In Part 13 of The Open Door Series, Nehemia Gordon explains how the Hebrew Roots of Hanukkah reveal the origin of the pagan ban on God's holy name. Learn how Judah the Maccabee ignored the noise of the multitudes, to stand against the ban and reclaim the true miracle of this holiday by proclaiming His eternal name! Get ready for Information Unleashed! This episode is available as a video and as a podcast.
Michael wrote: "I called on God for years not knowing His real name and He answered my heart's desire to have a relationship with Him. I now do call on Him by His Hebrew name and my life has changed."
I look forward to reading your comments!
Nehemia: I’m going to be talking to you today about Hanukkah. I grew up with this festival, the festival of Hanukkah, which, being raised as an Orthodox Jew, what this was all about was lighting the Hanukkah lamps, one every day for eight days, and what I was taught - one of my earliest memories is - I was taught that this represents the miracle of when the Greeks took over the Temple in the year 168 BC, and they began to offer sacrifices to their pagan deities there. The Jews rebelled against this, and when the Jews finally drove the Greeks from the Temple, they found only one cruse of oil, one vial of oil, that had the seal of the High Priest indicating that that oil was still holy.
So they put the oil on the menorah, on the lamp in the Temple, and of course, the menorah in the Temple had seven branches. That one vial of oil in those seven lamps - they needed it to burn for eight days. Why eight days? Because it takes eight days to undergo the ritual of purification in Numbers 19. That, by the way, is mentioned also in the Book of Acts, that Paul underwent the same ritual of this seven-day purification rite. There was one day of oil, and then we needed seven extra days. Finally, when they had the oil, they were able to purify themselves and make new oil. The oil burned that entire time, allowing them enough time to make new oil. This was the miracle of Hanukkah, I was always taught.
Now, when I was growing up, and many of you already know my story, that I’m what’s known as a Karaite Jew. I’ll get this question very often, “What is a Karaite Jew?” I have mentioned before how Keith and I were traveling in this one place, and the lady walks up to us, the pastor of this church, this is a speaking in tongues, inner city church, and she says, “Nehemia, what is a karate Jew?”
No, no, it’s got nothing to do with karate or martial arts. It’s Karaite. Growing up, rituals like this thing of the menorah, of the Hanukkah menorah, the lighting of the eight days - when we light the Hanukkah menorah, we make the blessing. I grew up making this blessing, and here it is.
It says, “Blessed art Thou, Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, commanding us to light the Hanukkah lamps.” When I was growing up, I went to my rabbis and I asked them, “Where in Scripture are we commanded the light the Hanukkah lamps?” Remember, I’m growing up as an Orthodox Jew, an Old Testament Jew. In my Old Testament, in my Tanakh, my Hebrew Bible, it doesn’t even mention Hanukkah. The events of Hanukkah took place between the years 168 and 165. The last book in the Old Testament is Malachi, which is several hundred years earlier than that.
So I went to my rabbis and I said, “Where are we commanded to light these Hanukkah lamps?” They said, “Strictly speaking, we’re not commanded in the Scripture. However, God commanded us to obey the rabbis, and by obeying the rabbis we’re obeying God. That’s what we mean by the blessing.”
When I was told this, I asked the next logical question, “Where are we commanded to obey the rabbis?” I was told, “What? Stop asking so many questions.” I realized, as I was reading Scripture, and I would read the teachings of the rabbis, and they seemed to me just words of men, and I was told that the teachings of these rabbis were binding and it’s like the word of God, and I said, “Shouldn’t we throw away these words of men when they conflict with the word of God?” And they said to me, “No, you mustn’t say that - that’s what those heretics, the Karaites say.”
I said, “Tell me about the Karaites. They sound like they know what they’re talking about,” and I realized I was a Karaite Jew. I didn’t know there was such a thing. I was actually told by my rabbis that you can’t be a Karaite Jew, because they have ceased to exist. If you become a Karaite Jew, then you too will cease to exist. It’s a dead end. This is what I was told, and I was a little kid, and this is a scary thing to say to a kid. “If you follow this belief that’s in your heart, you’re going to die. You’re going to cease to exist.” And I said, “I don’t care. If I’m the last one on earth, I don’t care, because I know this is the truth and I have to follow it.”
Years later, when I was a little bit older, I found out that I wasn’t the only Karaite Jew in the world. There aren’t very many, about 35,000 in the whole world, but this was what they told me to intimidate me to keep me away from the truth, to scare me away from the truth. For me, Hanukkah for many years represented the ultimate rebellion against God, because it was about lighting these Hanukkah lamps, proclaiming the God-given authority of these rabbis, which God never gave them. That’s what Hanukkah represented to me.
When I was a little bit older and studied at the Hebrew University, where I did my master’s in Biblical Studies, I started to look at all kinds of ancient sources, and I found out that that wasn’t really what Hanukkah was originally about. Hanukkah, it turns out, the Feast of Dedication in ancient Jewish sources, was hijacked by the rabbis, and what I found in the earliest sources was that it all began at this little place. This was a place in the Judean mountains called “Modi’in.” Say Modi’in…
Nehemia: Modi’in is a beautiful city. It’s got flowers and these horrendous buildings up on the top that they say look like the Transformers, and every time I drive by these buildings, I can’t help but do that little song, “Transformers, more than meets the eye.” [laughter] Other than these horrible, ugly buildings, Modi’in is a beautiful city in the western edge of the Judean hills. By the way, one of my younger sisters is a real estate agent in Modi’in – in fact, the best real estate agent in the entire town. If you have any doubt about it, just ask her. She’ll tell you – and it’s gearing up to be Israel’s third biggest city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Modi’in. But 2,200 years ago, Modi’in was a tiny, little village that was barely on anybody’s map, that nobody… barely knew it existed.
What happened is, the Greeks, under Alexander, came and conquered the entire Middle East, and in Syria they set up an empire called the Seleucid Empire under General Seleucus, who began in the year 312 BCE. He ruled over Israel, and in the year 168 approximately they began this policy of stamping out the Jewish faith. They didn’t really hate the Jews - what the Greeks wanted to do was to unify their empire. In their empire, they had Zoroastrians, they had Canaanites and they had Babylonians, all kinds of different religions who worshipped all kinds of different gods. And they said, “If we really want to have a unified empire, we need everybody to come together uniformly and worship the same god, follow the same culture.” Of course, being Greeks, they said it should be the culture of the Greeks. “So instead of worshiping Tammuz you’re going to worship Zeus. Instead of worshipping Baal, you’ve got to worship Zeus. Everybody’s got to come together.”
What many of the people did is they said, “Okay, who cares? Baal and Zeus - it’s really kind of the same thing. Tammuz and Zeus, it’s really the same thing. You want me to call Tammuz by a different name? You want me to call him Zeus? I’ve got no problem with that, no problem. You want me to call Mithra by the name Apollo? We can work together. Just make sure that Mithra’s birthday and Apollo’s birthday are the same day. As long as we’re clear on that.”
So most of the people in the Empire lined up, “No problem, we’ll do whatever you want.” They followed these decrees of the Greek rulers, the Seleucid Greeks. There was one little province, a tiny province on the way to Egypt called Judea, and they were making trouble. So what the king did is he got many of the people of Judea, the Jews, to follow his policy, and he sent those people out to convince their brothers and sisters.
When they came to this one town, the town of Modi’in, that little village on the western edge of the Judean hills, they set up an altar at the center of Modi’in on top of the hills where the Transformers are today. They set up an altar on top of those hills and they called all the people of the village and they said, “You must come and eat this pig being sacrificed to Apollo.”
The people were horrified. I don’t think the Greeks even did this on purpose. I don’t think they chose the pig to offend the Jews. They were just following their customs and traditions. That’s what they did. You want to give the fattest and most rich food to the god, right? That’s what you want for yourself, the fattest and richest food. These were ancient cultures where people starved, so you didn’t give them chicken. You gave them pig. So they brought the pig and they sacrificed it, and they called the people up and they said, “If you don’t eat this sacrifice, you will be put to death.”
Well, there was one family led by a man named Matthew, or Matthias, Matisyahu, and he led his five sons in an uprising against these Greeks. And they were priests. No one thought they would succeed. They didn’t think they would succeed themselves, because they were fighting what was at that time the superpower of the ancient world. Think of 20 years ago, the Soviet Union or the way the United States is today. This would be like the Bahamas leading a war against the United States. [laughter] Good luck with that.
