Judaic Hebraisms in the Apocalypse

Even though I’ve been reading other parts of the Bible lately, in my private meditations, I’ve been contemplating the Book of Revelation, specifically how the various voices in heaven communicated with John during his visions.

And I can come to only one conclusion: they spoke Hebrew.

Consider some ideas:

1.) In the Old Testament, Hebrew was the official, national language of Israel. Whenever and however God spoke to His people, usually through prophets (See Hebrews 1:1), it was done in a language they could understand and articulate to a Jewish audience, as they themselves spoke and/or wrote in order to relay the Holy One’s messages to His people. It had to be Hebrew. This doesn’t mean God is limited to it, nor does it make Hebrew a divine language, but it still matters, especially within the context of this blog post.

2.) Even though we refer to the author as John, son of Zebedee, his actual name was Yochanan ben Zabdiy. This is a Hebrew name. John wasn’t Greek, he was Jewish.

3.) While we know John was from Galilee, a mostly Aramaic speaking area (with Aramaic being a cousin language to Hebrew), Aramaic uses the same alphabet with many of the same words (with only slight differences). We also know something about John from the Gospel of John:

John was an associate/friend (possibly even a relative???) of the High Priest in Jerusalem. Considering such a relationship, it is likely that John knew, perhaps even spoke Hebrew as his primary language, since Hebrew was the official language of the Kohenim (See John 18:15-16).

4.) We have no reason to believe Jesus spoke any other languages beside Hebrew and Aramaic. This is key, because as the Apocalypse begins, Jesus comes to John and speaks to him. Even if it was written in Greek, there is no reason to conclude that the events contained therein occurred in Greek. John could have easily translated any aspect of his visions for the benefit of his audience: Greek speaking, mostly Gentile-based churches in Asia Minor.

5.) All the holy writings of Scripture found in the Old Testament are and were written in Hebrew (with a small smattering of Aramaic). Any Jewish Israeli of the day, if he or she was going to be taught how to read and write, had to be able to read, write, and comprehend the Tanakh. Hence, why both Jesus and John had to know both Aramaic and Hebrew. Hebrew is a very pictorial, metaphorical language. Many words only have literal meanings due to their figurative meaning, which is primary. Take the Hebrew words yom and layl, which we translate day and night. In Hebrew, yom has a figurative meaning suggesting the idea of becoming or being hot. Same with layl. It figuratively means to fold back. These two figurative meanings grant us their literal understanding. We are given a mental picture: hotness. Such a picture relates to the understanding of what it means, that is, it is hot during the day. Same with night. Night, as we see it come upon the heavens (shamayim in Hebrew) in the dome above us, makes it seem as though the sky is folding back over on itself.

This level of figurative imagery inherent to Hebrew is important to note for two reasons:

It directly affects the cultural, collective understanding and identity of the entire Jewish nation. Their stories, their myths, their knowledge, their wisdom, what is sacred versus what is profane, are all tied into the language. John would understand better if the visions and communications of heaven were shared with him in his own native tongue. Greek would have been a second or third foreign language with a different set of images, symbols, and meanings. If the angels, the living creatures before the throne, and any other voice that spoke during the visions would have done so in Greek, it would have been that much harder on John to faithfully relay what he saw and heard.

and

The Apocalypse is a book of images, symbols, and figurative meanings, just like the Hebrew language. It is steeped in Old Testament concepts, that, theoretically, only a Hebrew speaking, Tanakh reading, ruach ha-kodesh filled, ben elohim might hope to understand, as we shall see forthwith. So, without further ado…

Judaic Hebraisms in the Apocalypse

The book begins by calling itself the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is a thoroughly Hebraic concept, found in such books as Daniel, Zechariah, and Ezekiel. End-time imagery, cataclysmic predictions, an unveiling of the future purposes of God and His kingdom all find root in the Old Testament. For John to have been inspired to call this book an Apocalypse goes right to his Jewish understanding of the genre. Just within the first few verses, a stage is set, one which includes angels (first mentioned and described in the OT), the word of God, or dabar elohim, a Jewish concept known throughout Israel’s history, and even prior to it, and the testimony of the long-promised, often prophesied about Jewish Savior, an ishi named Yehoshua HaMoshiach.

