There is a greater concentration of miracles in the Elijah and Elisha stories in the biblical book Kings than in the Exodus tales.[1] Are all of them natural events? Maimonides would answer yes, they were natural events, not miracles. In his Guide of the Perplexed 2:48, Maimonides emphasizes that whenever the Bible states that an event, including communication, is attributed to God, what occurred did so by natural law. He explained that the matter is attributed to God even though God is not the direct cause because God is the “ultimate cause” since God created or formed the laws of nature. Among many examples, Maimonides includes I Kings 17:9. Although the verse states that God commanded the widow to maintain Elijah, God was not directly involved. Elijah worked it out with the woman.

Nachmanides disagreed. He states in Genesis 17:1, 46:15, Exodus 13:16, and Leviticus 26:11 that this world does not function through the laws of nature. God is constantly and directly involved in every occurrence of humans and matter, frequently interfering with and controlling human thoughts and behavior. He calls the daily unseen divine manipulations “hidden miracles.” They contrast with miracles that are, according to him, clearly Divine acts, such as the Ten Plagues inflicted on the Egyptians during the days of Moses. Thus, he contends that when a Midrash relates that the patriarch Abraham was saved when King Nimrod threatened to kill him, God interfered with nature and changed Nimrod’s intention; He “put it in the heart of that king to save him.” He used this principle of divine intervention to explain various other Midrashim, which he considered facts, such as the unusual length of the lives of Moses’s mother and the behaviors of Aaron’s grandson Pinchas and King David’s ancestress Ruth.

Other Jewish sages took a middle path. In his Torah commentary, Gersonides agrees with Maimonides in part. He writes that God “generally” prefers that what transpires on earth does so according to the laws of nature. Therefore, he says, God did not save Elijah with a miracle but told Elijah to hide. Abarbanel is like Gersonides. He notes in his commentary that the Bible does not state that God instructed him to do anything until chapter 19 when Elijah came to Mount Horeb. Elijah instigated everything else.

The late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire explained in his Additional Notes to his excellent commentary “The Pentateuch and Haftorahs” that the first Ten Plagues in Egypt were natural events.[2] In one of my books, I added that the tenth plague was also a natural event. The biblical style emphasizes and even exaggerates events to impress readers. When the Torah states that all first-born humans and cattle died, it is informing us that the plagues, which originated from the contaminants that were discharged from the blood of dead Israelite children when Pharaoh ordered his troops to kill male children and toss their bodies into the Nile, spread even to many of the most prized humans and animals. Still others maintain that miracles occurred in the early days of the Israelites because they were closer to God, more intelligent, and more pious than their descendants. However, they were discontinued during the second Temple because the people were no longer sufficiently righteous.

 

[1]      J. Robinson, The First Book of Kings, The Cambridge Bible Commentary Series, Cambridge University Press, 1972. Robinson, like Ehrlich in his Mikra ki-Pheschuto, states on page 191, “The character of the miraculous bears all the characteristics of human folk-tales, rather than the self-revelation of God.”

[2]      Soncino Press, London, 1972