PROPHETS OF AN UNSEEN God
The greatest Theophany ever to take place was unique not only in its
scope - viewed by 600,000 people, not only in its duration - several
months, and not only in its attainments - the Covenant between God
and a Chosen People and the proclamation of Commandments and laws of
lasting impact. It also revealed a key aspect of the Deity - that of
an Unseen God. "No one can see my face and live," He stated; and
even approaching too closely to where the Kabod rested was a peril.
Yet if He were to be followed and worshiped, how could He be sought,
found, and heard? How would Divine Encounters with Yahweh take
The immediate answer, in the Wilderness of Sinai, was the
Tabernacle, the portable Mishkan (literally: Residence) with its
Tent of Appointment.
On the first day of the first month of the second year of the Exodus
the Tabernacle was completed in accordance with the most detailed
and exact specification dictated by the Lord to Moses, including the
Tent of Appointment with its Holy of Holies; therein, separated from
the other areas by a heavy screen, was placed the Ark of the
Covenant that contained the two Tablets and above which the two
golden Cherubim touched their wings. There, where the wings touched,
was the Dvir - literally, the Speaker - by which Yahweh conversed with
And when Moses had completed "all this work, as Yahweh had
commanded," on the prescribed day, a thick cloud landed and engulfed
the Tent of Appointment. "The Cloud
of Yahweh," the last verse of the Book of Exodus states, "was upon
the Residence by day and a fire was in it by night, before the very
eyes of the whole house of Israel, throughout their journeys." It
was only when the divine cloud lifted that they moved on; but when
the cloud did not rise off the Residence, they stayed put where
encamped until the cloud would rise.
It was during those resting periods (as the first verse in the next
book of the Pentateuch, Leviticus, states) that "Yahweh called
Moses, and spoke to him from inside the Tent of Appointment." The
instructions covered the appointment of the House of Aaron as the
priestly line, and the precise details of the priestly clothing,
consecration, and the rituals of the sacred service of Yahweh.
Even then, in the immediate aftermath of the landing on the Mount
and within the consecrated confines of the Tabernacle, it was from
inside the thick cloud of a foglike darkness, from behind the
screened-off portion, from between the Cherubim, that Yahweh’s
voice could be heard - the words of the Unseen God. With all those
precautions and obscuring veilings, even the High Priest had to
raise an additional opaque haze by burning a specific combination of
incenses before he could approach the screen that veiled the Ark of
the Covenant; and when two sons of Aaron burned the wrong incense,
creating a "strange fire," a beam of fire "emanating from Yahweh"
struck them dead.
It was during those resting periods that Moses was instructed
regarding a long list of other rules and regulations - for all manner
of sacrifices and the paying of homage to the Lord by the common
people, who were all to be considered "a nation of priests"; for the
proper relations between members of the family and between one
person and another, prescribing equal treatment of the citizen, the
serf, and the strangers. There were instructions for what foods were
proper or improper, and in the diagnosing and treatment of various
Throughout and repeatedly, there were strict prohibitions
of the customs of "other nations" that were associated with the
worship of "other Gods" - such as the shaving of the head or beards,
the incising of tattoos, or the sacrificing of children as burnt
offerings. Forbidden was the,
conjurers and seers," and emphatically prohibited was the "making of
idols and graven images, and the erection of statues, or of a carved
stone to bow upon it."
"By these shall the Children of Israel be distinguished from the
others - a holy nation, consecrated unto Yahweh," Moses was told.
As the ensuing biblical books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Prophets
reveal, it was the last prohibition that was the most difficult to
maintain. For all around them the people could see the Gods they
were worshiping - sometimes in fact, otherwise (and most of the time)
through their graven images. But Yahweh had asserted that no one
could see his face and live, and now the Israelites were required to
observe strictly a myriad of commandments and keep faith with a sole
deity that could not even be represented by its statue - to worship an
That it was a total departure from the practices everywhere else was
readily admitted by Yahweh himself. "After the customs of the Land
of Egypt, wherein ye have dwelt, and after the customs of the Land
of Canaan whither I am bringing you, ye shalt not do, and their
precepts ye shall not follow," Yahweh decreed; and He knew well what
he was talking about.
Egypt, whence the Children of Israel had come out - as ancient
depictions and archaeological finds amply attest - was awash with
images and statues of the Gods of Egypt. Ptah, the patriarch of the
pantheon (whom we have identified with Enki), Ra his son, head of
the pantheon (whom we have identified with Marduk), and their
offspring who had reigned over Egypt before the Pharaohs and who
were worshiped thereafter, sometimes appeared to the kings in person
in various Divine Encounters, some other times (and more
frequently so) were represented by their images (Fig. 105).
more distant the Gods became over time, the more did king and people
turn to priests and magicians, seers and diviners to obtain and
interpret the divine will. No wonder that Moses, endeavoring to
impress the doubting Pharaoh with the powers of the Hebrews’ God,
had first to engage in magic to outperform the Pharaoh’s royal
In the realms of the Enlilites, the notion of an Unseen
God was surely an oddity. Reclusive, perhaps; selectively
accessible, yes; but unseen - certainly not. Virtually all the "great
Gods" of Sumer - with the apparent exception of Anu - were depicted one
way or another, in sculptures or engravings or upon cylinder seals
That they were actually seen by mortals is evident from
countless cylinder seals found throughout Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and
the Mediterranean lands that depict what scholars call
"presentation scenes" in which a king, as often as not wearing
robes, is shown ushered by a lesser God (or Goddess) into the
presence of a "great God."
A similar scene is depicted on a large
stone stela found at a site called Abu Habba in Mesopotamia, in
which the king-priest is being presented to the God Shamash (Fig.
107) - a scene that recalls those of the granting of codes of law that
we have reproduced in earlier chapters. And, one must assume, in
instances when a God had a human spouse or during Divine Encounters
of the Sacred Marriage kind, the God or Goddess was not unseen.
(That, too, increased the Israelites’
consternation, for nowhere throughout the Hebrew Bible is there
mention of Yahweh as having a
spouse, be it divine or human. This, biblical scholars believe, was
why in spite of all admonitions the Israelites digressed toward
veneration of Asherah, the principal Goddess of the Canaanite
Even in Sumer, where the presence of the Anunnaki Gods in their
ziggurats was an accepted fact, the Divine Word was conveyed to the
people through the intermediary of oracle priests. Indeed, the name
Terah of Abraham’s father suggests that he was a Tirhu, an oracle
priest; and the family’s clan designation, Ibri ("Hebrew"), we
believe, indicates that the family stemmed from Nippur (Enlil’s cult
center), whose Sumerian name was NI.IBRU - "Beautiful dwelling place
After the demise of Sumer and the rise of Babylon
(with Marduk as head of the pantheon) and later of Assyria (with
Ashur as head of the pantheon), a complex plethora of oracle and
omen priests, astrologers, dream interpreters, diviners, seers,
conjurers, voyagers and fortune-tellers filled temples, palaces, and
humbler abodes - all claiming to be expert in conveying the Divine
Word or being able to guess the Divine Will - "fortune" - from the
examination of animal livers, or how oil spreads on water, or
In this respect, too, the Israelites were required to act
differently. "Ye shall not practice divination or soothsaying," was
the commandment in Leviticus 19:26. "Seek neither seers of spirits
nor fortune tellers," admonished Leviticus 19:31. In direct contrast
to the inclusion of such "professionals" within the ranks of the
priests of other nations in antiquity, the Israelite priests and
the Levites selected to serve in the temple were qualified to "stand
before Yahweh" by (among other restrictions) never becoming,
magician, a diviner, a wizard or an enchanter, nor one who is a
charmer or a seer of spirits, a fortune teller, or one who conjures
up the dead; for all of them are an abomination to Yahweh - it is
because of those abominations that Yahweh thy Elohirn doth drive
them out before thee."
