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D'varim/Deuteronomy 10:17 For the L-rd your G-d, He is God of gods and Master of masters; the great, mighty and awesome G-d, who does not lift faces and does not take a bribe ...
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These opening words, strongly reminiscent of the title twice given to Yeshua in the book of Revelation - "The Lamb ... is Lord of lords and King of kings" (Revelation 17:14 ESV) and "On His robe and on His thigh ... King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:19, ESV) - set the context for the compassionate and righteous characteristics ofHaShem described in the next verse and a half: "who shows no favour and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing" (D'varim 18:17b-18, JPS). Targum Onkelos changes both of these two titles; the first becomes , G-d of the judges, a plausible translation of the Hebrew as the word is used as 'judges' in "his master must take him before the judges" (Shemot 21:6, NIV), because Onkelos won't concede that there might possibly be any other gods. Perhaps on the same line, Ibn Ezra suggests that means the same as , G-d of hosts. Onkelos' second title becomes , Master of kings; possibly influenced by the phrase - the King who is Master (King) of kings - which is traditionally sung over the Shabbat evening meal in a four-stanza song, "Welcome, ministering angels, angels of the Most High, the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He" (Authorised Daily Prayer, 310-311), that repeats all but the first phrase in each stanza. Gunther Plaut, pointing to the words of the Israelite servant girl to Na'aman's wife - "I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria" (2 Kings 5:3, NLT), says that "In ancient Israel, the term was reserved for men in positions of authority." We recite the third title, , literally "the G-d, the great, the powerful, the awesome", verbatim three times every day in each of the daily synagogue prayer services as part of the first stanza - - of the Amidah.
The third stanza of Aharonic benediction uses the same phrase for showing favour - "lifting the face" - when the priests ceremoniously ask HaShem to show favour to Israel, so the phrase in our verse "who does not show favour" cannot be taken in isolation as it would be a contradiction. OvadiahSforno, however, comments that this includes "the unrestrained son for the sake of his righteous father, even though He is slow to anger in the merit of the father." Rashi too comments on this phrase, that HaShem "does not show favour if you break lose from His yoke." He appears to be conditioning HaShem's favour on whether a person remains in good standing with Him or has discarded any relationship, ignoring the Torah completely. Rabbi Hirsch adds, "He is not indifferent to how His human beings live on earth, what they think and do and refrain from doing, people have to take His Will into consideration with all their thinking and willing and doing."
The last phrase in the verse, on the other hand, generates much comment. Richard Elliot Friedman asks, "What could it mean to bribe G-d?! A sacrifice, a donation, a kindness,charity, prayer: one might do any of these to win the deity's favour, rather than doing them as fulfillment of the commandments or as free acts. Moshe informs the people that this will not work." Rashi, more bluntly, says that it is impossible "to appease Him with money; that is, through offerings and contributions to the temple." Plaut too chips in with, "Do not consider your sacrifice as a means of influencing G-d's will."
But why would people want to 'bribe' G-d? Because of sin and the cost of repentance and restitution. It is not possible to buy G-d's favour without dealing with sin in the appropriate way. The Sforno explains that G-d "will not reduce the punishment for a transgression because of the merit of a mitzvah which the sinner performed, as our Sages say 'A mitzvah shall not extinguish a transgression' (b. Sotah 21a). And all this teaches us that if we sin, we cannot rely on any merit to save us from punishment - except perfect repentance." TheRamban says that this applies to "even a completely pious person - should he commit a transgression, G-d will not take one of the commandments he has observed as a bribe to atone for it, but will punish him for his sins in addition to giving him what he has earned for his good deeds." Jeffrey Tigay concludes, "This is the practical consequence of G-d's supreme authority: He cannot be influenced to overlook guilt in the ways that human authorities can."
The prophets speak out about those who bring sacrifices derived from sin: "Bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to Me ... your new moons and fixed seasons fill Me with loathing ... when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime" (Isaiah 1:13-15, JPS). Doing good and pursuing justice is the essential prerequisite for being heard by G-d. Isaiah continues, "Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your G-d, your sins have made Him turn His face away and refuse to hear you. For your hands are defiled with crime and your fingers with iniquity. Your lips speak falsehood, your tongue utters treachery" (59:2-3, JPS).
Yeshua challenged the Pharisees on the same issue: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of G-d. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Luke 11:42, ESV). The tithing of herbs was not, in itself, wrong; it was a valid sacrifice and would otherwise have been a perfectly part of the Pharisees' worship of G-d. The problem was that justice and loving G-d - this being an allusion to the second verse of the Sh'ma: "You shall love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (D'varim 6:5, JPS), in other words, with everything you have and are - were being neglected. This can be taken not just as an omission - they haven't done the good things that they ought to have done - but also as a commission: they have been unjust and taken profit from those who could not afford it, or treated the poor in an exploitative way.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us, as believers in Messiah, living in a post-Temple world, what is an acceptable sacrifice: "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to G-d, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to G-d" (Hebrews 13:15-16, ESV). This matches what Yeshua said; when we acknowledge His name, we do what He has said, not just pay lip service to an ideal.
One of Don Francisco's songs, written over thirty years ago, sums this up well: The Steeple Song1. Touching on a number of gospel passages, Francisco speaks directly into the issue of obedience versus profession:
It doesn't matter if your sacrifice of praise is loud enough to raise the
The thing I need to ask you, is "Have you done the things I said?"
Do you love your wife? With all you've got inside you?
Are you layin' down your life? What about the others?
Are you livin' as a servant to your sisters and your brothers?
Do you make the poor man beg you for a bone? Do the widow and the orphan cry alone?
Hear Yeshua's conclusion: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21, ESV). Words are not enough; gifts or offerings are not enough. We have to live the life of Yeshua and do those things that He calls us to as He would (and did) Himself. Then we will be "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to G-d, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1, ESV).
1. - Don Francisco, The Steeple Song, New Spring / Benson Music, 1977
Further Study: Amos 5:21-24; Micah 3:9-11
Application: Are you a do-er or a say-er? Do you find it easier to give assent to something than to carry it out? It can be a tough call, but as the old saying goes: actions speak louder than words.
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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