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D'varim/Deuteronomy 11:10 For the Land to where you are entering ... is not like the land of Egypt.
At first sight, this statement seems quite redundant; Israel is clearly different from Egypt. The former has mountains and hill country, while the latter is often flat; Egypt is watered each year by the flooding of the Nile while Israel has no such water resources; Egypt has (and had in those days) extensive irrigation systems making large scale agriculture possible, while Israel has only become a major agricultural producer in the last hundred years. The climate, the terrain, the people, the languages - all of these are different. So what is the text trying to tell us? The rest of verse 10 and verse 11 concentrate on the water and agricultural issues, followed in verse 12 by the key determinant: "It is a land Adonai your G-d cares for. The eyes of Adonai your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" (D'varim 11:12, CJB).
Rashi suggests that Moshe was making this comment to encourage the people before they entered the Land. Those to whom he was speaking either had vague memories of leaving Egypt as children (forty years ago) or had been born in the desert, only hearing of Egypt from their families. After years in the desert, Egypt may have sounded - despite the slavery and forced labour - like a paradise. Moshe is here encouraging the people that however well their memories or the stories they had heard painted Egypt, Israel was different; the Land of Israel was better. More than different, Moshe describes the Land as being a different class or species of land; the most significant point of difference is that HaShem's eye is upon the Land and He cares for it. Instead of manual labour to work the irrigation pumps and channel the water to the crops, rain - from heaven, of course - naturally falls, enabling agriculture in the mountains and hills where the irrigation technology of the day could not possibly have worked. This therefore places a particular dependency upon the Israelites that does not apply to the Egyptians whose Nile river seems to flood each year regardless of their conduct: if the Israelites are to have the rain when it is needed, they must stay in relationship with HaShem and serve Him faithfully.
Jeffrey Tigay comments that "the dependence of the land on G-d for irrigation is both an advantage and disadvantage, and the rabbis discussed whether the text meant to praise the land or denigrate it. In the end they decided that the passage is one of praise but, asRashbam observed, 'This land is better than Egypt and all other lands to those who observe G-d's commands, but worse than all other lands to those who do not observe them.'" The hills and valleys of Israel could not be irrigated by human means but were dependent on the rain - the early rain, which starts in October and November and increases through the winter to February, and the late rain which falls in April or early May. The very geology and climate of the Land makes it an ideal schoolroom for teaching faith and dependence on G-d since that dependence is at the same time so obvious and so instant - one season makes the point.
The book of Kings documents that many of the kings of Israel and Judah fell woefully short of the standards that G-d had laid out for His people. In particular, it records the for reign of Ahab, son of Omri, who was king of Israel for twenty two years, that: "Ahab did more to provoke the L-rd, the G-d of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him" (1 Kings 16:33, ESV). Elijah the Tishbite was sent to say to Ahab, "As the L-rd the G-d of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (17:1, ESV). After three years, "the famine was severe in Samaria" (18:2, ESV), so that Ahab said to his steward: "Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals" (18:5, CJB). After the contest on Mt. Carmel, Elijah then tells Ahab, "'Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.' And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind and there was a great rain" (18:44-45, ESV). G-d is portrayed not only as the one who has authority to give and withhold rain, but as the one who uses that authority to discipline the people and make them aware that their behaviour and disobedience is a breach of their covenant with G-d.
At the same time as the rain is used as a tool by G-d in discipling His people, the Land itself still remains unconditionally different from the land of Egypt. It is still the place where G-d's favour rests. The prophet Zechariah hears one angel tell another, "Run, speak to that young man, saying, 'Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls, because of the multitude of men and cattle within it. For I,' declares the L-RD, 'will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst'" (Zechariah 2:4-5, NASB). "And the L-RD will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem" (Zechariah 2:12, NASB). A different spiritual climate exists in Israel, so that the Bible not only talks about Yeshua and the disciples "going up to Jerusalem" (Mark 10:32), but the nations will "go up" to worship G-d in the last days (Zechariah 14:16) and in the opposite direction, when Jonah flees from the presence of the L-rd he "goes down" to Joppa, finds a ship going to Tarshish and "goes down" (Jonah 1:3) into it. In modern Hebrew, the process of gaining citizenship and going to live in the Land of Israel is described as aliyah; those who have done so are known as - olim, those who have come up, while those from Israel who choose to live elsewhere in the world are the - yordim, those who have gone down. The rabbis speak of Eretz Yisrael - the Land of Israel - as having a higher level of holiness.
Yeshua tells the disciples that "[G-d] makes His sun shine on good and bad people alike, and He sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike" (Matthew 5:45, CJB) and Rav Sha'ul tells the men of Lystra that "[G-d] did not leave himself without evidence of his nature; because he does good things, giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, filling you with food and your hearts with happiness!" (Acts 14:17, CJB), because G-d's love for and covenant with all of mankind is unconditional: "So long as the earth exists, sowing time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease" (B'resheet 8:22, CJB). Nevertheless, just as Israel is different from Egypt, the Kingdom of G-d is different from the kingdoms of the world. Different standards and rules for living apply to those who belong to the Kingdom of G-d; G-d requires this from those who belong to Him and will live with Him for ever, in order to show the Kingdom to others. Rav Sha'ul drew up several lists of the differences between kingdom and worldly behaviour; those who exhibit the worldly behaviour show themselves not to be a part of the Kingdom and "those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of G-d" (Galatians 5:21, NASB). We are called to a higher level of holiness.
Yeshua explains to His talmidim that although they are in the world, because while still living, they are a physical part of this world, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16, NASB). Indeed, their relationship with the world is always to be in friction: "the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (v. 14, NASB); the world can tell the difference between those who belong to the Kingdom and those of its own who do not. The world discriminates against those who belong to the Kingdom; ultimately, it rejects the Kingdom, its authority and its people. We need to know that attempts to merge into the world around us are bound to fail. Either we will still be sufficiently recognisable that the compromises and damage that we do to ourselves in the process are completely wasted because we will still attract the world's displeasure, or we will submerge so much that our faith will die and we will fall away from the Kingdom. In either case, the world will despise us for not having the courage of our convictions. To please the King - our first and only objective - we must stand firm and refuse to deviate from G-d's word and standards; paraphrasing our text somewhat: for the Kingdom of Heaven, which you are entering ... is not like the kingdom of the devil and this world!
Further Study: Isaiah 58:11-12; Acts 17:26-27; Revelation 3:15-19
Application: Are you living up to Kingdom standards, or have you compromised in an effort to blend with the world around you? Are you being attacked simply because you carry the name of G-d, or do you also feel the world's scorn and derision for being half-hearted as well? Now is the time to nail your colours to the mast and uncompromisingly proclaim your allegiance to the King - all the resources of heaven are then at your call.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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