Fox Byte 5775 #46: Eikev (Because)
What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing? This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth. Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial. This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.
This truth of life has its reflection in art. Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression. It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day. From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself. He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them. All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise. Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength. The soft things he pets often end up dead. At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair. This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again. The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.
Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons. As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny. It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:
Just what I always wanted. My own little bunny rabbit. I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.
With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power. Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart. The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:
And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)
These are among the opening words of Eikev (Because; Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25), the Torah portion in which Moses explains why YHVH decided to give the Promised Land to the people of Israel. In D’varim he discusses why it took 38 years to get from Mount Sinai to Canaan, and in Va’etchanan he reviews the covenant conditions by which the nation is to live. Eikev presents the promises of what YHVH will do for the people in the Land, as well as what He will do to the people should they depart from the conditions of the Covenant. Let us consider first what the Lord will do for the people:
Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. The Lord will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. You shall consume all the peoples whom the Lord your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deuteronomy 7:12-15 NASB)
This does sound good. Who would not want to be blessed so much that there is no lack of provision, no sickness, and continued increase of children and every other good thing? Yet there is something negative there, namely that part about consuming the peoples God delivers to be conquered. That sounds like a conditional covenant, as does that part up at the top about listening to, keeping, and doing the judgments of God. Where does that all fit?
This is where we connect with the distorted view of the Covenant that has plagued God’s people since the day He issued it. Whether we are Christian or Jewish, we have tended to look on this Covenant (actually, it is a series of covenants that all build on one another) as a one-sided thing: we pledge allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He makes sure we live happily ever after. As with all distorted pictures, there is a basis in reality. The Covenant is a one-sided thing. YHVH knew from the beginning that His human partners would not be able to keep their part of the bargain, so He promised to remember and keep the Covenant for them, and even to suffer the consequences on their behalf when they failed to live up to the bargain (Genesis 15:12-21, 22:15-17; Leviticus 26:45; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John 3:16-17; Hebrews 6:13). Yet He did expect His Covenant partners to make an honest effort to abide by the terms. Thus there is a responsibility on our parts to do our best at keeping the Covenant, and through continuous practice to improve at these efforts little by little.
It is this obedience part that brings the blessings, and that is the part of the message that often gets obscured, overlooked, or ignored. It happened in ancient Israel, and it is happening again today in the various segments of Christendom. Most likely something like it is happening in the Jewish world as well, or at least that part of the Jewish world which upholds the authority of the Scripture and the identity of the Jewish people within the Commonwealth of Israel. Among religious Jews I surmise that the errors in keeping the Covenant are different than those among Christians. Observant Jews have tried very hard to be obedient to Torah, and for that they deserve commendation. Where they may err is in attempting to establish their own righteousness by this obedience. That is something the Apostle Paul discusses at length in passages such as this:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4 NASB)
This is the type of New Testament passage that causes Christians to think, “Oh, those poor, benighted Jews! They are so caught up in this burdensome Law that they can’t see the salvation freely offered to them in Jesus!”
Let us think about that for a moment. Are the Jews really so poor and benighted? Perhaps. No doubt there are those who really do believe that they attain righteousness and what Christians would consider “salvation” by following the Commandments of God and whatever requirements they have inherited from the various Jewish traditions. If they really are “working their way into heaven” (which, admittedly, is a Christian way of describing this process), then they are to be pitied because there is no way to earn enough righteousness to satisfy God’s requirements (1 Kings 8:46-50; Job 4:17, 9:2, 25:4; Psalm 14:1-2, 130:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-20; Galatians 2:15-16). If that is true, then such people are no different than Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even Christians who strive to keep the rules handed down by their religious traditions so that they may attain the eternal paradise defined by those traditions. If we are to believe the testimony of Scripture, then none of them will succeed. And yet, there are Jews I know who keep Torah, in addition to the traditions of their faith, who do so not to earn their way into God’s favor, but because they believe the promises of God. Scripture tells us that Abraham himself believed God, and that his faith was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:2-4, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:22-23). Is this any different from what my Jewish friends are doing? They are taking God at His word and acting on what they understand from His promises, obeying Him as best they know how, expecting that He will correct them along the way and, ultimately, bring them into His eternal kingdom under the reign of His Messiah. These friends do not share my belief that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah of all Israel and the world, but they still believe the same promises of this God Whom we jointly profess to worship. Who am I to say that they are not “saved”? If Yeshua is indeed Messiah, as I believe, then YHVH will reveal that to them in time. Until then, I can rest comfortably in the understanding that their faith in the Living God is the same as that described of the “Old Testament” saints in Hebrews 11, and that their faith will be the vehicle of their salvation even as it is the vehicle of my own.
