He Makes His Ways Known to Moses – Psalm 103:7

He Makes His Ways Known to Moses – Psalm 103:7

Moses had asked God to be shown the ways of God. God told Moses that He will pass by with all of His goodness before Moses and He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy (Exodus 33:19).

What does this mean? Some Christians argue that this passage teaches that there is no rhyme or reason to God’s grace. God chooses to favor whosoever He chooses to favor. The fact that Scripture teaches that God favors those who do His bidding and frowns upon those who do not does not faze these Christians. These theologians reinterpret all of Scripture according to their misunderstanding of this one verse in Exodus. These religious doctors argue that man has no free will and that when God arbitrarily chooses to favor someone God blesses them with good deeds and then blesses them with favor as a “reward” for their robotic deeds. All of the rest of mankind are allowed by God to marinate in their sinful state of being and get cursed for being created that way.

That these theologians have misinterpreted this passage in Exodus is easy to demonstrate. This verse does not stand alone. The book of Psalms elaborates on this Scriptural theme. The Psalmist tells us clearly that God’s grace goes to those who fear God and that this is what God taught Moses (Psalm 103:11,12). His eternal kindness is reserved for those who guard His covenant and remember His commandments to observe them. This is the Psalmist’s understanding of the passage in Exodus. The Psalmist had the good fortune to have never heard of John Calvin.

But how do we translate the verse in Exodus? What is God telling Moses when He says that He will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy?

What God is teaching us through Moses is that His mercy is reserved to those who look to Him and to Him alone for mercy. God is telling Moses that those who will attribute their good fortune to the forces of nature, to the whims of chance, to the services of Jesus, to the merit of their own good deeds or to any other entity aside from the God of Moses will not merit His mercy. God will only have mercy upon those who allow Him to have mercy on them. Whoever takes shelter in another force will need to look for mercy from the force in which they placed their trust. It is only those who trust in Him and in Him alone that will merit His mercy.

Fearing God and observing His commandments does not mean placing trust in the performance of commandments or in a righteous heart. Fearing God and observing His commandments means recognizing that one cannot give to God that which God has not already blessed us with.

No one said it better than our King David when He stood before God and declared “it is all from You and it is from Your hand that we give to You” (1Chronicles 29:14). David did not have to deny that man has free will in order to acknowledge the absolute sovereignty of God. David understood that God in His absolute sovereignty granted man free will and He still remains absolutely sovereign. After all, God could do anything.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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14 Responses to He Makes His Ways Known to Moses – Psalm 103:7

  1. Sharon S says:

    Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

    Good day. Happy Purim to you and your community.

    You wrote “These religious doctors argue that man has no free will and that when God arbitrarily chooses to favor someone God blesses them with good deeds and then blesses them with favor as a “reward” for their robotic deeds. All of the rest of mankind are allowed by God to marinate in their sinful state of being and get cursed for being created that way.”

    According to the Torah , God informed Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not let the Israelites go ( Exodus 4:21)- at Midian , even before Moses meet Pharaoh. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after the plagues had passed. It seems from the surface ( without Rabbinical commentaries) that Pharaoh has no free will to choose a better outcome for himself and his nation. How is it any different from the arguments made by these religious doctors?

    You also wrote “Fearing God and observing His commandments does not mean placing trust in the performance of commandments or in a righteous heart. Fearing God and observing His commandments means recognizing that one cannot give to God that which God has not already blessed us with”

    I read an article which is based on a lecture given by a Rabbi Israel Chait here http://www.mesora.org/GenderEquality.html , which discusses gender equality in Judaism. The three blessings ( for not being created a Gentile, slave or a woman) are formulated is so that the Jewish man , having the most mitzvos should bless God for having them.

    According to this article ,when a man and a woman are in danger, halacha requires that the man is to be saved first. This is because the order of saving lives should reflect the high priority the Jewish community place on mitzvos.  This also reflects Israel’s commitment and love for the mitzvos.

    The Rabbi explained that Halacha cannot go hand in hand with philosophy in every step. There is no decision on whether intent is required in the performance of a mitzva. If one erects a succah or blows a shofar on Rosh Hashana without having an intent then his mitzva will be accepted.

    I understand from the article that the performance of the mitzvos is valued and a top priority in the Jewish community . The performance of the commandments in itself is very important and can be fulfilled without having a conscious intent.

    I hope that you can explain the discrepancy between the statements from your post that I quoted and the examples from the Torah as well as the article that I shared here. It seems that there are diverse , opposing views here. Which is more accurate?

