revhead.gif (4972 bytes)

Revelation 14:14-20
Last update: July 26, 2005


14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.

From this verse to the end of the chapter, John depicts what seem to be two related but separate "judgments." He is not specific as to who makes up these two groups. The first (verses 14-16) is carried out by what seems to be the Messiah, the second (verses 17-20) is carried out by an angel who emerges from the heavenly Temple. As opposed to the first judgment, where no punishment is mentioned, in the second case those "reaped" are thrown into the "winepress" of God.

It is clear from Scripture that both Israel and the nations are judged at the time of Mashiach's coming.

Midrash Rabbah - Numbers II:13 - Another interpretation of, ‘As the sand of the sea.’ What is the nature of sand? If it is put into the fire it comes out as glass from which utensils can be made. So it is with Israel. They go into fire and come out alive; as it is said: Ye servants of God Most High, come forth, etc. (Daniel 3:26). In the hereafter they will enter Gehinnom and the nations of the world will also enter. The latter having entered will perish, but Israel will come out therefrom unscathed; as it is said: When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt. Why? For I the Lord thy God hold thy right hand (Isaiah 41:13). Therefore he compares them to sand. When referring to the hereafter, however, he compares them to stars. As the stars sparkle throughout the firmament so will they sparkle in the hereafter; as it is said: And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the many to righteousness

God told Moshe that His judgment would befall Israel at the end of days:

Deuteronomy 31:16-21 - And the Lord said to Moses, Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise, and play the harlot after the gods of the strangers of the land, where they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evils which they shall have done, in that they are turned to other gods. Now therefore write this poem for you, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this poem may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I swore to their fathers, that flows with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and become fat; then will they turn to other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles have befallen them, that this poem shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten in the mouths of their seed; for I know their inclination and what they do, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.

The prophet Joel depicts the judgment of the nations as follows:

Joel 4:9-17 - Proclaim this among the nations; Prepare war, stir up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up; Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, I am strong. Hasten and come, all you nations, and gather yourselves together around; cause your mighty ones to come down, O Lord. Let the nations be stirred up, and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations around. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe; come, tread down; for the press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. And the Lord roars out of Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shake; but the Lord will be a refuge for his people, and a fortress for the people of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain; then shall Jerusalem be holy, and no strangers shall pass through her any more.

Midrash differentiates the reasons that God will punish the nations and Israel. The former are judged for their treatment of Israel (i.e., Matthew 25:31-46):

Midrash Rabbah - Ruth V:9 - The vengeance taken of the idolatrous nations will be on account of Israel, while the vengeance taken of Israel will be on account of their poor. The vengeance taken of the idolatrous nations will be on account of Israel, as it is said, And I will lay My vengeance upon Edom by the hand of My people Israel (Ezekiel 25:14); the vengeance taken of Israel will be on account of their poor, as it is said, And he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin in thee (Deuteronomy 15:9). R. Abun said: The poor man stands at your door, and the Holy One, blessed be He, stands at his right hand. If you give unto him, He who stands at his right hand will bless you, but if not, He will exact punishment from you, as it is said, Because He standeth at the right hand of the needy (Psalm 119:31).

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations I:44 - 44. THE LORD HATH SET AT NOUGHT (SILLAH) ALL MY MIGHTY MEN. He hath made me like refuse before them. R. Abba b. Kahana said: In Bar Gamza they call refuse ’sallutha’. R. Levi sai d: In Arabia they call a comb ’mesalselah’. HE HATH CALLED A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY AGAINST ME TO CRUSH MY YOUNG MEN. We find that the death of youths is considered as grievous as the destruction of the Temple; for it is written, THE LORD HATH TRODDEN AS IN A WINEPRESS THE VIRGIN DAUGHTER OF JUDAH, and in the same way, HE HATH CALLED A SOLEMN ASSEMBLY AGAINST ME TO CRUSH MY YOUNG MEN.

15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe."

16 So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

It is possible that "the earth" in verses 15 and 16 could have been "the land" in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, in which case this judgment is directed directly against Israel.

Another reason to consider that the first judgment (by way of the messianic figure in verse 15) involves Israel, and the second (by way of an angel) is that of the nations, is the following concept:

In regards to death, outside Eretz Yisrael it is accomplished by the Angel of Death, whereas in Israel it comes about via a holy force. 1

17 Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18a And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire,

God's vengeance upon the nations is specifically linked to the coming of Messiah. All the nations will bow down to the Messiah, as demonstrated in the following selection from the Zohar. Note the similar association between the "golden crown" and "Son of Man" in verse 14 above to that of "gold" and Messiah in the text below.

