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Shemot/Exodus 34:9 Please walk, my Master, in our midst ... and may You forgive our iniquity and our sins and acquire us as a possession.
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Moshe's plea comes at the close of the epiphany thatHaShem granted him on Mt. Sinai, after the sin of the calf, when Moshe goes back up the mountain with the second set of tablets on which HaShem will write the covenant between Him and His people, Israel. Moshe has seen HaShem's glory pass by him, pronouncing the words "The L-RD! the L-RD! a G-d compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations" (Shemot 34:6-7, JPS), now known as the Thirteen Attributes, and yet he is still mindful of the people, the people that He leads, the people of Israel. Stricken for them he bows to the ground and seeks confirmation that the distance that had been placed between HaShem and the people because of their sin has been rescinded - "I will send an angel before you ... But I will not go in your midst, since you are a stiffnecked people, lest I destroy you on the way" (33:2-3, JPS) - and nothing more than complete forgiveness for the people and reinstatement in full as HaShem's chosen people. This is a powerful foreshadowing of Yeshua's words on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34, ESV) and His concern for the people: "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36, ESV).
The first verb and its associated particle - , the Qal prefix 3ms form of the root , "to go or to walk", followed by , 'please' or 'now' - is strictly a jussive verb to be translated "let Him walk now/please", addressing HaShem with an abrupt shift from second person to third person as is common in much Jewish prayer. The second verb - the Qal affix 2ms form of the root , "to pardon or forgive", is a vav-reversive construction - switches back into personal conversation again; this remains for the third verb - , the Qal affix 2ms form of the root , "to possess, to inherit, to obtain by inheritance", with both a 1cp object pronoun suffix 'us' and a vav-reversive. Notice how the difference between prefix form (incomplete action, usually translated future tense) and affix form (completed action, usually translated past tense) is here used to portray an open-ended walking, but a one-off forgiving and possessing to be done in the future. HaShem will need to walk with the people throughout their journey, but will forgive them - for past sin - just the once and take them back as His people - a judicial/legal action - just once.
The text neatly splits into three phrases: go with us, forgive us, re-take us.Ibn Ezra starts with the first phrase: "go in our midst - as when G-d promises, 'I will march before you and level the hills that loom up' (Isaiah 45:2)". Rashi links the first to the second: "go in our midst - as You promised 'I will go in the lead and will lighten your burden' (Shemot 33:14, JPS) since You forgive iniquity." The Sforno makes the same connection but focuses on the second: "and pardon our iniquity - for pardon is Yours and we can hope to receive Your forgiveness. But let not an angel accompany us for there is no hope of pardon with him as You Yourself said: 'Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses' (23:21, JPS)". Umberto Cassuto points to the 'us' pronoun and explains that "The pronoun suffix is in the first person plural because Moshe, out of love for his people, associates himself with the collective deeds of the Children of Israel and includes himself among the transgressors."1
Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew to Aramaic , "take us for Your possession, to match Moshe's later recounting: "but you the L-RD took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people" (D'varim 4:20, JPS). Ibn Ezra paraphrases it to, "'Take us as Your own!' - Possess us, make us your possession, as in 'they are Your people and Your inheritance' (9:29, NKJV)", while the talmudic Sages extend it to suggest that Moshe not only asked that Israel should be re-taken as G-d's unique people, but that His favour and presence should not rest upon idolaters - taken to be the other nations (b. Berachot 7a). This prompts Rashi to claim that Moshe's request here - "make us Your portion" can be strengthened to "make us Your unique portion" so being a paraphrase of the earlier request "that we may be distinguished, Your people and I, from every people on the face of the earth" (Shemot 33:16, JPS).
The parallels here between Moshe's requests and what Yeshua has done for His people are surely too obvious to miss. Yeshua is the Lamb of G-d "who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, ESV), it is through Him that "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Ephesians 1:7, ESV); it is Yeshua "who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14, ESV). It is Yeshua who has promised always to be with us, "to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). He will be with us through and in spite of all the challenges of daily life and beyond: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you" (Isaiah 43:2, NASB).
How then should we walk? How do we direct out lives? The Psalmist tells us that G-d says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8, NASB); in one of Isaiah's well-known verses G-d adds, "And your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left" (Isaiah 30:21, NASB). But what if He doesn't? What if you don't hear that voice? Is it reasonable to expect G-d to micro-manage your entire life, down to what you have for breakfast each day? Does G-d really care, possible ethical sourcing issues aside, what colour socks you wear today? There is a tension between G-d's sovereignty and the free will that He extends to all His children. Sometimes we get to make the choice and G-d is fine with that; at other times, He overrules in our affairs and directs us where He knows will be best for us - to work out His purposes for us and others. When we choose, which for most of us is probably most of the time, we use common sense, our knowledge of G-d's character and principles, even our likes and dislikes - after all, from a kingdom perspective, blueberry muffins and dark cherry muffins essentially have about the same standing; for more serious things, we read verses from the Bible, we listen to the Spirit and, without explicitly hearing from G-d in any way, we make a decision. And, do you know? That's absolutely fine; G-d is perfectly comfortable with that; you've followed the process He gave you to use.
What is our foundation here? Let's start with the Psalmist again: "For the L-RD will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance" (Psalm 94:14, NASB). G-d is not about to walk out on us. When we ask Him about big things, or situations that we find confusing, He answers us: "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear" (Isaiah 65:24, NASB). In fact, He is ready with the answer before we ask; He knew that we would need to ask and was already there for us. Here's the bottom line: "Thus says the L-RD, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls'" (Jeremiah 6:16, NASB). We stand and see what G-d has done in the past, we ask G-d how He has acted in the past - what is the best way - and what we should do now, then we walk in it and find rest. And He has promised to hear and answer that prayer; every time. "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:14-15, NASB). When we are anchored in Him, hearing His heartbeat as our heartbeat, feeling His pulse quicken our pulse, then we will know what to do and how to act instinctively, without needing constant direction. He will be walking not just with us but in us, and we will be His possession.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Psalm 23:7; Psalm 27:1; Matthew 11:28-30
Application: Do you struggle on a day-to-day basis, asking G-d about every decision in your life and never being able to do anything? Now is the time to trust Him and walk in the freedom He has given you. Stretch your wings and feel the power of His Spirit lifting you today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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