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Parashat Va’etchanan – Deut. 3:23 – 7:11

The L-rd did not desire you and choose you because you were more numerous than all the peoples, for you are the smallest of all the peoples. – D’varim/Deuteronomy 7:7

Having narrated the Israelite journey across the wilderness from Egypt to the borders of Eretz Yisra’el, the Land of Israel, Moshe has turned in chapter six of D’varim to urging the Israelites to obey HaShem’s commandments, giving them the Sh’ma (6:4 ff.) as a way – still recited regularly in Jewish homes and synagogues to this day, as perhaps the most important text in Judaism – of remembering HaShem and His commandments at all times and in all contexts. In chapter seven, he turns to warning the Israelites against reaching any accommodation whosoever with the peoples currently occupying the Land, whom HaShem is going to drive out before them: “the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations much larger than you” (D’varim 7:1, JPS). “You have to be a holy people,” he tells the Israelites because HaShem has chosen you.

It is this question of choosing that exercises many of the commentators. Why did HaShem choose Israel as His people? While the verse following our text offers a positive reason, “because the L-RD favoured you and kept the oath He made to your fathers” (D’varim 7:8, JPS), our text seems only negative: it only gives one explanation why HaShem didn’t choose Israel. Actually, it is not even a reason why HaShem didn’t choose Israel, but one of the (possibly almost infinite number of) reasons that HaShem didn’t consider or think important when He did choose Israel. He didn’t choose them because they were larger in number than any of the seven nations in particular, or other nations of the ancient world in general.

To the contrary, Gunther Plaut explains that “G-d operates sometimes in contradiction to what the ‘natural’ order appears to suggest or demand;” what Gerhard von Rad calls, “an act of paradoxical divine love”. In the Ancient near East, the Ramban reports, it would “normally be the most numerous people that would be assigned directly to the ruler: ‘A numerous people is the glory of a king; without a nation a ruler is ruined’ (Proverbs 14:28, JPS). But the L-rd chose you even though you were the smallest.” But HaShem’s choice was very particular. As the Ramban adds, “Choosing always implies selection from a wider range of possibilities,” while Ibn Ezra insists, “He did not choose anyone else.”

The Baal HaTurim notices that the word merubchem is spelled defectively, without a vav. “This indicates,” he suggests, because the vav [and] has been left out, “that it can be interpreted as if Moshe were saying: Not because of your self-aggrandisement, for you make yourself small.” Rashi takes this a little further and puts these words in HaShem’s mouth: “since you do not aggrandise yourselves when I bestow goodness upon you, I desired you.” Moving to the phrase “for you are the least”, Rashi says the Israelites are humbling themselves, “like Avraham who said, ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (B’resheet 18:27), and like Moshe and Aharon who said, ‘And what are we?’ (Shemot 16:7). Not like Nebuchnezzar who said, “I will resemble the Supreme One” (Isaiah 14:14), or Sennacherib who said, “Who among all the gods of the land …” (Isaiah 36:20).” Pushing the Hebrew text a little harder, the Tur adds that, “The word hamet (the smallest) can be understood as two words, [letter] hey me’at, five less. There are fifty seven Israelite families enumerated in parashat Pinchas (B’Midbar 26:1-51) and eight Levite families (26:57-62), for a total of sixty five, compared to the seventy nations listed in B’resheet 10.”

The last word to attract the commentators’ attention is the verb hashak, “to be attached to, to cleave to, to desire” (Davidson) and, as in this case, the object of that attachment or desire is signified with the [letter] bet immediate preposition: the desire is in that person. Here it is bachem, in you”. Richard Elliott Friedman points out that “this is the same word that is used to describe Shechem’s longing for Dinah (B’resheet 34:8) and a soldier’s attraction to a female captive (D’varim 21:11). It conveys a feeling of attachment that one soul has to another.” The Ramban comments that, “He is so strongly connected with you that He will never part from you. The Hebrew expression is a single verb, related to the noun used in ‘the hooks and bands of the posts to be of silver’ (Shemot 27:10).” This speaks of an unbreakable connection, such as the prophet later announces: “Thus said the L-RD, who established the sun for light by day, the laws of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, whose name is L-RD of Hosts: If these laws should ever be annulled by Me — declares the L-RD — only then would the offspring of Israel cease to be a nation before Me for all time. Thus said the L-RD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done — declares the L-RD” (Jeremiah 31:35-37, JPS). This is a very strong statement, guaranteeing the existence and chosenness of Israel for as long as this planet exists and the physical creation remains, which – according to N. T. Wright at least – will be for ever.1

We would expect that there are similar passages that speak of the tightness and inviolability of the relationship between believers and Yeshua. Rav Sha’ul starts by telling the (Gentile) Ephesians that they are “no longer foreigners and strangers. On the contrary, you are fellow-citizens with G-d’s people and members of G-d’s family” (Ephesians 2:19, CJB). This means that instead of being “estranged from the national life of Isra’el … foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise … in this world without hope and without G-d” (v. 12, CJB), they have now been “brought near” (v. 13, CJB) and made part of the “one new man” (v. 15) with the Jewish believers and are being built together into one holy temple, “a spiritual dwelling-place for G-d!” (v. 22, CJB), “built on the foundation of the emissaries and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah Himself” (v. 20, CJB). That sounds pretty indissoluble, doesn’t it!

Shaul’ goes on in his letter to the community in Rome, asking, “Who will separate us from the love of the Messiah? Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Hunger? Poverty? Danger? War?” (Romans 8:35, CJB). “No; nothing, never,” he says, answering his own question, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of G-d which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord” (vv. 38-39, CJB). We are part of the bride of Messiah and, come hell or high water, Yeshua will be coming back (soon) to claim His bride, “a bride to be proud of, without a spot, wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without defect” (Ephesians 5:27, CJB). This is not because of who we are, other than being those whom He foreknew in Messiah from before the foundation of the world, or any skills and abilities that we have; it is simply a matter of G-d’s choice resting in us and calling us into relationship with Him. Of course, we have to cooperate with Him in making the bride ready, made clean “by the washing of water with the word” (v. 16, ESV), and following the leading of the Spirit in joyful obedience.

G-d has done an amazing thing; He has declared to the followers of Yeshua, “Once you were not a people, but now you are G-d’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10, ESV), because “in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living G-d'” (Romans 9:26, ESV). Our response, as G-d told the prophet Hosea about his son – “I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my G-d'” (Hosea 2:23, ESV) – must be to cry out, “You are our G-d!”

1. – See N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, (London: SPCK, 2007).

Further Study: 1 Corinthians 1:27-31; Isaiah 54:9-10; Romans 11:2-5

Application: Are you secure in your relationship with G-d, trusting in what He has done and His faithfulness, or are you always looking around to find something that you can do to make Him really love you? Confess that uncertainty frankly to Him today, and ask Him to show you who you really are and where you stand in Yeshua so that you can stop struggling and rejoice in His freedom and grace.

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Jonathan Allen
Jonathan and his wife, Belinda, lead Messianic Education Trust, which is an educational ministry based in England. It is a part of the Tikkun family of ministries, serving the Messianic Jewish community in Israel, Cyprus and the USA , as well as former republics of the Soviet block.

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