|Messianic Education Trust|
Shemot/Exodus 34:12 Guard yourself lest you cut covenant with the dweller of the land on which you are going
View whole verse and interlinear translation ...
Having moved past the incident of the Golden Calf, we are almost at the end of Moshe's second forty day stint on the mountain in the presence of HaShem. The block of verses 10-26 - the whole of the sixth aliyah - are usually taken as a reiteration or summing up of the Ten Words originally included in the making of the Sinai covenant now to be the essence of the remaking or restoring of that covenant. Some scholars have attempted to find precisely ten distinct commands in the set, while others suggest that this is a strand from an older textual tradition, rivalling the Ten words given pride of place in chapter twenty, included here so that it is not lost. A careful comparison of the two passages will show that while there is certainly significant overlap, they are by no means an exact match. Perhaps the idea that this list is a subset of those areas that need particular attention has some merit.
Significant in the content is the repeated warning - lest you cut covenant with the dweller of the land - which is absent from the Decalogue but appears twice in this block: verses twelve and fifteen. The first instance - our text above - includes the formal warning "Take care" (ESV), "Watch yourself" (NASB, TLV) or "Be careful" (CJB, NIV). This translates the two Hebrew words ; the verb is the Nif'al ms imperative form of the root , "to keep, watch, guard", the Nif'al voice having the sense of guarding or watching oneself, with a following preposition identifying who is affected. Here,HaShem speaks both to the people of Israel as a whole and each individuals within it, a singular 'you'. Not only must the nation watch themselves, but each individual must take similar care of and for himself.
What then must the people be careful not to do? This is the repeated admonition: they must not make - literally, 'cut' - any covenant with the people of the land, collectively, the Canaanites. George Pixley gives us the high-level theological explanation, "to enter into pacts with the rulers of Canaan would be to renounce the whole movement that began in Egypt with the exodus and victory over Pharaoh",1 while Leon Kass offers us the practical view: "the entire list [of commands] anticipates the future encounter with the Canaanites, whose earthy and earth-worshipping ways are very seductive and whose practices are worlds apart from the way of Israel."2 The pagan religions are to be completely expunged from the land so that there be no exposure to the way of the Canaanites and temptation to follow them. We can see this worked out in three ways.
Firstly, there is the issue of idolatry. The second warning concludes with the phrase, "lest they call you, and you eat of their sacrifices" (Shemot 34:15). Eating the products of sacrifice to idols is forbidden;Rashi comments, "you are under the impression that there is no punishment for its consumption, but I count it against you as if you endorse their worship." By eating sacrificed meat, that shares in the altar and the sacrifice, it endorses or condones the sacrifice.
Secondly, there is the issue of intermarriage. The second warning runs into, "and you will take their daughters as wives for your sons" (Shemot 34:16, CJB). Covenant enables intermarriage, particularly of Israelite men to Canaanite women so that "their daughters will prostitute themselves to their own gods and make your sons do the same!" (ibid., CJB). The women will persuade their husbands to engage in worshipping the gods of the land. TheSforno paraphrases for HaShem: "the reason I said that you shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land is because if you are joined with him in a covenant you will be misled to follow another god."
Thirdly, is the question of land ownership and management. HaShem is taking the land away from the Canaanites because of their sins: in particular their worship of idols and religious/sexual practices. Any mechanism that allows land to remain under Canaanite ownership or control defeats that objective. The Torah institutes rules for inheritance, the jubilee to prevent permanent land accumulation by wealthy individuals and families, mechanisms to help the poor back into work on their own land - a complete non-exploitative social and economic structure that keeps the focus on man created in the image of G-d and serving only G-d. Walter Brueggemann points out that "other ways of handling the land and ordering social power will have a costly theological outcome."3
RabbiHirsch brings us back to the fundamental truth that must not be compromised: "The nation must be filled with the consciousness of its complete isolation with this Divine Torah. With this Divine Torah in its hand it stands completely alone on earth. It is not that Israel has a G-d and the nations have their gods ... so that both can exist side by side, both be true. Israel's God, altar, memorials and sanctuaries exclude all others." Brevard Childs agrees, explaining that "the whole emphasis of the admonition falls on Israel's complete separation from the inhabitants of the land. The warning is grounded in the nature of G-d who is a jealous G-d and will not tolerate the worship of another, and in the subtle temptation to idolatry which contact with the Canaanites inevitably brings."4 The first step - the one that enables all the others - is making a covenant or agreement with the people of the land; from there, as the Ralbag says, "you will gradually become more and more assimilated into them." For proof, we only have to hear the words of a previous generation of Canaanites: "These people are our friends; let them settle in the land and move about in it, for the land is large enough for them; we will take their daughters to ourselves as wives and give our daughters to them ... Their cattle and substance and all their beasts will be ours, if we only agree to their terms, so that they will settle among us" (B'resheet 34:21-23, NJPS).
