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In Shemot 15:3 in the song of Moshe he declares that YHVH is "a man of war"; however, in Bamidbar 23:19 it says, "G_d is not a man , that He should lie". What is the explanation for this contradiction?

  • According to Deut 20:19, man is a tree of the field. Is it possible that the word is not being used literally? God is also said as having fingers, hands and a back. – rosends Feb 12 '17 at 0:50
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    In a sense, "man of war" is a title or "job description". It's like calling someone a Congressman, even if the person is female. – DanF Feb 12 '17 at 2:59
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This is not a literal saying nor is it a contradiction. Hashem is not a man in the sense of a physical being, but we cannot talk about Him except in terms that a human can understand. In this case it is an idiom meaning a master or controller of ... As we have in this translation:

Shmos 15:2

The Lord is a Master of war; the Lord is His Name.

Rashi

The Lord is a Master of war: Heb. אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה, lit., a man of war, [which is inappropriate in reference to the Deity. Therefore,] Rashi renders: Master of war, like “Naomi’s husband (אִישׁ נָעֳמִי)” (Ruth 1:3) and so, every [instance in the Torah of] אִישׁ, husband, and אִישֵׁ, your husband, is rendered: בַּעַל, master. Similarly, “You shall be strong and become a man (לְאִישׁ)” (I Kings 2:2), [meaning] a strong man. —

The brackets in the citation above are in the original link. Translation edited by esteemed translator and scholar, Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg.

Rav Hirsch explains

He fights down every social force in humanity that stands in the way of his plan for this better future.

That is, Hashem controls the forces of the world and of humanity. He is one who is the Master of all.

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Ish milhama, איש מלחמה, (hyper-literally translated as: 'man of war') is simply the Biblical word for warrior. The more intuitive forms of לוחם or מלחם which would refer to a warrior without employing the word איש; man, do not appear in the Bible. It therefore appears that the term is not meant to connote a male, or a mortal; it is simply the only term in the language, for a warrior.

This term is often used on characters who are obviously male. E.g. Joshua 17:1

לְמָכִיר בְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה אֲבִי הַגִּלְעָד, כִּי הוּא הָיָה אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה

As for Machir the first-born of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, because he was a warrior.

And I Samuel 16:18:

רָאִיתִי בֵּן לְיִשַׁי בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי, יֹדֵעַ נַגֵּן וְגִבּוֹר חַיִל וְאִישׁ מִלְחָמָה וּנְבוֹן דָּבָר, וְאִישׁ תֹּאַר

I have seen a son of Jesse the Beth-lehemite, that is skillful in playing, and a mighty man of valour, and a warrior, and prudent in affairs, and a comely person.


Interestingly, there are other examples in Biblical Hebrew of the the word ish being modified with another word to describe a person who is obviously male. Here too it seems that the point is not that the individual is male, or human. Instead, the focus is on the descriptor. E.g.Genesis 9:20:

וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה

And Noah the husbandman began.


Bible passages and translations are based on Mechon Mamre.

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see rambam - רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק א הלכה ח' ט' & י"ב and I quote 'ח הרי מפורש בתורה ובנביאים שאין הקב"ה גוף וגוייה שנאמר כי ה' אלהיכם הוא אלהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת והגוף לא יהיה בשני מקומות ונאמר כי לא ראיתם כל תמונה ונאמר ואל מי תדמיוני ואשוה ואילו היה גוף היה דומה לשאר גופים