Further in (and referenced more than once) we have this phrase: …him which is, and which was, and which is to come… (1:4, 8).

This is analogous to the Name given to Moses, I AM THAT I AM, or hayah asher hayah in Exodus 3:14. It can be translated as is, or it can be translated I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, or even I WAS WHO I WAS. All this refers back to the Self-Existent, Self-Eternal One, which John implies when he talks about “his throne”, which as we read in Isaiah 66:1, is actually heaven or shamayim.

Again, in verse 4, we see mention of the seven spirits of God. Does God really have seven spirits? Yes, but not in the way we might think. It does not mean that there are seven literal spirits that make up who and what God is. Rather, the key is the number seven, or sheva in Hebrew. Sheva is the root of covenant. When one makes a covenant in Hebrew, one “seven’s oneself”, or makes a vow seven times as a form of completion/perfection. This is why seven is such an important number in the Old Testament, and indeed, the Book of Revelation. For example, the Jewish festival Pentecost, or rather, Shevuoth, sometimes called the Feast of Weeks (a week being seven days) is the day Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and therefore is the day Israel officially entered into covenant with God. In the NT, we also see how the New Covenant was started on Shevuoth. This cannot be underscored enough. So, when talking about the seven spirits before the throne, i.e. the seven spirits of God (3:1, 4:5, and 5:6), we need to think covenantally about those aspects of our Father that relate to us as we share in His perfection through mutual promises, both His and ours. And what are those aspects?

Isaiah 11:2,

2. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…

This is a promise about the Messiah, the Son of God who, at this point in time, was yet to come. Now compare something:

Revelation 5:6,

6. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Notice how the Lamb (i.e. Jesus) in this image, has seven horns and seven eyes, both of which are called the seven spirits of God. So when considering this symbolism, one should think of the prophecy in Isaiah 11:2. What has gone throughout the earth? Not seven literal horns or eyes, nor yet seven literal spirits; rather it’s God’s Spirit along with His Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, Knowledge, and Fear, or His “spirits”, if you will, that have been disseminated throughout the planet through the Messiah, and His Body.

Going further into chapter one of Revelation, we see in verses 5-8 the following key concepts:

  • The Lord Jesus as the faithful witness (a synonym for Messiah; compare to Psalm 89, especially vs. 36-37 and Isaiah 55:3-5)
  • First begotten from the dead (i.e. the promise of the resurrected Messiah as found in, for example, Psalm 16:10-11)
  • Prince of the kings of the earth (another title for Jesus Christ; see Daniel 9:25)
  • Washed from our sins (a promise of the New Covenant and baptism of the Holy Spirit as found in Ezekiel 36:24-28)
  • Kings and priests/kingdom of priests (a fulfillment of the promise of Exodus 19:5-6)
  • Every eye shall see the One who was pierced by them (See Psalm 22:16 and especially Zechariah 12:10)
  • Almighty (used dozens of time throughout the OT to refer to God as one of His titles, which, in Hebrew, is el shaddai)

Notice: in three verses we have seven (hmm???) references to various Jewish beliefs as found in the Hebrew Bible. We aren’t even more than eight verses into a book with 22 chapters, and we’ve already been bombarded with symbols and imagery only fully understood or explained by its Judaic and Hebraic origins.

Now, for the sake of time and space, I’m not going to do a line by line, verse by verse, chapter by chapter summary of the whole book. That is beyond the scope of this post. It would take way too long to do a write up of all the various images and symbols only understood through a Judaic/Hebraic hermeneutic. Writing about the seven golden candlesticks, or menorah (Revelation 1:12-13, 20, 2:1 with Exodus 25:31-35 and Zechariah 4), the image of the woman clothed with the sun, twelve stars crowing her head, and the moon at her feet as a symbol for Jacob and his sons (Revelation 12:1-6 and Genesis 37:8-10), Michael, or rather Misha’el, the archangel, the Prince of Israel or Sar Y’srael (Revelation 12:7 and Daniel 10:13, 21, and 12:1), or the Book of Life, known to Jews as the Sefer Chaim (Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 21:27, and 22:19 with Exodus 32:32-33) and giving each a full treatment would turn this post into a veritable book!

