Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This Study Series is being released according to the Torah Reading Schedule.

This week- Section 04
Name- וירא Vayera (He Appeared)
Parashah/Parsha- B’resheet 18.1-22.24
Torah Portion: Genesis 18.1-22.24

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from the JPS edition of The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, First Section. Copyright 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Second Edition.

This week I want to discuss Deuteronomy 11.22-25.

22If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him, 23the LORD will dislodge before you all these nations: you will dispossess nations greater and more numerous than you. 24Every spot on which your foot treads shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River -the Euphrates- to the Western Sea. 25No man shall stand up to you: the LORD your God will put the dread and the fear of you over the whole land in which you set foot, as He promised you.

– – – – –

In the previous Essay, I established that this passage is directly from Moses, from Moses as his own person.

I presented my conclusion: Moses is not speaking on behalf of Jehovah; instead, Moses is speaking directly on behalf of himself exhorting the nation of Israel.

Since I have concluded that this passage is from Moses and his perspective, it becomes an interesting passage of Scripture.

The first thing that I notice is that Moses is speaking emphatically, urging what appears to be errorless attentiveness to his instruction “If, then, you faithfully keep all this Instruction that I command you”.

The JPS translates the Hebrew word shamar (H8104) into the English word “keep”. Brown-Driver-Briggs states that shamar gives the concept of: to keep, to guard, to observe, to give heed.

A definition of “keep” means: to have or retain possession of. But “keep” can also mean: to continue or cause to continue in a specified condition, position, or course.

If shamar means retain possession, then Moses is telling Israel to retain possession of his instructions, the words that Moses spoke to Israel before they crossed over into the land. In this sense, then it appears that Israel has kept the words of Moses, because Israel all these centuries later still has access to the words Moses delivered.

If shamar means continue or cause to continue in a specified condition, position, or course, then in that sense, it appears that it could be argued, discussed, and debated whether or not Israel shamared (for grammatical effect, I joined the Hebrew word with the English suffix for past-tense) the instructions that Moses gave to Israel.

Additionally, an examination of the definition of guard, and of the definition of observe, and the definition of give heed could be done. But I refrain from that to maintain some kind of brevity for this Essay.

The issue: did Israel shamar the instructions from Moses?

How one studies the history of Israel, and how one understands the theology of the history of Israel, will affect how one answers that question.

For me, Israel had its moments of shamaring and moments of not shamaring, which is why Israel has an interesting history.

Importantly, if I observed this correctly, “faithfully keep” translates an interesting occurrence in the Hebrew. That is because the JPS uses the English word “faithfully” to translate shamar. This means that in the Hebrew text it does not occur as “faithfully keep” but as “shamar shamar“.

The Hebrew text has a double occurrence of shamar, but the translators take the double occurrence of shamar and present it as “faithfully observe” (JPS) or as the KJV has it “diligently keep”.

So which is it?

The Hebrew gives double emphasis: shamar shamar.

Therefore, what is understood is that Moses is dramatically emphasizing shamar. I am thinking it might be similar to how an appositive functions, but appositives usually are nouns, however in the Hebrew text shamar is a verb.

To explain my point not having the proper grammatical term at my finger tips, consider that the Hebrew text has Moses saying:
“…shamar shamar all this Instruction…”.

Therefore, since shamar has several applicable definitions, instead of translating the double occurrence as:
“…faithfully keep all this Instruction…”,

the double occurrence could be translated as:
“…keep [and] guard all this Instruction…”
“…keep [and] observe all this Instruction…”.

Therefore, Moses is using the double occurrence as an emphasis to bring attention to what Moses wants Israel to do with the Instruction that Moses was giving to Israel.

In at least one sense, Israel retained possession of Moses’ instructions, which is to their credit, even if/when Israel was not exactly “perfect” in following the instructions that Moses gave to Israel.

With that then, Moses is conveying an emphatic – Israel has to do, in order to receive blessings.

That is an interesting issue. Why? Because, as I have concluded, this passage is delivered from Moses, from Moses own personal perspective.

In a sense then, Moses is akin to any leader who declares emphatic attention to diligent adherence, declaring that diligent adherence garners reward.

From Moses’ perspective, given his personal experience with Israel, Moses was quite emphatic. But, while a prophet, Moses is still human, and his humanity is seen as he grew fatigued in having to confront and interact with Israel and the constant difficulties Israel caused for him.

So this passage reveals Moses, and Moses’ exhortation, Moses’ expectation, placing upon Israel the expectation of due diligence to embody commitment instead of the behavior Israel had embodied during their journey in the wilderness.

But, when we look at the experiences in the wilderness, it becomes painfully obvious that Israel did not keep all the instructions, Israel did not always love Jehovah, Israel did not always walk in Jehovah’s ways, and Israel did not always hold fast to Jehovah.

So why did Jehovah continue to bless Israel?

Moses interceded for the people. And that is found again and again in Israelite history. The people, en masse, are blessed because of the behavior of a few, until Jehovah had grown fatigued of enduring the behavior of Israel, en masse; yet there were always those who did as Jehovah wanted.

So this passage is from Moses, his own person, to Israel the nation, and to the Israelite individual. The nation faltered, but individuals did not have to falter, yet the individuals that were diligent to keep and guard Moses’ instructions still suffered, because, en masse, the nation of Israel failed to shamar shamar.

