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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:31 For not like our Rock [is] their rock; and our enemies [are] judges.
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The first six of the seven aliyot of parashat Ha'azinu are given over to the Song of Moshe. In the previous parasha,HaShem tells Moshe that once he has died, the people will turn away from following HaShem, will misbehave and be exiled from the Land. So that the people will not wonder at what is happening to them, HaShem tells Moshe, "write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel" (D'varim 31:19, NJPS). Part prophecy, part exhortation; part worship, part rebuke; this song is to become embedded within Israelite folklore and consciousness so that even though they have turned away from HaShem, they still sing the song. Its words are to remain inextricably bound in the heart of Israel's identity and tradition so that at every turn it reminds them of who they are, of who HaShem is, of how they have got to where they are and of how to remedy their affliction by returning to Him.
The word , rock, a masculine singular noun, is what Martin Buber would call a leitwort or "leading word" though the song. It appears no less than eight times - in slightly different forms - in the text: verses 4, 13, 15, 18, 30, 31 (twice) and 37. From " Ascribe greatness to our G-d! The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice" (32:3-4, ESV) to "Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge" (v. 37, ESV) - the former praising HaShem, the latter speaking of the trust the pagans put in their gods - the word speaks of something heavy and immovable, something permanent and strong, a foundation and a bulwark.Targum Onkelos changes the ones that refer to HaShem to some form of , 'might' or 'mighty one' both to avoid suggesting a physical form for G-d and to draw the distinction between HaShem and a piece of stone. Maimonides says that the name or title 'Rock' "implies that G-d is the quarry, the origin and the causa efficiens1 of all things besides Himself" (Guide 1:16).
Our Rock, then, is one of the Bible's names for HaShem. Clearly, HaShem is not like the so-called 'rocks' of His (and our) enemies. Yet, at this point in the Song, Moshe is pointing out that the victory that those enemies have just enjoyed over HaShem's people has only been possible because HaShem wished it to be so. They should be asking themselves, "How could one have routed a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, the L-RD had given them up?" (v. 30, NJPS). TheSforno says that "this occurred without a doubt because their rock is not like our Rock." The Rashbam explains that "Moshe is emphasising that the enemies ought to have admitted that the Holy One did this and not the gods of the nations. For Israel's 'Rock' is not like the 'rock' of the other nations of the world." Modern commentators agree; Walter Brueggemann points out that "the truth is ... that the other nations succeed in their exploits only because YHVH sanctions their success,"2 while Christopher Wright suggests that "the enemies' victory is Yahweh's doing and even they will eventually recognise that their own gods (their 'rock') are no match for Israel's [Rock]."3
David Stern offers an interesting perspective on our text, translating it as, "For our enemies have no rock like our Rock - even they can see that!" (CJB). The difference between Israel and the nations is so obvious - both then and now - that the nations cannot avoid seeing it. The ancient rabbis describe it in terms of power and the way it is handled: "The power that You give them is not the same as that which you give us. When You give us power, we treat them according to the measure of mercy, but when You give them power, they treat us according to the measure of cruelty. They kill us, burn us and crucify us." (Sifrei Piska 323). Jeffrey Tigay says that "the enemy could not credit its victory to its own god's power, because its gods are no equal for Israel's." HaShem is both the beginning and the end; nothing happens without His consent or sanction, as Patrick Miller comments: "This part of the song, therefore, bears witness to a conviction already discerned in Deuteronomic theology: All that happens is at the hand of the L-rd. The imagery of G-d as the Rock comes in again to express the notion that the G-d of Israel is not unstable or unable to provide a secure foundation against their enemies."4 It is not that G-d can't - for He most certainly can - but that He has chosen not to. This is a consistent theme expressed many times by the fifth book of the Torah.
Yeshua uses the image of the rock in one of of His parables that appears in Matthew and Luke. In the parable, Yeshua makes a connection between building on a rock foundation and both hearing and doing His words. "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matthew 7:24, ESV), He says. The image of the rock as a sure and certain foundation will resonate with His audience who will also hear the 'word' connection to the creation account when G-d spoke the universe into being. Yeshua will also later connect Hi words and G-d's words: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:) and "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35, ESV) - the latter putting Yeshua's words on a stronger footing than the Torah: "until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah" (5:18, CJB).
How is one supposed to connect with or build on the rock? Yeshua's response is clear: we are to be "like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock" (Luke 6:48, ESV). Digging deep - foundation trenches, solid footings, a thorough preparation of the site - a similar process to that which Isaiah described: "Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain" (Isaiah 40:4, NJPS). We hear, listen and learn the word, in both the Tanakh and the Apostolic Writings, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (D'varim 6:7, ESV). This is how we are built up together, "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of G-d, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20, ESV).
If we are to build on rightly upon the rock, we need to recognise it for what it is. The Psalmist warned that "the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Psalm 118:22, ESV) and Yeshua applied those words to Himself: "But Yeshua looked searchingly at them and said, 'Then what is this which is written in the Tanakh, 'The very rock which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'?" (Luke 20:17, CJB). Are we accepting Yeshua or rejecting Him? Even at this stage, it is possible to look as if we follow Him and are building our lives upon Him, while in our hearts and our lifestyles, rejecting Him. This is why Isaiah spoke about "a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling" (Isaiah 8:14); if we misunderstand Yeshua, then we will take offense at Him and stumble over Him. Peter explains that such people "stumble because they disobey the word" (1 Peter 2:8, ESV); making the connection again between the rock and the word, as expressed in obedience or disobedience.
What then must we do? Firstly, we must recognise that G-d alone is our rock - the Rock, the only foundation, the only certainty in this life - and we must build on Him alone. Secondly, we must dig deep into His word - both written and living, the Bible and Yeshua - asking the Spirit, "the one who searches our hearts" (Romans 8:27) to guide our hans and our minds. Thirdly, having dug, we must build walls that are straight and true "with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself" (Ephesians 2:20, CJB), being "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22, ESV). That joins up the circle and connects hearing, digging, the Rock and obedience together in a way that will be pleasing to G-d and will endure the fire of testing when we stand before the judgement seat of the Messiah. What have you been building? We have dug deep, Master, planting Your words upon the Rock of Father G-d and obeying the words as Your Spirit guided us. "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Corinthians 3:11, CJB).
1. - The third of Aristotle's four causes or explanations: material cause, formal cause, efficient cause and purpose cause.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 281.
3. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 302.
4. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 232.
Further Study: Isaiah 28:16-17; Matthew 21:42-44; 1 Peter 2:4-7
Application: What are you building and where? Are you firmly planted on the Rock, with well-dug deep foundations, firmly bedded upon the solid footing, or have you scraped off a few inches of top-soil and hoped for the best? Call in the Master Surveyor today and get an up-to-date appraisal of your building work so that you can fix any problems before it is too late!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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