Thursday, October 15, 2009

V) Addendum

Comparing the messianic work of Cyrus with that of the Messiahs preceding him, we may notice several stages of an unfolding Divine work:

I) The Patriarchs introduced, or rather renewed, monotheism into mankind after the Flood, and founded the people of Israel as the witness of the one Creator of all. This foundation aimed from the beginning at the brotherhood of man on earth as indicated by the change of Abram's name to Abraham, Father of (the) multitude, i.e. of those of the peoples who would be blessed by blessing him and his seed. In this train of thought, Israel is called the firstborn of the Lord, indicating that this spiritual rebirth of his from paganism to monotheism is a token for those who would after him be (re)born in the spirit of the Divine. They would then form the brotherhood of the sons of Abraham.

II) The Kings Saul and David founded the Kingdom of Israel, united its tribes, and gave them the structure of a nation. In addition, King David established Zion as the geographical, political, and spiritual center of the people of Israel and of mankind as well. He proclaimed, foremost in his Psalms, the Lord as the Divine King, the earthly kings being his servants. The First Temple, built by King Solomon, may be seen as its spiritual and physical assertion. Quite in line therewith, King Solomon in his inauguration of the Temple prayed also "for the stranger who would hear of Thy (God's) great name, and come and pray in direction of the House" of the God of Israel…1.

Then, revealingly enough, the last prophet of the period of the First Temple, Jeremiah, was ordained to be a prophet "set over the nations"2. The core of the message he had to deliver, can be subdivided into three aspects:

a) announcing the destruction of the First Temple (after its task had come to an end) by the Babylonians, the "golden head" of the nations2a;

b) preparing the people of Israel for its captivity there, even charging them to "serve the king of Babel and his people, and live"3;

c) proclaiming the final return of Israel to the heights of Zion, and commanding the nations:

"Hear the word of the Lord, ye peoples, and declare it (even) unto the isles afar, and say: the one who has scattered Israel will gather him and keep him like a shepherd his flock. For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and rescued him from the hands of stronger ones. And they will come and rejoice upon the heights of Zion..."4.

Jeremiah's disciple Ezekiel, the Prophet in the Babylonian exile, elaborated on this theme, climaxing in the prophecy about the resurrection of "the dry dead bones" which are the house of Israel in exile. Their return to the Land of the Fathers will be a means by which the nations shall finally come to know the truth and the faithfulness of the God of Israel.5

III) King Cyrus, then, although being a monarch, began to govern according to democratic principles as "Friend of Men", to some degree comparable to a primus inter pares.

Above all, Cyrus recognized officially the foundation of Zion in Jerusalem and instituted the period of the Second Temple. This event is much more significant in human history than is usually thought of.

Let us for the sake of clarification reflect here briefly on human history since Adam6. We may subdivide it into four big periods:

a) the first one, characterized by hamas, violence7), ended in the Flood;

b) still in the days of Noah, the second period commenced with Abram/Abraham who may be seen as the Divine answer to Nomrod’s enterprise of Babel. Through Abraham, and his seed after him, the Divine hesed, usually rendered as mercy, came into man's world which had become entangled in the Babylonian confusion:

"… the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers";

"… the faithful God who keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations"8;

"For I said: A world of mercy shall be built" [or: the world shall be built by mercy]9;

"Give thanks unto the Lord … (even) to him who led his people in the wilderness: for his mercy endureth forever"10: here, the Giving of the Torah with its Decalogue on Mount Sinai together with all the other educational experiences in the fourty years desert roaming, as well as its bearing for the nations, are described as the Lord's mercy.

In that period of mercy, Israel had and has to fight wars for securing the land, first in Joshua's conquest, and then under the Kings Saul and David. The period ends with the destruction of the First Temple. Even before that, the peoples of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were dispersed among the nations - like seeds as Prophet Hosea put it (referring to Gen. 48:16).

c) The next, or third, period was then initiated by King Cyrus. As the world's ruler of then, he introduced dramatic changes into mankind's history. They may be summarized as follows:

*In line with Zarathustra's monotheistic teaching, he implemented the Achaemenian vision to rule as "Friends of Men" instead of tyrannizing them;

*accepting the Medes, from whom he took over, as co-rulers, can be seen as the starter for an idea and practice which became lateron the guiding principle for a commonwealth;

*He confirmed Israel's and Jerusalem's Divine status even in the realm of national and international politics. According to his famous edict, the exiles could return to the country, and rebuild the Temple with the help of the Persians. One of the outstanding characteristics of that period is that Israel was not meant to fight for her land: the Persians under Cyrus fought the wars against Israel's enemies, foremost Assyria, and then Babylonia which, interestingly enough, was defeated spiritually beforehand. Hostilities by neighbouring peoples and by ruling powers lateron cannot be blamed on Cyrus.