And this is what happened. They rose up against the Greeks. They were living, it says in the Books of Maccabees, like animals out in the wilderness. The Greeks would march their armies down the road and the Jews would come out literally, of little holes in the ground. They would scurry out of little holes, attack the Greeks, and then run back and hide. They thought, “We’re never going to defeat them, but at least we’re not going to eat that pig, and at least we’ll be able to circumcise our children and continue to practice the ancient faith of our fathers.” This is what Hanukkah was originally about.
After five years of fighting, they came and they liberated the Temple. And when I read this in the ancient Jewish sources - the earliest Jewish sources that talk about this is 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, written shortly after the events - I was reading through these books many years ago, looking for the story of the miracle of the oil, the one that the rabbis say, “God commanded us to light the oil.” I was reading through it, and the details in these books… I’ll be honest with you, I actually fell asleep many times, reading these books. [laughter] They’re very, very boring, because it’ll say, “Judah came with 5,000 men and he marched from this village to that village. And there were 300 horses…” Come on, seriously. This is boring. Great detail, the stories are given in.
Then they describe the liberation of the Temple. And what do you know? Not a single word about the eight days of the miracle of oil. Huh. How can that be? Not a single word about eight days of miraculous oil. Nowhere, anywhere. They do talk about what the miracle was. The miracle was defeating the Greeks and liberating the Temple, and then dedicating the altar. Now, why did they dedicate the altar? Because the Greeks had sacrificed pigs on that altar, which invalidated it. So they came into the Temple and tore down the altar, built a new altar, and that was the altar that Zerubbabel, the Jewish leader who had led the Jews back to the Land of Israel after 70 years of exile in Babylon, he had built that altar himself.
They said, “It doesn’t matter. The altar’s been defiled. We must tear it down.” They tore down the altar and built a new one, and then they dedicated it, and they dedicated it for eight days. Why eight days? Not because of eight days of miraculous oil. They dedicated it for eight days because when Moses dedicated an altar, he dedicated it for eight days. When Solomon built an altar it says, “He dedicated it for eight days.” Those are both in the Bible. In their tradition, they knew that when Nehemia – who I’m named after – dedicated his altar, he also dedicated his for eight days. That’s why you had eight days of Hanukkah - the dedication of the altar.
When I read this, I realized that makes perfect sense. I grew up singing songs about Hanukkat Hamizbeach, the dedication of the altar. To this day, Jews refer to the holiday, the short name is Hanukkah. The full name is Hanukkat Hamizbeach, dedication of the altar. That’s what it’s really about. When I realized that, I realized the rabbis have hijacked this holiday and made it into something about lighting lights that proclaim their God-given authority, and really, what we need to do is take back this festival - not throw it away, but take it back, and turn it back to what it was really about.
Now, I want to talk a little bit today about one aspect of Hanukkah. This is something I came across in the source called Megillat Taanit, which is one of the earliest Pharisee sources - a Pharisee source - dating to before the year 70. It describes a series of days on which people were not supposed to fast, because those were days of celebration. One of those days was the third day of the seventh month, the third day of Tishrei, and the reason they were celebrating was that the Greeks had made decrees on that day, and then on the anniversary of that day the decrees were overthrown and invalidated by the Jews resisting the Greeks. Here’s what it says in Megillat Taanit, explaining the third day of Tishrei.
It says, “The Greeks made decrees to eradicate Israel.” How did they do that? “They ordered them to deny the Kingdom of Heaven, to declare that they have no portion with the God of Israel, and not to mention the Heavenly name on their lips.” This is what the eradication part… and it uses the word “eradicate”, the same exact word that Jews use when they speak today about what the Nazis tried to do us – shmad, lehashmid, to destroy, to eradicate. Their policy of eradication wasn’t the way Hitler tried to do it, by wiping out our bodies, they wanted to wipe out our souls by cutting us off from the God of Israel, by causing us to deny the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now some people are going to be a little bit nervous, because there’s a Karaite Jew here. I’m not Christian, I’m not Messianic, and I’m up here talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. I know some of you are nervous saying, “What does a Jew who doesn’t believe in Yeshua have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven?” But Kingdom of Heaven is an ancient concept. When John the Baptist traveled through the Land of Israel speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven, people didn’t say, “We don’t know what that is, we’re Jews. We don’t know about the Kingdom of Heaven.”
No! They heard “Kingdom of Heaven” and they said, “We’ve been looking forward to that, where Yehovah comes down to earth and rules as the King of the World.”
Nehemia: Zechariah talks about Him standing with one leg on either side of the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Olives splitting in the middle, and He’s going to be king on that day over the entire earth. What does the other half of that prophesy say? It says, “On that day, He will be one and His name will be one.”
Nehemia: So this Kingdom of Heaven, that’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. The prophets promised it, and I believe it will happen - may it be soon, when the smoke clears. [laughter] But the Greeks wanted us to deny the Kingdom of Heaven. They said, “You want your God to be king, and David, His servant, to be His representative on earth? No. Antiochus, he’s your king – Antiochus.” Antiochus, the King of the Seleucids, he called himself… Each king of Seleucids had a number. There was Antiochus I, Antiochus II, and III. The one who tried to eradicate Israel was called Antiochus IV, and his surname, his epithet, his title was, Epiphanes, which means “He who reveals Himself.” He was claiming to be God, and he didn’t want anybody calling upon the name of any other God. If you want to talk to his father, who was Zeus and Apollo – because he was the son of a god. The pharaohs claimed to be sons of gods, and the Babylonian rulers, and Antiochus, following in that tradition, claimed to be a son of a god.
He said, “If you want to call on my name or the name of one of my fathers, that’s fine. But that Jewish God of yours, you dare not call upon.” He did not want them to call upon the name of the Jewish God. I realized that this festival of Hanukkah… Look, the first reference to this miracle of oil doesn’t appear until around 200 AD, 200 CE. Now, why does it only appear in that period?
When I was researching this, I realized that something happened in the year 70 that changed everything. What happened in the year 70 is the Romans came and destroyed the Temple, and so the Jews were left with this eight-day festival, this eight-day festival of celebrating the dedication of the altar, an altar that was now destroyed. So the rabbis, in their ingenuity, came up with a new significance of this altar. There had been references to oil - not the oil of the eight days of burning, there was another oil. You can read about that in 2 Maccabees when they dedicated the altar in the time of Nehemia they poured oil on the altar and it ignited, and they believed that was a miracle. It didn’t burn for eight days, it just burned until the sacrifices were consumed. But they believed this was a miracle, a fire coming down from heaven and igniting the altar, just as it had done in the time of Moses, in the time of Solomon and in the time of Elijah on Mount Carmel. And they believed that happened at the time of Nehemia through this naphtha oil that they talk about. You can read that in 2 Maccabees yourself.
But the first time we hear about the eight days of miraculous oil, that’s only around 200 AD, 130 years after the destruction of the Temple, and that was because the rabbis had to give this festival new significance. What I realized… I’m very much about breaking free from tradition. In fact, I was going to put on a tie this morning, which is really against my nature as an Israeli, and I decided that I was going to break free of the bonds of tradition and not put on a tie. [applause] I was not going to be tied down by tradition, and it was also because I was sweating up a storm, but whatever. But that made for a much better story.
I want to talk to you about something that happened in the time of the Maccabees. There were five brothers led by Judah the Maccabee. Who here can name one of the other five brothers?
Nehemia: Simon. Who else?
Nehemia: Elazar, very good. Who else? Judah, we said Judah. It’s like a Jew naming the 12 disciples, is this what this is like? All right. [laughter]
I want to talk about something that happened with Elazar at the Battle of Beit Zecharia, or Zacharia. That was a battle that took place during this three-year uprising against the Greeks. It was one of the definitive battles. At the battle of Beit Zacharia, it says how the Greeks came with their full army. This wasn’t just a raiding party to try to force the Jews to follow their decrees anymore - this was the real deal. They came with what’s called the “expeditionary force;” 100,000 foot-soldiers, we’re told, 20,000 horsemen and 32 war elephants.
The horsemen and the foot soldiers must have scared the bejesus out of the Israelites, because how many people were in all of Judea? I don’t know, maybe a quarter of a million or something like that, and there’s 100,000 foot-soldiers, 20,000 horsemen and the 32 war elephants. These were people intimidated by camels, and they see 32 war elephants and they are terrified.
It talks about in the Book of Maccabees in 1 Maccabees 6:41, I want to read this verse.
It says, “And all who heard the noise made by their multitude, by the marching of the multitude…” of the army of the Greeks, “and the clinking of their arms, trembled, for the army was very large and strong.” And it goes on to describe how they were fleeing before this army. The Jewish army didn’t even come out to fight them at first; they were terrified. They heard the 32 war elephants and the 100,000 men and the 20,000 horsemen, the cavalry, and they said, “This is too much for us.” And they just fled before them.
