J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

. (page 5 of 32)
Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 5 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

secret ? " This is certainly a hint at God's unknowable
nature. We have it again in Exodus iii. 14, "And
God said unto Moses : I Am that I Am, and He said.
Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am



hath sent me unto you." The "Name" of God ia
frequently used in the Bible as an equivalent for God.
Thus Exodus iii. 15, "This is my name for ever, and
this is my memorial for all generations " ; Exodus ix. 16,
" And that my name may be declared throughout
all the earth"; Psalm cxxxv. 13, "Thy name,
Lord, endureth for ever ; and Thy memorial, Lord,
throughout all generations" can only be satisfactorily
explained in this sense. God's distance from man
gives the Psalmist many a theme for metaphor and
simile. Take Psalm ii. for example. Its dominating
idea is that of a huge concourse of men at one spot,
from the most distant parts, in order to ventilate their
grievances against one, who is the author of their troubles,
and whose views are diametrically opposed to theirs.
It is God who is their butt. Yet, is He in the same
plight as a human master would be under such trying
circumstances ? Certainly not ! He is quite outside
the reach of His opponents' mischief " He that sitteth
in the heavens laugheth ; the Lord holdeth them in
derision." His distance. His unfathomable distance,
guarantees His absolute immunity. Isaiah in xl. 22
makes use of a similar metaphor to illustrate another
idea. He says, " It is He that sitteth upon the
circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as
grasshoppers ; that stretcheth out the heavens as a
curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in."
The Divine Being is here a magnified man. How
effective is the language of Isaiah Iv. 8, " For my
thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are
higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your
ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." We have
here three ideas. God is far. God is incomparable.
God is unknowable. And all these ideas are asfain


reproduced in the Book of Job. " G-od is great and we
know Him not " (xxxvi. 26). " Canst thou by searching
find out God ? canst thou find out the Almighty unto
perfection ? It is high as heaven ; w^hat canst thou do ?
deeper than sheol ; what canst thou know?" (xi. 7, 8).
** Behold, I go forward, but He is not there ; and back-
ward, but I cannot perceive Him : on the left hand,
where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him : He
hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him "
(xxiii. 8,9). This distant isolation of God is even used,
by Elihu, to illustrate to Job God's immunity from the
efiects of man's wickedness or goodness. " Look unto
the heavens, and see ; and behold the clouds, which are
higher than thou. If thou sinnest, what doest thou
against Him ? or if thy transgressions be multiplied,
what doest thou unto Him ? If thou be righteous, what
givest thou Him ? or what receiveth He of thine
hand ? " (xxxv. 5-7). Even so late a writer as the
author of Ecclesiastes said (v. 2), "Be not rash with
thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter
anything before God : for God is in heaven, and thou
upon earth ; therefore let thy words be few." This
seems an echo of the naive transcendent view of the
Deity enthroned as a king, immeasurably higher than
any mortal can aspire to, and before whom men must
walk with bated breath.*

But yet the Bible is not without its indications of
the contrary view. Not that one will expect to find in

* In chap. viii. of his Hibbert Lectures (1892), Mr. C. G. Montefiore
alludes to this passage of Ecclesiastes as one which is often quoted to show how
in Judaism's view the transcendence of Deity meant His total separation from
men and nature. Mr. Montefiore combats this view by showing how in the
post-exilic Judaism the idea of "Heaven" was gradually becoming emptied of
its purely local signification. We to-day speak of " God in heaven," but this is
not prejudical to the idea of the nearness of God. Heaven is merely part of one
of God's titles ("Our Father in Heaven"), and the most convinced upholder
of the Immanent view finds nothing antagonistic or repugnant in its usage. In
Ben Sira vii. 14 this passage in Ecclesiastes is taken simply as a warning
against redundancy in prayer.


the Bible any sentence or phrase which presents the
Immanence of God in any philosophical sense, or with
any of the implications of modern scientific thought.
The Bible teaches no philosophy. It is not a text-book
of science. What one can find there is a few indications
of Immanence from the simple standpoint of Omni-
presence. One turns in the first instance to the
magnificent lines of Psalm cxxxix.* " Whither shall I go
from Thy Spirit ? or whither shall I flee from Thy
face ? If I climb up into heaven, Thou art there ; or
make Hades my bed, lo ! thou art there ! If I lift up
the wings of the dawn, and settle at the farther end of
the sea, even there Thy hand shall lead me, and Thy right
hand shall hold me." ^^^ All this seems many stages
of thought in advance of the sentiments from the
Psalms which we have previously quoted. So do the
following quotations from Deuteronomy : " For the Lord
thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver
thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee ; therefore
shall thy camp be holy that He see no unclean thing in
thee and turn away from thee " (Deut. xxiii, 14).t
" For this commandment ... is not hidden from thee,

