Jewish Sages Point to Messiah
Memra—the Word of Yahweh
by Ed Nelson
During the Second Temple Era a significant Messianic anticipation held by many Jewish sages is summarized in their usage and interpretation of the Aramaic word Memra. This word embodies the fullness of how “the Word of Yahweh” was understood and valued at the time in relationship to both Israel and the nations.
Before the advent of Yeshua of Nazareth, these sages interpreted the Hebrew Bible in such a way that they taught that the coming Messiah was “the Word of Yahweh,” or “the Word of the LORD.” Their ancient interpretation methods led to a profound anticipation of what the Messiah would be like and who He would be when He came.
We will look at this significant Hebraic thinking personified in Memra before and during the first century pre-AD 70.
Tracing the Semitic word Memra. The word memra comes from the Aramaic verb ‘imrah. It is traceable through ancient Semitic languages including biblical Hebrew where it appears in verb form as ‘amar (“to say”).
Generally it means “commandment,” “speech, decree” or “word” issued by a top authority or poet of lofty words. It includes prophetic speech of prophets of Yahweh who utter, “Thus says Yahweh.” To ancient sages, the word memra came to embody more than lofty speech, or eloquence. It dynamically represented the spoken Word of the Most High.
This idea of loftiness or height is implied in the Hebrew verb ‘amar (“to say”). The emphasis on height may be found in the name of the ancient people group of Canaan known as Amorites, or, in Hebrew, the Amori (cf. Deuteronomy 3:9).
Some suggest that the Amorites, or the Amori, means “mountain-dwellers,” where the root word ‘amar (“to say”) is also a variant word for “height.” The idea behind the name of this people group is that they are, in some way, a lofty people.
In the context of the biblical text, the strong suggestion is that Amori may mean “tall peoples” rather than “mountain-dwellers. It fits well within the scope of available meanings for Amori. Og of Bashan, an Amorite king, who opposed Israel was physically tall. His “bedstead … was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit” (Deuteronomy 3:11)—thirteen feet long and six feet wide!
In the piedmont of the Himalaya Mountains in northern India is the city Amora. A picturesque city “above the clouds,” it is a virtual Shangri-La nestled about a large mountain lake. The city’s Hindi name is akin to the ancient Semitic word for Amorites and suggests a city elevated above the ordinary towns and villages far below. In Hindi “Amora” means “mountainous,” “height, elevated.” This is not unusual. Many of India’s languages, especially Tamil and Hindi, have words common to ancient Hebrew.
Yet in the Semitic languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, the association of speech with height seems clear. The meaning indicates speech that rises above common talk.
Hebrew. In Hebrew, memra is akin to the Hebrew root verb ‘amar (“to say”) and its several derived words. The masculine noun ‘emer in Hebrew means “speech”, “word”, “command” and “decree.” In Hebrew poetry, ‘emer is a word that exalts, or lifts up wisdom and deity. Likewise, the feminine noun ‘imrah is derived from ‘amar. It means “utterance,” “speech”, “word,” “command,” or “eloquence.” It is spelled the same as the Aramaic word ‘imrah from which is derived memra.
Personal Hebrew names of Omar and Immer were derived from the verb ‘amar. They are “lofty” names. In Genesis 36:11 we learn that Esau’s grandson, a sheik of Edom, was named Omar, perhaps meaning “eloquent speaker,” or “of flourishing speech.” In 1 Chronicles 24:14, a priest during King David’s time was named Immer, possibly meaning “one of lofty speeches,” or “poetic speaker.” The father of the high priest Zadok was also given the name of Immer (cf. Nehemiah 3:29).
In both Hebrew and Aramaic, the word amora, the same spelling as the name of the mountainous city of northern India, means “speaker, interpreter.” During the Second Temple Era, it applied to the interpreter who loudly repeated the teaching of the Jewish sage teaching his students in the academy. Between A.D. 220 to about A.D. 500, the term was applied to the rabbinic scholars who wrote the Gemara (commentary) of the Talmud.
Another Hebrew word derived from the verb ‘amar that means “speech” is ma’amar. The spelling of the Aramaic noun memra and the Hebrew noun ma’amar are almost the same.
Arabic. In Arabic, the familiar name Omar which we found among ancient Hebrew names means “eloquent (or lofty) speaker” as well. Among the Arab people, the superlative title of Emir is given to the person who is “top” among them. He is at the “summit” of respect and authority, issuing decrees and commands.
Greek. The Greek language, of course, is a Western language and not Semitic. It does not build off the Semitic root word for “to say” (‘amar) or any equivalent Semitic language. When Jewish sages translated the word memra into Greek they sought for a dynamic, cross-language equivalence instead.
