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D'varim/Deuteronomy 11:7 But your eyes are the ones seeing all the great work of the L-rd that He has done.
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Our text starts with the particle , proposed by Gesenius1 to be a relative pronoun like - "that, which, who, what" - that appears as the penultimate word in the verse. Although it is often used to introduce a subordinate clause - with meanings such as "for, that, because, when" - it can also start complete sentences. There, its meanings overlap with the adverb - "only, surely, certainly, except" - or it can be coupled with , free-standing as 'if', to convey the idea "since, unless, except, nevertheless". Here in this verse, theRashbam selects 'rather', while the Sforno prefers 'because'. Our translation adopts the adversative 'but' to signal the distinction that is being made in the flow of Moshe's argument.
In the first nine verses of chapter 11 - the second half of the fifth aliyah - Moshe is talking to the current generation of Israelites, the ones who are about to enter and take possession of the Land of Israel. It is critical, he says, that they are serious and consistent about keeping the commandments ofHaShem. Then he points out that their children, the next generation, haven't seen the marvellous acts that HaShem has been doing to bring His people to this point: the plagues in Egypt (v. 3) and the defeat of the Egyptian army in the Reed Sea (v. 4). Neither have they seen the way that HaShem provided for the Israelites through forty years in the desert (v. 5), or disciplined those who rebelled again Him (v. 6). Rabbi Hirsch comments that "the establishment of Israel as the People of the Torah of G-d is one great act of G-d, of which the events mentioned formed just single factors."
Moshe then pivots his argument with our text, manoeuvering adroitly from "your children haven't ..." (vv. 3-6) to "therefore you shall ..." (vv. 8-9) via "BUT you have ..." (v. 7). It is because you have seen all these things, either being children at the time of the Exodus from Egypt or being born and growing up in the wilderness years among the exit generation, that you must be careful to keep all HaShem's commandments "so that you may have the strength to enter and take possession of the land that you are about to cross into and possess, and that you may long endure upon the soil that the L-RD swore to your fathers to assign to them and to their heirs, a land flowing with milk and honey" (D'varim 11:8-9. NJPS). Without that kernel of obedience and attention to detail, the people won't be able to take possession of the Land, or won't be able to endure in the Land for generations. The subsequent historical narrative (Joshua - 2 Kings) shows us that Moshe was right; that is exactly what did happen: the people did not consistently obey HaShem and were eventually exiled from the Land to Babylon.
Ovadiah Sforno explains that it is precisely because the current generation has seen and experienced G-d's mighty hand at work and the next generation has not, that "it is (incumbent) upon you to caution the children who did not see all this" in the ways of obedience by modelling it for them in their own conduct and practice. Drazin and Wagner expand the Sforno's words to read, "because you witnessed what happens to those who rebel against G-d, you must warn your descendants, who did not have these experiences, and may not understand the consequences of rebellion." Jeffrey Tigay agrees: "Here Moshe drives home the lesson: this generation has seen what happens to those who thwart G-d. The people should therefore realise that obedience to G-d's commands is the precondition for conquering the promised land and remaining in it."
Before leaving the Hebrew text, let's take note of another significant word choice that Moshe has made. After , the next word is , your eyes. "You have seen this for yourselves with your very own eyes," Moshe reminds the people, "this is a first-hand experience, not a second-hand story." The third word in the verse is , the definite article and the Qal mp participle from the root , to see: literally, the ones seeing. The participle form denotes ongoing action, not a past-tense completed event as most of the English translations suggest; the 'seeing' is still going on. Only a matter of weeks ago, the Israelites have finished defeating the Midianites in battle without a single loss, then Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. This is a current experience and it will continue when Joshua leads the people over the Jordan to take Jericho and start to possess the Land. This generation are still seeing the hand of HaShem at work!