I’ve brought here a shield and I have here a sword.
This is what they heard. This is why the Jews fled - because they heard the clinking of the arms. Now, imagine 100,000 people are clinking their weapons like this. It would be terrifying. There’s almost as many people there as there are able-bodied men in all of Judea, and that’s just the expeditionary force come to enforce the rule of the king, forbidding them from speaking the name of their God and practicing circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. They were terrified. They fled.
There were two things that terrified them that made them flee, that we read in that verse, “There was the noise made by their multitude and there was the clinking of the arms.” I’m going to ask everybody on this side of the room, say “Noise of the multitude.”
Audience: Noise of the multitude.
Nehemia: I’m going to ask you to say, “clinking of arms.”
Audience: Clinking of arms.
Nehemia: Let’s try that again.
Audience: Noise of the multitudes. Clinking of arms.
Nehemia: Okay. You guys clap when you say, “Clinking of arms.”
Audience: Clinking of arms.
Nehemia: This is what terrified the Jews who saw this army coming. They saw the 100,000 men, 20,000 foot-soldiers, 32 elephants, and they were terrified by…
Audience: Noise of the multitudes. Clinking of arms.
Nehemia: Now, there was one man who saw all this and said, “I’m not going to be afraid and intimidated.” This was one of the brothers of Judah the Maccabee. His name was Elazar. Elazar heard this and he saw all of his brothers running away. He saw that one of the 32 elephants was bigger than all the others. It was adorned with royal garb, gold and silver. He realized, “This has to be the elephant of the king.” He grabbed his sword – it probably wasn’t as big as this, it was probably up to here – he grabbed his sword and he ran towards the elephant, knocking men to the right and to the left, and he took his sword and he plunged it into the belly of the beast. Now, what gave him the gall, the guts to do that? He had to know that was a really dangerous thing to do. What gave him the guts to do it?
I think what gave him the guts to do is another battle that happened not far from Beit Zacharia, another battle that happened near the very same place. It’s mentioned in the Book of Samuel, one of my favorite stories. 1 Samuel chapter 17. This is where David goes out against Goliath. When David goes against Goliath, he says to Goliath in verse 45, “You come to me with sword.” This is sword. This is just one of Goliath’s weapons. This is scary. [laughing] If this were actually sharp it would be quite scary. “You come to me with sword, with spear and with javelin.” Goliath was a big guy. He had his main weapon and two backup weapons, just in case. “And I come to you in the name of Yehovah of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have…” and the word there, cherafta, literally means “who you have insulted”.
So Goliath was going out there every day and saying, “You Israelites who believe in that god of yours, Yehovah, you’ve got no chance against us. We’re going to defeat you. Your god is powerless against us.” David heard this and he said, “I’m not going to go for this.” He took five smooth stones and he went out against Goliath and he faced him. It was about 1,000 years later, 800 years, 900 years later. Elazar, the Maccabee, he was going into a battle very near where that happened with David and Goliath, not far away, and he saw this massive army and he said, “They’re coming to me with sword, spear and javelin. They’re coming to me with foot soldier, with cavalry and with elephants, and all I’ve got is the name of Yehovah of Hosts.” He must have grabbed that sword and gone for the elephant and said, “Yehovah!” And lunged it into the heart of the beast. This is one of the most famous stories, I grew up with the story, famous stories in Jewish lore.
That beast, he killed the beast and everyone on the beast when it collapsed. But it fell on him and killed him too. That’s what dedication is about. Dedication isn’t just going out and saying, “Well, I’m going to stand by my beliefs as long as everything goes right. As long as I know that I’m safe and secure, I’m going to stand by my faith and my beliefs.” Dedication is going out and knowing that this could cost you your life. This could be the end. This is going all the way. When David went out, he took five smooth stones. I’m sure he was expecting success, but it wasn’t guaranteed. He might have shot all five stones and not one. That could have happened. That’s happened in history. There are examples in the Bible where it happened.
David didn’t care. This man had insulted the name of the God of Israel. He went out against him and he killed him. Elazar did the same thing, and it cost Elazar his life, and that’s what dedication is about. It’s not just about doing what you know you’re going to be successful at, and everything’s going to be fun and rosy. It’s about really standing by your convictions, even when it costs you. That’s the message of Hanukkah for me, at least.
Here’s another person who stood by his convictions. This is a tomb up in the Galilee, outside of the little town of Carmiel. It’s a tomb of a rabbi that most of you probably have never heard of. Frankly, I never heard of him until a number of years ago, when I came across his name, and he was mentioned in the list of 10 rabbis who were martyred during the time of the Hadrianic persecutions which ended in the year 138. So this was probably around the year 136, 137, something like that, when he was put to death.
The reason he was put to death, when I read this, I was very surprised. This is what the Talmud says, the writings of the ancient rabbis. They talk about Hanina ben Teradion, and it says, “They sentenced him to be burned,” the Romans sentenced him to be burned, “because he used to pronounce the name the way it is written,” the name of the Father, the name of the Creator of the Universe. “They took hold of him, wrapped him in a Torah scroll, surrounded him in bundles of branches and set them on fire.” This is how the Romans punished a Jew who spoke the name of his God.
Now, this was shocking to me, because this happened around the year 136, and it was about 300 years earlier that Antiochus had made this decree forbidding the Jews from speaking the name of their God. That was part of his policy to eradicate Israel. If you read in ancient Jewish sources, you read about two eradications, two attempts at eradicating the ancient Jews. The first attempt was Antiochus in the year 168 through 165. The second was by the Emperor Hadrian, and that was the Hadrianic persecution that killed Hanina ben Teradion. That second annihilation-eradication policy imitated the first.
So Hadrian took all of the policies of Antiochus and said, “Antiochus wasn’t successful, because he didn’t have the might of the Roman Empire. I’m going to show those Jews what it means if you refuse to worship the Roman gods.” For the Greeks, this was a novel idea to try to force everybody to worship the same God. That wasn’t a novel idea for the Romans. If you didn’t worship the Roman gods, if you didn’t sacrifice to Jupiter, and you were somebody from Ephesus or Greece or Alexandria, you would find yourself crucified on a cross or put to death in some other horrific way. There was no question about that.
There was one group that was exempt from this, and that was the Jews, and that was because they were known to be an ancient people who had this issue about worshiping anybody but their one God, so the Romans kind of left them alone until Hadrian came along, and he said, “Enough of this, Jews. Enough, Jews! You must worship the Roman gods and no other gods.” He decided he would put an end to this, once and for all, and did the same exact things as the Greeks. He forbade circumcision, forbade the Shabbat and forbade speaking the name of the God of Israel on their lips.
This rabbi was martyred, like Elazar. He didn’t have a sword. The sword he had was with his tongue. He went out into the public square and he read from the Torah. When he came to the name of the God of Israel, he didn’t stick some other word in there to avoid offending the Romans, he read, “Anochi, I am.” That’s Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments. “Anochi Yehovah Elohecha, I am Yehovah your God.” He read in public the name of the God of Israel, and the Romans took him and burned him at the stake, wrapping him in the very Torah scroll that he had read from.
Now, this is what dedication means. For me, Hanukkah isn’t just about lighting some pretty lamps and giving gifts to my friends. It’s about truly being dedicated. It’s about going through the Hanukkah process, Hanukkah-ing yourself and dedicating yourself, really dedicating yourself, to the principles that God lays down for us in His word, in His Scripture. Can I get an Amen?
Nehemia: You know, the rabbis came along after the death of Hanina ben Teradion in the year 136, 137, 138, and they said, “We’ve had enough people die.” Ten leading rabbis were put to death by the Romans during these persecutions. “Enough people have lost their lives. What we need to do is decide what we can live with and what we can’t live with.” They decided that one of the things they could live with is not speaking the name of the God of Israel in public. They decided, “We’re going to keep this a secret among ourselves.” They say that it was transmitted by sages to disciples once every seven years, but, “In public, in earshot of the Roman collaborators, we will use a circumlocution. We will insert a different name, a different word in place of the name of the God of Israel. Instead of saying His name, Yehovah, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, we will put in a different word.”
Already in ancient times, there were titles of God, of the God of Israel. What are some of the titles of God in the Old Testament?
Nehemia: Adonai. What’s another one?
Nehemia: Hashem is not in the Old Testament. That’s a modern term. What’s another term in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures?
Nehemia: “Elohim” means God. “Adonai” means Lord. “El Shadai” usually is translated as, “God Almighty.” “El Elyon,” most high God. These are all legitimate terms used to describe the God of Israel. What’s interesting is, if you add up all of those terms, how many times they appear in the Hebrew Bible, you’ll find they cumulatively appear less than the actual name of God, which is Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey.
