“I had to let three of my people go last week” she told me, “and you have no idea how miserable I have been. I wish I could get toughened up so I could do whatever is necessary without feeling such pain!”
“No, you don’t,” I replied. “In these frightening financial conditions, you may have to do what it takes to save the company, but you should never stop feeling the pain. Let me tell you about Moses.”
Confronting a challenge to his leadership, Moses declares that if the rebels die natural deaths it will prove that he is not God’s agent. However, if the (1) …earth opens its mouth and swallows them…it will prove that he is. (Numbers 16:30)
When he had finished speaking… (2) the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them …(Numbers 16:32)
Later, the events are recounted:
(3) The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them…(Numbers 26:10)
Finally, towards the end of his life, Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s wonders which they’d witnessed:
(4) …the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them…(Deuteronomy 11:6)
I have numbered four of the instances where the phrase “the earth opened its mouth” appears in the Torah.
There’s only one little problem. In Hebrew, occurrences (1) and (4) use variations of the verb PTZA for open, while occurrences (2) and (3) use variations of the verb PTCH for open.
This is an example of how much vital information is concealed by inadequate translations. Two separate Hebrew words for ‘open’ exist because each conveys a different subtle nuance. The Lord’s language reveals more than any translation possibly can.
The root word PTCH is used whenever something opens in a positive context:
God saw that Leah was unloved so He opened (PTCH) her womb (Genesis 29:31)
God remembered Rachel, and God heard her and He opened (PTCH) her womb. (Genesis 30:22)
The root word PTZA, on the other hand, is used when something opens in a negative context:
For example, after Cain murdered Abel we find:
And now you are cursed from the earth which opened (PTZA) its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Genesis 4:11)
And Job opens (PTZA) his mouth with nonsense… (Job 35:16)
All your enemies opened (PTZA) their mouths at you… (Lamentations 2:16)
With this in mind, let’s review the four stages of our original story:
Case (1) Moses proclaimed that he would be vindicated if God made the earth open PTZA and swallow the rebels (negative context).
Case (2) God made the earth open PTCH (positive context).
Case (3) Scripture records that indeed God made the earth open PTCH (positive context).
Case (4) Moses recalls the incident as God making the earth open PTZ (negative context).
Thus we now know that Moses called saw the earth opening in a negative context. From God’s perspective it opened in a positive context and Scripture later confirms this. Towards the end of his life, Moses recounts the event and recalls the earth as having opened in a negative context. What is going on?
Here is the clue:
Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)
For Moses, it was nothing short of a calamity to have people die in order to validate his leadership. He saw the earth swallowing his nemeses as necessary but a disaster, and continued to see it this way for the rest of his life. From God’s perspective, through a lens of ultimate truth and objectivity, when the necessary happens it is positive.
We can see Moses’ greatness and aspire to be like him in feeling empathy with others, no matter the source of their suffering.
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