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D'varim/Deuteronomy 26:1 And it shall be when you enter the land ... and you have taken possession of her, and you dwell in her
The Sages of the Talmud take this statement as a limitation upon the first-fruit offerings that are described in the following verses (b. Kiddushin 37a&b). Moreover, they distinguish between dwelling and possessing - for Shabbat is to be kept wherever our people dwell: "You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day" (Shemot 33:5, NASB) and "You shall do no work; it shall be a sabbath to the L-rd throughout your settlements" (Vayikra 23:3, JPS), whereas the first-fruit offerings are brought only when Israel has both conquered and settled in the Land. "This teaches that whenever 'coming' and 'dwelling' are stated, it means only after taking possession and settling down: that is R.Ishmael's opinion" (b. Kiddushin 37b).
One of Yeshua's stories applies the same principle: "When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry country seeking rest. On finding none, it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they come and live there - so that in the end the person is worse off than he was before" (Luke 11:24-26, CJB). There is a two-stage process here: conquering or taking possession of a situation, and then consolidating the conquest by establishing settlement on the conquered ground in order to prevent return and recurrence of the problems and possibly worse.
T'shuvah, repentance, is an important theme in the Jewish world - and rightly so. It speaks of turning; turning from sin and turning to G-d; a return to the ways of G-d and the observance of the mitzvot. But, as believers, we know that simply trying to stop doing bad things and start doing good things, replacing sin with mitzvot in our own strength, just doesn't work. Eventually, those bad habits and sinful lifestyle patterns creep back up on us and we find ourselves back where we started or worse. In addition, we have added disillusionment and failure to our problems; we have just proved to ourselves that we just can't do it, so why bother!
So what is the answer? Rav Sha'ul had it when he wrote, "What a miserable creature I am! Who will rescue me from this body bound for death? Thanks be to G-d, He will! - through Yeshua the Messiah, our L-rd!" (Romans 7:24-25, CJB). It is only when we turn from our sin and ask G-d to and replace that sin with His righteousness living in us, Yeshua Himself living His life inside us (Galatians 2:20), that the otherwise certain return to sin is prevented. At this season, as we are preparing for the High Holy days, let us make sure we both take possession and establish G-d's dwelling in our lives.
Further Study: 1 John 1:5-10; Hosea 14:2-10(1-9)
Application: It is very easy to trust in our own ability to put our lives in order so that we think they will be pleasing to G-d. It is more difficult to trust G-d and put Him in charge at all times. Ask yourself the question today: who is in control of my life?
© Jonathan Allen, 2004
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