In This Lesson
Introduction | A Brief History | Israel's God Is the God of Creation | Israel's God Is a Jealous God
Israel Sinned | Their "Jealous" God Punished Their Sin | Their Loving God Forgave and Delivered Them!
Why Did God Choose Israel? | What Is His Name? | Two Other Common Names for God
Does It Matter Which Name We Use? | Who Is God to You?
In Judaism, God is strictly monotheistic [only one God]. "Sh'ma, Yisra'l! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, Isra'el! Adonai our God [Eloheinu or Elohim], Adonai is one]" (Deuteronomy 6:4 CJB).
He is the absolute, indivisible, incomparable, self-existent Being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Judaism teaches that the true aspect of God is incomprehensible and unknowable. "Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:13-14 NIV). God brought the universe into existence and has graciously revealed aspects of Himself to humankind and interacts with us and the world as He wills.
In fact, Judaism has changed very little over the past 6,000 years. Just as they believed 5,000 years ago, so they believe today, that this one God of Israel is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He created man in His image, brought about the great Flood which destroyed all but eight humans and select animals, and gave the Seven Laws of Noah1 to all humankind. He covenanted with Abraham to bless all the nations through his offspring, He saved them from famine through Joseph, delivered them from slavery in Egypt, gave them the 613 Mitzvot2 at Mount Sinai, defeated their enemies, and brought them to the Promised Land.
A Brief History
The history of Israel, as detailed in the Bible, covers a period of about 1800-2000 years. The Biblical record tells us about God's promises, blessing, miracles, and judgments.
Although the Jews look to the Exodus from slavery in Egypt as the foundation of the nation of Israel, its founding really goes back more than 400 years to a promise made to one man, Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:2 and 22:17-18). Not only does Abraham believe the promise, but for the next 400-some years, his descendants rely on that promise, too. Even during the significant period of slavery in Egypt, they continue to believe the promise.
Following the Exodus from Egypt which in and of itself is nothing short of a dramatic demonstration of God's love and protection of Israel God establishes a conditional covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This is where He gives the Law [the Mitzvot] through Moses, which consists of what we commonly call the "Ten Commandments" and other laws governing their worship as well as dietary and hygiene requirements.
It is during this time that God also promises blessings if they faithfully follow the Law and punishment if they break the Law.
The rest of Israel's history, as recorded in the Bible, is a continuing cycle of blessing for Israel's obedience and punishment for their disobedience to God's Law. Throughout times of victory and defeat, kings and judges, priests and prophets, restoration and exile the Israelites are blessed when they obey God and disciplined when they do not.
As a nation, Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. At that time, the Jews scattered throughout the whole world, keeping the hope based on prophetic promises of an eventual regathering to the chosen land God gave to Israel. In 1948, after almost 1900 years had passed, Israel was again declared a sovereign nation and officially reestablished in the promised land. Through a series of miraculous events, including the Jews retaking Jerusalem in 1967, this generation is witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy with respect to God's special nation.3
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Israel's God Is the God of Creation
Of all the gods and "sacred" books about them, Israel's God is the only one who claims to have created all the universe. All other "gods" were created by Him!
"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ,I have no pleasure in them.'" (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
8"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!' 10Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. . . . 12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?" (Isaiah 40:8-10, 12)
See also Jeremiah 10-11.
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Israel's God Is a Jealous God
He couldn't have said it any more plainly when He told the nation of Israel that they were to worship Him alone as the one true God and to not bow down or serve the gods of the nations around them.
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"You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Deuteronomy 5:9 emphasis added)
"If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed." (Deuteronomy 8:19 emphasis added)
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
"But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess." (Deuteronomy 30:17-18 emphasis added)
35"The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, 'You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.'" (2 Kings 17:35-39 emphasis added)
"All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!" (Psalm 97:7)
God's Word tells us that Israel, unfortunately, repeatedly turned away from the true God to serve and worship the other nations' false gods and idols. They also gave their sons and daughters in marriage to serve the false gods.
"Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths." (Judges 2:11 NIV)
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"They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs." (Judges 3:6-7 NIV)
See also Judges 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1; 1 Kings 11:6, 14:22, 15:26,34, 16:25, 22:52; 2 Kings 3:2, 8:18,27, 13:2, 13:11, 14:24, 15:9,18, 15:24, 15:28; 17:2, 21:2,16,20, 23:32,37, 24:9,19; 2 Chronicles 21:6, 22:4, 29:6, 33:2,22, 36:5,9,12; Jeremiah 52:2.
