J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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from its highest point in man to its lowest in the
"meanest creature that breathes" — and it is all and
equally an emanation from God.^^^^ But now, how about
Genesis vi. 3, " And the Lord said. My Spirit shall not
strive with man for ever, for that he also is flesh " ?
Is " spirit " here another term for vitality, or is it a
reference to the embodiment of spirituality, the endow-
ment of Divinity in man as a part of creation ? The
Targum of Onkelos would seem to favour an interpreta-
tion on the lines of the former view. It paraphrases
thus : " And the Lord said. This wicked generation shall
not exist before me for ever, seeing that they are but
flesh, and their works corrupt. If they repent I will give
them a respite of one hundred and twenty years." The
" spirit " here = the generation, age — a purely physical
notion. In the other Targum, however — the Pseudo-
Jonathan — we have a far more elaborate paraphrase,
which wanders away from the point, but gives a
decidedly theological complexion to the subject. " Have
I not set my Holy Spirit in them," it declares, " in order
that they may perform good works ? But they have


done evil works. Therefore did I give them a respite
of one hundred and twenty years, in order that they
should repent ; but they w^ould not." The spirit here
becomes the " Holy Spirit " of Rabbinical literature — a
Divine implanting, the incitement to good works, the
instigator to repentance ; and what a vital part does
repentance play in determining man's attitude to God
and His Spirit which is outside as well as inside man ! ^^°^ *

* Curiously enough, Rashi interprets "spirit" in this verse from Genesis as
an aspect of God, resident only in God and not in man. From his com-
mentary on the passage one infers that he would thus translate and paraphrase
it: "And the Lord said, My spirit shall not comjilain and strive within me
for ever on account of man." I.e. there is an argumentation going on within
God, which leaves Him in a state of indecision as to whether to spare man or
destroy him ; this perjjlexity of spirit within God will not go on for ever, but
will be definitely resolved. Quite another line of interpretation is hit upon by
Nahmanides, who says as follows : ' ' The reason why God says that His Spirit
shall not remain in man for ever, is, that man is, after all, but flesh, like all
flesh that creepeth upon the earth, whether fowl, cattle or beast, and he is not
fitted to have the Spirit of God within him. The infereuce we can draw from
this subject is, that God made man upright, so that he might be as the minis-
tering angel, by means of the soul with which He dowered him. But lo !
man is dragged along after the flesh and after bodily desires, even in the same
manner as are the beasts that perish. And therefore the Spirit of God shall
no more endure in him, for he is corporeal and not divine ; but if they {i.e.
mankind) repent, then will He prolong their days. This resembles the passage,
' For He remembered that they were but flesh ; a nn that passeth away, and
Cometh not again ' (Ps. Ixxviii. 39)." So far Nahmanides. Much of what
is said here is cryptic, like a good deal else of this writer. He is the equal
of Ibn Ezra in respect of veiled utterances and abrupt quotations, the connexion
of which with the main thread of the discourse, is by no means always easy to
fathom. In this instance, it seems to run counter to all we know of Nah-
manides' theology to credit him with literally intending to teach that man has
no Divine Spirit within him, or that man is ':si:, "corporeal " or material, and
not 'nVx, ' ' godly " or Divine. The most probable explanation of the diSiculty
is, that these latter terms are only meant in a comparative sense. Man's
spiritual gifts on the day of Creation were, according to Nahmanides, of the
same high order as those of the angels. By the present decree they were
lowered. Man being corporeal cannot avoid the taint which the flesh necessarily
involves. It is this warfare eternally waged between flesh and spirit which
reduces the latter to a lower pedestal. But yet the Spirit of God is in man.
To assert the contrary would be to negative the position which the philosojiher
systematically takes up in his Commentary on the Pentateuch. Or, again, it is
quite likely that the sage is taking "Spirit" here in its physical sense of
vitality. It is the rs: which, as we see from the quotation, is the spiritual
element, not the nn. As man misuses the vtiy by reason of his corporeality,
his mi must, as an act of justice, be curtailed, i.e. his term of life must be
lessened. This interpretation has one merit which the other lacks, viz. that
it falls better into line with the quotation from Psalm Ixxviii. Man's vitality
abides not, and therefore he is but a nn (breath), that passes away and never
comes again.