Practices that were - certainly by the time of the Exodus, in the
fifteenth century B.C. - part and parcel of the religious practices
throughout the ancient world and the worship of "other Gods," were
thus strictly forbidden by Yahweh in the religion and worship of
Israel. How then could the Children of Israel, once in their
Promised Land, receive the Divine Word and know the Divine Will?
The answers were given by Yahweh himself.
First, there will be the Angels, the Divine Emissaries, who would
convey the Lord’s will and guidance and act in His behalf.
sending a Mal’akh to be in front of thee, to guard thee on the way
to bring thee unto the place which I have prepared," the Lord said
to the Children of Israel through Moses; "beware of him and obey
him, be not rebellious against him, for he will not forgive your
transgressions; my Shem is in him"
to, the Lord said, his Angel will bring them safely to the Promised
There will also be other channels of communication, Yahweh said.
They were made explicit as a result of an incident in which Aaron,
the brother of Moses, and Miriam, their sister, became envious of
Moses being the only one summoned to the Tent of Appointment to
speak with Yahweh.
As reported in Numbers chapter 12.
And Miriam and Aaron said:
"Hath Yahweh spoken only through Moses?
Hath he not also spoken through us?"
And Yahweh heard it.
Then, suddenly, Yahweh spoke unto
Moses and Aaron and Miriam, saying:
"Come out ye three unto the Tent of Appointment.
And the three of them came forth.
And Yahweh descended in a pillar of cloud,
coming to rest at the
door of the Tent.
And He called Aaron and Miriam,
and the two of
them stepped forward.
Thus getting their attention, and bringing them as close as possible
to the "column of cloud" that had descended and positioned itself in
front of the Tent, Yahweh said to them:
"Hear now my words:
If there be a prophet of Yahweh among you, in a vision will I make
myself known to him, in a dream will I speak to him. Not so is it
with my servant Moses, faithful in all mine house. With him I speak
mouth to mouth, in appearances and not in puzzles; the similitude of
Yahweh does he behold; How then dared you speak ill of my servant
And Yahweh’s anger was kindled against them, and He departed.
And the cloud lifted off the Tent;
and lo and behold,
Miriam became leprous,
her skin white as snow.
So there it was, clearly stated: It will be through
the Prophets of
Yahweh, appearing to them in a vision or in a dream, that the Lord
will communicate with the people.
The usual concept of a "prophet" is that of one who engages in
prophecies - predictions of the future (in this instance under divine
guidance or inspiration). But the dictionary correctly defines
"prophet" as "a person who speaks for God" in divine matters, or
just "a spokesman for some cause, group or government."
prediction aspect is present or assumed; but the key function is
that of a spokesman. And indeed, that is what the Hebrew term, Nabih, means: a spokesman. A "Nabih of Yahweh," commonly translated
(and so quoted above) "a prophet of Yahweh," literally meant "a
spokesman of Yahweh," someone (as explained in Numbers chapter 11)
"upon whom the spirit of God was bestowed," qualifying him (or her!)
to be a Nabih, a spokesperson for the Lord.
The term appears for the first time in the Bible in chapter 20 of
Genesis, which deals with the transgression of Abimelech, the
Philistine king of Gerar, who was about to take Sarah into his harem
not knowing that she was married to Abraham. "And Elohim came unto
Abimelech in a nighttime dream" to warn him off. When Abimelech
pleaded innocence, the Lord told him to return Sarah unmolested to
her husband, and ask him to pray for forgiveness. "A Nabih he is,"
the Lord said of Abraham, "and pray he will for thee."
Next the term is used (in Exodus chapter 6) in its rudimentary
sense. When the mission to the Pharaoh was imposed on Moses, he
complained that his was a "halting speaking," which would not be
heeded by the Pharaoh. So Yahweh said to him: "Behold, as an Elohim
I will make thee before Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy
Nabih" - your spokesman.
And once again, after the Children of Israel
had crossed the Sea of Reeds when it had parted miraculously,
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, led the daughters of
Israel in a song and dance honoring Yahweh; and the Bible calls her
"Miriam the Nebiah,"
"Miriam the prophetess."
In yet another
instance, when it was necessary to enlist the tribal leaders in
administrating a multitude of 600,000,
Moses assembled seventy men
from among the elders of the people
and he stationed them around the Tent.
And Yahweh came down in the cloud,
and spoke to him;
And bestowed from the spirit that was upon him
on the seventy elders;
And when the spirit rested upon them,
they became Nabih ‘s (spokesmen) -
then, but not thereafter.
But two of the elders, the narrative reports, continued to be under
the spell of the Divine Spirit, and were acting as Nabih’s in the
encampment. It was expected that they would be punished; but Moses
saw it differently: "I wish the whole people would be Nabihs, that
Yahweh would bestow His spirit upon them," he said to his faithful
The matter of the Nabih as a true spokesman for Yahweh must have
needed further elucidation - witness the additional statements in
Deuteronomy. Unlike other peoples who "listen to diviners and
magicians," the Lord said, to the people of Israel He will provide a
Nabih, one from their own brethren who "My words shall be in his
mouth, who shall speak to them as I will command."
some might lay claim to be speaking for God without it being so,
Yahweh warned that such a false prophet shall surely die. But how
would the people know the difference? "If there arise in the midst
of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he giveth thee a sign
or a wonder," but it was only to induce you to "follow other Elohim,
unknown to thee, and worship them - do not hearken to the words of
such a Nabih," Yahweh explained through Moses.
There could be
another test of the prophet’s authenticity, it was explained
(Deuteronomy chapter 18): "If that which the prophet was saying in
behalf of Yahweh will not happen and shall not come to pass, maliciously hath the prophet spoken it - not the words of Yahweh."
That it was not an easy matter to distinguish between true and false
prophets was thus anticipated right from the beginning; the ensuing
events offered bitter confirmation of the problem.
"And there arose not a Nabih in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh hath
known face to face," it is stated at the conclusion of the Book of
Deuteronomy (and thus the conclusion of the Pentateuch, the
so-called Five Books of Moses); for Moses, as decreed for all those
who had known the servitude in Egypt, was doomed not to enter the
Promised Land. Before dying, the Lord made him go up Mount Nebo that
was on the eastern side of the Jordan facing Jericho, to see from
there the Promised Land.
