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Meditating on His Own Torah

It does not seem likely that a fourth-century Christian would depict God as studying the Torah, but such a word picture fits well within Jewish thought.


| By Aaron Eby

The Hebrew text of Genesis 1:31—2:3 which speaks of God ceasing from all he created. (Photo credit: © FFOZ, Text from Jerusalem Crown/כתר ירושלים)


In The Sabbath Table, we included a special version of Kiddush on Erev Shabbat for Messianic Gentiles which highlights their important place in the Kingdom and relationship with the Sabbath.

The wording of this prayer came from ancient synagogue liturgy that had been “fossilized,” so to speak, in an early Christian document called Apostolic Constitutions. Many expressions in this document betray thoughts and expressions that are common in Judaism but rare in fourth-century Christianity, suggesting an early Jewish source.

One such expression is that God ceased from his work of creation in order to “meditate on [his] own laws,” or as filtered through the Hebrew language, to “meditate on the words of [his] Torah.” The commentary on this phrase in The Sabbath Table explains,

The sages in the Talmud (b.Avodah Zarah 3b) and in the midrashic work Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabba (13:1), described God’s daily schedule, explaining that he studies Torah for the first part of every day. Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabba 18:2 states that “If any scholar sits reading, reciting, and studying the Torah, the blessed Holy One sits across from him and reads and recites with him.” This is based midrashically on the verse “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!” (Lamentations 2:19 ESV).

Anthropomorphism of this sort is not to be taken literally. In Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabba, the intention is to inspire students to follow God’s example and spend time in study. The Talmud’s description serves to describe metaphorically how God interacts with the world.

In Jewish thought, the Torah is the blueprint of creation. The creation narrative itself teaches that the world came into existence when God spoke his words. But existence itself does not cease to depend upon the Creator; rather, God continues every moment to uphold creation. God upholds creation in the same manner that he first created it: through his word. Thus, “studying” or “engaging in the words of the Torah” are terms that describe God maintaining the universe.

While God created for six days, on the seventh day he ceased and began to maintain his creation—that is, “to meditate on the words of [his] Torah.”

It does not seem likely that a fourth-century Christian would depict God as studying the Torah, but such a word picture fits well within Jewish thought. This prayer in Apostolic Constitutions falls within a section that clearly reflects the Sabbath Amidah; this fact leads many scholars to conclude that it preserves ancient synagogue liturgy.

God upholds the world he created in six days through his word. How appropriate it is for his creations, both Jews and those from the nations who devote themselves to Israel’s king, to strengthen ourselves through his precious Torah on the Sabbath day!

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