Scripture We Can All Read
With the production of the Gutenberg Bible, the printing press helped put Sacred Scripture in the hand of the common man. Currently, with an estimated 5 billion Bibles sold, the Bible holds the record as the bestselling book of all time. Generally, Christianity defines the Bible as the Word of God, although attitudes towards the Bible and the canon differ among the various denominations of the Church. For Jewish people, the Bible is more than Sacred Scripture, it is also the sacred history of a people and a land.
Hearing the Word
In Judaism, the Bible is to be treated very differently than any other book. For example, one cannot take a Bible into a bathroom or a cemetery. We call the Bible the Holy Bible, at least that’s what is printed on the front cover. In Jewish tradition, the Bible is also thought of as Divine Language. Not only are the words that are in the Bible important, but the sounds that they make are also important and so too are the words that are not in the Bible. How can the words that are not in the Bible be important? Let me explain. God does not say things superfluously; He doesn’t say things for the sake of merely saying them. As Divine Language, things have reasons why they are said and how they are said. By extension then, the words that God chose not to mention must also be important. There are reasons why the Bible does not use certain words to describe something when it clearly could have.
At the time of Jesus people did not read the Bible. Simply because not enough of them existed in printed form to be read. People did not have personal copies of the Torah that they could access daily. A community owned the books of the Bible. Instead, people would gather in groups for a public reading of Scripture. During the 2nd Temple Period, you didn’t read the Bible, you heard it. Therefore, the sounds the words make are essential, and what you don’t hear can teach you just as much as what you do hear.
The Binding of Isaac
One of the classic examples of how Hearing the Bible is essential is the Akedah הָעֲקֵידָה, the Binding of Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22. The story is very familiar to all of us. In summary, Abraham has been commanded by God to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. After leaving their servants, Abraham and Isaac walk alone towards the place the Lord had told Abraham. Genesis does not mention where the mountains of Moriah are precisely. It is Jewish tradition that the Land of Moriah is located over the original Garden of Eden, now Jerusalem. Isaac turns to his father and asks, ‘I see the knife, I see the fire, and I am carrying the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham replies that God Himself will provide a lamb. The word used for lamb is ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה which is the word you would have heard when it was read out in the synagogue. God will provide a ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה. Abraham binds Isaac, prepares to slay his son, but is stopped by an Angel of the Lord, looks up and sees a ram caught in the thicket. Here the word is ‘Ayil’ אַיִל. As a hearer of the Bible, you heard Abraham clearly say that God will provide a lamb ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה, but He didn’t; He provided a ram ‘Ayil’ אַיִל. You actually heard a different word; the word you might have been expecting to hear was not there. And that becomes important, especially in the context of Divine Language.
God Will Do as He Says
The question for the hearer now becomes, why did God provide a ram when Abraham very clearly said He would provide a lamb? The answer ultimately becomes prophetic. Obviously then God will indeed provide a lamb; however, He will do so in the future. Because Abraham said, He would. Thus since Genesis 22, the Jewish People have been waiting for the Lamb of God, and it began to take on a messianic character and title. We can see this title active and alive in the psyche of the Jewish people in the 2nd Temple Period that when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he declares Him to be the Lamb of God. And the disciples don’t ask, what’s the Lamb of God? Because they understand the concept, that the word that was not there in the past, is the Word that is here in the present. Many disciples cease following John and start following Jesus. Worthy indeed is the Lamb. (Revelation 5).