THE MESSIAH, PRINCE OF THE COUNTENANCE

The Rabbinic Messianic discussions may to us often sound capricious and irrational. Cryptic Messianic references are made in passing in the Talmudic and Midrashic literature, but probably most of all in the Zohar, a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch. The New Testament's portrait of Christ too contains aspects which are inexplicable from the historico-prophetical point of view alone. Indeed Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ "which has been kept hidden for ages and generations" and "hidden for long ages past" (Col. 1:26, 1.Cor. 2:7, and Rom. 16:25). According to Peter he was "chosen before the creation of the world" (1.Pet. 1:20).
 
Jacob sees the face of God

One of the most detached Messianically interpreted illustrations in the Pentateuch concerns an incident in the life of Jacob. There is, relatively speaking, so little said about it in the old literature that we present it only now, out of chronological order. In Gen. ch. 32 we read of how Jacob wrestled by the Jabbok stream with a certain "man", from whom he asked his blessing. Jacob received the new name Israel, which means 'he struggles with God', since he had "struggled with God and with men" and won. Jacob gave the place the name Peniel, meaning 'face of God', and he said "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared". The two names Peniel and Penuel are used of this mysterious nocturnal apparition (Gen. 32:29--30). Midrash Rabbah commenting on this says that Jacob "saw the face of God in the Holy Spirit" (lit. 'in the Shechina').

The account of Jacob's wrestling with the angel gave rise among the Sages to thoughts which have a direct bearing on their understanding of the Messiah. Targum Onqelos states that actually Jacob saw the "Angel of the LORD". But who is this "Angel of the LORD" and who is "Penuel"? Isaiah 63:9 presents a mystical enigma, which in a certain way is connected with the Jabbok river account. Isaiah says:

    "In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence [Heb. 'countenance'] saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old."
The Rabbis say that this "angel of his presence" means the "Angel of the Covenant and the Prince of the Countenance". In Hebrew the phrase is Sar ha-Panim, literally 'the Prince of the faces' or 'countenance'. Rabbi David Qimhi says of Mal. 3:1, the Lord who will "suddenly come to his temple", that "this Lord is the Messiah-King, and he is the Lord of the Covenant".83 This being so, we can conclude that Jacob had a Messianic experience, in that he beheld the face of the Messiah.
 
Christ as the 'Prince of the Countenance'

The Jewish prayerbook, the Sidûr ha-Shalem, contains, in the New Year prayers in connection with the sounding of the shofar horn, a remarkable prayer which speaks of "Jesus, the Prince of the Countenance". I know of two separate occasions where, concerning this prayer, some young men on asking who this Jesus actually is have been driven out of the Synagogue. The prayer reads:

    "May it be Thy will that the blast from this horn should carry to the tabernacle of God by the instrumentality of our delegate Tartiel, whose name Elias -- may his memory be blessed -- has given to him, and through Jesus the Prince of the Countenance and the Prince Metatron, and may grace be our part. Be Thou blessed, Lord of grace."
The name 'Jesus' appears in this prayer in its proper Hebrew form Jeshûa, which means 'saviour'.

We can observe here that the Sidûr identifies the "delegate Tartiel", "Jesus the Prince of the Countenance", and "Metatron" with each other. The origin of the name Tartiel is not known, but one conjecture suggests that it is derived from the words tartei El, or "God's other form" in which he reveals himself -- even though when it is changed into a name the letter taw is changed into the "other T" of the Hebrew alphabet, tet. The strange name 'Metatron' comes from the Greek meta thronon, that is, 'the one who sits on the throne'. Targum Jonathan, on Gen. 5:24 in which we read of the translation of Enoch (how he walked with God and then "was no more"), says that "He ascended to heaven and God called him by the name Metatron, the Great Scribe".

