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(Deut 11:26 - 16:17)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 12:20   When the L-rd your G-d enlarges your border as He spoke to you ...


Moshe is in the middle of explaining the way in which the very stringent regulations given for the slaughter of domesticated animals - an ox, a sheep or a goat - laid down in Vayikra chapter 17 are to be relaxed in order to allow Israelites living at a distance from the central sanctuary to eat meat.1 There, the text says that, "if anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to the L-RD, before the L-RD's Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man: he has shed blood; that man shall be cut off from among his people" (Vayikra 17:3-4, NJPS), forbidding slaughter anywhere but as an offering before The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem. Here, although Moshe warns the people to "take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like, but only in the place that the L-RD will choose in one of your tribal territories. There you shall sacrifice your burnt offerings and there you shall observe all that I enjoin upon you" (D'varim 12:13-14, NJPS), he allows them, "whenever you desire, you may slaughter and eat meat in any of your settlements, according to the blessing that the L-RD your G-d has granted you" (v. 5, NJPS). Ritual purity is not required for eating this meat and the only two conditions appear to be: proper slaughter - "as I have instructed you" (v. 21, NJPS) - and that all tithes, firstfruits and firstlings can only be consumed at the central sanctuary (v. 17) as before.

Two questions immediately arise from the first word in the text, the particle : is 'when' the most suitable meaning? and, when is when? Two portions ago (here) we looked at this word's range of meanings such as 'although', 'because', 'for', 'if', 'that', 'when' 'which' and 'who'.FootNoreRef(2) Followed by , - the Hif'il 3ms prefix form of the root , "to make wide, broad; to enlarge" (Davidson), so "He will enlarge" - and the phrase "as He spoke to you", the most obvious choice here is probably 'if' or 'when', making the rest of the verse, "...and you say, 'I shall eat some meat,' for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish" (NJPS), contingent upon this border enlargement. Christopher Wright surmises that D'varim "looks ahead to the Israelites living throughout the Land in scattered settlements. Then, unlike the Israel of the wilderness camped around the Tabernacle, many would live at a distance from YHVH's sanctuary."3

Nearly forty years before, HaShem promised the Israelites back at Mt. Sinai, "I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the L-RD your G-d three times a year" (Shemot 34:24, NJPS). HaShem promises to guarantee territorial stability: not only will He clear the Land before the Israelites, but He will also give them peace so that even when they leave their homes and farms three times each year to worship at the Sanctuary, their land will be safe. Don Isaac Who Is ...

Abravanel: Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508 CE), Statesman and biblical commentator; born in Lisbon, died in Venice; wrote commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures
Abravanel wants to go a step further, saying, "It is not 'when' He enlarges your territory; the correct translation is 'since the L-rd will enlarge your territory.'" Who Is ...

Chizkuni: Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah (13th century), French rabbi and exegete; his commentary on the Torah was written about 1240 in memory of his father, based principally on Rashi, but using about 20 other sources
Chizkuni points to this being taught several times in the text, "because these rules will eventually become a matter of common practice, and it was important that everyone became accustomed to them and proficient in them."

But when is 'when'? Perhaps that depends on which boundary you might be talking about. The Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Ramban quotes Moshe twice in this same book - "When the L-RD your G-d has cut down the nations whose land the L-RD your G-d is assigning to you, and you have dispossessed them and settled in their towns and homes, you shall set aside three cities in the land that the L-RD your G-d is giving you to possess" (D'varim 19:1-2, NJPS) and "When the L-RD your G-d brings you to the land that you are about to enter and possess, and He dislodges many nations before you -- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations much larger than you" (7:1. NJPS) - to prove that "this means these nations the Eternal your G-d gives you now, indicating that immediately after they captured and apportioned the Land, a secular meal of meat became permitted to them." The What Is ...

Sifrei: An early composite midrash/commentary on B'Midbar and D'varim; probably composed around the time of the Mishna (200CE); known and referenced in the Talmud; the B'Midbar portion from the school of R. Simeon, the D'varim portion from that of R. Akiva
Sifrei, on the other hand, points to HaShem's promises to Avraham - "To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates" (B'resheet 15:18, NJPS) and suggests that this is why Moshe here speaks about "enlarging your borders" to include territory outside the Land itself (Sifrei 75). Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra agrees, commenting that our text "essentially repeats verse 15 in order to introduce the phrase about 'enlarging your territory', which refers to places outside the land of Canaan. The same rules apply there as 'in any of your settlements.'"

