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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:21 The L-rd your G-d has set the land before you; go up! take possession! just as the L-rd the G-d of your fathers promised you.
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Moshe is recounting his memories of the the time, thirty eight years ago, when the Children of Israel had arrived at Kadesh Barnea - just two years out of Egypt - to enter and take possession of the Land. These words don't actually appear in the live narrative, in parashat Sh'lakh L'cha, although some of them appear to be voiced by Caleb - "Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it" (B'Midbar 13:30, NJPS) - as he urges the people to followHaShem's instructions and ignore the bad report of ten of the spies sent to reconnoitre. In Moshe's narrative, to an audience the majority of whom are too young to have been there or to have remembered the event for themselves, he encourages the people with these words before they ask him if they can send spies forward to investigate what the Land is really like.
The verse contains three imperative verbs - , from the root , to look or see, , from the root , to go up, arise or ascend, and , from the root , to take possession (Davidson) - all in Qal ms form. All the 'you' and 'your' pronouns in this verse are also singular rather that plural: "your G-d", "before you", "your fathers". This stands in sharp contrast to the forms in the surrounding text, which are clearly plural: in verses 6-12 of D'varim chapter 1, as Moshe begins his story, he speaks of 'we' and 'you' using only plural forms and when the narrative resumes in the next verse (v. 22), it switches back to 'you' plural again. Gunther Plaut reports that this is "a stylistic device frequent in the book", but Richard Elliott Friedman sees more significance: "Not only does Moshe mix past, present and future generations in his wording. Now he mixes the whole community and each individual. Until now he has spoken in the plural, to all of Israel in front of him. But now he changes to the singular, telling each person, young and old, male and female: YHVH has put this land in front of you."
The translation of the verb - Pi'el affix 3ms from the root , to speak - as 'promised' here, following Saadiah Gaon and a number of the English translations (NLT, NRSV, NJPS) is supported by David Clines1 and underlines Ronald Clements' comment that "the gift of the Land is both a promise and a divine command to act."2 Patrick Miller points out that "Moshe reiterates the original command of G-d at Horeb (v. 8). The juxtaposition of land as gift and land to be taken appears again."3 This is also addressed by Walter Brueggemann, who writes, "The wording is worthy of note. Tradition knows that finally the land is not given, but is taken. The land of Israel is indeed willed and authorised by YHVH, but Israel must act. The verb 'take possession' signifies forceful military action."4 It is a gift, but in order to actualise the gift, Israel must take possession of it, must formally take it into its ownership and live in it, evicting or dispossessing those who are currently 'squatting' on the Land.
We notice that Avraham was told of the Land when he left Haran at the call of HaShem - "Go forth ... to the land that I will show you" (B'resheet 12:1, NJPS) - then promised it as an eternal possession: "Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever" (13:14-15, NJPS). Even though at that point Avraham - as one man - could not occupy the whole Land, he was told, "Up, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you" (v. 17, NJPS) to "walk the bounds" and demonstrate his future ownership through his descendants when they were numerous enough and strong enough to make that possible. That is why Peter Craigie comments that, "they were to take possession of the land in obedience to 'the command of the L-rd God of your fathers', a further reference to the continuity of their G-d and the G-d of the patriarchs."5 This is a family promise; He is the same G-d who makes and keeps all the promises. The Israelites about to enter the Land are to know that the G-d who spoke to Avraham is the same G-d who told Moshe to tell the people, "The L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz'khak, and the God of Ya'akov, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever" (Shemot 3:15, NJPS), and the same G-d who is about to guide them into the Land so that they take possession of their promised inheritance.
After each Israelite is enjoined to " Look! See!" the situation and the Land before them, they are told, " Go up! Take possession!" The text consist of just two short words - five letters - and no intervening conjunction. The two actions will take place at the same time, not one after the other or one as a result of the other. The Israelites will not take possession because they have gone up, but as or when they go up. The ascent into the Land will go hand in hand with taking possession. This, Jeffrey Tigay, explains, is "expressing by its brevity the intended ease of the conquest." OvadiahSforno adds that this should be straightforward, "for no man will stand before you." The L-rd has already given them the Land; He has promised it to them and is now about to make good on that promise. He will drive out the nations gradually before them and enable them to take possession. We know that the people of the Land are scared stiff of the Children of Israel - "all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you" (Joshua 2:9. ESV) - so much so that the men of Gibeon "took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes" (9:4-5, ESV) and lied about having come from a very far country in order to deceive the Israelites into making a covenant with them rather than be destroyed. This should be a walk in the park.
We could, perhaps, draw a parallel between Moshe's words and the time that Yeshua spent with the disciples after His resurrection. Luke tells us that, "He presented himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of G-d" (Acts 1:3, ESV). This might be similar to the book of D'varim and His assurance that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (v. 8, ESV), might correspond to our text. The disciples were personally prepared for their mission by Yeshua, would be anointed by the Spirit who would then lead them into the world as Yeshua's witnesses in the same way as the Israelites observance of Torah would be "proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, 'Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people'" (D'varim 4:6, NJPS). Echoing the words He had said to them at the Last Supper, Yeshua reminded the disciples that "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17-18, ESV). We see these things being done by Rav Sha'ul and the early church in the rest of the book of Acts as "they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs" (v. 20, ESV). Later, the writer to the Hebrews is still writing about the power of the preaching and testimony while "G-d also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will" (Hebrews 2:4, ESV).
Now, here is the thing for us today. Ask yourself this question: Has Yeshua withdrawn the Great Commission or has the Holy Spirit decided that heaven is now full? If the answer to either question is 'no' [Hint: I think that the answer to both questions is 'no'!] then we still have a job of work to do and the same commission that applied to the Israelites applies to us: Go up, take possession, as the L-rd your G-d promised your fathers. As we go, we make disciples - not because we have gone or arrived, but in the going - in our walk of life. Our Father has promised us the kingdom, as Yeshua explained: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32, ESV), but 'gift' and 'command' are intertwined. The kingdom is there, the fields are white for harvest, but the work still needs to be done to join up the dots and actualise the kingdom now. The inheritance still needs to be taken, picked up and possessed. This is your call, my call, our call. The promise is there, but will we hear that call and go up to take possession of it?
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 73.
2. - Ronald E. Clements, "Deuteronomy" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 872.
3. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 31.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 29.
5. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 101.
Further Study: Isaiah 40:9-11; Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Peter 5:1-4
Application: How could you move closer to realising the gift of the kingdom and taking possession of it for yourself, for those you love and those who are still at a distance? Can you go up and possess it for them and help to bring them into the fullness of the inheritance G-d has for them too?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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