So, instead, having already made a pretty decent case that what I have so far claimed is accurate, I am going to now focus on a few key areas of Revelation, in the hopes of enlightening our doctrinal understanding of the book.

Revelation 5:5

5. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

We see and hear of it frequently: the Lion of Judah. There are songs and books written about it. Many posters, paintings, and other artistic renderings depict a lamb lying peacefully underneath the fierce countenance of a lion. Such things usually have a singular approach: to declare the humanity (lamb) and Deity (lion) of Jesus Christ. This position is then reinforced since in the same verse it reads “root of David”. It is assumed that anything that is a root is by default the source, so since Jesus, as a man, was born a millennium after David it must be referring to Jesus as God, i.e. David’s Creator and source of existence (See also Revelation 22:16).

But this isn’t so. Lion of the tribe of Judah is a Hebraism. The Hebrew name Ariel, for example, is a title that literally means “lion of God”. But though it has a literal meaning, it’s a metaphor for hero or champion (which is the figurative meaning of the Greek word for lion in Revelation 5:5, i.e. a brave and mighty hero). So, instead of reading into the text of Revelation 5:5 (which is called eisogesis), we need to apply proper exegetical principles and draw out from the text its own inherent meaning, namely, as already posited, that the voices in John’s vision, for John’s sake, spoke Hebrew. And so, with such a realization, we arrive at a better understanding of the entire text by embracing the figurative meaning. Doctrinally, this makes much more textual sense since the passage is talking about the unworthiness of humanity and its failure regarding opening what is most likely the sealed scroll of Daniel 12:9.

But enter the Hero, the Champion of the Ages, HaMoshiach, from the tribe of Yehudah, the only one worthy. Only He has the right to approach the throne of Elohim, take the scroll and open it. Only the brave and mighty Yehoshua can prevail against the seals (like the hero and champion that He is) and open the un-openable scroll.

But what about the root of David? Take a deeper look at the word root. The Greek word used by John is rhiza. It means that which springs from a root, i.e. a sprout or shoot. So, Revelation 5:5 and 22:16 aren’t talking about Jesus being David’s source of existence as his Creator; instead they are talking of Christ being the progeny of David, i.e. a descendant of Israel’s second and greatest king. For proof, see the following verses:

Isaiah 11:1,

1. And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots…

Jeremiah 23:5,

5. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

Jeremiah 33:15,

15. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.

Zechariah 3:8,

8. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.

Zechariah 6:12,

12. And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord…

Dear Reader, what is a branch if not a shoot that sprouts out of the trunk of a tree? Indeed, if you check all the uses of branch in these verses, the Hebrew words (netser and tsemach) mean sprout, shoot, a growth and etc. While netser is always used of a figurative branch, tsemach can be either literal or figurative.

So, by employing the knowledge of an Old Testament Hebraism, i.e. that lion symbolically refers to a hero/champion, we can get a much more accurate, doctrinal picture of what’s occurring in Revelation 5 without doing any damage to the text by introducing a mistaken view based on a poor hermeneutic. As much as we may have really hoped lion and lamb mean deity and humanity, we must defer to TRUTH, and realize lion and lamb stand in for something else, namely heroic sacrifice, i.e. that the champion of the Yehudim, as a MAN, laid down his life to save people from their sins, and that this heroic sacrifice has elevated Jesus Christ to such a position of honor and power, He becomes the rightful, worthy opener of the seven-sealed scroll.

Revelation 13:11-18

11. And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
12. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.
13. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,
14. And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
15. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
16. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
18. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

So much has been said and speculated, it hardly bears repeating. I’m not going down that route. Instead, I’m going to introduce what I suspect are unfamiliar ideas, all based in a Judaic understanding of the Hebraisms employed.

This passage is commonly understood to be referring to the false prophet who precedes the Antichrist. While that may be true generally speaking, something much deeper, much more Jewish, is going on. So many people think the false prophet is going to be some kind of reprobate, “professing” follower of Jesus who instead, is going to usher in the era of the last Catholic Pope, who, they claim, is the image of the beast. This is all very Western and modern. It’s nonsense.