Stockholm's erstwhile chief Rabbi, Professor Gottlieb Klein, in a work published in 1898, sets forth Metatron's main features as portrayed in the Jewish literature:

    "Metatron is the nearest person to God, serving him; on the one hand his confident and delegate, on the other hand the representative of Israel before God...  Metatron is also known as Sar ha-Panîm, the 'Prince of the Countenance' or just as 'the Prince', and he sits in God's innermost chamber (penim). The numeric value of 'Metatron' is the same as that of Shaddai, 'the Almighty'. He is therefore the delegate of the Almighty. Shaddai (10+4+300) = 314 and Metatron (50+6+200+9+9+40) = 314."
Professor Klein also writes at length about how it would appear that in Judaism Metatron is often identified with the Word or Logos, and he shows that there are five such intermediaries in the Talmud: "1. Metatron, 2. The Word of Yahweh, Mimra, 3. God's hovering glory, the Shechina, 4. God's Holy Spirit, Rûah ha-Qôdesh, and 5. the Voice from Heaven, Bath Qôl.(lit. 'daughter of a voice')" 84

Metatron functions primarily as a prayer intercessor. The Talmud says that the angels understand only Hebrew.85 Only Metatron, the defender of Israel, may approach the throne of God, when he enters Israel's good deeds into the accounts.86 When Israel's Ark of the Covenant was being built the angels received the commission to build in Heaven an abode for "the youth whose name is Metatron, in which dwelling he will bring the souls of the Just to God to atone for Israel during the Captivity".87 This 'atonement' idea appears in the supplement to the Sidûr prayerbook, where it is said that in this way the blast from the horn and the prayers rise "before the throne and speak on our behalf, atoning for all our sins".

The most important points of contact which this cryptic name created by the Rabbis has are, however, with the "angel of the covenant" and the "angel of the LORD". In Judges ch. 6 there is an account of how the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon. We read that "The LORD turned to him and said," and "The LORD answered him," identifying the angel with "the LORD". Gideon exclaims, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!" (vv 14,16 and 22). But what, in the opinion of the Rabbis, is so exceptional in this angel of the LORD?

When the most famous Rabbi of the Middle Ages RaSHI considered this issue he referred to the words of Exodus 23:20--21:

    "See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way...  Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him...  since my name is in him."
RaSHI suggests that the words at the end of the verse " 'my name is in him' mean 'He and I have the same name.' "
    "And our Rabbis have said," he continues, "that this is Metatron, whose name is the same as the name of the LORD. The numeric value of 'Metatron' corresponds to that of 'Shaddai', the name of the Almighty."
It was of him Moses was speaking when he said, in Ex. 33:15: "If your presence (Heb.'face') does not go with us do not send us up from here." RaMBaN sees here and in the preceding verses Metatron and the angel of the covenant. Small wonder that as early as the Talmud we find the simple statement that Metatron is also the Prince of the Countenance.88

Such discussions lead us to strange territories indeed, but they illustrate the often irrational roots of Messianism. Christ is God's "other mode of manifesting himself"; he sits "upon the throne" and acts as our advocate; he is indeed Lord, and God's "name is in him"; in Christ we see the face of God.
 
The Messiah, the Mimra or 'Word' of God

When looking at the Proto-Evangel we saw how the serpent of bronze which Moses raised up in the wilderness was, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, a "sign of salvation". The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel says here that "He who turns his heart to the LORD's Mimra will be spared". Professor Gottlieb Klein identified Metatron, used as an epithet for the Messiah, with Yahweh's Mimra or 'Word'. In Klein's opinion it was precisely this Aramaic word which gave the grounds to the belief that Christ is "the Word or Logos of God become flesh".

The Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived about the same time as Jesus, considered the Logos to be God's delegate, his emissary and angel who "prays as High Priest before God on behalf of the world".89 The Mimra concept associated with God and his manifestations appears 596 times in the Targums -- but not once in the Talmud.90 Targum Onqelos uses the word 179 times, Targum Yerushalmi 99 times, and Targum Jonathan 321 times. Over half of these references to the Mimra approach it as if it were "personified".91 The absence of 'Mimra' from the Talmud may be a reaction to the first Christians' interpretation of it as indicating Jesus. But are there really grounds for understanding 'Mimra' to mean the same as the New Testament's 'Logos'?

