Many are saying they are under increased spiritual attack. I have watched some respond with warfare, and others fall into a state of despair. Neither one is necessarily correct until we understand the reason for an attack. Many questions therefor arise: Am I doing something wrong? Am I living in sin? Am I being disciplined by God? Is my armor incomplete? Should I be praying more? Is my faith lacking? Am I doing something right, therefore the enemy is trying to thwart my efforts? Or, am I simply being tested by God? These are all valid questions from a human perspective, but they may or may not necessarily be God’s perspective.
To gain a deeper understanding I would like to turn to the study of Midrash.[i] Midrash is the Jewish rabbinical commentary on the bible, also called Chazal or sages, most of which was compiled during the post temple era. Midrash exists in two forms: Halakha which incorporates the body of legal teachings derived from the bible, i.e., study of the law, and Haggada which is the interpretive and homiletic story telling derived from biblical narrative. We will focus on the latter which can exist in several forms. One being a metaphor or simile, also called a parable, and another an extension of the biblical narrative that fills in the missing gaps or expands the story.
Jewish rabbinical Midrash is very different from western Christian theological commentary. Midrash is a methodical and thought provoking process that draws conclusions from comparing scriptural text to parables, very similar to the way R. Yeshua taught His disciples. It is not a quest for knowledge, rather a quest to understand. It establishes an environment that allows students to raise questions with their teacher. And, it attempts to fill in missing information in the bible to help us better understand God’s revealed nature and our relationship with Him.
One critical missing aspect of rabbinical Midrash is the absence of New Testament teachings. For purposes of this discussion I will infuse, where applicable parables and narrative that further expand the Chazal commentaries to give a fuller picture. Better understanding God’s word should bring us to a place of knowing Him more deeply and intimately. It should also transform our thinking from an earthly perspective to a divine one. This transformation is crucial to God’s necessity in partnering with us to establish His kingdom.
Midrash commentaries in general contain several systematic elements: A Mashal, which is the opening or stage setting of the parable, a Nimshal which is an explanation of the Mashal, and a rabbinical question: "Lama Li", which translates: “Why do I need this word, verse, or phrase?” These are attached to the biblical story which is called the Akeda. Midrash requires us to compare and contrast texts. It also requires us to deduct alternatives through contextual contradictions, thereby reducing our understanding to hopefully one defensible and inescapable conclusion. The study of Midrash is however just a tool, a methodology to help us understand God’s word. If we are not careful it can be over analyzed, and in some instances the mysteries of scripture simply remain hidden.
Let us begin this month with a story from the book of Genesis about our forefather, Abraham:
“Then He said, Please take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2, NKJV).[ii]
Let us now look at the Midrash commentary from sage Tanhuma Vayera:
- And He said, “Take, please”: The word ‘please’ is none other than an expression of request.
- This may be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had many wars come upon him,
- And he had one warrior who won all the wars.
- After some time, he was faced with a difficult battle.
- The king said to that warrior,
- “Please, I request of you, stand for me in this war,
- So that my general will not say, ‘Those first wars had no substance.’”
- Even thus, the Holy One Blessed be He said to Avraham,
- “I have tested you with nine tests and you have withstood them.
- Now stand for me in this test,
- So that they will not say, ‘Those first ones had no substance.’”
Now our questions should arise:
- Who is this king?
- Who is his warrior?
- Why is the king faced with so many wars?
- What are these wars?
- What are these wars about?
- Who is the general?
- Why is the king concerned with the general’s reaction to the possible loss of this war?
- Does the king not trust the warrior who has won all his previous battles for him?
- If so, why does he request the warrior to “stand for me in this war”?
- If the king does not trust the warrior, or does not believe that he is capable of winning the b attle, what is the point of making the request?