Unsurprisingly, as followers of Yeshua, we are called to the same level of commitment. Thomas Dozeman explains that "Divine jealousy requires exclusive loyalty by the people - whether in foreign worship or intermarriage. Divine jealousy, arising from covenant, requires exclusive loyalty to Yahweh."5 We are called to that loyalty; no compromises, no covenants, agreements or accommodations with the world. Umberto Cassuto points out that "because the relationship between Israel and G-d is similar to that between a wife and her husband, worship of idols is a form of adultery."6
Rav Sha'ul addresses both of the first two issues we have seen in the Torah. Dealing with idolatry and food, he tells the Corinthians, "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to G-d. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:19-21, ESV). It is not that idols are themselves anything more that pieces of wood, stone or metal; but the act of sacrificing to an idol - an act of idolatry - is really a sacrifice to the demon behind the idol, so eating that food or drinking that drink is sharing in and hence condoning the idol and the act of idolatry.
In the same way, Sha'ul tackles the issue of sexual immorality and adultery using the illustration of a prostitute: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Messiah? Shall I then take the members of Messiah and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh' (B'resheet 2:24). But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Corinthians 6:15-17, ESV). A sexual relationship forms a tie or a bond between people. That is absolutely right within the context of marriage to another follower of Yeshua; you are both serving the same master. Outside marriage, or with a non-believer, it forms improper ties that vie with and interfere with our relationship with Yeshua; they are serving another master and there is constant friction and competition between loyalties. You have made a covenant with a dweller of the land.
Today then, HaShem's imperative to guard ourselves against making covenant - or being drawn towards making covenant - with the ways and practices of the world, is no less important. Yeshua very clearly tells His disciples, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24, ESV). We must be single-heartedly focussed on serving not just Yeshua first, but Yeshua only.
1. - George V. Pixley, On Exodus, a Liberation Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), page 158.
2. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Have, Yale University Press, 2021), page 567.
3. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 488.
4. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 613.
5. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 747.
6. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 444.
Further Study: Joshua 23:11-13; Romans 6:15-18; James 4:4-5
Application: Do you have an issue with conflicting or competing loyalties in your life? Do you struggle to see clearly how these claims conflict or the way to resolve them? You need to get the Chief Arbitrator on the case to show you exactly what is going on and to help you find your way back to a single focus on Him. He's only a call away!
Comment - 08:48 05Mar23 Joshua VanTine: Thank you for this drash. I really like the Rabbi Hirsch quote "The nation must be filled with the consciousness of its complete isolation with this Divine Torah. With this Divine Torah in its hand it stands completely alone on earth." While Israel stands alone on earth it is not alone: Torah abides with Israel. The living loving Torah, G-d's vehicle to bring heaven to earth. As the Chofetz Chaim said "And a love of kindness (from the Amidah), G-d is not content if we merely act kind toward others. He wants us to love kindness. What someone loves to do is never a chore." May HaShem help us to be faithful, to guard our love for Him. Yeshua of Nazareth, the Torah made flesh, His son did and is our shining example of a life lived in love, not of grumbling about an odious chore. Not only an example but advocate who is a gentle and kind Shepherd of our souls.
Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Exodus/Shemot now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.
© Jonathan Allen, 2023
|Messianic Trust Home Page||Join Weekly Email||More Weekly Drashot|
Support the work of producing this weekly commentary
|Last Year - 5782||Scripture Index|
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.