Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples…Exodus 19:5
The Bible is filled with admonitions to keep the covenant or to keep the commands of God. We read about it so often that we may sometimes gloss over the significance of what it means to keep the words of God.
The word we translate as keep or to keep in English comes from the Hebrew root shamar which at its most rudimentary level means to observe, guard, and watch.
In its primary sense, it means to heed, pay attention to, or observe (in practice) the covenant and the commands of God. This is the generally accepted meaning when it is used.
However, it also means to guard, preserve, or protect. This is a huge concept in Hebrew thought as it relates to the commands of God. Based on passages like Exodus 19:5 above, the ancient Israelites understood themselves to be the receivers of God’s wisdom above all other nations in the world. As such, it was their responsibility to preserve his words through oral traditions and written records. Thankfully, it was due to this dutiful caretaking of God’s words that we even have a Bible today.
In Yeshua’s day, however, some of them had taken this measure to the extreme by making additional traditions and rules which were intended to prevent people from violating the original commands. The original intent was sincere enough, but soon the traditions and rules became equivalent, or even superior to, the original command and they elevated the man-made traditions above the word of God itself.
Yeshua chastised them for this very thing:
…you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.” He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God;”‘ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.”Mark 7:8-13
So the original guarding of God’s word became corrupted into a convoluted system of man-made traditions and rules, which, sadly, is still practiced by Jews and many Christian denominations even to this day.
The other definition of keeping as it relates to the covenant and commandments is to watch. Watching implies an alertness, being aware of surroundings, looking for any holes in the perimeter defenses to maintain the security of what is being guarded. This is the level of vigilance necessary to make sure that what God has provided is not being diminished by outside influence.
This is probably the most under utilized aspect within the concept of keeping the covenant and commands. Cultural influx that negates or destroys the foundations of God’s word is rampant today and is feebly defended by those trying to prop up defenses based on literal rather than literary defenses. We waste time trying to set historical dates and evidences for things like Noah’s flood or the age of the earth which only cause further debate and strife, both within and without the kingdom.
If we would instead defend the literary nature of the Bible and recognize the intent of the stories and what they are trying to teach rather than when they occurred, we would go much further in honoring God’s purpose in having an eternal record of those things. It’s not that those events didn’t occur within history, it’s just that the biblical record is not a newspaper account that can be catalogued and charted in the realm of scientific study; it has never been intended to be such a record as that. And when believers attempt to become scientific about the Biblical accounts of various things that were never intended to be viewed in that fashion, they dishonor the very one they are intending to honor, much like the Pharisaical leaders of Yeshua’s day.
Observing, guarding, and watching the covenant and commands of God is as much a responsibility of God’s people today as it ever has been. As we remain faithful to the intent and the spirit of his word, not just the letter of the law, we can guarantee a fulfilling future for our descendants whom God will draw to himself in ages to come.
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