Significantly or ironically, the mount chosen for that final act,
Mount Nebo, was named after Nabu, the son of Marduk. // Nabium, the
"God who is a spokesman," Babylonian inscriptions called him; for
as historical records show, it was he who, while his father Marduk
was in exile, roamed the lands bordering on the Mediterranean,
converting the people to the worship of Marduk in preparation for
the seizing of the supremacy by Marduk at the time of Abraham.
The function, the mission of the Prophets of Yahweh winds its way
through the era of the Judges, finds expression in the biblical
books of Samuel and Kings, and reaches its high ground, moral and
religious message and its prophetic visions for humanity in the
books of the Prophets. Guidance, rage, and solace; teaching,
reprimanding, and reassuring, the words and symbolic deeds of these
"spokesmen" of Yahweh gradually fashion, as the years and the
events march by, an image of Yahweh and His role in the past and in
the future of Earth and its inhabitants.
"It was after the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh, that Yahweh
spoke unto Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, saying:
Moses my servant died; now therefore arise and cross the Jordan,
thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, the
Children of Israel ... as I was with Moses so will I be with thee; I
will not fail thee nor
forsake thee ... Only be thou strong and steadfast in observing to
act according to all the teachings which Moses my servant commanded
thee - turn not to the right or to the left."
Thus begins the Book of
Joshua, with a reiteration of the Divine Promise on the one hand and
of the required absolute adherence to Yahweh’s commandments on the
other hand. And right away Joshua, recognizing that the former
depended on the latter, realized that it would be the latter that
would be the problem.
As in the time of Moses, divine assistance in the form of miracles
was provided the new leader to make the double point: Though unseen,
Yahweh was omnipresent as well as omnipotent. The very first
obstacle facing the Israelites who had journeyed up the east side of
the Jordan was how to cross the river westward; the time was soon
after the rainy season and the river’s waters were high and
Reassuring the people that "Yahweh will show you
wonders," he told them to sanctify themselves and be ready for the
crossing, for Yahweh had directed him to have the priests carrying
the Ark of the Covenant step into the river; and lo and behold, the
moment the priests’ feet touched the waters, the Jordan’s waters
flowing down from the north froze and were held back as a wall, and
the Israelites crossed over on the river’s dried bed. And when the
priests carrying the Ark crossed over as well, the piled-up waters
collapsed and the river was filled again with water.
"By this shall ye know that a living God is among you," Joshua
announced - proof that though unseen, He is present, He is powerful.
He can perform miracles. The miracles indeed did not cease; the one
of the Jordan’s crossing was soon followed by the appearance of the
Angel of Yahweh with the instructions for the toppling of the walls
of Jericho, and the use of Joshua’s lance the way the staff of Moses
was held - this time for the miraculous defeat of the mountain
fortress of Ai. Next came me miraculous defeat of an alliance of
Canaanite kings in the Valley of Ajalon, when the sun stood still
and did not set for some twenty hours.
"And it came to pass after a long
time, after Yahweh had given rest unto Israel from all their
surrounding enemies, that Joshua waxed old and aged"
Thus begins the end of the
Book of Joshua and the record of the events of the conquest and
settlement of Canaan under his leadership. It ends, however, as it
began: with the need to reaffirm the existence and presence of
Yahweh; for, as the Bible explains, not only Joshua but all the
elders who could recall the Exodus and the Lord’s miracles were
passing from the scene.
So Joshua assembled the tribal leaders at Shechem, to review before
them the history of the Hebrews from their ancestral beginnings
until the present. On the other side of the Euphrates River did your
ancestors live, he said - Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor - "and
they worshipped other Elohim."
The migration of Abraham, the story
of his descendants, the enslavement in Egypt and the events of the
Exodus under the leadership of Moses were then briefly reviewed, as
well as the crossing of the Jordan and the settlement under Joshua’s
Now, as I and my generation are passing on, Joshua said,
you are free to make a choice: you can remain committed to Yahweh - or
you can worship other Gods:
Would’st ye hold Yahweh in awe,
and worship Him in sincerity and in truth -
then remove the Elohim whom your forefathers
had worshipped across the river [Euphrates]
and in Egypt, and worship [only] Yahweh.
But if it does not please you to serve Yahweh -
choose here and now whom ye shall worship:
whether the Elohim which your forefathers had
served on the other side of the River,
or the Gods of the Westerners in whose land ye dwell;
and I and my family shall worship Yahweh.
Faced with this momentous yet clear-cut choice,
answered and said: It is unthinkable that we should forsake Yahweh
to worship other Elohim ... It is Yahweh our God whom we shall
worship, it is Him whom we shall obey!"
So "Joshua said unto the people: Ye all are witnesses against
yourselves that ye have chosen Yahweh to worship. And mey said: We
Thereupon "Joshua made
a covenant with the people that day," writing it all down "in the
Book of the Teachings of Yahweh."
And he erected a stone stela under
the oak tree that was beside the Tabernacle in witness of the
But no admonitions and witnessed covenants could preserve the
reality of an Israelite monotheistic enclave within an overwhelming
multitude of polytheistic peoples.
As pointed out in the writings of
the Jewish theologian and biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann (The
Religion of Israel), the "Basic Problem" facing the Israelites was
that the Bible was "dedicated to fighting idolatry" - the worship of
idols, of statues made of wood and stone, or gold and silver - but
recognized that other peoples worshiped "other Gods."
religion and paganism are historically related," he wrote; "both are
stages in the religious evolution of Man. Israelite religion arose
at a certain period in history, and it goes without saying that its
rise did not take place in a vacuum."
Among the difficulties inherent in the Religion of Yahweh were the
absence of a genealogy and of a primordial realm whence the Gods had
come. The Gods who had been worshiped by the parents and
forefathers of Abraham "across the river" - the first set of "other
Gods" listed by Joshua - included Enlil and Enki, the sons of the
Anu, the brothers of Ninharsag. Anu himself had named parents. All
of them had spouses, offspring - Ninurta, Nannar, Adad, Marduk, and so
on. There was even a third generation - Shamash, Ishtar, Nabu. There
had been an original homeland - a place called Nibiru, another world
(i.e. planet) whence they had come to Earth.
