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D'varim/Deuteronomy 5:19 Adonai spoke these words ... a great voice that did not repeat
At this point, Moshe is reminding the people thatHaShem spoke to them from Mt. Sinai, "from the midst of the fire, the cloud and the thick cloud". There is some disagreement over exactly how the words should be translated, since the root means to repeat, continue, add or do again. While almost all the translations follow the plain meaning - "He added no more" (ESV, NASB), "He added nothing more" (NIV), "these and no more" (JPS) - some of the more orthodox (e.g. Artscroll) Jewish translations follow Rashi who translates as: "a great voice, which did not stop". Rashi claims the support of Targum Onkelos, , but even this has the literal meaning "he did not continue". Rashi seems to be reading meaning into the text for he continues, "for His voice is strong and lasts for ever", perhaps a reflection of "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our G-d stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8, NASB).
Nachmanides, who is never afraid of contradicting Rashi, speculates that the words might mean "He did not pause", implying that HaShem was able to say all of the Ten Commandments in one go without pausing to take a breath for - obviously - G-d does not need to take a breath! He then suggests another alternative, that "there will never again be so great a voice" as was heard that day. Hirsch, another traditional commentator, struggles to reconcile with the meaning "to cease", conceding that "everywhere else it means increasing, going further". His solution is that "the voice was a great one and still did not reach further, did not go beyond the Jewish circle, was not audible beyond that. It was only heard by those to whom it was directed". Friedman, adopting the plain meaning of the text, comments that "Again Moshe reminds the people that the commandments as stated are not to be added to". He goes on: "For two millennia Jews have struggled with the matter of additions to the law. Rabbinites and Karaites, Orthodox and Reform and Conservative Jews, have differed over the limits of the law and over where Jews have gone too far in adding to it."
The basic texts seem clear enough; apart from the allusion in our verse above, we find Moshe explicitly saying, "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the L-rd your G-d which I command you" (D'varim 4:2, NASB) and, in abbreviated form, "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (D'varim 12:32, NASB). This doesn't leave much room for doubt as to what is intended, so if the Torah is the sum and total of G-d's commandments, what are we to make of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures and the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant, Greek Scriptures)? How do we fit them into the idea of an immutable and non-extensible Torah?
While the writings of the prophets do certainly contain revelatory material, much of this is of an event or action related nature: G-d's judgement, now or later, upon Israel or its neighbours. There is much exhortation and encouragement as well as rebuke for the people to keep the Torah as it has already been taught, an interpretation of the meaning of the Torah as given. There is also longer term revelation about Messiah and the end times, but the dominant theme of the prophets is that they are calling the people back to the Torah that G-d has already given and expects the people to obey. The third section of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Writings, also contains much historical material relating how Israel did or did not keep the Torah and the consequences of that, together with moving and encouraging personal statements of belief, faith and hope - again, building on the foundation of Torah and consistent with it rather than bringing any new commandments or taking any away. As one writer said, "Every word of G-d is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His word lest He reprove you and you be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6, NASB).
The New Covenant writings, then, continue in the same path. Yeshua is careful to say at the beginning of His ministry, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill" (Matthew 15:17, NASB). In a clear reference to Moshe's instructions, He adds, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (v. 19, NASB). Yeshua makes it clear that He stands firmly within the framework of Torah and G-d's commandments given to our people at Mt. Sinai; He may offer radical interpretations or corrections to current implementation of those commands but He neither removes them or adds to them. Even the "new" commandment that He gives the disciples, that they should "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34) is only a re-worked and extended application of a commandment first given in Leviticus 19:18, "you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the L-rd" (NASB). Yeshua's consistency with the Torah is echoed by Rav Sha'ul who tells his readers, "so then, the Law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12, NASB), adding to Timothy, "we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully" (1 Timothy 1:8, NASB) by keeping and honouring it, rather than slipping into legalism.
Now that we have G-d's commandments written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, 2 Corinthians 3:2) we are, more than even, called to obedience. The Ruach HaKodesh convicts and prompts, showing us as Jewish and Gentile believers alike, what G-d requires of us in our walk before Him. Jews keep the Torah, as a sign people, explained and applied by Yeshua; Gentiles follow the words of Yeshua, covering all the principles but not all the particulars of the Torah - and both empowered by the Spirit. The people of G-d should speak with one voice - a great voice, from the midst of the confusion and chaos of our world - that brings the simple truth of the gospel, without human additions to make it attractive or subtractions to make it more acceptable, that all men may know and have an opportunity to respond to G-d's invitation to life.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; Revelation 22:18-19
Application: How can you explain one simple truth of the gospel to someone today? Try to strip away denominational or cultural additions and express it in the Bible's own words; practice with another believer first, then share with a friend, colleague or co-worker who is not a believer and ask them what they think. You may be surprised!
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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