The philosophical word logos of classical Greek thought was selected by translators to bear the weight of meaning and value of the Aramaic word memra. The equivalence was not exact between memra and the Greek word logos, but certainly the word logos is important to the idea of lofty wisdom.
The translators of the Septuagint (LXX), the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, predating the first century by 250 years, translated the Word of Yahweh as logos. For example, in Numbers 11:23 we read from the LXX:
And the Lord [kurios] said to Moses, “Shall not the hand of the Lord [kurios] be fully sufficient? Now you shall know whether my word [logos] shall come to pass unto you or not.” In 2 Chronicles 11:2 (cf. 12:7) we find a more direct statement: “And the Word [logos] of the Lord came to Samaias the man of God …”
To understand the meaning of the Greek word logos when it appears in the Greek New Testament (cf. John 1:1), every effort should be made to understand the Hebraic concept of memra underlying the Greek word logos. Attempting to understand the word logos from a Greek worldview will mislead in regard to the original Hebraic intention of the biblical text.
Synonymous Hebrew phrase—Dabar-Yahweh. When Second Temple Era sages reflected on the concept and application of the word memra in relationship to and understanding God’s past, present and future revelation, they determined that the Aramaic word memra was dynamically equivalent to the Hebrew phrase Dabar-Yahweh—the “Word of Yahweh.”
The connection was simple. The Hebrew verb dabar means “to speak” like the verb ‘amar means “to say.”
In Genesis 12:1-4 we find the familiar Hebrew verb ‘amar (“to say”) translated into English as “Yahweh said.”
Now Yahweh said [‘amar] to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house to the land which I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great. And so you shall be a blessing.
“And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
So Abram went forth as Yahweh had spoken [deber] to him; and Lot went with him. “Yahweh said” (‘amar Yahweh) and “Yahweh spoke” (dabar Yahweh) are synonymous expressions here in Genesis 12:1-4.
The phrase, “Yahweh said” repeats a total of ten times in the story of Yahweh’s dealings with Abraham and his wife, Sarah (cf. Genesis 12:7; 13:1; 17:1; 18:3, 17, 20, 26, 32; 21:1). Each of these times the common Hebrew word ‘amar is used. As explained, it simply means “to say” and may be found in such expressions as “he said,” “she said,” or “he was saying.”
What catches attention is Genesis 15:1 where the text reads:
After these things the Word [Dabar] of Yahweh
came to Abram in a vision, saying [‘amar], “Do
not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be
The word for “saying” is the familiar Hebrew word ‘amar as found several times already in the Bible before this occurrence. But we are introduced for the first time in the Bible to the phrase “the Word of Yahweh”—Dabar-Yahweh. Here the word Dabar means more than “to speak.” As a noun it means the dynamic “word.” In biblical Hebrew Dabar-Yahweh (“Word of Yahweh”) was hyphenated to indicate two words joined together as one.
In Genesis 15:1 the Word of Yahweh (Dabar-Yahweh) does the speaking (‘amar). We are introduced to a unique and profound presentation of Yahweh as Yahweh and “the Word of Yahweh” as if they are separate. How can this be? How can Yahweh God and also “the Word of Yahweh” be referred to as God? But here it is for us all to read. And it astounded and delighted the ancient sages of Israel.
Yahweh is God and the Word of Yahweh is God. “The Word of Yahweh” is the personification of Yahweh, one and the same, but separate.
Look at the next words in this passage of Genesis 15 in verse two as to how Abraham replied to this divine visit. He refers to “the Word of Yahweh” as “O Lord Yahweh [Adonai Yahweh] …” Your Bible may say “O Lord God,” but in Hebrew it is Adonai Yahweh—“Lord Yahweh!”
Again, in Genesis 15:4, we read: “Then behold, the Word [Dabar] of Yahweh [Yahweh] came to him, saying, “This man [referring to Abraham’s servant Eliezer] will not be your heir, but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”
The Word of Yahweh (Dabar-Yahweh) speaks to Abraham again, but this time the Word of Yahweh (Dabar-Yahweh) takes him outside his tent and shows Abraham the starry sky above. The text speaks for itself (15:5).
And He [Dabar-Yahweh] took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He [Dabar-
Yahweh] said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
Thus far the Word of Yahweh is speaking to Abraham. But now we learn that the Word of Yahweh actually takes Abraham physically outside his tent to show him the heavens. The Word of Yahweh is given personality and dynamic movement, an essence that distinguishes the Word of Yahweh from Yahweh yet maintains the unity of Yahweh and the Word of Yahweh at the same time as being one and the same. One is two personalities; two personalities are One.
Then the Word of Yahweh speaks again and promises Abraham a son of his own flesh. The Word of Yahweh appeared so significantly that Abraham was convinced to trust Yahweh because of what He heard and believed from the Word of Yahweh. Let the text speak for itself in the next verse (15:6):
Then he believed in Yahweh; and He reckoned it to him
as righteousness. And He said to him, “I am Yahweh who
brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this
land to possess it.”
