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PROVIDENCE, in religion and philosophy, God's guidance or care of His creatures, emanating from His constant concern for them and for the achievement of His purposes. Providence includes both supervision of the acts of men and the guidance of the actors in specific directions. Its object is also to deal out fitting retribution – in order to establish justice in the world, retribution itself often serving as a means of guidance (see below). Hence there is a connection between providence and the principle of *reward and punishment. The origin of the term providence is Greek (πρόνοια, lit. "perceiving beforehand") and first appears in Jewish literature in the Wisdom of Solomon, 14:3; 17:2.

In the Bible

The basis of the belief in a constant and eternal divine providence is the biblical conception of God. In polytheism there is generally a belief in a fixed "order" of nature, which is above the gods. This "order" serves to some extent as a guarantee that right prevails in the world (this is the Greek θέμιζ or μοῖρα; the Egyptian ma'at; and the Iranian-Persian artha, "truth"). However, in this type of belief the right is, as it were, a product of action (this is also the Buddhist belief in "karma") and is not dependent on a divine providence with a universal moral purpose. On the contrary, through the use of certain magical acts, man can even overcome the will of the god. In any case, there is a basic belief in fate and necessity. By contrast, the belief in providence is in the first instance a belief in a God who has cognition and will, and who has unlimited control over nature and a personal relationship with all men – a relationship which is determined solely by their moral or immoral behavior. Biblical belief does not deny the existence of a fixed natural order – "the ordinances" of heaven and earth, of day and night (Jer. 31:35–36; 33:25) – but since God is the creator of nature and is not subject to its laws (e.g. Jer. 18:6ff.), He can guide man and reward him according to his merit, even through the supernatural means of miracles. Such guidance may be direct (through divine *revelation) or indirect – through a prophet or other animate or inanimate intermediaries ("Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire," Ps. 104:4; cf. Joel 2:1ff.; Amos 3:7; Ps. 103:20–22). God's providence is both individual – extending to each and every person (Adam, Abel, Cain, etc.), and general-over peoples and groups, especially Israel, His chosen people. The guarding and guidance of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their families (Sarah in the house of Pharaoh, Hagar in the desert, Joseph in Egypt, etc.) aimed at the ultimate purpose of creating an exemplary people exalted above all other nations (Deut. 26:18). The whole history of the Israelites, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt, is, according to the biblical conception, a continuous unfolding of divine providence's guidance of the people as a whole as well as of its individual members in the way marked out for them. Even the sufferings undergone by the people belong to the mysteries of divine providence (cf. e.g., the doctrinal introductions in Judg. 2:11–23; 3:1–8; 6:7–10, 13–17; 10:6–15; II Kings 14:26–27; 17:7ff.).

It can be said that the entire Bible is a record of divine providence, whether general or individual. While the Pentateuch and the Prophets emphasize general, national providence, Psalms and Proverbs are based on the belief that God is concerned with the individual, hears the cry of the wretched, desires the well-being of the righteous, and directs man, even against his will, to the destiny which He has determined for him ("The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33; "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will," Prov. 21:1; etc.). Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk) and psalmists (Ps. 9; 71; 77; 88) sometimes question the ways of providence and divine justice, but they ultimately affirm the traditional belief in providence. In the last analysis, this position is also maintained by the author of Ecclesiastes, who otherwise expresses the gravest doubts regarding providence ("But know that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment," Eccles. 11:9). This is true also of Job, but his doubts and misgivings are confined to the question of a divine providence which rules the universe, and particularly mankind.

The unlimited belief in providence would seem to conflict with the doctrine that man can freely choose good and evil (for which God rewards or punishes him), which is also integral to the biblical world view. This issue was grappled with only in later times, with the development of religious philosophy in the Middle Ages.

In the Apocrypha

In the Apocrypha, too, the belief is widespread that God watches over the deeds of mortals in order to requite the wicked and the righteous according to their deserts. The suffering of the righteous is but a temporary trial in order that they be well rewarded in the end. Tobit, for instance, for dealing kindly with the living and with the dead is persecuted by the authorities. It appears as if the hand of God, too, was turned against him but his righteousness is rewarded. In the end he is vindicated and is vouchsafed the victory of righteousness. The same applies to the community of Israel – the enemy invariably receives his punishment and the righteous nation is saved, almost unexpectedly. According to I Maccabees (9:46), Judah Maccabee urged the people to pray because he knew that God pays attention to prayer ("Now therefore cry unto Heaven that you may be delivered out of the hand of your enemies"). Similarly, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were convinced that their prayer saved them in time of trouble (II Macc. 1:8). As in ancient times, so too in the time of the Hasmoneans, God continued to save His people by means of angels sent by Him (Heliodorus, who went to desecrate the Temple, fell into a faint at the hand of angels: II Macc. 3; angels in heaven hastened to the assistance of Judah Maccabee: ibid. 10:29–30). Lysias also realized that the Hebrews were invincible because God helped them (ibid. 11:13).