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 107b - That day will be a day of note both above and below, as it is written, “and there shall be one day, which shall be known as the Lord's” (Zechariah 14:7); that day will be the day of vengeance, the day which the Holy One, blessed be He, has appointed for taking vengeance on the idolatrous nations. For whilst the Holy One is taking vengeance on the idolatrous nations, He “will make a man more precious than gold”, to wit, the Messiah, who will be raised and glorified above all mankind, and to whom all mankind will pay homage and bow down, as it is written, “Before him those that dwell in the wilderness will bow down ... the Kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute” (Psalm 72:9-10). Observe that although this prophecy (in the book of Isaiah) was primarily intended for Babylonia, yet it has a general application, since this section commences with the words, “When the Lord shall have mercy on Jacob”, and it is also written, “And peoples shall take them and bring them to their place.”

The angel (and judgment) depicted by John emerge "from the (heavenly) Temple. The following Midrash connects the idea of the "bride and groom," with God seen as "leaping forth" from the Temple in order to judge the nations:

Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs IV:18 - The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: ‘When ye were exiled to Babylon, I was with you, as it says, For your sake I have been sent to Babylon (Isaiah 43:14). When you shall return to the chosen House in the near future, I shall be with you; for so it is written, WITH ME FROM LEBANON, MY BRIDE.  R. Levi said: The text in this case should have said, ' Come with Me to Lebanon, O my bride and you say, ’ From Lebanon ‘? What it means, however, is that at first He leaps forth from the Sanctuary, and then He punishes the nations of the world. R. Berekiah said: Within a space of three hours the Holy One, blessed be He, will punish the wicked Esau and his captains. How do we know? Because it says, Now will I arise, saith the Lord, etc. (Isaiah 33:10). R. Simeon b. Jannai said: ’ Now will I arise‘: this indicates that so long as Israel is wallonving in the dust, so is God also, if one may say so. The same idea is expressed by Isaiah in the verse, Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem (52:2). At that moment Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord (Zechariah 2:17). Why? Because He is aroused out of His holy habitation (ib.). R. Aha said: Like a fowl shaking its wings free from the ashes.

(See verse 19 below where the Temple is linked to the winepress of God.)

This pair of angels, in verses 17 and 18, working together to bring judgment to the nations, would appear to be Michael and Gabriel. The specific reference to an angel "having power of fire" clearly indicates Gabriel:

Midrash Rabbah, Exodus XVIII:5 - For the very ministering angels, who are mighty in strength, that fulfil His word (Psalm 103:20) were made by God the custodians of Israel. Who are they? Michael and Gabriel; as it says: I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6). When Sennacherib came, Michael came out and smote them, and Gabriel, at God's behest, delivered Hananiah and his companions. Why was this? Because God had made a condition with them thus. When? When He desired to descend in order to deliver Abraham from the fiery furnace, Michael and Gabriel said: ‘Let us go down and deliver him.’ But He said to them: ‘Had he descended into the fiery furnace for the sakes of one of you, then you would have delivered him. But since he went down for My sake, I Myself will descend and save him,’ as it says: I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 15:7). ' But I will appoint for you another time when to descend, because ye were anxious to save him for the glory of My name. Thou, Michael, shalt descend upon the camp of the Assyrians, and thou, Gabriel, on the camp of the Chaldeans.’ When Gabriel came down to deliver Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, he ordered the fire to scorch all those who had thrown them in, as it says: The flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Daniel 3:22). Some say that four classes of governors died there; for at first it says: Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces (ib. 3), while at this point four are lacking, as it says: And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's ministers (ib. 27). Hananiah then said: ’O praise the Lord, all ye nations’ (Psalm 117:1); Mishael said: ’Laud Him, all ye peoples’ (ib.), while Azariah said: ’ For His mercy is great toward us ' (ib. 2), and the angel replied: ’And the truth of the Lord endureth for ever (ib.), for it is true what He told me when I went down to save Abraham.’ Michael also did what he had been promised, for it says: ’And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went forth,’ etc. (II Kings 19:35). We have learnt: All the generals and officers were drinking wine and left their vessels scattered about. God then said to Sennacherib: ' Thou hast done thy part,’ as it says: By thy messengers thou hast taunted the Lord (ib. 23); ‘so will I too send My messenger.’ What did He do to him?-And under his glory there shall be kindled a burning like the burning of fire (Isaiah 10:16). What is the meaning of ’ and under his glory’? He burned their bodies within, leaving their clothes without untouched,-the glory of man being his garments. Why did He leave their garments? Because they were the descendants of Shem, as it says: The sons of Shem: Elam, and Asshur (Genesis 10:22), and God said: ‘I owe it to them for their father's sake, because he and Japheth took their garments and covered the nakedness of their father,’ as it says: And Shem and Japheth took a garment (IX, 23). For this reason did God say to Michael: ' Leave their garments untouched, but burn their souls.’ What is written there? And when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses (II Kings 19:35), hence does it say: Morning by morning will I destroy all the wicked of the land (Psalm 101:8). Israel and Hezekiah sat that night and recited the Hallel, for it was Passover, yet were in terror lest at any moment Jerusalem might fall at his [Sennacherib's] hand. When they arose early in the morning to recite the shema’ and pray, they found their enemies dead corpses; for this reason did God say to Isaiah: Call his name Maher-shalalhash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), and he did indeed hasten to plunder their spoil. Another called him ’ Immanuel ‘, that is, ' I will be with him,’ as it says: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God (II Chronicles 32:8). Just as God did in this world through the hand of Michael and Gabriel, so will He perform in the future also through them, for it says: And saviours shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau (Obadiah 1:21) - this refers to Michael and Gabriel.

