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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:30 The L-rd your G-d, who is going before you, He will fight for you like everything that He did with you in Egypt before your eyes.
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Moshe is speaking to the Israelites, but we need to be a little bit careful about context so that we know exactly which Israelites are being addressed. Moshe is, in real time, speaking to the second generation of Israelites, gathered in the plains of Moab waiting to enter the Land at Jericho by crossing the Jordan river from east to west. This train of speech started in verse 6 and will go on for some time! However, he is at this point recounting the words that he originally spoke thirty eight years before to the Exodus generation at Kadesh Barnea. The 'you' and 'your' are therefore both true and both applied to that first generation of Israelites who had come out out of Egypt as adults. Perhaps Moshe's current audience hear the words as: "The L-rd your G-d, who was going before them, would have fought for them like everything that He did for them in Egypt before their eyes."
Only the oldest of the second generation, who were children at the time of the departure from Egypt, can actually remember whatHaShem did back then; all the children born during the thirty eight years of wilderness wanderings - many of whom, of course, are now adults and parents themselves - have no personal memory of it, but should have a strong social memory and shared narrative of the events that took place. At the same time, the second generation are the current instance or expression of the Children of Israel, so can also hear the words as Moshe speaks them, applying 'you' and 'your' to themselves. The Children of Israel have not changed; they are still HaShem's chosen people and can still be addressed as 'you'. It is the individual people making up that current expression of the Children of Israel who have changed - they died in the wilderness and have been replaced by their children.
Moreover, since the promises of G-d endure - they are faithful and true, as the Siddur likes to tell us - and are about to be put into practice by the current generation, there is a very real practical sense in which these same words apply directly to those hearing Moshe's words as if they were the original hearers. HaShem is about to fight for them as they enter the Land - the walls of Jericho will fall down before them - and the miracles of the conquest are no less miracles than the miracles of the exodus, which HaShem most certainly did before the eyes of His people! 'You' and 'your' remain true for corporate Israel forty years after they were first spoken.
Both the ancient and the classic Jewish commentators are almost silent about this verse, but the contemporary Jewish scholars are prepared to discuss it. Gunther Plaut starts with the comment that "in anticipation of the conquest, Moshe portrays G-d metaphorically as a warrior - implicitly a male image. That is, the Israelite troops should fight as if manifesting G-d's presence" and references the verse "every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the L-RD, until He has driven out His enemies from before Him" (B'Midbar 32:21, ESV). This makes it clear that although the Israelite army are the "boots on the ground", it is HaShem who fights, as Moshe told our people at the Sea of Reeds: "The L-RD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Shemot 14:14, ESV). Jeffrey Tigay explains that "the one who goes before you", the Qal ms participle from the root with a definite article, "refers to G-d's protective guidance of Israel on its journeys. The one who 'goes in front' is the vanguard (advance guard), protecting those who follow." We can see from later texts - "For you will not depart in haste, nor will you leave in flight; for the L-RD is marching before you, the God of Israel is your rear guard" (Isaiah 52:12, NJPS) and "Then shall your light burst through like the dawn and your healing spring up quickly; your Vindicator shall march before you, the Presence of the L-RD shall be your rear guard" (58:8, NJPS) - that the prophets saw HaShem as both front and rear guards, leading and protecting Israel both fore and aft.
Christian scholarship focuses on the last half of the verse: "like everything that He did with you in Egypt." The phrase , literally "like all that", acts as a pivot. Christopher Wright proposes that "one antidote to fear is a good memory. Moshe urges them to be unafraid in view of what they had already seen in their own recent past - G-d's victory over the Egyptians and G-d's parental care for them in the wilderness."1 We had two excellent and very current examples of what HaShem could do to inform our faith so that we might move in faith rather than fear. Walter Brueggemann suggests, "what happened then will happen again, now. This will be 'just as' that. The 'just as' (= "according to all") is parallel to the 'just as' of verse 3 ['Moses addressed the Israelites in accordance with the instructions that the LORD had given him' (NJPS)]. The Exodus, so far as this tradition is concerned, is not in doubt. It becomes the ground for trust in the future."2 Peter Craigie points out that this "was a lesson the Israelites should have learned already at the Exodus, for in the great hymn celebrating that event, they had extolled the L-rd as a Man of War: 'The L-RD is a man of war; the L-RD is His name' (Shemot 15:3, ESV3)."4
Why does Moshe use this story of nearly forty years ago at the beginning of his long, final oration to the Israelites before he dies and they go into the Promised Land? Perhaps he is trying to make sure that the second generation do not repeat the mistakes of the first. Tigay offers the idea that "Moshe's assurance is reminiscent of his words encouraging the people at the Sea of Reeds - 'Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the L-RD will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The L-RD will battle for you; you hold your peace!' (Shemot 14:13-14, NJPS) - and is a prototype for the priest's exhortation to the Israelite army before future wars: 'Hear, O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them. For it is the L-RD your G-d who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory' (D'varim 20:3-4, NJPS). Moshe reminds the people that their own experience demonstrates the L-rd's capacity to meet all their needs and that they are ignoring what their experience teaches." The people must remember their own experience of HaShem and act on that experience rather than forgetting all about it in the heat of the moment.
