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B'Midbar/Numbers 32:20 ... if you will arm yourselves before the L-rd for the battle ...
The verb is a Nifal, prefix, 2mp form of the root . The prefix form usually indicates future or incomplete action, and the Nifal stem of this verb means "to get ready for or arm oneself"; here that is qualified by the following , "for battle or fighting". The men of Gad and Reuben, who wanted to be allocated the wide pasture lands east of the Jordan and start farming straight away - for they had many flocks and cattle - were bring challenged by Moshe to fully participate in the conquest of the Land of Canaan and not just settle for the low hanging fruit leaving the rest of the work to others. The modern Hebrew word from the same root - , pioneers - is used to describe the intrepid settlers of the young Yishuv in the early years of the 20th century who drained the swamps and started to make the desert bloom even before the founding of the State of Israel. They fought the mosquitos and the malaria and epitomised our text as the JPS Tanakh translates it: "if you go to battle as shock-troops, at the instance of the L-rd" (JPS).
TheBaal HaTurim points out that the qualifying phrase "before the L-rd" occurs seven times in the following verses - 20, 21, 22 (twice), 27, 29 and 32 - to correspond with the seven years that the conquest of the Land would take. This emphasises that the men of Gad and Reuben were taking on a commitment before HaShem to serve alongside the other tribes for the duration of the campaign, in order to be allocated their land now so that their women and children could be settled and start farming in the land conquered from the Amorites east of the Jordan. It also makes an important point that cuts several ways concerning the battles that we fight: firstly, that in order to take ground for the kingdom of G-d, warfare is required - it is necessary to fight; secondly, that we are required to arm ourselves - we have to take an active part in the process and cannot just sit and wait for things to fall into our laps; thirdly, that we arm ourselves "before the L-rd" or according to His instructions - we are only to fight the battles that He calls us into and on the terms that He sets out for us.
Many believers today are uncomfortable with the idea of physical conflict, believing that Yeshua was a pacifist. David Bivin summarises these ideas: "Here was a man who apparently was willing to die rather than defend Himself, a man who taught His disciples not to kill, not to resist evil, to love their enemies, not to fear those who kill the body, and that only those who are willing to lose their lives will be able to save them (Matthew 5:21,39a,44; 10:28; 16:25)." (New Light on The Difficult Words of Jesus). Yet as Bivin goes on to point out, Sha'ul tells us to "hate what is evil" (Romans 12:9) and James adds, "Resist the devil" (James 4:7). Luke's gospel makes it clear that Yeshua's disciples were armed (22:38, 49), while Yeshua Himself told the disciples, "Let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" (Luke 22:36, NASB).
Rav Sha'ul extends this to the spiritual plane to make sure that we understand the principles involved: "Use all the armour and weaponry that G-d provides, so that you will be able to stand against the deceptive tactics of the Adversary. For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:11-12, CJB). The fight that we fight is not necessarily against people - although many of us may be involved in physical war or service in the armed forces of the countries in which we live - because the real enemy, the real battle, is a spiritual one, against the devil and his hordes who seek to destroy all that G-d is doing and push back the advances of the kingdom of G-d. Sha'ul goes on, to illustrate the need for our active participation: "So take up every piece of war equipment that G-d provides; so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will be standing" (v. 13 CJB). Whatever G-d provides, and Sha'ul then lists the spiritual equipment, is of no use whatsoever unless we pick it up, put it on and use it. He also makes it clear that we haven't just signed up for a skirmish or two, if it is conveniently located or forced upon us, but that just like the men of Gad and Reuben, we are committed for the long haul, to see the job done, when the battle is won.
Further Study: Nehemiah 4:7-8(13-14); 1 Peter 5:8-11
Application: It is inevitable as believers that we will be involved in conflict as the enemy tries to thwart the plans of G-d in our lives and in the wider world. The question we have to answer is whether we will resist the enemy, making use of all that G-d has given us - be that in the (appropriate) physical or the spiritual realm - or whether we simply allow the enemy to walk all over us. What will your decision be today?
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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