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D'varim/Deuteronomy 30:20 to love the L-rd your G-d, to listen to His voice and cleave to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days
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The closing verse of Moshe's longest speech in the book of D'varim, this verse explains the 'how' and 'why' of the "choosing life" that he urges on them in the previous verse. How are they to choose life? By loving Him, by obeying Him and by cleaving to Him. Why do they do this? Because He is their life and the length of their days. Richard Elliot Friedman points out that the Hebrew word can be translated as 'he' or 'that' - an important point on which the major translators disagree. ESV, NIV and NKJV opt for 'he'; NASB, NRSV and JPS choose 'that'. The former - 'he' - means thatHaShem is the people's life; the latter - 'that' - means that the people's choice to love, listen and cleave to HaShem is their life. The WhoIS(Right, Sforno) prefers the latter: "the loving and cleaving to Him results in eternal life." Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, references the Psalmist - "O L-RD, my crag, my fortress, my rescuer, my G-d, my rock in whom I seek refuge, my shield, my mighty champion, my haven" (Psalm 18:3, JPS) and "The L-RD lives! Blessed is my rock! Exalted be G-d, my deliverer" (v. 47, JPS) - to insist that this is a reference to G-d. Only He can do all these things, so He is our life.
Targum Onkelos makes two changes, both to avoid anthropomorphism. "Listen to His voice" becomes "accept His word or wisdom". This is controlled by the source: if it is deemed to be G-d speaking, then the change will be made, since - in Onkelos' mind - a non-corporeal G-d cannot have vocal chords; if on the other hand, it is deemed to be encouragement to the prophets speaking out G-d's words, then the change may not be made. Here, it is clearly taken to be G-d. "Cleave to Him", similarly impossible if G-d has no physical body or substance, becomes "keep close to His fear" - a still emotional but much less relational picture. The Sages of Talmud ask if it is possible to 'cleave' to the divine presence and, if not, what could this instruction mean. Their answer is that "Any man who marries his daughter to a scholar, or carries on a trade for scholars, or benefits scholars from his estate is regarded by Scripture as if he had cleaved to the divine presence" (b. Ketubot 111b). The Sages teach that enabling others to study is considered equal to having fulfilled this instruction for oneself.
Hirsch sees the 'loving' verb - , the Qal infinitive of the root , to love - as the governing principle in the set: "Moshe summarises the conception of this 'living' in loving G-d, which wishes for nothing else but to obey Him and in joy and sorrow, in life and death, close and intimately to remain bound to Him. This 'loving G-d' forms our life and our happiness." We obey Him because we love Him, we cling to Him because we love Him; our love for and relationship with G-d is the motivation for everything else.
Jeffrey Tigay notes that the last phrase of our text, "for He
is your life and the length of your days" is adapted to appear in the second
of the blessings in the Sh'ma section that opens the Ma'ariv
prayer service in the synagogue:
... when we lie down and when we rise up we will speak of Your decrees,
rejoicing in the words of Your Torah and Your commandments for ever.
For they are our life and the length of our days; on them we will
meditate day and night. (Authorised Daily Prayer, 205)
... when we lie down and when we rise up we will speak of Your decrees, rejoicing in the words of Your Torah and Your commandments for ever. For they are our life and the length of our days; on them we will meditate day and night. (Authorised Daily Prayer, 205)
Here, the 'he' or 'that' has been redirected to the Torah as a whole and connected to the commandment Moshe gave to all Israel, "[you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (D'varim 6:7, ESV) and the instructions that HaShem gave Joshua about the Book of the Law: "You shall meditate on it day and night" (Joshua 1:8, ESV).
Reflecting on the rabbinic understanding that "your life and the length of your days" is a reference to eternal life - that loving G-d, obeying Him and cleaving to Him is the way to eternal life - the Mishnah reports that, "Rabbi Ya'akov says: This world is like an antechamber before the world to come; prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall" (m. Pirkei Avot 4:21). We are to prepare for our eternity-long relationship with G-d by developing that relationship now. As Rav Sha'ul says, "For now we see obscurely in a mirror, but then it will be face to face. Now I know partly; then I will know fully, just as G-d has fully known me" (1 Corinthians 13:12, CJB). We already have relationship with G-d; it doesn't just start from nothing when we get to heaven so, just like any other relationship, it needs working on, it needs development.
The Apostle John makes it clear that our relationship - as believers in Messiah Yeshua - with G-d is a present reality, a fact on the ground, not just a future hope: "Dear friends, we are G-d's children now; and it has not yet been made clear what we will become. We do know that when He appears, we will be like Him; because we will see him as He really is" (1 John 3:2, CJB). 'Now', you see, not just 'then'. It isn't that we already have everything that will come in the future, as Rav Sha'ul explains: "It is not that I have already obtained it or already reached the goal - no, I keep pursuing it in the hope of taking hold of that for which the Messiah Yeshua took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12, CJB). On the contrary, Sha'ul is working hard to make sure that he does get to that place that Yeshua has called him to be.
Our starting point, just like the Israelites who were invited to participate in a relationship by the G-d of the whole earth but chose them as His unique and chosen people, is that we have been chosen from Israel and the nations. Just as the Israelites were promised a land of their own, where they might well in safety and security as they worshipped the G-d of Israel and acted as a light to the nations, so believers in Messiah Yeshua are promised relationship with G-d that will endure into eternal life - as Yeshua said, "This is the will of my Father: that all who see the Son and trust in Him should have eternal life, and that I should raise them up on the Last Day" (John 6:40, CJB) - and a calling to witness to every individual in the nations: "You will be my witnesses both in Yerushalayim and in all Y'hudah and Shomron, indeed to the ends of the earth!" (Acts 1:8, CJB).
We, like the Israelites are in transition: they from a people into a nation and through the desert across the Jordan into the Land; we from men of the world into men of the kingdom: "All of us, with faces unveiled, see as in a mirror the glory of the L-rd; and we are being changed into His very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by ADONAI the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18, CJB). Just as the Israelites were guided by the pillars of fire and cloud and preserved from annihilation at the hands of their enemies, so we are directed by the voice of Yeshua: "My sheep listen to My voice, I recognize them, they follow Me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from My hands" (John 10:27-28, CJB). Just as Moshe, who saw G-d face-to-face in the Tent of Meeting, guided the people through the wilderness and offered to give up his life in order to atone for the sins of the people, so Yeshua - our Shepherd and Guide - uniquely knows the Father and gave up His life for us: "Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:15, ESV).
In the same way, the keys to the Israelite journey outlined in our text - to love the L-rd our G-d; to listen to His voice, a common synonym for obeying Him; and to cleave to Him - also apply to us. We demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 15:10) and resting securely in Him (Matthew 11:28-30). Without setting aside the need for obedience and the rules that we have been given to govern our conduct, love is the master principle that holds the whole relationship together. This love is not licence and permissiveness, allowing anything and everything that people want, but discipline, power and grace in the Holy Spirit. This comes from G-d, who enables us to live the lives we have been called to: "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19, ESV). Has the bar been set high? Certainly, because He expects that each of us will do our best, but not too high beyond our reach, as Sha'ul firmly asserts "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13, ESV). It can be done, for He is our life and the length of our days!
Further Study: Romans 8:28-30; 2 Corinthians 4:6
Are you loving G-d and experiencing His enabling grace each day of your life?
Remember that G-d never asks anyone, including you, to do the impossible; in
the flesh, it may look that way, but "with G-d all things are possible"
(Matthew 19:26, ESV). Know it and live in the good of it today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.