Let us go back to that statement by Paul in Romans 10. If Jews have a “zeal for God”, so, too, do many Christians. Yet if Jews have missed the knowledge of Messiah’s identity, then Christians have missed the knowledge of how Messiah would like to be served. That is why Paul’s statement about Messiah (Christ) being the “end of the Law” is so tragically misconstrued. What he means is that the Law (Torah) is intended to point us humans toward the salvation that is available only from and through the Living God, not through our own efforts. Sadly, too many Christians today receive with joy the news that God will accept them just as they are if they come to Him in faith, but miss the point that He expects they will not remain as they are. The standards by which the Lord intends His people to live are found in the Torah and explained further in the stories of ancient Israel, and in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles. Those Christians who bother to open the Bible quite often turn only to those pages written by the Apostles, failing to understand that the foundation is in the books of Moses. And yet they are to be commended in comparison to those who choose not to open the book at all. Preferring not to be encumbered with a long list of rules (which, quite honestly, is what much of Christendom considers the Torah to be), these disciples of Jesus rest in comfortable ignorance, thinking that the grace of God alone will keep them from all evil. Yes, that is true, in a sense. We are saved by grace alone, but there is more to the story. Consider again what Paul says:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 NASB; see also Romans 6:15-19 and Ephesians 2:1-10)
With this we arrive at something difficult to understand. Elsewhere Paul says this:
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:27-31 NASB, emphasis added)
If we are to believe Paul, then Law and Grace are not mutually exclusive. There is One God Who designed and implemented both, and both apply to Jews and to non-Jews. How are we to reconcile this? How does our faith establish the Law (Torah)?
Permit me to propose an answer, or at least part of an answer. The question is not to whom the Law applies, because Scripture clearly says that it applies to every human being. The question is this: Who may be included in the Covenant of YHVH? The answer to that is anyone. Yet here is where it gets complicated. The Lord made and maintains His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. He did not extend that Covenant to anyone else (and that includes the New, or Renewed, Covenant, according to Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-12). Since descendants of the Patriarchs are the nation of Israel, then it stands to reason that anyone who wants to come into a covenant relationship with the Living God must come into some kind of relationship with Israel. And that is precisely the point. What was true in ancient times for the mixed multitude who left Egypt, for Rahab and Ruth, and for Cornelius the Roman is the same for us today. All who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:12-13). Once they call on that Name for deliverance, they are then obligated to live according to His standards – not to obtain salvation or deliverance, but because He has already given it. By living out His standards of righteousness day by day, with noticeable improvement over time, these people become examples to the rest of the world of how to move from death to life, and then to ever greater levels of blessing according to the eternal promises of the Creator.
This is what brings us back to the instructions of Moses in Eikev. If we consider this global faith community of Christians, Jews, and others who believe the promises of the Living God as the Commonwealth of Israel, then logically those people who heard the instructions of Moses 3,500 years ago are our ancestors (spiritually if not physically). All those words apply to us just as much as they applied to them. Which is why these words should not come as a surprise:
All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. (Deuteronomy 8:1-5 NASB, emphasis added)
Yeshua referred to this passage when Satan tempted Him (Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4). Apparently He believed this Torah passage had some applicability to Himself, and by extension, to His followers. It therefore makes sense to study it in context. When we do we see the obvious: that the instructions and judgments and commandments of YHVH are what really sustain our being, not the food we put in our mouths. In fact, when there was no food or water in the wilderness, He sustained our ancestors with manna and water from a rock. Yet there is something more here. It seems that this God-Who-Delivers is also the God-Who-Tests-His-People. He allowed our ancestors to suffer hunger, thirst, and many others things for the purpose of seeing how serious they were in their professions of faith in Him. When they fell short of His standards He disciplined them to bring them into compliance and help them mature. He did not do so because He hated them, but because He loved them and wanted them to grow into something greater than they themselves thought possible (Deuteronomy 4:36; 2 Samuel 7:14-15; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19).
There is another reason YHVH disciplined our ancestors, and why He continues to discipline us to this day – and likely will increase the level of testing and reproof as He completes the process of restoring His nation of Israel. He wants us to remember that it is He alone, not we ourselves, who brings success and blessing (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). That should be easy enough to understand, but there is something more:
Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, “Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,” but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6 NASB, emphasis added)
And we are still a stubborn, stiff-necked people, clinging to our Christian, Jewish, and other traditions because they are comfortable and seem right even though they may not align with the Word of God. It was such an attitude that brought multiple judgments on our ancestors in Israel and Judah long ago, and which eventually had them all exiled from the Promised Land. The Lord did not make an end of us, which in itself is a miracle and a testimony to His eternal faithfulness to the Covenants He established with our Patriarchs. The prayer that Moses prayed on behalf of our ancestors after their rebellion with the Golden Calf is still applicable to this day:
I prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin. Otherwise the land from which You brought us may say, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which He had promised them and because He hated them He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.’ Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:26-29 NASB)
This is how we know He will restore the entire nation of Israel. It is not because of us, but because His very Name and reputation are at stake. If He does not do so, then He becomes a laughing stock and a deplorable myth in the eyes of the nations and of the spiritual powers witnessing this great drama. Moreover, if He does not do so, then the nations of the earth and the people in them will have no testimony that leads them to call on the Name of the Lord and be delivered. And in the end, this all-powerful God will have no choice but to do away with this entire planet, and perhaps even more than that, and start all over. With that in mind, perhaps this instruction of Moses takes on a new and deeper meaning:
Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16 NASB)
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.” Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody. (Isaiah 51:1-3 NASB)