The Messiah is a promise made to Jews. The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, was and still is, Jewish. He is not just Jesus, son of David, He is Yehoshua ben Dovid. That was His name then. It is His name now, whatever language we speak. He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel only (Matthew 15:24). And although Gentiles have been grafted in (Romans 11), we have only been done so if we circumcise (a Jewish symbol of covenantal faith in God) the foreskin of our hearts, and become Jews inwardly. Notice that when Jews became followers of Christ back in the 1st century, they didn’t stop being Jews in order to become Gentiles; but Gentiles, when they became followers of Messiah, did in fact, become Jews, spiritually speaking (Romans 2:28-29). An important distinction.

And so, we realize and know that Jesus, or rather, Yehoshua, was rejected by His people (John 1:11), i.e. by the Perushim (or Pharisees), by the Kohenim (or Priests), by the Kohen Gadol (or High Priest), and the Zaqen Yehudim (or Jewish Elders). So, I ask you, if Jesus as Messiah was rejected, who then do the Jews wait for?

For Messiah! And from the OT, we know that one man only is to precede the Messiah: Elijah, i.e. Eliyahu (Malachi 4:5). Elijah that called fire down from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-14). So what does this say about the beast with two horns that speaks like a dragon and calls fire down from heaven?

It’s not some Gentile false prophet as we’ve come to think of it, is it? It’s a false-Elijah.

But there’s more.

You will notice that in verses 14-15 that this false-Elijah convinces the world to make an image to the beast, then goes about, through his power, to give the image life. What does this mean? In order to understand the Judaic Hebraisms present in such things, I want to take a moment to write about two uniquely Jewish concepts:

Baal Shem Tov and Golem

Baal Shem Tov is a title, an honorific, given only to a select few people in the history of the Jewish people. The first person to ever be called such was Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, who died in 1760. Baal Shem Tov can have one of two meanings: it can either mean one who has a good reputation (i.e. good name or shem tov) in the community, and as such, is revered as a baal, or master.

It can also mean Master of the Good Name, meaning such a man is considered so holy and righteous that he has the supernatural power to wield the Ineffable Name of God to miraculous effect. Regarding Rabbi Yisroel, it was believed that he had mystical powers, so in reference to him, the second idea hits closer to home, even if he did have a good reputation in his community during his lifetime.

What else? There is a legend about Yisroel, that, get this, the prophet Elijah appeared to his father and promised him the birth of a son who was to be named Yisroel (or Israel in English) because of Isaiah 49:3. Getting interesting, isn’t it? But what does Golem have to do with this?

Golem is a Hebrew word that denotes an amorphous, unformed mass. We see in Psalm 139:16 the use of the word to refer to an embryo or fetus, i.e. human material inside a mother’s womb not yet shaped into human form. We might think of Adam, before the breath of life was given him, prior to taking on a complete humanoidal shape, as a golem, or so reads the Talmud. But within mystical Judaism or Kabbala, it is believed that a golem is a mud-born humanoidal, soulless figure created through mystical Jewish lore and arts, through an ecstatic experience with God in which the ability to create life, just like God, is manifested through the mystic as he uses what is called the Sefer Yetzirah, or Book of Creation. The golem then takes on form and life, but remains mindless, and is controlled by inscribing the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) into its forehead, or by placing the same on a piece of paper and inserting it into the golem’s body, usually the mouth, under the tongue. Thus, a golem is basically a servant of the master who created it.

Of Rabbi Yisroel, it was believed that his personal servant and valet was a golem. Indeed, it is believed that any Jewish man, sufficiently holy and righteous, being a baal shem tov, using the correct methods, could create a golem.

Now look at the parallels with Revelation 13. The false-Elijah, with mystical, supernatural power to call down fire from heaven, would have to be, in the Jewish way of thinking, a baal shem tov, or Master of the Good Name, i.e. someone who can wield the Tetragrammaton of God to miraculous effect. And as it is believed, any baal shem tov, like Rabbi Yisroel, can create a golem, i.e. a human-like figure, yet without a soul or mind. Such a creation, upon formation and the use of the Tetragrammaton, becomes alive, just as the image of the beast is given life by the false-Elijah, ready to serve its true master, which in this case, is Satan. So what is Antichrist? Could it not be a golem, an un-formed man, without a soul, called the Son of Perdition (John 17:12 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3)? So just what am I describing?