* In his recent book, Der Geist Gottes (Tubingen, 1910), Professor Paul Volz
(on page 146) characterises this 139th Psalm as "der Lied der giittlichen
Allgegenwart und AUwissenheit, in dem monotheistische Geschlossenheit und
pantheistische Stimmung besonders schiin vereinigt siud. " He goes on to say-
that in the conception of the author of the Psalm, the Spirit of God is a cosmic
power . . . akin to the idea of "the face of God" which characterises the self-
revelation of God in the cosmos. Volz's next remarks are important. He says :
"sie erinnert in ihrem Wesen und Wirken an die iiltere VorsteUung vom
iibersinnlichen, den Kosmos durchwallenden Ruh-element (Ezech. Gen. 1, 2),
ist aber hier monotheistisch mit Jahwe verkniipft und bekommt dadurch eine
innerliche sittliche Farbung ; sie ist zugleich eine Art beobachtendes, die
Ordnung hiitendes Organ. . . . Ruh ist an iind fiir sich das Pantheistische,
AUdurchwaltende, aber sie ist Ruli Jahwes. Die Allgegenwart Jahwes wird
durch die Ruh zwar nicht verbiirgt. . . ." In short, Volz wishes to make it clear
— what I shall all along endeavour to make clear — that the usages of Spirit,
Shechinah, etc., as hypostases are consistent with the strictest monotheistic
conception of God. Cp. Briggs {^International Critical Commentary) on this
139th Psalm.

t Reading through the proofs, Mr. C. G. Moutefiore makes the following
adverse comment here : " It is not the case that the historic order of develop-



neither is it far off. It is not in heaven. Neither is it
beyond the sea. . . . But the word is very nigh unto
thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest
do it" (Deut. xxx. 11-14).

There is a powerful reproduction of these ideas in
a passage of the second Isaiah, as follows : " For thus
saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,
whose name is Holy ; I dwell in the high and holy
place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble
spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive
the heart of the contrite ones" (Ivii. 15). This is a
very apt commingling of the two aspects of God. He
is aloof and unapproachable ; but yet He is near, in
the very recesses of man's heart. This idea seems to
be further spiritualised in the remark of Elihu (Job
xxxii. 8) : " Verily there is a Spirit in man ; and the
inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding."
The usage of Ruah as the Divine Spirit within man is
very rarely met with in the O.T. It reminds one of
the Ruah Ha-Kodesh or Shechinah of Rabbinic literature
and of Wisdom in the Apocrypha. Elihu uses it as his
excuse for interposing in the debate of men older in
years than he. It is not years, says he, that are
man's prerogative and give him his right to speak.
Man's distinguishing mark is his possession of the Spirit
within. Hence flows his wisdom, his authority, and
his sense of justice. Professor Karl Marti in his com-
mentary on Isaiah Ixiii. 9, 10, thinks that the phrase
im~rp nn in verse 10, "His Holy Spirit," implies the
later or Rabbinic and Apocryphal significance of the
Holy Spirit.<^>

ment was as you maintain (1) God far otf, (2) God near. As a matter of fact,
Yahweh was very near in old days. He moved away from Sinai and lived with
Israel, in clouds and pillars, in the ark, etc. The quotation from Deut. xxiii.
14 does not specially rei)resent advanced thought. It is quite antique. God
became far off rather late, and then by Immanence He had to be made ' near '


Closely associated with our subject, although not
an integral part of it, is the constantly-recurring Biblical
representation of God as the Father — in the first place
as the Father of Israel. But the idea can be con-
sistently extended to include the whole of mankind.
The Fatherhood of God is certainly an aspect of His
Omnipresence ; it is an incontestable proof of His near-
ness. It would be futile to give here all the Biblical
instances of God as Father. They can be gathered
from any Concordance. I will only quote a few
characteristic examples : " Like as a father pitieth his
children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him."^^^
" But now, Lord, Thou art our Father ; we are the clay
and Thou our Potter ; and we all are the work of Thy
hand." ^^^ " For I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is
my first-born." ^^^ " Have we not all one Father ? Hath
not one God created us ? " ^^^ Conversely some charac-
teristic examples can be quoted of the usage of " son " in
relation to the Father. "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my
first-born son." ^'^ " He shall build a house for my name ;
and he shall be my son and I will be his Father." ^^^
" Is Ephraim my dear son ? Is he a pleasant child ?
For since I spake against him I do earnestly remember
him still." ^^^ " I w^ill say to the North, Give up; and
to the South, Keep not back : bring my sons from far,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth." ^^°^