In the Book of Isaiah there are a few passages
bearing on this head which need examination. For
instance xxxiv. 16, " Seek ye out of the book of the
Lord, and read : no one of these shall be missing . . .
for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it
hath gathered them." What is "spirit" here? The
context speaks of Edom's future desolated country
which is to be the abode of wild animals and demon
shapes. A variegated host of these are mentioned, and
they are dramatically pictured as flocking together in
their multitudes to settle down on the doomed land,
not one of them missing because all were brought
together by the Spirit. What is this spirit ? According
to the Targum, which renders it rr"'mi;"iii, it denotes the
Divine will. The Divine will sets in motion the wild
animal creation, so that it may come to prey upon
Edom. Rashi ingeniously finds a parallel for this
expression in Psalm xxxiii. 6, " By the word of the
Lord were the heavens made ; and all the host of them
by the breath of His mouth " ; he would therefore seem
to take " Spirit " as largely identical with " word " and
refers back to the first chapter of Genesis where the
whole array of created beings springs into existence at
the word of God, or, as the Rabbins have phrased it :
" The world was created by the powder of ten Divine
utterances." ^^^^ Spirit would thus, in Rashi's concep-
tion, be an equivalent of the Targumic Memra which
so largely denotes Divine action in the world.
Amonof modern scholars Marti agrees with the
Targumic view stated above. He says, " Unter dem
Geist, der die Tiere nach Edom versammelt, ist Jahwes
Willen zu verstehen, der sich eben in der Prophetie
der Verf.s Ausdruck verschafft hat " (p. 246). Duhm
(p. 229) seems to echo Rashi when he says, "Jahwes
Geist, sein mal 'ak, sein logos, hat die Tiere versam-


melt." Dillman again (p. 306) takes up more of an
omnipresent, immanent view of the Divine Spirit here.
He says, " Sein Hauch, d.i. Geist, durch welchem er
alles in der Welt wirkt."

Another instance in Isaiah of the same openness
to the double translation of rrn as breath or spirit of
men is found in Ivii. 16, "For I will not contend for
ever, neither will I always be wroth : for the spirit should
fail before me, and the souls which I have made " (A.V.).
The syntactical translation of the Hebrew here is by no
means easy. A phrase like " the Spirit shall fail before
me " is either exceedingly ambiguous or meaningless.
Modern scholars are strongly in favour of interpreting
Ruah and Neshamah as synonymous, and both having
the broad and general meaning of " Lebenskraft " or
** Lebensgeist," i.e. vitality, the life principle of created
beings generally. An eternally angry God, says the
prophet, would be a contradiction to the world ; for then
all life would fail before Him. We should have chaos.
This view of the animate and inanimate world as existing
not by their own deserts, but as a result of the ever tolerant
mercy and compassion of God is not strange to the O.T.
Psalm ciii. has several such teachings. " He hath not
dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our
iniquities " (verse 10). Again, " Like as a father pitieth
his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.
For He knoweth our frame ; He remembereth that we
are dust" (verses 13, 14). And many others. God
pities the weakness of His creation and His anger
becomes love. But the Talmudic and Taro^umic in-
terpretations both give the Ruah here a spiritual turn
and each in a different way. The latter says,
" Verily I shall in the future restore the spirits of the
dead." This is an instance of the not frequently
recurring allusions to immortality in the Targum ; the


word 5iiioi>'' being taken in the sense of " to cover,
clothe," as in Psalm Ixv. 13, Ixxiii. 6. The soul will
again be clothed in the vestments of the body. The
Talmud in Yebamoth 62a, Aboda Zara 5a, Niddah 13a,
by an ingenious but strained interpretation deduces the
novel idea of the pre-existence of the soul.

Before making any final deductions as to the varying
trends of theological thought which are reflected in
these several O.T. usages of Divine Spirit, two excep-
tional instances in the O.T. where the phrase " Holy
Spirit " occurs must be examined. These are, Isaiah
Ixiii, 10, 11, and Psalm li. 11. The tendency among
modern critics is to regard them as personifications.
Marti strongly holds this view. He classes the phrase
with that of Acts vii. 51, " Ye do always resist the Holy
Ghost " ; and Ephesians iv. 30, " And grieve not the
Holy Spirit of Grod, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of
redemption." But it is hard to see how any conclusive
argument can be drawn from these two N.T. quotations.
They are obviously mere repetitions of the phrase in
Isaiah. The idea of " resisting " {avrinrLTrreiv) the Holy
Ghost is present in the Hebrew "no which clearly has that
meaning here as well as in Numbers xxvii. 14, nWND
"•D DTT'iD — the resisting of the Divine word at the
waters of Meriba in Kadesh. The idea of " grieving "
is present in the Hebrew in2:>i, the noun of which, viz.
nsi; which = grief, sorrow, is of frequent occurrence.
Both verbs govern a direct accusative as can be seen
from Numbers xxvii. 14, and from Psalm cvi. 33,
"Because they were rebellious against His spirit"; or
Isaiah iii. 8, " To provoke [lit. to rebel against] the eyes
of His glory." It is difficult to see why Christian inter-
preters should just fix upon the two usages of mi we
are considering, as personifications. One might just as
well argue that the word " my mouth," in Numbers


