The throne of God: Jewish and Christian outlooks

I describe 1. the Jewish teaching that without the Jew, God’s throne can never be firmly established, and 2. the Christian teaching that God’s throne is firmly established through a Jew; the Lamb that was slain. The discussion is bathed in the matrix of the love for God.

More than 20 years ago, S. Lewis Johnson said (in his The Christology of Heaven part 2):

The world is largely turned off by the organized church, yet remarkable still somewhat turned on at least to the man Jesus, but never, in my history at least, and that’s a long history, has the world, it seems, been more unaware of the true identity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And today it seems to me that the world has become even more unaware. For most Christians, this ignorance and ignoring will progressively worsen until Messiah comes (again). The Jew, in contrast, believes that if enough Jews keep the Sabbath or put on tefillin “phylacteries” (accompanied by the relevant prayers) or do enough acts of kindness, Messiah will come (for the first time). Regarding acts of kindness, a reporter asked the Lubavitcher rebbe Schneerson a few years before his death in 1994:

“Rebbe, can you tell us the message for the whole world about the Moshiach (Messiah).

Rebbe: “Moshiach is ready to come now, we all must only do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness. At least a little more and Moshiach will come immediately.”

For the Rebbe The “we” who “must all do something” is the Jew.

For the Christian, Jesus is not only the Messiah (Greek for “Christ”) but also the Son of God. Here is the Jewish reaction to Jesus’ claim as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:63-68). See END NOTE 1.

The high priest tore his robes because Jesus “uttered blasphemy” in that he made himself to be equal with God. In the Sanhedrin’s eyes, Jesus had sullied the throne of God. It should be noted that most pious Jews consider the Jesus of the Gospels as largely a fiction, so the conversation between Jesus and the high priest never happened, and if it did, no modern Jew knows or cares what it was about.

I mentioned the throne of God. The “throne” (God’s majesty) is the symbol par excellence of God’s majesty. To love God is to love his throne. Both the Christian and the Jew love God’s throne, love to bow before the Throne. The Jewish and the Christian view of love for God and his throne are very different. I devote the rest of this piece to the contrast between the two views. I first deal with the love for God in Judaism and Christianity and then the significance of his throne in the two religions.

The Love for God in Judaism and Christianity

Love for God in Judaism

Rambam (Moses Maimonides), in his commentary on the Torah (called the Mishneh Torah, מִשְׁנֶהתּוֹרָה, also called Seifer Yad Hachazakah,ספר יד החזקה , “Book of the The Mighty Hand” SEE END NOTE 2) describes Israel’s love for God.

Here is a translation from the Cambridge scholar Hedwig Bernard’s ‘The main principles of the Creed and Ethics of the Jews exhibited in selections from the Yad Hachazakah of Maimonides, with a literal English translation, copious illustrations from the Talmud, &c., and a collection of the abbreviations commonly used in Rabbinical writings,’ Cambridge, 1832. His translation “contributed to the flowering of Hebrew and Jewish letters in the period leading up to Jewish political emancipation” (Reif et al, Hebrew Manuscripts at Cambridge, 20). (A free ebook can be found here). He was a Jew who became a Christian, so the Jew won’t take him seriously; but then so was the Apostle Matthew and all the first followers of Jesus.

[The words in square brackets are supplied by the translator]

He who serves [God] out of love, occupies himself with [the study and the performance] of the law and the commandments, and moreover walks in the paths of wisdom, not for the sake of any private advantages whatever; not because he is afraid of the evil [which awaits the wicked]; nor because he wishes to secure to himself the good (bliss) [promised to the righteous]; but he acts [in compliance with the dictates of] truth, [solely] because they are the dictates of] truth; and, as to the good (bliss) [promised to the righteous], this will come [of itself] as the ultimate result of the same. Now this degree [of piety] is an exceedingly high degree such as not every wise man can attain unto’; this being the degree which Abraham, our father, held, whom the Holy One, blessed be He! called his friend – for this very reason, that he served [Him] out of love only. But still, this degree is the one which the Holy One, blessed be He! has commanded us through the medium of Moses [to aspire unto]; for it is said: And thou shalt LOVE the Lord thy God, (13eut. vi. .5). Now when a man once comes to this [namely], to love the Lord with that love which is due [unto Him], he will [as a matter of course] fulfill all the commandments forthwith, [and this solely] out of love.”

But now, what is [the nature of] that love which is due [unto Him] ?—It is that a man should love the Lord with a love so excessively great and so exceedingly strong, that his soul, by thus becoming fastened to the love of the Lord, shall be constantly absorbed in the same, as though he were love-sick, [to such a degree] as not to [have it in his power to] divert his mind from the female who is the object of his love”, and in whom he is absorbed at all times, whether he sit, or stand, or eat, or drink—nay greater, far greater still [than this], is the love of the Lord in the hearts of those who love Him, and who are constantly absorbed in their love of Him”; as He commanded us: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL, (Deut. vi. 5).”

