Monday, July 7, 2008

Deuteronomy 4: 9-14

I am not going to lie, sometimes getting started on these passages of 'remember the law' seems a tedious undertaking, and such is this morning's portion.

In the previous passage Moses has just reminded the Israelites that keeping the law is key to keeping the land, and that through the law nations around them will recognize Israel's unique relationship with God.

V. 9 - "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
I think it is interesting that remembering 'what their eyes have seen' or their experiences is such a vital part of the command to keep the law. It is important enough that they are supposed to pass it down generation to generation so that those who did not share in the experience have the experience so firmly passed down that it becomes personal to them as well...emotional DNA, built into their government, culture and religion.
It reminds me of the lyrics (themesong, if you will) from the Fantastiks - "try to remember and if you remember, then follow, follow, follow." There is no doubt that remembrance of our human experiences affects how we react to our circumstamces and doubtless Moses (by way of God) knew this truth.

V. 10-13 - Moses then tells them a specific thing to remember - the giving of the Ten Commandments. He reminds them with specifics like the location, and the reason.
Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) was the location where God gave the Israelites the 10 commandments. Moses reminds them what it looked like, sounded like, felt like, and perhaps even smelled like ("blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness...You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.") This was one of the defining moments for the nation of Israel - the giving of the law which would set them apart and mark them as God's chosen people. It was following this law which identified them to the nations around them and throughout the ancient world. God wrote these laws down for them (providing a tangible reminder.)
At this point it seemed pertinent to read the passage where the Law was given : Exodus 19 & 20. I smile a little because while reading the passage Moses seems like the ringmaster at some grand three ring circus production. There was smoke and fire and trumpets and thunder and lightening. This was certainly a spectacle to be remembered. This was not some quiet Sunday morning gathering to be shuffled into the back of collective memory and grouped with a thousand other like experiences. This was a once in a lifetime (ok, once in a world's lifetime) event and it was going to be remembered! (Except that often it wasn't because humans are resillient forgetters.)
Which causes me to ponder how absolutely God has intervened in my life and how those moments have changed me and yet how easily I forget them when trouble comes.

V 14 - Then Moses reminds them that God instructed Moses to teach them the laws "you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess." The giving of the Law was always focused on the possession of the Land and the fulfillment of the promise. Lately (the past two decades or so) it seems there has been a large focus on the Bible as narrative (a cohesive story that reads from beginning to end with God's overarching theme of redemption always as the lead story.) Passages like this remind me that God never forgets the subplots; never forgets the smaller promises and prepared Israel thoroughly not just for the day when the coming Messiah would return, but for every other step along the way: the law -> the land -> the Love.

TWO sidenotes that struck me deeply while reading through this passage. First, a reference to my discussion of the first verses from my Torah Portion where God again denies Moses entry to the land. In re-reading the events leading up to the giving of the Ten Commandments I found the passage where Moses DOES strike the rock at God's command (which seems to be different from the Numbers 20 passage.) Exodus 17: 1-7 which I have to admit does seem more God focused than Moses focused. So, there is more to ponder there - since the concept of God denying Moses what appeared to be a desire of Moses' heart does cause me to want more understanding than I currently have. (And, I might have to accept that not entering the land was part of Moses' story and not mine, so I might not get all the answers, though it seems that Biblical characters are there for our instruction and therefore perhaps we are to consider their portions and our portions with some comparison??? I dunno....)

The second sidenote was a 'you've got to be kidding me' moment. These occur regularly as I start to study more about Jewish commentaries and the New Testament. In looking up the Mt. Sinai situation (the multiple names for the same place, location disputes, etc.) I found an odd reference to a Jewish commentary about the mountain on Wikipedia. This phrase stuck out to me: "In Classical rabbinical literature, Mount Sinai became synonymous with holiness; indeed, it was said that when the Messiah arrives, God will bring Sinai together with Mount Carmel and Mount Tabor, rebuild the Temple upon the combined mountain, and the peaks would sing a chorus of praise to God." Little bells started going off in my head. Mt. Sinai - the mountain of the Law where Moses had gone to meet God. Mt. Carmel - where God again appears as fire to decimate the bull, the rocks and even the water in the ditch where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a 'greatness of the gods' contest. And Mount Tabor - any guesses? Well, first and less significant: "In the days of Second Temple, Mount Tabor was one of the mountain peaks on which it was the customed to light beacons in order to inform the northern villages of holidays and of beginnings of new months." (According to Wikipedia.) But here is what you are going to find most significant. This is the mountain where God appeared as a cloud and again spoke to what we might consider a remnant of Israel regarding His plan for their salvation.
Here is where I made another important discovery - contrary to popular opinion, not everything is yet on the internet! Search as I may I could never find the Yalkut Shimoni in English. (There was one site that seemed to offer it for 29.95 but I am not sure in what language.) Here it is in Hebrew; make of it what you will. I need 391 which is the reference for the aforementioned commentary of the three mountains. The Yalkut appears to be a compilation of commentary from previous Hebrew scholars. I want to know if this prophecy or commentary originally predates Christ and whether it would have been common knowledge among scribes and Jewish scholars in the first century. (As it appears the prophecy was in fact fulfilled. Comments, anyone?)

Ok. Enough exploration for now. More to follow certainly! Grace and Peace.

1 comment:

Christina said...

So I wrote to NT Wright with my question but he responded with, "sorry, I can't help." *shrug* I will find good resources even if my good resources have no good resources!