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Shemot/Exodus 9:17 "Still you are trampling on My people and do not let them go."
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The verb , ahapax legomenon in this form and from a root that is only used eleven times in the Hebrew Bible, has caused some excitement among the commentators. In form, this is a Hitpa'el participle, in infix rather than prefix form - the , rather than appearing before the root consonants, has been inserted between the first and second root letter1. The Hitpa'el stem implies a meaning that is either reflexive - the action is done to oneself - or iterative - the action is carried out repeatedly - sometimes both may apply. The root appears to have the meaning "to raise up, cast up; to prepare or make a way" (Davidson). Rashi connects the verb with the noun in B'Midbar 20:19 - "We will keep to the beaten track" (JPS) the Israelites said to people of Edom when asking permission to cross their land during their journey into Eretz Yisrael - Targum Onkelos translates it there as "a well trodden road". The same word also occurs in "And there will be a highway from Assyria ..." (Isaiah 11:16, NASB). On that basis, Rashi translates the first two words as "Still you are treading My people". In this verse, Targum Onkelos switches to the Aramaic verb , translated as 'suppress': "You continue to suppress My people". Following the Rashbam, the NJPS version translates the verb as 'thwart', while Ibn Ezra follows the opinion of Ibn Janah2 and suggests "You extol yourself against My people" as found in "Sing to G-d, chant hymns to His name; extol Him who rides the clouds" (Psalm 68:5, JPS).
Abuse - treading down other people, ignoring their feelings and wishes - can be both reflexive and iterative. People may abuse themselves and others; abuse is often a cyclic or repetitive pattern. During the days when the Tabernacle rested at Shiloh, when Eli was the priest, his sons abused both those who brought offerings and the L-rd to whom the offerings were brought. By insisting on taking raw meat that they could roast, before the fat had been burnt and the meat boiled, they invalidated the offering to the L-rd and abused their positions as priests. "Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the L-RD, for the men despised the offering of the L-RD" (1 Samuel 2:17, NASB). Although Eli challenged his sons about their behaviour, "Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the L-RD's people circulating" (vv. 23-24, NASB), they ignored him. A prophet came to Eli, bringing him a rebuke from the L-rd: "Why, then, do you maliciously trample upon the sacrifices and offerings that I have commanded? ... And this shall be a sign for you: the fate of your two sons Hophni and Phinehas -- they shall both die on the same day" (v. 29,34, JPS). Eli's sons were unwilling or unable to break the pattern of abuse which had developed in their lives and so they died.
During the years of the kings, when Israel and Judah often served the gods of the surrounding nations, G-d sent the prophets to challenge the people: "'What need have I of all your sacrifices?' says the L-RD. 'I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, and suet of fatlings, and blood of bulls; and I have no delight in lambs and he-goats. That you come to appear before Me -- who asked that of you? Trample My courts no more; bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide.'" (Isaiah 1:11-13, JPS). The people had not only turned away from G-d, they were repeatedly abusing the weaker members of society, the orphans and the widows, those who could not defend themselves. Relationship with G-d was impossible for a society that practiced abuse on a significant scale.
Even in Second Temple times, after the shock of the First Temple's destruction and the Babylonian exile, Yeshua nevertheless spoke about the religious leaders of His day: "'The Torah-teachers and the P'rushim,' He said, 'sit in the seat of Moshe . So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don't do what they do, because they talk but don't act! They tie heavy loads onto people's shoulders but won't lift a finger to help carry them. Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t'fillin broad and their tzitziyot long, they love the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues'" (Matthew 23:2-6, CJB). Here the abuse worked all ways: the leaders abused the people, their positions as leaders and teachers and themselves; they had adopted routine patterns of behaviour that were obvious to Yeshua.
We know today from many studies that those who abuse their partners in marriage or those who abuse children usually come from an abusive home themselves, and that their abusive behaviour is deeply patterned and habitual. Even periods of time in prison and many hours of counselling and therapy often fail to break the hold that the abusive cycles have built up in their lives; once they are unsupervised, the old habits take over and the abuse begins again. That is not to say, of course, that today's abusers are simply themselves victims and unable to take choices to avoid or prevent abuse - they are and remain responsible for their actions - but that the abuse pattern is so strong that most fail to break it or even realise that they have a choice.
Each generation, however, did have a choice. Qohelet warned the people about guarding their relationship with G-d: "Guard your steps as you go to the house of G-d, and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil" (Ecclesiastes 5:1, NASB). The people should not compound their abuse towards people by pretending that their relationship with G-d was still alright. The people in Isaiah's time were offered that choice very clearly: "'Come, let us reach an understanding -- says the L-RD. Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece'" (Isaiah 1:18, JPS). The abused people of Eli's days were offered a prophetic ray of hope, pointing the way forward: "But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always" (1 Samuel 2:35, NASB). G-d wants to break the patterns of abuse and set people free from abusive addictions. G-d is in the ransom business: ransoming souls from abusive behaviour to spouses or children, from abusive additions to alchohol, pornography and drugs, from self-abusive lifestyles such as prostitution, homosexuality and the sex industry. The answer to abuse is found in Yeshua, who suffered the ultimate abuse - being crucified on the stake although innocent of any crime or offence - so that He might bear the pain and punishment for our abuse in His physical body, that we might be forgiven and set free.
Each of us has a choice today. We can continue with our abusive behaviour, along that well-beaten path - be that as simple as continually arguing with our spouse, or as complex as the most serious cases of criminal abuse - or we can invite Yeshua to break the pattern of abuse in our lives. We should not allow the enemy of our souls to have the final word; we must not become like Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by his continual rejection ofHaShem. Instead, let us, soften our hearts to each other and to G-d and be found "along with those who call on the L-rd from a pure heart, pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love and peace" (2 Timothy 2:22, CJB).
1 - This process is known as metathesis, where a tav and a sibilant letter (samech, shin, sin) swap places to avoid an overlap with the 'ts' sound of the tsadi. See Jouon, Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, page 74, §17b
2 - Ibn Janah (c. 990 - c. 1050); a Spanish Jew, physician and scholar who was famed as a Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. His principal work was the two-volume Book of Exact Investigation, a Hebrew grammar and lexicon, written in Arabic.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 6:18, Ecclesiastes 11:9-10; 3 John 11
Application: The signs of abuse are often well hidden in our lives. Do you still suppress or oppress members of your family or are you perhaps the victim of another's abuse? If so, then you need to hear Yeshua's words of freedom and release today: "Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28, CJB). They are real and they are for you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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