Moses declared that if Israel was diligent to keep and guard the instruction that Moses gave, which taught Israel to love Jehovah, walk in Jehovah’s ways, and to hold to Jehovah, that Jehovah would reward both the nation of Israel and the Israelite.

Moses is conveying that Jehovah is a deity of reciprocity, teaching that if Israel behaved a certain way, then Israel would receive benefits for their actions.

In a way, Moses is correct.

In a way, Moses is incorrect.

Incorrect, in the sense, that Israel did nothing to actually receive the benefit of Jehovah delivering Israel from bondage. Jehovah gave to Israel because of Jehovah’s love for Israel’s forefathers.

Correct, in the sense, that once Israel committed themselves to a covenant with Jehovah, that the covenant itself was/is a covenant of reciprocity, Jehovah expected/expects certain behavior and in return would give and does give continued good fortune to Israel.

That is why Moses declared that Israel had to be diligently attentive to keep and guard. But that does not adequately convey that Jehovah is also a sovereign of patience and endurance.

That is why for all their inadequacies, Jehovah did permit Israel to settle in the land and retain it, and at times Jehovah permitted Israel to expand its territory, but then Jehovah permitted Israel to lose their expansion and much of their tribal land.

All of that was to demonstrate that the covenant was/is a covenant of reciprocity, quid pro quo.

That is not something that many want to consider, but the covenant is a covenant of reciprocity, where Israel gets something from Jehovah for doing something for Jehovah, Israel gets blessings for blessing Jehovah.

From what I can tell, somewhere along the historic timeline, Israel slowly transitioned from interpreting the covenant as reciprocity to interpreting the covenant as complacency. Hence why so many prophets declare that Israel has failed to keep their side of the covenant.

If Israel kept their side of the covenant, Moses directly conveyed that Jehovah would dislodge the nations within the land promised as inheritance, even though the nations were “greater and more numerous” than Israel.

At the outset, Jehovah did those things for Israel, and the territory became Israel’s.

However, I take exception with Moses declaring that Israel’s territory would extend “from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River -the Euphrates- to the Western Sea.”

I take exception with Moses, because while I believe Moses properly understood that Israel was in a covenant of reciprocity, Moses did not have an adequate understanding of the land inheritance.

As I have presented, while a prophet, and anointed by Jehovah, Jehovah still permits Moses to speak from Moses’ own being. That is why Moses failed at the rock. That is why Moses can be a prophet who understands reciprocity but does not understand the land inheritance.

Why? Because Jehovah did not permit Moses to understand each and every detail.

Therefore, some things which are presented by Moses are, as difficult as it may be for some, conjecture, and is why there appear to be contradictions within Torah.

The conjecture in this passage is Moses declaring “Every spot on which your foot treads shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River -the Euphrates- to the Western Sea.”

That is not what was promised to Israel. That is what was promised to Abraham. Consider Genesis.

Genesis 15.1
“…the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…”

Genesis 15.7
“Then [the LORD] said to [Abram], ‘I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.’ ”

Genesis 15.18
“On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates’.”

Genesis 17.1
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.’ ”

Set aside the land itself for a moment. Simply consider “I will make you exceedingly numerous”.

There is tremendous arguments regarding the events that led to the arrival of Ishmael as Abram’s son.

However, there is one thing that Genesis 17.20 JPS reveals, even though the covenant will go to Isaac, God did tell Abram “As for Ishmael, I have heeded you. I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve cheiftains, and I will make of him a great nation.”

Ishmael did become great, and the initial history is found in the book of Genesis, from where Ishmael established his home (Genesis 21.21) to his lineage (Genesis 25.12-18).

The Book of Genesis is far more generous to the descendants of Abraham than some want to accept.

Isaac certainly is the son Jehovah (El Shaddai) promised to Abraham through Sarah, but Abraham had many descendants, some of which were born by Keturah (Genesis 25.1-5), some of which were born by his concubines (Genesis 25.6). In other words, Abraham had been fruitful and multiplied.

Many seem not to understand that the Edomites themselves are grandchildren of Abraham. The Edomites were born of Esau, who was born of Isaac, Abraham’s promised son through Sarah. The Edomites obtained territory (cf. Numbers 20.14-21) within the land promised to Abraham.

My point is that when we examine the Torah narrative, it appears that within the land that El Shaddai (Jehovah) promised to Abraham, that land contains many of Abraham’s descendants. As the narrative unfolds, Israel received a portion of that territory, just as the Edomites received a portion of that territory, this means the Edomites (children of Esau) and the Israelites (children of Jacob) are cousins, and through Abraham those people are also related to the Ishmaelites, and through Abraham they are related also to the Medianites.

All that simply means is that it is my studied conclusion that Moses misunderstood the land promise. The land promise was to allow all of Abraham’s offspring to have land, and within that land Abraham’s children did live, at least at one time.

Why Did Moses think that Israel could obtain the entire land promised to Abraham?

That I don’t know. But that conclusion seems to contradict that which is itemized in other parts of the Torah, and for me the only reasonable explanation is that Moses spoke from himself, erringly in this concept, but still from his person, because God does not operate any person, and does not operate any prophet, as a marionette, while Jehovah’s spirit may be upon and within them, the person still retains some sovereignty which affects that which is uttered.

That is troublesome for many believers. But that is the only method that I have discovered that permits the Bible to be both from above (from Jehovah) and from below (from humanity), and explains why the Torah and the Bible itself, however one identifies the Bible (Hebrew, or Christian, with or without disputed or non-canonical texts), to contain spurious readings and/or contradictions.