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D'varim/Deuteronomy 5:30 In all the way that the L-rd your G-d has commanded you, you shall walk
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Our text comes in the middle of a summary block that scholars and commentators have recognised from the earliest times, bringing an exhortative conclusion to the second rendering of the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Words.1 The section 5:29-6:3 urge the Israelites to obey the Torah, the covenant commands ofHaShem, as a whole, in its entirety. Stressing the words, 'whole', 'all' and 'only', and using the encompassing phrase "This is the commandment" (D'varim 6:1) to include all that has been and will be said by Moshe, these verses present the Torah as a single piece of cloth, to be obeyed and taken as a way of life by HaShem's chosen people. Richard Elliott Friedman points out that these phrases "complement the command not to add to or subtract from the commandments (4:2, 5:19). The emphasis is on focusing on the law as given."
Most of the Jewish commentators are more interested in the rest of the verse, the consequence or reward proposed for obedience - "so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you, and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess" (D'varim 5:30, NJPS) - than in the first phrase. The latter is started by the word , here used as a conjunction meaning "so that" or "in order that", making the second dependent on the first. Both the concepts of "it going well" and of "enduring long" or "prolonging one's days", are taken by the sages of the Talmud as referring to the world to come: "the former means on the day that is wholly good; and the latter on the day that is wholly long" (b. Kiddushin 39b). TheRamban proposes that "so that you may thrive" means "so that you may live out the full number of your days", while "so that you may long endure in the land" means "that you may leave it as an inheritance to your offspring forever." Conversely, the Ralbag suggests that "so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you" refers to the life of the soul, which is the true good of mankind, and that "that you may long endure in the land" refers to physical well-being, which paves the way for spiritual well-being.
Several commentators connect "so that it may go well with you" with receiving all of the blessings listed in Vayikra 26:4-13 - "I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land ..." (vv. 4-5, NJPS) - and elsewhere in the Torah. This is taken as a promise that if the Israelites are faithful to keep all the commandments, then all these good things will surround them. Christopher Wright explains, "the emphasis on motivational factors is almost overwhelming in this section. Five times we read [in translation] 'so that' or 'that'. The stakes were high ... but obedience was the heart of the matter. Not that obedience would earn such blessing ... It was a gift of grace, but to be appropriated and enjoyed through obedience - a constant biblical pattern in both Testaments."2
Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, notices the connection to the previous verse, which ends, "Do not turn aside to the right or to the left" (D'varim 5:29, NJPS). Paraphrasing our text to say, "follow only the path that the L-rd your G-d has enjoined upon you", he suggests that turning to right or left is a metaphor and that our text is its explanation. If our relationship with HaShem is like going on a journey, then we need to follow the map exactly, otherwise we will get lost and go wildly off track. Choosing to deviate to the right or to the left would then be a rejection of the way of the L-rd, an assertion that we know better than He how to reach His destination or even that we have an alternative destination in mind. This will not work, it will not be acceptable to Him and we will get nowhere. This is like the choice between the narrow way and the broad way that Yeshua describes: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it" (Matthew 7:13, NASB).
Returning to the text, the first two words are , in all of the way. is a noun that comes from the root , to tread, which can be used for treading down enemies, treading the grapes in the winepress or more often, simply to travel. The noun therefore usually means "a way", but can sometimes be used for "a road" or "a path". Biblical phrases are the distance travelled in a day, , a day's journey (1 Kings 19:4), the major north-south caravan route running to the east of the Kinneret, the Jordan and the Dead Sea , the king's highway (B'Midbar 20:17). Significantly, it can also be used in the sense of a custom or practice, the phrase meaning literally "the way of the land" but embracing local customs, etiquette and behaviour. Here, the way or road meaning fits the travel metaphor, while the behaviour and customs of the L-rd is the way of Torah.
The Psalmist talks about the Redeemed of the L-rd, whom HaShem has gathered from the four quarters of the world, "they cried out to the L-RD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. He led them also by a straight way" (Psalm 107:6-7, NASB). Here the "straight way" is the upright way, or way of righteousness. This is the way in which HaShem teaches His people to walk: "I am the L-RD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go" (Isaiah 48:17, ESV). He leads them in safety: "With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble" (Jeremiah 31:9, ESV). When we walk in His way, without turning aside or being distracted, we will not stumble, but will be led safely to our Father's arms. Peter warns us of the peril we are in if we fall away from following the L-rd: "For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Peter 2:21, ESV). See once again, the way in which obedience and the sense of commandment are intertwined in following G-d's way. He leads but we must follow and keep on following.
How does Yeshua lead us, His disciples? The first way, of course, is by His Spirit - the Holy Spirit - the breath or Spirit of G-d. The gospels tells us that Yeshua Himself was led by the Spirit, "the Spirit led Yeshua up into the wilderness to be tempted" (Matthew 4:1, CJB). In the same way, Yeshua promised that the Spirit would guide us: "when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative but will say only what He hears" (John 16:13, CJB). And the Spirit will speak to us - "With your ears you will hear a word from behind you: 'This is the way; stay on it, whether you go to the right or the left'" (Isaiah 30:21, CJB) - connecting again to choices about the way and turning to the left or right. Secondly, Yeshua guides us by His word; we have the gospel narratives - "these which have been recorded are here so that you may trust that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of G-d, and that by this trust you may have life because of who He is" (John 20:31, CJB) - and the wider Scriptures, "everything written in the past was written to teach us, so that with the encouragement of the Tanakh we might patiently hold on to our hope" (Romans 15:4, CJB), teach and encourage us.
Just as Yeshua called His first disciples to follow Him - "Yeshua ... spotted a tax-collector named Mattityahu sitting in his collection booth. He said to him, 'Follow me!' and he got up and followed Him" (Matthew 9:9, CJB) - He calls us today to follow Him: "My sheep listen to My voice, I recognize them, they follow Me" (John 10:27, CJB). He sent the disciples, "Just as the Father sent me, I myself am also sending you" (John 20:21, CJB) and equipped them, "Having said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Ruach HaKodesh!'" (v. 22, CJB). In the same way, He sends us: "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 encourages us to walk in the same way that he does, "try to imitate me, even as I myself try to imitate the Messiah" (1 Corinthians 11:1, CJB). If we are not to fall away, we need to be in hearing range of the Master, listening carefully so that we hear Him as He calls the stride and sets the pace. We walk the straight road, the road of righteousness, the way of the L-rd as He has commanded us, close on His heels and right by His side so that it may be well with us and we will prolong our days in His kingdom for ever.
1. - The first rendering is in Shemot chapter 20. This - D'varim chapter 5 - contains the second rendering in this form. The same material, in a different order and including other important instructions is also to be found in Vayikra chapter 19.
2. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 93.
Further Study: Isaiah 35:8-10; John 10:14-16
Application: Are you following Yeshua, walking closely behind Him to hear His voice and see His footprints, or have you backed away and veered a little off the path so that you are starting to feel a bit lost? Get up close and listen for the Shepherd's voice so that there is no mistaking the way where He is leading you today.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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