To summarise. The Hebrew Bible presents God
at times under the Transcendent, and at times under the
Immanent, aspect. The elements making up the Tran-
scendent aspect are (i.) God's Name as being unknowable;
(ii.) the idea of secrecy surrounding God, as mentioned
frequently in Biblical books ; (iii. ) God's Throne in the
heavens at a great distance from man; (iv.) God as
magnified human king enwrapped in isolation ; (v. ) God
as Creator of heaven, earth, and all their hosts, having


made which, His activity has ceased. On the contrary,
the elements which point to His Immanence, so far as the
Hebrew Bible is concerned, are (i.) His Omnipresence;
(ii.) the nearness of His "Word";^^^^ (iii.) His unique
nature of being able to dwell with the humble and con-
trite, while at the same time having His abode in the
lofty heavens ; (iv.) His Spirit, as being the producer of
man's wisdom and holiness ; (v.) His Fatherhood, which
involves an amount of interposition in human affairs.

The transcendent view is paramount. But the
indications of the other view amount to something
more than a negligible quantity. It may be asked.
Can we give the name of Immanence to such ex-
pressions ? If we confine the term to its stringent
modern application to the Deity as "indwelling"
His creation, and as being manifested both to the
mind and eye in every element of animate and
inanimate creation, then it is difficult to see how the
Biblical phraseology brings this out. But if we give
a wider and looser connotation to " Immanence," — and
this is admissible if only on the grounds that the Bible
is no metaphysical or theological treatise, — we can at
any rate assert, that there is an indication of this
doctrine within the pages of the Old Testament.
After all, what better summing up of the Psalmist's
thoughts can be given, than to say that the one aim
and end of his being was to live in the constant
realised presence of God ? "I have set the Lord before
me constantly " was no mere rhetorical flourish. The
Psalmist felt it as a truth. " All my bones shall say,
Lord who is like unto Thee ? " An outburst such
as this would be impossible did not the author feel that
God the Father, the Protector, the source of all Love
and Compassion, had spread His tabernacle, so to speak,
in the very inmost recesses of his being, lifting him


up to ever higher and higher peaks of goodness and
usefulness. And a declaration like " the heavens
declare the glory of God, and the firmament telleth
the work of His hands " is a clear testimony to God's
evident manifestation in the world of nature.* These,
and the other illustrations which have been given before,
are a sufficient guarantee that although the Transcendent
view of the Deity predominates in it, the Hebrew Bible
is no stranger to some of the most general conceptions
which underUe the doctrine of the Immanence of God.


(1) Of Psalm cxxxix. Ibn Ezra says : " This Psalm is very glorious ;
in these five Books there is none like it." In his Bible for Home Reading,
vol. ii. p. 164, Mr. C. G. Montefiore quotes the comments of the " Four
Friends " as follows : " No human pen or tongue has ever expressed more
vividly or profoundly the idea of the omnipresence of God. In all
places, in all time, man is beset and encompassed by God, in Him we live
and move and have oiu- being ; oiu- every thought is guided ; our everj'
thought controlled. . . ."

(2) The only other passages in the O.T. where the phrase " Holy
Spirit" occurs are in Isaiah Ixiii. 11, "Where is He that put His Holy
Spirit within them ? " and in Psalm li. 11, " Cast me not away from Thy
presence ; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." Prof. Marti j^arallels
these with the passage in Acts vii. 51, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised
in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit " ; and in Ephesians
iv. 30, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." In these instances,
says he, the Holy Spirit "ist hier als ein selbstandiges Wesen, als eine
Art Hypostase gedacht." In fact he shows how, in this chapter the
peculiar phrase, DyB-in v:s ixhoi, " and the angel of His presence saved
them " (which translation he utterly rejects) points to the later usage of
" angel " and " face of God " as expressing the personal presence of God
in the world.

(3) Psalm ciii. 13.

(4) Isaiah Ixiv. 7.

(5) Jeremiah xxxi. 9.

* "If indeed," says Mr. C. G. Montefiore {Hibbert Lectures, 1892) "the
Psalter, that monument of post-exilic piety from Ezra to the Maccabees, taught
a distant God, eighteen centuries of Christian piety would not have been able
to use it as a medium of religious edification " (p. 428).