Then there were the "other Gods" of Egypt; Yahweh had shown His
might against them when Egypt was afflicted to let the Children of
Israel go, but they continued to be venerated and worshiped not
only in Egypt but also wherever Egypt’s might had reached. They were
headed by Ptah, and the great Ra was his son - traveling in Celestial
Boats between Earth and the "Planet of Millions of Years," the
primordial abode. Thoth, Seth, Osiris, Horus, Isis, Nepthys were
related by simple genealogies in which brothers married half
When the Israelites, fearing that Moses had perished
on Mount Sinai, asked Aaron to reinvoke the deity, he fashioned a
golden calf - the image of the Apis Bull - to represent the Bull of
Heaven. And when a plague afflicted the Israelites, Moses made a
copper serpent - the symbol of Enki/ Ptah - to stop the plague. No
wonder that the Gods of Egypt, too, were fresh in the Israelites’
And then there were the "other Gods of the Westerners in whose lands
you dwell" - the Gods of the Canaanites (Western Asiatics) whose
pantheon was headed by the retired olden God El (a proper name or
epithet being the singular of the plural Elohim) and his spouse
Asherah; the active Ba’al (simply meaning "Lord"), their son; his
favorite female companions Anal and Shepesh and Ashtoret, and his
adversaries Mot and Yam.
Their playgrounds and battlegrounds were
the lands that stretched from the border of Egypt to the borders of
Mesopotamia; every nation in that area worshiped them, sometimes
under locally adjusted names; and the Children of Israel were now
dwelling in their midst ...
To compound the "Basic Problem" of the missing ingredients of a
genealogy and a primordial abode, was added the greater difficulty
for the Israelites: an Unseen God who could not even be represented
by a graven image.
And so it was that, on and off, "the Children of Israel did wrong in
the eyes of Yahweh, and worshiped the Ba’al Gods; they forsook
Yahweh, the Elohim of their forefathers who hath brought them out of
Egypt, and followed other Elohim from among the Gods of the nations
that surrounded them ... and paid homage to Ba’al and to Ashtoreth
Gods" (Judges 2:11-13). And again and again leaders - designated
Judges - arose to return the Israelites to their true faith and
thereby remove Yahweh’s wrath.
One of those Judges, the female Deborah, is fondly recalled by the
Bible as Nehi’ah - a Prophetess. Inspired by Yahweh, she chose the
right commander and tactics for the defeat of Israel’s northern
enemies; the Bible records her victory song - a poem considered by
scholars a unique ancient literary masterpiece. David Ben-Gurion
(the first prime minister of the modern State of Israel), in The
Jews in Their Land, wrote that "that religio-national awakening was
movingly expressed in the Song of Deborah with its reference to
and invisible God."
In fact the victory hymnal song did more than
that: It referred to the celestial nature of Yahweh, asserting that
the victory was made possible because Yahweh, whose appearance
"makes the Earth tremble, the heavens quake and the mountains melt,"
caused the "planets, in their orbits," to fight the enemy.
Such a celestial aspect of Yahweh, as we shall see, was to become
highly significant in the prophetic utterances of the great Prophets
of the Bible.
Chronologically the term Nabih and its holder come into play again
in the Books of Samuel, the boy who grew to be a combination
prophet-priest-judge of his people. We have already described the
series of dream-encounters by which he had been called to Yahweh’s
"and the boy Samuel grew up and Yahweh was with him, and
none of his words went unfulfilled; from Dan to Beersheba did the
whole of Israel know that Samuel was confirmed as a Nabih of Yahweh.
And Yahweh continued to appear in Shiloh, for it was in Shiloh that
Yahweh revealed himself there to Samuel, when Yahweh hath spoken."
Samuel’s ministry coincided with the rise of a new and powerful
enemy of Israel, the Philistines, who commanded the coastal plain of
Canaan from five strongholds. The conflict, or
when-push-comes-to-shove relationship, had flared up earlier in the
time of Samson, and in another incident when the Philistines even
captured the Ark of the Covenant and brought it into the temple of
their God Dagon (whose statue, the Bible relates, kept falling down
before the Ark).
It was thereafter that leaders of the twelve tribes
assembled before Samuel and asked that he choose a king for them - a
system of government "akin to that of all the nations." It was thus
that Saul the son of Kish was anointed the first king of the
Children of Israel. After a troubled reign, the monarchy passed to
David, the son of Jesse, who had come into prominence after he slew
the giant Goliath. And after he was anointed by Samuel, "the spirit
of Yahweh was upon him, from that time on."
Both Saul and David, the Bible states, "inquired of Yahweh,"
seeking oracles to guide their actions by. After Samuel had died,
Saul sought an oracle from Yahweh but received
none "neither in dreams or visions nor through prophets" (he ended
up speaking to the ghost of Samuel through a medium). David, we read
in I Samuel 30:7, "inquired of Yahweh" by putting on the priestly
garment of the High Priest with its oracular breastplate.
thereafter he was given the "word of Yahweh" through prophets - first
one named Gad and then another named Nathan. The Bible (II Samuel
24:11) calls the former "Gad the Nabih, the Seer of David," through
whom the "word of Yahweh" was made known to the king. Nathan was the
prophet through whom Yahweh had told David that not he, but his son,
would build the Temple in Jerusalem (II Samuel 7:2-17) - "all the
words in accordance with the vision did Nathan say unto David."
The function of the Nabih as teacher and upholder of moral laws and
social justice, and not only as a conduit for divine messages,
emerges from the deeds of even such an early Prophet as the
enigmatic "Nathan" ("He who was granted"). It happened when David,
having seen Bathsheba naked as she washed herself on her home’s
roof, ordered his general to expose Bathsheba’s husband to the most
dangerous battlefield spot, so that the king could take Bathsheba as
a wife once she was widowed.
It was then that Nathan the prophet
came to the king and told him a fable of a rich man who had many
sheep but nevertheless coveted the only sheep that a poor man had.
And when David exclaimed, "such a man must be punished by death!"
the prophet told him: "Thou art the man!"
Recognizing his sin and going out of his way to atone for it, David
spent ever more time in pious meditation and solitary prayer; many
of the king’s reflections on God and Man found expression in the
Psalms of David; in them the celestial aspects of Yahweh echo, and
expand upon, the words in the Song of Deborah.
"These are the
words of the song David sang to Yahweh" (II Samuel 22 and Psalm 18):
Yahweh is my rock and my fortress;
He is my deliverer ...
In my distress I call Yahweh,
to my God I call out;
And he hears my voice in his Great House,
my cry reached his ears.
Then the Earth heaved and quaked,
the Heaven’s foundations were disturbed and shook .. .
In the heavens he turned and came down,
thick fog lay under his
Upon a Cherub he rode and flew,
on the windy wings he
From the heavens Yahweh thunders,
the Most High utters his voice...
From the heights he reached out to pick me up...
to save me
from my foe.
"Forty years did David rule over the whole of Israel - seven years he
reigned in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem," it is stated at
the conclusion of / Chronicles, "dying at a ripe old age."
that concerns David, from the first to the last words, are recorded
in the books of Samuel the Seer, and the book of Nathan the Prophet,
and the book of Gad the Man of Visions."
The books of Nathan and Gad
have vanished, as did other books - the Book of the Wars of Yahweh,
the Book of Jashar, to mention two others - that the Bible speaks of.
But Psalms attributed to (or sung by) David make up almost half
(seventy-three to be exact) of the 150 Psalms retained in the Bible.