The phenomenon of the dual-Presence of Yahweh. “The Word of Yahweh” heard and announced by the prophets often became, in the conception of these seers, an efficacious power apart from Yahweh. A similar understanding was given to the manifestations of the Angel of Yahweh.
The prophet Isaiah said of the Word of Yahweh: “The Lord sends a Word into Jacob, and it falls on Israel” (Isaiah 9:8). Again, the prophet wrote: “So will my Word [Dabar] be which goes forth from my mouth. It will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (55:11).
Similarly, the Psalmist sings: “He sent his Word and healed them” (Psalm. 107:20). Again, in Psalm147:15 we read:
He sends forth his command [‘imrah] to the earth.
His Word [Dabar] runs very swiftly.
This passage not only shows the Psalmist applying attributes of personality to the Word, but also shows its parallelism to the word “command,” (‘imrah) from which the Aramaic word Memra is derived.
This dual-Presence of God as Yahweh and the Word of Yahweh, at the same time different but at the same time being One, aroused much discussion among the ancient Jewish sages. It is this discussion that eventually gave us the Aramaic word Memra to describe the uniqueness of the relationship between Yahweh and the Word of Yahweh.
Memra came to mean “the Word of Yahweh” as a distinctive persona of Yahweh that convinces those to whom He reveals Himself to trust in Yahweh—like a Son to a Father reflecting everything of the Father to others yet drawing others to the Father. To many of the ancient sages before the time of Jesus of Nazareth, the Memra was nothing less than the Messiah who would come and dwell among his people.
Aramaic interpreters and Aramaic interpretations of the Torah. Jews who went into exile in Babylon at the time of the destruction of the first Temple, took on the language of their conquerors—the Aramaic language. This was the language of Babylon common during Israel’s 70-year exile. It became influential among the Jewish people from then on throughout the first century.
After the seventy years of exile, many Jews, including Torah scholars, did not return to Jerusalem where the Hebrew language was revived at the time of the rebuilding of the temple. Those who remained in Babylon, perhaps the majority, adopted Aramaic as their public and private language. Hebrew waned as the language of public discourse.
Synagogues were developed in Babylon and Persia where Torah study was conducted in Aramaic through interpreters of the Hebrew. This was regretful to some large extent, but it gave us some advantages as well in interpreting the Scripture. A notable advantage was that another Semitic language, namely Aramaic, was used to explain Hebrew meanings and thoughts. This gave us another witness from another Semitic language as to what Hebrew words meant and how they were applied.
Aramaic was the official and legal language in Babylon just as English is the official and legal language of Great Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. English-speaking believers in Messiah Jesus mostly study the Bible in English without much reference at all to the source language, Hebrew. The Bible wasn’t written in English, of course. Overwhelmingly it was written in Hebrew with some portions in Aramaic and, in the New Testament, often in Greek.
Likewise, the Jews born in Babylon and later in Persia were raised to speak Aramaic, the scholars, scribes and Temple priests preserving the Hebrew language.
Few of us who speak English ever take the time or discipline ourselves to read the original languages of the Bible. We trust others to interpret it for us into English. It was the same for the Jews following the Babylonian exile. They trusted the few Bible scholars who could read Hebrew to interpret it into Aramaic for them to read.
Here’s how the Jewish people studied the Hebrew Bible in Aramaic. They went to the synagogue meeting on the Sabbath. At the appropriate time a selected portion of the Bible was publicly read in Hebrew. Very few knew Hebrew well—mainly some older Bible teachers and their young students. Often a younger person may read in Hebrew without knowing the language well. An older, more accomplished Hebrew reader stood near the younger Hebrew reader to assure the audience the text was read accurately and properly. This kept the language alive, passing it on from generation to generation through worship in the synagogues.
The majority of Jewish listeners hearing the Hebrew Bible portion read aloud did not understand it well, though familiar terms and phrases were enjoined. Though it was a foreign language, it was not so far apart they couldn’t catch the essence of it in many ways. The languages Hebrew and Aramaic were close in understanding like Dutch is to German. An interpreter was needed.
Therefore, accompanying the Hebrew reader was an interpreter. These interpreters were called meturganim in Aramaic or amoraim in Hebrew. They restated the Hebrew into the Aramaic tongue so all could understand what they heard, or thought they heard, in Hebrew.
The role of the interpreters was critical to the general worship service and to the study of the Bible as a high form of worship. After the public reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and their interpretation into Aramaic, sometimes the older Hebrew scholar would offer commentary on the passage. This was particularly true at the afternoon academy where men and boys gathered on Sabbath afternoons to attend Bible study. When Hebrew Bible scholars spoke, because their teachings were difficult unless interpreted, they spoke with a low or whispering voice into the ears of the Aramaic interpreters. The interpreters, in turn, gave the interpretation to the students.
