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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:43 Nations, make His people rejoice, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will return vengeance to His enemies and He will pacify His land [and] His people.
This verse is quite difficult to translate, having too many of some sorts of word and not enough of others. The 'He' and 'His' refer back toHaShem, the last subject explicitly named: "For the L-RD will vindicate His people and take revenge for His servants" (D'varim 32:36, JPS). This is followed by a block of verses in first person singular speech - "I will ..." - and the text returns to third person singular - "He will ..." with our selected verse above. The verse is divided into four quarters by the pointing, counting three words and three tonal shifts in each quarter. The first and last quarters offer the most challenge, each ending in the word , "His people". In both cases, that word is separated from the two that precede it by a disjunctive accent mark and is difficult to align or connect with the clause's verb.
The first quarter starts with the verb , the Hif'il mp imperative of the root , "to shout for joy, to sing"; the causative Hif'il stem meaning "to cause to sing or rejoice, to shout for joy" (Davidson). The word that follows - , nations - is the target of the imperative, the people who are being addressed; in more formal English, they would be rendered in the vocative case: "O nations". then appears to be the object, the ones who are being acted upon by verb. At this point, the major English translations stutter, for it doesn't seem right for the nations to praise HaShem's people. HaShem, certainly, but not the people. So various options are offered to try and direct the praise to Him. The CJB offers, "Sing out, you nations, about His people!"; the NIV prefers, "Rejoice, O nations, with his people". Several versions invent another verb and generate little paraphrases that all seems a long way from the Hebrew text: "Rejoice with Him, O heavens; bow down to Him, all gods" is the ESV, "Praise, O heavens, His people, worship Him, all you gods!" the NRSV. It seems more straightforward to take "His people" who are the ones who are to rejoice, caused or provoked to do that by the nations, as above.
The Jewish commentators are divided on the matter. Liking the linking preposition 'about',Ibn Ezra suggests "'Sing aloud, O nations, of His people', that is, 'Sing aloud in praise of what He has done for His people.'" The Rashbam prefers 'with': "Rather, 'O nations, acclaim Him with His people' as in 'Praise the L-RD, all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples' (Psalm 117:1, JPS)." The Sforno inverts the nations and the people: "You, the arrows and sword of G-d, make the nations rejoice, for they will all recognise that G-d is just in whom there is no wrong, as it says 'Nations will exult and shout for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity, You guide the nations of the earth' (Psalm 67:5, JPS)." Rashi proposes that "at that time, the nations will praise Israel: 'See what the excellent feature of this nation is, that they cleaved to the Holy One, Blessed is He, through all the travails that passed over them, and did not abandon Him.'" Rabbi Hirsch pushes the boat out the furthest: "'Therefore, O nations, make the lot of His people a happy one for' G-d proclaims, in scattering Israel among the nations, 'Make the lot of My people a happy one, treat them not inhumanly and cruelly.' Israel's scattered sons are still regarded as serving G-d and every violation of the demands of human rights and humaneness G-d makes fall back on its perpetrators, who in denying these demands are denying His rule, are opposing Him and are His enemies. The treatment accorded to the Jews becomes the graduated scale by which the allegiance accorded on earth to G-d is measured, so that the commencement of the Kingdom of G-d on earth goes hand in hand with the ceasing of the nations of the world mishandling Jews."
The last quarter offers similar difficulties. The verb is the Pi'el 3ms affix form from the root , in the Pi'el stem, "to appease or pacify" (Davidson), with a vav-reversive to make it future tense: "and he will pacify". But who is to be pacified by whom? The next word, which by normal word order rules we would expect to be the subject, , is a feminine singular noun and doesn't agree with the masculine singular verb. It also has a 3ms possessive suffix pronoun, "his land". The word after that, , also has a 3ms ending: "his people". Many English translations pretend the 'land' doesn't have an ending and form a construct "the land of his people", but this would break the rules for constructs. So do "his people pacify his land", or does "his land pacify his people"? Neither seem particularly plausible, but then how do we link these words together? Given the phrase's context as the last quarter of the verse, it seems best to take 'he' and 'his' as continuing the reference to HaShem and to insert a simple 'and' between the two objects.
Stepping back from the detail, the whole content of the verse tells us that HaShem will avenge the wrongs done to His people, granting them vengeance and appeasement. Following Hirsch's proposal, the nations will be judged for the way they have responded both to Israel, the land and the people, and to individual members of G-d's people. Those who abuse or mistreat either will become G-d's enemies and earn, in the words ofTargum Onkelos, "retribution for the punishment of His righteous servants." We need at this point to ask the question whether it is appropriate for G-d's people to rejoice over the punishment meted out to those who have wronged them. The prophet seems confused. First he reports G-d saying, "I am creating a new heaven and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered, they shall never come to mind" (Isaiah 65:17, JPS), which suggests that previous wrongs will be forgotten and will not matter; but then G-d adds that in the new heaven and earth, "They shall go out and gaze on the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me: their worms shall not die, nor their fire be quenched; they shall be a horror to all flesh" (66:24, JPS). Perhaps the best we can say here is that personal wrongs will be forgotten, but that wrong-doers as a class will be punished. John's apocalyptic vision of the new heaven and earth shows G-d dwelling with His people: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4, ESV). At this point, the vision suggests, the past is gone and there will be no more memory of wrongs to right or vengeance to be sought.
But that still leaves the awkward question of whether believers in Yeshua should relish the idea of vengeance and vindication. It appears that the Psalmist did. Both at a personal level - "Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them" (Psalm 69:24, ESV) - and on a corporate basis - "Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!" (Psalm 79:10, ESV) - there seems to be little appetite for forgiving and forgetting. John sees the souls of those who have been martyred for their faith in Yeshua cry out to G-d, "How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10, ESV).
What did Yeshua say and do? On the cross, He cried out for those who were crucifying Him, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34, ESV). In the Sermon on the Mount, He told the disciples to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45, ESV) - this is part of their being perfect: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (v. 48, ESV). This implies that G-d too loves His enemies and - in some way - prays for them, as Peter suggests: "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, ESV). Yeshua also makes it clear that our receiving forgiveness is conditioned upon our extending forgiveness to those who have wronged us: "if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV). Forgiveness involves surrendering the right to seek or expect any redress, although for safeguarding reasons it may not be appropriate to forget that certain types of wrong have been committed, lest there be a danger of them being repeated.
Further Study: Matthew 18:23-35; 1 Peter 1:22-25
Application: Are you still hanging on to an old score or two that you are waiting for G-d to settle? Are you hoping for vindication in a situation where you were offended or accused of wrong-doing? Perhaps the time has come to extend forgiveness and be released to move on - why not ask G-d what He wants to do?
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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