Torah Commentary | Deuteronomy

Portion: Torah Portion No. 130
Torah: Deuteronomy 5:1–6:3
Haftarah: Joshua 1:1–9
Apostolic: Matthew 5:17–20

Rehearsing the Covenant

By Tim Hegg

(Differences in the Deuteronomy text, when compared with
the Exodus text,  are highlighted in bold type.)

    The section for this Shabbat is obviously a reiteration of the 10 words (asseret hadevarim in the Torah; asseret hadevarot in Rabbinic Literature). When­ever the Ruach HaKodesh repeats the same material, it is always in­structive to compare what has been written before, and to note what changes or am­pli­fi­cations have occurred. I have put the two sections in parallel columns for this very reason.

Before comparing the two texts, however, we ought to give full weight to the opening paragraph of our parashah. Moses makes it clear to the people that the words which he is about to reiterate are actually a covenant that God made between Himself and Israel. Furthermore, 5:3 makes it clear that the covenant was being confirmed to the generation of Israel that would enter the Land. The Sages offered different interpretations of the phrase ìÉà àÆúÎàÂáÉúÅéðåÌ ëÈÌøÇú éÀäåÈä àÆúÎäÇáÀÌøÄéú äÇæÉÌàú, “Not with our fathers did Adonai make this covenant.” It is clear that the initial giving of the Torah was, indeed, a covenant (Ex 24:8) made with those who stood at Sinai. Ibn Ezra understands the phrase, then, to mean: “Not only with our fathers did Adonai make this covenant, but with us who are alive today.” Still others interpreted the phrase to mean that God knew the generation who stood at Sinai would not enter the Land because of their disobedience, and thus the meaning is that they would not realize the blessings of the covenant summed primarily in the inheritance of the Land. Others understand the statement to mean that God did not make the covenant of Torah explicit to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) but to the generation that came out of Egypt. Regardless of how the phrase is interpreted, the primary thrust is that God remained faithful to His promise. The covenant is established with the next generation of Israel even as it was made with those who stood at Sinai. In spite of their disobedience, the covenant remained in force because it is established and maintained from generation to generation by God Himself. Whether any given generation enjoys the blessings of the covenant is dependent upon their obedience to it, but one generation cannot annul the covenant for future generations.

Who are these people who comprise the congregation of Israel to which the covenant is established in our text? All the men of military age had died in the wilderness, save Joshua and Caleb and their clans. Thus, the congregation to which Moses addressed these remarks is made up of young men, women of all ages, and the elderly. This re­minds us that it is not the outwardly mighty or strong whom God often uses to carry forth His plans, but the weak who are strong in spirit. And, the reiteration of the Ten Words is appropriate here if, indeed, it is being addressed primarily to women, for who is in a better position to see that the Torah is taught and carried out than mothers! Indeed, the training of the next generation is in the hands of all those Moses addresses, fathers, mothers, grandparents, and the whole of the community of Israel.

The opening verse of our parashah reiterates an important concept: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully” (åÌìÀîÇãÀúÆÌí àÉúÈí åÌùÑÀîÇøÀúÆÌí ìÇòÂùÒÉúÈí). Literally, it reads “that you may learn them and guard to do them.” Here, as always in the Scriptures, learning has doing as its goal. Learning is not an end in itself. We learn in order that we might do, and this also impacts the way we learn. As the Sages say, âÈãåÉì úÌÈìÀîåÌã ùÑÀîÇáÄéà ìÄéãÇé îÇòÂùÒÅä, “Great is learning that brings deeds to my hands” (b.Ketuvot 40b). In contrast, learning for learning’s sake alone is a Greek perspective, and is what the Apostle Paul warns us about when he writes, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1Cor 8:1).

In comparing the two texts which reiterate the Ten Words, it is obvious that our parashah essentially duplicates the earlier Exodus statement of the Ten Words, most often using identical vocabulary. There are, however, some differences (note the bold italic type in the tables on pages 45–6 above). Primarily these differences exist in the 4th and 5th commandments.

In the 4th commandment, the Ex 20 passage bases the Sabbath rest on the fact that God rested after the six days of creation. The logic is straightforward—God worked for six days during the creation of the world, and then ceased from His labors on the seventh day and was refreshed. Man, created in His image, ought therefore to follow this example and work during six days, but rest on the seventh.

The 4th commandment reads differently, however, in the Deuteronomy text. Here, the reason given for observing the Sabbath is not the pattern which God laid down in the creation week, but the actual redemption of Israel from the tyranny of Egypt. In fact, there is no hint in our text that the creation week in any way attaches to the Sabbath observance. What are we to make of this?

