The Shuvah Project #35 — Obedience

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey Him!

-Luke 8:25b 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s Parsha (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) contained: some seemingly hard language around obedience and discipline, as well as laws on the valuation of trading out sacrifices.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we wanted to know how you would close out a whole book on laws?

The last chapter of Leviticus was anti-climactic wasn’t it? The final chapter is all about laws of valuation; that doesn’t seem so informative. Is that how you envisioned it ending?

What if this final section of Leviticus actually mirrors an earlier section in Leviticus? Moreover, what if that mirroring continues throughout the entire book? If that’s the case then maybe we’ve got a lot more information to work with, because, if you recall, 

Torah is often its own commentary. The Torah uses certain tools in order to actually embed meaning within its text, to teach us how we’re supposed to read it. This is one of the ways that the Torah packs a lot of meaning into a very short amount of space.

-Aleph Beta, Lech Lecha Parsha Guide

Rabbis Immanuel Shalev and David Block, make the case a chiasm spans the book of Leviticus (Footnote #1). We won’t unpack the details here, except to note the center — Leviticus 16 & 17.

And what a center that would make… The Day of Atonement (i.e. Yom Kippur)!

We unpacked that Text in the Dismantling Substitutionary Atonement post. If you recall, we followed the discussion laid out by Rabbi David Fohrman suggesting,

atonement might be more about creating closeness with God. Yom Kippur isn’t primarily about forgiveness of sins. Instead, it’s primarily a once a year re-creation of the Mt. Sinai experience when Moses entered God’s cloud.

-From Dismantling Substitutionary Atonement, Section 1

Rabbis Shalev and Block suggest the same conclusion… that the book of Leviticus revolves around this moment of achieving closeness and that closeness then radiates outward. To them, this matters because “[God’s people] must learn to live with God in His world so that they can bring God into their world.”

Maybe that’s why the laws surrounding the Priests, the Tabernacle, offerings, and Tumah/Tahara are designed to sanctify the space and time where God resides. Consequently, this understanding helps God’s people radiate that holy space and time throughout their world. 

In fact, it’s almost as if, following God’s statues and faithfully observing God’s commands help one cling to the source of life.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

But, what exactly is obedience?

M.D. Goulder suggests the author of Luke placed the story of “Wind and Wave Obey the Master” in connection to our Leviticus Text. Does this connection help us understand God’s idea of obedience?

Although the Matthew version of this Text does not follow the parable of the sower, all three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Texts share the Greek for obey — hypakouō. This same word is repeated four times in Leviticus 26 within the Septuagint (Leviticus 26:14,18,21, and 27). And, each hypakouō seems to be accompanied by increasing disciplinary action as mentioned above.

So, are the consequences retributive? Maybe not.

If God’s people follow statutes and faithfully observe commands a lot of agricultural blessings ensue (Leviticus 26:3-11).

Is it possible then that the statues and commands alluded to in Leviticus 26:3 aren’t generalizations, rather they are specific to agricultural laws? The Sabbath Year and Jubilee per se?

That’s exactly how Rabbi David Fohrman understands that line of Text.

Further evidence exists in how that section of Text wraps up. After all the “I will discipline you” statements, God says,

the land will make up for its Sabbath years during the time it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies. At that time the land will rest and make up for its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate, it will have the rest it did not have during your Sabbaths when you lived there.

-Levicitus 26:34-35

It really does seem like all the desolation results from failing to let the land rest, as commanded.

But, is it caused by God?

That doesn’t seem like the God we’ve come to understand during this project.

So, maybe it’s a natural consequence of abandoning the source of life, rather than a punishment.

When was humanity the closest it has ever been with God?

The Garden of Eden.

It just so happens, that Rashi makes this connection regarding Leviticus 26:12.

[God promises a blessing of special spiritual quality, involving intimate knowledge of Him:] “I will stroll with you in the Garden of Eden, as if I were one of you, and you will not be terrified of Me.”

