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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:45 And you returned and you wept before the L-rd, but the L-rd did not listen to your voice, neither did He pay any attention to you.
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Moshe is recounting the reaction of the people after they had been defeated by the Amorites when attempting to enter the Land of Israel following the debacle of the bad report brought by the ten spies. The people had rebelled, talking of electing a new leader and going back to Egypt. Although the people later changed their minds when they heard about the whole generation dying in the wilderness, and tried to go up and start taking the Land - without Moshe, Eleazar and the Ark and in spite ofHaShem's warning through Moshe - but were soundly thrashed by the Amorites who lived in the hill country. It is noticeable that the original account in B'Midbar 14 has no mention of our text, moving directly from "Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah" (B'Midbar 14:45, ESV) to "The L-RD spoke to Moshe, saying ..." (15:1, ESV). Nachmanides comments that Moshe mentions the weeping at this point, "as praise that they regretted their sin".
Jeffrey Tigay reports that theSeptuagint and the Peshitta read - the Qal prefix 2mp form of the root , to turn or return - as if it were - the Qal prefix 2mp form of the root , to sit or dwell - thus changing the translation to read: "and you sat and wept". This is only a matter of pointing, as the consonantal text is the same in both cases. Tigay points out that this reading is paralleled in "Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the L-RD" (Judges 20:26, ESV) and "And the people came to Bethel and sat there till evening before G-d, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly" (21:2, ESV). Targum Onkelos has a broader set of changes based around the usual concerns about anthropomorphism: the verb , 'listen', becomes , 'accept'; the noun , "to your voice", becomes , "your prayer"; , "to you" becomes , "to your words". This results in the translation, "but the L-rd did not accept your prayer, neither did He pay any attention to your words". Drazin and Wagner note that this is one of twelve times in the book D'varim that Onkelos changes a word such as "voice" to prayer", "to elevate the concept of prayer or the activity of the person mentioned in the verse".
RabbiHirsch suggests that "He did not accede to your desire, as the phrase 'listen to your voice' always means fulfilling what is asked or desired", and cites "And G-d listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field" (Judges 13:9, ESV) as an example. Ovadiah Sforno explains that G-d did not listen "due to the desecration of the Name which they had committed, (a sin) for which repentance is insufficient and which can only be purged through death." Nachmanides adds that Moshe was telling the people that "this sin was too great to forgive because the great oath [of G-d] had already been pronounced, and a Heavenly decree accompanied by an oath cannot be rent." He cites Rabbi Samuel who "said in the name of Rabbi Jonathan: "How do we know that a final sentence accompanied by an oath is never rescinded? Because it says, 'Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever' (1 Samuel 3:14)" (b. Rosh HaShana 18a). The principle of the immutability of G-d's promises is confirmed by the writer to the Hebrews: "when G-d desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for G-d to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17-18, ESV).
It seems as though there are some situations in which attempts at communication with G-d will be refused, prayer will be ignored and G-d will, so to speak, turn a deaf ear towards pleas and supplications. How can this be so?Rashi offers the thought that "if it were possible", the Israelites had "made the attribute of His mercy as if it were cruel". It is as if the Israelites' refusal to believe G-d's promises, their implication that He had simply brought them to the Land to be killed, the rejection of the rightness of the Exodus, stepped over a line and proved that they would not - after all - be capable of entering and taking the Land. G-d had got the children of Israel out of Egypt, but He couldn't get Egypt out of the children of Israel - they just wouldn't let go. The Sforno claims that Moshe was admonishing the people because "their repentance was not complete (i.e. sincere) and therefore they accomplished nothing, even with tears"; they were howling because they couldn't have what they wanted, not because they were truly repenting of their rebellion. They had put themselves beyond G-d's reach.
At Hanukkah one year, Yeshua was challenged by the Jewish leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem to make a public declaration of His Messiahship. After pointing them to the miracles that He had already done, Yeshua told them three important things (John 20:27-29, CJB):
These are important verses, cited by those of a Calvinist persuasion as one of the proof-texts for the fifth point of Calvinism, the perseverance of the saints, also known as "eternal security". This is explained in the Westminster Confession1: They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved (ch. 17, sec. 1).
This view is challenged by those of an Arminian persuasion, citing "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (Romans 11:22, ESV) and pointing to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)) or "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10)). This view claims that it is the duty of each believer in Messiah to persevere in their relationship with Yeshua; while He will not allow them to be snatched out of His hand, He will not prevent them from walking out by their own free will if that is what they wish.
Many believers have reported times when their prayers seem to go unanswered, when relationship with G-d seems distant and difficult, when "the skies seem like brass". This is one phrase from "The heavens above you will be brass, the earth beneath you iron" (D'varim 28:23, JB), part of a description of what will befall Israel if they rebel against G-d and disobey His commandments: they are exiled from the Land, struck with plagues and sandstorms, and defeated by their enemies until they turn and truly repent. This does not indicate that the covenant is broken - far from it, since the covenant was given by and is maintained by G-d Himself - on the contrary, it shows that the covenant remains in force, but that G-d has something against us and is calling and challenging us through our circumstances, our environment and those around us, to draw close to Him and persist in breaking through to a fuller relationship with Him. If G-d doesn't seem to be answering the 'phone at the moment, perhaps there is good reason why!
1. - The Westminster Confession of Faith was produced in 1646 by a group of puritan clergymen, summoned by the Puritan Parliament during the time of the English Civil War, intended to be a confession for the Church of England.
Further Study: Psalm 78:32-37; Hebrews 3:7-14
Application: Do you feel like sitting down and howling because life seems so unfair right now? Consider the state of your relationship with G-d and ask Him what He might be trying to say to you through your circumstances. Are you really seeking Him, or just crying because you don't have something you want?
Comment - 17:24 26Jul20 Edward Bishop Sr: For many years I found myself "sitting down and howling" because I had failed in my attempt to be who Hashem had created me to be. I had "given my life" to Him as a young person but was continually being pulled back by my personal desires. Praise the name of the Lord He had His seal upon my life. He knew what I was too blind to see, He knew exactly when I would yield to the prompting of His Spirit and fully yield to His design on my life.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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