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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:36 For the L-rd will judge His people and will have compassion on His servants
These words come near to the end of the song that Moshe and Joshua were commanded to teach the Children of Israel. It comes after a number of verses describing the condition of the nations and the treatment that will be meted out to them because of the way in which they have treated Israel. These verses are always read in the season of the High Holy Days, on the weekly shabbat before or after Yom Kippur, when the Jewish people are or have been quite tightly focused on the theme of judgement and how it can be averted. How can it be thatHaShem will judge His people, but have compassion on His servants? What does that means for us, as followers of Messiah Yeshua?
The classic commentators discuss the meanings of the two verbs in the text. The first, is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root . Davidson gives a range of meanings: to rule or govern; to judge; to plead or defend a cause; to judge or punish; to content or strive with someone. From it come nouns meaning (a) judge, judgement, tribunal or court. But the action of judging can be seen from two opposite directions: judging in someone's favour or judging against them.Rashi, for example, says that this phrase means that "He will execute judgement against them", while Rabbi Hirsch says that " means in general: to enforce the law in a given case, hence quite specifically: to take up the case of a person whose rights have been infringed." Hirsch sees the covenant in the background, explaining that "however much they have sinned, Israel remains G-d's people. G-d will 'go to law' about the treatment which His people have found amongst the nations of the world." Jeffrey Tigay follows the NJPS translation - 'vindicate' and explains that 'judge' here means "judge in favour of' Israel", not "give judgement against", adding that "this explanation agrees with the way the verse is used in Psalm 135:14 which quotes it." The Rashbam agrees, also quoting the Psalmist: "'The L-rd will vindicate His people' - Then there will be vengeance and recompense, for the Holy One will avenge His people: 'He works judgement upon the nations, heaping up bodies' (Psalm 110:6, JPS)."
Don IsaacAbravanel (translated by Michael Carasik) sees a rather larger picture: "The L-rd will judge His people" has four meanings: (1) judge and convict them; (2) judge that they have suffered enough; (3) vindicate them by wreaking vengeance on the nations; and (4) resurrect them at the end of time for the Day of Judgement for the final redemption. Although this would not have been in his mind, Abravanel's second point touches upon Yeshua's comments about a coming time of trial: "unless the L-rd had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days" (Mark 13:20, NASB). G-d's judgement of His people will be tempered by their ability to bear that judgement.
Targum Onkelos also offers an interesting and related insight. Adding an extra word - the judgement - the Aramaic reads: - "When the L-rd will execute the judgement of His people", and then goes on, "and the punishment of His righteous servants will be carried out." Here, and perhaps Onkelos did have this image in his mind, we can hear the affliction of the Servant from Isaiah's Servant Songs: "smitten of G-d and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4, NASB). Israel was to be tested: "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction" (48:10, NASB) and G-d Himself would be with them and temper the affliction: "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them" (63:9, NASB).
The second verb in the text, - , the Hitpa'el 3ms prefix form of the root , to mourn or grieve over, to feel compassion for or pity, to repent or regret - sees a wider divergence of opinion. OvadiahSforno suggests that HaShem "will repent Himself for the evil He properly visited upon His people and will have mercy upon them, in the merit of His servants who are among them, as it says, 'So will I do for the sake of My servants, and not destroy everything' (Isaiah 65:8, ESV)", implying that HaShem will - as Rashi puts it, "reconsider - a change of thought to bestow good instead of harm". Gunther Plaut opts for "take revenge", explaining that "although some have rendered it here as 'repent' or 'regret' (that is, have a change of heart), that sense does not suit the present context. The whole phrase is repeated in Ps 135:14, where NJPS renders the verb as 'obtain satisfaction'." Tigay seems to agree, supporting the NJPS's rendering as "take revenge for", adding "that is, avenge them, get satisfaction for the way the enemy treated them. The Hebrew does not have the negative connotations of English 'revenge'. Its meaning is to change one's mind or mood, to assuage one's feelings."
We can be sure that G-d will judge the nations. In his address to the Athenians, Rav Sha'ul picks up the key themes: "The times of ignorance G-d overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31, ESV). G-d has been prepared to overlook ignorance in the past, but has now called everyone to repent; there is a fixed - not necessarily a fixed date, but a certain event - judgement for all the world; that Yeshua is to be the means of that judgement - where each person stands in relation to Yeshua; and that G-d has authenticated Yeshua by raising Him from the dead, a thing never before seen. So this judgement is to be universal; everyone will be called to that judgement, there will be no escape. The Jewish writings too confirm this, where Rabbi Eleazar HaKappar said, "The born [are destined] to die, the dead to be brought to life, and the living to be judged ... Without your will you are of a certainty to give an account and reckoning before the King of the kings of kings, Blessed be He" (m. Pirkei Avot 4:22).
Where and when does that judgement take place? Is this just an end-times phenomenon, or should we expect to see signs of judgement around us every day? The prophets cried out against the evil that they saw being done and often ask HaShem, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?" (Jeremiah 12:1, ESV). The two most frequent responses to these questions - that G-d may well be judging people now in this world by bringing them to death but we are not able to see this happening, or that all the wicked will be judged in the world to come - are both unhelpful and indefinite. We have no way of validating those answers and, on the contrary, some wicked people do seem to live for a very long time! The answers may be true and a fair reflection of the Scriptures, but don't give much comfort to the oppressed and the downcast. Just as life can be very tough right now on an ever day basis if all you have to go on is a promise of "pie in the sky when you die", so it is very disheartening to see wrongs being done on every side and the perpetrators appearing to get away with it and not showing the slightest fear or concern about their coming judgement.
Peter, on the other hand, gives us a different answer: "For it is time for judgement to begin at the household of G-d" (1 Peter 4:17, ESV). This is happening all around us, every day, as the bride is being prepared for the return of Yeshua. Rav Sha'ul tells us that Yeshua is in the process of sanctifying - that means, making holy or clean - His bride, so that when He returns for her, she will have "no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27, NASB). This is not always a comfortable process and our lives need to be changed to come into line with G-d's word. We are promised that "those whom the L-rd loves He disciplines" (Hebrews 12:6, NASB); more, the writer adds that if we are not being disciplined, then we are not G-d's children (v. 8)! We can all confirm that we have experienced discipline - the old word is chastening - at G-d's hand as He conforms us to the image of Yeshua. James encourages the believers to "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the L-rd. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the L-rd is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door" (James 5:5-9, ESV).
The more we see judgement happening within the household of G-d, the more we can be confident that the universal judgement will be coming, and coming soon. But we need to remember how G-d's judgement works: it is to convict, not to condemn; it is to correct and build up, not to criticise and tear down; it is to bring life and growth, not death and destruction. G-d is judging for us, telling us the truth; however uncomfortable it may seem, He is speaking out words of life that we may live and live to the full.
Further Study: Psalm 7:8-9; Psalm 96:11-13; 1 Peter 1:13-16
Do you hear only words of condemnation and criticism? Time to check the
channel setting on your radio. Are you listening to G-d or the enemy of your
soul? Listen up, move on up know that G-d is on your side as well as on your
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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.