xxvii. 14, or that the " spirit," in Psalm cvi. 33,
or that the " eyes of His glory," in Isaiah iii. 8
are personifications ! Besides there is the phrase
rrn nii^ui in Isaiah liv. 6, " grieved in spirit," an
epithet applied to a woman, showing that grieving the
spirit may apply to human as well as Divine Spirit :
you may cause grief to the temperament of man ; you
may cause grief to the temperament of God. This is
all that the phrase asserts. It is impossible to see
where any theory of personality can enter. The
statement of Stephen in Acts vii. 51, instead of reveal-
ing, as J. Vernon Bartlet says {Century Bible, Acts,
p. 204), " his new sense of the Holy Spirit at work
in the souls of men in connexion with the Messianic
outpouring at Pentecost and since," really corresponds
with the Rabbinic view. What is Stephen credited
with saying in the next verse ? " Which of the prophets
did not your fathers persecute ? " Now this juxtaposition
of the two verses is significant because the Targumic
interpretation of Isaiah Ixiii. 10, " But they rebelled, and
vexed His Holy Spirit," refers it to the rebellion of Israel
against the prophets," n^ffi-np ^^n: no^o hi} ir^nxi itid ]13^n%
i.e. " and they rebelled and stirred up anger against the
words of His holy prophets." Is it not manifest that
Stephen and the Targum are relying on the same ex-
egesis ? Again, in verse 11, " Where is he that put his
Holy Spirit within him ? " (referring back to Moses and
the " him" being Israel), the Targum renders : " Where
is he that caused to dwell amongst them [i.e. the
Israelites] the words of His holy prophets ? " Prophet
is here used in the broad Rabbinic sense which
would include the patriarchs of Grenesis in the category
of God's prophets. And Moses in his capacity of law-
receiver and spiritual leader of Israel, is regarded by the
Targum as establishing and consolidating the words


of prophecy among the ranks of the Israelites. There-
fore " the Holy Spirit " in these two verses of Isaiah
is another name for prophecy. And to say that Israel
rebelled against and resisted prophecy, accords with a
great deal of the teaching of O.T. history.

The conclusion we arrive at is therefore this : that
in verse 10 the epithet, "His Holy Spirit" denotes
Divine Spirit which operates upon man, coming as an
inspiration to him and showing its traces in different
ways — one great way being that of prophecy. In this
particular instance it has reference to the stubborn
rebellion which Israel, according to several records of
the O.T. ofttimes practised towards the eiforts and
admonitions of the prophets. So the Targumic para-
phase. Or, keeping to a more literal path, the rebellion
" against his Holy Spirit " may be an equivalent state-
ment for rebellion " against Him," just as the words
"My name," or "My glory," "His glory," are frequent
substitutes for the Deity Himself. Again, in the
case of verse 11, "Where is he that put his Holy
Spirit within him ? " the allusion may be to Moses
in his role as the bringer of all the messages of the
prophets before him, to the people of Israel. Or it
may refer to Moses as he is represented in Numbers
xi. 16-29, where he is the fountain from which prophecy
emanates, first to the seventy elders and then to sundry
members of the community. Or it may epitomise the
eternal spiritual service which Moses, by his conspicuous
leadership, rendered the Israelites. On this latter inter-
pretation, the Holy Spirit would be about identical
with the outpouring of the Spirit alluded to in Joel
ii. 28, and would denote a general heightening and
intensifying of the religious spirit, a degree of truer
conviction of the reality and nearness of God and His
influence upon men and the universe — a consummation


which all the records of Holy Writ unequivocably attri-
bute to Moses.