In answering this question there is good reason to appeal to the Rabbis' way of grading the old writings according to their source value: "The Old Testament leads to the Targums, the Targums lead to the Mishna, the Mishna to the Talmud, and so on."92  Proceeding in this way the Targums give earlier information on the Rabbis' exegesis than even the Mishna, the oldest part of the Talmud. Therefore, from the point of view of our subject, it is worthwhile familiarising ourselves with these roots of our Christian faith which are concealed in the Targums.

The Mimra appears in the Targums in the following contexts, among others: On the creation of man in Gen.1:27 the Targum says: "And the LORD's Mimra created man" (Targum Yerushalmi); In Gen. 16:13 Hagar speaks with the "angel of the LORD" and "calls him the LORD's Mimra" (Yer.); In Gen.22, where Abraham speaks with the angel of the LORD, who is given the name "the LORD's Mimra", and in v.8 "The LORD's Mimra himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering" (Yer.); In Gen. 28:20 Jacob makes a vow and says, "If the LORD's Mimra will be with me...  then the LORD's Mimra will be my God" (Onqelos); Gen. 15:6 is interpreted by the Targum as follows: "Abraham believed in the LORD's Mimra, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Onq.); Along with the giving of the Law in Ex. 20:1 the Targum reads, "And the LORD's Mimra spoke all these words" (Yer.); In Num. 10:35 Moses prays, "Rise up, O LORD!...  Rise up, O Mimra of the LORD!...  Return, O Mimra of the LORD!" (Yer.); When in Ex. 14:31 we are told that the people believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses, the Targum reads this as "they believed in the LORD's Mimra and in the prophecy of his servant Moses" (Onq.); The beginning of Deut. chap. 28 stresses that if Israel will obey the voice of God, all the blessings spoken of will come upon them, which is interpreted by the Targum as: "If you will accept the LORD's Mimra so that the LORD's Mimra will be your God", then all this will be fulfilled (Onq.); Isaiah 45:17 and 25 says that "Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation" and "In the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous". The Targum interprets this as, "Israel will be saved by the LORD's Mimra" and "Through the instrumentality of the LORD's Mimra they will be made righteous" (Jonathan); Hosea 1:7 promises: "Yet I will show love to the house of Judah, and I will save them" -- the Targum says: "Yet I will show love to the house of Judah, and I will save them by their God, the LORD's Mimra" (Jon.); And also Deut. 33:27, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms", is interpreted by the Targum as, "these arms are the Mimra, through whom the world was created" (Onq.).

Of special note in these passages from the Targums is that often the Mimra seems to be identified with the name of God: "The LORD's Mimra will be my God"; "I will save them through their God, the LORD's Mimra"; Abraham was justified through the Mimra; the Mimra gave Israel the Law; Moses prayed to the Mimra; Israel was justified through the Mimra's instrumentality and the Mimra even created the world. If these ideas are joined to the Messianic expectation, a connection the Rabbis made, they will receive a new significance for Christians too.

Although consideration of the Greek logos concept will be left for the New Testament section on the opening verses of John's gospel, it is worth noting even at this point that a similar 'word' theology as that found in connection with the Mimra was in part current among the Essenes of Qumran a little before the birth of Christ. These sectarians, for the most part former Temple priests, stress in their scrolls that everything received its beginning through God's deliberate purposing, and "without him nothing was made" -- "Through your word everything received its beginning, and without you nothing was made".93 The same formula is repeated to this day when a devout Jew blesses a drink taken separately from an actual meal. He recites a prayer taken from the Talmud: "Blessed be thou, King of the world: everything was made by his word" (ha-Kôl nihyâh bi-Dvarô).

