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B'Midbar/Numbers 30:2 This is the word that Adonai has commanded
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This is a formula, used by Moshe on a number of occasions, to introduce a command that applies in specific circumstances. It is used, for example, about gathering the manna - "This is what the L-RD has commanded, 'Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent'" (Shemot 16:16. NASB), a command that was carried out six days every week for forty years, and "This is what the L-RD has commanded, 'Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt'" (16:32, NASB), an instruction that was performed once - collecting the omer - and observed in perpetuity by keeping it. It is used during the ordination of Aharon as High Priest, as an explanation of what Moshe is doing (Vayikra 8:5) and is said to Aharon to encourage him: "This is the thing which the L-RD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the L-RD may appear to you" (Vayikra 9:6, NASB). It appears again in the matter of female inheritance - "This is what the L-RD has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, 'Let them marry whom they wish; only they must marry within the family of the tribe of their father'" (B'Midbar 36:6, NASB) - which despite its apparent universal applicability is quickly limited by Chazal to apply only to that generation (b. Bava Batra 120b). A further example concerns the slaughtering of animals away from the sanctuary: "This is what the L-RD has commanded, saying, 'Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp ...'" (Vayikra 17:2-3, NASB), which is then relaxed for eating purposes later in the Torah: "If the place which the L-RD your G-d chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the L-RD has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire" (D'varim 12:21, NASB).
Because of the "temporary" or circumstantial nature of these commands,Rashi advances the theory that these are words of prophecy, in the same way as the biblical prophets invoked the authority formula, " - Thus says the Lord" to preface something that HaShem was telling the people that they had to do immediately. The differences in the formulae - Moshe's use of , 'command', when the prophets use , 'say', and , "this is the word" rather then , 'thus' - are accounted for by Moshe's superiority as a prophet and that the Torah was designed to be written down and studied by all generations, while the words of the prophets were spoken and only later recorded by happenstance.
We find Rav Sha'ul making distinctions in the things that he says to the early communities of believers. Perhaps the most well-known example is his instructions about separation between a believer and a non-believer in marriage: "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband ... But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10,12, NASB). In another example, he appeals to the community's discernment: "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the L-rd's commandment" (14:37, NASB), while in yet another he emphasises his directional role "Thus I direct in all the churches" (7:7, NASB). All these examples, however, apply to instructions rather than to doctrine or exhortation. That phraseology is absent from obviously permanent instructions such as the qualifications and behaviour of deacons (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1), the major spiritual offices (Ephesians 4) and gifts (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).
Scholars and theologians of many different persuasions debate whether certain passages in the Bible are meant to be contextual, by which they usually mean whether the instructions in those passages are intended to be obeyed by all believers in all places and all times or were only intended for their initial audience and can be ignored by believers in a different time and context. These discussions can be very heated and have often resulted in believers of different persuasions being forced to leave churches or congregations. Disputed subjects include the issues of head-coverings for women, exercise of the spiritual gifts, whether the L-rd's Table should be open or closed, full immersion baptism. Some people want to take a literal view of every word: "It says it here, so that's what we'll do". Hence the "Regulative Principle", although even in those churches there is in fact significant interpretation over and above the plain reading of the words. At the other extreme, others take an allegorical view of the text: "This word, verse, passage, story really means ..." and almost nothing is allowed to have a plain reading because everything is taken to be symbolic. The book of Revelation is a favourite starting place for such an approach.
How are we to understand and apply the Bible today? The answer is by focusing on Yeshua and His words to us. He said, "If anyone wants to do [G-d's] will, he will know whether My teaching is from God or I speak on My own" (John 7:17, CJB). In other words, when we settle down to obey Yeshua and do what He said, we will know that His teaching comes from G-d the Father. How will we know this? Because the Holy Spirit will confirm this to us: "the Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything; that is, He will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26, CJB). Put another way, "If you obey what I say, then you are really My talmidim, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32, CJB). As our people said at Mt. Sinai, "We will do and we will obey!" (Shemot 24:17) and Judaism stresses today: start by doing something and your heart will follow your mind. As believers, we do what Yeshua said: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17); we discover the truth: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living G-d" (Matthew 16:16); and we are set free: "If you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Yeshua is L-rd and trust in your heart that G-d raised him from the dead, you will be delivered" (Romans 10:9, CJB). To some people, that makes no sense, but Yeshua knew that too: "Why don't you understand what I'm saying? Because you can't bear to listen to my message" (John 8:34, CJB). The only thing that stops us hearing and understanding Yeshua is ourselves, because we don't want to be challenged or to change. That is how we know that this is that and that is this: we read the word with an open mind and G-d speaks to us by His Spirit; we put it into practice and the Spirit points us to Yeshua, we believe the truth of the Gospel and are set free. "This is the word that Adonai commanded!"
Further Study: 2 Peter 1:21; Luke 1:68-75
Application: Do you know what the word that Adonai has command you is? All you have to do is ask - He wants to answer your questions and make you strong in His way.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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