And you shall keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may succeed with all that you do. – D’varim/Deuteronomy 29:8
One of Rav Sha’ul’s favourite linking words is ‘therefore’. He uses it to bring together the force of his immediately preceding arguments as a reason for the result he is just going to announce or the course of action for which he is about to advocate. For example, he tells the Corinthians, “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no G-d but one'” (1 Corinthians 8:4, ESV). He means: in the light of all that I have just told you. But do we have a ‘therefore’ moment in our text? On the face of it, no we don’t. Biblical Hebrew has both a word – lachen – and a phrase for ‘therefore’ – al ken – neither of which is present above. On the other hand, many of the newer authoritative English translations (for example, CJB, , ESV, NRSV, ) do render the first vav as ‘therefore’ rather than ‘and’. The translation, for instance, starts, “Therefore observe faithfully …”.
The verb taskilu is taken by the commentators to have two quite different meanings. Taskilu is the Hif’il 2mp prefix form of the root , “to act wisely, prudently” (Davidson). The Septuagint translates it with a form of the verb , “to understand, comprehend”, leading Gunther Plaut to suggest that the last phrase means “That you may after all understand G-d’s marvellous deeds for you.” Richard Elliott Friedman is also in this camp as he connects this verse to the account of creation: “Yet again the words of the beginning of the Torah return in the Torah’s closing portions. In the garden of Eden, the woman is attracted to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad because it will ‘bring about understanding’ (B’resheet 3:6, lehaskil, to make wise).
Targum Onkelos, on the other hand, translates it as detitslechun from the root tsadi-lamed-chet, “to be successful or prosperous” (Sokoloff). Ibn Ezra supports Onkelos, pointing to the verse “David … was successful in every mission on which Saul sent him” (1 Samuel 18:4, JPS). The rabbis of the Talmud agree with Onkelos, referring to our text and using the word ‘prosper’: “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: The following is written in the Law, repeated in the Prophets and mentioned a third time in the Writings. Whosoever occupies himself with the Torah, his possessions shall prosper – for it says, ‘Therefore observe the words of this covenant, and do them, that everything you do will prosper’ (D’varim 29:8). It is repeated in the Prophets – ‘This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then you shall make your ways prosperous, and then you shall have good success’ (Joshua 1:8). It is mentioned a third time in the Writings – ‘But his delight is in the Law of the L-rd, and in His Law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and in everything he does he shall prosper’ (Psalm 1:2-3)” (b. Avodah Zarah 19b).
Other commentators take a pragmatic view of the text. Jeffrey Tigay explains that, “from the lessons of the past forty years Israel now knows that adherence to the covenant is required for success,” while the Sforno defines what success looks like: “that you may achieve, through your deeds, the intended purpose of Israel and attain eternal life and temporal life.” Rabbi Hirsch expands Moshe’s words into an exhortation: “Well then! Take all these experiences together, which you had in Egypt and in the wilderness, and which must have firmly and unshakably established your ‘knowledge’ of G-d … after all that you have experienced, you know that no word of this covenant will remain unfulfilled. Then you will not let the words of this covenant slip your memory and will use them for guidance in all that you do.” This is very practical and follows Rav Sha’ul’s use of ‘therefore’; Hirsch points back to the Israelites’ experience and uses it as a reason for observance and performance of the covenant: you know it because you have seen it – now live it!
We have a tendency to hear G-d’s promises and commands, whether when reading the Bible, when hearing a sermon or talk, or even in prayer and translating the linking word into some variant of ‘if’, ‘maybe’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘possibly’. When Yeshua came walking across the Sea of Galilee to the disciples in the middle of a storm at four o’clock in the morning, “they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost!’ they said and screamed with fear” (Matthew 14:26, CJB). He calls out to them, to try to reassure them, “Courage … it is I. Stop being afraid” (v. 27, CJB). “Hello,” He says, “it is Me, really.” We have to assume this worked, as Peter is able to call back, “Lord, if it is really You, tell me to come to You on the water” (v. 28, CJB) and, after Yeshua says, “Alright then, come on,” gets out of the boat and walks over the water to join Yeshua. But the wind is still blowing around him and he starts to lose it and sink, so Yeshua grabs hold of him and they both get into the boat. Yeshua’s words? “Such little trust! Why did you doubt?” (v. 31, CJB). Now check Peter’s opening statement again, “if it is really You …” Why on earth does he start with ‘if’? Who else did Peter think it was?
Perhaps you find yourself making excuses for Peter and the others: it was the middle of the night; they were busy dealing with a little weather imbroglio – David Stern translates that they were, “battling a rough sea and a headwind” (v.24, CJB) – on the Lake, which is renowned for its sudden storms and squalls, even today; there were poor light conditions; there was lots of background noise. But they hear Yeshua speaking to them, they engage in conversation; they recognise His voice. Now think backwards – what had happened only the previous evening? Yeshua had just fed the crowds: “They all ate as much as they wanted, and they took up twelve baskets full of the pieces left over. Those eating numbered about five thousand men, plus women and children” (vv. 20-21, CJB). The disciples had seen Yeshua at work with their own eyes; they had plenty of experience to call on to trust Him: recent personal experience. Yet in the boat they all had an “Ah But” moment, a faith disconnect. They had lost sight of yesterday and all the previous days of ministry, the healings, the exorcisms, the teaching.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Rav Sha’ul speaks about the battle in which we are all engaged, for the kingdom of G-d against the forces of darkness. After describing the enemy who we fight, Sha’ul urges his readers: “Therefore, stand!” (Ephesians 6:14, CJB). What does this word include? We have to look back to the beginning of the block, probably verse 10, where Sha’ul starts by saying, “Finally, grow powerful in union with the L-rd, in union with his mighty strength!” (v. 10, CJB). We stand not in our own strength, but in union with the L-rd; He alone has the necessary strength. Sha’ul’s next point is, “Use all the armour and weaponry that G-d provides, so that you will be able to stand against the deceptive tactics of the Adversary” (v. 11, CJB). G-d provides all the armour we need so that we can stand; we are not under-resourced or inappropriately equipped. The enemy may try to deceive us that we don’t have everything we need, but G-d says we do. Sha’ul goes on, “For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (v. 12, CJB). The battle we fight is not against people; they are not our enemies, however that may appear. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are fighting a spiritual battle, against the spiritual force of evil, against G-d’s enemies. Sha’ul’s last point is an exhortation: “So take up every piece of war equipment God provides; so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will still be standing” (v. 13, CJB). God has provided all the weapons of warfare we need; the day for fighting will come sooner or later, not ‘if’ but ‘when’; at the end of the battle we will still be standing, because G-d will win the battle.
Now scoop all that detail up and squeeze it through the funnel of the ‘therefore’ that starts verse 14: “Therefore, stand!” Of course we can stand, because of all the points that Sha’ul has just made. There is no doubt about the outcome unless we waver and lose our grip on G-d and His word. The heat of the battle may be fierce, far fiercer that we expect or think that we can withstand, but G-d’s word is sure: in Him, with the weapons and supplies that He has already given us, the victory is assured. In Moshe’s words: we keep the covenant, obeying our instructions and we will succeed in all that we are called to do for the kingdom! We have to stop saying “ah but” and remember to say “therefore”.
Further Study: Colossians 2:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Application: Are you an “ah but” person, always fearing that your circumstances and situation are beyond or outside the promises that G-d has given? Now is the time to re-focus on G-d’s promises and convert that “ah but” into a “therefore”. Therefore you shall succeed in all that you do.