative text of the Biblen and it was endorsed for its accuracy and scholarship by the Rambam
Masoretes had an alternative pointing available - which would have meant simply "the voice was speaking" - they refused to use it in case this might give any credence to the idea that "the voice" might be a separate divine being or identity that could speak for or as G-d. What Is ...

Targum Jonathan: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Prophets into Aramaic; attributed to the 1st century Jewish scholar Jonathan ben Uzziel; similar to Targum Onkelos, but at times a looser paraphrase
Targum Jonathan goes as far as paraphrasing the text into "Moshe heard the voice of the Spirit that was speaking to him" to avoid any allusion to John's gospel: "In the beginning was the Word ..." (John 1:1), while the Septuagint inserts the word - "of the L-rd" - into the text to show whose voice was speaking. It seems clear that rabbinic Judaism wanted to clarify the meaning of this text so as to protect the unity of G-d and to exclude the possibility of there being another personality within the godhead.

Hirsch, on the other hand, is more concerned about why the voice spoke to Moshe. He quickly points out, "G-d did not allow His Word to come to Moshe because of some special personal relationship of Moshe to G-d, but only as a result of the Divine bond of proximity with Israel, as a result of the Presence of G-d in the midst of a people keeping His Torah." Hirsch wants to deny that Moshe hears from G-d as a result of personal relationship, but rather on the basis of being simply the spokesperson of Israel; Moshe, indeed any Jew, is nothing special by himself and has contact with G-d only in the context of a community that maintains relationship with G-d on the basis of keeping the Torah. Again, this view may be driven by attempts to repudiate both the Christian claim of personal relationship with G-d in Yeshua and that G-d would speak to any individual rather than just to the appointed leader of a Torah observant community. This is a standard position for orthodox Jewry to take today.

By contrast, we know from the Scriptures that G-d speaks both to individuals and communities, to the saved and the unsaved, to Jew and to Gentile. His communication does not have to be based upon relationship, although it usually is. G-d spoke to Nebuchanezzar, the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:9), calling him "My servant" and to Cyrus, the Persian king (Isaiah 44:28), calling him "My shepherd". He speaks to nations: "'And I will make you [Tyre] a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the L-RD have spoken,' declares the L-rd G-d" (Ezekiel 26:14, NASB) and, of course, to individuals such as Avraham, "Abram fell on his face, and G-d talked with him, saying, 'As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations'" (B'resheet 17:3-4, NASB), and Ya'akov "Then G-d said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to G-d'" (B'resheet 35:1, NASB). Yeshua spoke to the Pharisees, "Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question" (Matthew 22:41, NASB), to the Sadducees, "Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him" (Luke 20:27-28, NASB), to the scribes, "And some of the scribes answered and said, 'Teacher, You have spoken well'" (Luke 20:39, NASB) and to the people: "And He began to tell the people this parable" (Luke 20:9, NASB). Yeshua also spoke to soldiers, "And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him ... and He said to him, 'I will come and heal him'" (Matthew 8:5-7, NASB) and to lepers: "And behold, a leper came to Him ... and He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed'" (Matthew 8:2-3, NASB); to children, "And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands upon them" (Mark 10:16, NASB) and to His disciples, "But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them" (John 16:4, NASB). He even found a few words for the women in the crowd who followed Him out to be crucified, "And there were following Him a great multitude of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Yeshua turning to them said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children'" (Luke 23:27-28, NASB).

The Scripture are very clear that this is G-d speaking: "G-d, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world" (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB). Yeshua links His own words to those of G-d when He said, "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me" (John 12:49-50, NASB). Yeshua told us that G-d would continue to speak to us, through the Holy Spirit, "However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative but will say only what he hears. He will also announce to you the events of the future" (John 16:13, CJB), and He continued to speak to the first believers: "I, Yeshua, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the Messianic communities" (Revelation 22:16, CJB).

So what should we expect today? Does G-d still speak to His people now? Rav Sha'ul is very clear that He does: "And let two or three prophets speak ... For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted" (1 Corinthians 14:29-31, NASB). Peter wrote "And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention" (2 Peter 1:19, NASB). We can expect G-d to continue to speak to us through His word - that is, the written word, the Bible - and by His Spirit, through people around us - and not just believers, G-d often uses those in the world to deliver surprisingly accurate messages if we will but listen. To have relationship with G-d mandates an ongoing conversation, as we speak to Him and He speaks to us, as we exchange views and concerns and as we know His presence in our lives. This is not a sterile and academic belief in past history, but a living relationship with G-d Himself!

Further Study: Job 4:12-16; Zechariah 4:4-9; John 3:31-34

Application: How do you hear from G-d? Is it "the still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12) when you are being quiet with Him; is it through the pages of the Bible, prophetic words or your elders or leaders? Make no mistake though, G-d wants to dialogue with you. Why not start the conversation today?

© Jonathan Allen, 2010

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