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Parashat Ki-Tisa - Exodus 34:7 - An alternate reading revealing Messianic Mercy and Forgiveness

As we approach the Passover season of each new year, the weekly Torah portion readings always bring us to a brief theological stopover at Parashat Ki-Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35). In this portion of biblical study, I believe there is an important redemption lesson to be learned underneath the surface text as it is presented in Exodus 34:5-7. This said, let us read it together, first in English and then in Hebrew.

ENGLISH NARRATIVE of EXODUS 34:5-7 as translated by the NKJV translators:

Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

HEBREW NARRATIVE of EXODUS 34:6-7 as recorded in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible:

וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה׀ עַל־פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ יְהוָ֣ה׀ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת׀
נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים נֹשֵׂ֥א עָון וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד׀ עֲון אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים.

Exodus 34:6:

In the first part of this declaration, notice the statement וַיִּקְרָא֒ יְהוָ֣ה׀ יְהוָ֔ה – “and he called out – YHVH | YHVH (YHWH | YHWH)…” Here are a few issues to take note of:

  1. The pronoun “he” is the speaker of the statement.

  2. There are two side-by-side declarations of Hashem (YHVH).

  3. There is a vertical bar (called a paseq) inserted into the space between the two identical names.

Regarding number 3, I am not going to address the exegetical issue of the paseq (the vertical bar between the two words) because it is beyond the scope of this article. In short, it is well-known that the bar has an exegetical value in interpreting scripture as noted by many scholars, but still there is no solid certainty as to why. However, the two other points are of interest to us.

FIRST, let us look at the statement, “and he called out…” Within the context, this is a declaration by the four-lettered divine name. It is not surprising given passages such as Exodus 19:24 –

“Then YHVH said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to YHVH, lest he break out against them.”

Over the millennia, many have noted that YHVH is the speaker and yet he speaks according to the third person saying, “…lest he (YHVH) break out against them.” Compare this to Exodus 24:12 -

Then YHVH said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”

I have spoken in detail about this grammatical anomaly in many of my previous books and thus, I am not going to repeat it here. In brief, however, this points us to a definite plurality in the Name, as it is declared in Hebrew scripture in such places as:

Genesis 1:26-27. Then God (Elohim) said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…."
Genesis 11:6-7. And YHVH said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Isaiah 6:8. Also I heard the voice of YHVH, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?
Isaiah 6:3. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is YHVH of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Based on the Hebrew written record, these statements appear to give validity to passages such as:

John 14:1. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
John 17:11. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
Hebrews 11:1-2. God (Elohim), who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

SECOND, Exodus 34:6 addresses the four-lettered divine name twice, side by side. Recall, Yeshua boldly said -

Matthew 11:27. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
John 10:30. I and My Father are one.
John 14:9. Yeshua said to him (Phillip), “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Statements like this appear to explain passages such as –

Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: YHVH our God (Elohim), YHVH is One!
Daniel 7:9-13 (abridged). I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire… I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
Matthew 26:63-64 (abridged). Tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God (Elohim)! Yeshua said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Exodus 34:7:

What follows in Exodus 34:7 is a continuation of thought from 34:6. Here, we have a redemption lesson, as it were, peeking out from behind or underneath the words of the narrative. Here are two points to consider:

  1. Keeping watch over or preserving (from the Hebrew word notzair – נצר) mercy (chesed).

  2. Forgiving (from the Hebrew word nosaya - נשא) iniquity, transgression, and sin (which is based on a condition) to the third and fourth generation.

I will not address the first point as it is beyond the scope of this overview. However, the second point is of great interest; that of YHVH’s forgiveness of iniquity, transgression, and sin. Exodus 34:7 appears as a look-ahead prophecy towards what Daniel saw:

Daniel 9:24. Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.

In Exodus 34:7, forgiveness is the word nosaya – נשא, meaning, to raise up, lift up, or to carry something. This is theologically deep when we consider Yeshua’s statement –

John 12:31-32. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up (nosaya) from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.

Within the context of Daniel 9:24 and John 12:32, there are three categories to be forgiven – iniquity, transgression, and sin.

Iniquity is from the Hebrew word pesha – פשע, a concept that defines the breaking of trust and one that is unfaithful to a covenant. We can see this concept in places like 2 Kings 3:5, “when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.”

Transgression is from the Hebrew word ahvon – און * and also עון,* meaning, to bend, twist, deviate and distort. For example, see Psalm 7:12, “He will sharpen his sword; he bends his bow and makes it ready.” Also, Lamentations 3:9. “He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.” In Hebrew, the letters Ayin - ע and Aleph - א can be interchanged. The idea of ahvon describes the character of the serpent as one that bends, twists, and distorts truth, such as how Satan appears in Genesis chapter 3.

Sin is from the Hebrew word chata – חטא, meaning to miss a mark or a goal. The word is directly connected to chitah – חטה, which is the term for wheat.