(6) Malachi ii. 10.

(7) Exodiis iv. 22.

(8) 1 Chronicles xxii. 9.

(9) Jeremiali xxxi. 19.

(10) Isaiah xliii. 6.

(11) In his Personal Idealism and Mysticism, p. 39, Dr. Inge seems
to take it too much for granted that the " Word " of the O.T. is identical
with the Memra of the Targum. As a matter of fact, the Memra applies
to ever so many more ideas, and is foiuid in the Targum in places where
the text of the Bible makes no mention whatsoever of the " Word."



The Biblical idea of God's relation to the world and man
underwent considerable modifications at the hands of the
Greek- Jewish philosophers who sought to blend Judaism
with Hellenism. These modifications are mostly apparent
in books of the Alexandrian Apocrypha, such as the
Wisdom of Solomon, the Letter of Aristeas, and the
fragments of Aristobulus/^^ But most of all in Philo,
who, in his exposition of the Old Testament, introduces
philosophical ideas which belong partly to Jewish
thought and are partly appropriated from Hellenic
philosophy. Ueberweg, in his History of Philosophy
(vol. i. p. 223), enumerates the "traits common to
the speculations of the Jewish-Greek philosophers and
the Neo-Pythagoreans, the later Platonists and Neo-
Platonists." The particular trait which concerns the
present subject is " the theory of intermediate potencies
or beings through whom God acts upon the world
of phenomena." The question had begun to force
itself upon these thinkers, How is it that God, though
enthroned on high and removed far from the terrestrial
sphere, still shows traces of Himself as working in
the world ? And they answered it by assuming an
all - active, all - penetrating spirit or principle in the
universe, holding all its parts in order and symmetry.


and showing itself in man as conscience. It is at once
God and not God. That is to say, while being a
manifestation or reflexion of the Deity, it is not the
Deity Himself. And again, although it is something
other than the Deity, it is not an independent Per-
sonality. It is, if we may use the expression, an
extension of God.

Thus in the Letter of Aristeas, as Ueberweg points
out, a distinction is made between the power or govern-
ment of God, which is in all places (Bia ttuvtcov iariv,
irdvTa TOTTov TrXrjpoi), and God Himself the greatest of
Beings, the Lord over all things, who stands in need of
nothinsT and is enthroned in the heavens. Aristobulus
in his Orphic poems speaks of the Biblical writings as
being inspired by the Spirit of God. The world is
acted on by the Power of God although He is invisible,
and His throne in heaven has no contact with earth.
But when we come to the Wisdom of Solomon and the
writings of Philo we have far more substantial material
to work upon. In the Wisdom of Solomon the step from
the Transcendent to the Immanent view of the Deity
can be seen under the following aspects : —

(a) The usage of the Stoic doctrine of the Divine
" Pneuma " which pervades all parts of the universe
and is the ever-active principle of life. For example,
" For wisdom is more mobile than any motion ; yea,
she pervadeth and penetrateth all things by reason of
her pureness." ^^^

For she is a breath of the power of God,

And a clear effluence of the Glory of the Almighty,

For she is an effulgence from everlasting light

And an unspotted mirror of the Working of God." *

* Chapter xxiv. of Ben Sira lias similar allusions to the Immanence of
Wisdom. But there is this difference, viz. that whereas in this passage of the
Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom is represented as in some measure an active agent <
in the creation of the world, in Ben Sira the idea is more localised. Wisdom,


One notices a strong parallelism between several
ideas here and those to be found in Rabbinic literature.
For instance, the idea of wisdom as an " effluence of
the Glory of the Almighty " might be paralleled over
and over again by the common expression mtl?D n^i'V"^
'^D1 "inD^DD, which is usually rendered as " God causing
His Shechinah to dwell," but literally rendered should
be " God unloosening His Shechinah, i.e. setting it free "
(the Aramaic " shara " = to unloosen, let go free). The
word " effluence " = " flowing out," and implies the idea
of " setting free." The close association of " Kabod,"
"Glory," with "Shechinah" is of common occurrence.
In the Greek they are both often indiscriminately trans-
lated by 86 ^a}^^ In Luke ii. 9, the words " the glory
of the Lord shone round about them" are rendered by
So^a Kvpiov . . . (cp. Ephesians i. 6, 80^7?? t^<? 'x.^^piro'i
avTov, also 2 Corinthians iv. 6). In Targum Jonathan
on Exodus xxxiii. 22, we get the two words used
dependently upon one another, "^nrDtn -ip'' ini^on "^n^i,
" when there passes the glory ("ip"' = Aramaic for Hebrew
~niD) of my Shechinah." This is like the passage
quoted above from Wisdom. The idea of wisdom
as " light " resembles the frequent metaphorical usage
of Shechinah as light. Cp. for example Aboth De Rabbi
Nathan ii. tit'dw -^dd ^h^ iTiiDo m^xn f'^t^n^, The face of the
Shechinah lights up the whole earth. In Numbers Rabba
ii. 5, " May God cause His face to shine upon thee, i.e.
may He give unto thee of the light of the Shechinah."
Even the idea of wisdom as " pervading and penetrating
all things," although it is unquestionably not a Jewish,
but the Stoic conception of the " Pneuma," can yet be

