For the week of January 15, 2011 / 10 Shevat 5771
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 4:4 - 5:31

Don't Refuse God's Commandments

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?" (Shemot / Exodus 16:27, 28; ESV)

These words refer to the failure on the part of some of the Israelites regarding God's instructions about the gathering of manna. Manna was the miraculous bread-like substance that God provided for the people of Israel during their forty years of wilderness wanderings. Each morning the people were to gather only the amount necessary for their family. If they would collect too much it would go bad by the next day. The only exception was on the sixth day of the week (modern day Friday), when they were to collect twice as much so that they would have enough for Shabbat, the seventh day, when there would be no manna.

But some of the people didn't obey the Lord's words and went to gather on Shabbat anyway. The problem with what they were doing was probably not their attempt to gather, since they could not gather what was not there. What most likely happened was either they didn't collect double as they were told, perhaps due to not believing it would go bad overnight as it usually did, or they ate the entire double portion. Whatever it was, they didn't believe God and so did not obey his directives.

Years later Moses would reflect on God's provision of the manna and tell the people that its primary purpose was to teach them the essential lesson of relying on and obeying God's word:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Devarim/ Deuteronomy 8:3; ESV).

This is why God chastised them the way he did by saying "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?"

God provided the manna to feed his people. But the gathering of the manna had to be on his terms. To neglect his clear instructions was detrimental to the society and its individuals. God was seeking to train Israel to be a godly people, who would be a light to the nations. In order to do that, they needed to pay attention to his words and to do exactly what he directed them to do.

That lesson is the same lesson we all need to learn today. When the Messiah was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, one of the verses he used was the one I quoted from Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:4). Yeshua said it is foolishness to neglect his teaching (see Matthew 7:24-27). His commandments which he instructed us to keep (see John 14:15) are the correct interpretation of the Torah (see Matthew 5:17, 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). His disciples were mandated to teach the nations to obey his teaching (see Matthew 28:18-20). According to the book of James, the person who is blessed in his activities is the one who perseveres in God's law (see James 1:23). Some adherents of the New Covenant Scriptures claim that in the Messiah God is not so concerned about the details of his directives. But if anything, he is more so. As we read in the book of Hebrews:

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven (Hebrews 12:25; ESV).

It's tragic that both Judaism and Christianity have tended to be confused over this essential topic. In Judaism, the tendency has been to view the keeping of God's commandments as an end in itself. Christianity, on the other hand, has often over emphasized that a relationship with God is based on grace through faith to the neglect of doing God's will.

The Biblical balance is found in our trusting in the Messiah for the restoration of our relationship with God and then living out that restoration by carefully heeding his directives. This includes being open to hearing him confront us as he did the Israelites of old, when he says to us "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws"?

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