-Rashi on Leviticus 26:12 quoting Torath Kohanim 26:15

Rashi didn’t make this up, he noticed what authors of the Talmud noticed. That the events of Leviticus 26:9,8,7,6,5,4, and 3 are the inverse to those that established Eden in Genesis 1 and 2.

It’s as if the Sages saw that God was suggesting His people could re-create Eden. Except this time, instead of hiding and denying the mutual action of walking closely with God — they would stroll together. That’s as close as it gets!

What if humanity decided to repeat Eden rather than to re-create Eden? If the Textual connections are correct, Rabbi Fohrman recognizes the Sabbah Year is the new Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (T.O.K.), the T.O.K. is to Space, what the Sabbath Year is to Time. 

Disregarding the Sabbath Year command is to abandon the source of life. Rabbi Fohrman puts it like this,

Abide by the restriction and enjoy the fruits of the land, cling to God and you live. Abandon that restriction and you abandon the source of life. When you abandon the source of life, the crumbling of your national fabric, the onset of death is inevitable. It’s not a punishment really, it’s just a natural consequence of the way things are.

-Rabbi David Fohrman, Why Would God Curse People?

What if God’s idea of obedience isn’t for people to be silent and get in-line? What if God’s notion of obedience is an invitation to appropriately respect the gifts the Creator has given by trusting the source of life for provision?

Isn’t that what the Sabbath Year is all about — relinquishing control of the land and trusting that God will provide even if we don’t sow… even if we don’t harvest… even if…?

Section Three (missing the mark):

Let’s continue with what obedience is not…

Some pastors react to uncomfortable situations and challenging questions by ignoring them, or suggesting the dissenting voice find somewhere else more fitting. 

You may hear: “that’s not how we do things here.”

Similarly, if you ask questions that slightly challenge the status quo or vision of a lead pastor you may be told: “this isn’t the space for that.” Moreover, you may not even get a chance to ask a challenging question. You may just hear gossip that your raised hand was noticed, but won’t ever be recognized.

Is that like Jesus?

Often times lead pastors will force out any challenging voices with statements like…

we can help you find another church or you’re welcome to find another church.

Is that like Jesus?

It actually sounds more like a business model. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk, says,

the most important thing for the speed of your company… is internal culture. The number one thing that will make your company [grow] fast is continuity and lack of politics.

His argument is that non-conformists are cancer, cancer spreads, so fire them.

Is that like Jesus?

Let’s start answering that question using our Text.

God designed a system to deal with gossipers and slanders, not dissenting voices. There’s a difference. We discussed that system in-depth in the Defiled and Spiritual Leprosy posts. The sole purpose was to bring people back into the community, not kick them out.

Our connected Luke Text provides the perfect opportunity to discuss how Jesus engages the mission.

Jesus rebukes (epitimaō) and silences (phimoō) demons (as we’ve seen before and will see again next week). Jesus, also, silences and rebukes wind and waves.

But, you know who Jesus does not silence? People who disagree. Interesting, right?

I am in awe of how Jesus operates compared to many church leaders today (and historically). When challenged, many lead pastors act swiftly to silence those voices and cast them out as if they’re demonic.

Are they? Are voices different from the vision-caster evil?

Weren’t labels like dangerous agitators the work of the Roman Empire (Acts 16:16-34)? It’s ironic then that prophets — divergents and non-conformists — are who God commissions to transform and influence the community. And yet, today’s church leaders are just as quick to shame and force out the prophetic voice.

It makes you wonder what narrative some pastors are sowing in this world.

Empire or Shalom? There’s a difference.

If God doesn’t demand silence and if God doesn’t control us… then why do pastors?

Obedience to conformity may be required to grow a business, but to sow shalom, respect is required.

Section Four (real-world applications):

The cancer, if you will, is gossip and slander. Diverse voices signify a healthy community of faith and scholarship in Jesus’ day. Debates on interpretations of the Text were daily life.

Learn to argue well. Even, if that means achieving disagreement.

Next Week’s Readings: Numbers 1:1-4:20; Luke 8:26-39


  1. See The Epic Conclusion to Leviticus for full details of the chiastic structure.

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