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The Past Assures the Future

The Past Assures the Future                       by Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

 

Deuteronomy 1:21


Behold or See

 

The first word of this verse is re’eh – “see.” Many translations, including the classic King James, translate this word here as “behold.” This is inaccurate. The Hebrew word that is always translated as “behold” is hinehRe’eh is simply the second-person conjugation of the verb “to see.” 

Despite what I just wrote, those who translate re’eh as “behold” have a point. After all, what really is the difference between “see” and “behold,” in a context such as this? It is certainly quite common for declarative statements such as this to be introduced with the word “behold.” 

But the difference here is significant and will help us understand several nuances in this verse.

While “behold” is commonly used for declarations of fact, it can also literally mean “see.” The word re’eh, on the other hand, more literally means “see,” as in, see with one’s eyes. This verb root describes the literal sense of sight.

 

Why does this matter?

 

Moses is retelling the story of the sin of the spies 40 years after the event took place. He is speaking to the children and grandchildren of the generation that left Egypt in the Exodus. In this retelling, the request of the children of Israel to send spies was a response to what Moses told them in this verse.

But this statement of Moses does not appear in the original narrative in the book of Numbers. For some reason, Moses chose to include this in the retelling of the story to the children and grandchildren 40 years later. In other words, what Moses says here is intended for the new generation who are listening to him retell that story.

Whenever a story is retold, we must pay attention to what is being emphasized for the new audience. My point is that Moses choice of words here is meant for the children of Israel who will enter the land to conquer it now, 40 years after the original event took place. 

The entire point of this verse is to express the confidence that they were supposed to have in their ability to conquer the land of Israel. By introducing this statement with the word “see,” Moses was telling the children of Israel that their ability to conquer the land of Israel need not be a matter of hope or faith. Rather, they should see it as an empirical reality, as a fact before their eyes.

Why “God of your fathers”

 

Notice that Moses refers to God as “the Lord, God of your fathers,” rather than “the Lord your God,” which is used throughout these sections of the book of Deuteronomy. The simple explanation is that God promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs in Genesis. And considering that Moses is telling the current generation that he said this to their parents and grandparents 40 years earlier, this is certainly the plain meaning of the verse.

But I believe that Moses’ choice to call God, “God of your fathers” was also meant to speak directly to his audience. Allow me to explain.

The generation that left Egypt experienced the greatest overt miracles in history. The Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, the revelation at Sinai; the power of God was known to them as an empirical fact. It was not a matter of faith. They knew God’s power from what they experienced with their five senses. 

I believe that Moses’ intent with this verse was to remind his audience that their “fathers,” i.e. the generation of the Exodus, had experienced God this way. Based on this, Moses was appealing to his audience to have full confidence in their ability to conquer the land as though victory is already an established fact. After all, do they need any stronger proof of God’s providence and power than what their parents and grandparents experienced only 40 years earlier?

God’s promises are certain

 

The use of the word “see” emphasizes this point. Moses was saying to them, “This is not merely a matter of faith and trust. Based on what you know, based on what God did for your parents, you can be absolutely certain that the land is yours for the taking.”

 

There is an important lesson for all of us, especially living in these times. We have all witnessed the miracle of the modern state of Israel. The return of the Jewish people and the restoration of our nation in the promised land as foretold in the Bible is not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of fact. We don’t believe that prophecy is being fulfilled in our days. We know it! 

We must look to the past, to what God has already done throughout history, to remember that God’s promises for the future are as certain as facts that are right before our eyes. We can see it!

 

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