The Jewish professor Gottlieb Klein was aware that certain Christians saw "Metatron, Mimra, the First Man (adam ha-Qadmôn), and the second Moses" as related to Christological thinking.94 The Talmud says that the name Metatron is equivalent to 'LORD', and he sits in the Holiest of Holies and acts as God's emissary.95 He is called the "Angel of the LORD", "The Prince of the Universe", "The Prince of the Countenance" and even by the name "Shechina" - the Presence of God.96 The Zohar tradition, which concentrates in its thousands of pages on describing God's essential nature, gathers these scattered fragments together and says:

    "Metatron is the angel called the 'Prince of the Countenance', the 'Prince of the Torah', the 'Prince of Power', the 'Prince of Glory', the 'Prince of the Sanctuary', the 'Prince of Angels', the 'Prince of Kings'(Judges 5:3), and the 'Prince of Princes'."97
Israel is to present all its prayers in the name of this Prince of the Countenance. It may further be mentioned that the Hebrew word for 'angel' means 'emissary' and not necessarily always merely 'angel'.

The archaeologist and authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the late professor Yigael Yadin, who died in the Spring of 1984, drew the attention of the scholarly world to the fact that the New Testament's Letter to the Hebrews speaks about the angelic world in the same way as the Essenes of Qumran. He says:

    "The Letter to the Hebrews is one of the most interesting letters in the NT and differs in its contents from all the other early Christian writings which the NT comprises."
In his opinion the writer wishes to witness to Christ. "As the main theme goes: 'He is as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs' " (1:4). "This letter wishes to say," he continues, "that Jesus is an anointed priest, a priest who is not of the seed of Aaron, but of a far nobler descent." The writer speaks "powerful words of rebuke" to his readers and centres his message around the being of Christ, demonstrating that he is the promised High Priest. Yadin thinks that the letter was addressed to the Essenes:
    "Indeed, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews could hardly have chosen examples closer to his audience's hearts, an audience which, according to my thesis, was identical with the Dead Sea sect."98

The beginning of Hebrews describes Christ as the Son of God, "through whom he made the universe." Christ is also "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word". These thoughts too rise from Jewish modes of thinking and are connected with the Mimra theology, with Christ as the Word of God become flesh.
 
The message of spiritual counsel   associated with Penuel

The story of Jacob also has a profound therapeutic word for us. Doctor Frank Lake has written a significant psychiatric study, "Clinical Theology".99 In this he describes modern man's internal conflicts and distress, comparing them with Jacob's struggle with Penuel; we must find peace in our dealings with others and in our relationship with God. In these struggles we long to see the face of God, and just like Jacob we demand, "I will not let you go until you bless me!" We are unable to be healed internally until we have found the face of the God who is Love.

Frank Lake may well be exaggerating a little when he says that even the experience of being in the mother's womb before birth and then the trauma of birth itself both have their effects upon the child's life. These factors should not, at any rate, be ignored. However, the child's first year of life is probably the most important for his future development. If the little one does not find the loving and stimulating faces of his parents his world may become dead and barren. If there is no love in the home and if the child is given no attention his life will remain cold and meaningless. The emptiness of home may be reflected in an inner vacuity and even in a condition of anguish. "Lively faces" give rise to a zest for life, unresponsive faces only depression.

But what will happen if the child receives a deep hurt in the early stages of his development? Is he predestined to unhappiness? Will he be forced, as Jacob was, to flee from his childhood? Where will he get the support for the development of his character that he has always lacked? It is in just this kind of situation that a glimpse of the loving face of God can heal our untended wounds. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ. Among Jesus' parting words were those addressed to Philip: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). He further promised that, "Every one who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life" (John 6:40). The lives of many young alcoholics and drug addicts have been changed in an instant on their coming face to face with Christ. There are no demands in his love, nothing is forced upon you, and so the experience of seeing his face initiates our inner healing. The psychiatrist K.G. Jung stated on several occasions that every 35 year old person's anguish "includes a religious factor which requires treatment". And only those of his extensive clientÉle who had experienced some kind of spiritual revival "remained permanently well". From this he may have concluded that a healthy religious awakening greatly helps inner healing.

