The Torah’s Goalkeeper: What’s the Bible About? (Part Two of Two)

August 8, 2015

As part of a series of blogs interacting with the position advanced by the recently released e-book The Torah’s Goal? (TTG), this is the second dealing with their broad characterization of the compositional strategy of the Torah in which they state that Moses designed the first chapters of Genesis to be a prophecy of the shape of things to come, a prophecy of going into a holy land, only to be seduced by the inhabitants of the land into breaking the commandments of God, and driven from that land eastward, as was the case with Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent, and banished from the Garden. 

They hold that Moses seeks to demonstrate that the path toward God is the path of faith, not obedience to laws and regulations, as demonstrated by the fact that everything goes bad for Israel and for Moses after the giving of the Torah, and that the hope toward which Moses seeks to point Israel through the broken Torah is the coming Messiah. And for them, with the coming of Messiah, Torah loses its mandatory force.

I am calling this series “The Torah's Goalkeeper,” because I see the Messiah as the defender of Torah, the one who would seek to prevent people scoring points against Torah obedience, indeed, the ultimate expediter of that obedience, as well as being the perfect exemplar of what that obedience should look like.

In my previous blog, I introduced an alternative compositional strategy for the Torah, and the Primary History of Israel in which it is embedded (the Torah plus the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings). David Noel Freedman championed this analysis in two books, and at least one article, in which he suggests that the compositional strategy of the Tanakh (as expressed in it core, the Primary History) was to explain to a disheartened exiled community how the story of Israel, which began in Mesopotamia (the region of Babylon), had now ended there, with Israel exiled from her land, her king deposed, the Davidic monarchy in tatters. Freedman’s answer is that which the early stories of Genesis foreshadow: commandment, violation, exile. He states that text of the Torah and the Primary History are laden with clues that this strategy was intended.

It is clear to me that his analysis means that the overall intent of the Older Testament's historical frame is to portray the Rise and Fall of the House of David, with David being the pinnacle of Israel’s glories and monarchy, at least until the coming of Messiah, the everlasting Son of David. Furthermore, through its link to the genealogy at the beginning of the Newer Testament, we can see that book as being about the Rising Again of the House of David, until Messiah is seen at the end of the saga as ruling on his throne, and ruling over all, including a now Torah obedient Israel.

In this blog, we summarize the evidence Freedman presents for his contention that the Older Testament is structured to highlight why Israel ended up in exile: due to having received God's commandments and then violated them.

The Ten Comandments

As for the writers of TTG, so for Freedman, Sinai and the giving of the Ten Words (the Ten Commandments) is central to the Torah.  But why Ten Commandments? Freedman suggests this is linked to human physiology. Just as when you count ten fingers you are done, so when the Ten Commandments were violated, Israel was done. And this phenomenon of “ten and you’re done” is seen as well in the ten plagues, and the ten times Israel is tested as listed as listed in Numbers 14. And Jewish tradition notes that Abraham was also tested ten times.

In looking at the Ten Commandments, the standard order is usually thought to be this:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. You shall not lift up the name of the L-rd your G-d in vain.
  4. Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false witness.
  10. You shall not covet.

However, not all sources agree, especially concerning the order of commandments 6,7,8. Different sources list these three commandments in different orders!

SOURCE THIS is listed before THIS which is listed before THIS
Hebrew Bible
Nash Papyrus; Lk. 18:20; Rom 13:9; Philo
Jeremiah 7:9

Freedman believes that Baruch, the son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe, is the person who edited and tightened up the Pentateuch during the exile--its redactor. He points out something you may have noticed in your Bible reading, how both the Book of Jeremiah and 2 Kings end with the same chapter, underscoring connection between the two. This is no accident. This is a compositional strategy being exercised by a redactor. Baruch the Scribe also fits the time context: he and Jeremiah were eye witnesses to the exile and the event that preceded it They were spiritual leaders in a community desperate to have its cataclysm explained to the, Freedman sees evidence that Baruch son of Neriah or someone very much like him probably worked heavily on Deut, Josh, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Jeremiah tending to internal clues of thematic unity by means of text order, word choice, and structure. We shall see that there are clues in the Torah that its redactor, presumably Baruch the son of Neriah, followed the same order for these middle commandment, 6, 7, 8, and 9 as that mentioned in Jeremiah 7:9, "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, [Thou shalt not steal, murder, commit adultery, and bear false witness], make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known . . ."

In the late 1970’s a clay seal impression was unearthed with the words: “Belonging to Baruch, son of Neriyahu, the scribe.” This was a true historic figure. And if he was the redactor of our Primary History, what clues did he leave embedded in the text as to its compositional strategy—the deep story it was meant to tell?  Let’s look.