It was this difference (among other things) which provided the Reformation theologians with an explanation for the first day of the week as “the Lord’s Day.” While Sat­ur­day, they argued, hearkened back to creation, Sunday was sym­bolic of redemption. Since they reasoned that Yeshua arose from the dead on Sunday, this marked the 1st day as the day of redemption. Noting the shift from creation to redemption Deuteronomy’s reiteration of the 10 words gave the reformers grounds for finding such a shift in the scope of eccle­si­as­tical history. The ancient “church” observed the seventh day as a remembrance of creation, but the “new covenant” church cel­ebrates Sunday as a re­mem­brance of our redemption. The biblical basis for such a shift was thus the very text we are studying this Shabbat.

The obvious question is how they so easily replaced what is said in Exodus with what is written in Deuteronomy. On what grounds? Does the expansion or further explanation of a given biblical statement replace what is said before, or further elucidate it? Throughout the book of Exodus, for example, material is re­peated. Instructions are given for the building of the Tabernacle and the articles it contained, and then the actual building is narrated. Often the texts agree verbatim, but not always. Yet no one would take the position that what was reiterated later, nullifies what was said initially. In fact, the very notion that what is said in later years negates what was said before is exactly opposite of what the Torah itself teaches. In Deut 5:22, it states that God “added no more.” From this the Sages ultimately teach that all of God’s truth for us is contained in the Torah, and that the words of the prophets are commentary upon it. This phrase, however, created a controversy among the Sages, some of whom reasoned that only the Ten Words were given at Sinai, and the remainder of the Torah was subsequently given to Israel in the desert. Others understood the phrase to mean that the whole Torah was given at Sinai, and that the later words of the Prophets were not to be considered as part of the Torah. But the overall import is clear: the inspired words of the Prophets cannot replace or change the words of the Torah, nor does the Torah negate itself!

Rather than finding a replacement of “rest” (creation order) with “redemption” (exodus motif), the reformers should have recognized what is obvious, namely, that the rest demonstrated by God in the creation week was ultimately to illustrate what it means to rest in the redemption He would provide, and ultimately the redemption from the condemnation of sin made for us by His Messiah, Yeshua. The rest given first in the creation week finds its fuller development in the picture of redemption as Israel is taken out of Egypt. Indeed, the Exodus itself may be considered a kind of “creation,” for it is at the time of the exodus that Israel is first “created” as a nation. Thus “creation” and “redemption” are two sides of a single coin. Even as God “works” in the creation of the physical universe and then “rests,” so God “works” in spiritual recreation and those He redeems enter into His “rest.” The one does not replace the other but builds upon it and brings it to its completion.

Furthermore, as the creation week stands as a paradigm for God’s plan for the ages, so the Shabbat foreshadows the time of our complete redemption when an eternal rest is given to us. This, of course, is the point of the writer to the Hebrews (4:9). God works in order that we might rest. He is working now for our redemption, for the whole creation groans and awaits its final redemption under the reign of the Messiah (cf. Rom 8:20–22). The final rest in the world to come, the fruit of God’s almighty work, is what we celebrate every Shabbat in anticipation of His ultimate victory for us. And we rest, not because we have completed our work (which we seem never able to do), but because He has completed His work. We rest in what He has accomplished.

Our parashah also includes a wonderful passage revealing God’s own heart-cry: v. 29ff. It begins with an interesting Hebrew idiom, îÄé–éÄúÌÅï, mi yitein, literally, “who will give?” It is a Hebrew way of saying “Oh, would that….”((cf. Ex 16:3; Num 11:29; Deut 5:29; 28:67; Judg 9:29; 2Sam. 19:1; )) Note how often it is found in Job! This Hebrew idiom signals a “heart-cry,” one’s inner, deep desire. Here, in our text, it is found in the words of the Almighty: “Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” Here is our Father’s greatest desire, that we should have a heart to obey Him, that He might pour upon us the blessings He has reserved for those who love Him!

The final verses of our parashah make clear that the covenant of the Torah has the Land as its focal point. The keeping of God’s commandments is so “that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess” (5:33); “that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (6:1); that it may be well with you… in a land flowing with milk and honey” (6:3). The Torah was never given with the idea that Israel would exist outside of the Land. The diaspora is the result of our disobedience (cf. Ezek 36:16ff), and thus we await the return of the Messiah when the Land will once again become the dwelling place of His glory, and rule of His kingship will bring about the full regathering of His people. As we seek to live out the Torah in the diaspora, our hearts are more and more turned to the Land, for it is from Zion that the Torah will go forth and the word of Adonai from Jerusalem (Is 2:3).