after having "Come out of the mouth of the Most High," and after having
''walked in the bottom of the deep," sought and found rest only in Israel.
It "took root in an honourable people, even in the portion of the Lord's
inheritance." Ben Sira is of course Palestinian, whereas the Wisdom of Solomon
is Alexandrian. This sufficiently accounts for the difference in the two views.


almost paralleled by the following Eabbinic statement
from T. B. Haggigah 12a : "By means of tbe light which
Grod created on the first day man may look from one end
of the universe to the other." Light here is probably
identical with Shechinah, as can be seen from the con-
tinuation of this passage/^^ There is an all-pervading
" Shechinah " as well as an all-pervading " Pneuma." ^^^

(b) The usage of Wisdom sometimes as identical
with Deity, and sometimes as an aspect of, extension of,
or created thing subject to, Deity. In vii. 7 we read,
" I called upon God and there came to me a spirit of
wisdom." Here wisdom is the object, a gift of God to
man. But in x. 1 we read, " Wisdom guarded to the end
the first-formed father of the world. . . . And gave him
strength to o;et dominion over all thincfs." Here wisdom
seems an equivalent for God. It is a personality. All
this bears striking resemblance to Rabbinic modes of
thousfht which will be considered later. We shall see
how ofttimes the Shechinah is spoken of as " God's
Shechinah," i.e. a property of Deity, and how, on the
other hand, it is frequently used as an independent
spiritual entity. An example of the latter usage is a
phrase like " receiving the face of the Shechinah." And
the same is the case with the Rabbinic usage of the
Holy Spirit. The expression in T. B. Sotah 11a,
"lDi immiD OTipn ni"!, " The Holy Spirit announces to
them, ' The more shall they multiply and the more
shall they grow'" (Exodus i. 12), is a personification of
the "Ruah." On the other hand, in T B. Megillah
12b, the remark is made of Esther, that "she clothed
herself with the Holy Spirit," wdiere Ruah is meant
to be the Spirit of God immanent in the world, so that
man can, as it were, snatch a portion of it and enwrap
himself in it.

(c) Wisdom is the immanent protector and redeemer


of mankind. It is man's anchorage in time of trouble.
The whole of chapter x. of the Wisdom of Solomon is
taken up with this theme, ending with the remark,
*' Because Wisdom opened the mouth of the dumb ; and
made the tongues of babes to speak clearly." All this
corresponds closely to the Rabbinic usage of the
immanent Shechinah. Thus in T. B. Megillah 29a (and
elsewhere very frequently) it is said : " Whitherso-
ever Israel was banished the Shechinah followed him."
In T B. Sabbath 12b we read : " How do we know
that the Shechinah supports the sick ? Because it is
said (Psalm xli. 4), ' The Lord shall support him upon
a bed of sickness.' " (In other passages the reading is
to the effect that the Shechinah is "above the head"
of the sick person.) In T. B. Sotah 30b there is
a passage to the following effect, " At the hour of
Israel's ascent from the Red Sea the people com-
menced their song. How was the singing done ? The
infant nursed upon the knees of its mother, together
with the suckling babe, no sooner beheld the Shechinah
(nD-'DQjn HN iNiti? ]rD) than they raised themselves up,
exclaiming, ' This is my God and I will glorify Him.' ..."
There seems the closest possible resemblance between
the passage quoted from Wisdom and this passage from
the Talmud.

(d) The difficulty of reconciling the immanent
Wisdom with the fact of the existence of sin. Thus
" Wisdom will not enter into a soul that deviseth evil,
nor dwell in a body that is held in pledge by sin " (i. 4).

Online LibraryJ. (Joshua) AbelsonThe immanence of God in rabbinical literature → online text (page 5 of 32)