Seeing God

A Discussion on the Vision of the Merkavah


Prophecy, TorahFeb 10, 2016

TorahFeb 10, 2016


Dramatic light at the traditional Mount Sinai. (Image © Bigstock/FFOZ/ckchiu)

By

In Parashat Mishpatim last week Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders ascended Sinai and saw an apocalyptic vision. Exodus 24:10 states that “they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” I agree with the Jewish thought that they caught a glimpse of the Merkavah, the throne of HaShem.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, an ancient Aramaic paraphrase of the Torah, says that they “lifted up their eyes and saw the glory of the God of Israel; under the footstool of his feet that was placed under his throne there was the likeness of a work of sapphire stone.”

How does one see the God of Israel and survive? The Torah states that Moses and the rest of the great men not only survived, but the very next verse says that they “ate and drank.” Just nine chapters later God tells Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

The answer, I believe, is that they didn’t actually see God directly. He gave them a vision of himself. We know that Moses did not actually see God or else why in Exodus 33 would he be asking to see him?

The vision that God gave Moses, the priests, and the elders was the same vision given to Ezekiel. “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance” (Ezekiel 1:26).

Judaism understands a vision of God’s throne to be the highest level of prophecy. Rambam, the great twelfth-century rabbi, listed twelve forms of prophecy in his work, The Guide for the Perplexed.

The first level of prophecy is an inspired action. Many believers have had or heard of an instance when someone gave an amount of money to someone else who tells the giver that it was exactly what they needed to the penny. Another way that the Spirit can work through someone is by an inspired message. This is the second level of prophecy. Here someone says something to another and it turns out to be exactly what that person needed to hear at that time. These types of prophecy are veiled. It may never be revealed to the person the significance of their words and deeds that were nevertheless motivated by the Holy Spirit.

The next five types of prophecy involve dreams. The third level is a dream that must be interpreted. In these dreams the recipient receives a message from HaShem in the form of symbolic imagery. Think of Joseph’s dreams. The next mode is a voice or sound that communicates with the dreamer, but no vision ensues. The fifth, sixth, and seventh all involve a dream visitation by a human, angel, or God himself. This type of prophetic dream involves seeing as well as hearing the being relaying the message.

The eighth form of prophecy is similar to the third with the exception that instead of receiving a message through allegory in their sleep, this person receives the symbolic vision while awake. Peter’s vision of the sheet coming down from heaven is a good example. He described being in a trance when receiving the vision of the animals, which made it clear to him that no person should be called common.

The voice from heaven, or what Judaism calls the Bat Kol (daughter of a voice, which can be understood as an echo), is the ninth method of receiving a prophetic message. Believers in Messiah will immediately think of Yeshua’s immersion when the Bat Kol resounded, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth are revelations while awake. These involve receiving visitations by people, angels, or God. In these, the highest expressions of prophecy, the recipient sees and hears the messenger.

Moses, when approached by his concerned disciples, stated that he wished that all would prophesy:

And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, "My lord Moses, stop them." But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:27-29)

Moses was foretelling a time when all mankind would receive the highest level of prophecy: the Messianic Kingdom. Our Master spoke of this when he said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). John was propelled by the prophetic visions he had received. For him the veil was so thin that he could see the kingdom right at the threshold waiting to break through into this world. He was compelled to prepare the people of Israel for its arrival by calling them to sincere repentance.

Yeshua tells us that the level of prophecy that all will attain will be greater than that of John when that day arrives. This is the day that Moses longed to see when all will know HaShem, for in that day he will be one and his name will be one. The Apostle Paul echoed the words of Moses in his letter to the Corinthians, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

HaShem used the Prophet Isaiah to comfort his children by speaking these words of Jerusalem:

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.

I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.

All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54:11-13)

“I will … lay your foundations with sapphires.” This speaks of God’s throne being firmly established in Jerusalem when he will once again dwell with his people.

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD.” This is the highest level of prophecy that Moses, our teacher, and Yeshua, our Messiah, have promised us.

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About the Author: Sheldon Wilson is a Creative Team Assistant for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David, specializing in editing books and Messiah Journal articles. Research projects include the Messianic Luminaries series and the forthcoming Didache translation and commentary. More articles by Sheldon Wilson

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