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Shemot/Exodus 23:25 And you shall worship the L-rd your G-d and He will bless your bread and your water
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Grammatically, this verse follows on from and complements the previous verse. There,HaShem gives a strong set of negative commands forbidding any engagement whatsoever with the pagan gods of the people of the Land: the peoples that Israel will dispossess in order to take, occupy and gain the Land as an inheritance, worshipped a pantheon of natural gods, including - in particular - Ba'al, the god of rain and fertility. Israel is told that they must destroy all the idols of these gods and smash or obliterate any memorial to them or their supposed actions. By such destruction, causing their name and their deeds not to be passed on to the Israelites when they enter the Land, Israel is to impose a scorched-earth policy on the Land and purge any thought or reference of them from the Land. The other side of the same coin is represented in our text: worship HaShem and He will provide food and water, fertility and rain, so that your fields will produce a yield and the people may eat and live.
The opening verb in the text - , the Qal 2mp affix form of the root , to serve or worship, with a vav-reversive to provide the future tense, "and you shall worship" - nicely draws on both meanings of the root.Ibn Ezra asks how this to be done and provides the answer, "by doing all that He commands, loving Him, cleaving to Him, swearing by His name, praying to Him, sacrificing to Him and tithing to Him," adding that "the four remaining clauses of vv. 25-26 are the reward for such service." The Ralbag wants to be sure we understand: "G-d does not need an attendant and the temple service is performed only by priests, while this is a commandment to all of Israel. It means praying to Him to fulfil our needs, as a slave prays to his master."
Never one to miss a syntactical significance, theBaal HaTurim notices that the 'you' in the first verb and the 'your' in "your G-d" is plural, while the 'your' for both bread and water is singular. He proposes that "the first phrase is plural (you shall serve HaShem your G-d), for it refers to communal prayer which is never rejected. The second phrase then switches to singular (and He will bless your bread and your water) for He blesses each individual according to his personal needs." The latter assertion is based on the Talmud where, citing "The eyes of all look to You expectantly, and You give them their food in its time" (Psalm 145:15), the Sages point out that the text there says "in its time" rather than "in their time" to teach that "the Holy One, blessed be He, provides for every individual his food in accordance with his own habits" (b. Ketubot 67b). Rabbi Hirsch offers a slightly different explanation: "Not , not merely the nation in its national representation, but , the Torah must be carried out by every individual member of the nation, and then the physical prosperity of the land, which the nations expect from their worship of the supposed powers of Nature, will be blessed by Him."
What about the bread that is to be blessed?Nachmanides tells us that this "refers in general to all kinds of food and 'water' to whatever one might drink. 'Blessing' them means that you will have large amounts of them." The Sforno adds that "it will nourish you and the abundance will not be the cause of any ailments." Umberto Cassuto shrewdly observes how our text breaks the link between abundance and Ba'al: "not Ba'al to whom the Canaanites attribute the fertility of the soil and abundance of water"1, but it is really HaShem who will provide the food and water that the people need. Terence Fretheim takes this a further step, commenting that "strongly represented are creational promises: G-d will bless them with food, drink, healing, fertility and long life."2 Because He is the Creator G-d, these are G-d's blessings and benefits to bestow to His people, who obey His commandments and call upon Him. Thomas Dozeman agrees: "if the Israelites obey divine law by separating themselves from the worship practices of the indigenous nations, G-d promises to give the people health (food, water, etc.)."3
Perhaps we should also see the power and provision of life in this command and its consequences. Walter Brueggemann suggests that "the elimination of enemies and the practice of pure loyalty will eventuate in a land that is finally blessed by Yahweh; it will be safe, productive and fertile ... good bread and good water, i.e., adequate sustenance (unlike the jeopardy of the wilderness). The land will be saturated with G-d's good power for life."4 It is G-d's power and presence that make the difference: creating and sustaining life. Leon Kass reports that "the Israelites are again admonished to serve only the L-rd, their own G-d, who promises them a different and bountiful future in the service of life and its perpetuation."5
So if the obedience and worship of G-d leads to blessing and abundance, what are we to make of famine - a phenomenon frequently recorded in the Bible. The story of Ruth, set in the days of the judges when "there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25, ESV), starts with a food crisis: "In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land" (Ruth 1:1, ESV). The book of Judges is a long catalogue of Israel's repeated unfaithfulness, turning away from worshiping only HaShem and, instead, worshiping Ba'al, the so-called god of the land. Famine - the withdrawal of G-d's blessing of the rains in their seasons and the seed in the ground - is a consequence of disobedience and idolatry.