Why, a clone of course. A human clone, still in fetal development, like Psalm 139, becoming possessed by the Devil, and growing up from the artificial womb as Satan manifested as the Dragon Incarnate, the perfect counterfeit to Jesus Christ, the Son or Incarnation of God.

Now, this does not validate Kabbala mysticism. It only points at how, in the Last Days, deceived wannabe baal shem tov‘s will be used by the Enemy to bring about the final expression of antichrist in the world, i.e. in the form of a human being. So, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t really believe such magical arts exist or are real apart from the demonic influences operating in and within sinful humanity.

Revelation 21:9-18

9. And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
10. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
11. Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;
12. And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
13. On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
14. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.
16. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
17. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
18. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.

Contrary to Revelation 13 and its contents, not enough is ever said about New Jerusalem.

And though we might think we only ever read of the City in the New Testament, and therefore, in Greek, we would be wrong. The Old Testament speaks of the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

See here:

Ezekiel 48:35,

35. …the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there.

This is a prophecy about the future kingdom of God as realized in the earth, after the end of the age. Effectively, this is a symbolic title for New Jerusalem.

Isaiah 60:18-19,

18. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.
19. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

Again, a promise of New Jerusalem. But notice the correlation between Revelation 21 and Isaiah 60. In Isaiah 60 the gates are called praise and the walls salvation, but in Revelation 21, the gates are named for the twelve tribes of Israel and the walls for the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. What is it about the names of the tribes of Israel that correlates to praise? What is it about the names of the twelve apostles that correlates to salvation?

In a word: garments.

The Bible speaks of both garments of praise and the garments of salvation, both in Isaiah (Isaiah 61:3 and 10, respectively). Garments, more than anything, do what? They clothe the naked and keep people from being shamefully exposed (in Judaic thought, shame and nakedness are parallels of each other. In fact, in some Jewish circles, to publicly shame someone is considered as bad as, if not worse than, murder–for this very reason). This of course goes right to Ha’adam and Chava, or Adam and Eve. The gates and walls of New Jerusalem are like garments for the saints, decked with many pearls and precious gems, symbols of wealth and prosperity. In the Old Testament, the finest clothing and richest garments were covered in such jewels. Just look at the garments for the Kohen Gadol. He had on himself the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and gemstones on a breastplate that match up very well to the gems of the foundations of New Jerusalem.

And because of the existence of Israel, specifically the tribe of Judah or Yehudah, which means PRAISE, the world has a Savior, someone who could and can undo the curse of sin brought upon humanity by Adam’s fall. Because of the Apostles, the Gospel, or the Benevolent Message of SALVATION in Yehoshua HaMoshiach (a thoroughly Jewish concept originating in the Nevu’im or Prophets, specifically Yesha’ayu 52:7 and Yirme’yahu 31:31-34) was spread throughout the whole world, sometimes flourishing, sometimes running for its life, but always continuing onward, until the day the Son of God comes through the clouds.

And when He comes to catch away His Bride, to take us to Heaven, one can only wonder what language we all might speak. So far we’ve seen a large number of Judaic Hebraisms in the book most often associated with eternal life. But will we all somehow miraculously learn Hebrew when we are changed, should we not already know it?

I doubt it. I think the language we will all speak in New Jerusalem will be something else entirely, something closer to this:

Zephaniah 3:9,

9. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.

I admit, except for the possibility of glossolalia, I have no exact idea what this pure language will be. But whatever it is, it will be beautiful, just like the Lord’s Bride adorned.

So, to conclude, I echo the sentiments shared long ago by Yochanan ben Zabdiy:

Even so, come Adoneinu Yehoshua!

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~ by votivesoul on 10/01/2013.

One Response to “Judaic Hebraisms in the Apocalypse”

  1. Extremely interesting, and thought provoking. I ‘m hesitant to use the word “ironic” here, for God is omniscient and knew that I would encounter your writing, however, my awakening thoughts this day were centered upon Revelations, albeit not its linguistical aspect as you’ve addressed. After reading this blog posting, my desire to explore John’s revelation has been greatly heightened. Thanks, Aaron! Lafon here (from AFF).

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