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D'varim/Deuteronomy 13:5 After the L-rd your G-d you shall walk and Him you shall fear; and His commandments you shall keep and His voice you shall hear
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After an injunction about keeping the Torah exactly as he has taught them - telling the Israelites, "neither add to it nor take away from it" (D'varim 13:1, NJPS) - Moshe addresses the question of what should happen if a prophet or a dreamer arises in Israel who tries to draw the people away fromHaShem to serve another god. Even if the prophet offers signs or words that come true, so that he appears to have a divine mandate, Moshe insists that the prophet or dreamer must be put to death. This sounds very similar to the mandate Rav Sha'ul wrote to the community in Galatia: "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9, ESV). But how exactly are the Israelites to respond? How are they to protect themselves from attack in this way?
In the earliest rabbinic commentary on D'varim, the sages offered this explanation of our text: After the L-rd your G-d you shall walk - this refers to (following the pillar of) cloud - and Him you shall fear - meaning that the awe (of the L-rd) shall be upon you - and His commandments - referring to positive commandments - you shall keep - including (the implied) negative commandments - and His voice you shall hear - meaning the voice of His prophets (Sifrei Piska 85).1 Rashi expands this to say that keeping the commandments "refers to the Torah of Moshe," while listening to His voice means "to the voice of the prophets." Ibn Ezra comments that walking in HaShem's ways is a case of "imitating His own actions, to the extent that you can, and pursue His ways,", while fearing Him is to "be afraid of asking 'why?'"
Chazal ask the question how it is possible to walk after HaShem: "Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina further said: What means the text: You shall walk after the Lord your God? Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; for has it not been said: For the L-rd your G-d is a devouring fire (D'varim 4:24)? But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, for it is written: And the L-rd G-d made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them (B'resheet 3:21), so you should also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written: And the L-rd appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre (18:1),FootNote(2) so you should also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, for it is written: And it came to pass after the death of Avraham, that G-d blessed Yitz'khak his son (25:11), so you should also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, for it is written: And He buried him in the valley (D'varim 34:6), so you should also bury the dead" (b. Sotah 14a).
TheSforno compares the opening phrase of the text - , After the L-rd your God you shall walk - to "if you keep the commandments of the L-RD your G-d and walk in His ways" (D'varim 28:9, NJPS). This is "not in new (incorrect) ways that the prophet or dreamer shows, with the intent of leading you astray from the (proper) way," he says, not "new commandments devised by a prophet, especially idolatry which is contrary to all the commandments of G-d, the Exalted One," but in the words that Moshe is teaching (and has taught for the past forty years). HaShem "commanded His covenant forever and He will not exchange it or change it." A major part of the words of the prophets is "to preserve His Torah and sanctify His name," calling the people back to Torah and to walking in HaShem's ways.
Looking at the order of the words in the Hebrew text, Christopher Wright comments that, "This verse emphatically reverses the [normal] word order all the way through. A people consciously living with this orientation and commitment would have the spiritual health and vitality to recognise and reject idolatrous enticement as decisively as a healthy body deals with invading germs."3 Walter Brueggemann elaborates on the syntax: "[here] the radical covenantal alternative of YHVH is stated more fully than anywhere else in D'varim ... Only here the series consists in six parallel verbs: follow, fear, keep, obey, serve, hold fast; this is the most complete list of verbs anywhere. The normal word order is inverted so that in each case the accent falls on the object of the verb, that is, YHVH."4 As both a piece of teaching and as a mnemonic device, the text is marked by the emphatic word arrangement so that it catches the ear and sticks in the mind. This is how you live and avoid being taken in by false prophets and diviners!
We can see prophecy being spoken and fulfilled through two of the Bible's largest figures. The prophet Isaiah spoke these famous words in the fading years of the kingdom of Judah: "The Spirit of the L-rd G-D is upon me, because the L-RD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the L-RD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our G-d; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion -- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the L-RD, that He may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:1-3, ESV). Did this have a fulfillment for Isaiah's first audience? It is possible that Isaiah saw himself to some degree as the messenger of G-d's salvation and made this announcement in good faith to proclaim G-d's mercy and blessing to the people of his time, but we have no record of a dramatic change in the situation of the Judean kingdom to match these words. Nevertheless, Isaiah spoke of what it would mean to walk in God's ways; the person (or persons) who did this would be a true prophet and leader of Israel, obeying God's commands and hearing His voice.
The words were picked up and given a dramatic reading by Yeshua in the synagogue at Nazareth, His home town: "And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the L-rd is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the L-rd's favor" (Luke 4:17-19, ESV). Scholars have noticed for years that Yeshua's reading is shorter and doesn't cover everything that Isaiah did. We know from the Isaiah scrolls found at Qumran that the text in Second Temple times was not substantially different from the Masoretic text we have today, so it seems that Yeshua deliberately edited His reading before He told the listeners, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21, ESV). We know too that the same text informed Yeshua's reply to John the Baptist's disciples who came to ask about His ministry: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them" (7:22, ESV). By Luke's report we hear validation of both Yeshua and Isaiah. Patrick Miller explains that "the criterion of true prophecy is what it should be - truth, the correspondence between the prophetic word and the realities of history. Both OT and NT demonstrate that correspondence again and again for the prophetic words they contain."5 Yeshua's announcement of the kingdom and then fulfillment of kingdom signs showed that He was walking in G-d's ways, obeying His commandments and hearing His voice.
How are we, as followers of Messiah Yeshua, to walk in His ways? Yeshua gave one clear indication in His parable of the Sheep and the Goats. He rewards the sheep in these terms: "For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV). We should not be surprised that this is a very similar list to those we have already seen. These are practical mercy ministry activities, carried out either individually or as groups; the disciples of Yeshua are His hands and feet in the world at this time. Rav Sha'ul has a shorter but similar list: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (Romans 12:12-13, ESV). This touches some of the same points but adds the spiritual virtues that enable the commandments to be understood and G-d's voice to be heard. Coming at the question from the opposite direction, James chides his audience for their apparent neglect of these things: "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:15-17, ESV). The spiritual discipline serves no purpose if it is not expressed in practical ways. It is not enough to hear G-d speaking unless you actually do what He says.
If Isaiah's prophecy is to see a further fulfillment in these days, if there is to be an announcement of Jubilee and miracles of healing are to abound - as Yeshua said they would - then it has to come through the practical outworking of the signs of the kingdom. This is the witness that will change the world in our day. This is the light that will shine in the growing darkness. Steady, faithful, not publicised, miracles of grace, healing and outreach, done quietly and non-ostentatiously day by day as we hear G-d's voice, obey His commandments and walk in His ways.
1. - Sifre - A Tannaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy translated: Reuven Hammer, Yale Judaica Series XXIV, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), page 137.
2. - From a close reading of the account of Avraham's circumcision at the end of chapter 17 going into chapter 18, Jewish tradition would have HaShem visiting Avraham on the third day after the procedure, when he would have been most uncomfortable.
3. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 173.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 63-64.
5. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 153.
Further Study: Psalm 146:5-9; John 15:7-11; Hebrews 13:1-5
Application: Would you like to see Isaiah's words live in your congregation, neighbourhood and city? Then ask yourself how you are doing with keeping G-d's commandments and listening to His voice. Are you walking in His ways? Ask the Holy Spirit to enlarge your vision and show you the way He is calling you to walk today.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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