Ten Strikes and You're Out

Baseball_umpire_2004After the scene is set with the Book of Genesis, introducing the theme of commandment, violation, exile, we then see how the text highlights how Israel and its leaders break each of the Ten Words in order! This is a story of ten strikes and you’re out.

Strike One and Strike Two

In Exodus, right away we see the first two broken at the foot of Mount Sinai at the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex 32).

Strike Three

Then in Leviticus, a story is presented which stands out from its context. This is a narrative story, plunked down in the midst of  commandments concerning the Tabernacle, festivals, and sacrifices. All of a sudden a story appears here of two men who were quarreling in the camp, one of whom, while unnamed himself, blasphemes the Name of God, here called HaShem, the only time this term is used in the entire Bible (Lev 24:10-23). All Israel is to stone him with stones because the entire community had guaranteed at Sinai that they would honor the covenant—they were therefore responsible to purge out those who violated the covenant, who were thereby risking bringing the entire community under God’s judgment.

So far, three strikes down, seven to go.

Strike Four

In the next book of the Torah another story appears, likewise standing out due to it contrast with the surrounding context. It highlights the community’s breaking of the fourth commandment, "remember the Shabbat to keep it holy," with this violation found in Num 15:32-36. Here too the perpetrator is left unnamed, and as in the case of taking God’s Name in vain in Leviticus 24, and as in that story, nobody knows what to do with this fellow, because this sin had not been done before in the community. So, here, as there, Moses must go an inquire of the Lord, and here again, the perpetrator is executed by communal stoning.

It is no accident that this story and the one in Leviticus 24 are told in such strikingly similar ways: the reason is to associate these in our minds. And remember, these accounts were read aloud: the attentive ear would surely pick up on the similar ways the stories were being told. And this is intentional—a fingerprint of authorial intent, what the deep story the text is trying to convey, the point it is setting out to prove. Now it is four strikes. Six more to go, because ten strikes, and you’re out!

Strike Five

Notice how we are going through the books of the Bible in order. The next notable sin, because it treats a flagrant breaking of the Ten Commandments is the provision about the imperative to stone the rebellious son, in Deuteronomy 21. And the punishment here joins this to the previous two accounts, and to the next one. In each case the punishment for violation is communal stoning, because the entire community is responsible to enforce obedience to the covenant, since it was the entire community that accepted the responsibility. Now it is five strikes. Five more to come. Ten strikes you’ re out.

Strike Six

In the next book in Israel’s Primary History, Joshua, we have the notable story of Achan, who stole contraband from Jericho, although God had expressly forbidden it (Joshua 7). Here is a notable violation of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Unlike the miraculous victory at Jericho, Israel has been beaten back and suffered losses at comparatively insignificant Ai. Joshua realizes something is wrong. When he goes to inquire of the LORD, the LORD says this: “Israel has sinned.” Actually, it was Achan who sinned, but his sin is counted as a violatioin on the part of Israel, because under Israel’s covenantal relationship with God, kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, All Israel is responsible for one another,” and all of Israel is held accountable for the sin of one. And what is the punishment for this transgression of the Ten Commandments? Communal stoning.

Note how we have begun following Jeremiah’s and Baruch's order for what we might term the middle commandments. Whereas the Decalogue lists the commandments in the order of murder, adultery, theft, in the embedded text of the Primary History, the order follows Jeremiah 7:9: theft, murder, adultery, false witness. Watch. Meanwhile, six strikes down, four strikes to go. Ten strikes you’re out.

Strike Seven

In the next book of the Bible we have another sin in Israel which the text marks out as notable, the murder of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19-20). It is not just the random sin of some individual, but rather a sign of Israel’s decay. The text says, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day” (Judges 19:30). And in Judges 21:4, this is tied into the Ten Commandments by referring to the woman as “the murdered woman,” using the same word in Hebrew as was used in the Ten Commandments’ word, “Thou shalt not murder.” And reading this story and its details shows clearly that Israel has sunk to a very deep level of moral decline. 

Seven strikes down, three more to go, ten strikes you’re out.

Strike Eight

In the next book, Samuel (originally one book but divided in half because of size), the decay of Israel goes deeper still, as David, the paradigmatic king, commits adultery with Bathsheba, which necessitates the betrayal and murder of her innocent husband (2 Sam 11-112). It is an ugly story. This is a turning point not only for David but also the Kingdom—all subsequent disasters are in some manner traceable to this sin. Even though David seeks and finds compassion from God, the spiral is deepening, and that Israel’s greatest king is recorded here as committing such a great sin is a significant plot detail in this story of decline. Eight strikes down, two to go, ten strikes you’re out.

