Fox Byte 5775 #45: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)
Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault. The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies. Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again. A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be. Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill. The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference. Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended. The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later. The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it. When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.
It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points. They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order. The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point. Consider just one point: establishment of an independent Poland. That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation. It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations. In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.
This should remind us of something in Scripture. The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France. On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,
Quatorze? Le bon Dieu n’a que dix. (Fourteen? The Good Lord only has ten.)
President Clemenceau referred to the Ten Commandments, the instructions which Jews and Christians have upheld for the last 3,500 years as the standards by which they are to conduct their lives. Or at least that is what they profess. Reality is somewhat different. The average Jew or Christian most likely could not list all ten of these Words, or Commandments, and throughout history both communities have more often than not honored them in the breach rather than in the observance. There is even justification in the charge that nearly all Christian denominations have kept only nine Commandments, disregarding the Fourth Commandment about keeping Sabbath (Shabbat) on the day God established. There is also justification in the charge that rabbinical traditions have imposed far more requirements on Jews for keeping Shabbat than those which YHVH established. It is not the place here to investigate those charges, but rather to consider the Ten Commandments as the beginning of the process by which God’s people learn to walk with Him.
(Ten Commandments) on parchment, Jekuthiel Sofer, Esnoga Synagogue, Amsterdam, 1768 (Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Amsterdam)YHVH must consider these Commandments very important since He ensured that they appear twice in the Scripture. The first time is in Exodus 20:1-17, when the Lord Himself spoke to the congregation of Israel assembled at the base of Mount Sinai just three months after they had left Egypt. The second time occurred 40 years later, on the eve of the conquest of Canaan, when Moses repeated the Lord’s words in his instructions to the children of those Israelites who had first heard them. This second giving of the Commandments is in the Torah portion Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11). On that occasion Moses made sure the people understood exactly what it was that the Living God had given them:
So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. (Deuteronomy 4:13 NASB, emphasis added; see also Deuteronomy 5:1-5)
What? A covenant? You mean these ten Words are more than just suggestions, more than requirements, more even than commandments? Yes, they are the covenant of the Living God with His people. They are His expectations of how His people are to conduct themselves so that they may be identified as His people. And that brings up an awkward point for Christians and Jews alike: if the Torah does not apply to anyone but Jews, then why do Christians even bother to pay attention to these Commandments? And if they do apply to Christians, as apparently the testimony of Yeshua Himself indicates (Matthew 5:17-20, 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-26; Luke 18:18-27), then somehow these Christians become part of the people of Israel, and this covenant applies to them as well. But then, how can this covenant apply if Yeshua supposedly brought about a “new covenant” for Gentiles? Perhaps the difficulty is not in the Scripture, but in our understanding of it. If Jews and Christians alike are part of the covenant people of the Lord God, then perhaps we should try to understand exactly what that covenant means.
Let us begin with Moses’ explanation. Remember that he is addressing a people who have been wandering in the desert all their lives in the expectation that one day they will be a conquering army who will take land promised to them by God Himself. That is why Moses begins his instructions this way:
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 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 Lord your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:1-2 NASB, emphasis added; see also Revelation 22:18-19)
Notice that there is a reason our Israelite ancestors are to learn and do the provisions of God’s Torah, or Law. Somehow there is a connection between these provisions and their ability to take the Promised Land. That should be easy enough to understand: it is YHVH alone Who gives them the ability to defeat their enemies. In fact, it is YHVH alone Who has sustained them for four decades in the wilderness. If we take this one step further, it is YHVH alone Who gave life and breath to each Israelite – something that every human being shares in common with the people of Israel from that day to this. It stands to reason, therefore, that if these Israelites intend to live in this Promised Land given them by YHVH, they would understand the need to abide by His instructions so that He will continue to sustain them.
Yet there is something more than that. We have seen elsewhere in Scripture that Israel’s conquest of Canaan is God’s judgment on the degenerate and unrepentant Amorite culture (Genesis 15:12-16). Moses goes on to explain exactly why:
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 NASB, emphasis added; see also Deuteronomy 4:35-40)Providence Lithograph Company.
The Lord is not putting the people of Israel into the Promised Land just because He wants them to have a happy life, and not simply because He is executing judgment through them on the people of the Land, but for a purpose far bigger than that: so that through Israel He may manifest His glory to the entire earth. How will the nations of the earth see His glory? When they see the well-ordered society of Israel, how the people there act with love and kindness and justice to everyone, both the native-born and the strangers, the rich, the poor, the widows, the orphans, the servants, the men, the women, the children. This is the product of the Commandments of the Lord. And there is something else as well: as the people keep the Commandments, they receive increasing blessing because they are operating within the parameters the Creator established. And there is something even more beyond that: this blessing does not apply only to the people of Israel.
Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. (Deuteronomy 7:9-10 NASB, emphasis added)
Unless there is some strange construction in the Hebrew language which I do not yet grasp, this passage tells us that anyone who keeps the Commandments of God will come into covenant with Him regardless of their nation of birth. In other words, the Law of the Lord applies to everyone, even to those who may not have heard of it. That is precisely what the Apostle Paul says:
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16 NASB, emphasis added)
This is very important, and all too often misunderstood. Paul writes that Gentiles who do the things of the Law (Torah) instinctively show that the Law is written on their hearts. He does not say that the Law has no application to them, but rather that this very Law of God is internalized in them somehow. As we go back to the instructions of Moses, we find that that is precisely what YHVH intended all along. Moses reminds the people that when God spoke the Ten Commandments from Sinai, they were so frightened at the sound of His Voice that they asked Moses to stand between them and God so that they would no longer have to hear from the Lord directly. They were willing to obey all that God said, but they wanted Moses to get the instructions from Him and then come tell them (Exodus 20:18-21; Deuteronomy 5:22-27). Moses continues:
The Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! (Deuteronomy 5:28-29 NASB, emphasis added)
How interesting. The Lord God intended all along to write His commandments on the hearts of His people. Is that not the point of the New (or Renewed) Covenant? Let us look at it once again:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB, emphasis added; see also Ezekiel 36:22-28)
Ah, so it is not the Commandments of the Lord which have changed, but the ability of His people to keep those same Commandments. Perhaps now we can understand why the greatest commandment is this:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NASB)
), Yeshua affirmed the eternal nature of the Law (Torah) and explained how YHVH intends His people to live it out day by day. (James Tissot,The Sermon on the Mount
, Brooklyn Museum)This is precisely what Yeshua identified as the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-37). That should be no surprise; as a Jew, Yeshua learned this watchword of the Jewish faith, and as the Messiah of Israel He lived by it faultlessly. It is by His example that we understand that this covenant with the Living God is now and always has been a heart issue. If we truly love the Lord, then that love will be within our hearts and it will come out in our words and actions, just as Yeshua and His apostles instruct us. No one said it more clearly than the Apostle John:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3 NASB; see also John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6; 2 John 6)
So if we love God, we do what He says. If we do what He says, then we need not think of Him as a cruel tyrant ready to smite us for stepping out of line. We fear Him in the sense of reverence, respect, and awe, just as we fear our earthly fathers, but the deep relationship He desires with us is not born of fear, but of love – which is another thing John teaches us:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. (I John 4:18-19 NASB, see also I John 4:10)
Now that we understand why YHVH gave His Ten Commandments, and understand that these are but the beginning of the things He wants us to know and do, we are finally ready to review what they are.
The Ten Commandments
Deuteronomy 5:6-21 NASB
- I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
- Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
- Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8 NASB)