The secret things belong to the LORD
“The secret things belong to the LORD” in Deuteronomy has been interpreted to mean that whatever secrets Elohim has, they are not given to us to know; and whatever we know and see is what has been revealed to us. However, a question presents itself: Is the Eternal One knowable? We read thus,
The secret things belong to Yehovah our Elohim, and those revealed belong to us and to our children forever to do all the words of this Torah. (Deu 29:28) (29:29 in the Christian Bible)
Nothing in the verse suggests that a mystical context was intended by Mosheh. The text must therefore be interpreted according to its plain meaning in the whole chapter.
The choice of words by Mosheh in his last address to the nation teaches that the Creator YHVH is not some distant deity beyond reach but knowable through His direct revelation at Sinai and through His written Word: the commandments of the Covenant and the Torah. The Creator is knowable through His creation: who He is, what He has done, and what He will do. He is also knowable through His written Word: The Torah. Torah, His direct revelation, is given to us to know Him, and what He expects from us. Therefore, if we know the Torah and do it, we know Him (to a degree He has revealed Himself).
“Who created the universe is a matter of knowledge. Why was it created is a matter of faith. God is knowable through Torah and Mashiach”. Navah
The absolute essence of the Eternal One, who is above and beyond Creation, is something which may be either deduced by means of reasoning or learned by means of studying. The Creator, who created the laws of the universe, through which it can be governed, can be known through these laws. Thus, the Creator has made Himself knowable. He is no longer the unknown and invisible “God” but the Elohim who has revealed Himself through His creation. And when the Creator has become knowable, He also becomes personal Elohim.
Then you would understand the awe of Yehovah and find the knowledge of Elohim. (Pro 2:5)
So, the statement that there are many things that are hidden from us and are known only to Him is true. And there are many things revealed to us, and we must be contented with that. Although this is all true, this is not the meaning of the words: “The secret things belong to the LORD”. We will explain the matter in the following vein.
The hidden sins belong to the Lord
We are told to search out a matter concealed from us in the proverb of King Shlomoh which the copyists of Chizkiyahu king of Yehudah preserved:
It is the glory of Elohim to hide a matter, and the glory of the kings to search out a matter. (Pro 25:2)
In his wisdom, Shlomoh is contrasting the glory of God and the glory of the king. The glory of God consists in this: to conceal a matter, because the secret things belong to Him. The glory of kings, on the contrary, is to search the hidden matters that are problematical and subjects of controversy and administer justice. The matter will be better understood by what the rabbis have said on the verse.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitschaki (1040–1105), was a medieval rabbi and author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and Tanach known by the acronym Rashi (RAbbi SHlomo Itshaki). He is acclaimed for his literal interpretation of the Biblical text. In his commentary on Deu 29:28, he interprets “The secret things belong to the LORD” to mean the following: if someone is to object to God that He has punished the entire community because of the sins of an individual, because surely no man can know the secret sins of his fellow (as if he could somehow prevent the collective punishment).
In answer to this, Mosheh says that God will not punish the people for the hidden sins, because this matter belongs to Him, and He will execute punishment on that particular individual, who has sinned in secret. However, the revealed sins, that is, the sins the community knows, are its responsibility to eradicate any evil among the people. And if the community does not execute judgment on known transgressions, over which it does have control, then the whole community will be held accountable and punished, because the people have been neglectful in their responsibility to administer justice.
What this means is: if a member of a community has sinned and no one knows about this sin, the community will not be held accountable for this particular sin, and all people will not be punished for the hidden sins of one. However, if the community knows but has done nothing to prevent it or to remove it from its midst, then the community as a whole and its leaders in particular will be held accountable, because that was their responsibility to handle in the court of law, so that the Torah must be served. With that said, we can interpret our verse, as follows,
The hidden sins belong to Yehovah our Elohim, but those sins that are known belong to us and to our children forever, to do all the words of this Torah.
But there is a deeper level of understanding of Mosheh’s words. In order to understand the phrase “The secret things belong to YHVH …”, let us examine the Hebrew text. The first word we will examine is the Hebrew word סָתַר satar found in both verses of Deuteronomy and Proverbs above. Satar means to “hide” by covering, literally or figuratively. Thus, we see that סָתַר satar does not mean something beyond reach, but a matter that can be searched for and examined.