It is interesting that this section on “love”is from (the) Rambam’s chapter on “Repentance” (Mishneh Torah, Chapter 10. Precepts related to repentance).”

Here is a photocopy of p. 315 of translation (the second half of which I quoted above) with notes as it appears in the original manuscript.

The love that the Rambam (Maimonides) describes is not merely a Rashi-esque kind of indirect love. Here is Rashi’s “Oral Torah” commentary of Deut 11:22:“and to cleave to Him.”Rashi asks: Is it possible to say this? Is God not “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24)? Rather, it means: Cleave to the disciples and the Sages, and I will consider it as though you cleave to Me. — [Sifrei].”

According to Rashi, we are not able and, therefore, shouldn’t try to cleave to the Holy One of Israel because He is a consuming fire. In the Rambam, however, and contrary to what I argued elsewhere, a Jew can indeed singly cleave to God; to His person?

Love for God in Christianity

The Rambam’s intense love for God evokes for me the great Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Avila. Here is Eckhart:

Now rejoice, all ye powers of my soul, that you are so united with God that no one may separate you from Him. I cannot fully praise nor love Him therefore must I die, and cast myself into the divine void, till I rise from non-existence to existence.”

Eckhart yearned to return to the dark void that preceded creation. In the language of the Zohar, the “divine void” is a “region of enormous potency,” the source of all light. (See John F. Nash, “From the Zohar to Safed: Development of the Theoretical Kabbala).

Here is Teresa of Avila:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.” (Teresa of Avila, “Divine Locutions. Discussions on That Subject” Chapter 29, 16-17).

Many a Christian would reject the above experiences of God (Jewish and Christian) as as “mystical,”which for them means navel-gazing, focusing on the selfish ego. But we should not be afraid of the term “mystical,” for not everything mystical begins in a mist and ends in a schism, or in your belly button.

(“Experimental” is the archaic term for “experiential”, which means something different in modern English, of course).

There is also the famous “Imitation of Christ,” which although written primarily for monks, does apply, in parts, to the laity as well; unless you believe the laity’s job to be nothing more to lay and obey. Here is a the “Imitation of Christ”:

My God, Sweetness beyond words, make bitter all the carnal comfort that draws me from love

of the eternal and lures me to its evil self by the sight of some delightful good in the present.” Jesus doesn’t need to use such vivid language, because when the Spirit of God comes to live in the children of God, he reveals the deep things of God; not merely to the mind, but, more important to the heart.”

There’s, of course, also Jesus, who says it less poetically for the reason, I think, that once one is in relationship with God, the experience of loving him will be beyond words. Get the bare bones, and Jesus will clothe it with flesh. (The same principle applies to some of Jesus’ other “matter-of-fact” discourses; for example, the “Lord’s prayer, the Beatitudes). The Bible is more interest in inward “seeing” than in verbal “scenery.” Of course, the Bible, and I, have to use words to speak to you. Here is Jesus:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)

John MacArthur writes about Christians (those who have been regenerated by God and raised in heavenly places; Ephesians 1 and 2): “Our fellowship with God is not meant to wait until we get to heaven. God’s greatest desire , and our greatest need, is to be in constant fellowship with Him now…”

How does the love for God relate to the Throne?

The throne of God in Judaism and Christianity

Many Jews and Christians do not differ in the intensity of their search for God. The question is “What kind of God is the object of this search?” What better approach to the question than to come near to the throne of God; God willing. Before we do so, we need to realise that in both Judaism and Christianity, God is high in the heavens as well on the earth.

The throne of God in Judaism

Solomon Schechter in his “Aspects of rabbinic theology” (1909; free ebook) writes:

Ps. 68 4: “‘Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the Araboth (the heavens). Araboth is the heaven, in which are righteousness and grace, the treasures of life, the treasures of peace and the treasures of bliss, and the souls of the righteous, and the souls and the spirits which are about to be created, and the dew with which the holy one, blessed be he, is to revive the dead . . . and there are the Ophanim, the Seraphim, and the holy Chayoth [holy living ones] and the ministering angels and the throne of glory, and the king, the living God, high and exalted, rests above them, as it is said: ‘Extol ye him that rideth upon the Araboth.’ (p. 31).

(Note: The Ophanim [Wheels or Galgallin] is a class of higher liberated celestial beings that are also known as “Thrones” (Daniel 7:9). They are the carriers of the Throne of God; hence the name. They are said to be great wheels covered in eyes)

Judaism holds, according to Schechter, that “the patriarchs are … the very throne of God” (Schechter, p. 84).