הלכה ט אם כן מהו זה שכתוב בתורה ותחת רגליו כתובים באצבע אלהים יד ה' עיני ה' אזני ה' וכיוצא בדברים האלו הכל לפי דעתן של בני אדם הוא שאינן מכירין אלא הגופות ודברה תורה כלשון בני אדם והכל כנויים הן שנאמר אם שנותי ברק חרבי וכי חרב יש לו ובחרב הוא הורג אלא משל והכל משל ראיה לדבר שנביא אחד אומר שראה הקדוש ברוך הוא לבושיה כתלג חיור ואחד ראהו חמוץ בגדים מבצרה משה רבינו עצמו ראהו על הים כגבור עושה מלחמה ובסיני כשליח צבור עטוף לומר שאין לו דמות וצורה אלא הכל במראה הנבואה ובמחזה ואמתת הדבר אין דעתו של אדם מבין ולא יכולה להשיגו ולחקרו וזה שאמר הכתוב החקר אלוה תמצא אם עד תכלית שדי תמצא

הלכה יב

והואיל והדבר כן הוא כל הדברים הללו וכיוצא בהן שנאמרו בתורה ובדברי נביאים הכל משל ומליצה הן כמו שנאמר יושב בשמים ישחק כעסוני בהבליהם כאשר שש ה' וכיוצא בהן על הכל אמרו חכמים דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם וכן הוא אומר האותי הם מכעיסים הרי הוא אומר אני ה' לא שניתי ואילו היה פעמים כועס ופעמים שמח היה משתנה וכל הדברים האלו אינן מצויין אלא לגופים האפלים השפלים שוכני בתי חומר אשר בעפר יסודם אבל הוא ברוך הוא יתברך ויתרומם על כל זה

and in english - copied from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/904960/jewish/Yesodei-haTorah-Chapter-One.htm (following is halacha 8, 9 and 12)

Behold, it is explicitly stated in the Torah and [the works of] the prophets that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not [confined to] a body or physical form, as [Deuteronomy 4:39] states: "Because God, your Lord, is the Lord in the heavens above and the earth below," and a body cannot exist in two places [simultaneously].

Also, [Deuteronomy 4:15] states: "For you did not see any image," and [Isaiah 40:25] states: "To whom can you liken Me, with whom I will be equal." Were He [confined to] a body, He would resemble other bodies.

If so, what is the meaning of the expressions employed by the Torah: "Below His feet" [Exodus 24:10], "Written by the finger of God" [ibid. 31:18], "God's hand" [ibid. 9:3], "God's eyes" [Genesis 38:7], "God's ears" [Numbers 11:1], and the like?

All these [expressions were used] to relate to human thought processes which know only corporeal imagery, for the Torah speaks in the language of man. They are only descriptive terms, as [apparent from Deuteronomy 32:41]: "I will whet My lightning sword." Does He have a sword? Does He need a sword to kill? Rather, this is metaphoric imagery. [Similarly,] all [such expressions] are metaphoric imagery.

A proof of this concept: One prophet says that he saw the Holy One, blessed be He, "clothed in snow white" [Daniel 7:9], and another envisioned Him [coming] "with crimson garments from Batzra" [Isaiah 63:1]. Moses, our teacher, himself envisioned Him at the [Red] Sea as a mighty man, waging war, and, at Mount Sinai, [saw Him] as the leader of a congregation, wrapped [in a tallit].

This shows that He has no image or form. All these are merely expressions of prophetic vision and imagery and the truth of this concept cannot be grasped or comprehended by human thought. This is what the verse [Job 11:7] states: "Can you find the comprehension of God? Can you find the ultimate bounds of the Almighty?"

Since this is so, all such [descriptions] and the like which are related in the Torah and the words of the Prophets - all these are metaphors and imagery. [For example,] "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh" [Psalms 2:4], "They angered Me with their emptiness" [Deuteronomy 32:21], and "As God rejoiced" [ibid. 28:63]. With regard to all such statements, our Sages said: "The Torah speaks in the language of man."

This is [borne out by the rhetorical question (Jeremiah 7:19):] "Are they enraging Me?" Behold, [Malachi 3:6] states: "I, God, have not changed." Now were He to at times be enraged and at times be happy, He would change. Rather, all these matters are found only with regard to the dark and low bodies, those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is dust. In contrast, He, blessed be He, is elevated and exalted above all this.

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