Either way, it seems that the Israelites will need to wait for some several years at the very least before they can eat meat freely at home. Or will they? Jeffrey Tigay agrees that our text is referring to "the entire promised land", but points out that "full possession of the land will come gradually: 'The L-RD your G-d will dislodge those peoples before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them at once, else the wild beasts would multiply to your hurt' (D'varim 7:22, NJPS). As long as some of it remains in the hands of the Canaanites, Israel will lack the security that is a prerequisite for centralisation: 'When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land that the L-RD your G-d is allotting to you, and He grants you safety from all your enemies around you and you live in security, then ...' (v. 10-11, NJPS)". This suggests that perhaps the distance from the Sanctuary and even the security for travelling may be issues that would permit secular slaughter before full possession of the Land is attained.

As the next step, we can see the 'enlarge' verb being used again in a 'promise' situation by the prophet Isaiah. Israel, pictured as a barren woman who has had no children, is told " Enlarge the site of your tent" (Isaiah 54:2, NJPS. The impossible is going to happen - "you shall spread out to the right and the left; your offspring shall dispossess nations and shall people the desolate towns" (v. 3, NJPS) - the one who is childless, the one who has been widowed, the one who is disgraced by society, will yet be vindicated and blessed with offspring by the L-rd. What is more, the L-rd affirms His promise with an oath - "As I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you ... My loyalty shall never move from you, nor My covenant of friendship be shaken" (vv. 9-10, NJPS) - so that the people may not doubt that He really means what He says and will bring this about. When will this be? The plain reading of the Bible suggests that Isaiah is speaking in the days of the kings, before the Babylonian exile, about the time - perhaps as much as 150 years later - when Israel would be restored to the Land in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Some commentators suggest that these words had a second application in the years following 1948 when the State of Israel of was restored in the Land. Still others look to a further application in the future when Yeshua returns to rule all the nations from Jerusalem. What we can be sure about is that G-d has said, He has given a promise, and He has done - and may possibly yet do again - exactly what He said. Human generations have come and gone, simply holding fast to the promise, not seeing it actualised in their lifetimes, but G-d did not forget or relinquish His promise. In the fullness of time, He delivered on His word and will continue to do so.

Perhaps, by now, you can see where we are going next. Yeshua made a number of forward-looking promises - for example, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:29-30, ESV) - often using the word 'when', and in particular, concerning His return. History records that apart from a number of so-called prophets who have predicted various dates which have passed without anything happening, there have been periods of greater messianic anticipation when there has been an increased level of expectation that He would come then or soon. However, we must not let the now nearly two thousand years of apparent silence since He spoke those words blind us to either the truth of His words or who it was who said them. Our investment in the kingdom of G-d, our dependence upon His promises, does not need the faith-killing caveat of the financial services industry that "the past may not be taken as a guarantee of future performance; the future value of your investments may be greater or less than forecast."

On the contrary, the writer to the Hebrew reminds us that "when G-d desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for G-d to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17-18, ESV(. Speaking initially of the patriarchs, the writer goes on, "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (11:13, ESV). We must continue - as the Israelites did on the plains of Moab - to remind ourselves that when G-d says "when", it means that He really will.

1. - Source critics argue over whether this allowance - following the natural order of writing - relaxes Vayikra 17, or whether Vayikra 17 was written - by priestly writers during or after the Babylonian exile - to tighten up on this. The jury might be out for a long time on that question.

2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 175.

3. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), pages 166-167.

Further Study: Matthew 13:14-17; Hebrews 11:39-40

Application: Are you holding on, waiting for a promise that G-d has given you and hoping that He hasn't forgotten, or worried that you misheard? Hold on and be encouraged in your faith. "When" means "will" and we will see the promises of G-d made good in His time.

25Aug19 02:17 Kate: Amazing! I had been considering Deuteronomy 7:22 and Isaiah 54 this past week. I have also been in a "holding on, waiting for a promise" situation for over 13 years now - so grateful for the encouraging reminder of His faithfulness - thank you! Along the way, a number of years ago, I was in a moment of discouragement/self-pity and said to the Lord "Ive been waiting so long" - I heard His voice in my heart clearly saying "So have I." End of discussion and a truth that keeps me going often!'

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© Jonathan Allen, 2019



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