THE KINGDOM OF GOD
One of the most intriguing subjects of Bible study is that of the Kingdom of God. An understanding of this subject is fundamental to comprehending the events of the "last days" as read about in Revelation.
There are several reasons why a study of the Kingdom is very complex:
A) There are many aspects to the Kingdom, including;
B) There are different levels from which the Kingdom may be studied.
For instance, the Kingdom can be viewed in the plain sense as a time when God brings justice to the earth, and believers receive the full reward of their faith. Taking it a step further, the Kingdom can be viewed in terms of understanding how the various aspects of the Kingdom are connected and seeking to enhance its arrival. Lastly, at a more mystical level, the Kingdom can be studied with regard to how we can experience elements of it in the here and now.1
The latter would be mirrored in Yeshua's twelve disciples, who were given enormouse insight into the Scriptures and power to perform miracles, all reflective of them actually "walking in the Kingdom," as they brought the message of Messiah to Israel and the world. (The reader may wish to refer back to Methods of Study, found in the first part of this section.)
C) There are several approaches to take in doing research on the Kingdom.
You could search on all instances of the word "kingdom" in the texts of the Bible. You could do the same with sources such as; Talmud, Midrash and Zohar. You could also pick a starting point such as Yeshua's parables about the Kingdom, as found in the gospels, particularly in chapters such as Matthew 13.
Seeing that Yeshua's parables were based in the faith of Israel, we will begin this study by looking at what is considered to be the foundational verse of this faith, in order to see what the coming Kingdom is about. We begin with Deuteronomy 6:4, the single most important scripture verse in Judaism, even today.
This verse is called the Shema (pronounced sheh-MAH):
Shema Israel, Adonai (YHVH) Elohenu, Adonai (YHVH) Echad. Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
The Shema is the prayer/statement that differentiates Judaism from the pagan world, making it clear that there is only one God. When the Shema is recited however, there is a long-standing tradition, to add a second sentence to this verse from Deuteronomy, one not found in the Bible:
THE WORDS OF THE SHEMA
A comprehensive look at the Shema is beyond the scope of this study. A highly recommended book on this topic is; The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism, by Norman Lamm (an Orthodox rabbi and president of Yeshiva University). We will touch lightly on various themes found in the various sections of the Shema.Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Hear (Shema)
The term for "hear" (shema) carries with it the implication of understanding, and subsequent obedience. This trusting relationship is the foundation of the Hebrew concept of "faith in God." The word "shema"is in the singular, hence it can be said that this is an admonition for Israel as a single body to always have faith in God and take heed to His direction.O Israel
There is also a teaching in Judaism regarding the term "Israel," with regard to the subsequent verse (Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever) added when the Shema is sung or prayed. As Scripture shows, Jacob's name was changed to Israel by God. It is taught in Midrash Rabbah, that the second line in the Shema (Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever), was added due to the righteousness of Jacob.At the time just before his death, when his sons were brought together before him, Jacob had planned to reveal to them the time of Messiah's return. However, God chose to withdraw the Shekina from him momentarily, and Jacob thought he may have done something wrong to curse his family. His sons came to him and said, "Hear O Israel (his name being "Israel"), the Lord is our God the Lord is One. Upon hearing his sons say this, Jacob replied, Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.
The Midrash Rabbah also makes an interesting reference to the Kingdom of God. The words "The Lord our God, the Lord is one," are directly tied to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This concept of "accepting the Kingdom" while reciting the Shema helps us understand why so many Jews have died with these words on their lips:
The Zohar teaches that Jacob, through his righeousness, brought about a unification of the Name of God - one that will be permanently accomplished by the Messiah. (See section below on Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 175b.) Hence, when we say "Hear O Israel ...", it is if we are speaking to Jacob through time, calling out to reassure him that we continue his desire to reunify the Name of God and usher in the Messianic kingdom.The Lord is Our God (Adonai Elohenu)
The term "Adonai" is substituted for the four-letter name of God, YHWH. Scripture also refers to God as Elohim - a plural term (as is Elohenu). YHWH is usually associated with the merciful (right) side of God, and Elohim with the (left) side of judgment. These two characteristics of God (mercy and judgment) as represented by the termsYHWH and Elohim, do not reveal everything there is to know about God, but give us a degree of understanding of complex nature of the Eyn Sof.
Of course there is only one God, and as stated earlier in our study, these differences are based on our perceptions of Him. Pagan religions could see the reality of a deity in the world, but as they did not understand his various emanations, they created multiple gods to account for their observations.
The prophet Isaiah made it clear that there was one God behind everything:
The name YHWH also has an association with the upper sephirot (Keter, Binah, Chockmah) and the Eyn Sof, whereas Elohim is related to the seven lower sephirot. The former reflects the "more personal" view of God (i.e., the God who loves you and who wants our love), the latter are "less personal" (i.e., the God who created the universe).The Lord is One (Adonai Echad)
This phrase (ending Deuteronomy 6:4), is an excellent example of how Scripture can be approached at the three levels mentioned in our section on Methods of Study.