Perhaps the most obvious connection between famine and neglect of Torah is found in the book of Amos. HaShem shows the prophet that the leaders and the wealthy people are "trampling on the needy to destroy the poor of the land" (Amos 8:4); they are desecrating Shabbat and the monthly New Moon festival, trading with "false balances" (v. 5, ESV) to defraud the people. So, HaShem tells Amos, "A time is coming -- declares my L-rd G-D -- when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the L-RD. Men shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east to seek the word of the L-RD, but they shall not find it" (vv. 11-12, ESV). This famine - a spiritual one first, although the physical would surely follow if G-d withdraws from the Land and the people - is a direct result of not listening to HaShem's word, disobeying His Torah and worshiping false gods or the values of the world. As the prophet Ezekiel would proclaim, hundreds of years later: "Thus says the L-rd G-D: 'Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence'" (Ezekiel 6:11, ESV).
We find ourselves today descending quite rapidly into a similar time of famine. As we look around us, voices are repeating G-d's warning of exile and famine; we can hear Yosef's voice warning his brothers that "there are still five years of famine to come" (B'resheet 45:11). The predicted years of famine - of the withdrawal of G-d's blessing from His word and His people - have started; their effects are obvious to those whose eyes can see: the ekklesia of G-d is taking the hit. As church leaders turn away from G-d, re-interpreting His word to make it say the opposite of what it said before and aligning themselves with the values and desires of society, the famine deepens. What should the faithful people of G-d do? Can they avoid the famine and still see prosperity in the land?
Yeshua got into hot water with the people in the synagogue at Nazareth after He read from the scroll of Isaiah and announced that it was being fulfilled in those (now, these) days. In the brouhaha following the reading, they could not see who He was or accept His words. He referred to a time of famine: "there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow" (Luke 4:25-26, ESV). Those who follow Yeshua will find themselves doing exactly that: as the spiritual famine within the established churches and denominations increases, they will be sent to those outside current church structures. There will be a great harvest among non-believers as the gospel is proclaimed in small groups, houses, cafes and other places where people gather. As HaShem told the widow through the mouth of Elijah - "The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the L-RD sends rain upon the earth" (1 Kings 17:14, ESV) - so it will be in our day as Yeshua's disciples take His promises and commands seriously and take on the role of ambassador and evangelist for the kingdom. He will not leave us and we shall not see famine in our relationship with Him!
Will this mean disaster for G-d's people? Hear the words of King Jehoshaphat who cried out to HaShem when a great army of Moabites and Ammonites came against the kingdom of Judah. He proclaimed a fast to HaShem and encouraged the people to seek G-d. Then he prayed: "If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You -- for Your name is in this house -- and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save" (2 Chronicles 20:9, ESV). He affirmed that none of these issues would prevent G-d from saving His people. Rav Sha'ul teaches the same thing for the true followers of Yeshua in this and every age: "Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37, ESV).
In these days, we need to hear the words of our text again: "you shall worship the L-rd your G-d and He will bless your bread and your water". We need to seek G-d's face, repent for the way we and our leaders have failed to obey Him, finding many ways to change or deny His commands and cry out for mercy in this time of famine. As we stand in Yeshua, trusting in His cross and resurrection in each of our lives, He will send us out again into His fields to work and bring in His harvest, the great harvest of the end times before He Himself returns. Make us willing - and come soon Lord Yeshua!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 307.
2. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 252.
3. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 557.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 436.
5. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Have, Yale University Press, 2021), page 422.
Further Study: Joshua 22:4-6; Matthew 4:8-10; John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
Application: Do you find yourself enmeshed and stifled, serving in the ways of organised church? Are you struggling to find a way to make the gospel real and see people coming to faith in Yeshua? Ask the Boss to show you what you are doing now and where He wants you to be for Him; ask Him to help you not only think outside the box but be prepared to follow Him out there in the world!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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