Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
AFTER YOU have advanced thus far, and truly comprehended that God exists
without having the attribute of existence, and that He is One, without having the attribute of unity, I do not think that I need explain to you the inadmissibility of the attribute of speech in reference to God, especially since our people generally believe that the Law, i.e., the word ascribed to Him, was created. Speech is attributed to Him, in so far as the word which Moses heard, was produced and brought to existence by God in the same manner as He produced all His other works and creations. As we shall have to speak more fully on prophecy, we shall here merely show that speech is attributed to God in the same way as all other actions, which are similar to our own. When we are told that God addressed the Prophets and spoke to them, our minds are merely to receive a notion that there is a Divine knowledge to which the Prophets attain; we are to be impressed with the idea that the things which the Prophets communicate to us come from the Lord, and are not altogether the products of their own conceptions and ideas. This subject, which we have already mentioned above, will receive further explanation. It is the object of this chapter to show that the words "speaking" and "saying" are synonymous terms denoting (a) "Speech"; as, e.g., "Moses shall speak (yedabber)" (Exod. xix. 19); "And Pharaoh said (va-yomer)" (ib. v. 5); (b) "Thought" as formed in the mind without being expressed in words; e.g., "And I thought (ve-amarti) in my heart" (Eccles. ii. 15); "And I thought (vedibbarti) in my heart" (ib.); "And thy heart will imagine (yedabber)" (Prov. xxiii. 33); "Concerning Thee my heart thought (amar)" (Ps. xxvii. 8); "And Esau thought (va-yomer) in his heart" (Gen. xxvii. 41); examples of this kind are numerous; (c) Will; e.g., "And he said (va-yomer) to slay David" (2 Sam. xxi. 16), that is to say, he wished or he intended to slay him; "Dost thou desire (omer) to slay me" (Exod. ii. 14); "And the whole congregation intended (va-yomeru) to stone them" (Num. xiv. 10). Instances of this kind are likewise numerous.
The two terms, when applied to God, can only have one of the two last-mentioned significations, viz., he wills and he desires, or he thinks, and there is no difference whether the divine thought became known to man by means of an actual voice, or by one of those kinds of inspiration which I shall explain further on (II. chap. xxxviii.). We must not suppose that in speaking God employed voice or sound. or that He has a soul in which the thoughts reside, and that these thoughts are things superadded to His essence; but we ascribe and attribute to Him thoughts in the same manner as we ascribe to Him any other attributes. The use of these words in the sense of will and desire, is based, as I have explained, on the homonymity of these terms. In addition they are figures borrowed from our common practices, as has been already pointed out. For we cannot, at a first glance, see how anything can be produced by a mere desire: we think that he who wishes to produce a thing, must perform a certain act, or command some one else to perform it. Therefore the command is figuratively ascribed to God when that takes place which He wishes, and we then say that He commanded that a certain thing should be accomplished. All this has its origin in our comparing the acts of God to our own acts, and also in the use of the term amar in the sense of "He desired," as we have already explained. The words "And He said," occurring in the account of the creation, signify "He wished," or "He desired." This has already been stated by other authors, and is well
known. A proof for this, namely that the phrase "God said," in the first chapter of Genesis, must be taken in a figurative sense "He willed," and not in its literal meaning, is found in the circumstance that a command can only be given to a being which exists and is capable of receiving the command. Comp. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Ps. xxxiii. 6). "His mouth," and "the breath of his mouth," are undoubtedly figurative expressions, and the same is the case with "His word" and "His speech." The meaning of the verse is therefore that they [the heavens and all their host] exist through His will and desire. All our eminent authorities are cognisant of this; and, I need not explain that in Hebrew amar and dibber have the same meaning, as is proved by the passage, "For it has heard all the words (imre) of the Lord which he spake (dibber) unto us" (Josh. xxiv. 27).