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Vayikra/Leviticus 26:9 And I will turn to you, and I will make you fruitful, and I will multiply you, and I will establish My covenant with you.
These areHaShem's words directed towards the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, promising reward or punishment contingent upon obedience to the covenant that He has made with them there. They will be repeated in much more detail to the next generation, the generation about to enter the Land, during Moshe's extended teaching on the Plains of Moab (see D'varim 28). The verse contains four verbs, all of them in 1cs affix form in the vav-reversive construction: complete actions that will be performed in the future.
The first verb, , comes from the root , "to turn to, turn towards" (Davidson), from which we also get the noun , 'face(s)' and the preposition , 'before'. Clines suggests that with HaShem as the subject and followed by the preposition , both as here, the verb has the sense of "looking with regard to".1 This is assumed by many of the English translations who extend the meaning to "I will look ... with favor" (NIV, NRSV, NJPS) or "For I will look ... favorably" (NKJV).Rashi explains this in HaShem's voice: "I will turn away from all of My concerns [in order] to pay your reward", pledging to put His relationship with Israel before everything else with which He has to deal. The Sforno - following the text "I will make an end of all the nations among which I have banished you" (Jeremiah 46:28, NJPS) - says that this will not happen until after the destruction of all the nations. The Bekhor Shor connects this to Moshe's request to see HaShem "face to face", when He replied "you will see My back; but My face must not be seen" (Shemot 33:23, NJPS), positing that this promise instead says, "I will turn My face and not My back to you."
The second verb, , comes from the root , "to be fruitful, bear fruit" - (Davidson). It is here used in the Hif'il or causative stem, so that HaShem is promising to make the Israelites fruitful. Clines extends this to allow the meaning "to produce (much) offspring" which can apply to both mankind and animals.2 TheRamban comments, "this means that they will all have children, fruit of the womb, and 'there shall not be male or female barren among you' (D'varim 7:14, ESV)". The third verb, , from the root , "to be or become many, numerous, to multiply" (Davidson), again in the Hif'il stem so "I will cause you to multiply", is often bracketed with the second as Ibn Ezra: "to make you fertile and multiply you with sons and daughters", who then adds, "making your descendants 'as numerous as the stars of heaven' (B'resheet 2:17) and 'as dust of the earth' (28:14)" The Ramban tries to separate the verbs, offering instead, "they will have many children, and will not be bereaved of them, because they will live out their days and therefore they will be a large people." Not only will the Israelites all have children, but many children!
Stephen Sherwood hears an echo of the creation narrative in these two verbs, observing that "the blessings promised for those who observe YHVH's instructions continue the blessings of creation, but also recall the possibility of the loss of those blessings."3 We can also connect this to HaShem's promise to Avraham, "I will bless you ... and you shall be a blessing" (12:2, NJPS), to make the claim that those who observe HaShem's instructions continue the blessings of creation both for themselves and for others. John Hartley also sees a connection to Avraham: "God will actively 'look after' His people. He will make their fields fertile and He will multiply their own offspring. Thereby He will continue to fulfill His promise to Avraham: 'I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you' (17:6, NJPS). Through these blessings, Yahweh will 'maintain' His covenant relationship with His people by providing abundantly for their needs."4
That brings us to the fourth verb, , from the root , "to rise up, arise, flourish, prosper" (Davidson), once more used in the Hif'il stem. Clines sees covenant language here and suggests the meanings "to establish, found, keep, uphold, fulfil".5 HaShem will establish and uphold - that is, cause to rise and endure - His covenant with Israel. Baruch Levine explains that "the Hebrew hekim may refer to the initial making of a covenant, or to maintaining in force an already established covenant, or even to fulfilling it." He thinks that the second sense is the one in play here, but then goes on to make an important observation: "hekim [maintain in force] stands in contrast to hefer, 'to nullify, abrogate' in verse 15", the negative consequences of not obeying HaShem's Torah. The same two words, he points out, "are used in B'Midbar chapter 30, where a father 'affirms, maintains in force' hekim his daughter's vows or 'annuls' hefer them." We can also see the same verbs forming an opposite pair in Ezekiel's words to the people in his day: "you have spurned the pact and violated the covenant ... I will establish My covenant with you" (Ezekiel 16:59,62, NJPS). Having observed the proximity of these opposite words and the way they are used, we will return to this contrast later on.
The last word of the verse, , has the same consonantal representation as the word used twice in the first half of the verse. There it is the 2mp personal object pronoun, 'you'; here it is the word , usually the direct object marker but sometimes (as here) a preposition 'with', followed by the 2mp suffix pronoun, meaning "with you." This sparks further comment from the Sforno, who gives HaShem these words: "I shall fulfill it with you, in your (own) merit, besides that fact that I remember for you the covenant of the Fathers". This implies that HaShem is establishing the covenant for this generation, on their own account, without reference to previous generations, although He does of course remember His promises to the patriarchs as well. DonAbravanel phrases it this way: "I will establish My covenant with you, instead of with your ancestors, as it has been up to now." This is now a matter between you and I, HaShem is thought to be saying, not between I and them. You, the current generation, have to be responsible for obeying the rules of the covenant; you cannot rely on any goodwill from the times of the patriarchs. As Samuel Balentine observes, "those who enter into covenant relationship with G-d must choose whether to obey or disobey G-d's will; the choice is theirs and the consequences are clear."6
Returning to the uphold/annul contrast, Yeshua picked His words carefully when He said, "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete" (Matthew 5:17, CJB). While the Greek text uses the verbs , "to destroy or demolish," and , "to fill up or complete", it is interesting to see that modern translations of the Gospels into Hebrew7 use the and verbs, preserving the ancient Torah vocabulary that is also employed as a matched but opposite pair in the rabbinic writings. So in the same way as those entering covenant with G-d must choose whether to obey Him, the exact same condition applies to those who enter into covenant with Yeshua: a choice is required and there are consequences that follow from that decision. Just as G-d kept the covenant and imposed its terms upon the Israelites when they violated it, so He keeps the covenant with us who have chosen to follow Yeshua if we should violate it. Yeshua makes it clear: "whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven" (v. 19, CJB).
Once again, we find that it all comes down to choice: the choice of whether to obey G-d's commands or not. Of course, not all commands are applicable to all believers; there are some commands for men and some for women, some for Jews and some for Gentiles. But the general principle applies: once we are in covenant with G-d, we are in and we are obligated to the terms of the covenant. We cannot pick and choose which commands we will or won't obey without there being significant and serious consequences. Just because something is inconvenient or frowned upon by modern society makes no difference to G-d who "maintains" the covenant for us despite ourselves.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.), The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 360.
2. - Ibid., page 365.
3. - Stephen Sherwood, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry - Levticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), page 85.
4. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 463.
5. - Clines, page 391.
6. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 198.
7. - Hebrew-English Bible, Bible Society in Israel, 1995.
Further Study: Psalm 138:6-8; Nehemiah 9:23-27; Luke 1:70-75
Application: What choice will you take today? Do you want to walk in G-d's blessings and provision, or do you want to fight Him every inch of the way? Talk it over with Yeshua and make sure you hear what He says - your life depends on it!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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