In Hebrew, as an aleph and ayin are interchangeable, so also, an aleph and a heh. One might ask, what does sin have to do with wheat, since both Hebrew words are linked? Over the centuries, many ideas have been posited. One that I think fits well is with Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 13; that of his parable of the wheat and the tares. Yeshua explained that an enemy mixed in tares with the wheat (see Matthew 13:25). This idea was nothing shocking in the Second Temple period in that it was taught by oral tradition (from something that Abraham taught) that the “tree” (in Hebrew – עץ) in the Garden of Eden might actually have been a stalk of wheat. However, this oral tradition was strangely twisted, being taught that the wheat "tree" was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I would disagree based on what Yeshua taught in Matthew 13; that the Tree of Life (etz chayim he) would fit the Hebrew idea of a wheat stalk or wheat “tree,” because it was like one of the cedars of Lebanon. This would certainly explain the etymological connection between Sin and Wheat, in Hebrew; that Adam and Eve missed the goal or mark (same Hebrew word for wheat and sin). Now, for all humanity, the rest is history.

I wish to now conclude my thoughts on Exodus 34:7 with a brief analysis of the statement:

עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים

"...unto the third and unto the fourth"

Since very long ago, Jewish and Christian translators have understood this statement as saying, “To the third and fourth generation.” Whilst they might be correct (as I am not a professionally trained Hebrew linguist), I would like to suggest an alternate reading that seems to fit much better within the overall context of the statement in Exodus 34:6-7. I would like to suggest that we read these four words על שלשים ועל רבעים (al shlishayim v’al raybim) not so much as “to the third and the fourth generation,” but rather, as “ON THE THIRD AND ON THE FOURTH.” What do I mean by this? Allow me to explain.

The Hebrew text does not have the word “generation” here; it’s just not there. Now, one could certainly imply that this is referring to a generation and they might not be amiss. However, let us consider for a moment that just maybe the term “generation” is not supposed to be there; that it was intentionally left out. Here is why:

First, the statement at the end of Exodus 34:7 is written in the plural because it is spoken to all the sons of Israel in the plural. This implies that each “son of Israel” (every soul of Israel) is going to be affected by this statement.

Second, the Hebrew term “al” – על does not always mean “to.” It can also carry the idea of “On” or “Upon.” This said, Yeshua clearly said on a number of occasions:

Luke 18:31-33. Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge him and kill him. And the Third Day He will rise again.”

This explains the idea of something connected to man’s redemption; that this even would happen “ON THE THIRD” (day), that Messiah would “get up.” The Hebrew prophet Hosea understood it this way when he said:

Hosea 6:2. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.

Now, let us look at the idea of the “fourth.” In the Hebrew prophecy of Malachi 4:2, we read this:

Malachi 4:2 (Hebrew 3:20). But to you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise (Hebrew: “get up”) with healing in his wings.

Many Second Temple period Messianic teachings grew out of statements like this, based on interpretations and readings from such passages as Psalm 90:4, which reads as follows:

Psalm 90:4. For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.

The interpretation, of course, is that a “day” is like a thousand years. Peter understood it this way when he said:

2 Peter 3:8. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with YHVH one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

When Malachi said, “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise (Hebrew: “get up”) with healing in his wings, the ancient believers in Yeshua connected it to Genesis 1:14-19, when the Sun (Hebrew – shemesh) appears on the fourth day of the creation. Then, they connected this idea to their native Aramaic understanding of the term shemash – a servant, spelled the same as shemesh – sun. So, they expected the Messiah (in the role of shining the light of the sun) to come (as a servant, to teach us servanthood), and yes, to get up (arise) from the grave “ON THE FOURTH” (day). This would explain the redemptive statement in Exodus 34:7, as anyone who can read Hebrew, might read it, if they have eyes to see it:

Exodus 34:7. “…preserving mercy for thousands, forgiving broken trust and twisting (from the garden serpent) and sin (missing the goal or mark of the Tree of Life), by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the broken trust (infidelity) of the fathers upon the sons and the son’s sons ON the THIRD and ON the FOURTH.”

Could this be saying that the coming Messiah would complete the prophetic word that he would rise on the Third Day (after entering into the second death) and he would rise on the Fourth Day of the creation week when considering that a day is like a 1,000 years? - thus, ON THE THIRD and ON THE FOURTH. To me, this makes a lot of sense when we consider what Yeshua said to his talmidim (disciples) when he summed up his statement about the sower and the seed in Matthew 13:

Matthew 13:16-17. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see him, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear him.

Something more to think and pray about concerning Parashat Ki-Tisa and Exodus 34:7 on the Messianic redemptive message of the Torah.

-Avi ben Mordechai

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Feb 27, 2019

Wow, thank you Avi. This is really to think and pray about ....

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