This third period, introduced by Cyrus, is quite fittingly characterized by Prophet Zechariah as "חן חן לה" (hen hen lah; grace grace unto it)11.

He saw an epoch of חן חן, grace grace, coming up, as outlined in a previous chapter12. This should not surprise us. We reflected already briefly on the three Temples and their spiritual and prophetic meanings, and saw that the Second Temple relates to the Feast of Shavuoth, the “Feast of Weeks” as it usually rendered. Spiritually and prophetically, this feast is characterized by Mathan Torah, the Giving of the Torah13.

The term Giving of the Torah, although related to the Divine revelation on Mount Sinai, implies a permanently ongoing impartation of the Torah with the expectation that it will be received by men in every generation. In this respect, Ruth the Moabite is known as a first fruit from among the nations.

We should see all this in context with the word of the Lord to Abraham:

"Be thou a blessing. I shall bless them that bless thee, and shall be fire unto those who curse thee"14

In the period between Abraham and the end of the First Temple, charcterized by hesed, Israel got established as a nation, even kingdom, visible to all.

Then, within the period of the Second Temple, or in the terms of Prophet Zechariah, the period of "grace grace", the Divine so-to-speak opened itself to the nations, however not with the features of hesed15, but with hen, grace, lavish favour. The latter, while lacking the aspect of immediate reproach, provides now also for them the means to come to the "knowledge of the Lord".

Henceforth, fear, love, and knowledge of the Lord are ultimately tried out by one's attitude towards King David's foundation of Zion, and Israel the "Daughter of Zion"; as Prophet Isaiah said to the point:

"... thus says the Lord God, Behold, I lay in (with) Zion a foundation a stone, a test stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation..."16.

Prophet Zechariah, with the model of King Cyrus' attitude before his eyes, augmented Isaiah's word and anounced the period of hen hen "Grace Grace", but duely warned the nations that any attempt to usurp Jerusalem/Zion, would turn the latter into a "cup of trembling" in their hands; or into a burdensome stone in case they would try to do away with her17.

Interestingly enough, the historic figure chronologically mentioned last in the Tanakh is King Artaxerxes18. The proclamation, mentioned there, which he gave to Ezra, is still of high importance and relevance. Sounding like a confirmation of Isaiah's and Zechariah's words, it reads as follows:

"Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace... I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of the priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven councellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hands; and to carry the silver and the gold which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem; and all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the provinces of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem:

That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.

And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to they brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of thy God...

And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of the God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house.

And I, Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heavens, shall require of you, it be done speedily...

Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heavens, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heavens; for why should there be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons?

Also we certify you that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, subjects or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.

And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thy hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.

And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment"19

This decree of the king, especially its last paragraph, sanctioned the law of the Torah as official law of the Persian Empire. It ordained that the Torah was to be taught "to all the people that are beyond the river", that is, west of the Euphrates. It seems quite significant that the above record of the king's edict quotes him speaking of himself as king of kings in a confirmative way. This gains special weight through the fact that the Tanakh does not take up this term in connection with any other ruler who spoke of himself as king of kings, not even with Cyrus. (An exception is the record of King Nebukadnezzar's dream, when Daniel addressed the King by this official title of his20. But here we have to bear in mind that Daniel was not a free man but a captive who had to abide by the rules).

However, the sages, foremost Ezra himself, were aware that the "Times of the Gentiles" were not terminated with Artaxerxes' outstanding decree. The rule of the four world empires unto the end of their times was to be respected, with the unique position of Jerusal;em and the Jewish people among them as the guardian of God's Law. We can gather this attitude already from Ezra's prayer of thanks:

"Blessed is the Lord God of our fathers who has put (such a thing) as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem; and has extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me"21.

Ezra does not express in that prayer far reaching hopes. He accepts the temporary rule of the four world empires, and strives for keeping Israel pure in the meantime, foremost by restoring the family purity and by adhering to the Shabbat rules22. Most likely it is for this reason that he abstained from political activities. King Artaxerxes' decree reflects this abstention insofar as it addresses "Ezra the priest ((כהן, scribe of the law of the God of heaven", a wording that contrasts the mentioning of Ezra in the preceding verse 11 which speaks of Ezra as "the priest, the scribe, scribe of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutues of Israel". (We reflected already in a previous chapter on the significance of mentioning the word scribe twice in that verse).

