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D'varim/Deuteronomy 30:10 if you listen to the voice of the L-rd your G-d to keep His commandments and His statutes ... if you return to the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.
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This verse comes at the end of a chiastic structure offering hope to Israel at a time in the future when, having turned away from HaShem, there is yet not only the hope for but a prophesied return to full relationship and blessing as HaShem's chosen people. The chiasm starts in verse two, where the verbs 'return' and 'listen' are used in the opposite order to this text: "and you return to the L-RD your G-d, and you and your children listen to His voice ... with all your heart and soul" (D'varim 30:2). You will remember that the root (to hear, listen), here as the second word of the text, (Qal 2ms prefix) and there as (Qal 2ms affix with vav-reversive), particularly used in the literal metaphor "to listen in someone's voice", means to obey that someone. Verse six, the centre of the chiasm, repeats the phrase "with all your heart and with all your soul" found here and in verse two: "Then the L-RD your G-d will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live" (v. 6, NJPS).Ibn Ezra explains that "the commandments cannot really be 'kept' other than wholeheartedly, for the commandment of 'keeping' them is to be done with the heart."
Most English translations prefer to render the word , used twice in our text (the first word on each of the two lines) and in verse one - "When all these things befall you" (NJPS) - with 'when' or 'since', making them seem simply a matter of time or a certainty. Similarly, the simple vav used at the start of verse six, is often translated 'then' or 'moreover' to make this step of circumcision of the heart appear to be just another automatic step along a natural or even predetermined sequence. TheBekhor Shor agrees, commenting on our first phrase - if you will obey ... - "this is a prophecy; it is guaranteed to happen. I venture to suggest, however, that assuming is to be translated that way implies a certain over-optimistic view that has not so far been borne out by history and ignores the high conditionality of HaShem's words that remain open to this day, contingent upon a level of repentance and obedience that Israel has not yet attained. is also often translated 'if' and it is important - as our translation above emphasises - to recognise that HaShem's blessings are dependent on Israel's obedience of the Torah and living rightly within the covenant.
That is not to say that there has been no fulfillment of these words; like many other prophetic passages, there have been several times of partial fulfillment: the return of a remnant of Israel to the land of Judah after the Babylonian exile being perhaps the most prominent example in the biblical narrative. Nevertheless, Israel (and the world) still await the fullness of these words in the plan and purpose of G-d. RabbiHirsch firmly links this return to the final redemption of Israel from among the nations - when all the descendants of Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov will live, or at least have citizenship, in the Land of Israel. "In clear and unambiguous terms," he writes, "is proclaimed the regathering out of the dispersion to the return of us all to the Promised Land which we are still awaiting and, equally clear and unambiguous, the unaltered lasting power of the Torah, as transmitted to us by Moshe, to succeed in binding us to the observance of our duty. Only a complete return to unviolable unswerving loyalty towards this Torah in all the dispersion amongst the nations will end this dispersion, and only completely making this Torah into a reality on the soil of the land which belongs to it is the purpose of the future regathering of Jewry in it."
The state of Israel did not exist in Hirsch's day; still to come were the early settlers of the Old Yishuv and the Young Yishuv, rebuilding the walls, draining the swamps and starting to make the desert bloom. Though not all religious by any means, Shabbat and the Mo'edim were kept amidst the dangers and deprivations of the British Mandate. Their enthusiasm and hard work prepared the ground for the Declaration of Independence in 1948, after the Second War and the losses of the Sho'ar. Comparing the modern State of Israel to Moshe's words - obeying the L-rd our G-d with all our heart and soul - or Hirsch's "unviolable unswerving loyalty towards this Torah" it is clear that much still remains to be done before that fullness is reached. This is not by any means to advocate that Israel should become a theocracy ruled by a Sanhedrin drawn from the current Israeli ultra-orthodox, but it is clear that many of the present anomalies that egregiously violate not only the words but the spirit of Torah are yet to be - and, in due course, when Yeshua returns if not before, will be - resolved and corrected.
Isaac Arama writes that "the process of repentance is not one single act, a leap from the abyss of sin to the pinnacle of purity. It is instead a gradual process, gaining momentum as each new stage is passed." Our text is "a description of the final stage of repentance when the return to G-d is wholehearted and whole-souled in thought and deed - 'to keep His commandments and His statutes.'" Practical acts of obedience need to accompany piety and pious words. Patrick Miller agrees, noting that, "history by this time has indicated that such obedience cannot come without G-d's gift of a heart to know and obey. But the responsibility so to act as G-d's people is no less incumbent upon each individual."1 This is why we pray each day in the Amidah, , for HaShem to bring us back to His Torah and to motivate us to return in a full or complete repentance; we ask Him to nudge us and poke us so that we may take action and do it so that He may then forgive us.
Going one step further,Nechama Leibowitz asks "Which comes first? the return of Israel to their G-d or the return of G-d to His people? Is Teshuvah [repentance] before Geulah [redemption] or Geulah before Teshuvah?" According to Ezekiel, the process begins with G-d: "I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land" (Ezekiel 36:24, NJPS). Once back, G-d says, then "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness" (v. 25, NJPS). The next step is that, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules" (vv. 26-27, NJPS) and finally, "Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your G-d" (v. 28, NJPS). This is clearly Geulah with no mention of Teshuvah from start to finish. Perhaps it is assumed that the repentance happens while Israel is languishing in exile among the nations, but God does make it very clear that He is acting for the sake of His name, which our people have profaned during their exile: "Not for your sake will I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations to which you have come" (v. 22, NJPS). Once filled with His Spirit, the people can and will be consistently obedient and so can dwell in the Land with a permanent right of residence and truly be His people.
Surprising though it may sound to some, Yeshua also taught of the contingency of blessing upon obedience. To the rich young ruler, He said, "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17, NASB). To the crowds, He said, "But the one who hears [My words] and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great" (Luke 6:49, NASB). To the disciples, Yeshua made it plain that, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15, NASB) and "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love" (John 15:10, NASB). Now, of course, Yeshua was originally speaking to a Jewish audience, in a Jewish context: to people who were already in covenant relationship with G-d because they were Jews, as indeed Jewish people are to this day. But what about Gentiles? Are Gentiles similarly constrained by the need for obedience?
Writing to a Gentile community, possibly from the city of Ephesus, who were facing the challenge of gnosticism - that knowledge, particularly spiritual knowledge, would free you from the sinful flesh - the apostle John applies exactly the same criteria: "by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected" (1 John 2:3-5, NASB). It has nothing to do with what you know or believe, but everything to do with what you do. It is in our obedience that we find the fullness of relationship with Yeshua and through that obedience that G-d's love for us becomes perfected. Then we will be listening to His voice and keeping His commandments.
1. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 213.
Further Study: Ezekiel 34:12-16; 2 John 6
Application: Do you make obedience to G-d's commandments in Yeshua a priority in your life, or are you tempted to say that just knowing Him is enough? Ask the Spirit to show you some way you may increase your obedience today and so find a new level of fullness in your relationship with Yeshua.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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