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D'varim/Deuteronomy 30:1 And it shall be, when all these things come upon you ... and you shall turn to your heart in all the nations that the L-rd your G-d has scattered you there
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The Hebrew root , "turn, turn back, return, turn away" (Davidson) occurs seven times in different forms in the first paragraph of this chapter. Here, it is - the Hif'il 2ms affix form with a vav reversive - translated "and you shall turn", although "and you shall return" would also be reasonably accurate. What does Moshe mean when he tells the people that they will turn to their heart? The English translations offer a number of alternatives: "start thinking about" (CJB), "call to mind" (ESV, NASB, NRSV), "take to heart" (NIV, NJPS). The heart was thought of as the seat of both reasoning and the emotions, so turning to the heart was an opportunity to consider a matter, to think it over carefully, to see how one felt about it, with the object of either changing one's mind, seeing some new angle on something or coming to a right understanding of something that might have been hidden or ignored. RabbiHirsch speaks of "bringing something back to the mind" in case "it has escaped your mind, or is about to do so". This is essentially an internal process - remembering something that is already in one's mind and giving it good chewing over to extract every last drop of understanding from it. A verse such as "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the L-RD, He is G-d in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (D'varim 4:39, ESV) exemplifies this idea.
On the other hand, verses such as, "They do not give thought, They lack the wit and judgment to say: "Part of it I burned in a fire; I also baked bread on the coals, I roasted meat and ate it -- Should I make the rest an abhorrence? Should I bow to a block of wood?" (Isaiah 44:19, NJPS) and "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope" (Lamentations 3:21), seem more externally focused: bringing into the mind something that has been observed from history or the world about us, in order to make connections or analyse what is happening around us. In the case of Moshe's predictions, only when everything about which he has been warning them has happened to them and come true around them, will the Israelites wake up and take notice of their context and story to recognise that "this is that" and so turn back toHaShem, be reconciled and restored to their own Land. Nachmanides, writing in the 13th century, thinks that none of the circumstances Moshe describes have yet happened: "As I have already explained ... everything that follows refers to events that have never occurred yet, but that are destined to occur in the future." Hirsch adds (in the 19th century), "Only after all that has been said in this Book of the Law thousands of years beforehand will have actually occurred, will you then bring back to your mind the sum of the thousands of years of experience and deliberate upon it, and the result will be that you will come back with your whole heart and soul to your G-d and His Torah."
In a time when we see many of the things of which the Bible speaks coming to pass and as we look at the state of increasing exile in which followers of Yeshua live or will soon be living, we too should be turning to our hearts: considering thoughtfully and making sure that we don't lose sight of our calling in Yeshua. TheSforno speaks of the need for careful examination of ourselves "so as to distinguish truth from falsehood" in our opinions and behaviour that distance us from HaShem and His Torah. The same, of course, applies to us in our quest to draw close to Yeshua.
The ancient prophets used a phrase - , literally, to turn the turning - which is usually translated into English as "restore the fortunes". It is used several times by Jeremiah: "For days are coming -- declares the L-RD -- when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah, said the L-RD; and I will bring them back to the land that I gave their fathers, and they shall possess it" (Jeremiah 30:3, NJPS), and "I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first" (33:7, NJPS). Although this is framed within the physical return of Israel and Judah to the Land, it is more significantly a return to covenant: the giving and possessing of the Land in the context of covenant relationship. The words of Amos - "I will restore My people Israel. They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine; they shall till gardens and eat their fruits. And I will plant them upon their soil, nevermore to be uprooted from the soil I have given them -- said the L-RD your G-d" (Amos 9:14-15, NJPS) - reflect the language of plenty promised by Moshe when restating the covenant with the Israelites on the Plains of Moab.
We can see that the language also makes it clear that it is G-d Himself who will turn those turnings, who will bring about the physical return as well as the accompanying spiritual return: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NJPS). That return will only be possible because of the spiritual renovation that G-d will do inside each individual. Moreover, as Christopher Wright informs us, "History is ultimately open-ended. G-d will not be defeated by Israel's response or bound and imprisoned by the past."1 G-d will overcome Israel's inability by replacing stone with flesh and by an indwelling of the Ruach, enabling and empowering each one to remain joyfully within the covenant. The prophets consistently call Israel back to covenant living and responsibility, but it is G-d alone who can actually make that return happen; He turns the returning.
