In this paper I present several examples of Crescas’s biblical exegesis in which his unique understanding of the text in question informs his philosophic ideas. We shall consider first a Crescasian interpretation of a biblical text in which there is a pointed and explicit departure from a Maimonidean interpretation: trials in general and the Aqeidah, the Binding of Isaac, in particular. What we shall see is that for Crescas, the purpose of this trial is to increase Abraham’s love for God, since, on Crescas’s understanding, the purpose of doing deeds—whether in the form of specific trials or in fulfilling commandments more generally—is to enable people to draw closer to God. God wants our love above all. For Maimonides, by contrast, the only way one draws near to God is by perfecting one’s intellectual apprehension of Him. Maimonides’ view is reflected in his interpretation of the very same phenomenon.

The second example of Crescas’s biblical exegesis that we will consider also contains, though less explicitly, a deliberate departure from Maimonides concerning the matter of prayer. We shall see how Crescas’s interpretation of the verses Ps. 65:2, “Silence is praise to Thee” (lekha dumiyyah tehillah), and Ps. 4:5: “Commune with your heart upon your bed and be silent, Selah” (imru bilvavkhem al mishkavdhem vedomu selah), departs from Maimonides’ interpretation of them in Guide 3.59. We shall see that Crescas, unlike Maimonides who thinks the best prayer is silence (= no prayer!), God in fact welcomes all prayer, indeed encourages prayer, so long as the prayer of those who call upon Him is sincere.

Two further interesting ways in which Crescas interprets the Torah to make a philosophical point concern reward and punishment. Arguing that true reward is spiritual and not material, Crescas must face the fact that there is nothing in Scripture that explicitly supports this view. He finds what he needs in the verse Gen. 21:12 (III-A.iii.3). When God tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away He says ki beyitzhaq yiqarei lekha zara‘—“for through Isaac will your seed be called.” Crescas contends that this can only be a spiritual promise and not a corporeal one, for if it were corporeal the trial of the binding of Isaac, soon to follow, could not be taken seriously by Abraham: he would know that Isaac could not die. Crescas finds then in this verse a clear indication that divine reward is not a matter of bestowing illusory good—that is, material good—but a matter of experiencing genuine good, that is, spiritual good.

Concerning divine punishment Crescas again marshals a biblical text to teach its purpose (III-A.iii.1). Crescas cites Deut. 8:5: “As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” This shows that punishment is a manifestation of God’s simple goodness and kindness. It is known that a father does not chasten his son with the intent of taking revenge, and not even for the sake of doing justice, but only to benefit his son. And so, when God chastens man, His intent is not to take revenge on him, and not even to achieve political justice. All punishment is for the good of those who are punished.