Our haftarah portion is an obvious (though summary) reiteration of the repeated appeal of Moses in the Torah parashah, that Israel should carefully learn, guard, and do the commandments graciously given to us by HaShem. God instructs Joshua, now the chosen leader of Israel following the death of Moses, “the servant of Adonai” (òÆáÆã éäåä), to lead the people of Israel into the Land, and to do so with the Torah as his guide. At first, it may appear that HaShem is addressing only Joshua. Yet a close reading would indicate otherwise. Note v. 3: “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.” Here, however, all of the second person pronouns are plural (though the verb úÌÄãÀøÉêÀ is singular noting the collective singular of the nation), showing that the message of God given directly to Joshua is likewise applicable to the whole nation.

The boundaries of the Land given in this text are expansive: “From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory” (v. 4). The Hittites are referred to in Hebron (Gen 23), Beersheba (Gen 26:34), Bethel (Jud 1:22–26), Jerusalem (Ezek 16:3, 45), among David’s confederates (1Sam 26:6). The Hittites were therefore scattered sufficiently to warrant using “the land of the Hittites” in a very general sense to mean Canaan.

The Torah is called סֶפֶר הַתּוֹרָה (sefer hatorah), the “Book of the Torah.” This same designation is found four times in Deuteronomy (28:61; 29:20; 30:10; 31:26). In the Ancient Near East, sefer (and cognate terms) was used of a “written document” or a “treaty.” While later the word sefer came to mean a “parchment” or “scroll,” it did not necessarily have this connotation in more ancient times. The important point for our consideration, however, is that the Torah was a written document, and we should presume that what was in the possession of Joshua at this point was the essential core of the Torah as we now have it. Undoubtedly there occurred in the years following the death of Moses a compiling process, as well as updating of the language and terms. But all of this, we believe, was under the careful supervision of the Ruach.

Three times in our haftarah the admonition is given: “be strong and courageous” (חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ, vv. 6 & 9; חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ מְאֹד, v. 7). Joshua, as the leader, faced a major challenge, to lead the people into the Land that contained fortified cities and significant fighting forces. The strength and courage that Joshua and the people were to muster was based upon their faith in God’s promise and power. As long as they faithfully relied upon God (shown by their willingness to obey His commandments), the victory would be theirs. This speaks to us as well: facing the future with strength and courage is dependent upon our growing faith in God’s ability to accomplish in us all that He has promised.

Thus, the Torah was to be the constant focus of attention: “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…” (v. 8). Here, the ability to “meditate” (הָגַה, hagah) inevitably involved the wider community, for the Torah was to be discussed as the means for meditation (“shall not depart from you mouth”). Yet all of the second person pronouns and verbs in this verse are in the singular. This does no imply “talking to oneself,” but that each individual should take up the personal responsibility of having the Torah upon their tongues—speaking, discussing, exhorting, and encouraging each other with the inspired words of God, and seeking to understand and implement them into the life of the community. It is by this that we will make our way prosperous and have good success.

The Apostolic portion was chosen for obvious reasons. Our Lord and Master makes a very clear and emphatic teaching regarding the value and eternal nature of the Torah. He came to establish the Torah in the lives of His followers, not to abolish it, that is, render it ineffective. Had He taught the cessation of the Torah, He would have properly been labelled as a false prophet, for the Torah is the eternal and abiding word of God to His people.

The basic structure of Matt 5:17–20 speaks clearly to this. Yeshua begins by affirming His mission to establish the Torah in the lives of His followers: “I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” The idea of “fulfill” cannot mean to “finish” the Torah so as to render it no longer needful. We know this because the subsequent words of our Master are given to explain His opening affirmation. If by “fulfill” he had meant that He would complete the Torah so that no one else would need to be concerned about it, why then would He have said that those who “do (ποιέω, poieō) and teach the Torah” would be called great in the kingdom? It is clear that He intends the Torah both to be obeyed and to be taught as that which is to be obeyed. Moreover, His concluding words in this paragraph affirm that He expected His talmidim to live in accordance with the Torah, for by “righteousness” He surely means conduct that conforms to the standards of God. And it is for this reason that He uses the scribes and Pharisees as the benchmark: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were, of all the major sects within Judaism of that day, those who (at least outwardly) paid the closest attention to the details of the Torah in terms of practical halachah. To exceed their high watermark of obedience would therefore require both a proper motivation (characterized by love for God and for one’s neighbor which is the fruit of the Ruach) as well as carefully doing the mitzvot.

            We must reason likewise, that the Apostles of Yeshua would not have overturned such a clear and strong teacher of their Master. Paul could not have consistently claimed authority as the “Apostle of Messiah Yeshua” while at the same time disregarding what His Master had taught, unless he was a false Apostle (and he was not!). Those who have interpreted the message of the Apostles in their epistles as teaching the abolition of the Torah have therefore missed an essential truth: genuine Apostles are commissioned to take the message of their Master to others, not to change that message.

 

 

 

B’reisheet

בְּרֵאשִׁית

In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8

Commentary

In the beginning God…
Dependency
Acceptable Worship
List of Generations

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.