20.1. Commandments Respecting the Conquering of the Land of Israel (23:20-33)

 (20) I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready.

(21) Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses, since My Name is in him;

(22) but if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.

(23) When My angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them,

(24) you shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits.

(25) You shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst.

(26) No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days.

(27) I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you.

(28) I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites.

(29) I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt.

(30) I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land.

(31) I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the Wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out before you.

(32) You shall make no covenant with them and their gods.

(33) They shall not remain in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me; for you will serve their gods — and it will prove a snare to you.

(20) I am sending an angel: After laying out the civil and criminal codes of Torah law, the text returns to its description of the concluding of the Covenant with God (below, 24:1-18), now viewing it from a different perspective than it did previously.

The commandment to go to battle for conquering the Land serves as an introduction to the description of the concluding of the Covenant.

I am sending an angel before you: This passage, unlike a later, similar one (as we shall soon explain), carries no negative connotations. The sending of this angel is not an ad hoc expedient necessitated by developing circumstances; rather, it appears that this was a part of the original plan. The Hebrew word mal’ach although it most typically means “angel,” can also mean “messenger” or “leader.” The Almighty is sending the people such a guide to lead them to the Land of Israel, and Moses here has no reason to oppose this proposal.

Here the Torah does not say that the angel is being sent to go before the people instead of God – that is, that the presence of the angel implies that God is removing His Own presence from the people. On the contrary, the emphasis here is on elaborating the direct assistance that God will provide for conquering the Land.

Later (35:2), however, after the punishment for the sin of the golden calf, the “sending of the angel” is understood as a reduction in the level of God’s involvement. That is, God will not Himself go among the people, but will send the angel in His place. However, Moses cannot accept any such replacement, and God therefore will ultimately agree to refrain from sending the angel, and to go Himself among the people.

To guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready: Now that the people have received the Law, God directs them to conquer and possess their Land, because only there can that law and those commandments be realized.

(21) Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses: The angel is only a representative of the Almighty. He is given a program to execute, but does not decide anything on his own. Arguing with the angel or defying his instructions is therefore pointless.

(22-28) But if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies … I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you. I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you: If they carefully follow the instructions of the angel, the Jews will have no need even to wage war against the inhabitants of Canaan, because the Almighty Himself will drive the enemy away.

(24) You shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits: Here these principles are presented only in broad strokes, to be elaborated in greater detail below.

(25-26) You shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst. No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days: The people’s relationship with God at this stage is still built on fear, not love. The level of a connection with God based on love finds detailed expression only later in the Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses is no longer addressing a generation of former slaves, but their children and grandchildren, a new generation of people who are free men in every respect.

I will let you enjoy the full count of your days: No one will die a premature death. People will live long, productive lives.

(29-30) I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land: Although it might seem that the acquisition of the Land will happen too slowly, the dispersal of the natives only gradually is in fact a positive aspect, and an important one for enabling the Jews to put down firm roots. The development of the Land of Israel will proceed in parallel with the growth of the population.

(31) I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the Wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out before you: These borders – the southern boundary, from the Nile and the Sea of Reeds; the northern boundary, reaching to the Euphrates River; the eastern boundary, through the Wilderness (west of the Jordan river); and the western boundary, along the Sea of Philistia (the Mediterranean Sea) – these are the maximal borders of the Land of Israel. Because this passage is presenting the general principles, the maximal boundaries are given, although the actual scope of the territory delineated for immediate conquest will be later reduced.

(32) You shall make no covenant with them and their gods: The rationale for this prohibition of entering into an alliance with the inhabitants of Canaan is that doing so would mean, essentially, forging an alliance with their deities.

(33) They shall not remain in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me; for you will serve their gods — and it will prove a snare to you: When a people takes over a country there is always the temptation to adopt the existing customs and cults that are already practiced by the indigenous population, because those customs have a “natural feel” with respect to the land. God will therefore not allow the inhabitants of Canaan and their cults to remain in the Land, because of the danger that their idolatrous practices would pose for the Jews.

Conversely, however, those Canaanites who completely abandoned their idolatry and obeyed Jewish religious and political authority could continue to live in the Land[1].

[1] Not only did the Israelites refrain from warring with these Canaanite groups, they even defended and protected them. See, for example, the incident of the Gibeonites in Joshua, ch. 10.

License

Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book