Thus, the Hebrew-speaking Torah scholars and their Aramaic interpreters painstakingly interpreted the Torah aloud in Aramaic while preserving as best possible the original Hebrew thought, concepts and meanings.
The Torah in Aramaic—the Targum. In time, in order to explain the sense of the Hebrew Bible better to Aramaic-speaking Jews, the Torah was translated with notes into Aramaic. Where the interpreters felt necessary, they added brief explanations to the Torah’s words and phrases, embedding them in the Torah’s text, thus, paraphrasing the meaning.
These added words or phrases are much like the footnotes in some of our English Bibles, except they were placed within the text to explain the meaning and intention of the original Hebrew Bible. A close parallel in English would be The Living Bible.
These translations of the Torah, or paraphrases, are, in fact, ancient interpretations of the Torah, and help us gain amazing insight into what was being taught and understood by Jews from a few centuries before the coming of Messiah to his appearance.
These translations, or paraphrases, of the Torah were called Targum, which is plural for Targum. They were written by the meturganim, or the interpreters.
To sum, when Aramaic-speaking Jews in Babylon studied the Hebrew Torah in the synagogues, they had it read to them by interpreters, called meturganim. The meturganim also committed the Torah to writing in the Aramaic language, what we call Bible translations, or paraphrases. These paraphrased versions of the Torah were called Targum, plural for Targum, and give us a fresh understanding of what was taught and believed by Jews a few centuries before Messiah came.
As you may well imagine, the first chapter of Genesis was translated into Aramaic with occasional clarifying notes included in the translation. This offers us valuable interpretive material consistent with the Hebraic perspective of the Bible.
Memra is the Word of Yahweh. Memra was a popular Aramaic word among Jewish people who studied Torah. Sometimes, but not always, it was a translation of the Hebrew word haDabar which means “the Word.” Whereas the Hebrew word dabar can mean any word, special notice was given to those places in the Hebrew Bible where “the Word of Yahweh” was mentioned—haDabar Yahweh. Therefore, the Aramaic word Memra didn’t mean just any word. It was Aramaic for a peculiar and singular kind of “word”—the Word of Yahweh. Memra, therefore, is an important concept that helps us understand and appreciate the context of the unique biblical phrase, “the Word of Yahweh.”
But Memra was not used exclusively to translate this unique phrase “the Word of the LORD.” It was also used to translate other words that refer to God. In the Targum, the Memra figures constantly as the revelation, the manifestation or the disclosure of the power of God as well as God’s living message to Israel and the world—“the Word of Yahweh.”
Often in the Targum of Scripture, Jewish interpreters understood Memra to be the unique revelation of Yahweh worthy of distinction from Yahweh, but indivisibly united to Him and always of Him. As we learn from studying the Targum, the Aramaic version of books of the Old Testament, the word Memra is used in every instance where Yahweh appears to men, or whenever He speaks at all.
To say it another way, the Memra was from Yahweh, was of Yahweh, was in Yahweh, and was Yahweh.
The Memra is experiential. The Aramaic Scriptures show about 750 occurrences in the Old Testament where Yahweh is understood as “the Memra of Yahweh.” This is utterly overwhelming to the Hebrew mind because of the personal nature of the Memra who manifests and discloses the Yahweh Almighty in a very personal and intimate way—a way of not only God knowing us, but of us knowing God experientially. Memra is the personal revelation of God experiential for us. When you know, understand or experience Him, it is his Memra you experience.
For starters, let’s look at some examples in the Torah and Prophets of how personally and corporately experiential God is in the word Memra:
The Memra is the shield of Abraham (Genesis 15:1), is present with Moses (Exodus 3:12; 4:12, 15) and with Israel (Targum Yerushalayimi of Numbers 10:35, 36; Isaiah 63:14).
Through the Memra Israel shall be justified (Targum of Isaiah 45:25)
With the Memra Israel stands in communion (Targum of Joshua 22:24, 27)
In the Memra man puts his trust, or faith (Targum of Genesis 15:6; Targum Yerushalayimi of Exodus 14:31; Jeremiah 39:18; 49:11)
“The Memra brings Israel near unto God and sits on his throne receiving the prayers of Israel” (Targum Yerushalayimi of Deuteronomy 4:7)
The Memra shielded Noah from the flood (Targum Yerushalayimi of Genesis 7:16) and brought about the dispersion of the seventy nations (11:8)
The Memra is the guardian of Jacob (Gen. 28:20-21, 35:3) and of Israel (Targum Yerushalyim of Exodus 12:23, 29)
The Memra works all the wonders in Egypt (Exodus 13:8, 14:25), hardens the heart of Pharaoh (13:15), and goes before Israel in the wilderness (Targum Yerushalayimi of Exodus 20:1)
The Memra blesses Israel (Targum Yerushalayimi of Numbers 23:8)
The Memra battles for the people (Targum of Joshua 3:7, 10:14, 23:3)
The Memra rules over the destiny of man (Targum Yerushalayimi of Numbers 27:16)
The Memra is in the creation of the earth (Targum of Isaiah 45:12) and in the execution of justice (Targum Yerushalayimi of Numbers 33:4)
The Memra is the comforter (Targum of Isaiah 66:13)
“The Memra will roar to gather the exiled” (Targum of Hosea 11:5, 10).