    Thank you

    • Sharon S Pharaoh was evil long before his heart was hardened – it is clear from the text itself that the hardening of the heart was a punishment for what he had done before and nowhere does the text indicate that he got punished for having a hardened heart.

      The idea of fulfilling mitzvos (commandments) without conscious intent simply means that the intent is lacking at the time of the performance but there must be an underlying understanding of the basic truths that stand behind the concept of a commandment – that God is the absolute Master and that the fulfillment of His command is not giving Him something that He has not first granted us.

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • Sharon S says:

        Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

        Good day. Thank you for your reply.

        I understand your explanation about Pharaoh .

        What about Genesis 17:18-21 where God will establish His covenant with Isaac, despite Abraham’s hope for Ishmael? Or how about Genesis 25:23, where Rebekah was informed through prophecy that the older (Esau) will serve the younger ( Jacob)?

        The Torah narratives progress from these prophecies to the characters of these individuals. It seems from the surface that God blesses whom He chooses with good deeds and then blesses them with favor based upon their deeds. Those whom He did not chose marinate in their state of being and getting cursed as a result.

        This does not mean that the chosen characters have blissful lives, Jacob is the best example of someone who faced a lot of struggles in his life. However it is very clear that God intervenes in the lives of these Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, and of the Jewish nation as well.

        I learnt that according to Maimonides , God’s involvement in one’s life is proportional to one’s level of perfection. Great people like the Patriarchs and Matriarchs earned God’s providence in all parts of their lives, while lesser people are left to chance, like animals. How is this any different from the arguments made by these religious doctors?

        As to your response on the mitzvos, is the underlying truths behind their performance applicable to both all ( Jew and Gentile)? Apologies for putting in a silly example, but if I choose not to worship Jesus , though the intent to worship the God of the Torah is lacking at the time of performing the command, does this mean that I am fulfilling the command against idolatry?

        • Sharon S God assigns different roles to different individuals and to different nations – these roles are not good vs. evil. God chose the Levites out of Israel and Aaron out of the Levites. Everyone can serve God from the position of the role alloted to them.

          I don’t see how Maimonides teaching has anything to do with Calvinism – Maimonides is saying that you have the free will to perfect yourself to move closer to God’s protection.

          And when I wrote that you need to understand the basic principles of the commandments (i.e. that God is the absolute Master) – I did not mean that this conscious thought is necessary at the time of the fulfillment.

          1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Sharon S says:

            Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

            I understand from your points that the difference between Calvin’s views and that of Maimonides boils down to whether one is given the choice to get out of the sinful state , or is forever doomed to marinate in that state. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

            The election of Levites/ Aaron out of Israel is quite a different scenario as compared to Isaac vs Ishmael or Esau vs Jacob. The Levites and Aaron’s descendants are specially elected from Israel, a nation elected by God out of all nations. I haven’t come across any commentary that shows these roles as good vs evil. The examples of the Patriarchs and their siblings/ half siblings is a different story altogether.

            This is why I find your position- that God will only have mercy upon those who allow Him to have mercy on them or that man is given a choice not to marinate in their sinful state, as too good to be true.

            It would be of help if you can provide examples of characters who are not Jews but are given the choice to come out of their sorry state , especially from the Torah. I have tried my best but could not find any.

            I will not ask further on the mitzvos.

            Thank you for your patience

          • Sharon s Noah is not considered Jewish, Job was not Jewish yet these two are pointed as examples of righteousness alongside a Jew – Ezekiel 14:14

            1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Sharon S says:

            Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

            Good day. Thank you for sharing the verse from Ezekiel .

            I looked up the verse in the NIV bible translation ( bible in Christian print). According to the footnotes, it can be Daniel, a Jew who was exiled in Babylon/ Daniel of the Jewish Scriptures or Danel, a man of reknown in ancient literature – most likely a non Jew.

            Most Christian commentaries identify Daniel in Ezekiel 14:14-19 the Daniel of the Jewish Scriptures. Noah, Job and Daniel lived in pagan societies , however they still maintain their righteousness and fidelity to God. These righteous individuals also are not associated/ living in the land of Israel.

            “Daniel” in Ezekiel may also very well be the non Jewish figure as Daniel of the Scriptures could have been very young at the time of the prophecy. In addition , putting a young Jew ( a contemporary of Ezekiel) alongside Noah and Job, much older historically, seems out of place.

            I checked Rashi’s commentary as well. Rashi identifies “Daniel” in Ezekiel with the Daniel of Scripture.

            Just sharing for your information.

