A Star Trek Blessing

Theology, Worship

I’ve watched Star Trek devotedly since my earliest days. I’ve seen every episode of the original series a dozen times. I am a Trek nerd, though I’ve never been to a convention. (Hey, I’m not that nerdy)! Star Trek is the very first TV show I remember watching from the padded comfort of that autumn floral print early 70s sofa, in that house on 104th Street in Northglenn, on this rabbit ears’ 12” color(!) TV that sat atop a one legged pole-stand next to this strange plastic orange and yellow pine tree with small white rocks that looked like it was from another planet in my parents darkly paneled basement. Come to think of it, that basement may just have been a Star Trek set! This three year old kid was in heaven!

Doug looking like he is posing for mom, but actually watching Star Trek.

Doug looking like he is posing for mom, but is actually watching Star Trek.

I remember seeing for the first time this pointy eared guy with funny eyebrows in a blue shirt, at least I think it was blue, the reception and color wasn’t so great. He held up his hand, made a sign and said, “live long, and prosper.” Of course, everyone in the culture now knows this as the Vulcan blessing, which this post will be about. Before continuing on, please watch this short but fascinating explanation from Leonard Nimoy on the origin of this now ubiquitous gesture:

With the passing of Mr. Nimoy this past week (we all sadly knew that Spock had to die a second time), I watched this video from my Facebook feed. It was my second go around. This time, I was struck by something I had not thought about before, something of which Nimoy and almost all other people are oblivious.

It has to do with his explanation of, in his words, “The Feminine aspect of God who was created to live among humans, … [who] comes into the sanctuary to bless the congregation.” This happens as the sign that Spock would later use is held up by the Jewish priest while all the congregation close their eyes. Besides reminding me of the Nazi’s who looked inside the Ark of the Covenant while Indiana Jones and Marion closed their eyes, the way Nimoy put it showed me just how easy it would have been to explain to him—through this very ceremony—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What do I mean?

ShinAs he explains, the sign makes the shape of the letter shin in Hebrew. Shin is the first letter of Shekinah, Shaddai, and Shalom. Hebrew, like other ancient languages, actually had meanings for the symbols themselves. That point probably deserves an entire post of its own.[1] But the idea demonstrates that it is not an accident that the God of Israel is intimately related to all three words.

El Shaddai probably means “God of the Mountain” (Gen 28:3, 12ff; Ps 68:14-18; Isa 13:4-6).[2] In the Genesis 28 story of Jacob’s Ladder (which is actually a vision of an ancient ziggurat/mountain), Yahweh is El Shaddai and he is seen visibly by Jacob as the God who stands atop the holy hill. Later, this God wrestles with Jacob in the first ever WWE main event. In Psalm 68, it is El Shaddai who rouses the jealousy of the gods of Mt. Bashan (Hermon), as God comes to his sanctuary on Mt. Sinai/Mt. Zion, leading a host of captives in his train. In the NT, this is none other than Jesus (Eph 4:8). In other words, Jesus is El Shaddai. Jesus is also the God of shalom—peace. Over and over again, peace is given or comes in the name of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:36; John 20:21; Acts 10:36; Rom 5:1; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2, etc.). It seems to me that the blessing given by the Shekinah in the mysterious Jewish ceremony, is a blessing of peace.

But just what or who is this Shekinah? This is where it gets very interesting. Jewish mysticism refers to it as a feminine created aspect of God. It is clearly personified the way Nimoy spoke about it. The Shekinah gives her blessing. What few do not understand is that this Jewish mystical idea is a left-over of a long forgotten “heresy” called “Two-Powers” by the Jewish Rabbis of long ago.

Two Powers refers to two equal yet distinct good powers in heaven, where “power” is a technical term used for a heavenly being (Matt 24:29; Rom 8:38; Eph 6:12). One of these powers is Yahweh, the God of Israel. The other power is Yahweh, the God of Israel. No, you didn’t read that wrong. There heresy was that these Rabbis saw two Yahwehs in the OT. Since Judaism (today) is Unitarian Monotheism, you can see why this would be considered by them a heresy.

In fact, these heretical Rabbis saw two Yahwehs in the very same passages, sometimes even the very same verse. For example, “The LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven” (Gen 19:24). In this verse, there is Yahweh on earth talking face to face with Abraham, and Yahweh in heaven. In fact, many of the Church Fathers would later use this exact verse as a proof text for Jesus.[3] Jesus is actually the reason why Two Powers became a heresy. It wasn’t considered that way in Jesus’ day. But too many Jews began converting to Christianity as they saw Jesus being the person who was the Second Power.[4] Thus, presto, a new heresy was dubbed.

It is into this that the Shekinah idea is also formed. There were several words that became kinds of hypostases with Yahweh. These words helped describe and define the Second Power. There was Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh (this is actually the person who is talking with Abraham, see Gen 18:1ff, the person named Yahweh who calls down fire from Yahweh out of heaven). There was Yahweh and the Name of Yahweh (Ps 135:1). There was Yahweh and the Word of Yahweh (Gen 15:1). There was Yahweh and the Arm of Yahweh (Ps 98:1). There was Yahweh and the Wisdom of Yahweh (Prov 8:22, 30). There was Yahweh and the Glory of Yahweh. Each is used in the NT of Jesus Christ being the full embodiment of these.[5]

Glory is the idea that is so very closely associated with the Shekinah. Summarizing from my earlier post on the Glory, we find that a good place to begin looking at this is with Moses. On Mount Sinai, “The LORDpromised, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud” (Ex 19:9). Then, “The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it…” (24:16). The word “dwelt” here is the verb shakan. It is from this that “shekinah” derives.