Strike Nine

In the Book of Kings, the very next book in the canon we indeed see how far down the House of David has sunk. Here we have the pathetic, weak, idolatrous and childish King Ahab whining because a man near his palace would not give up his family’s land, their patrimony, because the king wanted it for a vegetable garden. Ahab goes home, crawls into bed and sulks, and his corrupt and evil idol-worshipping wife Jezebel, finding out the nature of the case, arranges to have false witnesses accuse the humble and unnamed landowner falsely accused of having cursed God and the king, whereupon he is taken out of the city and stoned to death. Over a vegetable garden. How pathetic and decayed has the House of David become. The king who is supposed to be the protector of the people, and the exemplar of Torah faithfulness is an impotent wimp carrying out the evil plans of an idolarous bitch.

This story is paired to the previous one by stylistic details. Both Ahab and David were confronted by a prophet, Nathan in the first case, Elijah in the second. In bother cases a humble and innocent man dies, and here once again, communal stoning for covenant violation is a feature of the story.

Strike Ten

But what of the tenth commandment, coveting? Freedman suggest that this is not so much an action to be guarded against as an overridingmotivation. In the cases of commandment 6, 7, 8, and 9, it is the motivational environment in which the sin grows. For example, in Joshua 7:21, the story of Achan’s theft, the very same verb is used as in the ten commandments in “Thou shalt not covet,” חמד, when we read “when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them, אחמדם, and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” (Joshua 7:21 ESV)


And so it is, commandment by commandment, each in turn, and often motivated by covetousness, Israel violates the covenant step by step, so that Israel’s story in exile is indeed a reflection of its foreshadowing in the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel—commandment, violation, exile. 

Ten strikes and you’re out. In this case, out of the Land. Indeed, the warp and woof of the entire narrative skeleton of the Tanakh is the rise and and fall of the House of David. And David is crucial because as the ideal king he is a placeholder until the coming of Messiah.

This bring us to the same conclusion as our previous blog. If we take Israel’s story as tracing the rising and falling of the House of David, as enfolded within Israel’s story of Exodus and Exile, then what of the Newer Testament? What of Yeshua?

Here is where it gets even more interesting. The Newer Testament begins with Matthew, and Matthew begins with the genealogy of Messiah. This genealogy is structured in three sections, each fourteen entries long. The first fourteen lead up to David the King, the second fourteen lead from there to the Exile, and the last fourteen lead from the Exile to Messiah. In order to make the message unambiguously clear, the end of the genealogy summarizes itself this way:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17 ESV)

As to the reason the number fourteen is used, one need only remember that the Hebrew name דוד (David) has the numerical value of fourteen. It’s all about David and the Son of David!

Do not miss what is happening here. Matthew is confirming what Freedman discovered as the compositional strategy of the Tanakh, that the Tanakh is all about the rising and falling of the House of David. And the New Covenant comes to tell us that this is not the end of Israel’s story. No! The genealogy at the beginning of Matthew tells us that the story of the Bible, as it concerns the Jewish people, and through them, the world, is this: The rising, and falling, and in Yeshua the Son of David and our coming King, the rising again of the House of David.

And, as will become more clear in future blogs, contrary to the good people who wrote TTG, the story of Israel does not end with the choice between mitzvot (commandments) OR Messiah. No! It is mitzvot AND Messiah. Ezekiel expresses it so tersely none should miss it. He tells us the end of Israel story. Not exile, but return, and not Messiah instead of mitzvah but both of them together.

“My servant David [the Messiah] shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. [Messiah AND mitzvah] They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28 ESV)

Or should we instead believe that Jewish Torah obedience was yesterday’s news instead of tomorrow’s headlines? The authors of TTG suggest we read the Bible from the Old Testament to the New. And if we will do so the message will be clear.  A communal life of adherence to God’s mitzvot is Israel’s legacy from the past and is Israel’s destiny in the future. For that reason, shouldn't it be responsibility now?

I say "Yes." But not everyone agrees, and certainly not the people behind TTG. Stay tuned!

2 comments on “The Torah’s Goalkeeper: What’s the Bible About? (Part Two of Two)”

  1. The book of Hebrews is like kryptonite to people like Stuart D. And that is exactly why he completely ignored it and Paul's teachings in the New Testament.
    The Torah's Goal build its argument on the book of Hebrews. Your try to debunk it fails when you ignore what the book of Hebrew have to say.

    1. It is shocking to me that you, a person whom I have never met, would see fit to characterize me in so nasty a manner. I imagine you do this with other people with whom you disagree as well, so I won't take it personally. And by the way, the following blog, from this very page, will illustrate that your accusation is not only nasty: it is unfounded. I suggest you read it.

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