“In the Memra the redemption will be found” (Targum of Zechariah 12:5)
“The holy Word [Memra]” was the subject of the hymns of Job (Testament of Job, 12:3, ed., Kohler)
The Memra is the Word of Creation. Before we add further definitions and clarifications to the meaning of Memra, we first should understand that the Memra often means the “Word” (Memra) of Yahweh in creating the heavens and the earth.
In an ancient Jewish Bible commentary known as Midrash Rabbah, Genesis III:2, we read:
R. Berekiah spoke in the name of R. Judah b. R. Simon:
By the word [Memra] of the Lord were the heavens made,
and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth (Ps. 33:6):
not by labor or toil but only by a word [Memra]; thus, AND
GOD SAID: LET LIGHT BE.
This understanding of the rabbis is straight from Genesis 1:1-3. The interpretation is that the creation came about by the Word of Yahweh, by the word of his mouth. Though the interpretation is accurate it is implied rather than clearly stated in Genesis 1:1. From where, then, does it clearly derive? Look at the source Scripture cited by the rabbis in Psalm 33:6. The Psalmist David wrote:
By the Word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
and by the Spirit [breath] of his mouth all their host.
We see that the Word of Yahweh is directly connected to and responsible for creation of the earth. In the Targum of Isaiah 45:12, we read: “It is my Memra who made the earth and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with my hands and ordained all their host.”
Memra is God speaking.
In Genesis 3:8 we read: “They heard the sound [voice] of Yahweh Elohim walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh Elohim among the trees of the garden.” The Targum reads: “They heard the voice of the Memra of Yahweh.”
In Deuteronomy 4:33 we read: “… has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and survived?” The Targum reads: “Has any people heard the voice of the Memra of Yahweh speaking from the midst of the fire, as you heard, and survived?”
In Deuteronomy 4:36 we read: “Out of the heavens He let you hear his voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see his great fire, and you heard his words from the midst of the fire.” The Targum reads: “Out of the heavens He let you hear the voice of the Memra to teach you …”
In Isaiah 6:8 we read: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” The Targum says that Isaiah “heard the voice of the Memra of Yahweh.”
The Memra is the Hand of God.
In Exodus 33:22, the Scripture reads: “and it will come about, while my glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” The Targum substitutes “my Memra” for “my hand.”
In Isaiah 48:13, the “hand” of Yahweh becomes in the Targum the Memra that “has laid the foundation of the earth.”
The Memra is the Manifestation of Deity.
In Exodus 25:22, the Scripture reads: “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” In the Targum it reads: “There I will order my Memra to meet with you.”
In Deuteronomy 1:32 we read: “But for all this, you put no faith in the LORD your God.” The Aramaic interpreter rendered the text, “But for all this, you put no faith in the Word [Memra] of Yahweh” (cf. Targum, Targum Neofiti and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)
In Deuteronomy 5:5 Moses says: “I stood between Yahweh and you at that time, to declare to you the word of Yahweh; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.” The Targum reads: “I stood between the Memra of Yahwew and you.”
In Deuteronomy 18:19 we read: “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” The Targum reads: “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, my Word [Memra] shall require it of him.”
In Deuteronomy 9:3 we read: “Know therefore today that it is Yahweh your Elohim who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire.” The Aramaic Targum reads: “Know therefore today that is the Memra who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire.”
In Isaiah 30:27 we read: “Behold, the name of Yahweh comes from a remote place; burning is his anger and dense is his smoke; his lips are filled with indignation and his tongue is like a consuming fire.” The Targum instead reads that “his Memra is like a consuming fire.”
In Exodus 32:35 we read: “And Yahweh smote the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.” In the Targum it reads that the Memra “smote the people" (Targum, Targum Neofiti, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)
In 2 Samuel 6:7 instead of “the LORD smote him,” it reads “The Memra smote him.” The same is found in 1 Kings 18:24, Hosea 13:14, et al.