Their "Jealous" God Punished Their Sin
Each time that Israel turned her back on her God, the results were devastating for them. For example, the Bible tells us in chapters 23 and 24 of 2 Kings:
26"...the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.
27And the LORD said, 'I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.'" (2 Kings 23:26-27)
2"And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. 3Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, 4and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon." (2 Kings 24:2-4)
"For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon." (2 Kings 24:20)
The Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, didn't simply capture the inhabitants of Judah, but he plundered the city, God's holy Temple, and all the items used in the Temple for service to God.
Actually, according to the Bible, there were three deportations of Jews to Babylon:[Back to Top...]
- The first was during the third year of King Jeconiah's reign in Nebuchadnezzar's eighth year as king of Babylon in 597 B.C. See 1 Chronicles 3:16-17; Esther 2:6; Jeremiah 24:1, 27:20, 28:4, 29:2.
- The second was the one listed in the verses above in Nebuchadnezzar's 18th year in 587 B.C. See 2 Kings 23-24; Jeremiah 22; Habakkuk 1-3.
- The third was a deportation in Nebuchadnezzar's 23rd year in 582 B.C. This exile ended in 538 B.C. after Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and gave permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. See Ezra 1-3 and Nehemiah 1-9.
These three captivities, and their subsequent return to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, are considered significant events in Jewish history and culture.
Their Loving God Forgave and Delivered Them!
But God (I love that phrase!), in His infinite mercy and love, delivered them every time from the enemies He had sent against them. For example...
"But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him." (Judges 3:9-10)
"Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man." (Judges 3:15)
See also Judges 4:1-24, 6:1-7:25, 10:6-11:33.
What Did Israel Learn from These Events?
They learned that although the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is slow to anger and long-suffering He is a jealous God who performs what He says. He is a faithful God concerning the permanence of His Word. God's people may forget, but God never forgets. His Word "stands forever". God proved to be as true to His threats as He was, and is, to His promises.
- "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8)
- "The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." (Nahum 1:2-3)
- Ezekiel 12:25 NIV)
They also learned that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is eager to forgive and restore, especially those whom He loves.
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- "For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." (Psalm 86:5)
- "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation." (Psalm 91:14-16)
- Proverbs 10:12
- "...I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." (Jeremiah 31:3b)
Why Did God Choose Israel?
As we briefly discussed in the Introduction to this lesson, although the nation of Israel derives its name from the patriarch Yisra'l [Israel], formerly known to his family as Ya'aqob [Jacob] (cf. Genesis 32:28), we can trace its beginnings back to his grandfather, Abraham, when God promised: "...I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2)
After Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God promised again: "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Genesis 22:17-18)
The Promise of Blessing
The promise of blessing to the whole world did not originate with Abraham, however. Rather, the first promise goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God promised Satan and all humankind: "I will put enmity between youA and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspringB; heC shall bruise your headD, and you shall bruise his heelE." (Genesis 3:15)
A Satan, by whose action and deceit the serpent deceived the woman.
B Satan's "offspring" are fallen angels and wicked humans; the woman's offspring are the Messiah as well as His followers.
C The Messiah, Jesus Christ.
D By "bruising" the head where the serpent's poison is the Messiah would totally destroy the power of sin and death.
E Satan would be permitted to temporarily afflict the humanity of Christ and bring suffering and persecution on His people.
The Nations Shall Know His Name
God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel that it was His desire for all the nations and peoples to know His name and know Him as the one true God. "And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel." (Ezekiel 39:7 emphasis added)
In fact, the Lord uses the phrase "[they][you]shall know that I am the LORD" more than 80 times in Scripture! See Exodus 6:7; 7:5,17; 8:22; 10:2; 14:4,18; 16:12; 29:46; Deuteronomy 29:6; 1 Kings 20:13,28; Isaiah 49:23,26; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 5:13; 6:7,10-14; 7:4,9,27; 11:10-12; 12:15-16,20; 13:9,14,21-23; 14:8; 15:7; 16:62; 17:21,24; 20:12,20,26,38,42,44; 21:5; 22:16,22; 23:49; 24:24,27; 25:5,7,11,17; 26:6; 28:22-26; 29:6,9,16,21; 30:8,19,25-26; 32:15; 33:29; 34:27,30; 35:4,9,12,15; 36:11,23,36,38; 37:6,13-14,28; 38:23; 39:6-7,22,28; Joel 3:17.
