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D'varim/Deuteronomy 30:8 And you, you shall return and you will listen to the voice of the L-rd; and you will do all His commandments that I am commanding you today.
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We need to take notice of the sequence of events that are predicted in this verse. Moshe is talking about the time to come when, after a period of disobedience and exile, Israel will come to her senses and turn back toHaShem. By His grace, the people will have returned to the Land and will have prospered there. While the nations will be afflicted because of the way in which they have persecuted and mistreated Israel, the events in this verse will be happening to HaShem's people themselves. This is a truly amazing turn, as Walter Brueggemann explains: "Israel in its return to true covenantal obedience will receive a future it had little reason to expect."1 Let's take a closer look at what is happening here.
Firstly, the verb - the Qal 2ms prefix form of the root , to turn or return - is preceded by the 2ms subject pronoun, , to emphasise who is to carry out this action, is it you, yourself, who will return. Secondly, the verb - the Qal 2ms affix form of the root , to hear or listen, with a vav-reversive to give a future tense - gives the next action: you will listen. To listen in someone's voice is a frequently used idiom in biblical Hebrew that implies not just listening, but taking notice of and obeying. Thirdly, the verb - the Qal 2ms affix form of the root , to make or do, also with a vav-reversive - supplies the last step in the process: you will do. The last of the four verbs in the verse - , the Pi'el ms participle of the root , to command - refers to Moshe: he is commanding the people all of HaShem's commandments in their today.
So that's the sequence of events that Moshe gives us: "When all
these things befall you -- the blessing and the curse that I have set before
you -- and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which the
L-RD your G-d has banished you" (D'varim 30:1, NJPS):
In the Talmud, the rabbis debate which comes first, repentance or redemption. Does Israel repent and is then redeemed, or is Israel redeemed (while unrepentant) and then repent. Rabbi Yonatan says, "Great is repentance, because it brings about redemption, as it is said 'He shall come as redeemer to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn back from sin' (Isaiah 59:20, NJPS)" (b. Yoma 86b).Maimonides, writing in Mishne Torah, says that "All the prophets commanded [Israel] to repent. Israel will only be redeemed through t'shuvah. The Torah has already promised that, ultimately, Israel will repent towards the end of her exile and, immediately, she will be redeemed as it states: When these things happen ... and you return ... HaShem will take you back in love (D'varim 30:1-3)" (Hilchot T'Shuvah 7.5). Ronald Clements comments, "By a spiritual transformation the power of G-d would create a new spirit of obedience within every Israelite. G-d would give the power and the willingness to obey."2
The prophet Ezekiel offers a very similar sequence of events. After assuring Israel that HaShem is going to act, not for their sake, but for the sake of His name, Ezekiel sets up the same sequence: "I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land" (Ezekiel 36:24, NJPS), then "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes" (v. 25, NJPS) and finally, "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" (vv. 26-27, NJPS). Israel will return from exile just as they are, then they will be cleaned and only then will they be given a new heart and be filled with the Spirit of G-d. It is not until that has been done that G-d says, "Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules" (v. 27, NJPS). Doing comes after being in right relationship with G-d, which comes after turning to G-d.
We seem to have reached an impasse. Put one way, the people need to repent and come into line with G-d's word before they are forgiven and redeemed; put the other, they won't be able to keep the Torah until they have been redeemed, cleaned and transformed with a new heart and receiving the Spirit. Patrick Miller describes the situation: "In this juxtaposition of human act commanded and divine act promised there is a fundamental and appropriate tension that is characteristic of the covenantal relationship in the biblical context ... On the one hand, conversion is a human decision and commitment to direct oneself towards the will of G-d; on the other hand, its actuality is always accomplished by the gracious power of G-d."3 So this tension exists between divine and human initiative; technically, both must happen first, but practically they happen together. It is essential, however that both do, as Brueggemann points out: "Israel must play its intentional, substantial part in the restoration by becoming again YHVH's obedient people. That raises hard questions: Can it be done? Can Israel obey? Can Israel repent? Can Israel act differently?"4 The same questions need to be asked of us all.
Rav Sha'ul tells us how this works. He starts with the assertion, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves - it is the gift of G-d" (Ephesians 2:8, TLV). It is G-d's grace that has saved us, through the exercising of our faith - we believed and called upon Yeshua, "everyone who calls on the name of the L-rd will be saved" (Romans 10:13, ESV) - but that faith didn't come from us either: G-d gave it to us. Sha'ul underlines that in the next verse: "It is not based on deeds, so that no-one may boast" (Ephesians 2:9, TLV); you didn't do it, so can claim no credit for it. It isn't about doing anything, but on the faith that G-d Himself gives us, to believe and trust in what He has done for us in Messiah. In our original text, Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew verb "and you shall listen," to the Aramaic "and you shall accept," implying that listening alone (as an auditory process) doesn't go far enough: you have to accept and act on what you hear.
We can't stop at that point with Sha'ul, however. His next verse completes the paradox: "For we are His workmanship - created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which G-d prepared beforehand so we might walk in them" (v. 10, TLV). Although deeds or actions had no impact upon how we arrived in the kingdom of G-d, now we are here, we have to do the good deeds that G-d has already prepared for us to do. G-d not only created the good things, but He created and chose us to do them. They have our name on! Once we have been redeemed and brought into G-d's household, we naturally show our love and commitment to G-d by doing the things He asks us to do; it is the expected response and, as James says, show that our faith is real and alive: "as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26, ESV).
In our days, heading rapidly towards the end of the age when Yeshua will return and take up His rightful position as King of kings in Jerusalem, we need to work on the same premise that Moshe described in the Torah. We need first of all to encourage people to acknowledge the existence of G-d and to seek His involvement in their lives. This means disengaging from false religions, superstitions and childish twaddle. If they are prepared - as most people seem to do, at least verbally - to accept the existence of 'luck' and appeal to it, then we should push them a little further to consider that G-d is not only real but really in control. Then we need to introduce them to Yeshua - not so difficult once they are turning towards G-d - so that they can hear and listen to His voice. G-d will meet them as they acknowledge and seek Him; He will welcome those who call on Yeshua and give them a heart of flesh and pour His Spirit upon them so that they may obey Him and carry out His good works. Faith will be manifest in works and the kingdom of heaven will not only rejoice but grow.
1. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 267.
2. - Ronald E. Clements, "Deuteronomy" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 1037.
3. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 208.
4. - Brueggemann, page 268.
Further Study: Romans 3:20; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Colossians 1:9-10
Application: Are you confused by all the noise that is going on these days? Make sure that you have turned to G-d and listened to the voice of Yeshua: then you'll be able to say: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the L-RD forever" (Psalm 23:6, NJPS).
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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