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D'varim/Deuteronomy 28:7 Adonai will give your enemies, who rise up against you, to be defeated before you
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The three verbs in this phrase are clumsy to translate directly into English. The first verb - - he will give, Qal prefix 3ms - with its subject - ,Adonai or The L-rd - and object - , your enemies - is straightforward. The second - , a Qal participle mp form with a definite article - is happily translated a "the ones rising up" or "who rise up". The third, however - , a Ni'fil participle mp - would normally expect to be rendered as a participle: "those being defeated", but in context needs to be treated as if it were an infinitive: "to be defeated" for the English to sound right. The atnakh trope mark terminates the clause in the next word , with the same sort of weight as a semicolon, confirming that the translator had to end the sense at this point. A smoother translation would replace 'give' for the first verb with 'cause', so that the verse would read: Adonai will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you.
The text comes in the middle of a set of blessings that are available for Israel, "if you will heed the word of the L-rd your G-d" (v. 2, NJPS), that run from verse 3 to verse 14. Verse 7 marks a transition from blessings that are simply to be received - "Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl" (v. 5, NJPS) - to highlightingHaShem as the source of the blessing; the blessings come about because HaShem not only wills it, but His direct actions make them happen. As the following verses go on to state explicitly, Israel will be successful because G-d will make her successful, so that the nations will see that G-d's name is upon His people.
A number of the commentators discuss the ultimate purpose of the blessings. Rabbi Jacob Zvi Meklenburg1 comments that "so long as man suffers want or disease he cannot devote himself to a proper observance of Judaism. The Torah therefore promises us that if we strive to obey the Divine commands, all the physical obstacles hampering our observance will be removed. Worldly blessings are not in themselves meant as an end ... but they constitute the means facilitating our progress towards eternity."2 Richard Elliott Friedman observes that although "Moshe speaks beautifully for two chapters about why the people should keep the covenant for itself, the blessings and curses are there out of a realistic recognition of human psychology: rewards and punishments are effective tools of instruction from childhood and up." Two problems seem to stem from these views. One is the ever-present risk of being more concerned about the gift rather than the giver; the other is the role we see G-d fulfilling and may be a critical part of the way we develop our relationship with Him.
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him" (Matthew 7:11, NASB). Printed in red lettering and supported by Rav Sha'ul's recommendations to "Eagerly seek the better gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31, CJB) and to "keep on eagerly seeking the things of the Spirit; and especially seek to be able to prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14:1, CJB), Yeshua's words have often been taken as an invitation to focus more on the gifts than the Giver of those gifts. It is certainly true that G-d does want to give gifts - for the building up and encouragement of the whole Body of Messiah - to His children and that He does want us to ask Him not only for those gifts, but also for the wisdom to know how to use them and for suitable opportunities to do so. Be they supernatural spiritual gifts such as healing, prophecy or faith, material gifts such as wealth or property, or skill and ability gifts such as hospitality, counselling or administration, we need to remember that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17, NIV). Although mediated through Yeshua - in whose name we make our request - and imparted by theRuach HaKodesh - who we invite to "come" and apply the gifts to us - the gifts are given from and by G-d the Father, who does not change. His goodness, His generosity, His sense of justice and appropriateness, His foreknowledge of how we will use His gifts and how our relationship with Him may change as a result, mean that we don't always receive what we ask, least of all in the area of time-scale. Like spoilt children, we have a tendency to demand what we want and - by the way - "I want it now!" If we don't get it, we dump our teddy in the corner and throw a tantrum just like any two-year old. This is a clear focus on the gift, rather than the Giver, and ignores or denies G-d's sovereignty in the matter, not to mention His care and love for each one of us individually to give us only what is good for us and can be safely used by us, given our circumstances and companions. Heaven forbid that we should act like a present day Elisha, cursing children who mock or taunt us so that bears come out of the woods to maul them (cf. 2 Kings 2:23-24).
Closely allied to this is the way in which we see G-d. Do we see Him as some kind of supernatural nanny, whose main job is to stop nasty things happening to us, the while keeping nearby a bag of candy to reward us when we get something right? Do we see Him as a grouchy old man whose efforts to bring us up right consist mainly of letting us learn from our own mistakes, while requiring huge amounts of pleading before reluctantly intervening to save us from our worst excesses? Both of these caricatures are far from the picture of G-d that the Scriptures paint, but most believers have moments when we seem to relate to G-d as if one or the other were sometimes true. Adopting or persisting in either idea will wildly distort our relationship with G-d and make it very difficult to experience the true life of a believer in the kingdom of G-d. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, His love for us requires that we should be disciplined: "For those whom the L-rd loves He disciplines" (Hebrews 12:6, NASB) and compares His discipline with that of earthly fathers: "for they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness" (v. 10, NASB). It is right that we should accept both gifts and discipline - some would even say that discipline is a gift - from G-d who, as our heavenly Father, knows exactly what we need, so that we may grow more like Yeshua.
Moshe's words, then, both in the surrounding context and the particular verse, remind us of our need for and dependance on G-d. We are to receive the blessings that He gives us, whether we see Him directly at work in an individual blessing or not, acknowledging that our entire lives are in His hands. We are to remain obedient to His word at all times, being open to the prompting of the Spirit and holding the blessings that He has given us lightly so that He may move them on if necessary to bless someone else. This, however, must be a matter of relationship - loving G-d as a return expression to His love for us - as John wrote: "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19, NASB). Our obedience must come out of knowing G-d, rather than from fear of retribution for disobedience or seeking reward for compliance.
1 - 1785-1865; a staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Europe
2 - quoted in Studies in D'varim, Nehama Leibowitz
Further Study: Amos 3:1-2; Hebrews 12:3-11
Application: Does your view of G-d approach either of the caricatures above? If so, then the time has come to allow Him to set the record straight; you need to discover the depth of love that G-d has for you. Why not talk to Him about this today and ask Him both to explain and to show you how this works.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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