To come now to Psalm li. 11. The disposition to
regard the Holy Spirit as a personification is not so
strong as in Isaiah Ixiii. 10, 11. Neither Cheyne nor
Budde look at it as a personification. Budde (who
takes the view that this is an Exilic Psalm in which
the poet voices the sin-laden consciousness of the
Jewish community) sees in it an allusion to the
ever -constant presence of God in Israel. Just as
in the Isaiah passage, so here, says Budde, " Gottes
Angesicht und sein heiliger Geist im Parallelismus
stehen." By the "presence of God" Budde under-
stands the Divine revelation which, starting at Sinai
and finding expression in the prophets, manifested itself
in diverse ways in the body of the Jewish nation. It
is in this sense that, differing from Marti, he expounds
the phrase vdd inSd in Isaiah Ixiii. 9.^^^^ It is " der Engel,
in dem Gottes Angesicht erscheint, in dem er in Person
gegenwartig ist, also ebenfalls eine Offenbarung Gottes."
In other words, an angel is a revelation of the Person
of God, which was a reality to the heart and mind of
Israel in spite of recurrent shortcomings, and which
inspired them to a higher range of thought and
conduct than characterised the contemporary heathen
world. And this, says Budde, is a parallel idea to
that of the Holy Spirit alluded to here. Israel has
the Holy Spirit because in him God's revelation to
the world was made manifest. " Israel is the nation
of Revelation because he has God's Holy Spirit." Thus
Budde strikes quite a new and original note. The
Holy Spirit for whose retention the author of Psalm li.
so devoutly prays is the ever-presence, the imman-
ence of the Divine in Israel, a fact which was mani-
fested to the world in all the variegated stages of his


history. It is a forerunner of the " Shechinah " of

As a matter of fact, a reference to the Rabbinic
comments on the verse shows a close analogy with
Budde's theory, excepting that the Rabbins uncritically
regarded the Psalm as in its entirety a prayer of
David. The Rabbinic view is given in T. B, Yoma
23a. According to Rab (Abba Arika) David suffered
leprosy for six months, as an expiation of various sins
he had wilfully committed, as, e.g. the taking of Uriah's
wife, the numbering of the people (2 Samuel xxiv,), etc.
As a consequence of his unclean condition " the Sanhe-
drin separated themselves from him and the Shechinah
withdrew itself from David." ^"^^ For the return of the
Sanhedrin David prayed in the words of Psalm cxix.
79, " Let those that fear Thee turn unto me, and those
that have known Thy testimonies." For the return of
the Shechinah, David prayed in the words of our Psalm
li. 12, " Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation : and
uphold me with Thy free spirit." The analogy between
Budde's view and the Rabbinical view is, that the
whole drift of the Psalm is a petition for the vouch-
safing to men of those manifested traces of the
Divine love, which are given expression to in the
word Shechinah.

My conclusion is : that the two instances of the
Biblical phrase " Holy Spirit " besides containing all the
constituent ideas of the prevalent Biblical phrase
" Spirit of God," express also that deeper sense of
the abiding nearness of God to Israel, that mystical
perception that the Deity in His various aspects or
emanations " rests upon," or " hedges round," or " fills "
certain persons, or communities, or countries, a fact to
which the Rabbins gave the names of " Shechinah," or
" Ruah Ha-Kodesh.'*


For the sake of conciseness, and to give greater
point to the arguments which follow, I summarise the
main heads of the constituent ideas which enter into the
term " Spirit of God " in the O.T. They are :—

Firstly. — The principle by which all things are
preserved. As the breath of God it is the basis of all
created life. It is co-extensive with nature.

Secondly. — It is the source of man's emotional and
volitional life. As such it is the basis of morality.

Thirdly. — It is an endowment to the king, inciting
him to rule in righteousness and equity.

Fourthly. — It is an endowment to various characters
connected with the cult and government of Israel, in-
spiring them to various worthy deeds and thoughts in
the interests of their fellows.

Fifthly. — It is an endowment to the nation of
Israel giving them the ever present possibility of
religious betterment and regeneration.

Sixthly. — It is a promised gift to the Israelites in
the future when wisdom and might and the fear of God
will be a greater reality. This is the Messianic aspect.

Seventhly. — It is the well-spring of prophecy.

Eighthly. — It is the soul, the immortal portion of
man which being part of the Divine life returns after
death to the God that gave it.

In the sense of Holy Spirit as it occurs in the two
passages in the O.T. that we have alluded to, it denotes
further : —

Firstly. — The universality of God's Spirit.