There is an interesting gammatria regarding the angel Michael and God's judgment coming from the Temple:

... Isaiah said, "For lo! The Lord shall come forth from His place," hinneh yhwh yose' mi-meqomo (Isaiah 26:21). The word yose' (comes forth) has the numerical value of Michael (i.e., both expressions equal 101). 2

18b and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe."

It is not clear as to the exact identification of this "vine of the earth." The reference to the grapes being "fully ripe" would be an allusion to reaching the "full measure" of sinfulness.

Consider the following citations from Talmud and Midrash:

Talmud - Chullin 92a - R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: The ‘vine’ is Israel, for so it is written: Thou didst pluck up a vine out of Egypt. The ‘three branches’ are the three Festivals on which Israel go up [to the Temple] every year. ‘And as it was budding’: the time Is come for Israel to be fruitful and to multiply, for so it is written: And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly. ‘Its blossoms shot forth’: the time is come for Israel to be redeemed. for so it is written: And their lifeblood is dashed against My garments, and I have stained all My raiment. ‘And the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes’: the time is come for Egypt to drink the cup of staggering. And this is in accordance with what Raba had said: Why are three cups mentioned in connection with Egypt? One [refers to the cup] which she drank in the days of Moses; the other to that which she drank in the days of Pharaoh-Necho; and the third to that which she is destined to drink together with all the nations. R. Abba said to R. Jeremiah b. Abba: When Rab expounded [this verse] in an Aggadic lecture he expounded it as you have done. R. Simeon b. Lakish said: This people [Israel] is like unto a vine: its branches are the aristocracy, its clusters the scholars, its leaves the common people, its twigs those in Israel that are void of learning. This is what was meant when word was sent from there [Palestine]. ‘Let the clusters pray for the leaves, for were it not for the leaves the clusters could not exist’.

Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XXX:1 - NOW THESE ARE THE ORDINANCES (XXI, 1). Thus it is written, The strength also of the king who loveth justice (PS. XCIX, 4). When is strength assigned to God? When He executes judgment on the heathen. Thus you will find that because the wicked Nebuchadnezzar was haughty and said, Is not this great Babylon (Dan. IV, 27), God said to him: ' O wicked mortal that thou art! Thou hast become haughty and sayest: By the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty (ib.). Knowest thou not that all greatness and power are Mine? Glory is Mine and majesty is Mine.’ Thus too says David: Thine... is the greatness, and the power, and the glory (I Chron. XXIX, 11), and also, O Lord my God, Thou art very great (Ps. CIV, 1). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Nebuchadnezzar: ‘The little royalty that has been given thee all comes from Me.’ And thus said Daniel to him: Thou... unto whom the God of heaven hath given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory (Dan. II, 37); and yet thou sayest: ‘By the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty’? This is the meaning of’ The strength also is of the king who loveth justice.’1 Strength belongs to the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, and He loveth justice and gave it to Israel His beloved. When it says, Thou hast established equity (Ps. XCIX, 4), it means: Thou hast established equity for those who love Thee; for through the ordinances Thou hast given them, when they become involved in strife with one another, they submit their quarrel to judgment and make peace. Israel said to God: ' Lord of the Universe! How long wilt Thou delay in judging the heathen?’- The reply was: ‘Until the time of vintage comes’; as it says, In that day sing ye of her: A vineyard of foaming wine (Isa. XXVII, 2). Does then one glean his vineyard before the grapes ripen? No, only after they are ripe does he pluck them, place them in the vat, and tread them, while his fellow-labourers sing with him. Thus said God to Israel: ' Wait until the time of Edom comes and then will I tread upon her,’ as it says, Upon Edom do I cast my shoe (Ps. LX, 10); ‘I will begin [the song of redemption] for you, and you will respond after Me;’ therefore does it say, ’In that day sing ye of her: A vineyard of foaming wine.’ I the Lord do guard it, I water it every moment (Isa. XXVII, 3).-I am biding My time with her to make her drink many cups, as it says, ‘I water it every moment.’ I have only to glance at them to destroy them completely from this world, but Fury is not in Me, as it is in them against My children. What will I do to them? I would with one step burn it altogether (ib.).1 R. Levi said: God said to the heathen: ' Israel is Mine, as it says, For unto Me the children of Israel are servants (Lev. XXV, 55), and fury is Mine, as it says, The Lord avengeth and is full of wrath (Nahum I, 2), yet you are filled with what is Mine [wrath] against Mine [Israel]?’ Hence it says, Would that I were as the briars and thorns in flame (Isa. loc. cit.). Our Sages said that God replied to Israel: ' If I were to alter My course of judgment, I would destroy them in a single flash, as it says, If I alter [My judgment], then with the flash of My sword [would I act] (Deut. XXXII, 41). But what do I do? My hand takes hold in judgment ' (ib.). Isaiah also says, Or else let him take hold of My strength (XXVII, 5), and ’My strength’ means judgment, as it says, ’ The strength also of the king who loveth justice.’ God said to Israel: ‘Just as I could overstep the bounds of judgment on the heathen, yet do not overstep them but adhere to judgment, so must you not pass without the bounds of judgment,’1 as it says, NOW THESE ARE THE ORDINANCES.

Talmud - Mas. Sanhedrin 97a - It has been taught: R. Nehorai said: in the generation when Messiah comes, young men will insult the old, and old men will stand before the young [to give them honour]; daughters will rise up against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. The people shall be dog-faced, and a son will not be abashed in his father's presence. It has been taught, R. Nehemiah said: in the generation of Messiah's coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted, the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear, and the Kingdom will be converted to heresy with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What verse [proves this]? it is all turned white: he is clean. Our Rabbis taught: For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself of his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left: the son of David will not come until denunciators are in abundance. Another interpretation [of their power is gone]: until scholars are few. Another interpretation: until the [last] perutah has gone from the purse. Yet another interpretation: until the redemption is despaired of, for it is written, there is none shut up or left, as — were it possible [to say so] — Israel had neither Supporter nor Helper.

The idea of "the vine" being presented in a negative context is seen in this Zohar passage which shows Israel attaching itself to "the vine of Sodom" (i.e., Revelation 11:8) when they sin:

Here the idea of "the strange vine" takes on a broader context:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 238b - The clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes, in which to keep the precious wine. All this was seen by that sinner. Further, he saw the cup of Pharaoh in his hands; this is the cup of confusion which sucks in from the court of judgement and which issued from the grapes that were given to Pharaoh; and he drank it as it was, on account of Israel. When Joseph heard this he rejoiced, remarking the truth which the dream contained, and therefore he gave it a good interpretation. Thus the words “binding his foal unto the vine” indicate that all the forces of the Gentiles are to be subdued beneath that vine, as we have said, their power being bound up and subdued.’ R. Simeon said: ‘There are two kinds of vine. There is the holy celestial vine, and there is the vine which is called “the vine of Sodom, the strange vine”; and therefore Israel is called “this vine”. And when Israel sinned and abandoned “this vine”, then it was said of them: “For from the vine of Sodom is their vine” (Deut. XXXIII, 32).’

19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

The following Midrash associates the wine press and judgment with God's "house," i.e., Temple. Again the process of unification (i.e., coming of Messiah) is both "good news" and "bad news" as judgment comes (via the Temple, i.e., Binah):

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXXII - R. Hanina opened his discourse with the text, Though I would take comfort (mabligithi) against sorrow, my heart is faint within me (Jeremiah 8:18). What means ’mabligithi’? Because there are none (mibli) who meditate (hogim) in the Torah to perform Divine precepts and meritorious acts, I have made My house into My wine-press (gitti).

