Hebrew Voices #114 – Who is God?

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, Who is God, Bible Scholar Nehemia Gordon tackles what is probably the most basic, yet most complex question there is, and shares what he believes is the best way to approach this conundrum. Talmai wrote: "Nehemia, I like what you said about letting God define Himself!"

I look forward to reading your comments!


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Hebrew Voices #114 - Who is God?

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: One of his points in that book, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, is that we’re trying to define God and put Him in a box, and what we really need to do is let God define God.

Michael: Let’s start out right at the very basics. Who or what is God?

Nehemia: That’s such a basic question, but it’s also a very complex question in some respects. I have a podcast series called Hebrew Voices, and I interviewed this Orthodox Jew who’s also a nuclear physicist from MIT, Professor Gerald Schroeder, a very famous man who’s written Genesis and the Big Bang, a New York Times bestseller. He also wrote a book called God about God. And one of his points in that book, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, is that we’re trying to define God and put Him in a box, and what we really need to do is let God define God. That’s what the Bible is all about - letting God define who God is.

I could tell you from my tradition, Michael, one of the things I was taught is that God is that infinite being, and we as finite human beings can’t really have any relationship with Him, we can’t comprehend Him, we can’t understand Him, and when it says in the Bible, “God is angry,” it doesn’t really mean He’s angry, that’s just a way for us finite humans to hear something about the infinite God…

Michael: To understand in human terms.

Nehemia: Then they go on to say, “Not only isn’t He angry, but He doesn’t really love.” Now, I used to believe this. I used to teach this. This isn’t just a Rabbinical thing - Karaites teach the same thing. And I had this profound realization a couple of years back, where I realized, “If it says this in the Bible about God, it must be true. I believe it to be true.”

What Jews have done is they’ve taken these ideas from Greek philosophy and they’ve tried to reconcile them with the Bible. The Greeks said, “God is this infinite being we could never understand.” What they were dealing with in the Greek writings was, their Gods were getting drunk and they were coming down to earth to rape women, and they were having affairs. And they said, “Well, that’s not really true. Those are just metaphors.”

The Jews heard about this stuff and then pushed that onto the Bible and said, “God doesn’t really love and He doesn’t really get angry.” And I say, “Wait a minute. If it says it in the Tanakh, why wouldn’t we believe it’s true?”

So I think this is one of the biggest mistakes that Judaism has made - that we’ve turned God into this being who has no feelings, no emotions. And then we say, “We’re made in His image.” Well, in what way are we made in His image? Does He have a head like we have a head? We’re made in His image in the sense that we are a reflection of who He is, in some ways, and in personality ways. He’s infinitely more patient than we are, and more merciful, that’s for sure. But to say He has no love and no emotion – well, I believe what the Bible says. Rather than putting God in a box and defining Him, I think we should let Him define Himself.

Michael: There it is. We have His revelation. As He said, “He magnified His word above all His name.” I look at that as, of all of the magnificence in creation, the greatest thing is that He has communicated to us. We have His word, His revelation of who He is and what He is, and that Scripture really interprets itself. It really interprets Him, it shows us what He is and who He is, what He expects of us, and what this whole conscious physical experience is about.

Without that revelation… and He did choose a people, a bunch of slaves down in Egypt, to reveal Himself to and say, “You are chosen. If you’ll keep My commandments, you will be a nation of priests. You’ll be My representatives to the entire world.”

Nehemia: Right.

Michael: I look at the Scripture as being the most precious thing, and in English and in the Protestant or the Christian world, maybe let’s just call it the Christian world, we recognize that there are so many thousands of people who bled and died to get that Scripture into our language and to preserve it in a language that we can understand - in English.

Of course, we know that Moses didn’t speak in Elizabethan English, and if the King James is good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me. We know that these are axiomatic. We know that we have a translation, and we know that translations are never perfect, and we’ll probably get into some of that with you, because you’re reading the original Hebrew.

That’s where it’s been such a provision for me, when I’ve had questions that, “Okay, it doesn’t make sense in English. There’s something wrong here. Here’s an apparent contradiction,” I would go to you, and sometimes you’d work months on questions that I had, and then come back with absolute gems that took some serious research from someone that has all the tools.

Nehemia: You know, Michael, I interact with a lot of Christians, and they’ve got this thing in Christianity - the Bible Answer Man. “There’s the man with all the answers.” I’m not the man with all the answers. I’ve got the Bible. I could tell you what it says, there are things I don’t understand, and there are things I don’t know. I have the humility to recognize that, and in a lot of instances we’ll have questions here - we’ve got these pages of questions that we’ll get to in future episodes, hopefully, that I could tell you what I think, but ultimately, in every question, my answer is, “Work it out for yourself in fear and trembling, with prayer and study before the Lord.”

Michael: Amen.

