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Shemot/Exodus 33:13 And now, if - please - I have found favour in Your eyes, cause me to know Your ways and I will know You.
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The text starts with an elaborate and deferential introduction whose meaning is similar to the post-biblical phrase - "pray, please". Almost identical words are used by Queen Esther - "If I have found favour in your sight, O king, and if it please the king ..." (Esther 7:3, ESV) - where it is clear that the outcome is by no means certain. In the Torah however, according to Cassuto1 "the word if in phrases of this kind does not express doubt, but has the significance of 'since' or some similar word".
Targum Onkelos changes the text to "Now, if I have found mercy before You, let me know Your good way, that I may know Your mercy". Drazin and Wagner explain that "the word 'good' is inserted to explain Moshe's desire to known which path in life to take to meet G-d's expectations". Onkelos' change reveals that he does have a problem here: while he has changed "know You" to "know Your mercy" to avoid the impression that humans can actually know G-d, the problem with this verse is heightened by the Septuagint text (which is older than his by several hundred years): "Let me see You recognisably" (NETS). Can mankind - human, finite, mortal, made in the image of G-d - know G-d, who is divine, infinite and eternal rather than made? Maimonides - a fervent rationalist and greatly influenced by Aristotlean philosophy - answers 'no': mankind cannot possibly know, understand or perceive G-d who is altogether other; he can only see what G-d chooses to reveal and down-scale to be within the scope of mankind's senses and intellectual capacity. More, because that 'reduced' form is not G-d, then despite the Bible's insistence upon not having idols or graven images, Maimonides suggests that the Bible is actually lying in those places where it seems to portray G-d as having any human characteristics. They are there, Maimonides claims, to support those who are new believers but who will eventually grow out of the need for the false images. The Bible seems to have a different answer.
TheRashbam takes the biblical text more seriously and tries to find the middle ground: "You Yourself must let us know the way - You show me Your ways and I will follow You." If G-d reveals Himself to us, then we will be able to see His revelation, follow Him and have relationship with Him, but the initiative must come from G-d. Ibn Ezra takes that a step further: "A created being has no power to know the Creator of the world, except through His ways. But one who does know His ways will know Him ... that is why Moshe said 'Let me know Your ways'". While affirming the basic principle, he explains that G-d's ways - what G-d does, makes, says - give us the ability to know Him. If we study and examine His ways, Ibn Ezra insists, then we will know Him; this is why Moshe's request and G-d's answer are recorded in the Bible. Nahum Sarna adds, "From G-d's response (as given in 34:6-7), is it clear that Moshe here asks to comprehend G-d's essential personality, the attributes that guide His actions in His dealings with mankind, the norms by which He operates in His provenance of the world. 'He made known His ways to Moshe, His acts to the people of Israel. The L-RD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Psalm 103:7-8, ESV). Moshe's request rests on the postulate that G-d is not capricious but acts according to norms that human beings can try to understand." Rav Sha'ul understood this well when he declared to the people at Lystra, "[G-d] did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17, ESV).
Although he starts with a deferential introduction, Moshe comes straight to the point. He wants to know G-d and what he is supposed to do in order to lead the people rightly in the ways that G-d expects.Hirsch puts these words in Moshe's mouth: "I require this insight into the ways of G-d so that I remain clear as to Your intentions ... so that I can accomplish the mission that You have given me, which can be no other than to lead this people in accordance with Your intentions." It is almost as if Moshe is saying, "If I have got it right so far, so to speak, by accident, let me know enough to get it right again intentionally".
The clear record of the Hebrew Scriptures is that G-d has revealed Himself many times, to individuals (for example, to Avraham, Moshe, Gideon, Manoah, Isaiah and Ezekiel) and to the people of Israel (for example, through the plagues in Egypt, at Mt. Sinai, at the dedication of Solomon's temple), and consistently uses anthropomorphic language in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms to demonstrate that He can, wants and expects to be understood by mankind. We have talked before about the way in which G-d has comprehensively broken through the divine-human barrier by revealing Himself to us through His Son (for example, Bo 5773, Yitro 5770). In Messiah Yeshua, as He Himself told us, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9, ESV).
So what do we do with this revelation? How do we respond? What difference does it make in our ordinary work-a-day lives? Moshe wants to know G-d's ways so that he can walk in them and lead the people in them. Is there something wrong with the ways that man can plan or devise? The Scriptures say so, not just once but twice: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, ESV). Choosing man's ways rather than G-d's ways leads to death. Given that, why would anyone want to choose their own way? Surely, everyone would choose G-d's way so that they would live - after all, that is the choice that Moshe laid out before the Israelites on the plains of Moab before they entered the Land: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the L-RD your G-d, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days" (D'varim 30:19-20, NASB). Yet history records that our people did not listen to what G-d said: "Thus says the L-RD: 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, "We will not walk in it." I set watchmen over you, saying, "Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!" But they said, "We will not pay attention."'" (Jeremiah 6:16-17, ESV). Despite knowing what the choices were, the people of Judah chose not to walk in G-d's ways.
It is important to realise that making a choice about the way we live our lives is not something relegated to the pages of history. Yeshua Himself makes it clear that the same choice presented to G-d's people in the past is also presented to G-d's people today. In Matthew's Gospel, Yeshua said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV). Luke's text starts with a question and combines the narrow gate teaching with the warnings about the end-times found in Matthew 7 and 25: "And someone said to him, 'Lord, will those who are saved be few?' And he said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, "Lord, open to us," then he will answer you, "I do not know where you come from." Then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." But he will say, "I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!"'" (Luke 13:23-27, ESV). The key thing here is the effort needed, the intentionality required, to make the right choice and keep it, not just to sit and absorb or watch the show. Whether sound, lighting, props or prompt, stage management or one of the actors, the crew have made the choice to be part of the production and taken a decision to push on through the narrow gate whatever it costs.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Psalm 25:1-10; Isaiah 58:1-5; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Are you part of the cast or the audience? Is your ticket just to watch the
show from the front of house and then go home or, having seen the
performance, are you committed to following G-d's ways all the days of your
life? Check your program and ask yourself where you stand today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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.