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D'varim/Deuteronomy 7:12 And Adonai your G-d will keep for you the covenant and the lovingkindness that He swore to your fathers.
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This is the second half of this verse - the first half includes the word that names the parasha. The commentators are divided over how the that starts the first word in our text should be translated. Some want to take as "if ... then", while others favour "because ... that". Richard Elliott Friedman, for example, translates the verse like this: "And it will be because you'll listen to these judgements and observe and do them that YHVH, your G-d, will keep the covenant and kindness for you that He swore to your fathers." Everett Fox chooses, "Now it shall be: because of your hearkening to these regulations, keeping and observing (them), then YHVH will keep for you the covenant of loyalty that He swore to your fathers", while the NJPS translation opts for "And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the L-rd your G-d will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers."
The question at stake is that of conditionality or consequence and which way the consequence flows. For the text to say "if you do thenHaShem will do" is a clearly conditional statement and would imply that HaShem will only keep the covenant and His lovingkindess for the Israelites as long as they are obedient. The translation "it is because you do that HaShem will do", on the other hand, is a consequential statement, implying that HaShem's blessing and faithfulness will follow as a natural consequence of Israel's behaviour. Neither approach is satisfactory, since they appear to suggest that G-d's relationship with and commitment to Israel is dependent on them, or may cease or change depending on them. In essence, this denies G-d's sovereignty: making His action and choices subordinate to man.
A third rendering of the text preservesAdonai's sovereignty and freedom by reversing the direction of the consequence: "And HaShem will do so that you will do". Now G-d's actions flow freely from His constancy and grace, and are intended to bring about the desired behaviour in His people, but even if they don't behave, He is still faithful and keeps the covenant for them. The Psalmist urges us to thank G-d, "- for His mercy endures for ever" (Psalm 136:1, et al).
The text opens with the verb - a conventional Qal 3ms affix from the root preceded by a vav-reversive to make the sense future: he will keep. It is followed by the subject - the tetragrammaton, the Name - and then the indirect object , for you. Then, each preceded by , the direct object indicator, are the two objects - what will be kept - the covenant and G-d's lovingkindness or grace. The verb has the meanings "to guard, keep or observe" and there are many derivatives such as watchman, prison and even, in modern Hebrew, eye-lid. This conveys the idea of active preservation; it is not that G-d has simply taken His copy of the covenant and put it away safely in His filing cabinet, so that the document is kept safely and cannot be damaged. On the contrary, G-d is involved daily to pursue Israel, to remind them of the covenant, to hold them accountable for their actions and call them back to fuller and deeper relationship with Him.
TheSforno points out that HaShem told Avraham, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (B'resheet 17:7, ESV) and that that covenant was not made in any conditional context. He then quotes, "whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecclesiastes 3:14, ESV) to confirm that G-d's covenant is a permanent and everlasting covenant, not dependent upon any intermediaries or human action. Picking up on the word , he concludes, "the good granted to the righteous in this world is a result of G-d's lovingkindness and not compensation for their deeds." Hirsch adds that "it is that which follows obedience, not what went before, not what obedience had in eye."
Where can we find that same relentless pursuit of mankind by G-d in the New Covenant writings? If G-d is so concerned to maintain relationship with His ancient people, shouldn't we expect to find the same thread running through the whole of the Scriptures? Abraham Joshua Heschel's famous book "G-d in Search of Man" describes how G-d has consistently sought out man in order to establish relationship with him, while Don Francisco's song "Adam, Where Are You?" echoes G-d's question from the garden down through the ages: "Won't you come in from the darkness now before it's time to finally close the door!"1
G-d's response has been revealed to us in Yeshua. Even though we have been estranged from Him, "G-d shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, ESV). He is still on our tail, His desire is still to reach out and connect with everyone, He still extends His grace to anyone who will hear and respond to Him. "The L-rd is not slow in keeping his promise, as some people think of slowness; on the contrary, He is patient with you; for it is not His purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins" (2 Peter 3:9, CJB). Yeshua makes it plain that G-d's offer is still made, backed and maintained by Him: "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28, NASB). This is not something that we do, it is something that we accept; G-d has done it, will do it and He is the keeper and guardian of the promise.
Our responsibility now is two-fold: firstly, to make sure that we understand and have accepted it for ourselves, to ensure that we are in right standing and proper relationship with G-d. Secondly, we are called to share that essential good news with those around us and pass on the blessing and assurance that G-d has given us. These current days of uncertainty and unrest, of revolution and lawlessness, can make us all wonder just what is going on. They are also a clarion call to believers and non-believers alike that forces are at work that are entirely beyond our control. Nevertheless, G-d is in control and He is holding things back so that we can explain to everyone else and invite them to accept G-d's offer and join His kingdom.
1 - Don Francisco, Adam, Where Are You, NewPax Music Press / ASCAP, 1977
Further Study: Psalm 105:4-11; 1 John 5:11-12
Application: Are you still trying to keep the covenant for yourself, or have you trusted G-d to keep it for you? Accept it freely from His hand and then make sure you tell someone else that they can accept it too!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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