  2. I personally don’t fully agree with John Calvin’s doctrine of prescience, election, and predestination, but seems like he tried to find an answer out of various biblical paragraphs that seem contradictory to each other, thus he came to that conclusion. Here is some of his selections on his work, “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” If you have time, you can read this critically and judge.

    “… The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former (see chap. 22 sec. 1). When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him (as those objects are which we retain in our memory), but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures. By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. This God has testified, not only in the case of single individuals; he has also given a specimen of it in the whole posterity of Abraham, to make it plain that the future condition of each nation lives entirely at his disposal: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance,” (Deut. 32:8, 9). The separation is before the eyes of all; in the person of Abraham, as in a withered stock, one people is specially chosen, while the others are rejected; but the cause does not appear, except that Moses, to deprive posterity of any handle for glorying, tells them that their superiority was owing entirely to the free love of God. The cause which he assigns for their deliverance is, “Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them,” (Deut. 4:37); or more explicitly in another chapter, “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you,” (Deut. 7:7, 8). He repeatedly makes the same intimations, “Behold, the heaven, and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them,” (Deut. 10:14, 15). Again, in another passage, holiness is enjoined upon them, because they have been chosen to be a peculiar people; while in another, love is declared to be the cause of their protection (Deut. 23:5). This, too, believers with one voice proclaim, “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob, whom he loved,” (Ps. 47:4). The endowments with which God had adorned them, they all ascribe to gratuitous love, not only because they knew that they had not obtained them by any merit, but that not even was the holy patriarch endued with a virtue that could procure such distinguished honor for himself and his posterity. And the more completely to crush all pride, he upbraids them with having merited nothing of the kind, seeing they were a rebellious and stiff-necked people (Deut. 9:6). Often, also, do the prophets remind the Jews of this election by way of disparagement and opprobrium, because they had shamefully revolted from it. Be this as it may, let those who would ascribe the election of God to human worth or merit come forward. When they see that one nation is preferred to all others, when they hear that it was no feeling of respect that induced God to show more favor to a small and ignoble body, nay, even to the wicked and rebellious, will they plead against him for having chosen to give such a manifestation of mercy? But neither will their obstreperous words hinder his work, nor will their invectives, like stones thrown against heaven, strike or hurt his righteousness; nay, rather they will fall back on their own heads….”

  3. Sharon S says:

    Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal ,

    Good day.

    I’m sorry to revisit this conversation again. Your article brought out interesting themes such as free will, predestination and the relationship of these elements with God’s sovereignty.

    I read up on how these themes operate from both Christian and Jewish perspective.
    I also read up your article ” Christianity Unmasked” and focus on the section” The Inherent Godliness of Mankind” in that article as it relates to the above themes.

    I understand that the argument of the religious doctors in your article , whom I assumed must be that of John Calvin does not represent all of Christendom. I learnt that Calvin is influenced by the works of St Augustine of Hippo, a doctor of the Catholic Church. However St Augustine for one does not teach that man has no free will.

    Catholics believe that man is given free will , but it needs to cooperate with God’s grace for man to attain salvation. Man is free to accept or reject this grace. When God establish His eternal plan of ” predestination” , He includes in it each person’s free response to His grace (Cathecism of the Catholic Church -CCC para 600). God permitted certain acts , committed out of blindness or sin in order to achieve this plan ,examples which can be found in Genesis 50:20 and Acts 2:23

    Catholicism teaches the doctrine of Original sin, that man “contracted” the sin of Adam . This is a deprivation of original holiness and justice that Adam ( and the human race) had before the fall (CCC para 404). Human nature is not totally corrupted but is inclined to sin (CCC para 405)

    Personally I do question this doctrine as it implies that man has a flaw due to factors beyond our control ,which makes it harder for us to choose good/God. Belief in the atoning death of Jesus frees man from the power of sin , thereby man has the freedom to choose good. Man is not able to achieve favor with God/ salvation purely from his/her own efforts. It can only be achieved by something beyond ourselves- God’s grace.

    Judaism , to my understanding teaches that man is able to fulfill God’s requirements from exercising his/her free will to obey His commands/ do what is right in His sight. This quality of this free will is not affected by the sin of Adam and Eve. I learnt from another Rabbi that God gave man the faculty of conscience after Adam & Eve’s disobedient act. It seems that man is able to find favor with God through the exercise of his free will and from his own efforts (Deuteronomy 30:14 ,19) and need not rely on anything else to be made right with God. God’s grace and mercy is a response to man’s effort, or as you wrote “you have the free will to perfect yourself to move closer to God’s protection”

    Is it really possible for man to fulfill God’s requirements although he aligns his will with that of God? I learnt through Judaism that man has both good and evil inclination .I believe most of us have good intentions and we want to be better people morally and spiritually than where we we are now. However the road to perfection is a difficult one – a struggle between the good and evil inclination.

