By Christine Darg, Jerusalem Channel
A meditation on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018
Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior! (Isaiah 45: 15)
There are many today who ask, “Where was God in the Holocaust?” The question is relevant, but we need to seek no further than the Bible to be enlightened.
The Hebrew phrase “hester panim,” the hidden or concealed face of God, is a concept in Judaism that is sometimes applied to the Nazi Holocaust as an explanation for God’s seeming absence during the horrors.
The concept of hester panim is also alluded to in Purim commentaries since the Book of Esther is the only text in the Hebrew Bible, except for the Song of Songs, that does not overtly mention the name of God (although his name is encoded in an acrostic).
In the Torah in Deuteronomy 31: 17, the Almighty warned that he would hide His face and withdraw his favour from his people if they disobeyed and served other gods:
And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’
Consequently, according to the great commentator Rashi, it would appear “as if” God didn’t see the distress of his people.
In Deuteronomy 31: 18, in the original Hebrew, there is an idiomatic expression, a play on words that does not translate into English but amounts to a double hiding. The conclusion, interestingly, is that the Jewish sage of the Middle Ages, Aben Ezra, as well as the Ramban and other revered rabbis have explained that there would be two hidings of God’s face in Jewish history.
The first hiding was after the destruction of the First Temple during the Jews’ exile to Babylon; that hester panim lasted only a relatively short time—70 years– about a generation.
But the second hiding has been extensive– the current Diaspora in the nations, which started with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and is coming to a conclusion beginning with the rebirth of the modern state of Israel.
During many dark periods during the Diaspora, the Jewish people have had to perceive God’s hand of preservation in the shadows. Indeed, miracles of preservations are happening all the time, but they are not as obvious as the parting of the Red Sea. Sometimes they can be hard to discern. But increasingly for those who have eyes to see, God is shining out from behind the clouds. Recall during the Gulf War how Iraq rained down 39 Scud missiles on Israel, and Israel’s divine preservation was a public miracle!
As an evangelical believer, I find it infinitely fascinating that the Talmud comments on Jerusalem’s widowhood after the destruction of the Temple as a temporary situation. Jerusalem is likened to a woman whose husband has gone overseas but who has every intention of returning! The same analogy is made in the Midrash in Kohellet Raba — a parable about a woman who makes herself beautiful in the absence of her husband, because she must be ready for his imminent return. Revelation 19: 7 speaks of the Bride of the Messiah, who anticipates his imminent return: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
According to the Jewish Tanach, the Hebrew Scriptures, God himself has described his hester panim in Hosea 5: 14-15
For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion,
And as a young lion to the house of Judah;
I, even I, will tear and go away,
I will take away, and there shall be none to deliver.
I will go and return to My place,
Till they acknowledge their guilt, and seek My face;
In their trouble they will seek Me earnestly.
The Bible makes it clear that the time of hester panim will definitely end after the Holocaust. Read the testimony of Ezekiel on 37:
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lordsays: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”
Thankfully, living on the resurrection side of the Holocaust, we know that the second period of hester panim is drawing to a close. God is coming out of hiding. Jerusalem will experience the outpouring of the spirit of grace and supplications. (Zechariah 12: 10) All Israel shall be saved. (Romans 11: 26) It is the most exciting prophetic time to be alive!
“In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer. ~Isaiah 54: 8
“I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” declares the Lord GOD. ~Ezekiel 39: 29
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried then all the days of old.” ~Isaiah 63: 9