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Shemot/Exodus 18:15 And Moshe said to his father-in-law, "Because the people are coming to me to seek G-d."
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This text comes the day after his father-in-law Yitro had arrived at the Israelite camp in the wilderness on the way to Mt. Sinai. "Next day, Moshe sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moshe from morning until evening. But when Moshe's father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, 'What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?'" (JPS). Moshe's answer could be seen as being rather arrogant, as theRashbam seems to suggest - "I alone must enquire of G-d. There is no-one among them who is used to speaking with G-d except for me" - but Don Abravanel seems to justify Moshe's actions: "Moshe's words reveal that he fulfilled four roles: prophet, king, teacher and judge, with the first three of which no-one else could help him". The Sages of the Mekhilta assert that Moshe acted and spoke properly: "They say: The following question Judah of Kefar Akko asked Rabbi Gamaliel: 'Why did Moshe see fit to say: Because the people come to me?' Rabbi Gamaliel said to him, 'If not so, how should he have said it?' Said Judah: 'He should have said merely: Because the people come to enquire of G-d.' Then Rabbi Gamaliel said: 'Inasmuch as he does say: To enquire of G-d, he has spoken properly.'"
What then does "enquiring of G-d" mean?Nachmanides explains that it means: to pray for their sick, and to inform them of the whereabouts of what they have lost, this being 'the enquiring of G-d'. And thus the people did with the prophets, just as it is said, "Samuel answered Saul, 'I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the shrine, for you shall eat with me today; and in the morning I will let you go, after telling you whatever may be on your mind. As for your asses that strayed three days ago, do not concern yourself about them, for they have been found'" (1 Samuel 9:19-20, JPS). Similarly, "[King Ben-hadad of Aram] said to Hazael, 'Take a gift with you and go meet the man of God, and through him enquire of the L-RD: Will I recover from this illness?'" (2 Kings 8:8, JPS), meaning that the prophet should pray for his recovery and that he should inform him if his prayer was accepted. This is also the meaning of the verse "the children struggled in her womb, and she said, "If so, why do I exist?" She went to enquire of the L-RD" (B'resheet 25:22).
Nahum Sarna comments that "the phrase 'enquiring of G-d' ... originally meant to seek divine guidance in a situation in which human wisdom has unavailingly exhausted itself. Here it has acquired a legal nuance with the sense of 'seeking a judgement of decision', 'making judicial enquiry'. This usage reflects the conception of true justice as being ultimately the expression of the will of G-d communicated through the human judge." Targum Onkelos translates the verb - to seek, search for or enquire of - with the Aramaic phrase , - to demand instruction. Drazin and Wagner comment that this "avoids the idea that the Israelites might be seeking to see or appear before a corporeal G-d", and this suggestion may be confirmed by the Septuagint which also has a clarifying translation: - to seek the judgement of G-d.Rashi says that the phrase should be understood as "to ask for teaching from the mouth of the Almighty".
All the commentators seem to suggest that there was something unique about Moshe: that his teaching was authoritative, that he understood the needs and problems of the people, that he related well to G-d. Later on, after he has spent time withHaShem on the mountain and in the Tent of Meeting, his face will shine so that he needs to wear a veil; this makes him highly visible and acts as a sign of him being G-d's spokesman to the people. In spite of a few rebellious people and moments (e.g. Korah or even his own brother and sister), Moshe's unique position as the leader of the people is not seriously questioned or challenged. They may not like what he says or the way that G-d is leading them and consequently grumble and moan, but given the vast size of the population, almost everyone accepts him as "the man at the top".
During the time of the kings, the prophet Zechariah speaks about the end times, when "Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the L-RD of Hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favour of the L-RD" (Zechariah 8:22, ESV). More than that, however, is that men will discern the favour and authority of G-d on individual Jewish people: "In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you'" (v. 23, ESV). Whether this will apply just to the Orthodox, recognised by their distinctive black and white uniform, is unclear; much more likely is both that a number of Jewish cultural identifiers will be enough for physical recognition (such as knitted kipot and so on, even in the absence of beards or peyot) and that non-physical report or reputation will also single Jewish people out so that others will flock to them.
Yeshua's position was very clear to those who would see, "for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22, ESV). People marvelled at Yeshua's teaching and came to listen to Him from all over Israel and the neighbouring countries: "Word of Him spread throughout all Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill, suffering from various diseases and pains, and those held in the power of demons, and epileptics and paralytics; and He healed them. Huge crowds followed Him from the Galil, the Ten Towns, Yerushalayim, Y'hudah, and 'Ever-HaYarden" (Matthew 4:24-25, CJB). When He asked His disciples if they had been scared off relationship with Him, "Shim'on Kefa answered him, 'L-rd, to whom would we go? You have the word of eternal life. We have trusted, and we know that You are the Holy One of G-d'" (John 6:68-69, CJB). What was it that Yeshua spoke - what did He say? What did He do? "Therefore, Yeshua said this to them: "Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too" (John 5:19, CJB); "I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28, ESV). No wonder, then, that the crowds flocked to hear what Yeshua had to say. Just as they stood around Moshe all day to hear what he would say and to receive the teaching from the mouth of the Almighty, so people crowded around Yeshua to hear His teaching because they recognised the same authority in Him.
Our position, particularly in these days is to echo the words of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist. John came to prepare the way for Yeshua, to prepare the people's hearts to hear the words and see the signs that Yeshua would bring. We are to prepare the way in the spiritual wilderness of this age for Yeshua; we are to level the ground and fill in the valleys, making the rough places smooth (Isaiah 40:4) so that the glory of the L-rd is revealed both in us now as earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7) and directly when He returns. We point to Yeshua - "Behold, the Lamb of G-d, who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29, NASB) and are to announce to Jerusalem, "that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the L-RD's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:2, ESV). The peoples from the nations may not flock to hear the truth as we boldly proclaim the full counsel of G-d, but we will hasten the time until Yeshua's return and help to reap the end-times harvest that G-d desires before the end of the age.
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Isaiah 40:9-10
Application: Do people ask you about the kingdom of G-d? Do they know that you are G-d's personal ambassador in their lives? Why not ask G-d to make you more obvious to other people so that you have that opportunity to speak out for Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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