The other word in question is גָּלָה galah which has the opposite meaning of satar, and it means to uncover or to remove. It is interesting to note that this word also means to uncover nakedness, particularly in a disgraceful sense, as seen in Gen 9:21, Lev 20:11, Lev 18:6-19, Lev 20:18-19, Isa 47:2, and 2Sa 6:20. By implication גָּלָה galah also means to exile, as seen in Isa 5:13, Lam 1:3, and Eze 39:22-23. From this word another Hebrew word is derived: galut, which means “captivity”. How are galah and galut related? In the ancient world, it was a common practice to strip the clothes of the captives and take them in captivity, that is, to remove them from their homeland. Galut can also be understood in the sense of stripping the land of its people.
So, what does the wording “The secret things belong to Yehovah our Elohim, and those revealed belong to us” mean? In order to obtain understanding, we need to read it in the broader context of Deuteronomy 29. By examining the passage of Deu 29:16-29, and specifically verses 24 through 28, we understand that the immediate context of the chapter is the sin of Israel for forsaking the Covenant.
In the words of Mosheh, Deu 29:19-20 describe someone who knows the curses of the Covenant, but he will justify himself that even though he is aware of his transgressions of the Covenant, his sins will remain secret, and no punishment will reach him. Mosheh however warns that the Lord would not forgive him, but rather, His displeasure and jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse that is written in the Torah will settle on him, and his name will be blotted out. Sins committed in secret will be handled by the Lord. This is stated specifically in light of what is stated in verses 19-20 about individuals who feel safe from punishment for their personal sins. Such sins are in the hands of the One who sees everything for there is nothing that is hidden from Him.
Then, Mosheh goes on to foretell a time when the nations will see that Israel is in exile. They will see that the land is in desolation and will conclude that the covenant between Israel and their God has ended. Observing these things, they compare the destruction of the land of Israel to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 23) and conclude that the nation of Israel must have been cursed by their God. Mosheh further foretells that the nations will exclaim saying,
“Why has Yehovah done so to this land? What does the heat of this great displeasure mean?” And it shall be said, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of Yehovah Elohim of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. And they went and served other gods, and bowed themselves to them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them, therefore the displeasure of Yehovah burned against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And Yehovah uprooted them from their land in displeasure, and in wrath, and in great rage, and cast them into another land, as it is today”.
In order to make this clear to Israel, Mosheh stated,
The secret things belong to Yehovah our Elohim, and those revealed belong to us and to our children forever to do all the words of this Torah. (Deu 29:24-28)
In the larger context, the Torah with its blessings and curses is what is revealed to us. However, that which is hidden from us refers to the way in which Elohim will carry out His judgments. As this is true for any sin, it is also true for the sins that deserve exile, such as worshiping idols. These sins were not hidden for they were done openly in public. These sins belonged to the entire nation, and therefore, the entire nation was held accountable and subsequently exiled, so that the land could be cleansed from the abominations. This is hinted at in the word: “Because they have forsaken the covenant of Yehovah Elohim”.
The exile and the coming of Mashiach
Throughout history the Jews in exile have eagerly awaited the ultimate redemption through the Messiah. This redemption is known as the final redemption (geula). The sages (in Sanhedrin 98a) have found two times for Messiah’s coming. One is the preordained, and the second one is a hastened revelation before the destined time. The sages say that if Israel deserves the redemption, Elohim will hasten the Messiah’s arrival. If not, the final redemption will come “in its due time”. Indeed, the designated time of the coming of the Messiah, whether it will be in the preordained time or in the due time, is hidden and only known to the Creator. If Israel repents and turns to Him, then all Israel will at once be redeemed, as scripture says — “Today, if you will hearken to His voice” (Psa 95:7).
In verse 28, Mosheh tells the people to know that when they commit such transgressions against their Elohim, He will uproot them from their land in displeasure and cast them into a foreign land. But Mosheh also assures them (in Deuteronomy 30) that this exile will not go on forever. He by His indefinite mercy and for the sake of their fathers will send the Messiah and take them out of the galut regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
When this will take place is the hidden thing, which is known only to Him. For further knowledge on the matter, the reader will do well to read what we have written in our commentary on the comings of Mashiach.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!
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