Before his experience by the Jabbok river Jacob thought that he could flee from his problems. In his childhood he found that his father Isaac "loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gen. 25:28). This developed into the crisis of his life. He became a "quiet man who stayed at home" -- the Hebrew uses the phrase yoshêv ohâlîm, he 'sat in the tents'. Thus Jacob was left to grow up more or less "with the women". However, he longed for his father's approval and this led him to cheat his brother out of his birthright and steal his father's blessing. Only after 20 years as a refugee, during which time he tasted the hard side of life and the deception of his father-in-law Laban, was he ready to face up to himself, his brother, and his God. Esau was indeed full of murderous intentions when he came to meet him, but when he saw his brother, "he embraced him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him; and they wept!" (Gen. 33:4) In an instant, years of pent-up anger and bitterness melted into harmony. Jacob had also longed for God's forgiveness and blessing. All this he received by the Jabbok stream.

The Jacob who underwent a crisis of faith received a new name. Penuel said to him:

    "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (32:28).
The secondary meaning of 'deception' in the name Jacob was now removed and he became "God's fighter". He was struck where he had become most hardened -- indeed in the thigh! -- so that outwardly he began to limp from that day on, but inwardly he was made whole. We read that when Jacob prayed beside the Jabbok stream he said:
    "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant."
In Hebrew the word for 'unworthy' is qatontî, literally 'I have shrunk'! Jacob had been humiliated and made to look small in his own eyes, and that is precisely what freed him to the extent that he stopped running away from himself and what he had done. Now he became a "fighter" and achieved real manhood. We experience something similar when we encounter in Christ the face of the God who is Love.

The Aaronic Blessing, where it speaks of the face of God, also contains this same message of spiritual healing:

    "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Num. 6:24--6).
Not long ago a small talisman was found in Israel dating from the seventh century before Christ. Only when it was studied under a microscope did it reveal the word 'LORD' written three times in tiny old Hebrew characters, which proved to be the Aaronic blessing. This blessing may be understood as concealing a Messianic motif. This is suggested by the Bible's own statement: "So they will put my NAME on the Israelites" (v27), in other words the name 'Yahweh', which for some Rabbis is a cryptic name for the Messiah, as we saw earlier. Targum Onqelos says about the face "shining": "The LORD make his Holy Spirit (lit. 'Shechina') to shine upon you!" Indeed: only the presence of God and his Holy Spirit can enlighten and heal our wounded hearts!
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83.    Mikraoth Gedoloth, Mal.3:1.
84.    Gottlieb Klein, Bidrag till Israels religionhistoria, p89.
85.    Shabbath 12b.
86.    Pesikhta 57a and Bamidar Rabbah c 21.
87.    Bamidar Rabbah, par. nassa 12.
88.    Hagigah 13.
89.    Gottlieb Klein's Sex föredrag, p88.
90.    Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah I, pp46-48.
91.    Ibid vol II pp659-664.
92.    Sifrei Shoftim, piska 160a.
93.    Eg. Megilath ha-serachim 1 QS XI,10 and Hôdayôth 1 QH I, 19.
94.    Gottlieb Klein's Sex föredrag, p95.
95.    Sanhedrin 38b, Hagigah 15a and Avoda Zara 3b.
96.    Tos. le-Hulin 60a and Yebamoth 16b.
97.    The Zohar gives this prescription in the name of R. Aqiba.
98.    The Hebrew book Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Heichal Ha-Sepher publication, pp191-208
99.    Frank Lake, Clinical Theology.

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