Can anyone really say the “love” the Torah? Sure, the psalter of Psalm 119 (v97) sure loves the Law. As does the blessed-is-he in Psalm 1 who delights in the law of the Lord day and night. But this is the Bible we’re talking about. Aren’t these characters supposed to love God’s word? They’re like mini-commercials and product placements about the main movie while watching the main movie.
And what is the Torah? What does it consist of? And why should I love it?
Here, Block puts together a collection of of articles that “represent deep literary and theological meditations that have been personally incredibly inspiring and transformative” (xv). The issues found in HILYTOL are more specific that those found in another one of Block’s books, The Gospel According to Moses, which are general essays on hermeneutical, theological, and ethical issues found in Deuteronomy.
If the psalter(s) of Ps 1 and 119 are the spokesman of the torah, then Block is their great-great-great-great-great grandson who’s holding the family job close to heart. Block is refreshing, for even when his essays grow dense, the reader knows Block loves the Torah, or as we would call it, Deuteronomy. It was the favourite book of both Jesus and Paul. “It represents the heart of biblical revelation” (xiv).
Block has quite a feat of books and commentaries left behind i his name. He has written a commentary on Deuteronomy (NIVAC), Judges/Ruth (NAC), and a 2-volume set on Ezekiel (NICOT; 1-24; 25-48). Not to mention countless articles and book on Deuteronomy and Ezekiel (to name a few). This tells me that, on the one hand, Block really knows what he’s talking about (whether you agree with him or not). On the other hand, looking at the NIVAC and NAC commentaries (both having great applicational appeal for laymen and pastors), Block knows how to put the cookies on the bottom of the shelf and bring theology down to our every day living. The way people lived 3,000 years ago, in terms of technology, is quite different. The way people lived 3,000 years ago, in terms of sinful attitudes, is much the same.
The Chocolate Milk
(Essay/Chapter titles (and any quotes) will be presented in italics).
Block presents Moses not as some old guy leading a ragtag group of rebels around for 40 years for no reason. Nor as one hollerin’ out the strict laws to his back woods team making sure they towed the party line.
But instead, Moses is a pastor. In Reading the Decaloque Right to Left (a title I still haven’t figured out the meaning of), we see that the Decalogue, yes, calls everyone, but specifically it calls the head of the household, the husband, to be covenantally committed to YHWH, his own household, and his neighbors. Yet we are then confronted with the issue of differing Decalogues (10 Commandments) in Exodus 20.2-17 and Deuteronomy 5.6-21. One main difference is that of Ex 20.17 and Deut 5.21. Yet this is nothing more than “deliberate efforts to ensure the elevation of the wife in a family unit and to foreclose men’s use of the Exodus version to justify treatment of wives as if they were mere property, along with the rest of the household possessions. The Hebrew narratives are indeed rife with accounts of abusive men who treat women as property that may be disposed of at will for the sake of male honor and male ego, confirming that in every day life the Decalogue was largely ignored” (p 41).
This is not some textual mishap on anyone’s part. But Moses, mediating God’s commands to the people, sets out to elevate those who are ignored, while putting the prideful in their place. Especially in light of the Grace of Torah (chapter 1, see my post about that chapter here ). Would they to trample on God’s grace be seen continually as God’s people? These men would not be Bearing the Name of the LORD with Honor, carrying around his name to glorify Him to the surrounding nations. And just as this chapter goes into the historical details of what it meant to carry the name of the Lord (or any other king or owner for that matter), so Block goes into practical details for today for biblical scholars (and this can be applied to all Christians who carry the name of the Lord Jesus Christ). For they must love YHWH with their whole self, not just their mind, words, or meandering actions, However Many God Is (almost the title name).
In fact, I think my favourite chapter was chapter 5, the Joy of Worship. Deuteronomy 12.1-14 is not well-known as being the “Fun” chapter of the Bible. In fact, if I had my druthers, well, I wouldn’t read it at all. But Block blows the dust of this chapter and shows what true worship means. It’s obeying the God “who had personally established himself as ‘the God of your ancestors’ (12:1). This is the God who had graciously evened his will to his people (4:1-8)… graciously invited Israel to covenant relationship with himself (4.9-31)…. graciously redeemed Israel from bondage of Egypt (vv. 32-40)…He is the one and only God – there is no other (4:35, 39)” (p 103).
And the subjects of true worship, those who can gather regularly for worship in God’s presence are “a chosen people in a chosen land gathered at the chosen place for worship of the one who had graciously chosen them” (p 104). Block then dives into show us the place, the motivation, and the characteristics of true worship. We must remember that the place is never as important as the Object of our worship.
The Spoiled Milk
There’s no spoiled milk here except to let you know this is a very academic work. While Hebrew is not required, it is an immense help in reading this book. To look at Block’s case and be able to find and read it in the Bible makes learning the truths of this book so much quicker and easier.
It is true that not everyone will be interested in understanding the differences in translations on the Shema “Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is the only one,” the meaning and contextual purpose is illuminating. Rather than a trinitarian defense, it’s a personal call to trust God with your whole self.
This is a warning: This book is not a light read. But what you put into it, you will get out of it. Block isn’t simply Jo Schmo down-da-skreet who one day decided to write a book. He’s a wonderful, humble scholar of loves God’s Torah and loves God’s word.
To those who have competence in the Hebrew language and in their Deuteronomics, you would enjoy this book. I personally do not know Hebrew not do I know much about Deuteronomy, but I still enjoyed this book. However, I would have enjoyed it more if I were more familiar with one or both. But to the competent, is this recommended? Yes. I couldn’t actually deny this book. I learned a lot from my first reading of it, and I will continue to grasp it’s meaning as I look into Block’s points again and again, hopefully read his NIVAC commentary, and too hopefully fall in love with the Torah.
[Special thanks to James at Wipf and Stock for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]