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Verses Mentioned:
Psalm 138:2

  • Mark says:

    Philippians 2:12 KJV

    Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

  • JCLincoln says:

    I like Nehemia’s opening statement, “We’re trying to put God in a box.”
    I would add the word, ‘again’.

  • Trent Nichols says:

    You said that you aren’t the answer man of the Bible, as you are way to humble a person to toot your own horn. & I for one feel that your humility is the real thing & that is why so many people do look to you for some (if not most) of the biblical answers. I’m just getting into Leviticus in the Original Torah Pearls, & Keith made the comment that the best tool for learning Hebrew is to have our own Nehemia Gordon. People who are honest with themselves, and every person you meet, be it good, bad , or indifferent does come through, even on videos, audio, and/or the written word. You just happen to be this massive mega brain wrapped in a modest, yet driven person that has a knack for being able to drop down to my intellect. So that you are able to make sense of the complicated subject “of just being!” I feel so much closer to my creator thanks to you & a few others that are like you. I just wish there was someplace close to me where I can fellowship & study in the same way that your channel provides. Thank you Mr. Gordon & thanks to all the people that help you in your endeavors.

  • Albert says:

    Thank you for your research, teaching, and perspective

  • UKJ says:

    Some people are the spitting image of their parents, not just in looks but also in character. Maybe this is also due to the influence that parents have on children, in particular when children are open towards their parents teaching, they become just like them, even though they continue to develop their own personality in time.

    I should say that parents who respect and practices godly principles, and who’s children follow those principles have a good chance in knowing who God is, as these principals reflect Jehovah’s character.

    There seems to have been one Person in history who had been completely faithful to his Father and had allowed his Father’s influence to direct his thinking and behaviour. Has he shown the world who his Father is?

  • Talmai Turner says:

    Nehemia, I like what you said about letting God define Himself!

    It has been my experience that trying to know Yehovah through Hellenistic philosophy makes Him distant. But knowing Yehovah as a god makes Him a Person who has a real interest in His people and the world.

    I am of the opinion that the Hellenistic theology in Rabbinic Judaism was one factor that led to the downplaying of many mitsvot in the Reform denomination (not that I am knocking Reform). If Yehovah is Plotinus’ One, there is no fear in subtracting from Torah. But as the god who is El Elyon, who really does feel emotions and takes action, I would be too scared to tell anybody, “We can do away with kashrut because it fails to impress our modern minds.”

    Shalom.

  • Desiree Rush says:

    Can anybody say “Two witnesses” ?

  • Erin says:

    Blessed be thew Name of YHVH! May we sanctify His Name in all the earth!!!

    I agree that we all should read The Scriptures as YHVH has anointed the Heavenly understanding by Ruach haQodesh [ Spirit Holy]. I have learned that He states several places [we need to seek it out], hint!. His plans are established [eternity forever past tense], for all generations [forever, future tense] and they NEVER CHANGE, -ED, MALACHI 3…
    He delivered me, from Egypt ‘the worlds programming’, by the transforming and renewing in my heart, mind and soul.

    His Character, person-ality are seen of all around us as it is written ‘man looks at the outward appearance…’, 1 Sam. 20 ~ BUT YHVH sees the heart… ALWAYS!

    All who seek YHVH and call on His Name will definitely be heard and He will direct the path toward eternity living which is on the very moment one sincerely does this. Each day the walk in eternity begins a freshened awareness for each of us. We humans [with good intention] try so much to straighten out things instead of being correctable [reproveable by humility within] in spirit and mind by His infinite power, mercy and Omniscience.

    I am blessed to hear the examples others share with all who are here expounding on principles setup from YHVH!!!

    Shalom to all of you!

  • Florian Zimmer says:

    Hi Nehemia,
    I really enjoy your work, great effort. I am very glad I came across your blog! To make a long story short: God told me via a very deep thought coming from my heart to study scripture and to be cautious with the stories about Jesus (Ie Sus = Hail Zeus?!?!?). He granted me the gift to search His Word, and to gain a lot of wisdom. The gift to be his servant and to joyfully keep his commandments. I am very grateful for this!

    So, now I would have four questions to you, maybe you can provide me an answer. If not, thank you anyways 🙂

    1) What is your opinion regarding the credibility of sources like Testament of Solomon or the Book of Enoch? They seem quite interesting, but also quite confusing in some regards.

    2) Zacharia 3, 8: Who is meant with Zemach? Does God mean David?

    3) Zacharia 4, 14: the two sons of the light oil? Who are they?

    4) Micha 5,1; There it says that the king shall come from Bet Lechem. So is the King/ Messias indeed Jeshua?

    I would have many more questions, especially regarding the “small prophets”. But I guess these answers would be a good start 🙂

    Thank you very much, with all respect required!

    Greetings from Germany 🙂