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D'varim/Deuteronomy 2:31 "See! I have begun to give before you Sichon and his land. Begin! Take possession to take possession of his land!"
The Hebrew text for this verse contains interesting repetitions and reflections that give extra meaning to the words themselves. G-d's words are split into two pieces: a statement about His actions and a command for the Israelites to act. The verb , used in the Hifil stem to mean "begin" is used in both halves: - Hifil, Affix, 1cs, I have begun -HaShem has initiated the action by declaring the legal change of status; - Hifil, Imperative, ms, Begin! - Israel is to follow G-d's lead and begin the physical conquest. and are both forms of the verb - to take possession of or to drive out - and are used together - the first an imperative, the second an infinitive - to intensify the sense of action. Often translated as "you shall surely" or "you shall certainly", the construction provides purpose for the action: Israel is not just taking possession of the land on a whim because they are passing through, they are taking possession of it so that they should take or even hold it as a possession.
Comparing the actions in the two halves of the speech, the word is an infinitive form from the root - to give, appoint or set - showing that HaShem has given the land of Sichon to Israel, or perhaps more graphically, He has set it out before them. Israel, on the other hand, has to accept the gift, they have to take possession of it to make it theirs. Although "begin" appears in both halves, G-d's actions clearly precede Israel's: He has begun so that they can begin; they could not begin their part if He had not already begun His.Rashi, in a typical piece of aggadah, demonstrates this by his comment: "I have begun: He tied up the heavenly ministering angel of the Amorites beneath the feet of Moshe." G-d's action in the spiritual or heavenly realm enables the Israelite action in the physical realm.
Jeffrey Tigay points six verses back - "This day I begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under heaven, so that they shall tremble and quake because of you whenever they hear you mentioned" (v. 25, JPS) - and comments that "With the victory over Sihon, G-d would begin causing other peoples to fear Israel, as happened earlier when they crossed the sea." He sees the battles with the Amorite kings east of the Jordan not just as victories in their own right but as strategic steps softening the resolve of and demoralising the peoples in the Land west of the Jordan. We know that this was effective since when Joshua sent spies into Jericho they were told, "I know that the L-RD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the L-RD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the L-RD your G-d, He is G-d in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:9-11, NASB). G-d has prepared the ground before the people and made a way for them to enter and take the Land.
Hirsch makes an important point: "begin taking possession by taking possession". In the immediate context, this means, "Begin taking possession of the Land by taking possession of the land of Sihon", but the principle is much larger. While preparation was certainly required for the conquest of the Land, such as counting, organising and training the fighting men, Israel could not actually begin taking the Land until they actually took the first part. Whatever action we are called to take, there is no way to actually begin taking that action without doing the first part of it. Our people couldn't cross the Jordan to enter the Land without putting their feet into the water.
Yeshua came to proclaim the Kingdom of G-d among our people, to show signs and wonders to confirm His words and to defeat the powers of darkness as He paid the price for our sin on the stake. The Kingdom of G-d, as He said, "is among you" (Luke 17:21, CJB); it is a present reality. The enemy has been defeated. We are awaiting Yeshua's return to usher in the messianic age and rule all the kingdoms of the world from Jerusalem. This is the hope that we have, based upon the certainty of past events. As the writer to the Hebrews said: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, NASB). The things that are yet to come are as certain to us as the things that have already happened because G-d has said that He will do them and has laid out the signs and portents by which we may recognise the culmination of the ages approaching. Yeshua again: "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest" (John 4:35, NASB). As we see the world around us, the searching and emptiness, and the openness that young people are showing to the gospel at this time, we should recognise the harvest that G-d has already prepared and is calling us to gather.
Rav Sha'ul encouraged the early believers to continue with their work and their calling to bring in the harvest in their day by assuring them that it is G-d Himself who makes things happen. "And I am sure of this: that the One who began a good work among you will keep it growing until it is completed on the Day of the Messiah Yeshua" (Philippians 1:6, CJB); G-d had started His work among them and it was G-d who would finish that work. His words are echoed by Rabbi Tarfon who said, "You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it" (m. Pirkei Avot 2:21). Each generation has their own work, their own task to do to build the Kingdom. Because it is G-d who is doing the larger work, the results are certain, the final end is guaranteed. Sha'ul could write: "With this in view, we always pray for you that our G-d may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill by his power every good purpose of yours and every action stemming from your trust" (2 Thessalonians 1:11, CJB). G-d is working His purposes out, He is fulfilling His calling within us and He will bring it to completion. "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the L-RD, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14, NASB)! He has begun, now we need not only to begin but to persist and endure so that the ground that the L-rd has already prepared and caused other generations to plough and seed may bring in the harvest that the L-rd already sees.
Further Study: 2 Kings 6:15-17; Philippians 1:9-11
Application: Have you already begun, or are you still waiting on the starting block? Whilst every individual ministry has its own starting and ending points, the overall growth of the kingdom is unstoppable and we should all be fully engaged with its work. Ask G-d today to show you where to begin and get stuck in!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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