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D'varim/Deuteronomy 31:19 And now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel, place it in their mouths ...
Moshe is about to die; he has only to give his blessing to the tribes that he has led through the desert for the past forty years and then he will ascend Mt. Pisgah to see the Land that Joshua is going to lead the people to claim as their long-awaited inheritance. But no, there is something else to do first;HaShem instructs Moshe to summon Joshua and then He gives Moshe and Joshua a song that they are both to teach Israel as a last prophetic witness of what is going to happen in the future. Nachmanides comments that HaShem is here installing Joshua as His prophet during Moshe's lifetime: "Now, Moshe wrote it while Joshua stood by him, read it and saw ... Moshe was the principal for it was from him that they would hear it and learn it, although Joshua too, taught it with him." G-d is organising an orderly hand-over of leadership from Moshe to Joshua, so that the people - although they will mourn Moshe for thirty days - will acknowledge that Joshua is G-d's appointed leader and follow him without argument.
The opening words of this instruction, - the masculine plural Qal imperative from the root , to write, and the prefix preposition with the 2mp object pronoun suffix - make a reflexive command to Moshe and Joshua: "write for yourselves". They are both to write down and confirm the words of the song together. The two other verbs are both singular, indicating that while Joshua is to help, Moshe is to take the lead in this, his penultimate formal action as the leader of Israel. Jeffrey Tigay suggests that "possibly Moshe was to dictate the poem to Joshua." The process is no stranger to either of them, since forty years before, "the L-RD said to Moses, 'Write this in a book as a memorial, and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.'" (Shemot 17:14, NASB). Tigay again: "The simultaneous 'recording' of the poem in two ways is notable: a written copy is made, but the intended audience receives it orally." Having both forms both maintains accuracy and keeps the content fresh and accessible. Scholars have observed that the phrase "put it in the mouth", meaning "teach it by heart" is also used inAkkadian and Sumerian writings, so is an attested contemporary Ancient Middle East saying.
The concept of both a written and oral teaching is, of course, well established within Judaism. TheBaal HaTurim, a commentator renowned for making fascinating, if sometimes rather obscure, connections between verses and Jewish principles and teachings based on the numerical values of the words and letters involved, makes a proof text from this verse. He points out that "the gematria of the phrase is equivalent to the phrase , 'Behold the written Torah'" and that "the gematria of the phrase is equal to that of , 'This is the Talmud'". According to the Tur, HaShem is not only providing proof that both the written and oral Torah exist and are of divine origin, but is commanding Moshe and Joshua to generate both forms.
Modern leaders will recognise the importance of this episode in the life of the Body of Messiah. G-d shows us a worked example of how leadership is to be passed between generations and the critical components that must be present for the "mantle" to be passed on successfully: selection, obedience, teaching, joint ministry, explicit hand-over, withdrawal. After Elijah's confrontation with G-d at Mt. Horeb and subsequent re-commissioning, "he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him" (1 Kings 19:19, NASB). Elisha was called into ministry by having Elijah's mantle thrown over him - presumably a recognised sign in those times - but the cloak remained Elijah's after this symbolic action. When Elijah is about to be taken into heaven, "Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.' And Elisha said, 'Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me'" (2 Kings 2:9, NASB). Elisha is to know that this request is granted if he sees Elijah being taken, but his symbol of authority is Elijah's cloak that remains on the ground as Elijah goes up in the chariot of fire. "He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and said, 'Where is the L-RD, the G-d of Elijah?' And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over" (vv. 13-14, NASB). The mantle had passed.
Similar ritual, although less direct symbolism, is involved when Yeshua calls His disciples: "As Yeshua walked by Lake Kinneret, He saw two brothers who were fishermen - Shim'on, known as Kefa, and his brother Andrew - throwing their net into the lake. Yeshua said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men!' At once they left their nets and went with Him" (Matthew 4:18-20, CJB). Likewise, during the forty days of teaching between the resurrection and the ascension, Yeshua empowers the disciples to "do" ministry when He is not physically with them: "'Shalom aleikhem!' Yeshua repeated. 'Just as the Father sent me, I myself am also sending you.' Having said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Ruach HaKodesh!'" (John 20:21-22, CJB) and "But you will receive power when the Ruach HaKodesh comes upon you; you will be my witnesses both in Yerushalayim and in all Y'hudah and Shomron, indeed to the ends of the earth!" (Acts 1:8, CJB).
Rav Sha'ul writes to Timothy to encourage him to make sure that the baton is passed successfully in his generation. "Pay attention to yourself and to the teaching, continue in it, for by so doing you will deliver both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16, CJB). Discipleship is the key here: not only telling the story but making sure that others are fit to pass it on again: "And the things you heard from me, which were supported by many witnesses, these things commit to faithful people, such as will be competent to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2, CJB). Notice here how Rav Sha'ul emphasises that the people must be faithful, not just competent. It is not just that the next generation must be capable of passing on the gospel, but that they must be faithful in actually doing it. Also, notice what the gospel is: not just the good news about salvation in Yeshua but "the things you heard from me", which will certainly have included Sha'ul's urgency for discipleship, his priority for the Jewish people, his endurance and hope for the time that Yeshua returns. If we only save people in this generation, then there will be no more generations; the work of the kingdom is not only to call, and to teach others to call, but to teach others to teach others to call so that the vision does not die, nor the process fail.
The dual nature of the message that we carry is still very much in evidence. While the printed word in the pages of the Bible is important because they contribute to accuracy and transmission, we ourselves who carry G-d's message written in our hearts are dual-media messages. Sha'ul wrote to the community in Rome, "if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as L-rd, and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9, NASB); the words that come out of our mouths and the message that is conveyed by our lives must be consistent. We cannot preach to people and act in a different way; we cannot, to use an extreme example, talk about being faithful in marriage yet have affairs. Just as Moshe and Joshua wrote the poem down and taught it to the Israelites by heart, so our lives and our words must match in conveying the power of the gospel and G-d's love for mankind.
Further Study: Isaiah 59:21; James 1:22-25
Application: Do you struggle with the words or with the actions? Do you find it harder to tell people about the gospel or show them G-d's love at a practical level? G-d wants you to excel at both and - here's the good news - you can! Start today by asking Him what He wants to work on first.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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