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Mysteries fulfilled

Creation, compassion, and community

The Jewish New Year’s Day next month, Rosh Hashana, commemorates creation. Jewish talk show host and Bible exegete Dennis Prager calls Genesis 1:1 “the most important verse in the Bible. The entire Bible rests on that claim. Life having ultimate meaning rests on it. If there is no Creator, there is no design and no purpose. All is random and ultimately meaningless.”

I place “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) next to that verse because our human tendency, if we believe in God, is to fall from theism to deism by thinking God watches “from a distance,” as singers Nanci Griffith and Bette Midler warbled. The New Testament shows how God came among us and showed ultimate compassion by weeping and then dying for us.

Prager, of course, does not see the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures as equally God-breathed. And yet, Genesis itself raises questions to which I found satisfactory answers in the New Testament, not in the Old.

First, as a 12-year-old I memorized in Hebrew that first verse of Genesis and asked why the word for God is Elohim, plural, but the verb is bara, singular. How can one God be plural? Prager says it could be “the royal we” or could refer to angels as well as God. Others argue that Elohim has multiple meanings and sometimes carries a plural. But the doctrine of the Trinity explains it best.

It’s hard to minister to people if you can’t eat with them.

Second, Prager quotes a scholar’s comment on Chapter 19 of Genesis, where Lot escapes destruction for Abraham’s sake: “an unrighteous person might be spared for the sake of … a righteous person.” How does that work? Who is righteous enough to save others? The New Testament has the answer: Christ.

Third, human sacrifice. When I turned 13 my bar mitzvah passage (for chanting in front of the congregation) concerned Jephthah, who in Judges pledges to make a burnt offering of the first creature to come out of his house to greet him following a victory. That turns out to be his daughter, his only child. Jephthah’s story pushed me to examine Genesis 22, where God commends Abraham for being willing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.

Prager’s explanation—God wanted “to see if Abraham would pass the ultimate test of faith”—isn’t satisfying: Why encourage others to see that as the ultimate test and perhaps go through with it? For more on “The riddle of Isaac” (or the akedah, as it’s known in Hebrew) see WORLD, Jan. 23, 2016.

In Prager’s commentaries on Genesis and Exodus—see my review in this issue—he notes that “God uses flawed individuals to show His redemptive powers or, as Christians put it, God’s grace.” He mentions that “Protestants led the modern world’s abolition of slavery.” Right: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews today should work together against our modern form of child sacrifice, abortion.

That’s not all. Prager says God chose Jews “to serve as a vehicle for God’s blessing of the world … to minister to humanity and bring as much of it as possible closer to God.” But Prager notes the “tension between the command to be a holy nation and the fulfillment of the purpose of Chosenness. … Too much separation makes the Jews’ task … almost impossible. It is difficult to influence people if you have virtually no contact with them.”

It’s hard to minister to people if you can’t eat with them. Chapter 10 of Acts shows how God told Peter he could eat all kinds of animals and should not “call any person common or unclean.” That fulfilled what God told Isaiah: Jews (and one in particular) could be “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

God now brings American Christians and Jews into very close contact. In His mysterious providence He has also turned people such as me into bridges. Next month brings Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—and more Jews now believe that Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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