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D'varim/Deuteronomy 28:47 ... because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and goodness of heart from the abundance of everything.
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Although the preposition is usually translated 'under' or 'instead of', when it is followed by the relative pronoun , the two words take on the meaning 'because'. This alerts us to the purposes of this text: it is a reason; it is the cause for an effect. However the translators differ as to whether, in this case, it has just been described - "[All these curses] shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever - because you did not serve the L-RD your G-d with joy and goodness of heart ..." (D'varim 28:46-47) - or is about to follow: "Because you did not serve the L-RD your G-d in joy and goodness of heart from the abundance of everything - you shall have to serve ... the enemies whom the L-RD will let loose against you" (vv. 47-48).
Translators also disagree over the way the verb in our text - , the negative particle, 'not', followed by the Qal 2ms affix form of the root , to serve or worship - should be rendered. Most treat it as a relatively dispassionate record of fact - "you did not serve" - while a few offer the more nuanced "you would not serve". The majority version is simply a statement of what happened, "you didn't do it", "it didn't happen", without offering any comment on why that was so; it could have been by accident or negligence. The minority position suggests that the reason for it not happening was intentional: perhaps, despite warnings, the people deliberately persisted in not servingHaShem; as well as being a record of non-compliance, it was also an act of rebellion.
Rashi's comment to the last two words in the text - - is, "while you still had all that is good." The use of in this way - an abbreviated form of the preposition , 'from', elided on the front of the noun , greatness or abundance - is unusual. We would normally expect to find a being used at this point: "in abundance", perhaps echoing or demonstrating what Moshe warns the Israelites earlier: when HaShem brings you into the Land and gives you "great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant -- and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget the L-RD" (6:10-12, NJPS). Avigdor Boncheck explains that that reading could offer the excuse that the Israelites simply forgot to obey G-d because everything around them was so good, suggesting instead that the should be taken as "when", "even though" or "in spite of".1 The Israelites failed to serve HaShem in spite of not because of the abundance He had given them.
Other commentators focus on the words "with joy and goodness of heart." Drazin and Wagner propose that "the biblical 'joy' emphasis that not only must Jews fulfill the law, but must do so happily. Asceticism is not normative in Judaism." Rav Sha'ul also speaks to that idea when he says, "Rejoice always ... give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of G-d in Messiah Yeshua for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16,18, ESV). Jeffrey Tigay points out that Israel will know a time of cursing, "having refused to serve G-d when it enjoyed abundance ... when you were joyful and glad because of abundance" and the Midrash HaGadol explains that this is "so that they may know what they have lost" and illustrates that using HaShem's words to Reheboam when Shishak the king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. Reheboam and his princes repented and humbled themselves before HaShem so He spared Jerusalem from destruction but said, "Nevertheless, they shall be servants to him, that they may know My service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries" (2 Chronicles 12:8, ESV). There needed to be a time of hardship as a contrast so that the people could realise how good HaShem was to them.
HaShem's words of blessing and curse that Moshe voices in this week's parasha - the consequences of obedience or disobedience - make salutary reading for the followers of Yeshua as well as the ancient Israelites. It is easy to ascribe our times of hardship, paucity and falling away as being the work of the enemy making his last final push against the people of G-d in these days, recognising that the time of Yeshua's return is now almost upon us and that his time is rapidly drawing to a close. But to do that misses the point of our text. Surely the enemy is taking advantage of our situation, but the matters of scandal, disgrace, individual misbehaviour and more that are increasingly to be found among the people of G-d - be that within the Body of Messiah or within the Jewish people makes little difference - are what gives the enemy his foothold and permission to attack. They are entirely our responsibility and provide ammunition for "the accuser of our brothers ... who accuses them day and night before our G-d" (Revelation 12:10, ESV).
Community and individuals are deeply intertwined in this. The Hebrew text of the blessings and curses uses 'you' in second person singular throughout and Patrick Miller observes that "the detailing of the consequences of obedience and disobedience are a sharp reminder of the interrelationship of individual and community. The divine instruction is set to show the people how to live together as the people of G-d. This will work, however, only as each person in the community is 'careful to do' all the commandments. The outcome of living or failing to live this way is the fate of the people as a whole. But as the curses ... vividly indicate, that fate represents a suffering that happens to men, women and children, sons and daughters."2 Obedience is effected by individuals, making up the community; likewise disobedience happens when individuals choose to ignore G-d's word or twist its meaning to suit their own purposes. Individuals may form into group, cabals or a caucus, but it is the actions of individuals - for which they remain personally responsible - that invoke both individual and collective blessings and curses upon the community.
We should look around us and check the signs that are in our midst. Are they "a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever - because you did not serve the L-RD your G-d with joy and goodness of heart" (D'varim 28:46, NJPS)? Are we now serving "the enemies whom the L-RD will let loose against you" (v. 48, NJPS)? Is that what we see around us? If so, then the only recourse is to repent, to humble ourselves before our G-d, to cry for mercy at the cross of Yeshua and to throw ourselves upon His grace. Our repentance must be accompanied by a radical return to orthopraxy, to the biblical roots of our faith in Yeshua; in other words, we must match our words of repentance with actions that are congruent with repentance as John the Baptist urged the crowds: "Bring forth (or produce) fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8).
One particular way to make a start might be to consider where we might stand with regard to Moshe's words in our text. We have surely received blessing upon blessing from the hand of G-d in our days, abundance unimaginable to the ancient Israelites. Most of us enjoy unparalleled levels of food, finance and residential security. As Peter Craigie commented to our text, "to receive the blessing of G-d and then to find no joy in it and offer no thanks for it, was to invite the curse of G-d."3 On multiple occasions during the forty years that our people wandered in the wilderness, the Torah records that they complained: about food, about water, about leadership. HaShem was very displeased and disciplined the people sharply. Why should we not expect discipline today when we grumble and complain about various issues in our lives? That is not to say, of course, that we should not pray about the needs of others and ourselves; after all, Sha'ul tells us, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to G-d" (Philippians 4;6, ESV).
Perhaps that is the key attitude that we need: being thankful. Sha'ul spoke to that too: "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to G-d the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17, ESV). The Psalmist makes no bones about where he stands - "I give thanks to You, O L-rd my G-d, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your name forever" (Psalm 86:12, ESV) - and neither should we. Let us not fall under discipline for ungratefulness when we have received so much. Lift up your voice and give thanks to the L-rd our G-d in the name of Yeshua!
1. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi Volume 5, Devarim, (New York, Feldheim, 2002), pages 170-173.
2. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pages 197-198.
3. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 348.
Further Study: Nehemiah 9:35-37; Ephesians 5:18-20
Application: Is your life more grumbles and complaints than thanks and praise? Tough though it may be - and many of our lives are getting tougher each day - we must rise above it and thank G-d for His many continuing blessings and provision. Ask the Father to give you the words today and then speak them out!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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