Messianic Education Trust
    Re'eh  
(Deut 11:26 - 16:17)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 14:2   and the L-rd has chosen you to be His, as a people treasured from all the peoples


This verse is almost identical to D'varim 7:6, bar one or two letters; a quite remarkable similarity. There it is given as a reason for destroying the cultic items of the peoples in the Land; here it provides the justification for not adopting pagan mourning rites. Our text starts, mid-verse, with the phrase translated "and the L-rd has chosen you". Notice the use of the preposition , 'in', followed by the 2ms suffix pronoun for 'you'; the verb uses the 'in' pronoun to emphasise the way that choice works. This is one of a small group of verbs - another is , rebuke - that use the 'in' pronoun to show where the verb action takes place, almost as if the subject is putting the action inside the object: The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem has put [his] choice in you. Conversely, it shows where the effect of the verb is felt: a rebuke needs to be felt inside a person to bring about changed behaviour, if it is only external, it can be shrugged off easily. In this case, HaShem's choice in the people Israel is reflected by His presence dwelling in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the people, in the centre of the camp.

The word - here elided with , all, as - can be used two way within biblical Hebrew. The most frequent is as a straightforward preposition meaning 'from'; the other alternative, when preceded by an adjective, is to form a comparative: more than. Here, in the second part of the text, the adjective is - chosen, treasured - qualifying , "as a chosen/treasured people". The last clause can be, and is by most translations, translated "from all the peoples". It can, however, also combine with the "chosen/treasured people" to read, "as a people more treasured than all the nations". This is the option taken by the Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno, who comments that the command not to engage in funeral or mourning practices in the same way as the surrounding nations do, is given because Israel is more precious than the other nations: "He only prohibits [these practices] to you, but not to the sons of Noah who are not His treasure to the same extent." Joseph Reider suggests that can be translated, "a people of unique value"1, whereas What Is ...

Targum Onkelos: An early (1st-2nd Century CE) translation/paraphrase of the Torah into Aramaic; attributed to a Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos; used in Babylonian synagogues during the Talmudic era
Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew , 'chosen/treasured', to the Aramaic , 'cherished/beloved'. Drazin and Wagner point out that the word is used to describe physical wealth by both David, "I gave over my private hoard of gold and silver to the House of my G-d" (1 Chronicles 29:3, ESV) and Solomon, "I further amassed silver and gold and treasures of kings and provinces" (Ecclesiastes 2:8, ESV).

The practices forbidden in the verse before our text - "You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead" (D'varim 14:1, JPS) - have been forbidden to the priests for nearly forty years: "They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body. They shall be holy to their G-d and not profane the name of their G-d. For they offer the L-RD's food offerings, the bread of their G-d; therefore they shall be holy" (Vayikra 21:5-6, ESV). This leads Jeffrey Tigay, after citing HaShem's words to the whole people - "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the L-RD your G-d am holy" (19:2, ESV) - to suggest that this instruction is now given "because the entire people is consecrated to G-d and all must maintain a quasi-priestly level of holiness"; a not unreasonable deduction from HaShem's words: "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Shemot 19:6, JPS). Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch too sees a high degree of uniformity, with "each branch of this national community equally holy, equally belonging to G-d, equally directly in direct contact with G-d". He sees this calling - to be holy, particularly in the way they live before the nations - as being Israel's raison d'être: "It is just this united community of people belonging exclusively to G-d, and the building up of a whole national social life in this basis which is the mission for which G-d chose you."

Today, much to the ire of some people, the description "the chosen people" is almost universally applied to the Jews - the physical descendants of Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov. Christians are never spoken of in that way and while another phrase "the people of the Book" is sometimes used for Christians as well as Jews, the subject of chosen-ness remains a tricky issue to this day. The Hebrew Scriptures, although they allow for converts to Judaism, some even from unlikely places or of a forbidden status, seem to have little else in view. Yet the Greek Scriptures are equally clear that G-d has chosen followers of Yeshua from among all the nations.

Starting in the gospels, with Yeshua Himself, a choice is made: "When day came, He called His disciples and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles" (Luke 6:13, ESV). Later, during the last meal that He shared with the disciples before His crucifixion, Yeshua told them, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you" (John 15:16, ESV). Similarly, Rav Sha'ul speaks of G-d's choice: "But G-d chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; G-d chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; G-d chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:27-28, ESV); and, in particular, "He [G-d] chose us in Him [Yeshua] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him [G-d]" (Ephesians 1:4, ESV). Beloved, as believers in Messiah, we too are chosen people.

This then brings us to an important principle: with privilege comes responsibility. Just as the Jewish people are given regulations and commandments that set them apart from the nations, so believers in Messiah are also given regulations and commandments that set us apart from no-believers, whether we are Jew or Gentile. That last text from Sha'ul's letter to the Ephesians lays no less an obligation upon Gentile disciples of Yeshua than Jewish disciples: "that we should be holy and blameless"! Certainly the criteria are different - Gentiles are not obligated to all the commandments in the Torah as Jewish people are - but G-d has chosen us "as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV). Santification, being made holy, just as 'choice' and 'rebuke' have to take root inside us in order to produce a visible effect, needs to happen internally rather than externally. The world is fed up with people telling them to "do as I say", by people who don't do it themselves. Neither can we put on a show for the world, simply doing things externally - when we think people are looking - but all the while doing what we want inside or in private. Yeshua said, "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:18-19, ESV) and He might just be right. We are called and chosen to be different from the inside - full of grace, truth, kindness, hospitality, generosity - so that it flows through to the outside as a natural expression of who we are simply than being something we try to do.

It is important not to lose sight of being chosen. When you are having a bad day, nothing is going right and even the cat seems in a bad mood, touching this truth can lift you out of the depths: G-d has chosen you. You are special and important to G-d; there is no-one else quite like you, with exactly your combination of gifts, skills, talents or even sense of humour. Moshe has to tell the Israelites, "It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the L-RD set His heart on you and chose you -- indeed, you are the smallest of peoples; but it was because the L-RD favored you and kept the oath He made to your fathers that the L-RD freed you with a mighty hand and rescued you from the house of bondage, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (D'varim 7:7-8, JPS). Israel was not chosen because of what they could bring to the table, but because G-d had determined that He could work with them - despite their many failures and shortcomings - and swore an oath to the patriarchs. So it is with you, beloved; G-d has given a promise and then confirmed it with an oath (Hebrews 6:17), so that "we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:18, ESV).

1. - Joseph Reider, The Holy Scriptures - Deuteronomy, with Commentary, Jewish Publication Society 1937

Further Study: Shemot 20:13-17; Ephesians 4:31-32; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Titus 1:1-3

Application: Do you ever feel like letting go and just giving up? Dropping silently off the end of the rope when no-one is looking? This word is for you: DO NOT LET GO; DO NOT GIVE UP! You are chosen and beloved in Messiah Yeshua and He will yet provide everything you need if you trust in Him.

18Aug14 18:14 GK: I have been re-reading this drash several times and also shared it. It touches my heart deeply.

© Jonathan Allen, 2014



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