|Messianic Education Trust|
B'Midbar/Numbers 17:20 and I will cause to abate from over Me the complaints of the Children of Israel that they are complaining against you.
Here we are the middle of the second wave of rebellion by the people of Israel following the spies' abortive foray into the Land. Korah - the instigator of the first wave - has been consumed by fire beforeHaShem and his co-conspirators, Dathan and Abiram have been swallowed up by a crack in the earth. Nevertheless, the people are still restive and complaining about Moshe's leadership and Aharon's position as Cohen Gadol. HaShem has responded by proposing a further confirmation of His choice of Aharon by means of twelve staffs left overnight in the Tent of Meeting to see which one produces buds. Our text is part of the reasoning HaShem gives to Moshe for doing this. Abravanel asks, "Why did G-d respond to this new challenge with the test of the staffs? Wasn't the test with the fire pans directed at precisely the same question?" The Bekhor Shor suggests that HaShem might be thinking, "They still have that slight argument that if Nadab and Abihu were burnt, the burning of the others proves nothing about the priesthood. With the sign of the staffs I will resolve that argument." It could be suggested that while the destruction of the two hundred and fifty Levites holding the fire pans and the earth swallowing Dathan, Abiram and their families and tents was entirely negative, a sign to the people as a whole certainly, but also punishment for those directly in rebellion against HaShem, the staff proposal was both harmless - no-one would be destroyed in the process, one of the people's complaints - and an open, planned miracle that the people and their leaders could agree beforehand and participate in checking.
The text finds a number of translations that offer various pictures of HaShem that seem to show irritation or annoyance: "I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites" (NIV), "I will rid Myself of the incessant mutterings of the Israelites against you" (JPS). This is too strong; a paraphrase might say, "I will cause the complaints against you to subside" or "in this way I will put a stop to the complaints the people of Isra'el keep making against you" (CJB). Let's take a closer look at the text itself. The opening verb - , the Hif'il affix 3ms form of the geminate1 verb , "to cause to abate, to quiet or still" (Davidson) - sets the tone.Ibn Ezra comments that "G-d is using human language; the verb refers to calming down." Rashi compares the verb with in "and the waters subsided" (B'resheet 8:1) or in "the king's rage subsided" (Esther 7:10). Targum Onkelos, ever one to simply or remove anthropomorphism, translates the verb with , "and I will cause to rest from before me", using the root , "to rest or be at ease" (Jastrow). Drazin and Wagner comment that "Onkelos retains the colourful metaphor for stopping, apparently since it is a commonly used figure of speech that the people would have no difficulty understanding."
If this "causing to subside" terminology is part of common parlance - perhaps with shushing children, quieting crowds or difficult customers - then we may be able to shed some light upon one of the narratives that is found in all three of the synoptic gospels: Yeshua stilling the storm on the Kinneret. Matthew tells the story this way:
And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing." And He said to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?" (Matthew 8:23-27, ESV)
The first thing to notice here is that Yeshua led the disciples into the boat. A few verses earlier, we are told that "When Yeshua saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side" (v. 18, ESV). Either fully knowing what the voyage would bring, or at least aware of the weather and the way that flash storms come from nowhere on the Kinneret, Yeshua sets up the crossing to the other side of the Lake - back to the western side - and confidently goes to sleep, leaving the disciples to handle the boat. Many of them were experienced fishermen; they knew what they were doing and would easily cope with most things, as they had been doing all their lives. Yet such a storm blew up that even those accustomed to working and sailing on the lake were in trouble.
The second thing to consider is that although the disciples were scared, they trusted Yeshua. It is probably safe to assume that they left Him for a while before waking Him - "If the Master is asleep, then it must be alright" - only part-way through, when the storm reached its peak, 'then' they woke Him up. This is easy to miss as it appears to be followed by a fairly stiff rebuke. The disciples ask Him to save them because they are perishing; they don't urge Him to save Himself. There is no cry to, "Abandon Ship! Every man for himself!" Yeshua's reply confirms this; notice how He describes them as "you of little faith", not "you of no faith". They may not have had enough faith to wait the storm out completely while He finished His sleep, but they hadn't jumped overboard and started swimming!
The third thing was what then happened. Yeshua rebuked the winds and the storm - for disturbing Him, for trying to put their lives at risk - and "a great calm happened" (v. 26, lit.). The use of the verb 'rebuke' is probably intended to show that this was not a 'natural' storm, but had been blown up by the enemy in order to attack Yeshua and the disciples after the successful time of ministry, casting out demons at the Gadarenes. Mark tells us that "the wind subsided, and there was a dead calm" (Mark 4:49, CJB); Luke's account is that "the storm subsided, and all was calm" (Luke 8:24, NIV). There's that word again: subside. By His rebuke, Yeshua caused the wind, the storm, to subside - to die down, to calm down, to disappear. Finally, Matthew finishes with the disciples being in awe of Yeshua and being amazed that the native elements obeyed Him. "What kind of man is this?" (Matthew 8:27), they ask.
An answer to their question if found by comparing the actions in the text from the Torah, where HaShem causes the complaints to subside, with the gospel narratives of Yeshua causing the storm to subside. The Hebrew text uses the same root, , twice in the verse, once as a participle - the ones complaining - and once for the complaints. This is a frequent Hebrew language device, using the same root two or sometimes even three times in the same phrase or sentence, to amplify the meanings of both verbs and nouns. We saw earlier that some translations speak of "constant grumbling" or "incessant complaints"; the Israelites had worked themselves into a howl of protest and divine action was necessary to quell it as, although directed ostensibly at Moshe, HaShem recognised that He was its ultimate target. So with Yeshua; He rebuked the storm because although it appeared to be spoiling the disciples' evening on the Lake, the attack was really directed towards Yeshua, and He knew it. Instead of the same words, the Greek text uses similar sounds to emphasise the calm that followed Yeshua's rebuke: , a great calm.
The Psalmist is not afraid to cry out to G-d: "Answer us with victory through awesome deeds, O G-d, our deliverer, in whom all the ends of the earth and the distant seas put their trust; who by His power fixed the mountains firmly, who is girded with might, who stills the raging seas, the raging waves, and tumultuous peoples" (Psalm 65:6-8, JPS). He clearly links the raging of the seas with the tumult of the people - from the heavenly perspective there is no difference - and calls upon G-d to break through in a supernatural way, "victory through awesome deeds", to redeem His people. The prophet sees things the same way: "The nations roar like the roaring of many waters, but He will rebuke them, and they will flee far away, chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and whirling dust before the storm" (Isaiah 17:13, ESV). Both writers knew the power of G-d and the One who alone can wield that power to make the elements subside and rescue His people.
Rav Sha'ul told the congregations in Corinth, "We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself ... But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on G-d who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again" (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, ESV). G-d raised Yeshua from death; in the same way He will raise us from death. In the meantime, He raises us up in the affairs of men, to silence the complaints against Him, to proclaim His justice and holiness and to speak aloud the name of Yeshua, that all might be saved.
1. - A 'geminate' verb is one in which the second and third letters of the root are the same. They behave irregularly, sometimes as if hollow, sometimes as if a first yod verb.
Further Study: Psalm 22:27-31; 1 Timothy 4:7-10
Do you let Yeshua calm the storms in your life or are you still toughing it
out on the open sea by yourself, flying the flag but reluctant to wake the
Master or to dare ask Him to speak a word of authority?
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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.