We’ve explained in some of the other presentations why we pronounce it “Yehovah”. And if we call Him “Father,” if we call Him “Adonai,” if we call Him “Elohim,” there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t forget what His name is. His name is Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. The rabbis who banned the name to protect the people – and this is one of the things the rabbis did; they encountered Roman persecution and they would put in these what are called “takanot”. Say takanot.
Nehemia: Do you all know what are takanot are?
Nehemia: If you don’t know what takanot are, you absolutely, positively must see the video on Matthew 23, in which a rabbi 2,000 years ago – whose name escapes me at the moment – I think he was called Yeshua, or something like that, [laughter] he talks about the takanot of the Pharisees. Takanot are these man-made laws, rules and regulations that the Pharisees imposed upon the people, using what they believe is God-given authority. Lighting the Hanukkah lamps and making the blessing, “Blessed art Thou o’Lord, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us with the commandments, commanding us to light the Hannukah lamps,” that is an example of takanot.
One of the takanot of the Pharisees - they have many takanot - one of them is that when the Romans forbade the Jews from having their own calendar of sighting the new moon in the Land of Israel, Hillel II came along in the year 359 and he said, “Okay. It’s time for takanot.” The purpose of that takana was to get the people through the time until the Messiah would come and restore the Biblical calendar. This is the calendar that most Jews follow today - the calendar of Hillel II. You can ask any Orthodox rabbi who has studied this, and he’ll tell you, “Yes, when the Messiah comes we’ll go back to the original calendar of sighting the new moon, just like we used to do up until the year 359 in the time of Hillel II. Until then, we’re going to follow the takanot. That’s our tradition. It kept us from being killed by the Romans.”
This is what the rabbis will tend to do. They’ll make these takanot to protect the people from persecution. There are many famous examples of this. When the Romans came into the Land of Israel in the year 63 BCE under Pompeii, the Romans all of a sudden said to the Jews, “You no longer have the authority to carry out public executions.” The rabbis were in a big quandary. They said, “We can’t execute people? The Torah says if someone commits murder, we are to put them to death - by two or three witnesses. What do we do?”
So the rabbis made takanot, and the takanot basically made it impossible to put someone to death in a public execution. There were takanot that said, “We’ll only execute people if the murderer is first warned by two witnesses before he commits the murder, and the two witnesses who see the murder have to be two separate witnesses.” Where does it say that in the Scripture? Nowhere. But those were takanot.
They were designed to create a situation where the rabbis would never carry out the death penalty. In fact, in the entire history of the Sanhedrin, after the Romans came in the year 63 BCE, there was not single execution that was ever carried out by the rabbis, by the Sanhedrin, because the Romans forbade them to do that. It was their exclusive right.
So these policies of takanot were designed to protect the people and the rabbis from Roman persecution. One of the takanot went like this. It said, “If the Romans forbid us from speaking the name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, no problem. We’ll insert a different name in place of that. And when the Messiah comes…” next week, hopefully, because the rabbis didn’t think it would be 2,000 years. They talk in the Talmud how the Messiah is supposed to come in the year 4,000, which I believe is some time in the 3rd century AD. About that. [laughing] You know how predictions go.
Anyway, the rabbis didn’t think it was going to last 2,000 years, they thought this would be a very short process until the Messiah came. And until the Messiah came, they would use a replacement. And in the world to come, which they thought would be next week under the kingship of the King Messiah descended from David, they said, “We will go back to using the name.” Here’s a quote about this from the Talmud, in the tractate of Pesachim. It says, “This world is not like the world to come.” This is after the ban is already in place. When the rabbis say, “world to come”, they mean the Messianic kingdom in this context. “In this world the name is written Yehovah and read ‘Adonai,’” meaning “Lord.” “In the world to come it will be one, written Yehovah and read Yehovah.” They explain, how do they know this is true? That the takanot forbidding the name of the rabbis – the Romans forbade it and the rabbis said, “Okay. We’ll just institute that ourselves. You don’t want us to say the name, we’ll wait till the Messiah comes.”
Why did they know that the name would be spoken in the end times? Zecharia 14:9, the prophesy I referred to before says, “Yehovah shall be king over the entire earth, and on that day Yehovah will be one and His name will be one.” “On that day,” say the rabbis, “everyone will call upon the one name, not on the circumlocutions, the replacements, the titles and the epithets, but on the actual name. All mankind, every human being will call on the actual name of the Creator of the Universe.” Can I get an Amen?
Nehemia: Here’s one statement of the rabbis. And why do I bring this? Remember, I’m not a rabbinical Jew. I’m a Karaite Jew. I say the rabbis have very interesting things to say, but it’s not Scripture. But they’re the ones who have told us that tradition mandates we must not speak the name. Those very same rabbis who tell us not to speak the name, here’s what they say. They say, “Why does Israel pray in this world but not get answered? Because they do not know the explicit name.” What the…?
It goes on, it says, “However, in the future world, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will inform them of His name as it is written, “‘Therefore, my people will know My name,’” which is a quote from Isaiah 52:6. So these very same rabbis who forbid us from speaking the name say, “This is just temporary until the Romans get off our backs. When the Messiah comes and defeats the Romans…” which is what they thought, “When the Messiah comes and rules over the entire world after defeating the Romans,” the rabbis believed, “we will go back to speaking the name. Yehovah Himself will inform us the exact pronunciation of the name.”
Now, this is from a period in which the pronunciation of the name had already become a secret. I mentioned that it was a secret, that the sages would transmit to disciples once every seven years. Where did they get this idea? It sounds radical. “Why does Israel pray in this world but not get answered? Because they do not know the explicit name.” To me, that sounds a little bit sketchy, to be honest with you. It sounds like this is some magical formula. That bullets will be flying at me… did you ever hear of Lakota ghost shirts? Do we have any Native Americans here? No? The Lakota were this tribe in, I think, North Dakota or someplace like that, in the Black Hills, and they believed that if you put on this special shirt that had been used during the ghost dance, then it would protect you from bullets. It was believed to be imbued with these special powers.
When I hear a statement like that of the rabbis, “Why does Israel pray in this world and not get answered?” It makes me think of the Lakota ghost shirt. If there are bullets flying at me, Arab bullets or tanks, or whatever, coming at me and I shout out, “Yehovah!” or “Yahweh,” if I say it, or however I pronounce it. Does that mean that I’m going to be magically protected? It’ll be this force field that will come…? Of course not. It’s not magic. It’s calling upon the name of the Creator, and Him actually performing the action. It’s not the name that protects you, that has any kind of power in itself. It’s calling on Him through His name that is the power. He is the power, the only power.
Nehemia: That’s important to remember. This isn’t magic. But where did they get this idea that prayers aren’t answered because they don’t call on the name? Well, Solomon said this when he dedicated the Temple. 1 Kings chapter 8 verse 33, he said, “When your people, Israel, are defeated by an enemy because they sinned against You, they shall return.” Return, that’s in plain English, “repent”. That’s what the Hebrew word “return” means. “They shall repent to You and they shall confess Your name and pray to You and ask for mercy from You.” So it’s not just calling out the name that’s magic, but part of the process of repentance is confessing the name, asking for mercy in prayer. That’s part of what it means, to repent. We’ve got to return to Him.
By the way, return to Him just doesn’t mean, “Okay, I’m going to say 50 Hail Marys and everything’s going to be fine.” Returning and repenting means – the Prophet Hoshea chapter 14 talks about this. He talks about leaving off the evil you’ve done. Replacing that evil with something good, and asking for mercy. And God has to give you mercy. If He doesn’t give you mercy, you’re out of luck. If you don’t get that grace, that mercy, that free gift, He doesn’t owe it to you. But if you ask for it, He’s merciful enough that He just might give it to you.
I want to talk about these circumlocutions. This is a word that I’m hearing a lot lately. And this is one of the things I’ve noticed in the people who are searching for the ancient Hebrew roots of their faith. They’ll latch onto these big, fancy words and they’ll be making the noise, they’ll be the noise of the multitude, and it will be the clanking of the arms. They’ll bring these big, fancy words to intimidate people. This is what they’ll do. They’ll pick up these big, fancy words and they’ll start clanking on the arms to intimidate the people. Boing. [laughter] This is what the people will do to intimidate you. They’ll bring out these words, “circumlocutions”. They’ll bring these big, fancy words to intimidate you and they’ll say, “Well, you mustn’t speak the name of the Creator of the Universe, the name of the Father of Creation, the name that appears in the Old Testament 6,000…” Say 6,000.