Several of the commentators see the circumstance of exile as significant. The Sforno points out that Israel will turn to their hearts "among all the nations - while you are still in exile", while Richard Elliott Friedman comments upon the use of the verb 'scattered' (or as he has it, 'driven'): "It has been used three times until now, always referring to persons who would drive Israelites away from their G-d (D'varim 13:6, 11, 14). But now it describes how YHVH drives Israel away to other lands because of Israel's apostasy." Don IsaacAbravanel says that "this refers to those who have been forced to abandon Judaism." Physical and spiritual exile happen as a result of turning - or being turned - away from G-d. Recognising and experiencing exile and the circumstances that have led to it are necessary components of being able to turn to one's heart; they also provide the fuel for the reflection and self-critical examination that must take place. But only G-d can take the next step of revelation. He turns the returning, enabling those who are in exile to come back to their true home in Him. He makes a way in the desert, a way where there was no way, and leads His flock like a shepherd: "He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom" (Isaiah 40:11, NJPS).
How can we, as people who inhabit a very different world from that of Moshe or the prophets, turn to our hearts? Many of us - despite the growing evidence around us every day, but that's a story for another day - struggle to see ourselves in exile, except perhaps in that rather over-done Hebrews 11 "pilgrims passing through" sort of way. Most Christians see the Torah and the New Covenant as discontinuous and shy away from anything that sounds like returning. Yet if Isaiah's comment that "all we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6) is true, all of us need to return from our ways, to G-d's ways. Simply being forgiven for being where we are now doesn't alleviate our very real need to be somewhere else: back with G-d. If you are out on a limb, miles from home, daily being assailed by the slings and arrows of the outrageous world - freezing cold and soaking wet to boot - then you need to get back under shelter, into warm and dry clothes.
Do understand: this isn't about tradition, worship styles or modest clothing. These are physical and often peripheral matters, more symptoms of where we are than a formal diagnosis. What matters is that we need to reflect upon the progress (or lack thereof) in becoming conformed to the image of Yeshua. Are we gradually changing to become more like Him - to think, speak, act like Him? Isaiah paints important pictures of Yeshua, saying that "the Spirit of the L-RD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the L-RD" (Isaiah 11:2, ESV). He says that "righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins" (v. 5, ESV). Are we becoming faithful - dependable, trustworthy, consistent - in our lives? Are we seeking righteousness in everything we do and say, in all we watch and hear, over every area where we have influence or responsibility? Are we showing and mirroring Yeshua's love to others, including saying 'no' both to ourselves and others when it is in their best interests?
We need to ask the questions of ourselves and allow Yeshua to tell us what He sees. Then, after serious thought and consideration, we have to ask G-d to turn our returnings, to cut away the obstacles and blockages that stop us hearing His heartbeat each day, to draw us close to Him and to "circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (D'varim 30:6, ESV). That is the return that He wants for each one of us: that we should walk in His ways, love His people and bring glory to His Son.
1. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 289.
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Joel 2:12-13; Luke 8:37-39; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18
Application: When did you last turn to your heart and ask yourself the serious questions of life - whether you are becoming more like Yeshua? Ask Him to hold up a mirror for you today, so that you can see yourself as He sees you and turn your returnings back to a closer walk with Him. Then you will find peace and harmony as you pick up His footsteps and know His hand upon you for blessing and growth.
Comment - 02:23 29Aug21 KCB: I was thinking of Zachias as I read this, and then you said: "If you are out on a limb ..." Whoa. That really got to me.
Comment - 14:29 04Sep21 Grace Gonzalez-Torres: It truly blessed my heart after reading all of Duet. 29 and 30. It prepared my heart for the Parasha and commentary given. Thank Abba that we here in PR centuries later were included among the Israelites and behooves us to be faithful to the Torah's teachings to be blessed and not cursed
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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