This present covenant
Torah Portion: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded) D’Varim (Deut.) 3:23-7:11
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 40:1-26
Messianic Scripture Matt. 4:1-11,22:33-40; Mark 12:28-34
Now on to one of my questions for this week. D’Varim 5:3 reads, “The L-rd did not cut this covenant with our fathers, but with us: we, these here today: all of us alive.” Moshe went over the details of what happened in Shemot 19:16-19 when G-d came down on the mountain in fire and smoke and how the people trembled. So why would he make this statement in verse 5:3? Surely some of the people to whom he was speaking had been at Sinai, or had heard of what G-d did there from their parents. So why now, say that G-d had not cut this covenant with their fathers?
I think this verse has a strong significance to each of us today as believers. I think Moshe was saying to the people present, at the bank of the Jordan, that G-d speaks to each one of us in our own generation. Sinai was not just a historical happening but it is an ongoing event. It is new in each generation. Later, in D’Varim 29:13-14 we read exactly that, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the L-rd our G-d and with those who are not with us here today.” Every year when Passover comes around a big part of the celebration is when we ask the question, “What does this day mean to you?” This is an effective way of assuring that the children and adults remember they are a part of the covenant G-d made those years long ago. The Torah was not given only to those at the mountain but to those who will be alive in each generation to come. The covenant was never meant to be seen as a historical event of the past.
Yeshua made the same point about His resurrection. In Matthew 22:31-32, “As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by G-d? I am the G-d of Avraham, and the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob, He is not G-d of the dead, but of the living.” Later, in Luke 22:20 he made the same point as Moshe in our reading today. G-d’s covenant is not an event, a claim or a relationship of the past. It is of the present, our present. We as G-d’s people should see ourselves as standing at the cross, being at the empty grave as if it were happening today. Yeshua’s death and resurrection was not only a historical event but an ongoing, life giving event. So often we celebrate the L-rd’s supper as another biblical event or as something that has little relevance to our world today. Yes, it happened but we fail to appreciate what it really means to be a part of this breathing living covenant. This covenant has certain demands on our lives today. These same demands will be relevant tomorrow, next year and until Yeshua returns. Psalms 98:9 says, “He is coming to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity.” Live each day as if you were standing in Jerusalem at the crucifixion.
Now to my second point or question. When we read D’Varim 6:4, we usually read it as, “Hear Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one.’ I want us to talk about the first word in Hebrew of this verse that is translated as hear. D’Varim, along with the other books of Torah are a set of commandments. These commandments show how society should live, and tells us what is justice and compassion. We might see it as books about law, with do’s and don’ts. These laws are necessary for a society to operate correctly. We also see love commandments such as love your neighbor as yourself, love the L-rd your G-d, and love the stranger as yourself.
What is amazing is that in biblical Hebrew there is no word for obey. Only in modern Hebrew has a word been inserted. We would think, with all of these commandments, such a word would be important. But there isn’t one. The reason may be wrapped up in the meanings of Shema. It is so much more than we might have thought. A few examples of other meanings may help us understand further.
1. One of the most often used definitions is listen, to pay focused attention. (Deut. 27:9)
2. Hear, as in “I heard” Genesis 3:10
3. To understand, as in Genesis 11:7
4. To internalize, take to heart as in Genesis 17:20
5. To respond in action Genesis 21:12
These examples give us a picture of the variety of meaning found on this one word. All of which gives us such a deeper understanding of what is being said in our verse. When we understand the range of meanings for this one word, shema, it helps us to understand that G-d gave these commandments for our benefit. G-d does not demand blind obedience. Rather, He desires that, because of our love for Him, we say, “We will hear and we will do His commandments.” He wants us to understand why He gave us these commandments.
So, here in D’Varim 6:4, when we read, “Shema,” it does not mean just to hear but also to listen, concentrate, focus attention and make His will our own. G-d loves us and has shown us His way of living a life that will bless us and our children and friends. As you go through your week, seek to listen to Him, concentrate on Him. It will make life simpler and more rewarding.