Secondly. — The self-revelation of God to man. The
Immanence of God in man. His abiding presence.
His nearness.

The main difference then, Biblically considered,
between "Spirit" and "Holy Spirit" is that the
latter is a deepening of the former. It teaches that


Immanence of Divinity which is the subject of the
139th Psalm. It has not yet reached the stage of
being personified, as is the case with the Rabbinic ideas
of Shechinah and Holy Spirit and with the N.T. teach-
ing of the Holy Spirit. If there is anything in the
O.T which may be rightly characterised as an instance
of personification it is the "Wisdom" of the eighth
chapter of the Book of Proverbs.

In this eighth chapter, Wisdom is a Divine property,
an attribute of God. Just as it is man's guiding principle
in the preservation of his rightful attitude towards
himself and those about him, so with God it is His plan
wherewith He created the world and sustains it ever
since ; it is His master workman ^"*^ (viii. 30) ; the first of
His works (viii. 22). It presided over the birth of
nature, and its voice calls to men bidding them choose
the good and shun the evil. Wisdom is a cosmic
power, the all-encompassing intelligent will of God
manifesting itself in the creation and preservation of
the world, and as an eternal and unerring guide and
ruler of mankind.^"^^

Now what distinguishes this conception of Wisdom
is the fact, that here Wisdom is, as it were, temporarily
detached from its Divine source and treated as a
Personality — a Personality which is related to the
whole universe, controlling the life of the human
race. This thought undoubtedly makes a great
advance upon anything previously written in Jewish
circles. Its effect upon the Apocryphal AVisdom of
Solomon and upon much of the speculative philosophy
of Philo is without question. But what is of import-
ance to point out is, that its detachment from its
Divine source was not meant by the writer to imply
" any theory of permanent distinctions within the Divine
nature each endowed with its own separate self-


consciousness." ^^^^ Wisdom lias no personal life of its
own and points to no profound mystery in the Being
of God. Right through the passage viii. 22-36 it is
" God's " wisdom. The allusions to the Divine owner-
ship of wisdom are frequent. " The Lord possessed
me " ; " When He established the heavens, I was
there"; "Rejoicing in His habitable earth " : all these
passages clearly imply that wisdom is a quality
belonging to God, one of His attributes by which He
makes Himself known and felt in the world of men
and in the human heart, one of the elements in the
Divine nature which is most in sympathy with the
innate tendency in man to go on striving ever upward
and onward. Wisdom is, after all, only God's wisdom,
no matter how near an approach to personality there
may be in the various descriptions of the term ; and
in the same way " Spirit " is " God's Spirit " and " Holy
Spirit " is " God's Holy Spirit " ; and similarly right
through the Rabbinical literature, however near an
approach to a distinct personality there may be in the
Rabbinical handling of these expressions, there is always
the underlying assumption that the personification is
only used for the purpose of a particular doctrine, and
not for the teaching of any metaphysical divisions in
the Godhead.

To conclude this introductory chapter — which is
intended as a sketch of the O.T. treatment of " Spirit,"
preliminary to and preparing the way for the Rabbinical
treatment of the " Spirit," let me briefly recapitulate
three main points : — ^"'^

(1) Spirit in the O.T. is an emanation of God
finding a place in the world and in man. In the world
it is the basic upholder and preserver of all. The
natural world is an embodiment and a revealer of God's
spirit. It is perpetually renewed by God's spirit. In


man it is a gift or endowment coming straight from
God, prompting man to goodness and righteousness,
and showing itself in its highest form in the prophetic

(2) Holy Spirit in the O.T. teaches with more dis-
tinctness and emphasis, the truth of the manifestation
of God in Israel (in the Isaiah passage) and in an in-
dividual {i.e. the Psalmist in li. 11).

(3) Wisdom in Proverbs viii. reaches to the limits
of personification. A quality through which God acts
and through which He is known, is objectified. It
dwells and finds its special delight among men. This
brings us to the very doors of the Immanence doc-
trine. The Rabbinical doctrine of the " Holy Spirit " is
compounded of these teachings, with the admixture of
many new elements which these old sages drew either
from their own independent exegesis of the Scriptures,
or from their own personal observations and experiences
of the Spiritual life, or again, as a result of their inter-
mingling with extraneous nations and the consequent
additions to, and transformations of, their original


(1) Swete, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament (Macmillan, 1909),

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