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Shemot/Exodus 19:8 And Moshe brought back the words of the people to the L-rd.
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In the previous verse, Moshe has assembled the elders of the people and putHaShem's offer on the table before them: "If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples ... you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Shemot 19:5-6, JPS). The people have all responded, " All that HaShem has spoken, we will do!" and now Moshe takes these words of the people back to HaShem. In the next verse (19:9), Moshe actually repeats the words of the people to HaShem.
The opening word of the text, - the Hif'il prefix 3ms form of the root , to turn, turn back, return (Davidson), so here "and he brought back" - generates a few comments and a question. Rabbi Adda ben Ahabah said, "He ascended early in the morning, for it is written, 'and Moshe rose up early in the morning, and went up Mt. Sinai' (Shemot 34:4)" (b. Shabbat 86a).Rashi adds: "therefore this must have been on the following day." Umberto Cassuto suggests that "the verb 'brought back' is used in the sense of 'replied', for the proposal was in the nature of a question that required an answer"1, while Nachmanides points out that "this use of the verb is also found in the verse 'and they brought back to them a report ... and showed them the fruit of the Land' (B'Midbar 13:26, JPS), where it means that the spies came back to Moshe, Aharon and the people with the things that they saw." Ovadiah Sforno explains that Moshe "reported what he understood from their words, to Him who had sent him; namely, he understood from their response that they would only do what G-d commanded."
What about the question though? TheMekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael asks, "And was there any need for Moshe to report?" After all, would HaShem not have been aware of the response of the people without Moshe informing Him? He is G-d after all! The Mekhilta does provide its own answer, "Scripture merely wishes you to learn proper manners from Moshe. He did not say, 'Since He who sent me knows anyhow there is no need for me to report back'". Somewhat skirting about the issue, Nachmanides adds, "This means that Moshe returned to the mountain with the people's answer. Now everything is revealed to Him and He did not enquire of him, 'What did this people answer you?' It is similar in meaning to the verse 'And the L-RD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the L-RD said to me, 'I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you' (D'varim 5:25)."
So is this just courtesy? Is Moshe being polite, although he knew perfectly well that HaShem - who is omnipresent (present at all places) and omniscient (knowing everything) didn't need to be told what the people had said because He heard it - or knew it - for Himself? This can be generalised to ask why we ever need to answer or respond to G-d. Doesn't He already know the state of our hearts and intentions? Indeed, come to that, why pray? There are two important answers.
The Hebrew verb used for "to pray" gives us a clue to the first answer. The root is , a geminate verb2, meaning to judge or to execute judgement. Its Hitpa'el stem, however, has a distinct set of meanings: to pray, to intercede, to supplicate. The Hitpa'el stem generally adds the idea of being reflexive or repetitive to the basic root meaning, so in this case, "to pray" is aligned with the idea of "to judge oneself", possibly repeatedly. When we pray, particularly in supplication or intercession, we acknowledge our need for G-d to step into our situation and do something, change something, and that the first thing that probably needs changing is us! So when we pray, we are humbling ourselves before G-d and so enabling and inviting Him to act in our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray. Often, we can become part of the answer to our own prayers as G-d shapes us to fit into the picture He is painting.
The second answer starts in this story from Matthew's gospel: "And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Yeshua was passing by, they cried out, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!'" (Matthew 20:30-31, ESV). Now Yeshua could simply have clicked His fingers as He walked past and they would have been healed; no problem, no fuss, no delay. But that isn't what Yeshua did: "And stopping, Yeshua called them and said, 'What do you want Me to do for you?'" (v. 32, ESV). He stopped and asked them what they wanted. Did He already know? Some theologians argue that in the emptying process of becoming man (Philippians 2:6-8), He set aside some of His divine nature, so that He could become dependent on the Father telling Him what He needed to know in each situation by the Ruach. Others insist that Yeshua remained fully G-d and fully man at the same time, throughout His ministry: no diminution of the divine whatsoever. But focus on what Yeshua is doing: by His action of stopping, He demonstrates that these blind men, clearly unimportant and of no value to most of the crowd, were important to Him; by His question He invites them to express their faith, to aim low - for some money or food - or to aim high enough to ask for what they really needed. Most importantly, the blind men were to be involved in their own healing; they were not just passive objects acted upon by magnanimous largesse. They were invited into relationship with Yeshua. Matthew goes on: "They said to Him, 'Lord, let our eyes be opened'" (v. 33, ESV). They took the opportunity in both hands; they asked for the return of their sight. Now the story doesn't, as the one in John 9 does, tell us that they were blind from birth, so we have to assume they knew what they were talking about and the value of sight. They also knew that the priests and Pharisees couldn't do this. No-one could do it. This was a big ask! And Yeshua rewarded their chutzpah and faith: "Yeshua in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed Him" (v. 34, ESV). Notice then what happened: they didn't just buzz off about their own business; they didn't say 'Thanks' and head for home; they followed Him. Yeshua had forged relationship with them: He spoke to them, invited them to articulate their need and participate with Him in fixing it, then followed through with what they asked. And in relationship, they followed Him.
Words have great power; we create things then we speak. We can create love or hatred, respect or disrespect, by the things we casually say - almost, as it were, without thinking. Speaking a word gives it formal utterance and validity. We may think many things and no-one knows what we are thinking, but when we speak, others hear and reality is created. This is why Rav Sha'ul is so explicit about how to enter into relationship with Yeshua: "If you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9, NASB). You can believe all you want in your heart, you can think wonderful thoughts in your mind, but verbalising your statement of faith in real words, getting them out through your mouth so that others can hear and - essentially - hold you accountable, requires, demonstrates and creates faith. When two people get married, what sets that formal process apart from simply living together is that they make vows in public which are witnessed by others. It can be a religious or a secular ceremony, but the exchange of vows - a commitment in a particular formula of words - offered and witnessed by others is what makes a marriage legal.
Both of these answers point to the fundamental reason why we worship, study, pray and communicate with G-d: because we are in relationship with Him. Wives often know what their husbands are about to ask them before the words are spoken; parents even more so with their children - it is fundamental property of being in that close a relationship with someone else. You have known them for so long, watched them change and mature, got to understand their likes and dislikes, the way they say or preface certain things - almost as if you can think their thoughts, seeing them working round to something. Yet we need to allow them to speak for themselves, to find their particular expression and words - and then they sometimes surprise us, coming out with something unexpected. Part of the process is that we want them to speak to us, to make the effort to communicate, rather than us being in control and second-guessing them all the time. And they need to hear us respond and know that their words have been heard and cared for. How much more so, then with G-d who who not only made us in the first place, but knows and understands us better than we do ourselves. He may know what we want to say, but He needs us to know that He has listened, heard and cared. So too, He wants to know that we have listened, heard and cared about His words to us. That is relationship!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
2. - A geminate verb is one where the second and third letters of the root are the same.
Further Study: Psalm 139:23-24; Psalm 66:16-20
Application: Do you hear and listen when G-d speaks? Are you confident that He hears you? Today is an excellent opportunity to make sure that both directions are working fully - speak to the technical support man and get Him to make sure the lines are tested.
Comment - 18:54 01Feb15 Bob: Thank you, this answered a question I asked the Lord this week.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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