D'varim/Deuteronomy 29:10 and your stranger who is in the midst of your camp, from the one hewing your wood to the one drawing your water
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This phrase is the last in the list of people that Moshe has gathered together on the plains of Moab in order that they may enter in to covenant withHaShem. Yet to be included are the future generations who are not physically present - "I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the L-RD our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day" (D'varim 29:13-14, JPS) - but who are nevertheless included within the scope of the covenant by their parents and forebears who are present. This list is very inclusive; it includes men and women, elders and children, the tribal leaders and the community servants. Jeffrey Tigay points out that "The wording "from wood-chopper to water-drawer" means that other types of menial labourers are also included, such as washermen, gardeners and straw collectors who are often associated with these two in ANE texts." The Sforno supports this by saying, "from the first of the hewers to the last of the drawers; this is similar to 'from infant to suckling, from ox to sheep, from camel to ass' (1 Sam 15:3)". It seems that the whole community needs to be present in order to "make a covenant" or, in the Torah's language, to cut a covenant". Later narrative in the Hebrew Bible echoes this: "Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the L-RD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the L-RD. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the L-RD, to walk after the L-RD and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant" (2 Kings 23:1-3, ESV). The covenant made by Nehemiah and the people in Jerusalem after its city wall had been rebuilt (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 10:14-29) follows the same pattern.
Who were these community servants, that they were listed separately by function rather than simply included in the "men, women and children"? They are described as - "your stranger", or "your alien" - other translations would say "your sojourner". The word is a noun from the root - to sojourn or dwell for a time - with a 2ms possessive suffix, "your". A sojourner is someone who "stays for a time in a place; lives temporarily"; someone who is a temporary rather than a permanent resident. In the biblical context, we might say a resident rather than a citizen. Later in Israelite history, once Israel was settled in the Land, the were non-Jews who chose to live in and among the Jewish people, trading with them, participating in much of the social and religious life but not full members of the Jewish society. In some cases, they came and went - transient merchants, refugees, diplomats or perhaps even tourists - while others chose to stay, often for generations, and become part of the settled mainstream community. Some came from the surrounding nations - border control not being quite what it is today - at times of military stress or famine; others came from further afield, perhaps on ideological grounds. Economic migration is no new phenomenon. The Torah is tolerant of sojourners for, as David reminds the people during the preparation for building the Temple, "For we are sojourners with You, mere transients like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow, with nothing in prospect" (1 Chronicles 29:15, JPS), while HaShem instructs the people on more than one occasion to "treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 19:34, ESV). Some specific provisions in the Torah apply to the sojourners, while other regulations are binding on Israelite and sojourner alike.
On the plains of Moab, however, Israel has not yet entered the Land, so who were these people who chopped the wood and hauled the water? TheRamban proposes that they were drawn from the people who came up from Egypt with the Israelites: "And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock" (Shemot 12:38, NASB). Sefer HaMizrachi1 suggests that they were Caananites who came to make peace with Israel and because Israel was not yet "in the Land" the command to kill them did not apply, so they were made cutters of wood and drawers of water, in the same way as the Gibeonites later were to be treated (Joshua 9:3-27). In either case, they were not Israelites and therefore would not immediately be thought of as enfranchised to be a part of Israel's covenant with G-d. He, however, thought otherwise; as a part, even a lowly part, of the greater Israelite society and because they too were subject to many of the provisions of the Torah, they had to be included in this covenant ceremony before our people crossed over the Jordan and took possession of the Land.
Many churches and congregations operate membership schemes, where those who are committed to the congregation's vision and values have made that commitment public and been formally accepted into membership. As members they are invited to members' meetings where the business of the congregation is transacted; they get advance notice of any changes, new programs, and so on; there may be a members-only prayer chain or list and a variety of other "benefits" that accrue from being a member. This may also include speedier access to the pastor or elders for counselling, teaching, discipleship and other activities. Many ministry functions within the congregation may be limited to members, such as leading worship or playing in the worship band, teaching in the childrens' work or hospitality. In a few churches, who operate a closed table, even sharing the L-rd's Supper is limited to members only. Some congregations don't "do" membership as such, but nevertheless have a distinct "inner circle" of people who know what's going on and do everything, while others find out about it later. This seems very exclusionary, rather than the inclusive picture we see in the text from the Torah.
People also practice exclusion based on colour, gender, age or ability. Disabled people are often excluded from many social groups simply because they are mentally or physically disabled or challenged in a way that most people are not. The same exclusion happens to white people in black churches and black people in white churches. Young people often find it hard to gain acceptance among older people and vice versa. We are naturally drawn towards other people who are like us and feel less comfortable with those are different or make us feel awkward.
The Torah, on the other hand, teaches the opposite: that everyone must be present and included, regardless of differences in age, gender, ability or social status. Whilst not everyone must be there on every occasion, some spiritual transactions cannot be carried out without everyone present and included in the decision making process. This is both common sense for the cohesion and life of the community, a practical outworking of loving one's neighbour as oneself and a divine mandate; although people cannot be forced to attend, every effort must be made to demonstrate the unity of the body of Messiah at a physical as well as a spiritual level. Evangelism also must operate on the same basis; as Yeshua died for "whosoever should believe in Him" (John 3:16), we must take the gospel everywhere and anywhere so that everyone has the opportunity to hear and respond to G-d's invitation to know His Son.
1 - A super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, by Elijah Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1455-1526 CE, the Grand Rabbi of the Ottoman empire.
Further Study: Isaiah 57:19; Acts 2:39
Application: Do you feel included or excluded in your congregation setting? What can you do to change that? What can you do to include someone else who is currently excluded?
19Sep11 13:43 MaDonna Eason: Being a co-sharer with my Jewish spiritual family, I really find delight in this drash. Here we truly see our Father's caring heart toward all His children, Jew and Gentile. Clearly this reveals His "one new man" perspective. His invitation is extended to all so no one is ever left out or rejected. How He loves us so!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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