They all provide a wealth of insights into the nature and identity
The significance of the statement that David ruled "over the whole
of Israel" becomes evident as the wheels of history turn from the
second millennium B.C. to the beginning of the first millennium B.C,
when Solomon ascended the throne in Jerusalem; for soon after his
death the kingdom split into separate states, that of Judaea in the
south and that of Israel in the north.
Cut off from Jerusalem and
the Temple, the northern kingdom was more exposed to foreign customs
and religious influences. The establishment of a new capital by the
sixth king of Israel circa 880 B.C. signified both a final break
from Judaea as well as from the worship of Yahweh
in Jerusalem’s temple; he called the new city Shomron (Samaria),
meaning "Little Sumer," leaning toward Gods whose images could be
Throughout those turbulent years, the word of Yahweh was brought to
the competing kings by a succession of "Men of God" - sometimes called
a Nabih (Prophet), other times called Hozeh (One who sees visions)
or Ro’eh (Seer). Some of them relayed the direct Word of God, others
were guided by an Angel of Yahweh; some had to prove that they were
"true prophets" by performing miracles which the "false
prophets" - those whose utterances were meant to always please the
king - could not duplicate; all were involved in the struggle against
paganism and in efforts to see that the throne was occupied by a
king who did "that which was righteous in the eyes of Yahweh."
One whose ministry and record stood out in his time and left an
indelible messianic expectation for generations thereafter was the
Prophet Elijah (Eli-yahu in Hebrew, meaning "Yahweh is my God"). He
was called to prophecy in the reign of Ahab (circa 870 B.C), the
king of Israel who succumbed completely to the religious influences
of his Sidonite wife, the infamous Jezebel. He "proceeded to worship
Ba’al and bow to him;" he built a temple to Ba’al in Samaria and set
up an altar to Asherah. Of him the Bible (I Kings 16:31-33) states
that "he angered Yahweh the God of Israel more than any other kings
of Israel who had reigned before him."
It was then that the Lord called upon Elijah to become a Spokesman,
taking care to assure his authority and authenticity through a
series of miracles.
The first recorded miracle was when Elijah came to stay with a poor
widow; when she told him she was running out of food, he assured her
that the little flour and oil she had would last and last for days.
And indeed, as they ate of it, the food miraculously never
While staying with the woman, her son became grievously ill "until
at last his breathing ceased." Asking Yahweh to spare the boy,
Elijah took the child upstairs and laid his body on the bed, and
stretched himself upon the boy three times, crying out to the Lord
"and the soul of the child
came back into him, and he revived."
"And the woman said unto
Elijah: Now by this I know that thou art a Man of God, and that the
word of Yahweh in thy mouth is truth."
As time went on, Jezebel had no less than 450 "prophets of Ba’al"
assembled in her palace, with Elijah alone remaining a "prophet of
Yahweh." Told by Elijah to arrange a final showdown, the king
assembled the people and the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. Two
bullocks were brought and prepared for sacrifice on two altars, but
no fire was lit on the altars: Each side was to cry out and pray to
their God for a fire to strike the altar from the heavens.
day went by without anything happening on the altar to Ba’al; but
when it was the turn of Elijah to seek divine intervention, "a fire
from Yahweh fell down and consumed the sacrifice" and the altar
itself. "And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces
and said: Yahweh is the Eiohim!" And Elijah told them to kill all
the prophets of Ba’al, letting not one escape.
When the news reached Jezebel, she ordered Elijah killed; but he
escaped southward, toward the wilderness of Sinai. Hungry and
thirsty he lay exhausted, ready to die; it was then that the Angel
of Yahweh miraculously provided him with food and water and showed
him the way to a cave on Mount Sinai, the "Mount of the Eiohim."
There the Lord, speaking to him out of the stillness, instructed him
to go back north and anoint a new king in Damascus, the Aramean
capital, and a new king over Israel; and to "anoint Elisha son of
Shaphat to be a prophet after thee."
This was more than a hint of things to come - the involvement of the
Prophets of Yahweh in affairs of state - predicting the downfall of
kings and anointing their successors; and not only in Israel or
Judaea, but also in foreign capitals!
Several more times the prophetic activity of Elijah is stated to
have taken place after the "Angel of Yahweh" had given him
instructions, and it appears that this was the manner in which
Yahweh’s word was communicated to him. Untold by the Bible, though,
is the manner by which Elijah was given his most memorable (and
final) instructions for his ascent to heaven in a fiery chariot.
event, the likes of which harkens back to the times of Enmeduranki,
Adapa, and Enoch, is
described in detail in II Kings chapter 2. It is clear from the tale
that the ascent was not a sudden or unexpected occurrence, but
rather a planned and prearranged operation whose place and time were
communicated to Elijah in advance.
"And it came to pass when Yahweh was to take up Elijah into heaven
in a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal" - the place
where Joshua had set up a stone circle to commemorate the miraculous
crossing of the Jordan River. Elijah sought to leave there his
principal disciple and proceed by himself, but Elisha would not hear
of it. Reaching Bethel, their students (called "sons of Prophets")
assembled there too and said to Elisha:
"Knowest thou that Yahweh
will, this day, take thy master from above thee?" and Elisha
answered, "Yes, I know it too, but keep silent."
Still trying to free himself of companions, Elijah then stated his
destination to be Jericho, and asked Elisha to stay behind; but
Elisha insisted on coming along. Elijah then made it clear that he
alone must proceed to the river; but Elisha insisted on coming
along. As their students stood at a distance and watched,
took his mantle and rolled it together and struck the waters, and
the waters parted hither and thither, and the two of them crossed
over on dry ground."
Once they were across - about where the Israelites had come across in
the opposite direction when they entered Canaan - as the two were
walking and talking to each other,
There appeared a chariot of fire,
and horses of fire,
and the two
And Elijah went up into heaven in a Whirlwind.
And Elisha, seeing this, cried out:
"My father! My father!
The Chariot of Israel and its Horsemen!"
And he could see him no more.
As the biblical detailing of the route shows, Elijah’s ascent in a
fiery Whirlwind took place near (or at?) the site of
Tell Ghassul, where the UFO-like bulbous vehicles with three
extended legs had been depicted (see.
For three days the leaderless disciples searched for the disappeared
Master, although Elisha had told them the search would be in vain.
Possessing the mantle of Elijah, which the prophet had dropped
during the ascent, now Elisha could also perform miracles, including
the revival of the dead and the expansion of a little food to
satisfy multitudes. His fame and miracles were not limited to the
Israelite domain, and foreign dignitaries sought his healing powers;
after one such magical treatment, the Aramean leader acknowledged
that "indeed there is no Elohim on Earth except the one in Israel."
As Elijah before him, Elisha was also involved in royal successions
that were divinely ordered; by the time he died, the King of Israel
(Joash, circa 800 B.C.) was the fifth successor to Ahab; and as
Prophets after him, Elisha was the Divine Spokesman in matters of
war and peace. II Kings chapter 3 relates the rebellion by Mesha,
the king of the Moabites, against Israelite dominance after the
death of Ahab, when Elisha was consulted for Yahweh’s ruling whether
to fight the Moabites.
