The God of Israel is a man, a Black manBy Wesley Muhammad, PhD. -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Jan 30, 2013 - 12:40:01 PM
There is a legend among the Jews that when the High Priest Simon the Just (d. 291 B.C. or 273 B.C.) on his last Day of Atonement was ministering in the Temple of Jerusalem, his usual companion, an old man dressed in white, entered the Holy of Holies with Simon, yet did not leave with him. This raised an eye of surprise in the circle of renowned Jewish scholar Rabbi Abbahu (ca. 290–320 A.D.), for it is written in Leviticus 16:17 that no one can be in the Tent of Appointment during the time when the High Priest is atoning in the Sanctuary; not even one of the angels.
Rabbi Abbahu thus concluded that surely this venerable old man who entered the Holy of Holies with Simon was none other than God Himself.
This ancient Jewish belief that God could be a particular man is based on the scriptural affirmation that the God of Israel is a man. The Book of Exodus states emphatically YHWH ‘ish milhamah, “Yahweh is a man (‘ish) of war (15:3).”
This verse was cited by the Sages of the Babylonia Talmud as proof that God in the Bible appeared as an actual man.
“And said [Rabbi] Yohanan, ‘What is the meaning of the verse of Scripture, I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom (Zech. 1:8)?’
“What is the meaning of, I saw by night? The Holy One, blessed be He, sought to turn the entire world into night. And behold a man riding-“man” refers only to the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is said, The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name (Ex. 15:3). On a red horse-the Holy One, blessed be He, sought to turn the entire world to blood. When, however, He saw Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, He cooled off, as it is said, And he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the deep.” (Balvi Sanhedrin 1:1, XLII[93A])
Biblical Hebrew has five words meaning “man”: ‘ish, geber, ’adam, ’enosh and mt. The last two terms (’enosh and mt) connote human frailty and weakness and as such are never applied to God in Scripture. The terms ‘ish and geber, on the other hand, connote a man of strength, kingship, and spirituality and the Hebrew Bible declares that God is this sort of man: He is an ‘ish and a geber or rather its intensive form, gibbor, “mighty man.” Ten times the Hebrew Bible explicitly calls God a man (‘ish, gibbor; Gen. 18; 32:24-30; Ex. 15:3; 33:11; Hos 2:16; Ps. 24:7-10; Isa. 42:13; Zeph. 1:14, 3:17; Jer. 20:11).
In the Dead Sea Scrolls God is called a “mighty man of war (gibbor hamilhamah)” and “man of glory” (‘ish kabod).
The fact that these are literal characterizations of God and not mere metaphors is confirmed by the Biblical “theophany narratives” which are non-poetic (and therefore non-metaphorical) descriptions of God appearing in human form to a person or group.
The Biblical authors recorded these encounters using the same literary structures with which they recorded historical encounters between mortal humans, confirming that these “theophanies” were understood by the Biblical authors to be actual historical, i.e. literal, events.
German Biblical scholar Walther Eichrodt is thus on point in his Old Testament Theology (1967) when he writes: “God is, without doubt, thought of … in human form, more specifically as a man.” Seemingly negative verses such as Numbers 23:19 do not contradict the Biblical affirmation that God is a man; they only qualify what type of man God is and is not.
When the Prophets of Israel saw God, they not only saw a man, they apparently saw a Black man.
According to the Hebrew Bible, God’s fiery glory, His kabod, remains hidden behind a black cloud, arapel, which term means “intense darkness.” However, in the esoteric tradition of the Jews which probably goes back to the priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, this “cloud” is understood to be a Biblical symbol for the black skin of the God of Israel! The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament thus correctly affirms that arapel or “intense darkness” “indicates the actual appearance of God.”
Jesus was a Hebrew and believed in the God of the Hebrew Bible. He too affirmed that God the Father is a man in John 8:16-18:
“16 Even if I do judge, my judgment is true, because I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 And in your Law it is written that the testimony of two men (duo anthropon) is true. 18 I am the one who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me also testifies about me.”
Prof. Delbert Burkett, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Louisiana State University, wrote regarding this verse in his The Son of Man in the Gospel of John (1991):
“Jesus appeals to the Old Testament law governing the testimony of witnesses in order to support the validity of his own testimony. In referring to that law, however, he makes a significant change in the wording. The law reads, ‘At the testimony of two witnesses (edim) … a case shall be established (Deut. 19.15; cf. 17.6).’ For the phrase ‘two witnesses,’ found in both the Hebrew and the Greek, Jesus substitutes ‘two men.’ In v. 18 he proceeds to apply this law to himself and his Father: he and the Father are the ‘two Men’ who testify. Thus as Jesus uses the phrase ‘two Men’ here, it paradoxically designates not two human beings, but two divine beings.
“In this passage Jesus does precisely the opposite of what one would expect. The natural expectation would be that if a law spoke of ‘two men’ and Jesus wanted to apply it to himself and God, he might change ‘two men’ to ‘two witnesses’ to avoid speaking of God as a man. In the present case, he could have simply retained the original wording of the law to avoid so speaking. Instead, he does the reverse. He apparently goes out of his way to apply the phrase ‘two Men’ to himself and god (emphasis added).”
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s most fundamental teaching—that God is a man and that the Original Black Man is God—is thus perfectly consistent with the Scriptures in their original languages and with the teachings of the Prophets.
Dr. Wesley Muhammad is an Historian of Religion who earned a Bachelor’s degree (1994) in Religious Studies from Morehouse College and a Master’s degree (2003) and Doctorate (2008) in Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan. He has authored several scholarly studies on the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, including “The Truth of God: The Bible, The Qur’an and the Secret of the Black God” as well as “Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam.”