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B'resheet/Genesis 49:19 Gad - a troop will troop out and he, he will troop back on [his] tracks
Here we have a fairly impenetrable piece of Hebrew - a complex word play built around the root . Falling in withTargum Onkelos, Rashi goes for the idea of troops ( is a noun meaning a detached party of soldiers, operating out of their own territory) coming out of the territory of Gad, crossing over the Jordan with the other tribes to take part in the conquest of the Land, and then returning home without any casualties. In similar vein, Hirsch offers the proposal that this talks of Gad being a peaceful tribe, always staying within their own borders unless attacked and then hitting back lustily and pursuing their attackers back over their own boundaries to teach them a lesson.
Ramban, on the other hand, connects the word with the verse "I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us" (Habakkuk 3:16, NASB), thus making the troop hostile: "a troop will always assail Gad, that he will have many wars, with enemy troops spreading out over his land, and that he will follow the enemy in his track and be victorious over him and pursue him." Our sages are even more positive: "a troop will come trooping upon him, but he shall troop on it" (y. Sotah 8:10), that is to say, Nachmanides continues, "bands will come to gather wealth and assail him, but he shall troop upon them and bring his troops into their land".
A lot of this, therefore, seems to depend on your point of view. Just after Peter has made his statement of faith in Yeshua as the Messiah and Son of G-d, Yeshua responds by telling him, "upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18, NASB). Two different perspectives can come from this statement, depending on which way it is seen. One view - in some Christian circles quite the majority - is that the church is fixed in place, on a rock, and that all the forces of hell are attacking it, round about on every side, and that the church's job is to hang on - fighting it out, as it were, to the last man - until the trumpet plays the William Tell overture and the cavalry come streaming over the hill to relieve the siege; Yeshua and the angels coming to rescue the embattled church which although hard-pressed, has not been completely overpowered. The other view is the complete opposite: it is the gates of Hades that are fixed in position and no matter what they do, what forces they can muster, no matter what dirty tricks they play, they are completely unable to break out from their defensive position and overpower the righteous advance of the Kingdom of G-d. Two different interpretive traditions from the self-same text, seeing the situation in very different and contrasting ways.
Our whole lives can be altered by the way we see things and the lenses through which we view the world. Even basic assumptions that we acquire early in life, as children, can colour our reading of people and the events around us, not to mention the Scriptures, in a way that can distort or twist reality. People, for example, who have had an abusive father often find it very difficult to relate comfortably with G-d as their heavenly Father; their experience of what fathers can do means that they just can't connect with G-d in that way and often see Him instead as an aloof or distant figure, rather stern and judgmental, fickle and impossible to please. Those of us who see G-d from a different point of view may find that difficult to comprehend, but we too have our acuity bias that colours the way we are able to see G-d.
So how do we cut through the lenses and filters to see G-d as He is, to understand His word without the cultural or familial background that we all bring into our relationships with Him? Good and insightful commentaries can help, but the two most important keys are: asking questions and listening to the answers. We must always ask G-d to explain and reveal His word to us whenever we open the pages of the Bible; anything that we don't understand or connect with forms another question about its meaning and why we don't connect with it; then, when we think we understand, a final question: "is this it, have I got it it?" to confirm our study. And we should expect G-d to answer and help us not only to understand the words and see how to connect them to our lives, but also to get to know Him better and build an ever deepening relationship with Him. We must be prepared to put aside long-held impressions and misunderstandings - if necessary - and to allow G-d to touch the hidden and hurting pieces of our lives so that He can heal and repair, stripping away the layers of accumulation that block or colour our relationship. As Rav Shaul wrote: "Let the word of Messiah, in all its richness, live in you" (Colossians 3:16, CJB).
Further Study: D'varim 6:6-9; 2 Timothy 2:15
Application: Do you sometimes struggle with the words of Scripture, feeling that they might as well be in Martian for all the good they do you? Remember, firstly, that we all have days like that, when our brains don't seem to be working and we simply can't connect with the words; secondly, remember that G-d - who wrote the words - wants to talk to you about them and is just waiting for you to ask Him to explain them to you. Just ask, and He'll be there!
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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