The veracity of that border war is confirmed
by an amazing archaeological find - a stela of that very same King
Mesha in which he recorded his version of that border war. The stela
(Fig. 108a), now in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is inscribed in the
same Old Semitic script which was used at the time by the Hebrews;
and in it, the name of the Hebrew God YHWH - exactly as it was written
in Israelite and Judean inscriptions - appears in line 18 (Fig. 108b).
Figures 108a and 108b
It was perhaps no coincidence that the centuries that encompassed
the Israelite settlement and conquest of Canaan, through the times
of the Judges and early kings, were an intermediate period in what
was then World Affairs. The mighty empires of Egypt, Babylon,
Assyria, and the Hittites, which arose after the demise of Sumer
circa 2000 B.C. and that made the lands of the eastern Mediterranean
their battlegrounds, retreated and declined. Their own capitals
were overrun or abandoned; age-old religious rites were
discontinued, temples fell into disrepair.
Commenting on those times, in Babylon and Assyria, H.W.F. Saggs (The
Greatness That Was Babylon) states that,
"the dislocation was so bad
that a chronicle dating to about 990 B.C. records that ‘for nine
years successively Marduk did not go forth, Nabu did not come,’ that
is to say, the New Year Feast, at which Marduk of Babylon went out
of the city to a shrine called the Akitu-house and Nabu of Borsippa
visited him on his return to the city, was not carried out."
In those circumstances not only could the Hebrew kingdoms rise, but
also those of their immediate neighbors - the Edomites, Moabites,
Arameans, Phoenicians, Philistines. Their border wars and
encroachments were small local affairs compared to the titanic
battles of the erstwhile empires in past centuries - and to the major
onslaughts that were in the offing.
In 879 B.C. a new capital, Kalhu (the biblical Calah) was
ceremoniously inaugurated in Assyria; and the event can be
historically considered as the start of the Neo-Assyrian period.
Its hallmarks were expansion, domination, warfare, carnage, and
unparalleled brutality - all in the name of "the great God Ashur" and
other deities of the Assyrian pantheon.
The expanding Assyrian domination in time encompassed the city of
Babylon - a ghost of its erstwhile glory. As a gesture to the
subjugated followers of Marduk the Assyrians appointed "kings" in
Babylon, who were no more than viceroy-vassals. But in 721 B.C. a
native leader named Merodach-Baladan reinstated the New Year
Festival in Babylon, "took the hand of Marduk" and claimed
The action evolved into a full rebellion that
saw intermittent warfare for some three decades. In 689 B.C. the
Assyrians took back full control of Babylon, and went to the extreme
of moving Marduk himself to the Assyrian capital, as a captive God.
But continued resistance in what used to be Sumer and Akkad, and
Assyrian entanglements in distant lands, eventually led to a
resurgent Babylon. A leader named Nabopolassar declared independence
and the start of a new Babylonian dynasty in 626 B.C. It was the
beginning of the Neo-Babylonian era; and now it was Babylon that
emulated Assyria in conquests near and far - all in the name of "die
lords Nabu and Marduk" and, according to the inscriptions, with the
active help of "Marduk, the king of the Gods, the ruler of Heaven
and Earth," who after twenty one years in Assyrian captivity
engineered the demise of Assyria and the renewed ascendancy of
As border wars grew into world wars (in ancient terms and scope) and
as one national God was pitted against another, the Biblical
Prophets also expanded their mission to global dimensions. As one
reads their prophecies, one is amazed and impressed by their
knowledge of geography and politics in distant lands, their grasp of
the motives for national intrigues and international conflicts, and
their foresight in predicting the outcome of correct or incorrect
moves by the kings of Israel and Judaea in the dangerous chesslike
game of making and breaking alliances.
To those great Prophets, deemed so important that the Bible included
as separate books their words and exhortations, the international
turmoil that engulfed Mankind and even involved the nations’ Elohim
was not a series of unrelated struggles but aspects of one great
Divine Scheme - all the doing and planning of Yahweh to put an end to
and national inequities and transgressions.
As though harkening
back to the days before the Deluge, when the Lord expressed his
dissatisfaction with the way Mankind had turned out and sought to
wipe it off the face of the Earth on the occasion of the Deluge, so
was the Divine Dissatisfaction great once again, the remedy being
the demise of all kingdoms - of Israel and Judaea included, the
destruction of all temples - that in Jerusalem included, the end of
all false worship that is expressed in sacrifices to cover up
constant injustices, and the rise, after such a global catharsis,
of a "New Jerusalem" that shall be a "Light unto all the nations."
It was, as J.A. Heschel designated it in The Prophets, "the Age of
Wrath." Its fifteen Literary Prophets (as scholars designate them
because their words were retained as separate biblical books) span
almost three centuries, from circa 750 B.C. when Amos (in Judaea)
and Hosea (in Samaria) began to prophesy through Malachi circa 430
B.C.; they include the two great Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah who,
in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., foresaw and saw the demise
of the two Hebrew kingdoms, and the great Prophet Ezekiel, who was
among the exiles in Babylonia, saw the destruction of Jerusalem by
Nebuchadnezzar in 587, and prophesied about the New Jerusalem.
On the individual level, the great Prophets spoke out harshly
against empty piety - rituals that papered over injustices.
I despise your feasts, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies,"
the Lord said through Amos;
instead, "let justice well up as waters,
and righteousness as a mighty stream" (5:21-24).
"To what purpose is
the multitude of your sacrifices?"
Isaiah said in behalf of Yahweh;
"bring no more vain oblations... When ye spread forth your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you; when ye make many prayers, I will not
rather than all that, "seek justice, undo oppression, defend
the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3).
It was a call to return to the essence of the
Ten Commandments, to
the righteousness and justice of ancient Sumer.
On the national level, the Prophets saw futility and foresaw doom in
the making and unmaking of alliances with neighboring kings in
efforts to withstand the attacks and domination of the Great Powers of that time, for those surrounding
nations, too, were themselves doomed in the coming upheavals: "A
storm of Yahweh, a wrath shall come forth, a whirling tempest will
burst upon the heads of the wicked," Jeremiah (23:19) predicted,
asserting that his prophetic words applied equally to Israel and
Judaea, and to all of the "uncircumcised nations" in their
region - the Sidonites and Tyrians, the Amonites and Moabites and
Edomites, the Philistines, the desert nations of Arabia.
The two Books of Kings distinguish the various reigns of the kings
of Israel and Judaea according to whether they "did right" by, or
"deviated from," the teachings of Yahweh; and the Prophets
considered the shifting alliances as a major cause of the
Moreover, whereas in earlier times it was tolerable that
"other nations" would worship "other Gods," the Prophets deemed
that, too, as an abomination, for by their time the "other Gods" of
the region were only man-made idols, crafted by humans of wood and
metal and stone - unlike Yahweh, who was a "Living God." The peoples
who worshiped Ba’al and Ashtoreth, Dagon and Ba’al-zebub, Chemosh
and Molech, were also sinners gone astray.