In Exodus 19:17 the text reads: “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” The Targum reads that “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet “the Memra.” We find an interesting difference here in Targum Yerushalayimi. It reads instead that Moses brought the people out to meet “the Shekinah.” This is significant because the Memra is compared to the Shekinah in other places, adding to the weight of meaning represented by the Memra. They become synonymous terms.
In Exodus 31:13 the “sign between me and you” becomes a “sign between my Memra and you.” The same is the case in 31:17. (cf. Leviticus. 26:46; Genesis 9:12; 17:2, 7, 10; Ezekiel 20:12).
Instead of the LORD, the Memra comes to Abimelek (Genesis 20:3) and to Balaam (Numbers 23:4)
His Memra aids and accompanies Israel, performing wonders for them (Targum of Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 1:30; 33:3; Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 31:1; Hosea 9:10)
The Memra goes before Cyrus (Isaiah 45:12)
Yahweh swears by his Memra (Genesis 21:23; 22:16; 24:3; Exodus 32:13; Numbers 14:30; Isaiah 45:23; Ezekiel 20:5 et al.)
It is his Memra that repents, or turns (Targum of Genesis 6:6; 8:21; 1 Samuel 15:11, 35)
The Memra is “the Soul”—the Life, the Self, the Passion—of God.
In Leviticus 26:30, we read: “I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for my soul [nephesh] shall abhor you.” Instead of “my soul” which can also mean “my self,” “my passion,” the Targum reads: “My Memra shall abhor you.”
In Isaiah 1:14 we read: “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to my soul [nephesh]; I am weary of bearing them.” The Targum substitutes “my soul” with “my Memra.”
In Jeremiah 6:8 we read: “Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul [nephesh] depart from you; lest I make you desolate, a land not inhabited.” The Targum reads: “Be chastised, O Jerusalem, lest my Memra depart from you …”
In Ezekiel 23:18 we read: “She uncovered her harlotries and uncovered her nakedness; then my soul became disgusted with her, as I had become disgusted with her sister.” The Targum reads: “Then my Memra withdrew from her just as my Memra withdrew from her sister.”
The Memra is God Acting in Covenant with Israel.
In Leviticus 26:9 through the Memra God turns to his covenant people. In Leviticus 26:9 we read: “So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm my covenant with you.” The Targum reads: “And my Memra will turn to you to favor you to favor you with room and give you increase, and He will confirm my covenant with you.”
In 2 Kings 13:23, again through the Memra God turns to his covenant people. The Hebrew text reads: “And Yahweh was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now.” The Aramaic Targum reads: “And Yahweh pitied them and had compassion on them and his Memra turned to them because of his covenant …”
Memra is the Shining Light of Yahweh. We’ve learned that the Word of Yahweh and the Memra are the same, but the word Memra unfolds other divine attributes. In a Targum Fragment of Genesis 1:3 we read:
And the Word [Memra] of Yahweh said:
“Let light be!”
And light was in his Word [Memra].
Notice the idea expressed in this Targum that the Light was in Yahweh’s Memra—the “Word” of Yahweh. This supports the notion that the Word of Yahweh contains light. If the Word of Yahweh contains light, it stands to reason that this Light is from and of God.
In Targum Neofiti on Exodus 12:42, we continue to see the direct connection of Memra—the “Word” of Yahweh—to the Light of Elohim in creating the heavens and the earth:
The first night was when Yahweh was revealed above the
earth to create it:
the earth was void and empty
and darkness was spread over the face of the deep.
And the Word [Memra] of Yahweh was the Light
and it shone [in darkness];
and he called it the first night.
Not only do we see the Aramaic interpretation of Memra as being the Light of creation in the Word of Yahweh, but now we see the Memra as being the same as and identical to the Light of creation. This is a remarkable statement. The Light of the first day of creation is more than cosmic light, it is the Memra shining forth, the Word of Yahweh being revealed in the very act of creation. We readily see that God revealed Himself in his invisibility in the visible creation, not as material stuff as the pantheists claim, but as the pure Light that lights up the whole of creation and enlightens mankind.
If we were to use the synonymous parallelism of meanings of “Word” and “Light” for the one word Memra we come to understand better the Jews who read Psalm 119 without distinguishing between “Word” and “Light”:
Your word [Memra] is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
The unfolding of your words [Memra] gives light;
it [Memra] gives enlightenment to the simple.
