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D'varim/Deuteronomy 4:6 And you shall guard and do [them], for she is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples
The first word in our text, , is a Qal 2mp Affix form in a vav-reversive construction, from the root , to guard, keep or watch, so "and you shall guard". The second word, , despite its different sound, parses in exactly the same way except for the root , most commonly to make or do, so "and you shall do". The 'them' in the translation offered above is implied and refers back to the previous verse, where Moshe has told the people, "I have taught you statutes and rules, as the L-RD my G-d commanded me" (D'varim 4:5, ESV) - the statues and rules, also rendered by some translations as precepts and judgements. The New JPS version offers: "Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples".
The ancient rabbis were quick to point out that "keeping" or "guarding" meant studying (Sifrei 79) and Drazin and Wagner explain that "study is a form of 'guarding', since study leads to understanding and understanding to proper conduct". TheBaal HaTurim adds, "this is in accordance with that which is written: 'And He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples' toil, that they might keep His statutes and observe His laws' (Psalm 105:44-45, ESV)", so affirming that the very purpose for Israel being given the Land is that they might live in it and keep the commands of HaShem. We find the same idea of intentionality in Rav Sha'ul's words when he says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which G-d prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV). Rabbi Hirsch goes a step further: "As your whole existence and the whole of your calling, and your whole future is rooted in this Torah, you have nothing else to do but to study it and keep it." The Jewish existence, our way of life, our distinctiveness as a people, our endurance through history and the current angst over the state of Israel in the Middle East are all grounded upon and foundational in the Torah. Our continued life and witness as the ancient people of G-d, to which - let there be no doubt - we are still clearly called, whether we like it or not, depend on our ongoing performance of the commandments that remain applicable and, in order to perform them, our careful and persistent study of the Torah as a whole.
So why is the observance of the commandments by Jewish people so important? This is the question answered by the second part of our text.Rashi comments that, "'it is your wisdom and understanding: through this you will be considered wise and understanding in the eyes of the people (not that the commandments are Israel's wisdom and understanding, but that the study and performance of them will demonstrate Israel's wisdom and understanding)". Jeffrey Tigay adds, "That Israel has the good sense to observe G-d's laws will be proof of its wisdom." This seems straightforward: by observing the commandments in a thorough-going way, Israel shows itself it to be wise. But why would that be an advantage? The Sforno explains: "for this is your wisdom: and with it you will be able to answer the non-believers with reasoned proof". We have two connected things happening here: the first is a consistent observance of a standard that is atypical for the other nations - G-d's people behave differently from other people - they are more ethical, truthful, hard-working, compassionate, honest, caring, etc. The second thing is that this behaviour and the reasons behind it provide a proof to non-believers of the existence and goodness of G-d; this proof is not esoteric, it is not mystical but eminently practical, it is seen in rich and poor alike and does not depend on education, rank or gender. The other nations only have to look at G-d's people and they will see it everywhere.
What, then, about the body of Messiah today, the one new man, the miracle of Jew and Gentile working together to spread the news about Messiah and inviting people to join the Kingdom of Heaven right now? The same two principles remain active for all believers in Yeshua: living a distinctive and consistent lifestyle and having a reasoned explanation for our lives, our joy and our hope. Jews and Gentiles have different roles and callings within the body (see Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12), so that Gentile believers are not obligated to keep the commandments that make the Jewish lifestyle so particular, but all the people of G-d are a commanded people. Yeshua set us the example, by meticulously following the Father's instructions - "the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19, ESV) - and told the disciples to do the same: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10, ESV). G-d's people are all to be more ethical, truthful, hard-working, compassionate, honest, caring, etc., whether they wear tassels and kipot or not.
As we walk out this "different" life, consistently demonstrating kingdom characteristics, people will be unable to avoid taking notice - "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify G-d on the day of visitation" (Peter 2:12, ESV) - and will find themselves asking questions, wanting to know what makes us tick and why we not only behave the way we do but are happy doing it as well! It is not enough just to keep our noses clean and our heads down, living a no-conflict, do-and-say-nothing passive life. That is not what we are called to. Peter is quite clear: "For this is the will of G-d, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people" (v. 15, ESV). "Not doing bad" is not the same as "doing good"; the latter requires an active engagement with people and while not trying to attract attention to ourselves, making sure that our actions are open and transparent. Only in this way will the questions come.
The second principle is that of having an answer to the questions and giving the L-rd credit: "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Messiah may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV). Even when people disrespect us, we are to gently make sure that they hear the truth behind our actions and our faith. This second principle enables people to understand and - even if they don't like it, or our good conduct convicts them of their bad conduct - see that there is a real and liveable alternative to the ways of the world, that believers are not all sour-faced legalists and that G-d is interested in helping them get their lives sorted out rather than simply punishing and condemning them. G-d is not the ultimate party-pooper; at G-d's party we really have a blast, yet remaining wholesome, kind and positive.
As anyone who has been on the front-line for a while will tell you, this is not an easy task to accomplish. Rav Sha'ul recognised this when he wrote to Timothy over nineteen hundred years ago: "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:2-5, ESV0. People naturally tend to associate with and gather around them, other people who think in the same way as they do, who live their lives to the same standards and values. They don't want to listen to us; including even, sometimes, people in church. But here's the key: other people are not our problem; G-d can and will deal with them in His own way and time. Our job is to consistently obey G-d, doing the right thing at the right time, modelling the love of G-d in Messiah Yeshua at all times so that everyone can see. He will take care of the rest.
Further Study: Isaiah 29:22-24; Colossians 4:5-6
Are you bringing G-d glory in what you do and say, or are you merging into
the background for a quiet life? It is time for all disciples of Yeshua to
come out into the open, so that the Kingdom of Heaven can be seen.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.