God's desire for Israel was that they would go and teach others about Him. Israel was to be a nation of priests, prophets, and missionaries to the world. God's intent was for Israel to be a distinct people, a nation who pointed others towards God and His promised provision of a Redeemer, Messiah, and Savior. Although Israel failed in this task, God's ultimate purpose for Israel that of bringing the Messiah into the world was fulfilled perfectly in the Person of Jesus Christ.4
Why Israel and Not Some Other Nation?
Actually, that's a question to which the Bible never gives us a direct answer. It was not because of any special size, nature, or attraction. Actually, the nation of Israel was the least in number among all the nations. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
The only reason the Bible gives for God's choice of Israel is because of His love for them and His everlasting covenant with Abraham. Does this mean that God loved Israel more than other people? No. How do we know? Because it was always His plan to bring forth the Messiah through Israel so He could love and bless everyone.
The Messiah had to come from some nation of people, and God chose Israel. Was it really necessary for God to have a "chosen" people? Probably not. But, that's how He decided to do it. Thus, you could accurately say that Jesus Christ is the ultimate reason why God chose Israel to be His special people.
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What Is His Name?
The God of Israel has a proper name, written in Hebrew as in the Biblia Hebraica [Hebrew Bible]. This is known as the Tetragrammaton [word with four letters] and is usually rendered in English "YHWH", "Yahweh", or "Jehovah". In most Christian Bibles the word "LORD" or "LORD", written in all uppercase letters, is used in place of .
The name "YHWH" literally means "the self-existent One" and relates to God as He truly is. He is a non-created, eternally-existent Being who transcends the universe.
How Do You Pronounce the Name?
There is considerable debate among scholars, linguists, and students alike as to the correct pronunciation of God's formal name. Some say the name is pronounced just as it is written [Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh], while others add vowels to make it "Jehovah" or "Yahweh". And still others claim, because Hebrew is more a spoken language than a written one, that the name should be pronounced "YAH'hovah". The fact is, however, that no one today knows for sure how to pronounce the name.
Traditional Judaism teaches that the four-letter name of God, YHWH, is forbidden to be uttered except by the High Priest in the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur. Throughout the entire Yom Kippur service, the High Priest would pronounce the name YHWH "just as it is written"5 [Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh] in each blessing he made. When the people standing in the Temple courtyard heard the name, they would prostrate on the courtyard floor. Since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the name is never said in religious rituals by Jews; thus, the correct pronunciation is currently disputed.
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Two Other Common Names for God
Two other names or designations of God used in Judaism are "Adonai" [Hebrew "Adonay"] and "Elohim", both of which are plural nouns.
Adonai (often transliterated "Lord" in English Bibles) means "master", "owner", or "sovereign ruler" and generally denotes the authority and exalted position of God. Primarily, the name Adonai, as it pertains to God, stresses man's relationship to God as our Master, Authority, and Provider (not to be confused with YHWH-Jireh, which means "God Sees" / "God Will Provide").
Elohim is often transliterated "God" in English Bibles. The precise development of the word "elohim" is unknown. There are many theories, but most Bible scholars believe it is derived from the shorter word "el" meaning "mighty", "strong" or "prominent" or the Hebrew form of "eloah", which referred primarily to the pagan polytheistic religions.
"Elohim" is the name, or designation, of God that occurs first in Scripture in Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth." (TS98) The Bible uses the name "Elohim" most often when God is presented interacting with His creation especially in the Pentateuch.
Scripture uses the name "Elohim" when emphasizing God's might, creative power, and His justice and rulership. The name denotes the power and pre-eminence [conspicuous glory] of God and is especially used in relation to God's sovereignty, creative work, and mighty works for Israel. Variations of this name include "El" [God], "Elohai" [my God] and "Elohaynu" [our God]. In the Pentateuch the name "Elohim" portrays God as the transcendent Being, the Creator of the universe.
The Two Names in Scripture
There is some confusion about how the names "Adonai" and "Elohim" were, and are today, used in Judaism. This is primarily due to the fact that the Jews have always been very conscientious and deliberate in not transgressing God's command to not use His holy name in vain. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." (Exodus 20:7) See also Deuteronomy 5:11.
Therefore, they insert the vowel points of the name "Adonay" between the consonants of the Tetragrammaton to remind readers to pronounce "Adonay" instead of the sacred name "YHWH". And when the scrolls use the compound words " Adonai" or " your Adonai", they read it "Adonai Elohim" or "Adonai your Elohim".