The compilation of the books of the Tanakh had been completed probably in the days of Darius II23. Books compiled lateron became known as Apocryphs, and it is apparently their appearance which led to the canonization of the Tanakh in the Greek, and finally in the Roman period. With Artaxerxes I, Biblic history ends and shifts into worldly history - as pointed out already by Flavius Josephus in his writings "Against Apion".

From the point of structure, as we saw, the Tanakh ends with the Edict of Cyrus, while from the point of historic events it ends with King Artaxerxes and his proclamation.

In other words, Israel, under the umbrella of the Achaemenian kings, could as the "Kingdom of Priests"24 usher into that part of its mission which characterized the Second Temple. Its main mission was to extend to the nations the Divine Mathan Torah25 in suitable form. In the ensuing exile which is usually described as Roman exile or great exile, Israel served as a silent witness26 and test stone, as said.

This third period which commenced with King Cyrus, is known also as the "Times of the Gentiles"27, as mentioned.

d) Mankind is ushering into the fourth stage of its history, namely חרות, herut, freedom.

In modern times, the idea of freedom was held up in the French Revolution with its ideals of liberté, egalité, fraternité, but it was then only after WWII that the victorious powers proclaimed in the Atlantic Charta the "Four Freedoms" the basic principles of democracy. There, they are described as negative freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.

While it is necessary to be free from dictators of all sorts, ranging from Nimrod via Pharaoh, Haman, Nero, Inquisitors, down to the dictators of our times, this kind of freedom is only one side of the coin. It allows for permissiveness, especially in the moral aspects of our lifes. The awareness of the damage which this kind of freedom, or permissiveness, entails, will lead to look for the obligations and responsibilities true freedom requires. In turn, this will lead to comprehend the full meaning of Israel's ancient slogan "from slavedom to freedom": It describes the escape from Pharaoh as a precondition for going to Mount Sinai. Pointedly Moses said to Pharaoh: "Let my people go that we can serve the Lord"28. The running away from Pharaoh's enslavement is not the ultimate goal; rather, to serve the Lord in freedom. That means to say, the "freedom of" is to be topped by the "freedom to". The former is liable to deteriorate into permissiveness and hedonism; the latter culminates in the "Freedom of the Children of God" as those who are free (freed) from inner and outer “Mizraim” (=hindering constrictions).

While the French Revolution and the Atlantic Charta expressed the idea of freedom, and set milestones towards its achievement, it is in fact the rebirth of Israel which marks the decisive turn not only for the Jewish people but for mankind as well. The crucial events in the break down of the old thought patterns were Hiroshima and Auschwitz, followed less than five years later by Israel achieving independance after 1900 years of defamation and of oppression worse than slavedom. Israel has still to face resistance from the forces of the old world – "Christian" antiSemitism and "Islamic" antiZionism; and is exposed to the temptations of modern permissiveness (comparable to those of the fornication with the Midianites and Moabites on Balaam's advice29). But she will in the end bring that freedom to the world for which every human soul in its innermost feeling yearns.

Freedom should not be confused with liberty: the latter is not yet a content of life; rather, it describes a situation in which one can live –more or less- one’s own life not impeded by others. Freedom is – or should be – the hallmark of the Chidren of God.

The whole idea is impressively born out by our key word, חרות. This Hebrew word, read harut, means engraved30, but read herut, it means freedom, the freedom of the Children of God. That means to say that all of us, whether Israel as God's first born, or whether those (re)born afterwards, can enjoy true freedom in God's family inasmuch as the truth of the Decalogue is engraved upon our hearts, unhindered by any kind of inner or outer Pharaoh.

The Prophets and sages express this idea in manifold ways, as e.g:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top [liter.: head] of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills ; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say: Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD”30a.

"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea"31;

"Behold, the days will come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with them in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, says the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people"32;

"For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent"33;

"And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day thee Lord shall be one, and his name be one"34.

Till then "Unwillingness to subject oneself to heaven will result in being subjected to the rulers of the world"35

In this age of herut, none is dictated to obey fixed rules. Everyone is free and is responsible for his own thoughts, words, and deeds. Most likely it is for this reason that the blessing given to Abraham, speaks of families, not of nations:

"...and in thee all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

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