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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:20 I will hide my face from them; I will see what is their end
Our Hebrew text contains two verbs in the first person, 'I'; these are words spoken byHaShem as part of the song that He has Moshe teach the whole people of Israel. The song is intended to be a rebuke and a challenge to the people in the future when they have turned away from HaShem and provoked Him to anger. The first, - the Hif'il prefix 1cs form of the root , to hide or conceal oneself - conveys the sense that HaShem will cause His face to be hidden from the people; the second, - the Qal prefix 1cs form of the root , to look or see - is a consequence of the first, almost with an implied 'then' between the clauses. Since, as Targum Onkelos points out by replacing the first phrase with "I will take away My Shekhinah from among them", HaShem doesn't really have a physical face in human form, the commentators explain this idea in a number of ways.
Working from the first phrase,Nachmanides tells us that "this expression is according to the language of man; so also: 'I will hide my eyes from you' (Isaiah 1:15, ESV). And the meaning is that when they will seek me they will not find me." He adds that "'I will hide my face' means that I will remove My divine presence". Saadia Gaon changes 'face' to 'mercy': I will hide My mercy. Gunter Plaut says that "instead of showing compassion, the Torah says, the Eternal will hide when Israel sins; that is, G-d will be impervious to Israel's suffering and its cries for help." Jeffrey Tigay notes that "'hide My face' means to withdraw My favour and protection, abandon them and ignore their pleas for help." He explains that "G-d's face is His attentive presence as in the priestly blessing (when G-d's face is invoked over Israel)." This can therefore be seen as a reversal of the Aharonic benediction - "The L-RD bless you and keep you; the L-RD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the L-RD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace" (B'Midbar 6:24-26, ESV). Tigay again: "When G-d hides His countenance, Israel is exposed and unprotected." With the second phrase, Rashi comments that "what is their end" should be translated "what will happen to them at their end"; 'end' refers not to place, but to time: what their ending will be.
Other commentators link the two phrases together.Ibn Ezra says simply, "I will hide my face until I see what they will do in their distress", while Hirsch offers a more nuanced interpretation: "they think they can do without Me and my support; so let them experience where they will get without Me; I will no longer let my special care for them be apparent to them." Drazin and Wagner point out that Onkelos replaces "I will see", future tense, with the present tense "it is revealed" because G-d is outside time so already knows what is in the human future. Tigay takes this one step further, claiming that "G-d's words are ironic, since He intends to determine the outcome Himself."
Richard Elliot Friedman makes two points that lift the text into our world today. He starts with the comment that "'the hiding of the face' became a known idiom in rabbinic literature. G-d does not speak or appear in Ezra or Nehemiah and is never mentioned in Esther. Humans are left not knowing if God even exists. The Tanakh tells a story that moves from a world of direct communication, to the world we know today, in which the existence of G-d is a matter of faith, doubt or search." In an attempt to counter this proposal the Talmud asks "Where is Esther indicated in the Torah?" (b. Chullin 139b), but then has to answer the question using the parallel verse to our text, "I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods" (D'varim 31:18, JPS) where the word , "I will hide" is considered equivalent to the name word , Esther. Nevertheless, it is the experience of many that G-d is not seen or revealed in every day life today in the same way as the Bible relates that He was in its day. Even Rav Sha'ul says that "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV). Many seek the supernatural in a variety of ways, legitimate and otherwise: meditation, study, drug induced states, incantations and spells, seances and mediums. Within the Christian world there is a following after spiritual gifts and expressions, with people moving from church to church looking for something 'lively' that will stimulate their faith. The prophet Amos spoke of these days when he said, "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the L-rd G-D, 'when I will send a famine on the land -- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the L-RD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the L-RD, but they shall not find it'" (Amos 8:11-12, ESV). Yeshua spoke of the people in His time: "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah" (Luke 11:29, ESV), rebuking them for their lack of faith but insistence on seeing a predictable and repeatable sign or miracle that they could turn on or off as they chose, seeking to be in the position of controlling G-d rather than submitting to Him.
Friedman's second point is a poignant appeal from the world of child psychology, from the knowledge we have today about a child's-eye view of parental divorce, absentee parents, latch-key kids or being "home alone"; the trauma that even the youngest children can experience of separation anxiety and abandonment - trauma that can take a lifetime to overcome. Friedman writes: "These words predict a time in which G-d will be hidden. It is more frightening that divine punishment: It is one thing for a parent to punish a child; it is far worse if the parent becomes hidden from the child, so the child does not know if the parent is present of nor. The child feels vulnerable, unprotected. The child cries for the parent, but there is no answer. It is terrifying." Perhaps Friedman over-eggs the pudding a little here in suggesting that a whole nation will be terrified because G-d is not seen or felt to be present. On the other hand, much teenage behaviour of pushing boundaries in little acts of disobedience and rebellion is often a way of trying to find out if there is anyone there who cares enough to say (and enforce) 'no'. The behaviour of many modern nations exhibits exactly that trend as "the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel" (2 Corinthians 4:4, NASB). Charles Haddon Spurgeon comments that "unconverted men often run to wrong means in order to escape from difficulties and you are sure to do the same if your mind yields to present pressure."1
This should not be so in the case of believers. We have firm promises that we will not be abandoned by Yeshua. As He was leaving them, He told the disciples, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, ESV); at the Last Supper He said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18, ESV). Earlier in His ministry, speaking of smaller groups He said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20, ESV). The writer to the Hebrews assures us that, "He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Hebrews 13;5, ESV)), citing both Moshe's words to Israel, "the L-RD your G-d Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you" (D'varim 31:6, JPS), and G-d's words to Joshua "As I was with Moshe, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you" (Joshua 1:5, JPS). The Holy Spirit shows how those words - even though originally spoken in a different context - were re-applied to the believers in the first century and can be for us today.
Rav Sha'ul, then, can write about the circumstances of himself and his party of evangelists and fellow workers as they travelled through the Roman world, sharing the good news about Yeshua: "We have all kinds of troubles, but we are not crushed; we are perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, yet not abandoned; knocked down, yet not destroyed. We always carry in our bodies the dying of Yeshua, so that the life of Yeshua may be manifested in our bodies too" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, CJB). The presence of Yeshua in their lives is so strong that they are bold to go anywhere, do anything and speak for Yeshua. Sha'ul tells Timothy, "But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (2 Timothy 4:17, NASB), to share his testimony and to encourage Timothy to be strong in his own witness and faith. He told another church that, "it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me" (Galatians 2:20, NASB). This is the testimony of the Bible and the church through the ages. When we call, He is there!
1. - Morning and Evening, Morning, September 10th
Further Study: D'varim 31:16-19; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Do you feel that G-d has hidden His face from you today? Then call Him on
His promises; reach out to Yeshua through all the difficulties and messiness
of your circumstances and He will prove the truth of His words afresh to you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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.