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Does It Matter Which Name We Use or How We Pronounce It?
Let's suppose for a moment that you call your mother "Mom" or "Mommy", your cousins call her "Aunty", your grandmother calls her "daughter", your children call her "Mamah", and perhaps your father calls her "Mother" or "Honey". Do you think it matters to her which name/designation you all use for her? Or, is she mostly concerned with having a loving and nurturing relationship with each of the persons who calls her by those different names? To you, she also might be your piano teacher, swimming coach, math tutor, soccer mom, the one who drives you to your meetings, your Sunday School teacher, the "best cook in the world", or who-knows-how-many-other designations. And she is happy to be all those things to you because she loves you!
God is not a legalist. That is, He isn't as much concerned about our rituals, performance, rules, habits, cultures, or appearance as He is the content of our hearts. "But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7)
God did not reveal His sacred name, and certain attributes of Himself through other names, to imprison us with legalistic confines or constraints on how, when, and where to use the names He revealed to us through Israel. Rather, He revealed His name and attributes so we would better know this eternally-existent, incomprehensible, and transcendent God so we could draw near to Him, fellowship with Him, and learn to trust Him to care about every detail of our lives.
I maintain that it does not matter to Him how we pronounce His names or which names we use when talking with Him [praying]. What matters is that we study all that He's revealed to us through His names and that we do pray and seek to know Him as intimately as He wants to be known by us!
Regardless of which pronunciation or transliteration one uses, I am deeply grateful that our Elohim doesn't let our awkward fumbling of His name come between us, but He still welcomes us into His presence and showers us with His extravagant love and mercy!
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Who Is God to You?
We have discussed who God was and is in Judaism. We have also discussed in other lessons the triune nature of God, His personality traits, and that He is the eternal, self-existent Being. And while all of these discussions make for an interesting Bible study, I feel that we would be remiss to leave it there and not discuss the need for a personal relationship with this knowable, approachable, creative, forgiving, honest, and capable God.
God's Word tells us we've all sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God. No matter how "good" you are, whether you came from a Christian home or not, whether you're a pastor or a drunkard, a faithful husband or adulterer. Whether you tithe your income or gamble every cent on the lottery; whether you "keep the Saturday Sabbath", think of Sunday as the "Sabbath", or get drunk on Saturday and play golf on Sunday; whether you observe Christmas and Easter or only the Old Testament feasts . . . . none of these things matter when it comes to the issue of where you'll spend eternity. None of them will get you any more saved or any more lost.
"...For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:22b-24 emphasis added)
The Bible says: "...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
Do you know this "knowable" God? Is He your personal Lord and Savior not because you're a "good" person, but because you know you're a wretched, despicable sinner in need of His grace? "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6 KJV) [Note: The word used here for "filthy rags" literally means menstrual cloth as seen in Leviticus 15:33, 20:18, and Lamentations 1:17.] Imagine that! God's Word says that every single "righteous" thing we ever do is like a menstrual cloth compared to the holiness of our righteous God!
So, who is God to you? As we mentioned in the study about His six personality traits, He wants to be known by you; He wants you to approach Him, not only for your salvation, but for all of life's problems; He wants to create in you a new and clean heart; He wants to forgive all your sins past, present, and future; He wants you to be honest and transparent with yourself and with Him; and He is fully capable of handling all your needs, all your shortcomings, all your sins, all your confessions, all your problems, and all your hopes for the future!
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
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2 Mitzvot n. (commonly referred to as the "Law of Moses"), the 613 Mitzvot are the statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice contained in the Torah (or Five Books of Moses).
3 "History of Israel God's Purpose", AllAboutGOD.com Ministries. M. Houdmann, P. Matthews-Rose, R. Niles, editors. 2002-2012. Used by permission. Web. 19 August 2012.
4 "Why Did God Choose Israel to be His Chosen People", GotQuestions?org. np. Web. 19 August 2012.
5 Harris, Stephen L. Understanding the Bible: a reader's introduction, 2nd ed. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. page 21.
1 Seven Laws of Noah a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" that is, all of humankind. According to Judaism, any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come. Adherents are often called "B'nei Noach" (Children of Noah) or "Noahides" and may often network in Jewish synagogues. ["Noahide Laws", Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 6 August 2012. Web. 17 August 2012. ]