Nehemia: And 28 times.
Audience: 28 times.
Nehemia: “You mustn’t say that. Instead, you must use a circumlocution.” Who, what, why? When I found out what this word is, I realized the plain, simple word in Hebrew is the word “kinui”. Kinui is a word that appears throughout ancient Jewish sources, and it simply means “a title”. And we talked about how God has this “kinuyim”, these titles. There’s a famous passage in the Talmud that talks about the Priestly Blessing. Let me read you the Priestly Blessing. I love this blessing, this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It was life-changing for me, and I’m actually currently writing a book on it, I love it so much. Let me read you from the Priestly Blessing. This is Numbers chapter 6 verse 24.
It says, “Vayedaber Yehovah el Moshe le’emor, ‘Daber el Aharon v’el banav le’emor, koh tevarchu et bnai Yisroel amor lahem.’ And Yehovah spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his children. Say to them, ‘Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel. Say unto them, ‘Yevarechecha Yehovah veyishmarecha. Yehovah bless you and keep you. Ya’ir Yehovah panev eleicha vehunecha. Yehovah, shine His face towards you and be gracious towards you. Yisa Yehovah panav eleicha veyasem lecha shalom. Yehovah lift His face towards you and give you peace.’”
Then he concludes in verse 27. He says, “Vesamu et shemi al bnei Yisroel ve’ani avarechem. And they shall place My name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” So placing the name on Israel, that is the way to bless the people. And the rabbis in the Talmud come along and they say, “Wait a minute. It says, ‘And they will place My name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them’? That can’t be right, because God’s name is too holy to speak. We’ve banned the name. We no longer speak the name.”
Then they explain, “Actually, we can’t deny that this is clearly the actual name.” They ask the question. They say, “Maybe it’s just with a kinui. Maybe it says Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, but when the priests speak it they read Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey as Adonai with the circumlocution, with the kinui.” And they say, “No, don’t use the kinui, a title. It has to be with the actual name, what they call the ‘shem hamefurash’, the explicit name.”
That’s not disputed by the ancient Jewish sources. The ancient Jewish sources say the Priestly Blessing, anything else we can talk about and discuss, but the Priestly Blessing, when the priests make that in the Temple, it has to be with the name. And it was with the name up until the year 70, when the Temple was destroyed.
One of the things people have been pointing out is that, “Well, we don’t really need to speak the name, because Moses didn’t speak the name.” Why do they say that? Exodus chapter 4 verse 10, “And Moses said unto the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent. Neither heretofore or since Thou hast spoken unto thy servant, but I am slow of speech and have a slow tongue.” So Moses himself called on the Creator of the Universe, who had spoken to him face-to-face, and he called Him “Lord” legitimately, in the Hebrew. It actually says that. You’re shaking your head, but Moses called the Creator of the Universe “Adonai”. Say Adonai.
Nehemia: He called Him Adonai. There’s nothing wrong with that. Moses himself spoke that word, Adonai, out of his mouth, speaking face-to-face with the Creator of the Universe. So, maybe it’s okay. We should just say Adonai. We don’t need to actually call on His name. Who needs His name? We’ll just call Him “Adonai”.
Now, here’s an interesting thing. Look at this here. If you look at this verse, “Moses said unto the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord,’ this is what I call spiritual sleight of hand. Because when the text says “LORD” with capital letters, it’s actually Yehovah in the Hebrew, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, which some people pronounce as Yahweh. Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. “And Moses said unto Yehovah, or Yahweh, ‘Oh Adonai.” Adonai is what it says in the Hebrew. That’s legitimately what it said in the Hebrew.
Now, if you look in English it says “Lord” the whole time. But there are two different Lords, and each of those Lords are of a different nature and a different quality. One is the actual name, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, and the other is the circumlocution, the replacement, the epithet, the kinui, the title. And Moses used the title, no question about it. I looked up how many times Adonai appears versus Yehovah in the Torah, because we’re talking about Moses. Adonai appears in the Torah 18 times. Very venerable, lots of times. 18 is the number of life, Chai. How many times does the actual name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey appear? 1,820 – 1,800 times! [laughing]
Now, how can you say that this name is irrelevant, when it appears for every time you have Adonai, the title, you have 100 times that the actual name Yehovah appears? I don’t know. You can’t say, “That’s irrelevant to me.” Maybe it’s irrelevant to you. Here’s a really interesting passage, where if we take out the name and we use a replacement…
And here’s the interesting thing to me. If it wanted to say “Adonai” in the text of Scripture, Moses knew how to write Adonai - he wrote it 18 times. And when he actually wrote Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, the name of God, he meant the name of the Father. He intended to use that name. It wasn’t an accident that he used it 100 times for every time he used the title “Adonai”.
Here’s an interesting passage, where if we put in the replacement, what we get. Exodus chapter 5 verses 1-2, “And afterwards, Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel. Let My People go.” (sings) Let My People go. And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” That’s what it says in your English Bibles.
But what it says in Hebrew is, “Yehovah. Thus sayeth Yehovah, God of Israel, ‘Let My People go.’ And Pharaoh said, ‘Who is Yehovah that I should obey His voice and let Israel go? I know not Yehovah. Neither will I let Israel go.’” That’s significant, because Pharaoh knew exactly who the Lord was. He had the lord of the sun, the lord of the Nile, the lord of the wheat and the lord of the crops. He had lots of lords. He knew who lords were, but he didn’t know who this particular God was that the Israelites were calling upon – the God Yehovah.
The story, if you read it closely in Exodus, is all about Pharaoh and the world knowing his name. That’s the central theme of the story. This is what it says in Exodus chapter 7 verse 5. “And the Egyptians shall know that I am Yehovah when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the Children of Israel from among them.” Why did He do this? Why did He reveal Himself and go through this? He could have just let Israel go without any trouble. We all know that, right? He could have taken Israel out. He could have twitched His nose, snapped His fingers, and Israel would have been in Canaan, living in the Canaanite fortresses without any trouble. Why did He go through 10 plagues? He says, “This is why. So that the Egyptians will know that I am Yehovah when I stretch out My hand against them. When I carry out these 10 plagues, they’re going to know that this isn’t just Moses going out in the desert and having some spiritual experience. This is the living God.”
I love that story, the story of the Exodus, the story of the 10 plagues. The first three plagues the magicians are able to replicate. They can do the blood – maybe not as much, but they could do the blood. “We could do that. Our magicians do that.” And they could do the frogs. Then when it comes to the lice they say, “Etzba Elohim hee, it’s the finger of God.” They know this is real. Up until now, we weren’t sure. We thought, “Yeah, you’re a very powerful magician. We know how it’s done, sleight of hand. We take that name, ‘Yehovah’, and before you know it we stick in Lord. Sleight of hand with these circumlocutions.” But no. Once they had the fourth plague, they said, “Etzba Elohim hee. It’s the finger of God.” This is the real deal. And that’s why Yehovah did it, so that they would know this was the real deal.
Exodus chapter 6 verse 7, “And I will take you to Me for a people. And I will be for you a God. And you shall know that I am Yehovah, your God, which brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” It wasn’t just so the Egyptians would know who Yehovah is, the true one living God. It was so the Israelites would know, as well. And in Exodus 9:14 He says to Moses, “But indeed, for this purpose I have raised you up that I might show My power in you and that My name may be declared on all the earth.” Hoo!
Audience: Yeah, Amen. [applause]
Nehemia: Now, wait a minute. It doesn’t say, “That I may show My power in you and that My circumlocution may be declared on all the earth!” right? No. “That my title may be declared on all the earth.” It says that My name may be declared on all the earth. Why is that important? Because anybody could be the Lord. Baal, the main god of the Canaanites, his name “Baal” means “Lord”. Even to say “Creator of heaven and earth,” the Canaanites had a creator of heaven and earth. The Egyptians had a creator of heaven and earth. But the name “Yehovah,” what the rabbis called “the unique name”, that can only refer to Him. And what they talk about in the context of the Priestly Blessing, they say, “It has to be with the unique name, because there are other titles that could apply to other deities. But when we bless Israel, it’s got to be in the unique name.” That’s why God Himself said, “And they shall place My name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.”
Let’s look at this, Exodus 3:15, when God first reveals His name to Moses, He says the name “Yehovah, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of the Jacob. “This is My name forever. This is my zecher for every generation.” Now, the Hebrew word “zecher”, it’s really important to understand. Often, if you get the meaning behind the Hebrew word, you get all these flavors of meaning that you lose from the English and from other languages. The word “zecher”, and it’s usually translated as “memorial”, “This is My zecher…” Say zecher.