In the concept of providence in the apocalyptic works, particularly in the writings of the *Dead Sea sect, one can detect a tendency toward an important innovation. In these works the idea is expressed that God, who has preknowledge of everything, also decrees everything in advance; both the wicked and the righteous are formed at their creation ("all the sons of light each one to his fortune according to the counsel of the Lord…; all the sons of darkness each one to his guilt according to the vengeance of the Lord," – Manual of Discipline 1:9–10; "From the Lord of Knowledge, all is and was… and before they came into being he prepared all their thought… and it is unchangeable," – ibid. 3:15–16; "and unto Israel and the angel of his truth [Michael?] [they] are a help to all the sons of light," while "the angel of darkness" rules over "all the dominion of the sons of wickedness," – ibid. 20–24; and see Jub. 1:20 and 2:2). According to Jubilees everything is also written beforehand in the "tablets of the heavens" (3:10). Josephus, too (Ant., 13:171–3, 18:11f.; Wars, 2:119f.), distinguishes between the different sects that arose in the time of the Second Temple, primarily on the basis of the difference between them in the concept of providence. According to him, "the Pharisees say that some things but not all depend on fate, but some depend upon us as to whether they occur or not" (Ant., 13:172). "The Essenes hold that fate rules everything and nothing happens to man without it; while the Sadducees abolish fate, holding that it does not exist at all, that human actions do not occur through its power, and that everything is dependent upon man himself who alone is the cause of the good, and evil results from man's folly" (ibid.; see also *Essenes; *Sadducees; *Boethusians; *Pharisees). If the definitions of Josephus are accurate, one may say that the Sadducees deviated from the biblical concept and believed in providence in general but not in detail; something of the same can be said of the Essenes in what pertains to their belief in predestination, but judging from the writings found in Qumran, this belief was not without qualifications and exceptions.

In the Talmud

The outlook of the scholars of the Mishnah and Talmud on the nature and purport of divine providence is summarized in the dictum of Akiva (Avot 3:15): "All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given; and the world is judged with goodness, and all is in accordance with the works." It is apparent that the first part of this dictum expresses an attempt to reconcile the principle of providence on the one hand with freedom of choice on the other; but it is possible that the idea here expressed is identical with that contained in the dictum: "Everything is in the hand of heaven except for the fear of heaven" (Ber. 33b), which is intended to build a bridge between freedom of choice and the idea of predestination. From various dicta in the Talmud it is possible to infer that the idea of providence during this era embraced not only all men but even all creatures. For the gazelle that is wont to cast its seed at parturition from the top of the mountain, the Holy One prepares "an eagle that catches it in its wings and places it before her, and were it to come a moment earlier or a moment later [the offspring] would die at once" (BB 16a–b); in similar vein is: "The Holy One sits and nourishes both the horns of the wild ox and the ova of lice" (Shab. 107b). Of man it was said: "No man bruises his finger on earth unless it is decreed in heaven" (Ḥul. 7b); and all is revealed and known before God: "even the small talk of a man's conversation with his wife" (Lev. R. 26:7). Similarly: "The Holy One sits and pairs couples – the daughter of so-and-so to so-and-so" (Lev. R. 8:1; Gen. R. 68:4; and cf. MK 18b), or: "He is occupied in making ladders, casting down the one and elevating the other" (Gen. R. 68:4).

The continuation of Akiva's dictum ("and the world is judged with goodness") accords apparently with the traditional outlook of the Talmud. Thus, for example, it was said that even if man has 999 angels declaring him guilty and only one speaking in his favor, God assesses him mercifully (TJ, Kid. 1:10, 61d; Shab. 32a); that God is distressed at the distress of the righteous and does not rejoice at the downfall of the wicked (Sanh. 39b; Tanh., be-Shallaḥ 10) and does not deal tyrannically with His creatures (Av. Zar. 3a); and he sits and waits for man and does not punish him until his measure is full (Sot. 9a).


IN THE BIBLE: E. Koenig, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1923), 208ff.; K. Kohler, Jewish Theology (19282), 167ff.; W. Eichrodt, Theologie des Alten Testaments, 2 (1935), 177ff.; M. Pohlenz, Die Stoa (1948), passim; O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1950), 503ff.; E.E. Urbach, in: Sefer ha-Yovel le Y. Kaufmann (1960), 122–48; idem, Ḥazal-Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969). IN KABBALAH: I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (19572), 265–8; M. Cordovero, Shi'ur Komah (1883), 113–20; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 779, 784; M.A. Perlmutter, R. Yehonatan Eybeschuetz ve-Yaḥaso el ha-Shabbeta'ut (1947), 133–41, 190–1. IN MEDIEVAL JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: Strauss, in: MGWJ, 45 (1937), 93–105; Pines, in: PAAJR, 24 (1955), 123–31; Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (1963), introd. by Pines, lxv–lxxviii, lxxvi–lxxvii; idem, Le guide des égarés, ed. and trans. by S. Munk, 3 (1866), 111, 116ff.; J. Guttmann, Dat u-Madda (1955), 149–68; S. Heller-Wilensky, R. Yiẓḥak Arama u-Mishnato (1956), 132–6; G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag, Averroïste juif, traducteur et annotateur d'Al-Ghazali (1960), 15–17, 64–71, 144–7, 121–3; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.