Light cannot be seen, but without light, nothing is seen. Because God’s Word is Light, and this same Light reveals the invisibility of God’s attributes, we have the Hebraic teaching that in creation was revealed two general attributes of the Word of God that should be common knowledge to all peoples of all nations—God’s power and God’s deity. We find this ancient Hebrew worldview in the teachings of the apostle (shaliach) Paul (Sha’ul) when he wrote to the Roman believers:
For his [Elohim’s] invisible attributes from the creation
of the world have been clearly understood—his eternal
power and divine nature. (Romans 1:20)
How is this so? God who is invisible speaks. He speaks his Word. When He speaks, Light becomes—there is Light. Those who listen are enlightened. This Light that enlightens is the Word [Memra] of Yahweh that enlightens all men to God’s power and deity. Of this truth the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who
are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has
blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might
not see the Light [Memra] of the gospel of the
glory [shekinah] of Messiah, who is the image
For we do not preach ourselves but Messiah Yeshua as
Adonai, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Yeshua’s
sake. For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,”
is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light
[Memra] of the knowledge of the glory [shekinah]
of Elohim in the face of Messiah. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
The Memra, therefore, is the Light of the spoken Word of God. This Light, according to a Targum, is “in the Word of Yahweh.” Further, according to the Targum, this Light is not only in the Word of Yahweh, it is the Word of Yahweh.
Put another way, the Memra is not only the Word of Yahweh, not only the Light of God’s Word spoken, He is the Light of the revelation of Elohim. His Word is Light and that Light gives light to the whole world. From before the beginning of creation the Word of Yahweh is of Elohim. At the beginning of creation the Word of Yahweh is the Light of God’s radiance. Therefore, the Word of Yahweh is also understood to be Elohim—or more exactly, the living radiance of Elohim.
The Memra is the Shekinah Radiating God’s Power and Presence. As shown earlier, in Exodus 19:17 the text reads: “And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.”
The Targum reads that “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the Memra.”
We find an interesting difference here in Targum Yerushalayim. It reads instead that Moses brought the people out to meet “the Shekinah.”
This is significant because the Memra is compared to the Shekinah as if they are one and the same. They are interchangeable terms. We find this also in Leviticus and Numbers, adding to the weight of meaning represented by the Memra. They become synonymous.
“My Shekinah I shall put among you, my Memra shall be unto you for a redeeming deity, and you shall be unto my Name a holy people” (Targum Yerushalayim)
In the Targum of Numbers 23:21 we read: “He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; nor has He seen trouble in Israel. The Memra of Yahweh Elohay will help him, and the Shekinah of a king is among them.”
The Apostle John understands Memra as Word and Shekinah. We see the strong influence of the ancient Aramaic teaching of Memra being the Word of Yahweh and the same as the Light of Yahwewh in the teachings of the apostle [shaliach] John [Yochanan].
John understood clearly Genesis 1:1. He saw it as a prophetic text pointing to the Messiah. He understood the historic connection of the Word of Yahweh as the Memra creating the heavens and the earth. He knew that the promise of Genesis 1:1 was that the Messiah would appear, not once, but twice in history as the Word of Yahweh of Father God.
Read the first nine verses of John’s Gospel and substitute the words “Word” and its equivalent meaning of “Light” with the Aramaic word Memra:
In the beginning was the Word [Memra],
and the Word [Memra] was with God,
and the Word [Memra] was God.
He [Memra] was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through Him [Memra],
and apart from Him [Memra] nothing came into
being that has come into being.
In Him [Memra] was life,
and the life was the Light Shekinah] of men.
The Light [Shekinah] shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There came a man sent from God whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify about the Light
[Shekinah], so that all might believe through him [Memra].
He was not the Light [Memra/Shekinah],
but he came to testify about the Light [Shekinah].
There was the true Light [Shekinah] which,
coming into the world, enlightens every man.
He [Memra] was in the world,
and the world was made through Him [Memra],
and the world did not know Him [Memra].
He [Memra] came to His own,
and those who were His [Memra’s] own did not receive Him [Memra].
But as many as received Him [Memra],
to them He [Memra] gave the right to become children of God,
even to those who believe in His [Memra’s] name,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh
nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word [Memra] became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we saw His [Memra’s] glory [Shekinah],
glory [Shekinah] as of the only begotten from the Father,
full of lovingkindness and faithfulness.
John testified about Him [Memra] and cried out, saying,
“This was He [Memra] of whom I said,
‘He [Memra] who comes after me has a higher rank than I,
for He [Memra] existed before me.’”
For of his [Memra’s] fullness we have all received,
and lovingkindness upon lovingkindness.
For the Torah of lovingkindness was given through Moses;
lovingkindness and faithfulness were completed in Messiah
No one has seen God at any time;
the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father,
He [Memra] has explained Him,
i.e., is his Word [Memra].
The Memra is the Royal, Spirit-filled Servant of God. In Isaiah 42:1 we read: “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”
The Targum reads: “Behold, my Servant whom I offer, my chosen one who reconciles, my Memra in whom I delight. I will give Him my Holy Spirit; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”
The Memra is the Light of Torah. In John’s Gospel we find another connection of Memra as being not only the Word of Yahweh and the Light of Yahweh, but the Light of Torah. This teaching did not originate with John but was well understood long before. In Proverbs, for example, we find this same teaching in the following synonymous parallelism:
For the commandment [mitzvah] is a lamp,
and the Torah is light [Memra] (Proverbs 6:23)
What John does clarify is that not only is the written Torah the Torah of lovingkindness, the Torah is also the written expression of the Memra—the Word of Yahweh.
