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D'varim/Deuteronomy 27:11 And Moshe commanded the people on that day to say ...
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'Command' is a word that seems rather out of fashion in today's liberal societies. The notion of rules and commandments, especially from G-d, seem to belong to another time or era, when things were different and people needed more direct guidance and instruction, when things were less civilised and mankind didn't understand how to behave without being told explicitly what to do and what not to do. Yet the concept of being a commanded people lies at the heart of Judaism and Christianity; being the people of G-d and doing what He says is - at least in theory - one of the fundamental threads of faith. Why then do so many people, even leaders in the body of Messiah, seem to find it so difficult to simply do what they are told, to follow the basic commandments? Hardly a days goes by without some fresh media revelation of clergy abuse or misbehaviour - be that in synagogue or church - that boils down to plain disobedience and failure to keep the clearest of G-d's commandments.
The verb - here a Pi'el 3ms prefix in the vav-conversive form - comes from the root and means "and he commanded". Davidson lists four related groups of meanings: 1. to set over, appoint, constitute; 2. to appoint, determine, decree; 3. to charge, command; 4. to send with orders, commission. Brown-Driver-Briggs suggests "lay charge upon, give charge to, charge, command, order" as the basic meaning. Both point out that the noun for "commandment" (s.) or (pl.) is used more frequently than the verb, especially in the Torah. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we find the verb being used by or of G-d Himself, either directly or through an agent such as Moshe or one of the prophets, but also by kings, priests and leaders (e.g. Ahaz, Jehoida, Mordechai). Overwhelmingly, though, it is G-d who command and His people who are commanded.
Hirsch identifies the key role that being commanded plays in who we are: Moshe calls "on the whole nation to regard and to take to heart this common obligation to the Torah as the one element which binds them together as a nation". It is because we are commanded that we are a people; the commandments - binding upon us all - hold us together as a people group. Common behaviour, standards and values - despite our many differences and cultures - are the things that make us identifiable and identify as the people of G-d; we have these things in common because we are commanded. Hirsch continues, "the people themselves have just been appointed the guardians of the Torah, and urged to take to heart that this 'watch on the Torah' was the one and only soul of their national existence." Each member of the community is individually commanded, as well as being commanded as a part of the community as a whole, to obey G-d's instructions for living and behaviour. As Tigay points out, the blessings and curses that Israel is just about to be told to pronounce, "are the divinely imposed consequences of obeying or disobeying the terms of the covenant." If we obey, then we are blessed; if we disobey then the natural consequence of that disobedience is that we walk in the curse of sin and death. This can be seen only too clearly in modern Israel today where the high voluntary abortion rate - the unnecessary killing of thousands of unborn children each year - is reaping a steady harvest of immorality and destruction among the army and young people of the Land, and acting as a brake in G-d's plans to bless Israel and prosper them.
What is that to believers in Messiah Yeshua? Didn't Rav Sha'ul write, "for you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14b, NASB)? How do believers in Messiah, drawn from all the nations of the earth, relate to the commandments of Israel? Clearly Jewish people are Jewish people, so because G-d's covenant with and choosing of the Jewish people is "forever" (Shemot 31:17) and "irrevocable" (Romans 11:29), we are still obligated to keep the commandments He has given us, insofar as they can be kept without a temple. Equally clearly, unless specifically call to be a part of a Jewish community, Gentiles are not so obligated unless an individual is personally instructed by the L-rd in the matter of one or more commandments. Does that mean, however, that Gentile believers are not a commanded people, or are free of all restraint upon their behaviour? That might be thought if it were not that Yeshua and the writers of the New Covenant Scriptures were not so definite that believers are just as much under G-d's authority and command as Jews, although with a different but overlapping set of commandments.
Asked which commandments were the most important, Yeshua did not hesitate; quoting directly from the Torah He replied, "'You are to love Adonai your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength' (D'varim 6:5). This is the greatest and most important mitzvah. And the second is similar to it, 'You are to love your neighbour as yourself' (Vayikra 19:18). All the Torah and the prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot" (Matthew 22;37-40, CJB). Yeshua praised the Roman centurion who recognised both his own place and that of Yeshua in a chain of command: "'If You will only give the command, my orderly will recover. For I too am a man under authority.' Yeshua said to the people following Him, 'I have not found anyone in Israel with such faith'" (Matthew 8:9-11, CJB, abbr.).
On several occasions at the end of His earthly ministry, Yeshua explained the situation to His talmidim. At the Last Supper He told them, "If you love Me, you will keep My commands" (John 14:15, CJB), "If you keep My commands you will stay in My love - just as I have kept My Father's commands and stay in His love" (John 15:10, CJB). It seems that commandments continue to play a significant role in our relationship with Yeshua and the Father. Yeshua added, "I am giving you a new command: that you keep on loving each other. In the same way that I have loved you, you are also to keep on living each other" (John 13:34, CJB). Finally, just before He ascended into heaven, Yeshua told the disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim ... teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20, CJB, abbr.). That seems pretty clear, doesn't it. Case proved M'lud.
Further Study: Romans 7:12; Matthew 24:25-26
Application: At times, we all lose sight of the fact that we are, each one of us, commanded; that is, under Yeshua's authority, to obey His commandments. Ask Him today to show you where you have lost the plot and drifted away from what He has told you to do. Ask His forgiveness then, in the power of His Spirit, gird up your loins and get on with following and obeying Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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