Eikev (Deuteronomy 7, 12 – 11, 25) – the central religious concepts of the Bible

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In the Torah reading of Eikev, there is a verse that stands out as capturing the essence of the Biblical conception of religion – “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10, 12). What stands out as shocking in the verse is that the term faith or belief is absent.

 

I think that it would be fair to say that in the western world the concept most associated with religion would be the concept of faith or belief in God in the theological sense of believing that God exists or that God is provident. Shockingly, there is no term faith or belief in the Bible in a theological sense of believing in the truth of a philosophic proposition (such as the existence or providence of God). Not only is there no term faith or belief in a theological sense in the Bible, but also there is no explicit command to believe in God, or that God exists or is provident, or any other theological or philosophic proposition. The Bible is absent of systematic theology and philosophy and absent of any philosophic analysis and arguments attempting to prove the existence of God or any other theological or philosophic proposition.

 

The Hebrew and Biblical term emunah (אמונה), which is widely misunderstood as meaning faith or belief in a theological sense, is best translated as faithfulness, loyalty or trust – a psychological matter of the heart (and not a matter of intellectual and rational truth in a propositional sense, as in science and mathematics). The term emunah comes from the same root as the term art – and, art reflects truth not in an intellectual and rational sense but in an intuitive sense of the heart. In the Biblical conception, emunah necessarily expresses itself in moral behavior – as God is conceived in the Biblical conception as a moral God who demands morality, and thus faithfulness to God necessarily expresses itself in moral behavior.

 

The term emunah is not used in the command form. For example, regarding Abraham the term emunah is used in the past tense – “And he believed (והאמין) in the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15, 6). The context of the verse is that God has promised Abraham that he will have a son who will continue his lineage, and Abraham is expressing his own trust in God to fulfill the promise made to him. The verse, though, tells us nothing whatsoever as to whether God actually exists or is truly trustworthy. The verse is revealing Abraham’s psychological and moral character (and nothing about the existence or nature of God), as indicated in the continuation of the verse, in which Abraham’s faithfulness is “counted to him for righteousness”. If the verse was describing the faith of Abraham in a theological or philosophic sense, then his faith in a theological sense would be counted to him as truth or knowledge and not righteousness. Abraham’s faithfulness in a psychological sense is an expression of his moral character and righteousness – and, the verse “And he believed in the Lord” is an expression of Abraham’s optimistic attitude of hope and trust, and his refusal to despair (in not having children), revealing his righteous character as a person. The term emunah throughout the Hebrew Bible is used in a psychological sense of trust in, or loyalty to, God that expresses itself in proper behavior or in an optimistic attitude of hope, thankfulness and appreciation.

 

Yet, the term emunah is not a central concept of the Bible with the exception of the Book of Psalms (where the term is used often along with other synonyms such as trust). If one takes a concordance (index) of the Hebrew Bible, one will see, strikingly, that the Hebrew term emunah hardly appears in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) as a constitution of the Jewish people – and, the few places where the term does appear in the Torah are not passages that stand out as being of great importance. In the verse from the Torah reading Eikev “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10, 12) the term emunah strikingly does not appear – and the central religious concepts of the verse are fear, love and service of God, which are the central religious concepts of the Torah and Bible. The terms fear, love and service of God appear often throughout the Torah, appear in the form of explicit commands and appear in important passages

 

The obvious question from a literary point of view that demands explanation is why the term emunah is a central religious concept in the Book of Psalms and not in the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses). But, before I answer this question I need to explain the central concepts of the Torah and Bible – fear, love and service of God. In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses that the purpose of redeeming the people Israel from slavery is that they serve God – “when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3, 12). The term serve (תעבדון) in the verse, like the term service (עבודה) of God, is from the same root as the word slave or servant (עבד). The people Israel are freed from slavery in Egypt to be servants to God in order to perform the service of God – “For to Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25, 55).

 

The exodus from Egypt, the first mass slave escape in recorded history, marking the birth of the Jewish people, is not an end in and of itself. Rather, the physical freedom of the people Israel from oppression and persecution is for the sake of serving God morally and spiritually on Sinai, representing the birth of the Jewish religion. Sinai is the place of the covenant between God and the people Israel (Exodus 19 – 24), in which God commands the people Israel commandments that are moral and ritual in nature constituting the service of God.

 

Love and fear of God are the psychological motivations of the heart that express themselves in the service of God, which flow from the image of God as a slave owner or master. The relationship of a slave to a slave owner or master is one of contrary feelings and motivations. On the one hand, a slave is drawn to a master out of love and gratitude for taking care of the basic needs of the slave (the slave representing property of the slave owner or master who has a vested financial interest in taking care of the basic needs of the slave), and the slave then feels a positive motivation to do the will of the master in performing the service that the master demands. On the other hand, a slave feels a distance from a master, out of fear of the power of the master to punish disobedience, and feels a negative motivation not to transgress the will of the master. Thus, in the religious conception of the Torah, love of God is the positive motivation to do the service of the Master who demands proper behavior, while fear of God is the negative motivation not to transgress the moral will of the Master in behaving improperly.

 

The relationship between these three concepts (fear, love and service of God) provides the very same religious paradigm as implied in the Biblical conception of emunah. Just as the Biblical term emunah is a psychological (and not theological) concept of the heart (faithfulness, loyalty or trust), which expresses itself in moral behavior – so, too, love and fear of God are psychological (and not theological) concepts of the heart that necessarily express themselves in proper behavior constituting the service of God. The reason for the difference in terminology between the Torah (fear, love and service of God) and the Book of Psalms (emunah), despite that in both cases the religious paradigm is essentially the same religious paradigm of psychological concepts expressing themselves in proper behavior, is connected to the different natures of the works literarily.

 

The Torah (the 5 Books of Moses) is the classic work of prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible, which is characterized by the revelation of God’s moral will from Above to below. The essence of God’s revelation to Moses (and the other prophets as well) from Above to below is the moral imperative of God, which constitutes the service of God (including both ethical and ritual commands, as even ritual commands express moral ideals), and the responses to the moral imperative of God are the contradictory and complementary feelings of love and fear of God (as the Master of the universe) that are the motivation for performing the service of God. By contrast, the Book of Psalms is not prophetic literature but is the classic work of the Writings (the third part of the Hebrew Bible, in addition to the Torah and Prophets), and represents writings that are inspired by religious feelings and ideas from within, or by the Divine Spirit, in which the direction is from below to Above. The Biblical term emunah that is central in the Book of Psalms is not a response to a moral imperative from Above to below, but an expression of feelings from within that express themselves not only in proper behavior but also in an optimistic attitude of hope, thankfulness and appreciation.

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Jeffrey Radon

Author of orthopraxjudaism.com

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