So were the "false prophets" against whom the True Prophets of
Yahweh had waged a constant struggle. They were accused not only of
speaking in the name of false Gods, but also of pretending to convey
the true words of Yahweh. Instead of telling the people of their
wrongdoings and the kings of dangers ahead, they just spoke whatever
pleased kings and people. "They proclaim. Peace! Peace! but there is
no peace," Jeremiah said of them, whereas the True Prophets spared
not the kings or the people when reprimand and warnings were needed.
On the international level, the global arena, the Prophets displayed
an uncanny grasp of geopolitics, and their remarkable insights and
foresights ranged far and wide. They knew of the reemergence of
ancient kingdoms, as that of Elam, and the emergence of a new power
farther east, that of the Medes (later known as Persians); even
distant China, the Land of Sinim, was accounted for.
city-states of the Greeks in Asia Minor, their occupation of the
Mediterranean islands of Crete and Cyprus, were recognized. The
status of old and
new powers bordering on Egypt in Africa was known. Indeed, "all the
inhabitants of the world and the dwellers on Earth" shall be judged
by Yahweh, for they have all gone astray.
At center stage were the three longtime powers: Egypt, Assyria,
Babylon; of them, Egypt - and its Gods - were treated with the least
respect. In spite of close and sometimes friendly relationships
between the Hebrew kingdoms and Egypt (Solomon married a Pharaoh’s
daughter and was provided by the Egyptians with horses and
chariots), Egypt was considered to be treacherous and unreliable.
Its king Sheshonq - the biblical Shishak (I Kings 11 and
14) - ransacked the Temple in Jerusalem, and Necho II, on his way to
ward off Mesopotamian armies, killed the Judaean king Josiah who
came out to greet him (II Kings 23).
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke
out at length against Egypt and its Gods, prophesying the demise of
Isaiah (chapter 19), in an "Oracle on Egypt," envisioned Yahweh
arriving in Egypt airborne on the day when He would judge and punish
Egypt and the Egyptians:
riding upon a swift cloud,
coming unto Egypt.
The idols of Egypt shall tremble before Him,
the heart of Egypt shall melt as He comes near.
Predicting - correctly - the coming of
internal strife and civil war in Egypt, the Prophet envisioned the
Pharaoh futilely seeking the
counsel of his seers and wizards to find out Yahweh’s intentions.
The divine plan, Isaiah announced, was this:
"On that day there
shall be an altar to Yahweh in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a
pillar to Yahweh at its border shall be a sign and a witness to
Yahweh, Lord of Hosts, in the land of Egypt . . . and Yahweh shall
make himself known in Egypt."
Jeremiah focused more on the Gods of
Egypt, relating (in chapter 43) Yahweh’s vow to,
"kindle a fire in
the temples of the Gods of Egypt and burn them down ... to break the
statues of Heliopolis, to destroy by fire the temples of the Gods of
The Prophet Joel (3:19) explained why,
"Egypt shall be a
of their violence against the sons of Judah and the spilling of
innocent blood in their own land."
The rise of the Neo-Assyrian empire and its onslaught against its
neighbors with unparalleled brutality was well-known to the biblical
Prophets, sometimes in astounding detail that even included
Assyrian court intrigues. The Assyrian imperial expansion, at first
directed to the north and northeast, targeted the lands of western
Asia by the time of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C).
On one of his
commemorative obelisks he recorded the sacking of Damascus, the
execution of its king Hazael, and the receipt of tribute from
Hazael’s neighbor Jehu, the king of Israel (Samaria). Accompanying
the inscription was a depiction showing Jehu bowing to Shalmaneser
under the emblem of the Winged Disc of the God Ashur (Fig. 109).
A century later, when Menahem the son of Gadi was the king in
Israel, "Pul the king of Assyria came against the land, and Menahem
gave Pul a thousand talents of silver that his hand might be with
him to retain the kingship." This biblical record in II Kings 15:19
reveals the impressive familiarity with politics and royal affairs
in distant Mesopotamia.
The name of the Assyrian king who again
invaded the Mediterranean lands was Tiglat-Pileser (745-727 B.C.);
yet the Bible was right to call him Pul because this king also
assumed the Babylonian throne and renamed himself there Pulu - a fact
confirmed by the discovery of a tablet ("BabyIonian King List B") that is now in the British Museum. A few years
later Ahaz, the king of Judaea, resorted to the same tactic, "taking
the silver and the gold that were in the Temple of Yahweh and in the
king’s treasury and sending them to the king of Assyria as a bribe."
These subservient gestures, it appears in retrospect, only whetted
the appetite of the Assyrian kings. The same Tiglal-Pileser returned
and seized parts of the Israelite kingdom and exiled their
inhabitants. In 722 B.C. his successor, Shal-maneser V, overran the
rest of the Israelite kingdom and dispersed its people throughout
the Assyrian empire; the whereabouts of those Ten Lost Tribes of
Israel and their descendants are a lingering enigma.
The exile, according to the Prophets, was willed by Yahweh himself
because of Israel’s transgressions, "they heeded not the words of
Yahweh their Elohim and transgressed His Covenant and all that Moses
the servant of Yahweh commanded." The Prophet Hosea, in words and
symbolic deeds, foresaw those events as punishment for Israel’s
"whoring" after other Gods, but made it known that "a quarrel hath
Yahweh with the inhabitants of Earth, for there is neither truth nor
justice, nor understanding of Elohim upon the Earth."
prophecies specified that Assyria would be the Lord’s instrument for
punishment: "I the Lord shall bring upon you the king of Assyria and
all his hosts," he said as Yahweh’s spokesman.
But that, Isaiah said, was only the beginning. In the "Oracle on
Assyria," in which that power was called "the rod of God’s wrath"
(10:5), Yahweh also expressed his anger at Assyria’s excesses,
taking it into its haughty heart to annihilate whole nations with
unparalleled brutality, whereas Yahweh’s intent was only to
chastise through punishment, to always leave a remnant that would be
Assyria’s kings can have no more free will than an axe has
when in the hands of its wielder. He announced; and when Assyria
shall have carried out its initial mission, its own day of
reckoning shall come.
Assyria not only failed to realize it was just a tool in the hands
of its divine wielder, it also failed to recognize that Yahweh was
the Lord, a "Living Elohim" unlike the pagan
The Assyrians exhibited this failure when, having exiled the
people of Israel, they resettled the land with foreigners exiled
from (heir lands, letting each group continue to worship iheir Gods.
The list, one may note, counts among the idols that were thus set up
that of Marduk by the Babylonians, of Nergal by the Cutheans, and
of Adad by the Palmyrians. The newcomers to Samaria were devastated,
however, by wild lions and saw this as a sign of anger by the "local
The Assyrian solution was to send back to Samaria one
of the exiled priests of Yahweh, to teach the newcomers "the customs
of the local God." So, while an Israelite priest was teaching them
"how to worship Yahweh," it was only an addition of one more God to
the polytheistic worship ...
