Messianic Education Trust
    Vayelech  
(Deut 31:1 - 30)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 31:6   Be strong and be courageous, do not fear and do not be afraid of them ... He will not let you go and He will not forsake you.


Moshe is drawing close to the end if his final peroration and, before turning to Joshua, he closes his address to the people with these words. In the same breath, he has already reminded them that 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 has already defeated Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites, and that HaShem will go before them into the Land, defeating their enemies ahead of them. These words make a final encouragement to the people, linking the actions of the people and HaShem.

The text starts with four imperatives addressing the people and closes with two commitments made by Moshe on HaShem's behalf. The first two imperatives are positive and the second two are negative; both the commitments are negative. Biblical Hebrew does not have a negative imperative verb form, so the 'not' function is performed by the particle that precedes the verb, joined to it - in the pointed text - by the maqqef marking. Before we examine them in a little more detail, it is also important to notice how the words work acoustically: the accented 'oo' sound on each of the imperatives acts as a catena, stringing them all together, while second and fourth end in not just 'oo' but 'tzoo'. The first two verbs have two syllables each; the second two both have three syllables. The last two verbs at the end of the verse - the commitments that HaShem gives to the people - are each preceded by the particle and end with the 'cha' sound.

The verse starts with , the Qal mp imperative of the root , "to be strong, firm, fast" (Davidson). This is familiar from the phrase Khazak, khazak, v'nit'khazeyk that we say at the end of the last reading in each of the five books of the Torah: "Be strong, be strong and let us be strengthened." The people are to be strong and determined, as Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch puts it: "be firm in resistance and strong in overcoming." The second imperative in the first pair is , the Qal mp imperative of the root , "to be strong, courageous" (Davidson). David Clines hints that while might have overtones of being physically strong,1 might be coloured towards endurance.2 Clearly, the two roots must have slightly different perspectives since they are often presented together in this way, for example HaShem's words to Joshua: "Be strong and courageous ... Only be very strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:6-7). Here, Moshe tells the people both that they must be prepared to exert physical strength, but that they must be prepared to endure until the battle is won. Jeffrey Tigay points out that only by "trusting in G-d's strength, not their own, they may be fully confident of victory." This is an important point: they are not to be strong in themselves, but in HaShem. Peter Craigie helpfully underlines this: "the strength and courage would not come from confidence in their own abilities, but from confidence in G-d."3 As the Psalmist reminds us, "Unless the L-rd builds the house ..." (Psalm 127:1, ESV).

The second pair of verbs, described as negative imperatives, starts with , the Qal 2mp prefix form of the root , "to fear, be afraid, be anxious" (Davidson), here (literally) "not you shall fear". The second is , the Qal 2mp prefix form of the root "to tremble, fear, be afraid" (Davidson) and here belongs with "before them". While is being used to describe the state of the Israelites - they are not to be afraid or feel fear in general, because of their confidence in HaShem - refers to being terrified or in dreadFootNoteRef(4) of the peoples of the Land. The Israelites are not to be a state of fear and they are not to be afraid of the seven tribes currently in the Land, because (as Moshe has just told them), "The L-RD will deliver them up to you" (D'varim 31:5, NJPS). This matter has already been settled.

As we turn to the last two verbs in the text, we should note the difference between and . While both are used and translated here as 'not', they have distinctive emphases. is used to form negative commands and has a strong sense of immediacy: do not, and do not now! , on the other hand, is more concerned with factual truth, the longer term and consequential action. In our context, the Israelites are being instructed, right now, in real time, not to fear or be afraid; while HaShem's promises of support and assurance will last throughout the process. We hear this echoed in Yeshua's words to the disciples: "I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, CJB) and the way that the Hebrew writer quotes HaShem's words to Joshua, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

Promise number one is , the Hifil 3ms prefix form of the root , "to relax, decline, loosen, weaken" (Davidson), with a 2ms object pronoun suffix, "He will not cause you to weaken." Hirsch suggests that " means 'to be weak, worn out' so this could mean, 'He will not let you become weak.' ," he points out, " is the opposite of , so here it means, 'He will not let you go, not let you fall, not be wrenched away from Him.' It is then equally as support for the exhortation 'remain firm', do not let yourselves be overpowered for it is the hand of G-d that holds you fast; if you hold faithfully on to Him, they must overpower His hand if they want to overpower you." What a promise: to overpower us, the enemy must first overpower Him! The second promise is , the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to leave, forsake, desert" (Davidson) with another 2ms object pronoun suffix, "He will not forsake you." Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi paraphrases the pair as, "He will not loosen His grip on you, to be abandoned by Him" and the Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno amplifies that to say, "He will not fail you - because He will strengthen your hands in time of war - and He will not forsake you - afterwards, for He will not remove His watchful eye from you, and those surrounding you will not rise up against you." HaShem will match the endurance of the Israelites through the conquest of the Land by ensuring that peace is maintained after the Land is settled. Walter Brueggemann sums up: "YHVH will be, in time to come, whom YHVH has been for Israel in times past. YHVH is reliable and will not fail or forsake. The future will be safely governed by YHVH as has been the past. YHVH intends the land to belong to Israel and will forcefully act to secure it for Israel."5

And what about us? Can we appropriate these promises for ourselves today? We are surely not attempting to occupy and secure territory against hostile forces - or are we? Both Matthew and Mark report Yeshua telling the disciples, "But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." (Mark 14:28, ESV). The angel at the (then empty) tomb told Mary Magdalene, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you" (Mark 16:7, ESV) and Luke makes a point of starting his second book by reminding Theophilus that in the first book "I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1, ESV) using the word 'began'; Yeshua's work continues through His disciples, commissioned and appointed as witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (v. 8, ESV). At Caesarea Philippi, Yeshua told the twelve that the "gates of hell shall not prevail against" (Matthew 16:18, ESV) His church and since 'gates' do not usually attack, this must imply a defensive position: that Hell is defending the ground that it occupies but will be pushed back, dispossessed and thrown off the territory where it has been illegally squatting. Lastly, Rav Sha'ul explains that "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of G-d, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ESV). That all sounds very like warfare to me! The followers of Yeshua are (gradually) taking back this world for the kingdom of G-d, ready for Yeshua Himself to return and complete the work before He rules for a thousand years in Jerusalem. This is the battle that we fight every day until He returns.

Patrick Miller speaks a word for us all today: "There is no word more persistent and repeated in all of Scripture than this: The way it has been is the way it will be. The L-rd goes with you now as before. That is what the faithfulness of G-d means. So take courage."6

1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 112.

2. - Clines, page 370. (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 318.

3. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 370.

4. - Clines, page 346.

5. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 272.

6. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 219.

Further Study: 1 Chronicles 22:11-13; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; and perhaps Jeremiah 1:10

Application: Are you fearful or afraid, seeing the enemy trying to advance and attack in your life or your world? Then hear the words of our text from the Commander-in-Chief for yourself today and then tell the enemy where to go!

11:25 29Sep19 Lucienne Edwards: Thank you so much for the revelation of the gates of hell being a defensive position for the enemy, rather than an offensive position. That puts such a different perspective on our understanding.

Buy your own copy of the Drash Book for Deuteronomy/D'varim now at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

© Jonathan Allen, 2019



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