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D'varim/Deuteronomy 28:11 And the L-rd will cause good to abound for you: in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your stock and in the fruit of your ground
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This text is the first of three concluding blessings that come in three adjacent verses at the end of the list of blessings that will follow those who "heed the word of the L-rd" (D'varim 28:2, JPS). The block itself is bracketed by the very similar phrases "if you guard/keep the commandments of the L-rd" and "if you hear/observe the commandments of the L-rd" (vv. 9 and 13 respectively), to show the conditions attached to the blessings: they are only available to those who are committed to consistently - not just occasionally - following and walking in the way of Torah.
The verb that starts our text, , is the Hif'il 3ms affix form of the verb with a vav-reversive at the front, to make it future tense, and a 2ms object pronoun at end: 'you'. In its Qal stem, the verb means "to remain, be left"; in the Hif'il stem it takes the meaning, "to cause to abound, to abound or excel". Here, then, we have, "He will cause you to abound", followed by the subject: HaShem, the L-rd. Next comes the indirect object, , "for good" and the rest of the text tells us where that abundance of good will be manifest - in three different fruits: of womb, livestock and the soil. Richard Elliott Friedman offers the translation, "And YHVH will give you a surplus of good ..." while Everett Fox suggests, "YHVH will leave-excess for you of good things ..." Jeffrey Tigay thinks that 'surpass' works even better; he says that the verb "refers to giving more than enough" and points out that the same promise occurs in 30:9. It is this surplus that will "enable Israel to lend to other nations and never to borrow (v. 12)."
OvadiahSforno takes this blessing as material prosperity: "'And HaShem shall make you plenteous in goods' - your material prosperity will be greater than that of others who are also materially successful." Rabbi Hirsch, on the other hand, sees it as a demonstration of HaShem's favour towards His own people and the benefits of living according to Torah: "G-d makes you appear in all that is good, compared to the other nations, as superior, ranking above them." Certainly, throughout history, the Jewish people have been over-represented among the other nations, in the ranks of musicians, artists, physicians, scientists, social reformers and many other areas. If there has been good going on in the world, it seems the Jews have been there, in disproportionate numbers, working out the blessing of Avraham at a practical level.
This blessing and abundance endures even in times of paucity according toIbn Ezra: "Even if there is evil abroad in the land, and starvation and calamity, nonetheless you will still be 'left over' with an abundance of good." Perhaps this is alluded to by a verse from the Psalms - "I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread" (Psalm 37:25, JPS) - that we say several times each day at the end of Grace after Meals. How can we insist on making such an outrageous assertion in the face of historical reality? Faced with the apparent contradiction that throughout history, righteous men have been in dire straights and their children have had to beg for food, both the Jewish and Christian peoples of G-d, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that this has the sense of, "I have never merely stood by and watched ...", which he says implies, "without doing something about it."
There are three common ways of handling this contradiction. The first is to spiritualise it. This means saying that although the promise may have originally been expressed in physical terms and may have had a physical meaning to the people who first heard it - in the case of our text, the ancient Israelites about to enter the Land - it is now a picture or a representation expressing G-d's intentions in a spiritual sense. This transforms the promise away from the awkward physicality either of the Land of Israel or of real crops, herds or families and enables it to simply promise prosperity in spiritual terms. G-d promises to give spiritual blessings, such as salvation, a satisfying spiritual life, a sense of assurance and security, and a place in heaven, to those who follow Him. Oh and 'following Him' has also conveniently switched away from obeying any physical commandments, becoming instead more spiritual activities such as reading the Bible, praying, singing worship songs and asking Him to bless the decisions you take.
A second way to address the contradiction is to eschatalogise it. This means that the promises are the only for the eschaton, for the end times; they are a blessed hope for the future and have no intention of fulfillment in this present age. Depending on your exact point of view, they may be fulfilled during the Millenium, when Yeshua is ruling the earth from Jerusalem, or they may be fulfilled in the new heaven and earth. With these particular promises, only the Millenium fulfillment is interesting as those who hold these positions are generally dismissive of the need for physical food and drink, much less crops and farm animals, in the new heaven and earth. In the meanwhile, we have to live with the tension and apparent injustice in the world, rationalising it as best we can on the basis that this time is very short compared to eternity, that G-d will reward or compensate those who have suffered unjustly and punish the wicked, and that those who suffer are earning a crown of glory.
The third way to consider the contradiction is to Israelise it. This accepts that the promises are real and will have a physical fulfillment, but they only apply to the physical people of Israel, when they are fully obedient to Torah and living in the Land. From there there are a number of choices. One looks at the time of King David and says that that was the time of fulfillment, when David pulled things together and brought the nation into peace and Torah observance, but that the situation has deteriorated since then. Another says that condition has never arisen since the day the promises were given, so that they remain future, awaiting the nation's acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah at the second coming. Other people debate who 'Israel' is exactly - just the physical descendants of the patriarchs, just those who faithfully practice Judaism, the Jewish people plus the grafted in Gentile believers in Yeshua, or just the Gentile church with a few Jews who have converted.
All three approaches have some truth in them. It is certainly true that G-d does promise spiritual blessings to those who truly follow Him and seek relationship with Him. It is also true that the physical creation will not released from its bondage to sin and death until Yeshua returns, and that the new (or renewed) earth will be a lot nicer than what we currently have now, with all the damage repaired. No less true is that physical Israel has a unique but equal place in G-d's affection - both Land and people - and that He hasn't finished sorting either out quite yet. On the other hand, we have only to look around the world and see - perhaps still imperfectly implemented - that a measure of G-d's promises of bounty and blessing is being enacted in the physical world today. Consider the words of the Psalmist: "You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of G-d is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy" (Psalm 65:9-13, ESV). Although not equally shared, frequently unethical, often wasted and even abused, it is undeniable that industrial farming produces more food and bigger harvests every year. There is little joy in the process, since it is almost entirely without any human involvement of G-d, but there is overflowing abundance; the silos have never been fuller. There is enough to feed every man, woman and child on the face of the planet!
How much more so when Yeshua returns and things are set to rights: "O children of Zion, be glad, rejoice in the L-RD your G-d. For He has given you the early rain in His kindness, now He makes the rain fall as formerly -- the early rain and the late -- and threshing floors shall be piled with grain, and vats shall overflow with new wine and oil" (Joel 2:23-24,JPS). Then the physical earth will rejoice and be released to operate in its correct pattern and there will be enough for everyone without abuse, envy or unethical practice. In the meantime, we are still bracketed by G-d's word; we are still commanded to hear and obey His instructions and our individual lives are conditioned on that basis. Whatever our situations and wherever we are, we will see more of G-d's blessing if we seek Him and practice what He has told us to do.
Further Study: 1 Kings 3:11-14; Matthew 6:25-33; 1 Timothy 4:7-10
Application: How can you become involved in correcting some of the imbalance in today's physical world, while working to produce and share the harvest of the kingdom? How can we share the righteous fruit and abundance that we have with those who do not - ask the L-rd of the Harvest for His advice!
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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