No man will stand up in your face. – D’varim/Deuteronomy 11:25
It has become a modern cultural expression: – “in your face” – most often connected with a level of brash, confrontational or brazen behaviour; when someone does or says something they know you won’t like, but they make a point of doing it right in front of you as if daring you to do anything about it. Moshe has just been explaining that HaShem is going to displace all the nations before Israel as they enter the Land, going as far saying that, “every spot on which your foot treads shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River — the Euphrates — to the Western Sea” (D’varim 11:24, JPS) – an enormous area of land. The Sforno says that the promise in our text applies even outside the Land of Israel itself – to Syria, trans-Jordan and modern Iraq. The Rashbam says that the promise applies within all those territories delineated in verse 24. The Ramban points out that the ancient Rabbis argue about Syria – does the promise apply there? Sifrei concludes that it was a conquest outside the Land and so not covered; the Talmud, b. Gittin 8a-b, says that it is considered to become a part of the Land by conquest and so is covered. These days it would be considered very “in your face” in some quarters to suggest that Israel had any authority in any of the land outside the Green Line, let alone as far as Damascus or the River Euphrates!
The verb in our text, yityatzev, is the Hitpa’el 3ms prefix form from the root yod.tzadi.bet., which is unused in the Qal stem, but is very close to nun.tzadi.bet., “to set, put, place”. The Hitpa’el stem has a cluster of similar meanings depending on the preposition that follow it: al or lifnei, “to set or place oneself” or “to stand before”; bifnei – as here – “to stand firm or to stand up to someone” (Davidson). The verb is preceded by the negative particle, lo, and followed by the noun ish, literally ‘man’, in this context, ‘anyone’. The last word in the phrase is based on the root pei.nun.hey., to turn or face and means literally “in your faces”, where ‘your’ is plural, meaning the people of Israel. The ordering of the words means not that no man will stand “in your face” whereas a woman or a nation might, but that no-one will stand in Israel’s face. The promise, of course, is conditioned upon the important words at the start of the block: “If, then, you faithfully keep all this instruction that I command you, loving the L-RD your G-d, walking in all His ways, and holding fast to Him” (v. 22, JPS). Quite a promise: if Israel keeps the Torah faithfully, loves HaShem and walks in His ways, then no-one will stand up – be able to oppose – them.
After the death of Moshe, the promise of both the land boundaries and the impregnability is repeated in almost identical words to Joshua, switching from plural (Israel) to singular (Joshua) – the Hebrew is otherwise identical thus far – and adding a time period: “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5, NIV). HaShem then goes further, telling Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (ibid). We can see the power of this promise growing. Joshua needed encouragement to take over from such an incredible leader as Moshe, but HaShem wants him to succeed, so explicitly encourages him: “Be strong and resolute, for you shall apportion to this people the land that I swore to their fathers to assign to them” (v. 6, JPS). Notice too that the same conditioning applies: “But you must be very strong and resolute to observe faithfully all the teaching that My servant Moshe enjoined upon you. Do not deviate from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful” (vv. 7-8, JPS). HaShem is very clear; He will do His part, but Joshua and the people must do theirs. Obeying G-d is no small matter, to be lightly discarded, and must be faithfully attended to. But the guarantee is absolute!
The prophets pick up the theme of the invulnerability of G-d’s people. In a well-known set of verses, Isaiah emphasises that this is not a property or function of the people, but of G-d Himself: “Surely no harm can be done without My consent: whoever would harm you shall fall because of you. It is I who created the smith to fan the charcoal fire and produce the tools for his work; so it is I who create the instruments of havoc. No weapon formed against you shall succeed, and every tongue that contends with you at law you shall defeat. Such is the lot of the servants of the L-RD, such their triumph through Me — declares the L-RD” (Isaiah 54:15-17, JPS). This reminds is of the conversation between HaShem and the accuser concerning Job: the accuser’s freedom of movement, while quite extensive, was specifically curtailed and limited by G-d. The accuser could only go so far as G-d allowed and an explicit boundary to his actions was imposed. Isaiah speaks of G-d’s consent being necessary for His people to be harmed and G-d’s role in creating the means for harm and warfare; nothing can happen without His agreement. What Isaiah doesn’t say is that harm will never befall Israel – his words teach that if such harm does fall, then it is because G-d has allowed it and that those who do harm G-d’s people will themselves fall. G-d is very zealous over His people: “For ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me on a glorious mission to the nations that plundered you, and this is what He says: Anyone who injures you injures the very pupil of My eye” (Zechariah 2:12, CJB).
In a clever word-play, Yeshua used the occasion when Peter first confessed Him as the Messiah – “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV) – to teach the disciples that because of their confession of Yeshua’s identity as Messiah and L-rd, the very forces of Hell itself would not succeed in destroying it. The promise of safety is conditioned upon the confession and, by explicitly using the word ecclesia, Yeshua makes it clear that the promise is corporate rather than individual, although the ecclesia itself is made up of people who individually confess Yeshua. Rav Sha’ul quotes from the book of Joel when he teaches that “if you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and trust in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you will be delivered … since everyone who calls on the name of ADONAI will be delivered” (Romans 10:9,13, CJB). The ecclesia does not have a mouth and a heart with which to acknowledge/confess or to believe/trust, but individuals acting and ‘as’ and coming together to ‘be’ the body of Messiah do; together those individuals present a witness in each generation and call upon the name of Adonai.
We are engaged in warfare in this generation, as have other generations been before us, but perhaps never so fierce has the conflict raged around the truth of the gospel and the person of Yeshua. Never before have the forces of the enemy mounted such a powerful attack than through secularism, post-modernism and a consumerist society. More so than ever, the simple power of a confession, even though it may attract ridicule and scoffing from those who do not believe and do not want to hear lest their unbelief be exposed or challenged, is needed to cut through the lies and hollow deceit of the enemy. Adopting a phrase in the vernacular: “Sometimes, ya just gotta say it how it is!”
Sha’ul reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV). G-d has given us His armour, His complete defensive system to protect us against the onslaught so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (v. 13, ESV). But the armour is not just defensive; it also allows us – on demand and when so prompted by the Spirit – to adopt an offence stance, to take the fight to the enemy. The “shield of faith” (v. 16) and the “sword of the Spirit” (v. 17) can on occasion be weapons of attack, for “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of G-d, and take every thought captive to obey Messiah” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ESV). As we speak the truth, as we declare the simple facts of the kingdom of G-d, as we share our testimony of G-d moving in our lives, as we announce the words of the Scriptures, we break down and destroy the fabric of lies and deceit that the enemy has erected in other peoples’ lives so that freedom may be grasped and souls brought forth out of darkness.
Simple, non-aggressive, humble, quiet insistence on speaking the truth is an effective declaration of the kingdom of G-d. G-d’s truth will always prevail, even if it appears to be drowned out and G-d will be victorious wherever we are bold and persistent in following His ways without deviating to the left or right or allowing ourselves to be fooled into adding or taking away from His word.
Further Study: Isaiah 45:21-25; Ephesians 3:8-10
Application: Stand firm today in the name and word of Yeshua and no-one will be able to stand up in your face. You will find yourself destroying arguments and taking captives as G-d brings His kingdom to life around you and confirms your words by His Spirit.