The reference to the "great winepress" is indicative of judgment against the nations, specifically Edom/Esau, (i.e., the nations who have historically persecuted Israel):

Isaiah 63:1-6 - Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah? This one who is glorious in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who tramples in the wine press? I have trampled the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I have trampled them in my anger, and trampled them in my fury; and their blood was sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my redeemed has come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I was appalled that there was none to uphold; therefore my own arm brought salvation to me; and my fury upheld me. And I trampled down the people in my anger, and made them drunk in my fury, and I poured out their lifeblood to the earth.

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XVI:4 - AND THE FOURTH RIVER IS PERATH (EUPHRATES): that is Edom, PERATH denoting that it upset (hefirah) and harassed His world; PERATH denoting that it was fruitful (parath) and increased through the blessing of that old man [sc. Isaac]; PERATH also denoting that I [God] will ultimately consign it to oblivion (hafer); [finally, it is called] PERATH on account of its ultimate destiny, as it is written, I have trodden the winepress (purah) alone... (Isaiah 43:3).

These Zohar passages connect Messiah to this judgment:

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith,  238a - HE HATH WASHED HIS GARMENT IN WINE . With this may be compared the verse: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?” (Isaiah 63:1); and also: “I have trodden the winepress alone, etc.” (Ibid. 3). “Wine” here alludes to the side of Geburah, of stern justice which will be visited on the idolatrous nations. AND HIS VESTURE IN THE BLOOD OF GRAPE . This is the lower-world tree, the judgement court which is called “grapes”, in which the “wine” is kept. Thus the Messiah will be clothed in both to crush beneath him all the idolatrous peoples and kings.

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 239b-240a - “He hath washed his garments in wine”, even from the time of the Creation the reference being to the coming of the Messiah on earth. “Wine” indicates the left side, and “the blood of grapes” the left side below. The Messiah is destined to rule above over all the forces of the idolatrous nations and to break their power above and below. We may also explain that as wine brings joyfulness and yet typifies judgement, so the Messiah will bring gladness to Israel, but judgement to the Gentiles.

20a And the winepress was trampled outside the city,

20b and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.

Although the texts generally depict the nations falling into "the winepress," Israel is not immune to this type of judgment. The following midrashim speak of huge amounts of Jewish blood being spilled, in both cases due to the failure of Israel's leaders:

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations Prologue XXIII - R. Judan asked R. Aha, 'Where did Israel slay Zechariah, in the Court of Women or in the Court of Israel? ' He replied, ‘In neither of these, but it was in the Court of the Priests. Nor did they treat his blood as was done with the blood of the hind or ram of which it is written, "He shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust." But in this instance, they set it upon the bare rock (ib. 7). And for what purpose was all this? " That it might cause fury to come up, that vengeance might be taken, I have set her blood upon the bare rock, that it should not be covered.’’’Seven transgressions were committed by Israel on that day: they killed a priest, a prophet, and a judge, they shed innocent blood, they profaned the Divine Name, they defiled the Temple Court, and all this was done on the Sabbath which was also the Day of Atonement. When Nebuzaradan came up against Israel, the blood began to seethe; so he asked them, ‘What kind of blood is this?’ They replied, ‘The blood of bulls, rams, and lambs which we slay.’ He immediately sent and had some blood of sacrificial animals brought to him, but it did not behave similarly. He said to them, ' If you tell me, well and good; otherwise I will comb your flesh with iron combs.’ They replied, ‘What shall we say to you? He was a prophet who reproved us, so we rose against him and killed him, and for several years now his blood has not stopped seething.’ He answered, ‘I will appease it.’ They brought before him the men of the Great Sanhedrin and Minor Sanhedrin and slew them until their blood mingled with the blood of Zechariah, to fulfil that which was said, They break all bounds, and blood toucheth blood (Hosea 4:2). The blood, however, continued to seethe; so they brought youths and maidens and he slew them by it, and still it did not stop. They brought school-children and slew them by it, and still it did not stop. Then they brought eighty thousand priestly novitiates and he slew them until their blood mingled with that of Zechariah, and still it continued to seethe. He exclaimed, ‘Zechariah, Zechariah! All the choicest of them have I destroyed. Is it your pleasure that I exterminate them all?’ As soon as he spoke thus, it stopped. Thereupon he debated with himself whether to repent, saying, ' If such vengeance is exacted for one life, how much more will happen to me for having taken so many lives’! He fled, sent a parting gift to his household, and became a convert to Judaism.

