In Exodus 4 we read that God gave Moses miracles so that the Israelites would believe his message. The miracles of Aaron and Moses were also proven greater than the power of the sorcerers in Egypt. We could get the impression that if a miracle is big enough, it proves that a person’s message is from God. According to the book of John, Jesus even said about himself, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”
Other chapters in the Torah show us that Moses’ powerful and meaningful miracles were limited in their significance, according to an existing context of faith. He could not use them to teach against the faith that Abraham passed down to his descendants, and certain signs were not enough to sustain the largest of claims.
Some Christians say that if we ignore or reject the stories of Jesus’ miracles, we must also ignore or reject Moses, on the same basis. We should therefore look more closely at the context of miracles in the Torah, so that we can compare it with the Christian stories.
Moses knew his prophecy was coming to a nation with prior loyalties. In Exodus 3 he imagined himself telling the Israelites that the God of their fathers had spoken to him. They would test him, asking what god had sent him, by what name. God answered, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you…” It would have been wrong for the Israelites to go against their loyalty to their Creator, Jacob’s God, which they had remembered throughout their time in Egypt, no matter what miracle was performed.
A similar concept arises later in Deuteronomy 13. One of the examples in Torah of ways that God tests His people’s hearts is through allowing miracles to attach to a foreign message. Someone can pass the criteria for a prophet and even perform great signs, but if they lead people into idolatry there should be no fear of them.
So we should look at the battle of powers between Moses and the sorcerers not as a proof to the Israelites about which message to believe, but as a way of hammering home a point. Especially to Pharaoh, who had asked, ““Who is the LORD, that I should heed him and let Israel go?” Even if they had performed miracles and Moses performed none at all, they could not reject the faith of their fathers, which they had not needed miracles to accept and to guard to begin with.
Another important point. The early miracles caused the Israelites to accept Moses’ earlier message. They believed that God had taken notice of them. After the plagues, if they ignored Moses’ instructions, their firstborn sons would not have been protected. The miracles of splitting of the sea, defeating the Egyptians, and the presence of God’s fire and cloud, made them put their faith in Moses even more. But still, none of these things were enough for them to accept the Torah as God’s words for all generations of Israelites to come. On this occasion, the Israelites needed God to speak to them directly. He told Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.” Through this, we understand that some claims could not be proven well enough to God’s people simply by signs or wonders.
Now we can look more clearly at the claims about Jesus. Christians argue that Jesus never led people to worship false gods, and so his miracles need not be disregarded. When faced with the objection that many themes in the Christian scriptures are not found in the Torah or prophets, and in fact go against the plain reading of themes in those books, Christians say that they can still be read in a way that does not contradict. They believe that since there is no inherent contradiction, the claims of miracles (including resurrection) are authoritative proofs of God’s favour towards Christian interpretations. Anyone who ignored the apostles’ stories would be, in this view, as rebellious as a child of the generation who received Torah ignoring his or her parents’ testimony.
Two very large objections remain. To begin with, the Jews of our generation do not believe in Torah because they have heard that Moses did miracles in front of their ancestors. And because every new claim is made in the context of loyalty to faith in God as the heart of the nation has known Him before, it is up to the generation of a prophet or miracle worker to weigh everything up. We simply have no way of checking whether the claimed prophets and miracles workers (true and false), such as Moses and Jesus, really did miracles, including coming back from the grave. Historically it’s possible to doubt them both. We also can’t check whether anything in a past figure’s message, or the message of their disciples, was against the loyal heart of the nation to her God and to accepted revelations from Him. So the way we look at this in hindsight needs to be different from the way people were able to decide at the time: we have different sets of information.
In hindsight, we can see that the original Jewish followers of Jesus did not leave a line of descendants carrying their message through history. This contrasts with the prediction of the Torah and the prophets that the testimony of righteous Israel must be passed down from parent to child for every generation, even in exile, and will be preserved in the midst of a remnant. Instead, it is rabbinic Jews who have preserved the testimonial observances in faith and sincerity, until this day. This is really case closed, for all we can see from where we stand.
Still, it is possible to put ourselves into the shoes of a first century Jew to consider something that still matters to us just as much today. There are two witnesses that we should have a high guard up regarding whom we worship. Our souls tell us that only our Creator deserves it. And the Torah accepted by the children of Israel tells the Jews constantly to be careful in this matter of avoiding false worship. It mentions nothing about how to open the door, despite that caution, to test or take seriously a claim that a fellow human being ‘is God incarnate’. If the miracles of liberation from slavery and the sea being opened for a nation to come through it were not great enough for the nation’s conviction about the commandments of God’s Torah, then even a man raised from death in front of your eyes could not use that to compel you to include him whenever you offer what only belongs to God. Guarding our relationship with God is our deepest human loyalty and concern. And for those of us who never saw Jesus perform any miracle, the caution is rightly greater.
Countless Jews have given their hearts, souls, minds, and strength to God through loyalty to the Torah of Moses, and have nothing to do with Jesus. They themselves stand as a sign that the Jews did not ignore Jesus out of hardness of heart towards God. They have continued to teach their children to hold and cherish close relationships of obedience with Him.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal