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B'Midbar/Numbers 21:21 Let me pass through your land; we will not turn to field or vineyard, we will not drink well water ...
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These were the words of an emissary of peace that Moshe sent to Sichon, the king of the Amorites, when the people of Israel were approaching the Promised Land and wanted to pass peacefully through the land of the Amorites, east of the Dead Sea.Rashi comments that although the Israelites had not been commanded to make peace with them - based on HaShem saying to Moshe, "Look! I have given Sichon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land into your hand; begin to take possession and contend with him in battle" (D'varim 2:24, NASB) - they nevertheless sought peace from them. The Baal HaTurim adds that since the particle - please - was not included in Moshe's words, as it had been in the case of Edom (see B'Midbar 20:17), Moshe was not really interested in making peace with the Amorites, but sent messengers merely as a gesture. The Midrash Tanchuma (Tanchuma 22) suggests that even though Moshe knew that Sichon would refuse the offer of peace, he still took into consideration HaShem's great love of peace and fulfilled the Psalmist's instruction: "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it" (Psalm 34:15, NASB).
TheRamban, on the other hand, writes that Moshe was sincerely trying to make peace with Sichon. Moshe knew that the land to the west of the Jordan was "the good land" (D'varim 8:7), the land that was "flowing with milk and honey" (B'Midbar 13:27) and wanted Israel to dwell together there in Israel proper. The whole of Israel was later to tell Reuven, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh living east of the Jordan that they must not build an altar there "because the land of your holding is unclean" (Joshua 22:19, JPS); to worship HaShem they must "cross over into the land of the L-RD's own holding, where the Tabernacle of the L-RD abides" (JPS). If Sichon would accept an offer of peace, Moshe reasoned, then Reuven and Gad would not take the land east of the Jordan and Israel would not be split across the river.
Rav Sha'ul, writing to the Messianic community in Rome, tells them, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Romans 12:18, NASB). That's quite a tough call, bearing in mind what men can be like. Sha'ul is not suggesting that the believers should be like doormats and allow themselves to be walked all over - his emphasis on "so far as it depends on you" means that the believers should make offers of peace when conflict arises, should not offend their neighbours or start arguments, but that they are not responsible when others insist on a fight: be that religiously, legally or physically. We live in an age where everything is apparently tolerated except tolerance and following the G-d of Israel. Other religions demand - and seem to receive - huge special interest and minority concessions, while the adherents of Judaism and Christianity routinely have their rights and interests ignored or abused. While squeezing extremely risky and security-weakening confidence-building gestures from the state of Israel, world governments play into the hand of extremists, strengthening and hardening their demands beyond the point where any meaningful peace can be made. "From the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit. And they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:10-11, NASB).
Many quote Yeshua's words when He taught, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of G-d" (Matthew 5:9, NASB), without understanding what making peace really means. Peace making is not at all the same as peace keeping. Keeping the peace seems to consist either of finding some minimum amount of common ground upon which two antagonist can agree, while ignoring the larger and more emotive issues in the hope that the parties will eventually be able to talk about them later once they have come to have some trust in each others intentions; alternatively, peace keeping consists of appeasing the more aggressive bully-type by giving them more and more of what they want, at the expense of the weaker party, the while assuring everyone - and particularly the one who has actually been forced into giving up something they held dear - that this will definitely be the last time and trying to find some twisted logic to justify such patently unfair treatment. Peace making, on the other hand is a full engagement with the needs of both parties, negotiating a middle-ground settlement that both sides can fully support; peace makers will rebuke both sides equally for their intransigence or failure to keep previous agreements, will not be or pretend to be blind to the hidden or aggressive aspirations of either party, but will have the authority to hammer out a meaningful solution to a conflict. Peace keeping rarely, if ever, produces peace; it is usually based upon a false, delusional or deceptive reading of the situation and as such is hated by G-d: "My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the L-rd G-d. It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, 'Peace!' when there is no peace" (Ezekiel 13:9-10, NASB). By contrast, peace making is a long and costly business, often taking significant investment on the part of the peace maker, who must be completely impartial and employ the uttermost integrity and even-handedness.
The writer to the Hebrews adds a further dimension: "Keep pursuing shalom with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the L-rd" (Hebrews 12:14, CJB). As well as pursuing peace, it is necessary to pursue holiness at the same time and in equal measure. Holiness means being spiritually whole or sound: of unimpaired innocence and virtue: free from sinful affections: pure in heart: godly: pious: irreproachable: guiltless, acceptable to G-d. As G-d is the author of peace and true peace can only be found in Him, peace making must seek to reach an agreement which is acceptable to G-d, which matches His expressed desires and observes His rules and standards. Peace making must reach a true solution where the parties can embrace each other and seek each other's good, rather than an armed truce - until the next time - enacted by a sulky handshake that is nothing but a thin veneer over an entrenched intention not to perform.
How then should we behave? Few of us are involved with international negotiations or even national matters, except as horrified bystanders looking on and praying for a better outcome than we fear may be the case. On the other hand, all of us are called to be part of G-d's peace-making corps, reaching out to the world to announce His initiative to make peace with mankind. This call comes "from G-d, who through the Messiah has reconciled us to himself and has given us the work of that reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18, CJB). Just as we have been made right with G-d when we heard the message of salvation in Messiah Yeshua and trusted our lives to Him, so now we are enlisted in heaven's army to help others to find reconciliation - peace with G-d - in their lives. "Therefore we are ambassadors of the Messiah; in effect, G-d is making his appeal through us. What we do is appeal on behalf of the Messiah, 'Be reconciled to G-d!'" (v. 20, CJB)
As G-d's peace-makers, we are to invest our time and prayers into the lives of others, sharing our lives with them, so that they may see and desire the peace that we have. He has already made the ultimate gesture of reconciliation, giving His son Yeshua to die on the cross for our sins - this is what makes peace possible - but the agreement still needs to be hammered out, received and truly accepted. G-d is not interested in limp handshakes, guilty and furtive looks and a press release to one's own people in one's own language that denies the substance of the agreement; G-d is looking for wholehearted and joyful acceptance of His offer of full and complete reconciliation, the start of a frank and open relationship that will last not just a few months, or even years, but a whole lifetime and beyond into eternity. Unlike Moshe, who may or may not have intended to make peace, for a variety of motives, G-d has clearly declared His hand, has laid His cards on the table and invites everyone to make peace with Him. Our part is to communicate that clearly and unambiguously to everyone that G-d brings into our path, taking risks, time and trouble as necessary to be peace-makers, not just peace-keepers.
Further Study: Romans 14:17-19; 2 Corinthians 13:11
Application: How do you respond when you are met with a hostile reception to your faith and the message of the gospel? Do you try to invest into that opportunity, to make peace with that person, or do you back away and apologise, trying to keep the peace by keeping quiet? Why not pray that G-d will give you opportunities to work up your strength and determination to be a kingdom peace-maker.
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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