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Vayikra/Leviticus 26:11 And I will place My Tabernacle in your midst and My soul will not reject you.
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This statement comes almost at the end of the list of blessings thatHaShem says will accrue to Israel if they "follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments" (Vayikra 26:3, JPS). An extended list also appears - for the benefit of the next generation - in Moshe's sermon to the Children of Israel waiting to enter the Land on the plains of Moab: "All these blessings shall come upon you and take effect, if you will but heed the word of the L-RD your G-d ..." (D'varim 28:2, JPS). Oddly, although many blessings are common to both lists, this one is present only in the earlier version. The promise of blessing is a neat doublet of synthetic parallelism: each phrase contains three words - a verb, a noun with a 1cs possessive suffix and a preposition with a 2mp object suffix.
The first verb, - Qal affix, 1cs from the root , to give, also to set or appoint - describes HaShem's actions: I will give/set/place; the object of the verb, - literally "the place of my presence/resting" - is translated by the slightly old-fashioned English word, 'tabernacle', althoughRashi insists that this is a symbol pointing forward until Israel is settled in the Land: "this is the Beit HaMikdash - The Holy House - the Temple". The Baal HaTurim lends support, pointing out that "the Second Temple stood for the number of years equal to the gematria of = 420." The Sforno joins in, paraphrasing these words in G-d's mouth: "My Divine Presence () will dwell in your midst, wherever you shall be, as was intended before the Calf", although Richard Elliot Friedman urges caution: "Beware that never occurs in the Hebrew Bible." Baruch Levine disagrees, commenting that the "Hebrew often refers specifically to the Tabernacle, but here it has the more general sense of residence."
The second verb, - Qal prefix, 3fs from the root , formally "to loathe or abhor" (Davidson), but used in other voices as "to reject, cast away" - affirms and amplifies the commitment HaShem is making: His soul, or perhaps essence, will not reject Israel. Rashi explains that any use of this word "means expelling something that has been absorbed by something." This is too much forTargum Onkelos, who changes the verb to , "he will not distance", both decreasing the anthropomorphism and softening the idea of separation. Friedman asks whether G-d can be said to have a soul, but concludes that since we are made in G-d's image and have souls then, although we may not understand exactly what this means, it must reflect something of G-d's nature.
There is debate over the permanence or conditionality of this commitment. TheRalbag claims that there is a measure of condition attached, putting these words in HaShem's mouth: "My abode will be in your midst as long as you act in a way that does not make Me spurn you even if you have not done everything the covenant requires, that is, enough so that My providence will cleave to you." Hirsch too says that it "is conditional to a numerous nation paying Him the tribute of free-willed obedience." The Sforno disagrees, quoting Isaiah - "As I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you" (Isaiah 54:9, JPS) to say that HaShem will never reject Israel. Ibn Ezra supports the Sforno: "Do not fear that you will ever suffer scarcity, for My presence will reside among you. For G-d is not like a human being who might eventually get fed up with staying in the same place all the time." The Sforno may go too far, since there are clearly passages in the Bible that speak of G-d's anger with Israel and times of rebuke and punishment; similarly, Ibn Ezra seems to ignore the assurances of both poverty and starvation if Israel disobeys the L-rd in the second half of D'varim chapter 28, carried out faithfully by G-d as part of the covenant during the Babylonian exile.
How are we to understand this apparent contradiction? Perhaps another verse in the same chapter of Vayikra will help us: "Even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I the L-RD am their G-d" (Vayikra 26:44, JPS). Keeping the covenant requires that HaShem should punish Israel for their disobedience, that times out of the Land must follow times of bad behaviour in the Land. At the same time, even when in a rebuke/punishment phase, the covenant remains in force - for that is what legitimates HaShem's treatment of Israel - and guarantees their survival and return to blessing. Jeremiah is given the definitive word: "Thus said the L-RD, who established the sun for light by day, the laws of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, whose name is L-RD of Hosts: If these laws should ever be annulled by Me -- declares the L-RD -- only then would the offspring of Israel cease to be a nation before Me for all time. Thus said the L-RD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done -- declares the L-RD" (Jeremiah 31:34-36, JPS). The L-rd's covenant with Israel is as permanent as the physical laws of nature - gravity, thermodynamics, motion, even relativity - and times of exile for Israel should be taken as confirmation that the covenant is very much still in force rather than evidence of its demise.
This is an essential for believers in Messiah to understand. Some proclaim faith in Yeshua, then - when the going gets tough or when they are challenged over their behaviour or something in their lifestyle, so that they are tempted to say, "G-d doesn't love me any more!" - can fall away. Just as G-d says to the Children of Israel, "I am the L-RD -- I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob -- you have not ceased to be" (Malachi 3:6, JPS), that is, the continued existence of Israel as a people is dependent on G-d's unchangeable nature and consistency, so our existence as the combined people of G-d - Jew and Gentile - is dependent on G-d's unchangeable nature. Not only does the Bible tell us that "Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, CJB), but that "If you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (12:8, NASB). The same covenantal situation applies to believers as to the Children of Israel: there will be times of discipline, times of challenge, times of pruning and times of growth. These are not an indication that G-d has got fed up with us and gone off to spend time with someone He prefers or who is less trouble; on the contrary, they are confirmation that our relationship with G-d is on track and that He won't let go until He has conformed us to the image of His Son and we are bearing the fruit that He designed our lives to show.
Now let's look at how this came to be. Our original text tells us that HaShem promises to set His Tabernacle in the midst of the people and assures the people that He will never reject them. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us exactly how and when this promise was fulfilled: when the Tabernacle was first made and erected, when the priests carried it over the Jordan river into the Land, when David brought the ark up to Jerusalem, when the first and second temples was built and dedicated. Miracles and supernatural signs accompanied these events. The Greek Scriptures also tell us the G-d went a step further: "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Yeshua - the perfect representation of G-d's grace and glory - pitched the tent of His human flesh among our people and told them, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:27-29, ESV). Believers in Yeshua will never be rejected, spurned or turned away by G-d.
The L-rd promised blessings to His people who trusted in Him: "Blessed is he who trusts in the L-RD, whose trust is the L-RD alone. He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream: it does not sense the coming of heat, its leaves are ever fresh; it has no care in a year of drought, it does not cease to yield fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8, JPS). So does Yeshua: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38, ESV). Unless we block up the well, by hardening our hearts against G-d and walking in sin, this promise is unconditional; Yeshua will do as He has aid. All we have to do is come to Him and ask!
Further Study: Ezekiel 37:26-28; Revelation 21:1-4
Application: Are you like the tree planted by the waters, with ever-fresh leaves and constantly bearing fruit? Have you asked Yeshua for the rivers of living water to flow in your life? His Spirit in your life is guaranteed when you ask. Why not ask today?
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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