Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IT is clear that everything produced must have an immediate cause which produced it; that cause again a cause, and so on, till the First Cause, viz., the will and decree of God is reached. The prophets therefore omit sometimes the intermediate causes, and ascribe the production of an individual thing directly to God, saying that God has made it. This method is well known, and we, as well as others of those who seek the truth, have explained it; it is the belief of our co-religionists.
After having heard this remark, listen to what I will explain in this chapter; direct your special attention to it more than you have done to the other chapters of this part. It is this: As regards the immediate causes of things produced, it makes no difference whether these causes consist in substances, physical properties, freewill, or chance--by freewill I mean that of man--or even in the will of another living being. The prophets [omit them and] ascribe the production directly to God and use such phrases as, God has done it, commanded it, or said it: in all such cases the verbs "to say," "to speak," "to command," "to call," and "to send" are employed. What I desired to state in this chapter is this: According to the hypothesis and theory accepted, it is God that gave will to dumb animals, freewill to the human being, and natural properties to everything; and as accidents originate in the redundancy of some natural force, as has been explained [by Aristotle] and are mostly the result of the combined action of nature, desire, and freewill: it can consequently be said of everything which is produced by any of these causes, that God commanded that it should be made, or said that it should be so. I will give you instances, and they will guide you in the interpretation of passages which I do not mention. As regards phenomena produced regularly by natural causes, such as the melting of the snow when the atmosphere becomes warm, the roaring of the sea when a storm rages [I quote the following passages], "He sendeth his word and melteth them" (Ps. cxlvii. 18); "And he saith, and a storm-wind riseth, and lifteth up its waves" (ibid. cvii. 25) In reference to the rain we read: "I will command the clouds that they shall not rain," etc. (Isa. v. 6). Events caused by man's freewill, such as war, the dominion of one nation over another, the attempt of one person to hurt another, or to insult him, [are ascribed to God, as] e.g., in reference to the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar and his host, "I have commended my holy ones, also I have called my heroes for my anger" (Isa. xiii. 3); and "I will send him against a hypocrite nation" (ibid. x. 6) in reference to Shimei, son of Gera, "For God said to him, Curse David" (2 Sam. xvi. 10); in reference
to the deliverance of Joseph, the righteous, from prison, "He sent an angel and loosed him" (Ps. cv. 20); in reference to the victory of the Persians over the Chaldees, "I will send to Babylon scatterers, and they shall scatter it" (Jer. li. 2); in reference to the providing of food to Eliah, "I have commanded there a woman, a widow, to maintain thee" (1 Kings xvii. 9); and Joseph, the righteous, says: "Not ye have sent me hither," etc. (Gen. xlv. 8). The case that the will of an animal or its desire for some of its natural wants is the cause of some event, may be illustrated by the following instance: "And God spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah" (ii. 11). The act is ascribed to God, because He gave the fish the will, and not because He made it a prophet or endowed it with a prophetical spirit. Similarly it is said of the locusts that appeared in the days of Joel, son of Pethuel, "Mighty is he that accomplishes his word" (Joel ii. 11); or of the beasts that took possession of the land of Edom when destroyed in the days of Sennacherib, "He cast lot for them, and his hand divided it unto them by a line" (Isa. xxxiv. 27). Although here the verbs "to say," "to command," "to send," are not used, the meaning is evidently the same, and you must explain all passages that are analogous to it in a similar manner. Events evidently due to chance are ascribed to God: e.g., in reference to Rebecca, "Let her be a wife to the son of thy master, as the Lord spake" (Gen. xxiv. 51); in reference to David and Jonathan, "Go, for the Lord has sent thee." (1 Sam. xx. 22); in reference to Joseph, "God sent me before you" (Gen. xlv. 7). You see clearly that the providing of a cause, in whatever manner this may take place, by substance, accident, freewill, or win, is always expressed by one of the five terms, commanding, saying, speaking, sending, or calling. Note this, and apply it everywhere according to the context. Many difficulties will thereby be removed, and passages apparently containing things far from truth will prove to be true. This is the conclusion of the treatise on Prophecy, its allegories and language. It is all I intend to say on this subject in this treatise. We will now commence to treat of other subjects, with the help of the Most High.