Minutes of Meeting

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Date: November 13, 2005

Location: Alumni Hall RM 101

Topic: Mediation in the Torah; the Intercession among humans in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) to the origin of intercession with God

Speaker: Fr. Francois Rossier

Host: Judie Griffith

The God of the Bible appears from the time of the call of Abraham, as a God of mediation or a God to mediators.  For example, God never addresses his People directly; he speaks to them via a spokesperson, usually a Prophet.

We tend to forget that prophetic mediation has a twofold sense:

1) the prophet is not only the spokesperson or advocate of God towards Israel;

2) it often occurs that he exercises for Israel the same roles.

Read Exodus 19:3-8:  which illustrates the going and coming where the prophet brings one after the other the word of God to Israel and that of Israel’s response to God.

The prophet is not satisfied with reporting as a third person.  With his own words he defends Israel and becomes their advocate.  Thus Deuteronomy 28 can be regarded as a long plea of Moses urging Israel to obey the divine law.  Likewise, when the circumstances demand it, he acts as the defender of Israel before God.

Doing this, he becomes an intercessor.   Intercession manifests itself as one of the forms of prophetic mediation.  And intercession may be defined as:

A (Intercessor) speaks in favor of B (beneficiary) in front of C (the competent person). 

This is done with words (it is necessary to argue with or to persuade) and presupposes that A has a privileged access to C.   In other words, A must have a better placement than B in front of C to obtain the desired favor.  In relationship to B, A possesses a privileged access to C.

Intercession is not the most current form of prophetic mediation; it is nevertheless an accessory form or secondary one.  This is so for the following reasons:

First, one must note that the first time the word “prophet” appears in the biblical canon is in Genesis 20:7 and it is precisely within a context of intercession.  Thus as the word “prophet” is introduced in the Bible, it is defined in relation with intercession.

Then, we notice that the times that prophetic intercession happens it is at strategic moments in the history of Israel.  For example when Israel is in the desert after having left Egypt and was on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  Or when Israel was about to lose the Promised Land, once before the fall of the Northern Kingdom and then before the fall of the Kingdom of the South (Judah). 

Moreover, Moses is considered to be the prophet par excellence in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 34:10), he continues to be the same prophet par excellence when he repeatedly intercedes (Exodus 32:11-13;  32:31-32; 33:12-16; Numbers 11:11-15; 12:13; 14:13-19; 21:7);  one goes to him to intercede (Numbers 12:11; 21:7);  Moses recalls himself as interceding (Deuteronomy 9:18,20; 10:10); and the Bible remembers him as the great intercessor in Jeremiah 15:1 and Psalm 99:6.

Exodus 32:

In this narrative we see Moses interceding for the first time in the episode of the golden calf.  The construction of the calf by Israel is a most serious sin.  It takes place, while Moses is on the summit of the mountain, and God and Moses are finalizing the covenant between God and Israel.  Israel cannot continue unless it observes the terms of the covenant.  The golden calf represents rejection of the covenant, the desire to return to Egypt, the rejection of God, and the desire to return to the worship of gods (polytheism). The Hebrew should be read in the plural: “Behold your gods, Israel…”

God, inasmuch as God is judge and as the one who contracts the alliance or covenant, has to intervene, because the partner has broken the terms of the contract, and therefore must chastise the culpable partner. He must destroy Israel.  The laws of the covenant demand this.  God, the guarantor of justice, has the responsibility to blot out Israel.

This is what God intends to announce to Moses in Exodus 32:10.  Yet, if one looks carefully at the text, one sees that mercy presses upon the notion of justice. This incites Moses to intervene.  Already in verse 7, while presenting the culpability of Israel in saying to Moses “your people which you have brought out of Egypt…” God wishes to have Moses assume the responsibility for the people just mentioned.  In like manner, verse 10 in Hebrew is introduced by the word “And Now (ve atah).” This expression, in Hebraic rhetoric, introduces the main point of the discourse.  In other words, in reference to this: if Moses does not allow God, He will not be able to destroy Israel.

Moses understands the message and intervenes.  He begins to calm God down. Literally, according to the original text he “caresses the face” of God.  This image underlines the closeness between God and Moses.  God is brought close at hand before the prophet.   This privileged access of Moses to God comprises the fact that in the story of the golden calf, Moses is the only Israelite who is innocent, and he is within the trust of  God’s intention to destroy Israel (see Amos 3:7 where it is evident God does not do anything without first revealing it to his servants the prophets).

Moses does not plead any attenuating circumstances for Israel’s sin, he cannot discover any excuse for Israel’s fault (in fact, descending from the mountain in Exodus 32:28, he will execute 3000 of the culprits; punishment must be meted out, but not upon the entire people).  The salvation of Israel is to be found in God alone; the impossibility of killing Israel resides in God alone. Moses argues: if God destroys Israel, other people will say God is sadistic or cruel (verse 12) and does not keep his promises (verse 13). Moses pleads with God against God!  The reputation of God is at stake and it is linked with the lot of Israel. 