Nehemia: “My zecher for every generation.” It doesn’t just mean “memory” or “memorial”, it means both a mention and a memorial. Because the Hebrew concept of this word is that you mention it. You summon it up in your memory, that’s to remember. It’s an active summoning up in the memory. Or you’re summoning it up with your mouth, you’re mentioning it. And both of those are zecher, because in the Hebrew thought, that’s the same thing – actively thinking about it. Whenever I think about my Heavenly Father, I don’t use a circumlocution, I use His actual name. I mention Him in my mind or I mention Him with my mouth. That’s what this verse means.
And it’s interesting, if you look at other places how this word is used, the “zecher”, he talks about Amalek, that name should not attack Israel. It says, “I will surely blot out…” blot out means erase. “I will surely blot out the zecher of Amalek from under the heavens.” The mention of Amalek will be blotted out from under the heavens. The memory, the summoning up and the memory of Amalek will be blotted out from under the heavens. That is, in Hebrew thought, to blot out a name so that it’s not mentioned and not summoned up in the memory when we think about something; in Hebrew that’s a curse. That’s a curse. And God here is cursing Amalek, saying, “I will blot them out from under the heavens, their zecher.”
To this day, Jews will use this as a curse, this phrase, “yemach shemo vezichro,” which means, “may his name and his zecher, his memory or his mention, be blotted out.” In fact, I grew up that every single time my grandmother or my mother or father said the name Hitler, they never said that name without saying, “yemach shemo vezichro, may his name and memory be blotted out.”
Sometimes, they would just say, “yemach shemo vezichro” who tried to wipe us out. They wouldn’t even say Hitler. They would just say that phrase, “May his name and memory be blotted out.” This is a curse to this day in the Jewish world, to blot out the mention of a name. That’s a curse.
Now, I’m going to bring something very controversial here. The name Jesus, say Jesus.
Nehemia: The name “Jesus, Yeshua,” Yeshua is actually short for Yehoshua, which in English is Joshua. In fact, Joshua the son of Nun is sometimes translated in your English Bibles as Jesus. There are two passages like that, because they knew that Jesus and Joshua are the same name, Yehoshua, or Yeshua for short. Yeshua means “Yehovah saves.” That’s the translation of the word. There’s another meaning that’s given in Matthew. It’s very common for names to have two meanings.
But what I want to talk to you about is this Yeshu, and this is a sensitive subject, because many Jews today refuse to say the name Yeshua. Instead, they call Him by the name Yeshu.
Now, it turns out that Yeshu was a shortened form of Yeshua, that we find in Second Temple times, and it’s got nothing to do with the man from Nazareth. That was simply like instead of calling me Nehemia you could call me Hemi. That’s not cursing me, or insulting me. But then, you could turn around say, “Oh, Hemi? That really stands for something else. That’s an abbreviation,” and turn that into a curse. That’s what some of the rabbis did with the name Yeshu, which originally was, like I said, a neutral nickname for Yeshua. They turned it into a curse, and specifically, they turned it into the curse, “yemach shemo vezichro, may His name and memory be blotted out.” Somebody say uh-oh.
Nehemia: Now, is that a curse to blot out the name Yeshua? Or is that okay? Is it okay if I blot out his name and never mention his name?
Nehemia: Look, I’m not Christian. I’m not Messianic. I’m asking you, think about this. Don’t just answer what you think I want to hear. Would it be okay if you were a part of a congregation, a church, or an assembly, and they came to you and they said, “The name Jesus, or Yeshua, Yeshua is too holy of a name. We never want to speak that name again, never mention it.” Would you be okay with that?
Nehemia: I don’t know. Wouldn’t it be okay to use a circumlocution instead?
Nehemia: No? This is what people have done with the name of our Heavenly Father, the name Yehovah – some people say Yahweh – what they’ve done with the name is said, “Oh, no. We’re going to blot out the mention of that name and the memory of that name. We will never speak that name again.” And some people have taken it one step further and said, “You know what? Yeshua never spoke that name, and Moses didn’t even ever speak that name.” He said Adonai – yeah, 18 times out of 1,820 times, that’s true. But he actually did speak the name over 1,800 times. So I think that’s a curse of the Father’s name. I don’t think that’s honoring the Father’s name, a blessing of the Father’s name. Even the rabbis who impose this ban, these takanot to protect us from the Romans…
And look, I could come now, 2,000 years later and criticize them for that. That’s real easy. What would I have done in that situation? I don’t know. I probably would have saved my life and in secret gatherings with my friends, my rabbis and my disciples, I would have said His name, transmitting it from sage to disciple. But if I was in public, and you didn’t know who’s a collaborator, anybody could be a Roman collaborator.
There’s an ancient story of the rabbis, where there’s this one rabbi who’s blind and they’re asking him what he thinks of the Roman Emperor. He says, “You know what? The walls have ears,” and he never says what he thinks of the Roman Emperor, and it turns out that there was a collaborator within earshot and he didn’t know that. But this was a real concern. So if I was back then, 2,000 years ago, I probably, to be honest with you, would have followed these takanot because I wanted to live and continue to serve the Creator of the Universe. And I knew as soon as the Messiah would come, he would wipe out our enemies and we would be able to speak the name of the Creator again.
You know what? We are coming onto those days. No one is threatening us anymore to speak the name of our Creator. They might be clanking the arms and making a lot of noise and using the multitude to say, “2,000 years of tradition!” That’s the noise of the multitude, [sings] tradition, tradition!
[laughter and applause]
So they’re using the noise of the multitude, 99.99% of the Jews, the multitude doesn’t speak the name! Don’t listen to that Karaite! That’s the multitude, the noise of the multitude and the clanking of the arms. Don’t listen to me.
Look at what it says in your Bible in Hebrew. This book that you can get on Amazon.com, the Hebrew Bible, this is the Hebrew Readers’ Bible. It has the name Yehovah 6,000… Say 6,000.
Nehemia: And 28 times.
Audience: And 28 times.
Nehemia: Now, if you want to use the circumlocution and replace it with something else, that’s between you and your Creator. I won’t judge you. But I want to be able to stand before the Creator of the Universe on that day of judgement, to be able to stand before Him and say, “I did the best I could to live by your Scripture while I was waiting for your Messiah to come,” rather than say, “Oh, yeah. When the Messiah comes, he’ll restore everything.” I wanted to do the best I could until he would come.
Nehemia: What they’ve done is they have banned the name. They’ve forbidden us from speaking the name. Why is it important to speak the name? I want to make this point clear. I want to go back to this verse. Psalm 44 verses 20 to 21, because some people, what they’ll try to do is they use the spiritual sleight of hand. They say, “Nehemia’s up there saying you’ve got to speak the name to get saved. He’s making this into about salvation. And not only that, you have to speak the name. You’ve got to speak it exactly ‘Yehovah’. If you say ‘Yahweh’ you’ve going to burn in hell with the Jews.” And this is not what it’s about at all. That’s sleight of hand, what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to trick you and confuse you with the noise, with the noise of the multitude and the clanking of the arms. That’s what they’re trying to do.
Psalms chapter 44 verses 20 to 21, in Hebrew it’s 21 to 22 says, “If we forget the name of our God…” say, “Forget”.
Nehemia: “…and spread forth our hands to a foreign God, God will surely search it out, for He knows the secrets of the heart.” Whoa! Let’s stop here for a second. I want every person here to commit later today, whether now or later today, to open up your Bible, whatever translation, and look up this passage. Psalm 44. Who is willing to commit to do that yourselves? Because I don’t want you to walk away and say, “Nehemia’s showed us a verse.” Will you do that?
Nehemia: Come on.
Nehemia: I want you to look it up yourselves and read it for yourselves in the word of God. It says, “If you call upon the wrong name!” He’s that merciful that He will search it out in your heart and know what you meant!
Nehemia: That means, if I stand before Him and I call out -- I won’t even say it -- but if I call out the wrong name, the name of a foreign god, He’ll search it out and He’ll know what I meant. That’s grace! That is the free gift! That is mercy. Whoo-hoo! [applause] I’m excited. Can I be excited? Am I allowed to be excited? I am a Litvak, and we will now proceed to the next slide.
I mean, this is amazing. He’s saying here, “If you call on the name of a foreign god.” What if I call instead of Nehemia, I call him “Nehemya, or Neheemia?” and instead of Yehovah I say, “Yahovah” or “Yiheweh” or “Yahoowehi”? Does He have the grace and the capacity to search it out in our heart to know what we mean?