The methodological approach of studying Midrash is to answer the above questions by comparing the elements of the Midrash to the scriptural story, the Akeda. The Midrash gives us an opening statement, the Mashal which is number 1 above, and then an explanation, the Nimshal which is numbers 2 through 11 above. Therefore, if we match the elements of the Midrash to the Akeda we should get the following conclusion:
Let us now begin to deduct conclusions from this comparison, answering the questions as we commence with our study. A simple observation is that God is a king and Abraham is the warrior. Therefore, the Midrash is comparing God’s wars to Abraham’s tests. We know from scripture that Abraham endured at least ten tests. Some theologians point to twelve, but modern rabbinical commentary has settled on ten, the last one being God’s ultimate request for Abraham to sacrifice his only true son, Isaac.
If you read the common English translations you will find the word ‘please’ is distinctly missing. However, it is clearly evident in the Hebrew language. It is the word 'Na'. This is not a minor oversight, because the word signifies an expression of request, not a demand. For this reason the word ‘please’ is appropriate. God is asking Abraham to endure a test for His benefit.
Another significant conclusion is these are the king’s wars. The king also seems more concerned about his prestige or the impact the wars will have on his image. He does not appear to be interested in a conquest of land or power. In other words, our battles ultimately belong to God, and therefore our testing is ultimately for God’s victory and glory, not for His power or conquest. And the tests He gives us come with an expression of request, 'please'.
We must now reconcile the missing element. Who is the king’s general? For this we must answer the question, “who is the audience of the scriptural narrative?” This most likely is the reader of the text, which is the Jewish people. If Abraham is the king’s warrior, then the Jewish people are his generals.
We can now answer the Midrash question, “Why do we need this story of the king and his general?” Without the Midrash commentary we would not understand that Abraham represented God in this world, and that his failure to withstand this most crucial test would negatively impact God’s image in the world. Why? Because to Abraham was given the promise of the seed from which the Messiah would come.[iii]
But there is an even deeper issue that goes beyond the Midrash narrative. What are these wars about? If God is not seeking power or a conquest of land, then what has He to gain from testing us? If we look at the tests given to Abraham, we see that each was a request for Abraham to sacrifice something in order to obey God. Simply understood, these wars represent Abraham wrestling against the will of God. These are the tests, the wars that Abraham won for his king. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his earthly desires, and ultimately his only son. It was not done out of fear, but out of reverence for God that came from a relationship built upon mutual friendship and love.[iv]
Let us bring this conclusion forward to the Church who is the offspring and spiritual seed of Abraham. God’s relationship with Abraham was that of a friend, and Yeshua’s relationship with His disciples was the same.[v] If Abraham represented God in this world and Yeshua was God in this world, then we are Yeshua’s generals. God tested His only Son Yeshua so that He might be victorious over sin, death, and every power of the enemy. And we, God’s generals must look upon this test and all the tests given to Yeshua and say, “This test and all the prior tests had substance.” Yeshua endured every test known to man, and now we who are in Yeshua will endure many of these same tests, not for our benefit, but for God’s victory and glory.[vi]
To answer our very first question: “Are we under spiritual attack?” Most likely yes, but each is a test from God to bring our willing surrender so that we would become perfected into His image. For it says: “Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:7). Have we done something wrong? Maybe, but even our mistakes God will use for our good.[vii] Can we fail God’s tests? No, because He said He would never give us more than we can endure.[viii] Just like Abraham, the king already knew that he would win this war for him.
I am not trying to over simplify, but everything we endure is for God’s victory and glory. It is for His prestige and image. Yeshua was tested by God with affliction from Satan. We will be hated and attacked for His name sake.[ix] The Apostle Paul said we are to rejoice in our suffering.[x] It is all about God’s image, His name. We will not fail because God cannot fail. And He will never allow His name to become polluted.[xi] Therefore, how will we win these wars for our King? By surrendering to His humble expression of request: “Please, go for Me. Please, forgive for Me. Please, love for Me. Please, suffer for Me. Please, die for Me.”
[i] Peters, Mimi. Learning to read Midrash. Urim Publications, ISBN 965-7108-57-8.
[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[iii] Genesis 22:18.
[iv] James 2:23.
[v] John 15:15.
[vi] Hebrews 2:18, 4:15.
[vii] Romans 8:28.
[viii] 1 Corinthians 10:13.
[ix] Matthew 10:22.
[x] Romans 5:3.
[xi] Isaiah 48:11.