Result:  It happens that God does repent (in Hebrew NCHAM).  It is a very strong term and is revelatory as to how powerful is the intercession leading God to recognize his first intention which was bad.  Moreover, Moses has discovered God in his depths, and experiences a profound intimacy with God: God does not wish the death of Israel;  God is held by the obligations of the covenant, and he wishes that someone would present an escape or way out to save Israel despite everything.  Moses offers him just that.  Then what follows is that Moses becomes a partner with God in the salvation of Israel; from then on, Israel owes its existence to Moses. 

After this, Moses will continue to intercede.  He will continue to learn more about God in the measure that God’s reputation is present in this alliance with Israel.  In Numbers 14, Moses discovers a new argumentation in pleading with God against God: if he destroys Israel in the desert it will appear that God is not able to carry through on his plans in a successful manner (verse 16).  Thus after the goodness and fidelity of God, it is now God’s almighty power that comes into play.  It always goes in this pattern:  God pardons (verse 20, salak) this time and Israel will not be destroyed, even though the present generation has to be replaced by the following before entering into the Promised Land; just the same this throws a shadow on the capacity of Israel to live in fidelity to the alliance once Israel is in the Promised Land.

Amos 7

Much later Israel will come to lose the Promised Land.  This happens in two epochs;  first in the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrian invasion is presented by Amos as a chastisement coming from God toward a kingdom which departs from the divine law and which has institutionalized social injustice.

After having denounced her in the first six chapters attributed to Amos, the prophet in chapter 7 is experiencing visions during the course of which God entertains the chastisement which has been announced.

Before the amplitude of the scourges which are foreseen, the prophet intercedes just like Moses. And just as it was for Moses, Amos, too is provoked and incited to intercede.

The chastisement announced--- the plague of locusts which would destroy the entire harvest—is given in the first vision of Amos 7:1-3, and will take place after the “coup de roi”, that is to say, the ones with the king and his court who could have and should have helped repent and thus the Kingdom of the North could have been spared. This could only be seen by the prophet as a provocation to intercede.

The prophet intervenes before that contradictory appearance in God.  It is necessary to read his reaction in the following fashion, and here there is no need to modify the original Hebrew text: “By whom shall Jacob arise for he is so little?”

Amos, like Moses, can find no excuse for Israel.  He can only invoke the littleness of the latter, while the chastisement offers no hope for survival.  For Amos, a scourge which only spares the leading class of the Kingdom of the North does not leave any hope for survival of a “small remnant” faithful to God, so great is the corruption of the leaders in the North.

Amos’ intercession is efficacious.  Like Moses, Amos obtains from God that God will “repent” and desist from the chastisement that has been announced.

But the Northern Kingdom does not in the least convert, and God comes again in a second vision to Amos (7:4-6): the scourge announced is a fire which devours into a great abyss, and spares no one.  It is total. He leaves no hope for survival.  Amos intervenes with the same argumentation.  And, once again, he succeeds in God’s reversing the calamity.

With the lack of conversion always happening, God then sends new visions of chastisement to Amos in 7:9 and 8:1-3.  This time there is no total cataclysm which is announced but a military invasion which looks directly to the king and his courtiers. As the survival of a small remnant faithful to God is possible, then Amos no longer intercedes before God. The prophet acquiesces to a chastisement provided the small remnant may survive.

Furthermore, in demonstrating to Amos that the visions of which the meaning is not too clear (what does a plumb line for measuring a wall or a basket of fruit signify?), God thereby takes from Amos the possibility of reacting.  Contrary to what happens in the light of the first two visions, God no longer wishes the prophet to intercede.

Jeremiah 7:11, 14, and 15.

After Amos, Jeremiah announces a chastisement at the end of the Kingdom of the South which has not learned the lesson from the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Before such an obstinate refusal to convert, God decides upon the fall of Jerusalem.  The decision is irrevocable this time and there is no appeal on the part of a prophet.

Despite that Jeremiah is recognized as a prophet who intercedes (see Jeremiah 37:2; 42:2; 42:4; 42; 20).  And one continues to see his intercession even after his death according to what is in the text of II Maccabees 15:14. nevertheless in 7:16; 11:14; and 14:11; Jeremiah is explicitly forbidden to intercede.

Intercession this ultimate recourse is no longer available.  After Jeremiah 15:1, even Moses or Samuel (who intercedes in I Samuel 12:9) are no longer able to do anything for the rebellious.

This illustrates the contrary of the power of intercession: God must explicitly forbid intervention in order that His fidelity is observed.  Then when intercession is not explicitly forbidden, it is willed by God.  This is part of the plan of God and the history of salvation.  For our God is a God of mediations. God is a God of partnerships who in concurrences with God’s creatures, as Blaise Paschal says, “He attributes by intercession the dignity of the cause."

This is a translation by Bert Buby, S.M. from Fr. Francois’ notes in French.  Nov. 16, 2005

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