Finally, this Midrash speaks of the supernatural power of the second-century false messiah, Bar Koziba (aka "Bar Kochba") and how his downfall came when he killed the religious leader of the city he was defending. We include this passage specifically for the reference to the blood (of the city's Jews) going up to the nostrils of the horses for a distance of four miles in the ensuing massacre.

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations II:4 - R. Johanan said: Rabbi used to expound There shall step forth a star (kokab) out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), thus: read not ’kokab but kozab (lie). When R. Akiba beheld Bar Koziba he exclaimed, ‘This is the king Messiah!’ R. Johanan b. Tortha retorted: ‘Akiba, grass will grow in your cheeks and he will still not have come!’ R. Johanan said: The voice is the voice of Jacob (Gen. 27:22)--the voice [of distress caused by] the Emperor Hadrian, who slew eighty thousand myriads of human beings at Bethar. Eighty thousand trumpeters besieged Bethar where Bar Koziba was located who had with him two hundred thousand men with an amputated finger. The Sages sent him the message, ' How long will you continue to make the men of Israel blemished? ' He asked them, ' How else shall they be tested?’ They answered, ‘Let anyone who cannot uproot a cedar from Lebanon be refused enrolment in your army.’ He thereupon had two hundred thousand men of each class; and when they went forth to battle they cried, ' [O God,] neither help us nor discourage us!’ That is what is written, Hast not Thou, O God, cast us off? And go not forth, O God, with our hosts (Psalm 60:12). And what used Bar Koziba to do? He would catch the missiles from the enemy's catapaults on one of his knees and hurl them back, killing many of the foe. On that account R. Akiba made his remark. For three and a half years the Emperor Hadrian surrounded Bethar. In the city was R. Eleazar of Modim who continually wore sackcloth and fasted, and he used to pray daily, ‘Lord of the Universe, sit not in judgment to-day!’ so that [Hadrian] thought of returning home. A Cuthean went and found him and said, ‘My lord, so long as that old cock wallows in ashes you will not conquer the city. But wait for me, because I will do something which will enable you to subdue it to-day.’ He immediately entered the gate of the city, where he found R. Eleazar standing and praying. He pretended to whisper in the ear of R. Eleazar of Modim. People went and informed Bar Koziba, ' Your friend, R. Eleazar, wishes to surrender the city to Hadrian.’ He sent and had the Cuthean brought to him and asked, ‘What did you say to him?’ He replied, ' If I tell you, the king will kill me; and if I do not tell you, you will kill me. It is better that I should kill myself and the secrets of the government be not divulged.’ Bar Koziba was convinced that R. Eleazar wanted to surrender the city, so when the latter finished his praying he had him brought into his presence and asked him, ‘What did the Cuthean tell you? ' He answered, ' I do not know what he whispered in my ear, nor did I hear anything, because I was standing in prayer and am unaware what he said.’ Bar Koziba flew into a rage, kicked him with his foot and killed him. A Bath Kol issued forth and proclaimed, ’Woe to the worthless shepherd that leaveth the flock! The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye’ (Zechariah 11:17). It intimated to him, ‘Thou hast paralysed the arm of Israel and blinded their right eye; therefore shall thy arm wither and thy right eye grow dim! ' Forthwith the sins [of the people] caused Bethar to be captured. Bar Koziba was slain and his head taken to Hadrian. ' Who killed him? ' asked Hadrian. A Goth said to him, ‘I killed him.’ ‘Bring his body to me,’ he ordered. He went and found a snake encircling its neck; so [Hadrian when told of this] exclaimed, ‘If his God had not slain him who could have overcome him?’ And there was applied to him the verse, Except their Rock had given them over (Deuteronomy 32:30). They slew the inhabitants until the horses waded in blood up to the nostrils, and the blood rolled along stones of the size of forty se'ah and flowed into the sea [staining it for] a distance of four miles.


1.See http://www.kabbalaonline.org/majorconcepts/landofisrael/agents_of_a_foreign_death_124.asp

2. Along the Path, Studies in Kabbalistic Myth, Symbolism, and Hermeneutics, Elliot R. Wolfson, State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 167.


BACK TO THE TEXT INDEX