Further, John shows, Yeshua is the fullness of the Torah being the Living Torah—the Memra in flesh. Not only is the Torah the expression of God’s lovingkindness, or grace, but with Yeshua the lovingkindness, or grace of God, is in flesh. The lovingkindness, of grace, of the written Torah that came through Moses is now complete in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of the Messiah Yeshua.
Messiah Jesus [Yeshua] is the Memra written and spoken of in the ancient Aramaic tongue, and He is “the Word of Yahweh” in Hebrew—haDabar Yahweh. He convinces us to believe in Yahweh as He convinced Abraham to put his trust in Yahweh. For they are different in personality in that a distinction exists between Yahweh and the Memra—the Word [haDabar]. Nevertheless, they are One—Adonai Yahweh (Genesis 15:2)—the Lord Yahweh!
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:4
4. AND GOD SAID: LET THERE BE LIGHT, etc. R. Simeon b. R. Jehozadak asked R. Samuel b. Nahman: ‘As I have heard that you are a master of haggadah, tell me whence the light was created?’ He replied: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself therein as in a robe and irradiated with the lustre of His majesty the whole world from one end to the other.’ Now he had answered him in a whisper, whereupon he observed, ‘There is a verse which states it explicitly: Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment (Ps. CIV, 2), yet you say it in a whisper!’ ‘Just as I heard it in a whisper, so have I told it to you in a whisper,’ he rejoined. R. Berekiah remarked: Had not R. Isaac taught it,1 could we have said it!2 Before this, what did they say [on the matter]? R. Berekiah said in R. Isaac's name: The light was created from the place of the Temple, as it is said, And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth did shine with His glory (Ezek. XLIII, 2). Now ’ His glory ' is nought else but the Temple, as you read: Thou throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thou place of our sanctuary (Jer. XVII, 12).
Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 119b
R. Eleazar said: How do we know that speech is like action? Because it is said, By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:2
2. R. Berekiah commenced in the name of R. Judah b. R. Simon: By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth (Ps. XXXIII, 6): not by labour or toil but only by a word; thus, AND GOD SAID: LET THERE BE LIGHT.
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:5
5.R. Simon said: ' Light’ is written five times [in this paragraph], corresponding to the Books of His Torah. Now GOD SAID: LET THERE BE LIGHT corresponds to Genesis, in which is recorded that the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in the creation of His world; AND THERE WAS LIGHT, to Exodus,3 in which it is told how the Israelites went forth from Egypt, out of darkness into light; AND GOD SAW THE LIGHT, etc., to Leviticus, which is filled with numerous laws; AND GOD DIVIDED THE LIGHT,to Numbers, whiCh divides between those who departed from Egypt and those who entered the [holy] land; AND GOD CALLED THE LIGHT [DAY],to Deuteronomy, which is filled with numerous laws. But, they [his hearers] objected, ‘Is not Leviticus filled with numerous laws’4 - This passage,too,has,a repetition, viz. AND GOD CALLED THE LIGHT DAY: now surely light and day are identical!
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:6
6. It was taught: The light which was created in the six days of Creation1 cannot illumine by day, because it would eclipse the light of the sun, nor by night, because it was created only to illumine by day. Then where is it? It is stored up for the righteous in the Messianic future, as it says, Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sewenfold, as the light of the seven days (Isa. XXX, 26). Seven! surely there were but three, seeing that the luminaries were created on the fourth day!2 It is like a man who says, ' I am pro-viding so much for the seven days of my [wedding] feast.’
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:8
For R. Johanan said: The angels were created on the second day, as it is said, Who layest the beams of Thine upper chambers in the waters, and it is written, Who makest the spirits Thine angels (Ps. CIV, 3f). R. Hanina said: The angels were created on the fifth day,4 as it is written, And let fowl fly above the earth (Gen. I, 20), and it is written, And with twain he did fly (Isa. VI, 2). R. Luliani b. Tabri said in R. Isaac's name: Whether we accept the view of R. Hanina or of R. Jobanan, all agree that none were created on the first day, lest you should say, Michael stretched [the world] in the south of the firmament and Gabriel in the north, while the Holy One, blessed be He, measured it in the middle; but I am the Iord that maketh all things; that stretched forth the heavens alone; that spread abroad the earth by Myself-me-itti (ib. XLIV, 24): mi itti (who was with Me?) is written; who was associated with Me in the creation of the world?