Shekinah is not a biblical word, but it is found throughout the Jewish literature as a kind of buffer word. For example, “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen 28:16) becomes, “The Glory of the Lord’s Shekinah dwells in this place, and I knew it not. (Gen 28:16 PJE). “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex 3:6) becomes, “He was afraid to look upon the height of the glory of the Shekinah of the Lord” (Ex 3:6 JPE). This last verse is interesting because in Exodus 3, the text tells us that Moses was talking to the Angel of the LORD (Ex 3:2). Thus, the angel and the glory become interchangeable.

Later in Exodus Moses asks, “Please show me your glory” (Ex 33:18). The glory of the LORD appears in only a couple of places prior to this. In Exodus 16:10, “The glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” The glory is not the cloud, but is in the cloud. Eight chapters later, in a verse cited a moment ago, “The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud” (24:16). “He?” “He” here refers to the Glory, for again, the glory and cloud are separate, and he is calling from inside the cloud.

Ezekiel is also important for this. He sees the “likeness as the appearance of a man” (Ezek 1:26). He looked like gleaming metal and his lower body was like fire. He concludes, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the Glory of the LORD” (28). Later in the book, the Glory is the LORD (Ezek 9:3-4).

The NT says some pretty amazing things about all this. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [remember the Hebrew word “dwell” is where we get shekinah] among us, and we have seen his gloryglory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John equates the word, the glory, and the Son. They are all the same thing. It is into this Glory as a Person idea that John later writes, “Isaiah saw his Glory” (Isa 12:41). Acts 7:55 could very well be translated, “He [Stephen] … saw the glory of God, that is Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

And then there is Philippians 2:6-11. Christ exists “in the form of God” and the “likeness of men” (6-7). Curiously, Moses beheld the “form of the LORD” (Num 12:8). Thus, the hymn in Philippians is teaching that Christ is the divine Glory of God. The same idea is expressed by the title, ‘image of the invisible God”; in the beginning of the hymn of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20.

Isaiah says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Isa 60:1). In the incarnation, God who said, “‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). “Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Eph 5:14).

spockWhen these thoughts dawned on me as I was watching the video, it caused me to wonder what might have happened had anyone ever told Mr. Nimoy about these things. He was clearly awestruck by the power and wonder of the ceremony. Perhaps, since he peaked and wasn’t turned into ash, he came to the conclusion that there was nothing really there after all. But what if the right connections had been made?

It also makes me wonder what would happen if Christians had information like this? Instead of mocking the feminine Shekinah as pure Jewish nonsense, they could understand that it is simply a perversion (probably derived in part from Wisdom being spoken of “like” a woman in Proverbs) of a long forgotten truth that Jews once knew, and as they heard the words of Christ and saw his miracles, including his resurrection from the dead, began converting in mass by the power of the Holy Spirit to Christ, until the Pharisees put a stop to that once and for all, so that to this very day.

It is not the Feminine created Shekinah who can give her blessing. Nevertheless, the idea is related to the truth. For Jesus Christ is he who was begotten, not created, equal to the Father in essence, who for the sake of us men and for the sake of our salvation came down from heaven, and became incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. He suffered and was buried and rose on the third day. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in the heights.

My joy is complete when I am able to share such truths. Perhaps the news will travel far and wide, where no man has gone before. Perhaps someone will tell their Christian friend or their Jewish unbelieving relative. Maybe, just maybe, someone will tell William Shatner or one of the other cast of my favorite TV show of all time about this good news. I wonder. Might it be you?

Live long and prosper, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

 

[1] A fascinating discussion of this is Finn, Rasmussen, “Early Letter Names,” http://www.finse.dk/earlyletternames.pdf, last accessed 3-2-2015.

[2] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 269. Marjo Christina Annette Korpel, A Rift in the Clouds: Ugaritic and Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine (Munster: Ugarit Verlag, 1990), 581; Frank M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 48–60.

[3] JUSTIN MARTYR, Dialogue 127; PSEUDO-IGNATIUS, Antiochians 2; IRENAEUS, Against Heresies 3.6.1; TERTULLIAN, Against Praxeas 13; CYPRIAN, Against the Jews 3.33; NOVATIAN, On the Trinity 18.15–17; EUSEBIUS, Ecclesiastical History 1.2.9; ATHANASIUS, Discourses Against the Arians 2.15.13; HILARY OF POITIERS, On the Trinity 5.16; GREGORY NAZIANZEN, Oration 29:17; BASIL, On Prov. 7:22; AMBROSE, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.3.22-23; CHRYSOSTOM, Homily 3: 2 Tim 1:13-18; AUGUSTINE, Tractates on John 51.3; CYRIL, Comments on 1 John 1:2; SOCRATES SCHOLASTICUS, Ecclesiastical History 2.30; CONSTITUTIONS OF THE HOLY APOSTLES 5.20.

[4] See Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (SJLA 25; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977).

[5] I have blogged on all of these before here: https://thedecablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/christ-in-the-old-testament-series/

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