The idea of the Word of God as Creator is more familiar to modern Jews than they would possibly admit to. In their prayer book, the Siddur, is the following prayer, recited before drinking water.
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, by whose word everything comes to be. (emphasis mine)
But there’s one group of people who have a lot of trouble with our view of Jesus, the memra of God, the Creator of all.
There’s a tapping on your front door. You open it to a couple of smiling, earnest and well dressed Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are sincere people but, on one very major point of theology, they are sincerely wrong. This is how their Bible “translates” John 1:1
“In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” (John 1:1, New World Translation)
Can you spot the difference? Of course you can. The JWs don’t see Jesus as God, they see him as a god, a created being just like you and me, but a bit more important! If only these people had the understanding of the memra, rather than the dodgy Bible translation of a 19th Century Christian cult, then surely the true light would dawn on them. Next time they come visiting and you run out of patience with them, hit them between the eyes with the Jewish view of a Creator God, a view re-inforced by another scripture, taken from the Book of Hebrews.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
These verses just cement our understanding so far. Jesus, the Son of God, was the means by which the universe was created. He is also the image of God, expressed in the grander manner of the radiance of God’s glory. This is also borne out by a commentary on the fourth verse in Genesis by the highly acclaimed medieval Jewish scholar, Rashi. He identifies the Messiah as the “great light”, shining on all of Creation, when God declared that “the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness“.
And, running through it all, the great unfathomable mystery of Creation whereby it all hangs together through his powerful word, his memra.
But once He had created the Universe, He just didn’t sit back on His laurels, biding His time until the incarnation. The memra of God still had plenty to do. Do you remember what I said earlier – an aspect of God that relates to the physical world, particularly in situations where God appears or speaks to mankind? Since Creation there have been plenty of occasions where God has had to communicate with us, the Old Testament is full of these episodes. We will read about some of them another day, but let’s have a look at a few now. We will read the Bible verses, followed by the Targum paraphrase.
“Then the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the LORD out of the heavens.” (Genesis 19:24)
“And the Word (Memra) of the LORD caused to descend upon the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the LORD in heaven.” (Targum Jonathan)
The Bible verse seems confusing, implying a transaction between God and Himself but the Targum clarifies it by identifying the Memra as the Agent of destruction.
“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
“And Abraham trusted in the Word (Memra) of the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Targum Onkelos)
This was Abram’s great declaration of faith.
“So God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.'” (Genesis 9:17)
“And the LORD said to Noah, ‘this is the token of the covenant which I have established between My Word (Memra) and between all flesh that is upon the earth.’” (Targum Onkelos)
As you can see, according to the Targums, it is through the Memra that God makes covenants with His people. We can see another example of that.
“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)
“And I will establish my covenant between My Word [Memra] and between you.” (Targum Onkelos)
And then, most exciting of all …
“But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting.” (Isaiah 45:17)
“But Israel shall be saved by the Word (Memra) of the LORD with an everlasting salvation.” (Targum Jonathan)
… the Memra is the means of salvation. But more of that later.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book ‘Jesus Man of Many Names’)
How can we see Jesus in Genesis?