    You wrote “Fearing God and observing His commandments means recognizing that one cannot give to God that which God has not already blessed us with.” The Jewish people are blessed by God through revelation , the opportunities to carry out the mizvos, the merits of your ancestors and living in Torah observant communities. Let’s be real, most non Jews are not blessed with environments conducive enough for us to be aware of God’s requirements or which makes it easier for us to do the right thing. It is stated in a few places that God is loving and merciful to those who keep His covenant ( Deuteronomy 7:9 , Psalm 25:10) – the covenant He established with Israel. Does this not imply some sort of predestination- where some are favored and the rest have very little choice but to marinate in their sinful state?

    In addition, I have come across elements in Jewish tradition which teaches that non Jews are somehow born with an impure soul. I have had a conversation with a Rabbi, a countermissionary who subscribes to this view . This just goes to show that the concept of an inherent flaw in man is not only advocated in Christianity ( Catholicism) but is found in Judaism as well.

    We live in a world that is still far from what the God of the Torah intended it to be. I don’t see how it is different from the “fallen world” as per Christianity. Despite our best efforts , there are still “glass ceillings” which hinders equal opportunities or resources from being freely given to everyone, irrespective or race, religion or creed in order for us to achieve our full potential -at the workplace , human rights, religious freedom and economic opportunities to name a few. One has to be of a certain gender , ethnicity, religion – in short , assessed for factors beyond our control to be at the table. Personal effort or merit is important but not enough.

    I wanted to believe that there are no unequal opportunities or ” glass ceilings” where man’s relationship with God is concerned and that the quality or level of our relationship is not determined by factors beyond our control. Unfortunately such conditions exist in this area as well.

    Hence, in light of the above ,I don’t see why the teachings of the Church , especially on man’s nature , free will and predestination is is seen so negatively. In my opinion Judaism is no different ,when it comes to non Jews either .These teachings are consistent with reality.

    • Sharon S The “religious Doctors” of this article are the Calvinists which does not represent all of Christendom as you accurately point out. I think that the main difference between Judaism and Christianity in this area is the idea that God judges us according to our abilities and opportunities – God does not demand angelic perfection from humans and from those He has blessed with more understanding more is demanded. This teaching where God is satisfied with flawed human effort because humans are humans is emphasized in Judaism to a degree that I do not see in Christianity.

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • Sharon S says:

        Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

        Good day.

        According to Judaism ,does God assist man in his flawed effort to live a moral life even when he is not capable to make a first move to live righteously- such as a drug addict or an alcoholic? Or is the addict doomed to remain in their sin and be cursed as a result of it ?

        I once read a book explaining the meaning of AA’s 12 steps by Rabbi Abraham Twerski. 2 out of the 12 steps requires the alcoholic to acknowledge that he/she is powerless over the addiction and to believe a power greater than themselves can restore the alcoholic to sanity. It seems these steps are developed from a Christian worldview.

        Correct me if I’m wrong , but it seems God’s grace and mercy comes as a response to man’s effort in the worldview of Judaism. God’s grace , mercy and protection will come in only when one does what is right.

        It seems that the God of the Torah only helps those who help themselves.

        • Sharon S The underlying theme of all of Judaism is the acknowledgment that we cannot give God what He did not first give us – So the first and most important – and the most dificult step is acknowledging our complete helplessness before God and to ask for His help – and all other steps ought to be an articulation of this truth

          1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

          • Sharon S says:

            Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

            Thank you for clarifying. I understand more clearly now.

            From your recent comment , Judaism and Christianity does teach that man ultimately does need God’s help to live a moral life . The source of mercy/grace , level of perfection that God demands and man’s effort may differ between the two –but what both religion teaches is that in the end God is sovereign over all.

            I wanted to show you that there are diverse views in Christianity when it comes to the nature of man , free will, predestination and God’s sovereignty. Calvin’s (and Luther’s) position is followed by roughly 37% of Christians but their position does not represent all of Christendom. I do appreciate that you acknowledge this.

            I would like to request that you would consider reviewing your article “Christianity Unmasked” and in particular the section “The Inherent Godliness of Mankind”. You wrote that Christianity /the Church contends man is inherently evil , which I don’t find very accurate in light of our discussion above.

            Hope you and your community stay well and safe in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

            Thank you.

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