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Shemot/Exodus 23:26 I shall fill the number of your days.
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Given the context of this promise - that there shall be no miscarriages, stillbirths or barren women in the land - these words are referring to the length of life rather than the content of each day. As well as the people, the land is also to be blessed with fruitfulness. TheBaal HaTurim comments that the gematria of the word is 72, which excluding the year of birth and the year of death, cross-references to the verse "The span of our life is seventy years" (Psalm 90:10, JPS). The Talmud records a debate between Rabbi Akiva - who taught that only a righteous person would live to this full age, life being shortened in proportion to a person's shortcomings - and the other Sages who held that the "seventy years" was an average, being exceeded by the righteous whose merit granted them extra years, not being reached by the wicked whose deeds cost them years (b. Yevamot 49b-50a). The Rashbam (quoted in Carasik) points to "You will come to the grave in ripe old age" (Job 5:26), while Ibn Ezra supports the view of the Sages by citing "The fear of the L-RD prolongs life, while the years of the wicked will be shortened" (Proverbs 10:27, JPS). The Ramban produces an example of Barzillai, an ally and staunch supporter of King David who exceeded the 70 years: he "... was very old, eighty years of age" (2 Samuel 19:33, JPS).
In a lengthy comment, theSforno sums up some of these ideas and points us to an important relationship. "You will live to the measure of oil that is in your lamp [alluding to 'The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-RD' (Proverbs 20:27, NASB)], rooted from birth." In other words, it is G-d who decides the length of a person's life and its limit is set by Him; G-d provides resources and strength for that number of days. "The reverse of this occurs when man dies of illness before his basic vitality has ceased. This occurs due to wrong choices"; so the choices that we make, some of which will be dietary or lifestyle (food versus exercise, alcohol) and some of which will involve sin (sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, drugs). When we step outside G-d's will, this may shorten our life both as a result of our sin and sometimes as protection for others. "Now when a man's number of days are fulfilled he will in most cases see children born to his children and be able to teach them, as it says, 'make them known to your sons and your grandsons' (D'varim 4:9, NASB)". Without even speaking, our lives teach a message to the next generations, like it or not, good or bad! When we live rightly before G-d, we have the opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren a consistent message about Him; if we don't live that way, the Sforno hints that we won't get that opportunity.
In the book "Pollyanna" by Eleanor H. Porter, the minister (Reverend Ford) preaches a sermon on the text "Death comes unexpectedly", not to be found in the Bible. It is perhaps meant to be a parody of Jonathan Edward's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry G-d", preached at Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741, based on the (real) text "Their foot shall slide in due time" (D'varim 32:35). Although a startling example of the old-fashioned "fire and brimstone" sermon, it has more than a hint of Yeshua's parable about the man who tore down his barns and built newer, bigger ones, so that he might store up food for years to come. It concludes with G-d saying to the man, "This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?" (Luke 12:20, NASB). This in turn echoes the verse spoken by Job: "For what is the hope of the godless when G-d cuts him off, when G-d takes away his life?" (Job 27:8, ESV).
More positively, Yeshua asks the disciples the question, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?" (Matthew 6:27, NASB) in order to focus their attention on G-d's provision for both the natural world and therefore also for those who labour in the kingdom of G-d. Length of life is not an issue that the disciples can change or should be concerned about. G-d has already determined the time when we are born and when we return our souls to our Maker. Our priority is to make sure that we take choices to make best use of that time in two ways: firstly, by the choices we take with regard to food, lifestyle and righteousness; secondly by making sure that we are occupy ourselves with the work of the kingdom so that we may share in its benefits. Working with Yeshua (1 Corinthians 3:9), being a partner in His work (1 Thessalonians 3:2), being yoked with Him (Matthew 11:28-30) are all expressions that the Bible uses to show how we participate with G-d in advancing the kingdom. As we involve ourselves in the affairs of the kingdom, its blessings - length of days, fruitfulness, provision - devolve on to us as well. Rav Sha'ul urges Timothy to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to G-d as a workman" (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB) and uses his own lifestyle as an example to others: "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NASB).
We are to seriously engage with G-d across the board of our lives, putting everything on the table and holding nothing back so that He can adjust and tune our priorities, our finances, our desires and even our families and our possessions. Only as we do this can we experience the thrill and exhilaration of living a totally fulfilled life - a life not aimlessly racing at full throttle, but a life well-lived that returns the maximum possible miles to the gallon and accomplishes the will of G-d. Although not guaranteed to be the easiest or more comfortable journey, we will know that we have done what we were designed to do and can expect to hear Yeshua's words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21, NASB).
Further Study: Ecclesiastes 7:15-18; Mark 8:34-38
Application: Are you eking out an existence, just managing to keep your head above water, worried about whether tomorrow will come; or do you live in the fullness of the kingdom, knowing the call and purpose of the Master, trusting Him for the fullness of your days? Why not put in a call to Headquarters today to make sure you're running on the right program.
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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