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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:21 They themselves provoked Me with a not-god, they irritated Me with their vanities; and I, I will provoke them with a not-people, with a foolish nation I will irritate them.
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As the Torah cycle draws towards its end for this year, this finely constructed piece of irony - voiced forHaShem by Moshe in the final song he is instructed to teach the Israelites - looks hundreds of years ahead (of Moshe's time) to describe the situation that will to pass when Israel has grown complacent and forgetful in the Land. The mirrored vocabulary and the deliberate assonance1 both amplify the intensity of the words and make them easy to remember. Gunther Plaut explains that "the word is in assonance with in the same verse."
Each half of the verse starts with the same structure using the verb , to make jealous - they / they-made-me-jealous / with-a-not-god // and-I / I-will-make-them-jealous / with-a-not-people - while the second halves both use the same verb, , to irritate or provoke, to complete the tit-for-tat idea: they-irritated-me // I-will-irritate-them. Jeffrey Tigay suggests that "G-d will punish Israel measure-for-measure, treating it as it treated Him," while Walter Brueggemann proposes that "YHVH will give as good as YHVH gets; Israel has made YHVH jealous, so YHVH will make Israel jealous. Israel has abandoned YHVH, so now YHVH will abandon Israel."2 Seeing the irony in the situation, Christopher Wright points out that "Israel would suffer at the hands of a nation as worthless in their eyes as their gods were worthless in G-d's eyes."3
Both verse halves have the verb as their second word, following an emphatic pronoun: they / I. In the first half, is the Pi'el 3mp affix form with a 1cs object pronoun, "they provoked me"; in the second, is the Hif'il 1cs prefix form with a 3mp object pronoun, "I will provoke them". Likewise, both halves use the verb in a similarly mirrored way: is the Pi'el 1cs affix form with a 3mp object pronoun; is the Hif'il 1cs prefix form with a 3mp object pronoun.
While OvadiahSforno splits Israel's actions into eras - the fathers provoked me to jealousy with a no-god during the period of the First Temple, [the people with their vanities] during the period of the Second Temple - the ancient rabbis divided the verse by the actors involved. In the first half, Israel provokes HaShem with , idols, so the sages remark disparagingly: "There are those who worship an idol, something that can be seen, but they worship a mere shadow, and not even a shadow but the vapour that rises from a kettle." In the second half, using the translation of as "a fool", they comment that "this refers to the heretics, as it is said, 'The fool has said in his heart: there is no G-d' (Psalm 14:1)." The Ramban says that the nation of fools - "is Esau, who was ungrateful enough to ignore the covenant of brotherhood", while Ibn Ezra proposes that the nation of fools - is "so stupid and vile that they have no idea what it means to commit murder and so kill without thinking."
Don IsaacAbravanel goes a great deal further, with the followers of Yeshua clearly in his sights, writing somewhat bluntly that "It was at the end of the Second Temple period that the faith that so incensed Him was created, being founded by those who lived at that time. When they incensed Him, the period when 'I will hide My countenance from them' (D'varim 32:20, NJPS) ended, and their measure-for-measure punishment began. Nothing incenses Him more than attributing divinity to flesh and blood."
Rav Sha'ul calls upon the prophet Hosea to show us how the process should be working today. G-d is turning not-peoples into His people, "even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (Romans 9:24, ESV). The people whom God has called from the nations are joining with Israel's remnant by faith, to become G-d's people. Sha'ul explains that this is what G-d meant: "As indeed He says in Hosea, 'Those who were not My people I will call "My people," and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved" [Hosea 2:23].' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living G-d' [Hosea 1:10]" (Romans 9:25-26, ESV). This is the body of Messiah being formed in real time!
Sha'ul bases his whole strategy on this. Here he is doing it: "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Sha'ul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Yehsua, whom I proclaim to you, is the Messiah'" (Acts 17:1-3, ESV). This follows his clear Jewish priority: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of G-d for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16, ESV). This certainly creates jealousy, as the narrative tells us: "And some of them were persuaded and joined Sha'ul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd" (Acts 17:4-5, ESV).