Nehemia: So this isn’t about salvation. This isn’t about some magical formula or putting on the magical shirt to protect you from the bullet. They’re trying to convince you of that, that we’re saying that, and we’re not saying that whatsoever. I know that if you in truth turn your heart towards the Creator of the Universe, even if you call on a completely different name, the name of a foreign god, He has that capacity. I’m not saying, “Go call upon the name of a foreign god.” If you do it on purpose, He searches it out, and He knows that as well. So you’ve got to do the best that you can to call on His name. It talks in this Psalm about we’re taken captives to a foreign land and we don’t know any better. If you don’t know any better, do the best that you can, and try to get more knowledge. This is the way to defeat the Greeks, through knowledge, through empowering yourself.
Do you know the name of the town where the rebellion started against the Greeks, the uprising to resist the Greek persecutions to make us forget the name? What did we call it, what was it called?
Nehemia: Modi’in, where my sister is the best real estate agent in the city. Modi’in, what does Modi’in mean? It means… Are you ready for it? It means “information”. Whoo-hoo! So we need to arm ourselves in the spirit of Modi’in with the information to take up our sword, take the sword with the modi’in and plunge it into the belly of the beast shouting, “Yehovah!” Whoo-hoo!
Here’s a verse that I think is really important. It’s Exodus 20 verse 24. I think this is one of the reasons it’s important to call on the name. He says this in His Scripture. “In every place where I cause My name to be zechered.” Remember that word, “zecher”? Zecher means to mention it in your mind and summon it up in your mouth. Every place… Say, “Every place…”
Audience: Every place.
Nehemia: …where I cause my name to be zechered…” Say “Zecher”.
Nehemia: “There I will come to you and bless you.” Say, “Bless you”.
Audience: Bless you.
Nehemia: Now, is he a liar?
Nehemia: He’s not a liar. He keeps His word, and He promised this. This is in His word. This is a very important topic in and of itself, but some of the people who are clanking on the armor, they’re clanking the arms and they’re making the noise of the multitude, they’re trying to bring these big words to confuse you, and so I want to set some things straight here, bring some information in the spirit of Modi’in to empower you. It’s going to be technical. Who here is ready for something a little bit technical? If you’re not, then we have some cakes and coffee in the back. But if you could just bear with me for a few minutes, this is something you need to know.
I think anybody who reads the Bible should know that this is part of the text of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Hebrew, and know what it is. It is technical, which is why they bring it to try to intimidate you. I want to empower you, so you’re not intimidated.
Woman: Thank you.
Nehemia: This, we’re going to talk today very briefly about the kri and ktiv. Some of you are looking at this saying, “Kri. Why does he say ‘kri”? it says ‘querei’.” And this is part of the intimidation process. We could have spelled this legitimately “Kri”. Say “Kri”.
Nehemia: Like that native American tribe, “kri and ktiv”. Say “Ktiv”.
Nehemia: Kri is Hebrew for the read. Say, “read”.
Nehemia: And ktiv means “written.” Say “written”.
Nehemia: So, kri is read…
Nehemia: And ktiv is written.
Nehemia: That’s right. This side is going to be kri, and I’m going to ask you to say, “Read,” the way you read the word in Scripture. And over here, we’re going to say, “Ktiv,” okay. Written. You’re going to say, “Written.” What does kri mean?
Nehemia: And what does ktiv mean?
Nehemia: How do I say “read” in Hebrew?
Nehemia: How do I say “written” in Hebrew?
Nehemia: How do I say, “read” in Hebrew?
Nehemia: How do I say “written” in Hebrew?
Nehemia: Kri and ktiv. The read and the written. What this refers to specifically is in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, of the Old Testament in Hebrew, there are several thousand words that are written one way, that are ktiv, say ktiv.
Nehemia: But they are read…
Nehemia: …a different way. What am I talking about? Is that like some grand conspiracy? No. Every first-year Bible student knows what these are, if you learn the Bible in Hebrew, but they don’t usually tell you these things because they think you don’t really need to know about that. It reminds me of my first computer I ever had was a 486 SX, 33-gigahertz of power. It had a hard drive which was 256 megabytes. I remember saying to a friend, “In my whole life I’ll never fill up that hard drive.” [laughter] I literally said that; 256 megabytes.
Well, one day, I’m sitting on my little computer, my 486 SX, which is as slow as molasses. I’m sitting there and I’m typing, and I see something called File Manager. In File Manager, I see these little files, tiny files called ini files. They all end in .ini. I say, “Ini. files? I didn’t create those files, and I don’t have a lot of space to spare on my 256 megabytes. I’d better delete the ini. files.” [laughter] Now, all the geeks out there are laughing at me, because they know what happened. When I turned on my computer the next day, I got what they call the “blue screen of death”. I went into the lab and I brought it to the geek that helped me, the computer expert, and he was able to do some kind of fancy thing, rebuild the whatever thingamajigger. He saved my computer, and he said, “Nehemia, keep out of File Manager.”
Now, I’m going to give you guys access to File Manager, the file manager of the Hebrew Bible. Is that okay?
Nehemia: Or is that dangerous? We might end up deleting some ini files, right?
Woman: You would, yeah.
Nehemia: I think if our faith is strong enough, we’ll know not to delete the ini files, and we can handle File Manager. So let’s look at this word over here in Scripture. This appears six times in the Bible and the word is written in the actual body of the text, it says the word “epholim”. Say, “epholim”.
Nehemia: Now, above he word “epholim” is a little circle every single time it appears, six times in the Scripture, a little circle. They called it a “circlet” or an “igulit”. The circle, I know because I can read the Bible in Hebrew, is an indicator for me to look in the margin. I look at the circle and I look in the margin, and in the margin the scribe added the following words. He said in Hebrew, “Read it Tet-Chet-Reish-Mem.” That’s a word that has no vowels in it. And it actually says in Hebrew, “Tet-Chet-Reish-Mem kri.” Kri means “read it”, or “the way it should be read”. In every synagogue in the world they don’t read it “epholim”, they read it according to these letters. Every synagogue in the world, going back 2,000 years. Let’s look at this. They don’t read “epholim”, they read it “techorim”.
Now, what does “epholim” mean? It means the boils of the Black Plague, or the boils possibly of smallpox. It’s a boil of a disease. What does “techorim” mean? The same exact thing. So why write it one way and read it a different way?
What’s the real answer? When the Torah was given through Moses, nobody had a problem with the word “epholim”, they knew that means the boil of smallpox, or the boil of the Black Plague. 1,000 years later in the time of Ezra, people started getting nervous. They started to get influenced by superstition. They said, “If we say that word, we might actually get the pox.” So they were afraid to say that word. They couldn’t take it out of Scripture, it was there. You can’t remove a word from the Bible. But they said, “We don’t have to read that word. If we read that word in public, people will go running out of the synagogue. They’ll scurry out like rats. We’ve got to read a different word in its place, a circumlocution. Stick in a replacement, the word ‘techorim’, a replacement word.” This is called “kri-ktiv.” It’s called that because you read it one way, and it’s written a different way. And nobody changed the Bible, but they did put in the margin the way to read it publicly in a synagogue. And in every synagogue in the world, they read it this way. Don’t think this is one group of people or one faction. All the Jews recognized this is the way our scribes have taught us to read it. Let’s look at what this looks like in the text.
This is from the Aleppo Codex from Deuteronomy chapter 28 verse 27. It says here, “u’va’afolim…” By the way, these vowels are impossible in the Hebrew text of Scripture, because this is the letter Ayin. Say “Ayin”.
Nehemia: With a shva, say “shva”.
Nehemia: One of the rules of Hebrew Grammar is, Ayin can’t get a shva. Because of that, I know these vowels don’t belong to the word “apholim,” they actually belong to the word “techorim”, because those are impossible vowels for apholim. That is kri-ktiv. You see here in the body of the text on the left-hand side it says, “uv’a’apholim” and on the side it says, “uva’techorim kri.” Now, you notice there are no vowels, if you can read Hebrew, on the word “uva’techorim” on the far right-hand side in the margin. The vowels of that word are stuck into the ktiv, in the body of the text. So far, you’re with me? So far, so good?
Nehemia: Now, this happens thousands of times in the Bible. Usually, it’s not something as drastic as actually changing the word. Usually, it’s something that just indicates how to read a word that could be read possibly a different way, and we’ll see an example of that. But why is this important? Because what some of the people making the noise and clanking the arms have done is, they’ve said, “Well, the vowels of the name of the Father, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey in the Hebrew text of Scripture, that’s a kri-ktiv. And those aren’t even the vowels of the name, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. They’re the vowels of Adonai.” Shall we stop here? Is this file manager getting too dangerous?
