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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:18 You ignored the rock who bore you and you forgot the G-d who fathered you.
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This verse is positively replete with verbs: only two out of the six words are not verbs. The first, is a straightforward Qal affix 3ms form of the root , to bear or give birth to, with a 2ms object suffix: he bore you. The second - - gives the commentators a little exercise as the final letter is written much smaller than usual. Without it, the verb parses as a Qal prefix 2ms form, although the root is unclear; Davidson suggests , while Holladay prefers , both roots being cognate and derived from an Arabic word meaning "to forget, ignore or neglect". The analysis is made more difficult, as this word is ahapax legomenon in the Hebrew Scriptures. In either case, although a prefix form would normally be translated in the future or present tense, most translations render it in the past tense to fit the context of the surrounding verses. Both the Septuagint () and the Vulgate (dereliquisti) employ the past tense. The third verb - - is a Qal prefix 2ms form from the root with a vav-conversive construction, "and you forgot"; the fourth - - is a Polel participle from the root , to be in labour, to give birth. Once again, although participles are usually translated in a present tense, most translations render this in the past tense.
Interestingly, both the "ignore" and "fathering" verbs usually translated as past action could have a present or on-going sense, giving a reading such as "You are ignoring the rock who bore you and you have forgotten the G-d who is fathering you".Hirsch uses this to comment, "You forgot G-d, even while He was in the process of begetting you, i.e. even before you had reached the goal of becoming an independent nation, e.g. in the wilderness, while you were on the way." The Sforno stresses that G-d was good to His people all that time and connects the text with "I, I am He who comforts you! ... You have forgotten the L-RD your Maker, who stretched out the skies and made firm the earth!" (Isaiah 51:12-13, JPS). Plaut prefers the last tense and translates the last word "laboured to bring you forth", before explaining, "laboured - in travail, like a mother. The same feminine imagery is evoked also in Psalm 90:2 'Before you laboured to bring forth the earth and the world'".
Targum Onkelos's concern about texts that appear to connect G-d with human actions or attributes forces a larger change than usual in this verse. Onkelos produces, "The fear of the Mighty One who created you, you forgot; you have forsaken the worship of the G-d who made you." The phrases "the fear of" and "the worship of" are introduced to preclude the thought that people could forget G-d; instead they forget to fear and worship Him properly. (Drazin and Wagner. The Dubno Maggid suggests an interesting homily in his translation: "The Rock enabled you to be born, with the power of forgetfulness (as a blessing, since who would be able to bear the pain of horrible memories that would be impossible to erase from one's mind), and you used the blessing that G-d gave you to forget the G-d who gave birth to you.
The two birthing verbs are most often used of women - mothers - bearing and giving birth to their children. is used in the Hif'il stem in genealogies: the father caused the birth of his son - "When Seth had lived 105 years, he begot Enosh" (B'resheet 5:6, JPS). So the song that Moshe is teaching the Israelites turns directly to them and exclaims that they are guilty of the most unnatural behaviour, forgetting their own parent (Tigay). The prophet will later paint the exact reserve image: "Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you" (Isaiah 49:15, JPS). Even a mother could forget her child, or Israel might forget G-d, He will never forget them.
There are a number of theories as to why we forget. One of these is known as encoding failure; another is decay theory. While these two theories alone do not provide a complete picture of how our minds work, it is interesting to see that Scripture specifically addresses both of them. Encoding failure is part of the wider "failure to store" problem. It means that a set of information, data or feelings never made it into long term storage either because it wasn't considered significant enough (What did you have for lunch last Tuesday anyway?) or because it wasn't recorded in enough detail - we simply weren't paying attention. That is why the writer to the Hebrews says this: "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1, ESV). Drifting away is as much a problem now as it was two thousand years ago. He goes on by asking, "since every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (vv. 2-3, ESV). This is important: neglecting the message of salvation, by not remembering it, by not acting on it, lays us open to retribution. Ouch - I don't want to go there, so wake up and pay attention. G-d made sure the message was and is still delivered in every way: "It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 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" (vv. 3-4, ESV); so the failure to receive and act upon it must be ours: encoding failure - we didn't think it was important or didn't pay enough attention.
Decay theory, on the other hand, suggests that memories are stored in memory traces, created when the original event happened, words were spoken, feeling or emotion occurred. Over time, the theory says, unless the memory is revisited, rehearsed or retrieved, the trace gradually fades or dims so that it becomes lost. Memory traces that are originally laid down firmly and that are then regular reviewed and perhaps reinforced, are more likely to remain clear and available. Rav Sha'ul spoke to Timothy about this: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:14-16, ESV). By persistent practice and careful rehearsal, Timothy will not only keep the message fresh in his own mind, but he will be able to share and communicate it clearly to others. A strong and positive initial event is regularly refreshed so stays available.
Peter also writes about the same issue: "This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles" (2 Peter 3:1-2, ESV). Not content with one letter to remind them, he writes a second to stir their minds and refresh their memories of the stories and commands passed down from Yeshua through the eye-witnesses. Why is this important? He goes on: "Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation'" (vv. 3-4, ESV). If we do not keep the memories fresh and clear in our minds, we may struggle to brush off the lies, half-truths and doubts spread by the enemy in our days.
Liturgy, such as the Apostles Creed, and shared public reading of Scripture are important ways of remembering and refreshing our memories of the Gospel stories, the truths of our salvation and who we are in Messiah. A hospital chaplain once told me that even if patients were sufficiently close to death that they had stopped speaking, many would still respond to and join in with saying the L-rd's Prayer before lapsing back into silence. We need to pay attention to the message that G-d shares with us; that we not only remember it, but remember it accurately and that we revisit or rehearse it frequently enough so that it becomes a part of our life, both to encourage and sustain us when we are in need.
Further Study: Luke 1:1-4; Acts 20:28-32; Jude 17-21
Is your relationship with G-d based on a vibrant and well-rehearsed
knowledge of His word and truth, or do you skim along the edge and hope for
the best when the crunch comes? Make sure that you are up to the challenge
and don't get swept away.
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.