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D'varim/Deuteronomy 8:1 All the commandment that I am commanding you today, you shall observe to do
Our verse starts with a curious grammatical arrangement that whilst not wrong, sounds as though it ought to be: "all the commandment" is not what we would expect. Nevertheless, the Hebrew text mandates that by the presence of the definite article and the singular noun. "Every commandment" would be without the definite article; "all the commandments" would be with a plural noun.Rashi notices the anomaly and comments that it is to be understood "according to its simple meaning: the body of commandments, the Torah" and is supported by Abravanel who suggests that "all the commandments make up a single, integral, complete instruction." Drazin and Wagner, translators of Targum Onkelos, explain that "Scripture uses the singular, mitzvah, rather than the plural. Saadia Gaon, who substituted the plural, probably thought that the Torah was referring to all of its commandments, while Onkelos, who retains the singular, probably thought Moshe was focusing on what he was talking about now: the need to stay steadfast with G-d."
Context is everything, so RabbiHirsch reminds us that, "the end of the previous chapter dealt with the complete nullity of the heathen gods and their complete removal and the removal of anything that is in any way connected with them, from the whole domain of Jews." In contrast to that, he continues, "this chapter stresses the positiveness of G-d, as Israel had come to know from experience, and demands their keeping constantly in mind what they had experienced, from which alone the faithful carrying-out of the Torah and the resulting founding of our permanent happiness can follow." In last week's commentary (here), we noted the overlap in meaning between , to hear, and , to guard; here the verb is the Qal 2mp prefix form of the root , "to guard, keep, observe" (Davidson), and with the following verb - the Qal infinitive of the root , to do - speaks of deliberately taking care over and keeping in mind to observe the commandment.
It is a requirement for conversion to Judaism that a prospective convert should accept - even if they are not capable of keeping them at the time of conversion - keeping all of the commandments in the Torah that can be kept today (b. Yevamot 47a-b). The Sages of the Talmud say, "A idolater who comes to accept the [entire] Torah except for one thing - we do not accept him. Rabbi Yose bar Yehuda says: Even a single detail of rabbinic law" (b. Bekhorot 30b). Declining to keep or negating the importance of any of the commandments will stop the conversion process.
Jeffrey Tigay is alert to the greater structure of Moshe's message to the Israelites on the plains of Moab. "Since his message to Israel should always remember its dependence on G-d,", he comments, "it is noteworthy that Moshe begins with an appeal to observe the commandments. This reflects the biblical view that awareness of G-d and obedience are not separate phenomena: the commandments are the practical expression of awareness of G-d and serve to foster it." This is a revolutionary thought for many believers: being aware of G-d and obedience are intertwined; so much so that obedience is the way we show and experience our awareness of G-d. When we obey, the presence of G-d is manifest. That's why Yeshua told the disciples, "the kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:21, NJB). This is basic kingdom theology - where is the kingdom of G-d? The kingdom is where the commandments of the King are obeyed and His people cultivate and are aware of His presence. Our consistent and careful keeping of G-d's commandments is a powerful witness that we serve the King and are aware of Him in our lives.
Yeshua explained what happens when an unclean spirit is exorcised from a person and nothing is put in its place: "When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first" (Luke 11:24-26, NASB). This can be prevented, Hirsch maintains, by "taking care to do" as our text directs: the Jewish house, kept clear of everything heathen, must be a home of fulfilling the Torah if it is to be the place where our true lives and prosperity are to be planted." We might well say that Torah is not enough; certainly legalistic rule keeping is not, but a home that is filled by listening to and fulfilling every word that comes from the mouth of G-d will be a home of peace and tranquility, of rich spirituality and of life.
The apostle James shows that the early church too saw the Torah as a complete package: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11, NASB). If you break one individual commandment, then you are deemed to have broken "the law". But is that what James is really trying to say? He has been talking about keeping the "royal" law, "according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" and says that if you do that, "you are doing well" (v. 8, NASB). This is about stance and direction. If we have set our faces towards keeping Yeshua's summary of the Torah, loving G-d and loving our neighbour, then we are declaring ourselves to be in the kingdom and in line with kingdom values. Our indiscretions, the sins we as humans inevitably trip over, are then a matter of repentance and forgiveness for someone who is a member of the kingdom. If we haven't made that decision, to follow Yeshua and to be a part of the kingdom in Him, then any and all of our sins - big or little - are breakages of the law by someone who is essentially by nature a sinner.
It seems that life with G-d is all or nothing. You are either in or you are out. Although we can and do sin, He has provided a mechanism for repentance and forgiveness to restore us to full relationship. On the other hand, that relationship is to be exclusive. We cannot share our loyalties with anyone or anything else. G-d was very specific with the Israelites that they must destroy all the idols of the nations that they dispossessed when they entered the Land: "you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts" (Shemot 34:13, NJPS); they must not engage in idolatry or even enquire about the way the nations worshiped their gods. Rav Sha'ul is equally clear that there can be no compromise for believers in Yeshua: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV). Yeshua rebuked the enemy with the words of Torah, "You shall worship the L-rd your G-d and Him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:10 from D'varim 6:13, ESV) and gave a completely unambiguous and exclusive message to the disciples: "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6, ESV).
Moshe gives our people a clear choice: if you want to live, to stay in the Land, to enjoy its fruit and produce, then you have to keep the commandments - you have to follow G-d's instruction book. Your heart must be set on obeying G-d; that must be your default position. Yeshua told the disciples that obedience to His commands was the only way to bear fruit in the kingdom and to remain in fellowship with Himself and the Father (John 15:8-10).1 When we choose to disregard this we place ourselves outside the kingdom and outside His love.
1. - Remembering that the application of Torahto Jews and Gentiles in the New Covenant context is different, so that there are some commandments in which Jews are obligated while Gentiles are not.
Further Study: D'varim 6:1-3; 2 Corinthians 6:15-18
Application: Do you try to pick and choose which of Yeshua's commandments you will obey, or which of His words you will hear and implement?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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