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D'varim/Deuteronomy 2:25 This day I will begin to give dread of you and fear of you upon the face of the peoples under all the heavens
HaShem is speaking to Moshe, to start the conquest or and entry to the Land, the Promised Land, that HaShem had promised to His people Israel. There are two verbs in the text: , the Hif'il prefix 1cs form of the root , meaning "to begin, start", so "I will begin"; and , the Qal infinite of the root , to give, put, appoint. They come together to form, "I will begin to give" or perhaps "I will begin to put". The following two nouns - from the root , "to be in dread of" and , "to fear" - both have a second person singular genitive suffix, usually possessive - 'your' - but here better, "of you". Why, if although this is spoken to Moshe but is really for the people - who are clearly plural - are the pronouns singular? Could it be that Moshe is being given the promise? Surely not, for he won't be entering the Land. The Ramban explains that "This refers to Israel, meaning that all the peoples should fear them, and that the men of Canaan should go out in battle against them with melted hearts. This is not a promise to Moshe, but to Israel and Joshua." This, then, has the same intent as "Begin the occupation; take possession of his land" (v. 31), which is also spoken to Moshe, with 'his' referring to Sihon king of the Amorites; Moshe will begin the conquest, but it will be finished by Joshua and Israel as Moshe was later to tell Joshua, "You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so shall the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you shall cross over" (3:21, JPS).
The Sages of the Talmud notice (b. Avodah Zara 25a) that the first three words of this text appears both in this verse and "The L-RD said to Joshua, ' This day, I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel'" (Joshua 3:7), and that appears in both this verse and "On that occasion, when the L-RD gave the Amorites before the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the L-RD; he said in the presence of the Israelites: 'Stand still, O sun, at Gibeon, O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon!'" (Joshua 10:12) and conclude - although, in my personal opinion, this is stretching things too far - that the sun also stood still for Moshe.Rashi comments that "this has taught that the sun stood still for Moshe on the day of the war against Sihon and the matter became known 'under the heavens.'" The Baal HaTurim notices a masoretic note '3', adjacent to the word - I will begin - and explains "that this word appears three time in the Tanakh: (i) here, 'I will begin to place dread of you>'; (ii) 'I will begin to exalt you' (Joshua 3:7); and (iii) 'I will not desecrate My holy Name any longer' (Ezekiel 39:7). This can be assembled to mean that the sun stood still for Moshe as it did for Joshua (10:13) because 'I will make My holy name known ... and I will not desecrate My holy Name any longer'; through the miracle of the sun standing still, the whole world came to know."
Taking a slightly different approach,Chizkuni considers what the Canaanites thought: "Prior to the conquest of of Sihon, the seven Canaanite nations thought that the Israelites did not fight the Edomites and the Moabites because they were afraid that they would be unable to beat them. 'These were just two nations, while we are seven; we can surely defeat them.' However, when Sihon and Og fell to the Israelites, this victory was the beginning of the widespread fear of Israel." The Bekhor Shor agrees, putting these words in HaShem's mouth: "This day you begin the conquests; your military victories will put the fear and dread of you upon the peoples everywhere." Modern commentators such as Jeffrey Tigay agree; Tigay adds, "With the victory over Sihon, G-d would begin causing other people to fear Israel, as happened earlier when they crossed the sea (cf. Shemot 15:14-16). This was not merely for the glory of Israel but for the strategic effect of demoralising potential enemies. The spies Joshua sent to Jericho learned that this victory has the desired effect, for reports about Israel's crossing the sea and defeating Sihon and Og had caused the Canaanites to lose heart (Joshua 2:9-11,24)." A further effect of this can be seen a little later in the book of Joshua (chapter 9) when the Gibeonites choose to surrender (admittedly by falsehood) to the Israelites rather than fight, because they have heard about Egypt, Sihon and Og (v. 10).
Now let's take a massive step ahead and see what is happening when G-d moves again among His people. We are now in the days following the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; Luke tells us that "awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles ... And the L-rd added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:43,47, ESV). Jerusalem is in a state of awe, miracles are being performed and people are being saved! Just a short time later, Peter and John are used to heal the man at the Temple gate and the people are ">filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him" (3:10, ESV). So much so, that in spite of Peter and John being arrested, "many of those who had heard the word believed" (4:4, ESV). The priestly council have to admit that "a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it" (v. 16, ESV). At the following prayer meeting "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (v. 31, ESV),and "with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all" (v. 33, ESV). After Ananias and his wife Saphira are struck down for their deceit, "great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things" (5:11, ESV) so that "the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the L-rd, multitudes of both men and women" (vv. 13-14, ESV). What is happening here? The "greater things" that Yeshua promised are coming about; fear of G-d is falling on the people so that they are turning to Him and finding faith in Yeshua. From that day, as Yeshua told the disciples, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NASB), the books of Acts starting with that key word 'began'; Yeshua's own earthly ministry was the beginning.
The Bible tells us that the Israelites were not faithful to G-d's calling. By the end of Joshua's life, he had to challenge them about who they were following. The stream of miracles had stopped, the battles had become harder and the victories fewer and more hard-won. We know from archaeology that the 'conquest' of the Land was somewhat patchy and was often more of an accommodation if it happened at all. The areas of territory described and allocated by Moshe didn't get cleared and taken. What were the people doing? They were starting to listen to their new neighbours, they were eyeing up the "gods of the land" and they were being distracted from their relationship with G-d. They could not "drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots" (Judges 1:19, NASB), they "did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land" (v. 27, NASB). In fact, as Israel became militarily strong, they did not clear the land but instead allowed the Canaanites to live, keeping them as their labour force. There is a catalogue of disobedience by the people in carrying out their mandate; the deterrent - G-d's fear and dread - fell away so that by the end of Judges, "there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25, NASB).
The book of Acts describes the early church obeying their mandate and being wildly successful. They then lost their way due to compromise with the state, wrangling between Jews and Gentiles; G-d's power and miracles in their midst fell away and the church became a political organisation. Over the centuries, while the mandate has always been there, although some good things have happened, the church has failed to walk in the calling it was originally given. Today the nations do not show any fear or dread of the church because nothing ever happens and no-one is holy. But the Ruach is moving again in our days, particularly in the global south, where faith is fresh and less tainted by western church and society - the question for this generation is whether we will go with Him or remain locked and disabled in our disbelief in G-d's miracles and our refusal to obey the mandate.
Further Study: Proverbs 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:1-4
Application: Where are you on this? Do you think that G-d can still do it today? Do you hear the Spirit's voice: "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21)?
Comment - 16:45 20Jul15 Tom: I think that this is a bit harsh on the Western Church. I don't think that "we" have been unfaithful to God's call nor lost heart. The two main Church leaders Francis and Justin have not lost heart. I don't think we shall end up like Israel nor the Early Church. Dread and Fear will come upon the Caesars of the day before long.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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