B'resheet/Genesis 13:17 Arise! Walk about in the land - according to its length and its breadth! For to you I will give it.
Starting with two imperative verbs, these areHaShem's instructions to Avram after he and Lot have just agreed to separate and Lot has chosen the "the valley of the Jordan that was well watered everywhere" (v. 11). It doesn't matter what man has chosen, HaShem has already determined that the whole of the Land is to be given to Avram and his descendants. The word order in the last phrase is important and the English translation exactly follows the Hebrew. HaShem is being very specific and deliberate: it is to Avram that the Land is being given, not to Lot or any other relatives or kinsmen.
The first word in the verse, , is a Qal imperative, ms, from the root meaning "rise, rise up, arise". HaShem is urging Avram to take action - not just to sit on his hands and wait for HaShem to do everything; Avram has his part to play. The second word in the verse, , is a Hitpa'el imperative, ms, from the root meaning to go or walk. The Hitpa'el stem adds reflexive - something done to or for oneself - and iterative - something done repeatedly - meanings to the root. In this case, it brings an echo of Avram's original call from HaShem at the beginning of the parasha: , Go for yourself. Avram is told not only to walk about - the most frequent translation of the verb here and in other places - but to walk repeatedly and with a strong personal intention: for or on account of himself. HaShem is making it plain that if Avram wants to see the promises of inheriting the Land fulfilled, then he himself has to demonstrate ownership of the Land.
Is there a mandate for walking over property being an act of ownership? In a Talmudic discussion about paths through or around vineyards, Rabbi Eliezer says there is: "Rabbi Judah said: A path of which the public has taken possession must not be destroyed. How does the public acquire possession [of the path, according to] Rabbi Eliezer? By walking; for it has been taught: If he walked in it through the length of it and through the breadth of it, he has acquired the place where he walked - these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer" (b. Bava Batra 100a).Chizkuni, writing in the thirteenth century, claims that "walking the ground was a way of acquiring ownership over property", while Nahum Sarna verifies that claim: "The existence of this practice, in one form or another, is attested over a wide area of the ancient world. In both the Egyptian and Hittite spheres, the king had to undertake a periodic ceremonial walk around a field or tour of his realm in order to symbolise the renewal of his sovereignty over the land. The same practice is also known from ancient Roman law." Sarna quotes Moshe's words "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours" (D'varim 11:24, ESV) as early Israelite confirmation.
The concept still endures in some Anglican church parishes in England in a ritual known as "Beating the Bounds". This has been carried on since before the Norman Conquest and entailed the parish priest and church officials walking around the boundaries of the parish. This reminded everyone where the boundaries were, which affected who was liable to pay for the upkeep of the church and who was entitled to burial within the churchyard. Hymns and psalms would be sung and the priest would pray a blessing on the fields as well as pronouncing a curse on those who moved boundary stones (D'varim 19:14). In modern times in some parishes, either on Ascension Day or during Rogation week, the clergy, churchwardens and others from the congregation will walk around the boundary of their parish to pray for the residents and their activities. This ancient custom is even protected in law and the church may make a charge on the rates to cover reasonable expenses including refreshments, provided that the event is not less than three year since the last occasion!
Changing tack slightly, theRamban comments, "The Eternal thus told Avram, 'Go wherever you wish to go in the Land for I will be with you and guard you from the evil of the nations, for unto you I will give it, that is to say, the land will be yours.'" Rather than focusing on immediate possession which, in any case, Avram was not instructed to take, the Ramban suggests that Avram would have safe passage everywhere throughout the Land as if he did have possession because HaShem would protect him. In a similar vein, the Sforno adds, "even in your days the inhabitants of the land will consider you as an honoured prince of G-d". This was fulfilled less than fifty years later, after the death of Sarah, when Avraham was negotiating for a burial plot and is addressed by the sons of Heth in the city gates of Hebron: "Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead" (B'resheet 23:6, NASB).
RabbiHirsch goes a step further, reflecting on spiritual ownership, putting these words in HaShem's mouth: "I will give it to you, you will not become assimilated, absorbed by it; but rather the other way round, you will wander through it as its future victor and master". During his explorations, Avraham would not be affected by the Land, drawn into the customs or practices of those currently living there, develop a permanent attachment to any one part of it, but instead would be recognised even by the Land itself as its future master.
This, then, brings us to the modern practice of prayer walking. Groups of believers walk through areas or neighbourhoods, cities or suburbs, to claim spiritual jurisdiction over them, to pray blessing over the people living there and to proclaim G-d's sovereignty over the people, businesses, offices, factories, houses and shops in that location. Taking as their authority verses such as "Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses" (Joshua 1:3, ESV), believers will walk around housing estates as they are being built and proclaim G-d's sovereignty over the new houses, over the people moving in, and will claim the territory for the kingdom of G-d, binding the powers of the enemy in the name of Yeshua and praying for the salvation of those who will live and raise their families in the new community. In cities, prayer walkers will organise tours through the red-light or night-club areas, often during the evenings and night when they are operating, to rebuke the powers of darkness and pray for confusion of the enemy, the closure of those businesses and the release of all the workers who have been taken captive by sin. Powerful results are often seen: people do come to faith and families are re-united; levels of crime and anti-social behaviour are reduced. The church is seen in action on the streets, not just praying, but also talking to people, listening to their stories, offering hope and a realistic alternative. Many opportunities for engagement exist: the burger van where construction workers get lunch while building a new estate, the sandwich shop where business people grab a snack between meetings, the pub where office workers stop for a pint on their way home, the railway station where commuters shiver together in the early morning. Be there and pray!
G-d moves and lives are changed when believers get out of their church buildings and walk the streets of the cities, the cuts and allies of the slums, the smart roads of commuter suburbs, the lanes of country villages. No-one and nowhere is too remote for the power of G-d to touch. Believers are covered and protected by G-d; faith rises up as the Spirit guides both prayer and the route of travel. Residents and workers come to notice those who are praying for them; relationships develop and the gospel is shared in shops, on street corners, in driveways, on platforms, over take-away tea and coffee. We read Yeshua's words to the disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38, ESV) and then pray for the L-rd to raise up missionaries or call people - other people - to do the work. We need to recognise that we are often the answer to our prayers. Instead of praying for other people to do the work, we should roll up our own sleeves and do it ourselves. We are the labourers that G-d wants to send into His harvest today.
Further Study: John 4:35-58; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4
Have you been on a prayer walk recently? It is time to stop sitting on our
hands and get out into the real world to bring hope and salvation to a world
that is screaming out for G-d - even if they won't admit it. Find a local
group near you and see if you can start this week!
22Oct12 13:26 Anna Dempsey: Thank you for this great commentary. I have seen the results of prayer walking for two decades and would like to encourage everyone reading this to form a group and start on your own doorsteps and work outwards and let God work through you. The suggestions for places in this drash are exact and helpful. 23Oct12 11:12 Rosie March: This drash incapsulates all that my husband and I feel the Lord has been saying to us to bring before the people at our church. I have forwarded it to both Minister and Church Secretary. Please pray.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?
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22Oct12 13:26 Anna Dempsey: Thank you for this great commentary. I have seen the results of prayer walking for two decades and would like to encourage everyone reading this to form a group and start on your own doorsteps and work outwards and let God work through you. The suggestions for places in this drash are exact and helpful.
23Oct12 11:12 Rosie March: This drash incapsulates all that my husband and I feel the Lord has been saying to us to bring before the people at our church. I have forwarded it to both Minister and Church Secretary. Please pray.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.