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D'varim/Deuteronomy 32:40 "For I will lift My hand to heaven and I shall say: 'As I live forever ...'"
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The text of this verse seems instantly recognisable as an oath formula; G-d is either swearing an oath or announcing His intention to do so. TheSforno, citing as a parallel the man dressed in linen in Daniel's vision who "raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever" (Daniel 12:7, NASB), is sure that G-d is taking an oath: "I shall swear, just as I live for ever ...". The Ramban confirms this: "By way of the plain meaning of Scripture this is an oath by His throne. He states, 'I lift up', for whoever takes an oath raises his hand and touches the object by which he swears." Hirsch, on the other hand, is obviously uncomfortable with the idea of G-d personally swearing an oath. Perhaps recalling the commandment against swearing falsely: "Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your G-d; I am ADONAI" (Vayikra 19:12, CJB), or the command not to delay in fulfilling an oath: "When you make a vow to ADONAI your G-d, you are not to delay in fulfilling it, for ADONAI your G-d will certainly demand it of you, and your failure to do so will be your sin" (D'varim 23:22, CJB), he looked around him and saw the continuing exile and persecution of our people and felt that it would be better to soften the text so that it did not appear that G-d had taken an oath and either was not fulfilling it, or was delaying in its fulfillment. He writes, "we believe it to be in the same sense as 'Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations' (Isaiah 49:22), where it means admonishing to fulfill a demand. So here too: I enjoin the heavens to execute My will."
TheBaal HaTurim makes an apparently obscure comment that "the word , forever, is spelt defectively, without a ." The numeric value of the letter is six, so the Tur concludes: "This indicates that after 6000 years [from creation] then He alone will be exalted." The final phrase of this comment is a paraphrase of "the L-RD alone will be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:11 and 17, NASB). The Talmud records the teaching of a certain Tanna, Eliyahu, who said, "The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand years are to be void; the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah. Through our many sins a number of these have already passed [and the Messiah is not yet]" (b. Avodah Zara 9a). This shows a clear expectation that the days of Messiah should, at least from the rabbinic point of view, have started some two thousand years ago at the start of what we now call the common era. It also suggests that a significant change is expected any day now!
The following three verses (41-43), that bring the song that Moshe taught the Israelites to its conclusion and outlines what G-d is taking an oath that He will do. In fairly blood-thirsty terms, these verses promise G-d's punishment upon His enemies and, in particular, a recompense against those who have taken the blood of His people. Whilst G-d has said that He will at times turn His face away from His people because of their sin and the way in which they break His covenant, it is very clear that they will remain His people and that those who take advantage of them will receive very full measure of due punishment in the fullness of time. Whatever may appear to the contrary, G-d has not forgotten His people, neither will He forget them. He Himself will do it, because He will not break His oath, neither will He be slow - in the fullness of His time - to fulfill it.
The writer to the Hebrews picks up this theme in the story of G-d's promise to Avraham: "For when G-d made the promise to Avraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, 'will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you'" (Hebrews 6:13-14, NASB, quoting B'resheet 22:16). G-d again takes an oath at this point although as He is G-d that seems an unnecessary thing to do. By His very nature and character, G-d doesn't lie and what He has said He will do, He does. Speaking of Messiah, G-d says, "ADONAI has sworn it, and He will never retract - 'You are a cohen forever, to be compared with Malki-Tzedek'" (Psalm 110:4, CJB). Shouldn't that be enough for us, that G-d has committed Himself? Yet the passage from Hebrews goes on: "In the same way G-d, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for G-d to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17-18, NASB). Both Jew and Gentile who believe in Messiah are the heirs of the promise; for our benefit, since is it the custom for an oath to be added to a verbal undertaking, G-d has bound Himself with an oath so that we may be certain that His promise is good.
The old saying goes that "nothing is certain in this life, except for death and taxes" 1. Death is also referred to as the final frontier, the place where everyone - regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or net financial worth - goes and never comes back. How would we know if the promise of eternal life wasn't just a great big hoax, the product of human pride or perhaps some design to just keep us in our places and behaving properly? Rav Sha'ul wrote about "the certain hope of eternal life. G-d, who does not lie, promised that life before the beginning of time" (Titus 1:2, CJB). Our hope of eternity is based upon G-d; He is outside time and He has given us His solemn promise. His existence is evident all around us in the ordered state of the creation, from the over-arching design of the heavens and universe to the minute details of chromosome pairs and sub-atomic particles. G-d, who designed and engineered our material world, has broken through into that world to give us His promise of eternal life. Peter explains: "Praised be G-d, Father of our L-rd Yeshua the Messiah, who, in keeping with His great mercy, has caused us, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that cannot decay, spoil or fade, kept safe for you in heaven" (1 Peter 1:3-4, CJB). Yeshua's resurrection, witnessed by many people, even as many as 500 on one occasion (1 Corinthians 15:6), is our proof that His promise is good and can be relied upon.
Peter warns the early church that "during the Last Days, scoffers will come, following their own desires and asking, 'Where is this promised "coming" of his? For our fathers have died, and everything goes on just as it has since the beginning of creation'" (2 Peter 3:3-4, CJB). This will include members of the not-as-yet believing Jewish community who will challenge our belief in the return of Yeshua on exactly that basis. During this season of repentance - the Days of Awe, the days between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur - let us repent of our hesitancy to proclaim the imminent return of Yeshua in case people should think that we are weird, or because we lack the faith to believe it for ourselves. How do we know that Yeshua - the Messiah and King of Israel - is coming back? Because He has said so; He has lifted up His own hands to heaven and sworn that He will remember His people Israel and will give His people justice and salvation; He will be avenged upon His enemies and He alone will be acknowledged as G-d!
1. - Although often thought to have originated from Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean Baptiste Leroy in 1789, it was first used by Daniel Defoe, as early as 1726 in "The Political History of the Devil": Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.
Further Study: Isaiah 5:19; John 6:68; 2 Corinthians 4:2
Application: Are you prepared to take G-d's word for it and accept His promise? Or are you looking for some assurance He is really there. Yeshua said, "If anyone wants to do His will, he will know whether My teaching is from G-d or I speak on My own" (John 7:17, CJB). Now is the time of G-d's favour, when we can obey His teaching and prove for ourselves that He is both for real and for us. What are you waiting for?
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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