Nehemia: Okay. So let’s look at this here. This is what they argue. They say, “You have Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, the four Hebrew letters of the name. And in the margin, we’ll have “Read it ‘Adonai.’” A little circle indicating to read it in the margin. That would be a kri, or a kri in ktiv.” Ktiv is the body, kri is the margin. The only problem with this is, it’s not true. Why do I say it’s not true? The name appears in the Hebrew text of the Bible 6,000… Say, “6,000”.
Nehemia: And 28 times.
Audience: And 28 times.
Nehemia: How many times does it have the little circle? Zero. So, that’s actually a lie. Here’s what they say. They say, “Okay, there’s no circle. We’re not going to lie to you. There’s no circle. But we do have this thing that we call ‘kri perpetuum.’” Let’s look at the kri perpetuum. Perpetuum is like from the word “perpetual,” all the time. A kri perpetuum is an instance where we don’t need the little circle, because everybody knows every time that word appears, it’s to be read a different way.
We’re almost done with the technical part. So they say, “This is a kri perpetuum. It’s perpetually read as ‘Adonai’. That’s why it had the vowels of Adonai in Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey.” What’s the only problem with this? It’s not true, either. It doesn’t actually have the vowels of Adonai. You don’t have to be a great Hebrew expert to see that. The vowels that appear usually in the Hebrew text of the manuscripts is, this is a shva. Say “shva”.
Nehemia: And this is a kamatz. Say “kamatz”.
Nehemia: And here is a missing vowel. This is the normal over 6,000 times the way the vowels appear, and they’re obviously not the vowels of Adonai. Every other instance of a kri-ktiv has the exact vowels of the way it’s read in the word written in the body of the script. Just like we saw with apholim and techorim, even though the vowels of apholim were impossible, it was a shva and an Ayin, impossible according to Hebrew grammar. But it’s the vowels of the word in the margin. I hope that wasn’t too technical.
This is factually untrue, that it’s a kri perpetuum. Now, I want to do something very quickly. This is a crash course in Hebrew. I learned this when I was a little kid. There are three Hebrew words that sound like English words, and it can be very confusing to a beginner in Hebrew. The three Hebrew words that sound like English words are the words, “me”. Say “me”.
Nehemia: And he.
Nehemia: What does “me” mean? Me. Who is… I don’t know who, or like Dr. Who. And he is referring to a man. Three perfectly good English words that sound identical to Hebrew words, and it’s a source of great confusion, and because of that, when I was a kid, we learned this rhyme. The rhyme said, “Me is who. Hu is he. He is she.” That’s because the Hebrew word “me” means “who”. And the Hebrew word “hu” means “he”. And the Hebrew word “he” means “she”. “Me is who. Hu is he. He is she.” Let’s say that. “Me is who.”
Audience: Me is who.
Nehemia: Hu is he.
Audience: Hu is he.
Nehemia: He is she.
Audience: He is she.
Nehemia: There will be a quiz on this later. I’m not joking. No, actually not. This is what it looks like in Hebrew. Me is who, hu is he, he is she. Why do I bring this? Because we’re going to talk about this last word, “he”. Say, “he”.
Nehemia: Which means “she”. Now, I brought all this so as not to confuse you, and probably did the exact opposite. Whenever I say the Hebrew word “he,” I actually mean “she”, because that’s what the Hebrew word means.
Here, we have it an example of a kri perpetuum, a genuine kri perpetuum – meaning every time I see the Hebrew word written a certain way, it’s always read a different way. The way I see it read is “heyv”, Hey-Vav-Aleph, and I have a little hirick which is an “ee”. If I didn’t know Hebrew, if I was a complete ignoramus who was just knowledgeable enough to know basic Hebrew, I would read this as “heyv”. That’s the ktiv. However, it is to be kri, read perpetually as “he,” every single time, hundreds of times in the Bible I have the word “he”, which means “she”, and I always read it not as “heyv” but as “he,” even though it’s written that way.
One of the things about a genuine kri perpetuum is the scribes didn’t want to deceive us. They didn’t want to trick us. So when they gave us the kri perpetuum, what they did is every once in a while, they would stick in the margin the little note with the circle. Usually, they didn’t, because they expected you to know it. But every once in a while they would stick that little thing in the margin. Let’s look at an example of this, of a genuine kri perpetuum.
This is Isaiah 30 verse 33, which I think I talk about in my other presentation on hell. Here it has the word “he”, which means “she”. Say, “he”.
Nehemia: And if I didn’t know Hebrew, I would read this as “heyv”. In the margin it says, “he”, and that Kuf is short for kri. Read it “he”. That is a classic kri-ktiv. It’s a genuine kri perpetuum, because most of the time I don’t have the marginal note, I simply have the word “heyv”, which is to be read as “he”, and you’re expected to know that.
Here is Deuteronomy 30:11 to 13, which I think I talk about in the presentation on Hebrew Matthew. Here it has the word “he” three times. It says, “I am commanding you today, it is not too difficult for you. It is not far from you. It is not in heaven. It is not saying, who shall go up for us to heaven to take it,” et cetera, et cetera, it has the word “she” which in Hebrew is “he” three times, and it doesn’t say anything in the margin. That’s a genuine kri perpetuum. It has the vowels of the word meaning “she”, the word “he”, but it has nothing in the margin, and that’s perpetually read as “he” not as “heyv”. But every once in a while it gives us the word in the margin the way it is to be read, just so that we’re clear about it.
What they tried to say is that the vowels of Adonai are actually put in the word Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, and that’s a kri perpetuum, so they claim, except it’s factually not true, because they’re simply not the same vowels. Show me an example anywhere, I challenge them to show me anywhere in the entire Masoretic text of the Bible, where it has the vowels of the ktiv rather than of the kri – meaning where it has different vowels than the way you read it. That just doesn’t happen. It’s simply, clearly not the vowels of the word “Adonai”, meaning “Lord”.
Why are they throwing all this information at people? They’re clanking the arms. They’re making the noise of the multitude. They’re trying to confuse you, is what they’re trying to do. What they’re trying to say is, “We don’t even know how to pronounce this name, whether it’s Yahweh or Yehovah, or Yahwehi, or Yuhuwuhoo, we don’t know how to pronounce it, and therefore we’re better off not pronouncing it at all, of putting on ourselves the tie of tradition, tightening our tie really tight and going according to the ties of tradition, and not following what it says in our Bible 6,828 times, because we don’t exactly know how to say it, and if we mispronounce the name it’s this magical formula. If we mispronounce it, lightening will come and strike us down where we stand.”
Well, no. It doesn’t work that way. If you call me by the wrong name, “Nihimiyaha”, that doesn’t insult me. We have to do the best we can to call upon the name of the Creator of the Universe.
If I stand before the Creator on the day of judgment and He says, “No, my name wasn’t Yehovah, it was Yahavaha,” I’ll say, “You know what? I did the best I could using the manuscripts Your scribes transcribed for us, the oracles of God preserved by Your people. What more can I possibly do than that?” Some people will come to me and say, “Nehemia, God has personally told me the name is Yahawah. How can you say it’s Yehovah?” What I respond to them is, if that’s what God personally told you, then that’s what you should answer Him on the day of creation, and go and do that. That was a revelation for you. I didn’t have that revelation. All I could do is go by what I have and the evidence before me.
If tomorrow the Messiah comes and tells us, “No, it was Yohowohue,” then I’ll accept that without any hesitation. I don’t think that will happen. But who knows? It’s possible. It’s possible that little green men will come down and abduct me right now, okay? [laughter] Extremely unlikely, but I think those are both equally likely – or unlikely, as it were.
The point is that this isn’t something we should be dogmatic about, it’s something we should do the best that we could, the best that we can, to serve God, and ultimately, He will look in your heart and ask you, “What did you mean? Were you genuinely calling upon My name?” In accordance with the verse where He says, “Every place I will cause My name to be mentioned, there I will come and bless you. Were you mentioning My name in that place so that I could come and bless you? Were you inviting My blessing, being open to receiving My blessing, calling upon My name the way I taught you in the Scripture?” He knows that in your heart, and it doesn’t matter, they’re trying to confuse you and intimidate you and say, “We’re not so sure about that. We’re not so sure about this.”
Look, we don’t know anything for a fact. There are philosophers who say, “How do we even know we really exist?” It’s true. Maybe I don’t exist. But I could care less, because I think I exist, and to the best of my knowledge, I do exist… Or do I?”
I think all we have to do is the best that we can. That’s all that God expects. That’s what it’s about when He says, “It’s not in heaven or across the sea.” Even if it is up in heaven, do what you have in your mouth and in your heart. That’s what He says there, in that passage. He says, “It’s not too far from you. It’s in your heart and it’s in your mouth. Do the best you can with what you have.”
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