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B'Midbar/Numbers 9:8 And Moshe said to them, "Stand and let me hear what the L-rd will command for you."
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It has been a complete year since Israel left Egypt and, "in the first month of the second year" (B'Midbar 9:1),HaShem instructs Moshe that "on the fourteen day of this month, between the twilights" (v. 3) the Israelites are to celebrate the festival of Pesach. This is to be the first commemoration of the original Exodus, complete in every detail: a full dress rehearsal for the years and millenia to come. But there is a problem; a group of men who are ceremonially unclean approach Moshe on the day of the festival. Michael Carasik reports that the Jewish tradition teaches that they have been involved in some religious or civic duty such attending to the proper burial of a deceased Israelite. Why, they ask, should we be denied the opportunity to celebrate the feast with the rest of our people? Our text relates the next step in the story before HaShem starts speaking (in verse 9) and prescribes the procedure for "second Pesach", exactly one month late. Abravanel comments that "seeing that their intentions were worthy, Moshe understood that [HaShem] would find some way to answer their request." Moshe's words show us an important principle that endures to our current day: if in doubt, wait and hear what the Master has to say.
Three three verbs are packed into the second half of the verse. The first, , is the Qal mp imperative form of the root , "to stand firm, endure, stay, remain, stand up or arise" (Davidson). David Clines adds "to remain present, stay, stay behind, wait, tarry."1 Although we have retained the translation 'stand' above, many contemporary English versions (e.g. CJB, ESV, NASB, NIV, NJB, NLT, NRSV) interpret this as 'wait'. This is supported byTargum Onkelos who replaces the Hebrew with the Aramaic , "wait until". The second verb, , is the Qal 1cs prefix form of the root , "to hear, listen", with a simple vav - 'and' - and a paragogic hay. The latter often denotes an cohortative voice: "let me ..." or "may I ...". In this case, "and let me hear" seems the most appropriate option. Lastly, the verb , is the Pi'el 3ms prefix form of the root , "to command or decree". Clines suggests that followed by the preposition , as here, it has the sense of giving orders or instructions for someone or a group of people.2 Richard Elliott Friedman translates the phrase as, "Stay, and let me hear what YHVH will command about you."
So what were the group of men supposed to do? How long would this take? It was, after all, the day of Pesach and if they were to celebrate the feast, then they wouldn't have too long to make preparations.Ibn Ezra tells us that the men were to wait "at the entrance to the tent of meeting", although he doesn't touch on the issue of timing; presumably, as long as it took. That might be all day and that's a long time to wait, particularly with a feast on hold in the evening. I suggest that very few of us would feel comfortable telling someone to wait while we prayed and sought an immediate response for them from HaShem. Demanding a real time answer from heaven, especially on a complicated issue such as this, seems quite bold. Rashi comments that, "Moshe is like a student who is assured of hearing from the mouth of his teacher. Fortunate is one born to a woman who is assured in this manner, for any time that he could wish, he would speak with the Divine Presence." It certainly looks that way, since without any interruption or comment about time, the narrative carries straight on with, "And the L-RD spoke to Moshe, saying" (v. 9, NJPS).
We find both immediate and delayed responses when the prophets are asked to answer a question from the people. After a scroll of the law is found in the Temple, King Josiah tears his clothes and sends his servants to inquire of HaShem about the words of judgement in the scroll, "So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter); and they spoke to her. And she said to them, 'Thus says the L-RD G-d of Israel, "Tell the man who sent you to me ..."'" (2 Kings 22:14-15, NASB). This looks like an immediate response, like the one in our text. On the other hand, after Jerusalem has been sacked by the Babylonians and some rebels have killed Gedaliah, the man appointed as governor, the people who remain do not know what to do. "Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached and said to Jeremiah the prophet, 'Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the L-RD your G-d, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the L-RD your G-d may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.' ... Now it came about at the end of ten days that the word of the L-RD came to Jeremiah. Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, and said to them, 'Thus says the L-RD the G-d of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him ...'" (Jeremiah 42:1-3,7-9, NASB). This is a delayed response, but the people waited for it and did not act until they had it.
The prophets themselves knew that waiting for HaShem was critical. The Psalmist said, "Wait for the L-RD; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the L-R>" (Psalm 27:14, NASB) and Micah echoes that on his own account: "But as for me, I will look to the L-RD; I will wait for the G-d of my salvation; my G-d will hear me" (Micah 7:7, ESV). While both of these texts could be taken to be using 'wait' in the sense of spending time with or paying attention to the L-rd, the more natural reading implies temporal delay: sometimes it is necessary for wait over a period of time for G-d to act or to answer one's questions. Habakkuk confirms the need to wait for visions - a visual promise - to play themselves out in reality: "For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end -- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay" (Habakkuk 2:3, ESV). Simeon the Righteous experienced this, waiting for his promise in Jerusalem: he was "waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the L-rd's Messiah" (Luke 2:25-26, ESV).
During Yeshua's years of ministry, both the crowds and the disciples received immediate responses to their questions. While Yeshua would often turn questions around, asking his questioners what they thought before He would give His answer, the gospels don't record the word 'wait' on Yeshua's lips at all. He often spoke about things that were to come - such as His coming passion in Jerusalem and the events that would herald His second coming - but never told the disciples or the crowds to wait or delay. The sole exception is trailed at the end of Luke's gospel, when - as He is about to be taken up into heaven - He tells the disciples, "Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49, ESV). This aorist 2mp imperative form of the root , can also be translated 'settle' or 'encamp.'3 By the time Luke tells this story again, it has grown stronger: "gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised" (Acts 1:4, NASB). This is the present infinitive of the verb , "to wait for or await."4 The disciples were not to leave the city or move on until the promise of power had been given. Perhaps this was for them an outworking of Isaiah's famous words of prophecy, "they who wait for the L-RD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31, ESV).
How does this impact us today? Every day, when we see that we have to wait for the L-rd to fulfill His promises. This may be personal - a promise, vision or or word that we have been given concerning our own lives of that of family or friends - or it may be corporate: for something to happen in our congregation, fellowship or city. In the biggest picture, of course, we are all waiting for Yeshua to return. James has the word for us: "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7-8, ESV). Yeshua reminded the disciples that when the fig tree "becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near" (Mark 13:28, ESV), so that as we look around us: "when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates" (Mark 13:29, ESV). In the big and the little things of life, we may have confidence to say, as Moshe did, "Stand, until I hear from the L-rd!"
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 331.
2. - Ibid., page 376.
3. - Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek Lexicon, (Oxford, OUP, 1889), page 390.
4. - Ibid., page 628.
Further Study: Psalm 37:34; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 3:20-21
Application: Are you waiting on the L-rd for a promise that He has given you? Be encouraged in your faith and know that "waiting" in faith expresses the certainty of what has been promised and recommit yourself to waiting faithfully and patiently for the L-rd to fulfill His promise in its proper time.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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