The unity of the Sephirot is expressed in the last word of the Shema: Echad. The word Echad is made up of three letters: aleph, chet, dalet. The rabbis explains that the aleph refers to the sefirah Keter, because the letter aleph represents the number "one," and God is One. The chet, corresponds to the number eight, and hence, the eight sefirot that follow Keter. The dalet always symbolizes Malchut, because it corresponds to the number four, which emphasizes God's kingship over all four directions of physical existence. 2
One of the fundamental questions that the Shema brings forth, concerns the unity of God's Name. The Shema says that "the Lord is One," as if to say that this is an established fact. The prophet Zechariah however, states that the unification of the Name will come in the future:
This presents us with one of those "seeming contradictions" of Scripture. Is there presently a perfect unity of God's Name, or is His Name "fractured," and to be restored in the Messianic era? Or is there "more than one view?"
Knowing that God does not "operate within time" as we do, we can understand that both statements are true. The Eyn Sof, who is the "beginning and the end" is one, though there will be a fulfillment of the unity of His Name in this physical world when His Kingdom is established.
SHEMA - UNIFYING THE NAME OF GOD
The Zohar presents an idea of a "tri-unity" of God. (For a refresher on the three pillars of the Tree of Life, refer to the section on the Names and Arrangement of the Sephirot.). It is imperative to understand that this is not the same, and not arrived at in the same fashion, as the "Christian trinity."
The "trinity" of the Zohar has to do with the three pillars of the Tree of Life - the left side of judgment (Elohim), the right side of mercy (YHVH) and the "balanced" center pillar, the unified YHVH.
The concept of the Christian trinity came about following the deterioration of the Messianic Nazarene community in the early second century, and is a merger of the remnants of these deep Jewish teachings (which had become distorted), and pagan ideas of three-part gods.3
In the following commentary on the Shema, the Zohar states the following about the unification of the three pillars of the Tree of Life, as well as speaking of a unification of time.
These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of Faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eyes alone. The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements-fire, air, and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by YHWH Elohenu YHWH - three modes which yet form one unity. This is the significance of the voice which man produces in the act of unification, when his intent is to unify all from the En-sof to the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has been revealed in the holy spirit. There are many kinds of unification, and all are appropriate, one involving the other, but the one which is effected on earth by the symbolism of the voice is the most appropriate. 4
As mentioned earlier in this study, Jacob was a forerunner of the Messiah and through his righteousness, there was a (temporary) unification of the Tree of Life. The following Zohar verse (commentary on Exodus/Shemoth) presents these points:
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 175b - R. Simeon, we are told, explained thus the words, "And the middle bar in the midst of the boards shall pass from one end to the other." "The middle bar"', he said, signifies Jacob, the perfect saint, as we have pointed out on another occasion in connection with the characterization of Jacob as "a complete man, dwelling in tents" (Gen. xxv, 27). It does not say, "dwelling in a tent", but "dwelling in tents,, which denotes that he unified the two "tents" (of Severity and Mercy). The same implication may be found here: "The middle bar in the midst of the boards shall pass from one end to the other", uniting them. Jacob was perfect in regard to both sides, the Holy Ancient and the Microprosopus, and also to the supernal Grace and the supernal Power, harmonizing the two. R. Simeon said further: I perceive that Wisdom (Hokmah) is the totality of all the holy Sefiroth, and that supernal Grace (Hesed) emanates from Wisdom, and Power (Geburah), which is the prompter of severe judgement, from Understanding (Binah). Jacob harmonized both sides: the Fathers (Abraham and Isaac) signified the totality of all, and Jacob signified the union of the Fathers. Then came the merit of Jacob and synthetized both and made them one, for he signifies supernal harmony. R. Simeon added, so we are told, that on that account Jacob was called Israel, because "Jacob" symbolizes that which is below, "Israel" that which is above; "Jacob" betokens incompleteness, "Israel" is the completion of all. Said R. Judah: When Wisdom began to cause the shaping of Crowns, [Tr. note: * i.e. Sefiroth.] with which Crown did it commence? With that which is called "Understanding" (Binah), for in Understanding all is contained; and therefore fifty gates are opened in its name, and thus it is found that all the letters and all the crowns are engraved in Wisdom. Therefore it is written: "Thou hast made them all in Wisdom" (Ps. CIV, 24). 5
1. It should be noted that this is the area of mystical studies that has led people into dangerous areas, that being the attempt to gain insight and experience into the spiritual realm outside of God's will as found in Torah (i.e., consorting with spirits). As this is forbidden by Torah, someone studying Hebrew Kabbalah and following Torah, has no need to fear this.
2. See Perceptions On The Parsha, Parshas Emor, Eighth Parshah, And Counting, by Rabbi Pinchas Winston at http://www.torah.org/learning/perceptions/5761/emor.html
3. One source of information on this is; The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop, Chick Publications edition, Chapter II, Section I - Trinity in Unity. Interestingly, this book is popular among evangelical Protestants who often refer to it to condemn the practices of Catholicism.
4. Throughout our quotations from the Soncino translations, we have replaced the term "Tetragrammaton" with "YHWH," for the sake of clarity.
5. A comprehensive look at the concepts behind the "Fifty Gates of Understanding" ("Nun Sha'arei Binah,"), is beyond the scope of this study. This has to do with the ultimate goal of man being that he can view creation through the eyes of God, and become a full partner with the Creator in bringing creation to fruition.
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