Here we have human beings who are the “very” throne of God, that is truly (verum) the throne of God. Rashi now becomes clearer to me. Recall earlier Rashi’s commentary of Deut 11:22: “and to cleave to Him”: Is it possible to say this? Is God not “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24)? Rather, it means: Cleave to the disciples and the Sages, and I will consider it as though you cleave to Me. — [Sifrei]. So, if for the Jew, the patriarchs, and by extension, the sages chochomim, are the very throne of God, then, from the Christian viewpoint, every Jewish sage is like Jesus, who, Christians believe is in the midst of the Throne. But I am jumping to far ahead, because I deal with Jesus and the Throne in the next section.

So, for Rashi, and the orthodox Jew in general (because they stay close to Rashi) although a Jew cannot cleave to God directly (which Rambam above indicates is not only possible but is also encouraged), he can still cling to the “very throne of God,” by cleaving to the patriarchs, and to the sages and the righteous.

We come now to the Jewish view that without the Jew, God’s throne is sitting on shaky ground. Schechter continues:

But the throne of God is not secure as long as the recognition of the kingship is only the possession of a few individuals. At the very time when the patriarch was teaching righteousness, there were the entire communities of Sodom and Gomorrah committed to idolatry and the basest vices whilst in the age of Moses, Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” The kingship is therefore uncertain until there was called into existence a whole people “which knows God,” is sanctified unto his name, and devoted to the proclamation of his unity.’ “If my people,” God says to the angels, “decline to proclaim me as King upon earth, my kingdom ceases also in heaven.” Hence Israel says unto God, ” Though thou wast from eternity the same ere the world was created, and the same since the world has been created, yet thy throne was not established and thou wast not known ; but in the hour when we stood by the Red Sea, and recited a song before thee, thy kingdom became firmly established and thy throne was firmly set.” ((p. 84; my italics).

Israel, again, as we have seen, are the people, who, by their glorious acts at the Red Sea, and especially by their readiness at Mount Sinai to receive the yoke of the kingdom, became the very pillars of the throne.” (Schechter p. 98)

The upshot: God’s throne can only be firmly established after Israel recites its song at Sea. The piper becomes the piper only after Israel sings the tune. It seems to me that Israel are at sea on this one.

The throne of God in Christianity

When John, the writer of the book of Revelation (Apocalypse), fell down before the angel, the angel rebuked him:

[And he (the Angel) said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
“And behold, (the Lord’s words) I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:6-9 ESV; my italics).
These things” that the angel told John were so awesome (if you’re a Christian, please reserve that word for God, not for hamburgers) that he fell to the ground in worship. The angel admonishes John not to worship him, a fellow servant, even though he (the angel) is a (pure) spiritual being, for it is not how more spiritual or less material you are that determines your worth in God’s eyes. The angel says. worship God alone.

The question now is, who is the Lord in the above passage, who is he who is coming soon, who also is the only one worthy of worship? We would know who if had reqd Revelation as we normally read a book; frontwards. Back up to Chapter 5 (my italics):

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
(Revelation 5:6-14 ESV).

The honour given to “him who sits on the throne and to the lamb” is indistinguishable. How I wish that would extinguish for good the notion – especially in the heads of Unitarian “Messianic Jews” that Jesus is not equal with God, the Father. Don’t you see it. The Lamb is being worshipped.

In conclusion, for the Jewish sage, he and God occupy the Throne space (see Schechter above). Indeed without the Jew (Israel), God sits on a wobbly throne. Only when the Jew is holding up the throne – which is to be even closer than on its right hand – is God able to be God.

For the Christian, on the other hand, there is God the Father seated on the Throne, and the Lamb, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, sitting at his right hand; with the universe as their footstool.

Where the Jew believes that God cannot be God without Israel, the Christian believes that God cannot be God without either the Father or the Son – and the Holy Spirit, in the wings, showing us all these things.

The God that the Jew loves, therefore, is similar but also different to the God the Christian loves. Both believe that God is a terrible (awesome) majesty (Job 37:22). The Jew, though, believes that God, to be God, needs him, while the Christian believes that God to be God needs to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.

The Christian, says Judaism, has a blasphemous love because he places its Son of God on the mighty right hand of the throne of the Holy One of Israel. Israel, however, also has some answering to do, without whose supporting hand, Jews (like Schechter) claim, God will be left with a wobbly Throne.

1. The conversation between Jesus and the high priest was probably conducted in Aramaic. Matthew, whose Gospel was written in Greek, is probably recording the Greek translation (“Are you the Christ “Christos” – Aramaic: ‎משיחא, Məšīḥa “Meshicha) of the high priest’s question asked in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek – contrary to the tenuous theory that the much of it such as the Matthew’s Gospel was written in Hebrew). Aramaic, however, was probably the common language of the people, not forgetting that Jews with a basic education also knew Greek, which, in spite of the Roman conquest of the Greek Empire about 60 years earlier, was still an important language in the province of Judah).

2 “Mighty Hand” is from the last verse of the Torah (Pentateuch), Deuteronomy 34:10-12: There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, In all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel.

One thought on “The throne of God: Jewish and Christian outlooks

  1. Pingback: … before Abraham came to be, I AM. « Inspirations

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