The Hebrew Bible’s Hidden Message

This post isn’t about messages supposedly hidden in the Bible in “Bible code” fashion. But there is something in Scripture that is not strictly speaking hidden, and yet many of us fail to see it, at least initially.

What I’m referring to is this: In the Hebrew Bible, there seems to be very little concern that people say “the right things” about or to God.

Just a few passages that spring to mind in connection with this theme are Psalm 44:23, which asks God why he sleeps; Psalm 78:65, which describes God as like a drunk person awaking from an alcohol-induced stupor; and Jeremiah 15:18, which describes God as being like a deceitful brook or waters that fail.

Whereas so much religiosity in recent decades and even for centuries has focused on making sure the “right things” are said about God, getting down to the nitty gritty ontological and metaphysical details, in the Jewish Bible/Christian Old Testament, not only are questions of God’s “nature” not addressed directly, but many things are said about God that would not only be considered inadequate but downright inappropriate by many believers today.

I am not trying to suggest that what I am discussing here represents “what the Bible says” on this matter. But it does seem to be one thing the Bible includes in relation to this topic. And this aspect of the Biblical literature seems to be as hidden from view to many modern religious believers as God himself seemed to some of ancient Israel’s psalmists.

What do others think? Is it fair to say that, in contrast with the concern for orthodoxy in many Christian circles today and down the ages, much of the Bible simply does not share such a concern for speaking correctly about God?

I think this is an important question, since it is often assumed today that someone who says “I don’t know what I think about God” is moving away from faith. And someone today who asks “What, is God sleeping?” would be assumed to be an impious atheist, not a candidate to author Scripture! The Hebrew Bible seems like it can be a helpful resource for those who are losing their faith in a particular idea of God, and are losing their misplaced certainty, but are not for that reason necessarily repudiating the Bible and the religious tradition connected with it. Indeed, they may be getting into more profound depths of this tradition than the fundamentalists who will make them feel like guilty backsliders for doing so.

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  • I think the reason for this change is that people in the Old Testament viewed faith as a journey (in their case quite often a literal journey) but in our age Christians view faith as a destination.I think this is one reason why there is a generally low view of the sacraments in modern Christianity and why rebaptism is becoming quite a trend. This springs to mind as I am preparing an article on this issue.In other words God is only considered "with" someone when they consider themselves to be in a certain state and they have to go on being "reconverted". This can result in a God who is only for people who have good intellectual capabilities (not the mentally impaired or people with dementia). It also encourages people to present themselves as being continually 100% certain when this is unlikely to always be true.

  • Talking of which here is an article which nails down my atheism:

  • And this aspect of the Biblical literature seems to be as hidden from view to many modern religious believers as God himself seemed to some of ancient Israel's psalmists.Here are some interesting quotes from Naomi Seidman:"Not only does the Talmud present the composition of the Septuagint as an elaborate Jewish trick, it also describes the passages in the Hebrew Bible itself as a ‘hidden transcript,’ the private discourse of a minority culture."and"The [Church] Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive channels of God’s message to the world; in the [contrastive] talmudic account God works to keep certain things between the Jews and himself [i.e., away from the world, especially the Greek and the Egyptian worlds], not only sanctioning Jewish conspiracy but taking the role of conspirator-in-chief."and"[The subsequent proto-MT text / LXX alterations], the ‘union’ of Greek philosophy and Hebraic religion is revealed not as a noble attempt to strip the Bible of [things such as] anthropomorphism and the remnants of its attachment to ‘pagan’ myth, but rather as a series of obsequies, strategic gestures for the survival of a people in the face of the overwhelming [Greek imperial and Egyptian royal] culture[s] that surrounded it. Reversing the [Christian] patristic plot, the translators are released from their cells, while the Hebrew Bible remains enclosed behind the high walls of the Hebrew language; what the Gentiles get is something else altogether. Submission and subversion here turn out to be simultaneous strategies:"from her Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Afterlives of the Bible)

  • At least from the three verses you gave, it just seems to me to be a person talking to God on a one-on-one basis, like you would talk to a friend. At least in these verses, it seems like they reflect the relationship you might have with God based on the NT, not the OT (fear and subservience to God– except for the retribution part, of course). In other words, "Yeh, a little help here, please, my friend". But maybe I'm missing the point. There are too many other OT verses that I have a problem with, to worry how they might have addressed God in the OT. But prayer to God, based on the NT, from what I understand, is a personal, one-one-one, with God as a friend, not a fire and brimstone destroyer.

  • Thanks to everyone who has commented so far for sharing!Gary, there is certainly a personal-relational element to the language. But I was struck by how much of a contrast there is between discussions of whether God is one substance and three persons, on the one hand, and whether God is like a drunk man coming around from his stupor on the other. 🙂

  • I think that in the OT, God is more 'familiar' or 'closer' to people than he is perceived today. Everyday events and God were more closely intertwined for the average person in those days. God was not as remote, maybe. In older biblical times, God was seen as the personal champion of the ancient Israelites (i.e. more of a tribal deity). Today he is seen as much more aloof and the worship of him from a Christian point of view is more focused on not God but the Son. The God part of the Trinity is seen as infinitely enigmatic, detached and ineffable. It makes sense, then, that devout people today don't take such a 'personal' or 'familiar' attitude toward God – it makes more sense to refer to such a remote and unknowable being in more carefully couched terms.

  • How about Ezekiel 23:30? "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." HCSBSound like God has penis-envy in this passage. I can just see people squirming in their pews if this passage was read aloud in a homily in about 99% of the churches around, even if it is a metaphor.

  • "and whether God is like a drunk man coming around from his stupor"…at least normal humans can relate to this. Concerning Ezk 23:30, you mean Ezk 23:20…again, man can relate to this, in an exagerated form…bible includes "locker room" talk. May be inspired by God, but it is written/translated/interpreted by man. What do you expect from the normal man mind-set? Same thing for a scripture I have a problem with, Num 31:17-18…"Kill every male among the little ones…kill every women who has known man…all the young girls (virgins)keep alive for yourself"… common on, Moses, God didn't tell you that! You got caught up in the heat of battle, and you told a fib! Amen, for the OT.

  • And back to those Psalms, particularly 44:(22-)23. Here's from Pamela Greenberg's translation, but first from her publisher's blurb:"Traditional translations—from those of the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi to early Christian commentators to the King James version—have downplayed anger at God and reinterpreted the Psalms in ways that would be doctrinally more palatable, but which flatten the richness and subtlety of the Hebrew verse. Greenberg's translation aims to restore the poetry and vibrancy of the Psalms as a prayerful act, replicating their emotional passion while both wrestling with the text as living liturgy and remaining as true as possible to the originals." Out of loyalty to you, we have been killed every day.We have been considered sheep for slaughter.Wake up! Why do you slumber, my Upholder?End your sleeping; don't forsake us forever.(Is this much different from what Elie Wiesel, after the holocaust, writes in his fictional book, Day, which follows his factual one, Night? Here are some disturbing lines on a God who sleeps and on psalmists who blaspheme about it:"God was ashamed. God likes to sleep with twelve-year-old girls. And He doesn't want us to know. Whoever sees it or guesses it must die so as not to divulge the secret. Death is only the guard who protects God, the doorkeeper of the immense brothel that we call the universe. I am going to die, I thought. And my fingers, clinched around my throat, kept pressing harder and harder, against my will."