That Yahweh was different and that Assyria was subject to His will
was demonstrated when Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) invaded Judaea and,
ignoring its tribute, sent his general Rabshakeh and a large army to
capture Jerusalem. Surrounding the city, Rabshakeh sought its
surrender by suggesting that the Assyrian king was only carrying
out Yahweh’s wish: "Is it without the will of Yahweh that I have
come hither lo destroy this place? It is Yahweh who hath said to me,
‘Go forth and destroy this land.’ "
Since this was not much different from what the Prophet Isaiah had
been saying, the people of Jerusalem might have surrendered were it
not for the Assyrians’ growing haughtiness. If you think that your
God Yahweh might change His mind and protect you after all, forget
it, he said. Listing the many nations that Assyria conquered, "hath
any of the Gods of those nations, each one in his country, saved it
from the king of Assyria?" he asked rhetorically; "so who is Yahweh
that he would save Jerusalem from me?"
The comparison of Yahweh to the pagan Gods was such blasphemy that
the king, Hezekiah, tore his clothes and put on sackclodi in
mourning. Joining the priests in the Temple, he sent word to Isaiah,
asking him to seek the help of Yahweh "in this day of distress, of
reviling and disgrace," a day on which an emissary of the king of
Assyria reviled "a Living God," comparing Him to the Gods of other
nations "who are not Elohim but man-made of wood and stone."
And Isaiah the Prophet sent back to Hezekiah the "word of Yahweh"
against the haughtiness of Sennacherib, who dared "raise his voice
to revile the God of Israel, He who is enthroned upon the Cherubim."
Therefore, the Prophet declared, Jerusalem shall be spared and
Sennacherib shall be punished.
"And it came to pass that night that the Angel of
the Lord came and
smote the camp of the Assyrians, all one hundred and eighty five
thousand of them ... And Sennacherib turned and went back to
Nineveh; and while he was prostrating himself in the temple of his
God Nisroch, his sons Adarmelech and Sharezer slew him with a
sword, escaping to the land of Ararat; and his son Esarhaddon became
king after him."
(The manner of Sennacherib’s death and the
succession by Esarhaddon are corroborated by Assyrian chronicles).
This reprieve of Jerusalem was only temporary. The divine plan for a
global catharsis still was in effect; except that now the chastising
had to continue with Assyria itself. The process, as we have
mentioned, began in 626 B.C.; and the divine rod to achieve that,
Babylon, attained its own imperial reach under the king
Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.).
Their wayward ways - the social injustices, the insincere sacrifices,
the worship of idols - would bring upon them due punishment, the
Prophets forewarned the kings and people of Judaea. It would bring
upon them Yahweh’s wrath in the form of a "great and ferocious
nation, coming from the north."
It was in the very first year of
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, that Jeremiah made explicit the
oracle of punishment against the nation of Judah, the dwellers of
Jerusalem, and all the neighboring nations:
So sayeth Yahweh, Lord of Hosts:
Because ye have not hearkened to my words,
I will send for and fetch all the tribes
of the north;
The word of Yahweh [shall be] to Nebuchadnezzar,
the king of Babylon, my servant.
And I shall bring them to this land
against its people
and against all the neighboring nations.
Not only was Babylon a tool in the hands of Yahweh - the specific
king, Nebuchadnezzar, was called by Yahweh "my servant"!
The prophecy of the end of the Judean kingdom and the fall of
Jerusalem, as we historically know, came true in the year 587 B.C.
But even when that Oracle of Punishment was pronounced, the ensuing
events were also foretold:
This whole land shall he desolate and in ruins,
and these nations
shall serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.
And it shall come to pass,
when seventy years shall be completed
- this is the word of Yahweh -
I will call to account the king of Babylon
and the land and the people of Chaldea,
and wilt put them to everlasting desolation.
Foreseeing Babylon’s bitter end when that nation was just beginning
its ascendancy, the Prophet Isaiah put it thus:
"Babylon, the jewel
of kingdoms, the glory and pride of the Chaldeans, shall be
overthrown as the upheavaling by Elohim of Sodom and Gomorrah."
Babylon, as predicted, fell before the onslaught of a new power from
the east, that of the Achaemenid Persians, under the leadership of
their king Cyrus, in 539 B.C. Babylonian records suggest that the
city’s fall was made possible by the falling out between the last
Babylonian king, Nabuna’id, and the God Marduk; according to the
annals of Cyrus, as he captured the city and its sacred precinct and
entered the inner sanctum, Marduk extended his hands to him and he,
Cyrus, "grabbed the extended hands of the God."
But if Cyrus thought that by that he had obtained the blessing of
the God Most High, he was wrong, the Prophets said, for in fact he
was only carrying out the grand design of "Yahweh, the one and only
God." Calling Cyrus "My chosen shepherd" and "My anointed,"
thus pronounced to Cyrus through His spokesman Isaiah (chapter 45):
Though thou knowest Me not,
I am the one who hath called thee by name ...
I am Yahweh, thy Caller,
the God of Israel.
I will enable you to unseat kings and rule nations,
I shall thrust
open for you brass doors
and shall break down for you iron bars,
grant to you hidden treasures;
all that because you are
My chosen to
restore the Children of Israel to their homeland -
"for the sake of
my servant Jacob
and my Chosen, Israel,
have I summoned thee by thy
I selected thee, though thou knowest me not,"
It was in his very first year as ruler over Babylon that Cyrus
issued an edict calling for the return of the exiles of Judaea to
their land and permitting the rebuilding of the Temple in
Jerusalem. The cycle of prophecies was completed; Yahweh’s words
But, in the eyes of the people, He remained an Unseen God.
IDOLATRY AND STAR
The biblical admonitions against idolatry included the worship of
the Kokhabim, the visible "stars" that were represented by their
symbols on monuments and as emblems erected upon stands in shrines
and temples. They included the twelve members of the Solar System
and the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
Among the general admonitions there were some that specifically
prohibited the worship of the "Queen of Heaven" - Ishtar as the planet
Venus, the Sun and the Moon, and the zodiacal constellations that
were called Mazaloth ("Fortune omens"), a term stemming from the
Akkadian word for these celestial bodies.
A passage in II Kings chapter 23, dealing with the destruction of
these idollic emblems, specifically names a planet called "the Lord"
(The Ba’al) in addition to the Sun and the Moon and the rest of the
"host of heaven." The Book of Ecclesiastes (12:2) also names a
celestial body called "The Light" as appearing between the Sun and
the Moon. We believe that these are references to
twelfth member of our Solar System.
These twelve celestial bodies were represented together by the
various symbols by which they were worshiped in Mesopotamia, on a
stela of King Esarhaddon that is now in the British Museum. On this
stela (see Fig. 73) the Sun is represented by a rayed star, the Moon
by its crescent, Nibiru by its Winged Disc symbol, and the Earth - the
seventh planet as one would count from the outside inward - by the
symbol of the Seven Dots.