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B'Midbar/Numbers 14:28 As I live - the oracle of the L-rd - if not that what you spoke in My ears, I will do to you!
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These are the words that Moshe and Aharon are commanded to speak to the whole community after the Israelites have heard and believed the bad report about the Land, which HaShem has promised to give them, brought by ten of the twelve spies. The text begins with a standard oath formula - , "As I live" - used exclusively byHaShem in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rashi observes that this has a rhetorical meaning: "If I shall not do so - as if it were possible - I am not alive". Since HaShem is alive and lives for ever, this is saying that the fulfillment of the oath is as certain as HaShem's own very existence. Jacob Milgrom comments that "Man swears by G-d, but the L-rd G-d swears by His own life, essence, or being since there is no superior entity". The writer to the Hebrews picks up this theme to encourage believers in Messiah: "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).
Drazin and Wagner point out that the phrase - sometimes translated as a noun, "the oracle of the L-rd", sometimes as a verb, "declares the L-rd" - only appears once in the Torah (B'resheet 22:16), twice in the writings (Psalm 110:1 and 2 Chronicles 34:27) but two hundred and fifty times in the prophets (sixteen times in Ezekiel and one hundred and sixty two times in Jeremiah). This usage here in B'Midbar is therefore unusual and suggests that HaShem is speaking in a prophetic way - which was in fact borne out the by subsequent narrative.
TheRamban explains that "The meaning of this is an expression of wonder: 'Will I not do to you as you have spoken?' Such is the way of the Sacred Language". "The L-RD of Hosts has sworn this oath: 'As I have designed, so shall it happen; what I have planned, that shall come to pass'" (Isaiah 14:24, ). The Sforno confirms the way in which the words should be read: "these are two negatives in place of a positive. This means 'as you have spoken in My ears (14:2, 13:32) all this will be fulfilled with you!'"
What had the people said that provoked such a strong response from HaShem? The chapter starts with the sad narrative, "All the people of Israel grumbled against Moshe and Aharon. The whole congregation said to them, 'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!'" (B'Midbar 14:2, ESV). Rashi reframes these words as if they had been addressed directly to HaShem: "For you asked of Me, 'If only we had died in this wilderness'". This may have taken a further thirty eight years to actually taken place, but it was certainly fulfilled. The Sforno comments that this happened "at various times", not necessarily immediately; this also applied in future generations: "Therefore He raised His hand and swore to them that He would make them fall in the wilderness, and would make their offspring fall among the nations, scattering them among the lands" (Psalm 106:26-27, ESV).
Richard Elliott Friedman commented this text records "another case of ironic divine punishment to suit the crime. They could have had the Land and lived, but they were afraid and said that they would die and their children would be made captives. So now they will in fact die, but their children will live and one day be free in the Land." This highlights an important point: the generation who came out Egypt were born and raised in a slave mentality; they subsequently proved to be unable to enter the Land because of their lack of faith. The next generation were born free, so were qualified to enter. There is a critical issue that applies to us today: do we bring our (previous) slave-to-sin mentalities into our lives as believers and so deny what G-d wants to do? Do we sit around complaining about not having what we want, or are we committed to moving forward in the kingdom, putting aside the things and attitudes of the past? we need to hear well the lesson here: if we persist in complaining, then we will be forced to leave our vision to our (spiritual and physical) children.
Yeshua spoke to the disciples about prayer: "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14, ESV). This promise is claimed by many and has become a standard ending for prayer throughout the believing world: "... in Jesus' name, Amen". But what does it mean if it has become a piece of rote? Yeshua also spoke about careless words: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV) and deliberately hurtful words: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22, ESV). What happens about those words that are spoken without thought or with intent to hurt others?
We are called to exercise care over our attitudes and words when we speak both to G-d and to man. Just as G-d spoke the creation into being - His words became substance, facts on the ground, so to speak - so our words have the power to create. Not perhaps on the same order as the Creation, but when our words are heard and received by others we can create relationship and love; on the other hand, we can create hurt, doubt and suspicion. The Psalmist cries out, "Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward" (Psalm 28:3-4, ESV). James urges the believers: "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law" (James 4:11, ESV). Whilst believers do generally manage to avoid physical sins - murder, theft, adultery - against others, there is much more difficulty reigning in our hearts and mouths. It is so easy, even in a moment of stress, to speak badly of a fellow man or woman. Easier still is thinking badly of someone when they fail to do what we want or expect; we tell ourselves that they are "so stupid" or "so difficult/stubborn". We can even speak or think curses over them. These words or thoughts on our part create strongholds in our minds that give the enemy a foothold; spoken aloud, they create a barrier between us and the other person, they may build a stumbling block in the path of others who might hear and they damage the reputation and value of G-d Himself. They call down G-d's judgement upon us.
We are called to exercise care over our attitudes and words We should not expect casual prayer, or prayer couched in faithless terms to be well received by G-d. James again explains: "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-8, NASB). Yeshua told the disciples, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive" (Matthew 21:21-22, NASB). We must ask G-d in faith for those things that are in clear agreement with His word; we must exercise discernment when asked by others to pray for them; we should ask G-d for His wisdom and direction over what we ask from Him - He promises His wisdom if we ask: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask G-d, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5, ESV).
We should take seriously the lesson that the Torah teaches us about what we say. If we will not guard our hearts, minds and mouths before G-d, then we may find ourselves receiving from the L-rd what we have asked or expressed in the same way as the Israelites did in the desert. Yeshua has given us tremendous promises about prayer and incredible access to the Father through Himself and in His name; these empower and enable us to call on the resources of heaven in an almost unimaginable way to advance the growth of the kingdom of heaven in this age, to bless G-d's people in any and every walk of life, and to see G-d's name glorified in our midst. Let us use them wisely and under the guidance of His Spirit, being bold but prudent and seeing our prayers answered daily.
Further Study: Isaiah 46:9-10; Proverbs 2:3-6; Matthew 7:7
Application: How do you express yourself before G-d? Do you always take care to invoke His name in the right way and with due care? Perhaps it would be wise to repent of unguarded or foolish words before they start affecting you adversely.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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