Walter Brueggemann writes that "reference to the Exodus is not memory of a past event. It directly concerns the present generation: 'It is you! ... Your eyes have seen'"2 or as we should correct him, "Your eyes are seeing." This means - as Moshe is going to point out when he formally renews the covenant with the current generation in parashat Nitzavim (chapter 29) - "this generation must decide for the G-d of the Exodus." What is this all about? Christopher Wright explains: "The purpose is to impress on this generation of Israelites that it is their responsibility to obey Yahweh here and now, neither relying on the obedience of previous generations nor passing off the responsibility to the next generation. Each generation has a continuity and solidarity with previous generations in covenantal obligation, but at the same time each generation must make its own response and take the consequences."3 So, as Patrick Miller observes, "Moshe calls for a verdict by the people; their choice will determine what the future holds for them."4
In essence, this same strategy underlies Elijah's confrontation with the priests of Ba'al at Mt. Carmel. After years of syncretism, with the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, being drawn into the worship of Ba'al and Asherah - the biblical narrative here is confirmed by the archaeological record - HaShem instructs Elijah to set up a situation where the matter can be settled. Elijah has King Ahaz gather the people and all the priests of Ba'al and Asherah on Mt. Carmel and when everyone is assembled, he proposes a contest to see which of the deities is real: HaShem or Ba'al. But see how the conversation starts: "Elijah approached all the people and said, 'How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the L-RD is G-d, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!' But the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21, NJPS). The people are silent because this is a decision they are reluctant to take. They don't want to formally reject either and are already worried that a decision is about to be forced upon them. As long as they haven't seen - and this is now many generations away from the Exodus - with their own eyes, then they don't have to do anything about it. They can claim the matter is still ambiguous or unclear.
Elijah then defines the contest between HaShem and Ba'al. How will they know who is to be followed? "[Then Elijah said to the people,] 'You will then invoke your god by name, and I will invoke the L-RD by name; and let us agree: the god who responds with fire, that one is G-d.' And all the people answered, 'Very good!'" (v. 24, NJPS). The stage is set. Why did the people who were so silent now agree so readily? The people agree because they have never seen this happen before. In all their experience, neither Ba'al or HaShem has ever done this. They are safe. There will be a bit of a shindig, lots of shrieking and wailing and nothing will happen. The matter will remain ambiguous and everything can carry on as it did before; business as usual.
Now cut to the end of the scene. Elijah calls down the fire of G-d to consume the water-drenched sacrifice, saying, "O L-RD, G-d of Avraham, Yitz'khak, and Yisra'el! Let it be known today that You are G-d in Israel ... Answer me, O L-RD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O L-RD, are G-d" (vv. 36-37, NJPS). For what is he really asking? For the fire of heaven to descend upon the offering? Yes, of course, that was to be the way the contest was decided. But more importantly, Elijah is asking, "Give the people a sign that they can see, in real time, with their own eyes," because then they will have to do something about it; then they will have to take a decision. The fire fell, consuming everything in sight and more. "When they saw this, all the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out: 'The L-RD alone is G-d, The L-RD alone is G-d!'" (v. 39, NJPS).
The gospels record that Yeshua presented hundreds of signs to the people, together with the simple message, "Turn from your sins to G-d, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" (Matthew 4:17, CJB). How was the kingdom of heaven at hand? The miracles of healing, exorcism, feeding the people and raising the dead to life demonstrated the kingdom in clear and unambiguous ways, right there in front of people. Their eyes saw and they believed. At the cross, Mark records that when the centurion "saw the way he gave up his spirit, he said, 'This man really was a son of God!'" (Mark 15:39, CJB); he saw and believed. Some of the Pharisees, on the other hand, saw the miracles and plotted to kill Yeshua; they were challenged by what they saw and decided against Him. Today, we read the gospels and, through the eyes of the disciples, see the kingdom breaking through right in front of us. This means we have to make a decision; this shapes our future. One way or the other, no more business as usual.
After the resurrection, Thomas wasn't with the other disciples when Yeshua appeared to them. He insisted, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into the place where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe it" (John 20:25, CJB). He needed to see; that was the way his mind worked. One week later, Yeshua made that good for him: "Put your finger here, look at my hands, take your hand and put it into my side. Don't be lacking in trust, but have trust!" (v. 27, CJB). Yeshua didn't rebuke him for needing a sign, but commented how blessed are "those who do not see, but trust anyway!" (v. 29, CJB). Whether you can 'see' G-d's revelation of Yeshua through the words and writings of others, or whether you need to meet Yeshua for yourself, He will make sure that you get what you need to follow and obey Him. We must have a clear and unambiguous vision of Yeshua to stand for Him in these days, to be able to speak for Him and offer a witness to not only who He is and what He has done in the past, but what He is doing in our lives. Just like the ancient Israelites, our lives depend on it!
1. - Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, known simply as Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842) was a German biblical scholar and critic who prepared one of the 'landmark' Biblical Hebrew grammars still referenced today. Edited and enlarged by Professor E. Kautzsch (until the 28th edition, in 1909) and translated into English by A. E. Cowley, the grammar is referred to as 'GKC'.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), pages 135-136.
3. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 153.
4. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 128.
Further Study: Luke 24:36-42; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11
Application: Have you seen all the great and awesome things that Yeshua is doing, right in front of our eyes each day? Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your vision and open your eyes so that you can see clearly and follow in the Master's footsteps to be a part of His revelation to others.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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