Messianic Education Trust
    B'hukkotai  
(Lev 26:3 - 27:34)

Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3   If you will walk in My statutes and keep My commandments and do them ...


Although the verse breaks at this point, the translation shows that this verse is simply the protasis - the condition - that starts an 'if-then' construction. The apodosis starts in the following verse, although the Hebrew text has no explicit 'then' simply another vav-and, and runs through until verse 13 where it is closed with an authority formula: "I am Adonai your G-d". This style of making law: "if you will ... then I will" is known as casuistic formulation and is found in many sections of the Torah. Notice that verse 14, which describes the opposite case - if Israel do not obey G-d - is not simply an 'else' clause; there is a fresh protasis with another 'if'.

Richard Elliot Friedman argues that this statement and the following list of blessings and curses "is arguably the culmination of the book. It indicates that all of this law has implications ... It says, plainly enough: the people's fate will depend on whether they follow these laws or not." All the ritual and individual commands that precede this point in the book of Vayikra are encapsulated in this summary and the welfare and life of the people is conditioned upon their obedience to and living within the Torah. Baruch Levine says that "the Hebrew idiom , literally 'if you walk in My laws' conceives of G-d's laws and commandments as the right 'path' of life"; a way of life is here being mandated for the covenant people. Experiencing the blessings of G-d is entirely a consequence of obeying G-d in everything.

The ancient commentators split the verse into three components: walk, keep, do. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno, for example, explains: "If you walk in My statutes - Statutes are decrees of the king by which man should conduct the endeavours of his life and such conduct is called walking as it says, 'You shall not walk in their statutes' (Vayikra 18:3) and also, 'You shall keep My statues and walk in them' (18:4) and also 'walk in the statues of life' (Ezekiel 33:15. And keep My commandments - Behold the keeping of commandments is scrupulous care in the manner that they are done and in their intent. And do them - Then you shall acquire this perfection in such a manner that you shall do them as good labourers who do so willingly; not as those who are commanded and do so out of a sense of fear ... you shall do them out of a sense of love, desiring to fulfil the will of G-d." The Sages of the Mishnah report that "Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch used to say: Do His will as if it were your own will" (m. Pirkei Avot 2:4).

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim points out that "the gematria of the phrase 'if you will walk in My statutes' is equal to that of the phrase - the labouring of the words of Torah" to suggest that we fulfil the command to "walk in" G-d's statutes by working hard in our studies of Torah. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi agrees and links the first two phrases together: "Be labouring in the Torah in order to observe and fulfill what you learn, as it says 'And you shall learn them and observe to do them' (D'varim 5:1)". Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra goes a step further and adds that "It is a commandment to 'follow My laws' by learning them, 'keep My commandments' by teaching them and 'do them' by putting them into practice. All three steps are considered necessary.

What is our position today about our observance of G-d's commandments? How do we "fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)? The first step is clear: recognise that we are a commanded people. Whether Jew or Gentile, each of us is subject to G-d's commandments. Yeshua placed that beyond doubt when He told the talmidim, "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, ESV). While there is no obligation on Gentile believers in Messiah to observe all the commandments of the Torah, some of which were given specifically to the Jewish people as sign commandments to set us apart and distinguish us from the nations, the Greek Scriptures contain many commandments and instructions that the original writers clearly intended to be fully binding upon all believers. For example, Rav Sha'ul writes, "To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord) ... To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) ..." (1 Corinthians 7:10,12, ESV) showing the difference between his own recommendations and the specific command of the L-rd; Sha'ul knows that he is speaking explicitly on G-d's behalf and relaying authoritative commandments to the body of believers. Our continued relationship with Yeshua - and so with Father G-d - is contingent upon our being obedient and doing what He has told us to do.

Yeshua spoke about walking when He said, "I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light which gives life" (John 8:12, CJB), so walking - following - after Yeshua, in the manner in which He walked, must be central to our path. Following the analogy above,we follow Yeshua by learning about Him, by studying what He said and did, so that we can learn to be like Him. Yeshua's final instructions to the disciples: "Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim" (Matthew 28:19, CJB) are clearly about our lifestyle, making disciples by modelling the character of Yeshua for them so that they too learn to be like Him.

Keeping or guarding - the Hebrew verb means either - is also to be a part of our relationship with G-d. We have to protect what we have heard, so that it is not undermined, devalued or belittled by the relentless pressure of society. We have to keep and preserve it so that it can be passed on or taught to the next generation (spiritual or physical) and we need to pass on not just the facts and the commandments themselves - as if simply a legal code - but our obedient and humble attitude towards them. This must be intentional; we must take care to do it, rather than assuming that it will just naturally happen.

Finally, doing is the last and perhaps most important part of the sequence because it makes all our study and intentionality real. Without "doing", all the rest is just theory and words; it is only when we put our belief into practice and do it, that it really becomes a part of us. Yeshua told the story about the two sons to illustrate this: "'But give me your opinion: a man had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Son, go and work today in the vineyard." He answered, "I don't want to"; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, "I will, sir"; but he didn't go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?' 'The first,' they replied. 'That's right!' Yeshua said to them. 'I tell you that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you!'" (Matthew 21:28-31, CJB). It is our actions of obedience that prove our relationship with G-d.

So the words of the Torah remain compelling today: if you want to receive G-d's blessings, walk in His statutes, observe His commandments and do them. It is easy to downplay obedience in today's culture and say that we rely on G-d's grace. The words of Scripture don't allow us the option.

Further Study: D'varim 11:13-15; Matthew 3:8-10

Application: Do you struggle with obedience or doing exactly what G-d has said? If we would know His blessing then we need to try harder. Ask G-d to help you by giving you specific things to do so that you can practice and get better.

© Jonathan Allen, 2011

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