What is meant to happen is that the Jewish people become jealous of those from the nations being called into relationship with the G-d of Israel - their G-d! - proclaiming His name, keeping His Torah and speaking of Him as their G-d too. This jealousy should encourage the Jews to ask what is going on, to ask about Yeshua and so repent of their rejection of Him. Repentance leads to faith and faith to salvation. Sha'ul makes this clear when he writes: first, "But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moshe says, 'I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry" [D'varim 32:21]. Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, 'I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for Me' [Isaiah 65:1]" (Romans 10:19-20, ESV); and then "So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them" (11:11-14, ESV).
If indeed the Jewish people are provoked to jealousy that leads to salvation, then Sha'ul's strategy is vindicated. History show us that in the first couple of centuries of the Common Era, it was successful: a significant number of Jewish people did come to faith, congregations were planted, elders and bishops were appointed. Sha'ul's first port of call was always the synagogue. We know that Jewish and Gentile believers loved worshipping together, sharing their lives, meals and faith. However, as the size of the Gentile majority within the church grew, the Gentile leaders tried to cut off the Jewish roots of faith in Yeshua. They forbade keeping Shabbat and the feasts of HaShem; they prohibited worshipping together unless it was in Gentile space according to Gentile rules. By the fourth century, the church had suppressed all Jewish expression of life and faith in Yeshua. While Jewish people were still coming to faith, the flow had slowed to a tiny trickle and essentially, they converted to become Gentile Christians. Some see in this the start of Daniel's prophecy of the fourth beast: "He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time" (Daniel 7:25, ESV).
Now it seems as if G-d's plan is completely upside down. A Gentile church is (and has been for well over a thousand years) engaged upon mission to the nations of the world, making disciples in their own image. Israel is but one of the nations being targeted so that the Great Commission may be fulfilled and Yeshua will return. Statistics continue to show that most Jews who come to faith do so through the agency of Gentile friends, work colleagues and evangelists and take up residence in the Gentile church. At the same time, the clear testimony of many of these Jewish believers is that when they read the words of the gospels, they comment on how Jewish the words are: He is one of ours! They report coming home, finding the Jewish Messiah and falling in love with Him. G-d is to be blessed for being so faithful to His word and reconnecting to many Jewish people over the centuries despite the difficulties in their path.
How do we make Israel jealous today? How do we play our part in recreating that significant Jewish expression of faith and worship in Yeshua? If HaShem is trying to provoke Israel using believers in Yeshua, so that they turn to Him and are healed, we have to present a genuinely Jewish witness: living in the Torah of Moshe; keeping the feasts in an authentic way; interacting with the mainstream Jewish community so that, even if they disagree with us, they have to admit that we are Jewish. We need to instantiate Peter's letter - written to the chosen exiles in the diaspora - being holy as He who called us is holy. Are we called to do that? Are you called to be a part of that or to support its growth and development? These are the days when we are seeing the words of the prophets - of Isaiah, of Ezekiel, of Joel and Zechariah - being fulfilled around us and in our midst. Make sure you don't get left behind!
1. - Assonance is a relatively close juxtaposition of similar sounds in two or more words or phrases, especially of vowels that creates a rhyme or a rhythm that depends on just the vowels and not the consonants in the words.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 280.
3. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 301.
Further Study: Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:7-9
Application: Can you sense the urgency for the authentic gospel to the Jewish people in these days? Is the Spirit speaking to you about being part of His critical work at this eleventh hour before Yeshua returns? How can you help share the work of proclaiming to Israel, "Behold your G-d!" (Isaiah 40:9).
Comment - 08:01 12Sep21 Joshua VanTine: May HaShem, by jealousy or revelation or another of His wonderous ways bring them to Messiah Yeshua and come home. Really love the description of coming home and falling in love with the Jewish Messiah. Really like the irony of Christopher Wright's comment about worthlessness with regards to Israel's suffering by a nation they regarded as such, and HaShems reciprocal view of their gods in His eyes. Brilliant observation that challenges me on what is worthwhile to HaShem should be my priority.'
Comment - 08:40 12Sep21 HW: Your exegesis today is exemplary and powerfully applies itself by drawing on the theme of Jewish-Gentile harmony (or rejection) in the NT. Most thought provoking ...
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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