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Shemot/Exodus 19:1 In the third month ... in this day, they entered the Sinai wilderness
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In thePesikta de Rab Kahana, Rabbi Abu begins his Shavuot talk by quoting a verse from Proverbs: "Have I not, with counsel and knowledge, written for you noble things" (Proverbs 22:20 - 22:19 in English Bibles). The word translated "noble things" is one of those that are written one way but traditionally read in a different way. In this case the word is written , but pronounced and most translators follow the reading rather than the writing. Not so Rabbi Abu, who suggests that the written word means "as though it were only the day before yesterday." According to Rabbi Eleazer, the Torah should not look like an anticipated decree, but like a decree freshly issued which all rush to read. Rabbi - often taken to be Rabbi Judah, the compiler of the Mishnah - added, "freshly issued, not more than two or three days ago for means 'the day before yesterday'". Ben Azzai will have none of this; "Not even as old as a decree issued two or three days ago, but as a decree issued this very day - this is the way to regard the Torah." This is why our text - describing the arrival of the Children of Israel in the Sinai wilderness - explicitly says "on this day" rather than "on that day", because the text is emphasising the "now" nature of the narrative and the way it is to be interpreted. Just as in the Passover Haggadah the text says that each generation is to consider that they were freed from Egypt, so the text is hinting that we should all think, fifty days later, that we arrived at Mount Sinai in order to hear the words of the Torah spoken to us personally.
As Moshe is rehearsing the Torah forty years later with the generation who are about to enter the Land, he says to them, "This day the L-rd your G-d commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your soul" (D'varim 26:16, NASB). Even though some of the people would have been able to remember that day, when they were children, Moshe doesn't refer to it as a past event that has already happened, but as a present "now" event;HaShem is still commanding His people to obey His Torah. For the people hearing Moshe speak, HaShem is placing a call on their hearts "today"; today they are to obey Him. As he starts his summing up, three chapters later, Moshe tells the people, "You stand today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is in your camps, from the one who chops your wood down to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into covenant with the L-rd your G-d, and into His oath which the L-rd your G-d is making with you today" (D'varim 29:10-12, NASB).
Wait a minute! Didn't Moshe inaugurate the covenant at Sinai as an everlasting covenant, a permanent agreement and obligation, binding upon all generations of Jews for all time? Didn't our people speak with one voice and say, "All the words which the L-rd has spoken we will do!" (Shemot 24:3, NASB), before Moshe took blood and sprinkled it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the L-rd has made with you in accordance with all these words" (v. 8, NASB). So what are the people doing now, forty years afterwards? As Moshe teaches and explains the covenant again in the next generation, they too have to enter into it for themselves, they too have to hear and acknowledge it by responding, "we shall hear and do" what HaShem is commanding us.
In his next breath Moshe goes on, "Now not only with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those who stand here with us in the presence of the L-rd our G-d and with those who are not here with us today" (D'varim 29:14-15, NASB). This is a multi-generational covenant that the people are to review, re-enter and keep in every generation. Each person is to consider that they personally stood at Sinai and heard G-d speaking, that they not only said but continue to say, "we will do everything G-d says". By this we keep the covenant alive and fresh; by this we prevent the Torah becoming stale; by this G-d's word stays "living and active, like a two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12).
Fifteen hundred years after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the disciples of Yeshua crowded each day into the upper room in Jerusalem to meet for prayer. Yeshua had been with them for forty days since his resurrection (Acts 1:2) and had left them to wait out the time until the feast of Shavuot, counting the last seven days of the Omer until the day of the feast itself came. Suddenly, "there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:3, NASB). With tongues of fire on their heads and speaking in other tongues, they were filled with the Spirit of G-d, as were the prophets of old. The written Torah that they had been fulfilling for the last fifty days as they counted the days from Passover to Shavuot, first with Yeshua and then by themselves during the last week, suddenly became the living Torah as the Holy Spirit flowed through them. Suddenly their world was turned upside down as they were filled with assurance, power, understanding and praise for G-d that flowed through them them so quickly that they couldn't stop it. No wonder the people in the streets around thought at first they they were drunk!
Today, another two thousand years on, for many the story has become nothing more than that: a story. Many believers fail to connect with the now-ness of G-d because they see Him in history, as past events that were exciting if you were there, but aren't really relevant today to the pressures and sophistications of a modern world. Modern and post-modern people are focussed upon themselves, unable or unwilling to break out of the norms of society and stand up for the truths of the Bible and the reality of relationship with G-d, infused and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now is the time; today is the day and G-d is waiting for each one of us to open ourselves up to Him, to take the risk of making a covenant afresh for ourselves with the living G-d. This is the call on our lives today: live dangerously, stand up to be counted, dare to be different - proclaim the reality of G-d in a hurting and broken world!
Further Study: Luke 11:27-28; Joshua 1:1-9
Application: Do you long for more in your relationship with G-d? This Pentecost, reach out to Him and claim "the promise that is for you and your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the L-rd our G-d shall call to Himself" (Acts 2:39, NASB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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