Friday, August 22, 2014

The Choice is Yours: Life or Death?

Today, I have been working on a very important section of the Torah. It is found in the final book, Devarim (Deuteronomy). It will provide the answer to the questions that Ezra and his fellow scribes worked very hard to answer as they recorded the words of the first scroll of the Torah. The questions are:

(1) Why did our United Kingdom divide into two separate and warring kingdoms – Israel & Judah?

(2) Why did foreign nations conquer Israel & Judah?

(3) What can we do to reunite and preserve the new kingdom?

The answers are found in the following words of the man who is viewed as the greatest priest and prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures – Moses. He was raised as the son of an Egyptian pharaoh and lived as a member of the royal family for forty-years, lived with the family of a Midianite priest for another forty-years, and was called by Yahweh to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity into their new homeland – a journey that took another forty-years. He is called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew (מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, lit. "Moses our Teacher/Rabbi") -- the most important prophet in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Moses is also an important prophet in Christianity, Islam, and a number of other faiths.[i] Pay close attention to his prophecy.

For this commandment which I command you today is not concealed from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up for us into heaven and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over for us unto the other side of the sea, and bring it to us, and make us hear it, that we may do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.[ii]

Moses, like the man in the Garden, is given a commandment by Yahweh. But unlike with the man, this commandment isn’t a mystery that isn’t understood – it is in the mouth and heart of Moses. You will see two abbreviations added to the text: (s) indicates the word is “singular” and (pl.) indicates it is “plural.”

See, I have set before you this day (the) life (pl. literally lives) and (the) TOV, and (the) death (s.) and (the) RA; I command you this day to love Yahweh your Creator,[iii] to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, that you shall live and multiply; and Yahweh your Creator shall bless you in the land which you go in to possess it.[iv] 

The time has come for Yahweh to fulfill His promise to Abraham that his descendants would establish their kingdom in the land of Canaan.[v] After wandering in the desert for forty years they are about to settle in their new homeland. Remember Cain “the wanderer” and the events that followed when he settled in his new homeland. He married a foreign woman with other gods and his Enoch learned about them instead of Yahweh and passed that on to his descendants.  All descendants of Seth, except one, followed those same gods instead of Yahweh.

The Hebrew word translated “life” above is a plural, which should literally be translated “lives.” It reminds the ancient audience of the plural “bloods” used in the murder of Abel by Cain. “Bloods” indicated that Cain not only murdered Abel, but his descendants too because they would never be born. Here the Israelites would understand that their actions will also affect the lives of their future descendants, too. Therefore, they must choose one of two paths that will guide their lives and determine the future of their descendants:

(1) the path of life by doing acts of TOV
(2) the path of death by doing acts of RA

Just to makes sure everyone remembers, below are the definitions of TOV and RA in this context:

TOV (good) describes acts that protect life, preserve life, make life more functional, and/or increase the quality of life.

RA (evil) describes acts that destroy life, threaten life, make life less functional, and/or decrease the quality of life.

Yahweh’s commandments, statutes, and ordinances are instructions for how the Israelites can do TOV in their new homeland.

I command you this day to love Yahweh your Creator, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances.

This is written in the form of a parallelism and understanding how to work with parallelisms is the key to unlocking its ancient meaning. The first step is to identify the three parts of this parallelism:

I command you this day
to love Yahweh your Creator
(I command you this day)
to walk in His ways
(I command you this day)
to keep His commandments, statutes, and ordinances

The makes it easier to see the terms used in parallel to each other:


Now we let the ancient author define the meanings of the parallel terms by converting the first part of the parallelism into a question and finding its answer in the second part.

Question: What does “love” Yahweh mean?
Answer: It means walking in His ways.

Question: What does “walking in His ways” mean?
Answer: It means keeping His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.

Question: How does one Yahweh the Creator?
Answer: By keeping His commandments, statutes, and ordinances.

If the Israelites “love” Yahweh, they will be blessed, live and multiply in their new homeland. As you read the section below, notice the references to Moses with the singular “you” (s.), and the Israelites with the plural “you” (pl.).

But if your (s.) heart turns away, and you (s.) will not hear, and shall be drawn away, and bow down to other gods, and serve them; I declare unto you (pl.) this day, that you (pl.) shall surely perish; you (pl.) shall not prolong your (pl.) days upon the land, that you (pl.) cross over the Jordan to go in and possess it.[vi] 

What will the consequences be if the Israelites do not love Yahweh by keeping His commandments, statutes and ordinances?

They will perish and lose possession of their new homeland.

This is an obvious reminder of what happened to the man in the Garden and Cain – they were both driven from the lands in which they lived.

I call the Heaven and the Earth to witnesses against you this day, that I have set before you the life (pl.) and the death (s.), the blessing (s.) and the curse (s.); therefore choose life (pl.), that both you and your descendants may live; to love Yahweh your Creator, to hear (obey) His voice, and to cleave to Him, for He is your life (pl.) and the length of your days; that you may dwell in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers -- to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob -- to give them.[vii]

Notice that Yahweh calls “the Heaven and the Earth,” not “the Earth and the Heaven,” as the witnesses, a reminder of the first account of the ancient wisdom, not the second. They are the two witnesses that were created at the beginning and will endure forever. They are witnesses to Yahweh’s declaration:

Choose life by doing acts of TOV,
have long lives and dwell in the land He has given you.


Choose death by doing acts of RA,
have short lives and be driven from the land He has given you.

Notice the phrase “and cleave to Him.” It recalls phrase in the second account when the woman was created – and shall cleave to her. The question raised by its appearance here is – Will Israel cleave to Yahweh and not be like the man?

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[ii] Deuteronomy 30:11-14
[iii] We translated the Hebrew word ELOHIYM “Creator” instead of the traditional translation “God.”
[iv] Deuteronomy 30:15-16
[v] Genesis 15:18-21
[vi] Deuteronomy 30:17-18
[vii] Deuteronomy 30:19-20

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