The OT’s Most Important Command (Brueggemann Style)

The OT’s Most Important Command (Brueggemann Style) December 12, 2013

From Hacking Christianity:

In my Sunday School class, I’ve been teaching a video series featuring Dr. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament professor and author. In February 2012, Brueggemann gave the three-day Barton Clinton-Gordey Lecture Series at Boston Avenue UMC on the topic of “Scarcity and Abundance in the Bible.”

In the third lecture of the series, Brueggemann points to the following as the most important command in the Old Testament:

In Deuteronomy 15, you get a law about seven years. It’s called the Year of Release. It says that at the end of seven years, if a poor person owes you money, cancel the debt.

Uh, what? That’s the most important? A law about releasing debts? What about the Shema? The 10 Commandments? Whatever. If you break this seven-year-release law, the United Methodist Church won’t even put you on trial.

So c’mon, how on earth is this the most important commandment? Brueggemann continues:

I’ll give you a little Hebrew grammar–I know you’ve been waiting for this. Biblical Hebrew has no adverbs. The way it expresses the intensity of the verb, it repeats the verb. So if it says give and you want to say “really give” it says “give give” right in the sentence–”give give.” This law about the Year of Release there are five absolute infinitives that you can’t spot in English. There are more intense verbs in this law than anywhere else in the Old Testament. This is Moses saying I mean this.

[The law] says to not be hard-hearted (or tight fisted) about granting poor people space to live their lives, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord God brought you out into the good place.

So grammatically, the Old Testament scripture with the most emphasis as in “you must must must must must do this” is a passage about forgiving debts.


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