Mind you, it's an easy thing to do. Forget, that is. After Yeshua has done His second round of crowd-feeding (five thousand the first time, four thousand this), He and the disciples get into a boat and cross over the Kinneret. When they get to the other side, while Yeshua is fending off an attempt by the Pharisees and Sadducees to demand a sign to prove who He was, the disciples realise that they have forgotten to bring any bread with them. They would all have to go hungry. But Yeshua confuses them by warning them to "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6, ESV). "Oh no," they say to each other, "He's noticed that we forgot the bread. He doesn't want to go hungry either." I can imagine Yeshua rolling His eyes or putting His hand to His forehead. "Why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?" (vv. 8-11, ESV). It was only yesterday and already the disciples have forgotten. If Yeshua can feed four thousand from seven loaves of bread, then feeding Himself and the twelve is not going to be any trouble at all.
We stand, like the second generation of Israelites, in a rich tradition of story and narrative. We know the stories of Yeshua, of His birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. We've heard about David fighting Goliath, Elijah and the priests of Ba'al at Mt. Carmel, Jonah and the whale. We know that Yeshua fed the multitudes, raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the sick and cast out demons. Of course we do. We've heard that Yeshua promised to be with us "always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, ESV), to give us "a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict" (Luke 21:15, ESV) and to "raise [us] up on the last day" (John 6:40, ESV. Through our lives we have experienced the love and forgiveness of Yeshua, the prompting and guidance of the Ruach and the provision of the Father. Now, like the Israelites on the plains of Moab about to enter the Land, we are about to enter a time of great uncertainty, a time of challenge and possibly persecution - already visible in some parts of the world - leading to the return of Yeshua and the culmination of all things.
The question today is whether we will stand in faith, empowered by the Spirit, based upon the stories of of the Bible, nurtured by our tradition and enter into the promises that Yeshua has given us, or whether we will forget our faith and our experience of life in the kingdom of G-d. Will we proclaim the gospel - G-d's invitation to all to be reconciled to Him and become a part of His kingdom - or will we opt for personal autonomy and a private faith that tries not to offend the powers and authorities? Conflict is inevitable; society will not be appeased with a negative absence of criticism, it will insist on positive and public affirmation of its decisions and values in all and every sphere of life against what we know to be right and true. All true disciples of Yeshua, all those who worship the G-d of Israel, will eventually be backed into a corner and will have to decide whether their faith means more their lives. The words of our text will suddenly become our point of pivot, the fulcrum that brings great leverage to bear and the most powerful witness of Yeshua. Like the Israelites of old, we must follow the L-rd who goes before us, knowing that He is fighting for us, remembering and bearing witness to all that He has done with us in Egypt!
1. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 31.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 31.
3. - Here the ESV is closer to the Hebrew text: . Most other translations render it as "The L-rd is a warrior."
4. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 103.
Further Study: Isaiah 41:10-14; Hebrews 12:12-14; 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Application: Are you confident that G-d is in the vanguard of your life, leading you and fighting for you? How can you follow Him more closely, joining in whatever He is doing and staying within the shelter of His hand? Ask Him to draw you into closer contact today and equip you to stand firm and unwavering in the days to come.
Comment - 13:25 19Jul20 Lucienne: I am really challenged by the Lord this week about my courage and witness. I was reading Romans 16 this morning in the Passion Translation, together with all the notes at the bottom of the pages about the courage, witness and ministry of the early church believers, both men and women of God. I felt really challenged to choose greater courage and willingness to walk God's deeper path with Him. I think God is calling us all to step up to the plate to bat, how well we "bat" is up to us of course. With His help and presence, my "batting average" will improve and become more second nature. I love talking about the Lord to people, but feel it can still take me a step of courage in order to do so. It's much better if it's spontaneous, if I think about it I tend to "bottle out" ..... More compassionate love for the lost and spiritually impoverished in the Body of Christ needed to spur me on, I think.
Comment - 13:28 19Jul20 Glenn: An excellent and apt commentary!
Comment - 13:54 19Jul20 Edward Bishop Sr: When the enemy, full of hatred, screaming obscenities, threatening our lives and the lives of our families, who can stand against them? Only the God who has chosen us for the battle. But, we need to remember Who our Leader is for the battle is His.
Comment - 10:27 20Jul20 Judith Chesney: Good to be reminded that Moses was speaking to those who had not come out from the Egyptian rule. I have to say I remember the day I came out of Egypt. Yes indeed we do see through a glass darkly but soon face to face. What will it be? Glorious!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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