When Abraham passed away, he was characterized in the Bible in a very special way.
5 “Because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (RSV)
In this translation we recognize the KJV which also has: My commandments, My statutes and My laws. These three words certainly are pretty heavy, and what is meant by them? Do they represent three types of prescripts: civil rights, religious rules and family laws, or others? And Abraham kept them all? No these words refer three times to the same content from a specific point of view.
5 “Because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” (NIV)
In NIV there has been a shift taken, all three words have been changed: my commands, my decrees and my instructions. Now it is more clear that the words refer three times in different ways to the same. God’s orders are commands and then by writing down they become decrees, and when they are read they are instructions, how to act (or teachings, what to do).
The heavy will of God has been made manageable for human beings, in three steps. And the last step ‘teaching’ implies ‘learning’ with trial and error.
A Closer Look to Chukah
The Hebrew plural forms mizwotai, chukotai, torotai are respectively from:
In Isaiah 30:8 we have a good example of the verb root chakak:
“And now, go, write it before them* on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come as a witness for ever.”
(RSV) * before them = in their presence.
Two verbs are used here for writing, respectively: katab, de general word; and chakak, a more specific activity of writing. Only a few times this last word occurs, and it seems connected with drawing (Ezekiel 4:1, 23:14) or with scratching, carving (which is to exclude here). Inscribing into a book was certainly into a scroll which could stand for centuries. (See also Job 19:23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed (chakak) in a book!
Maybe the special Hebrew square script is meant, which looks like drawn letters. If so, we have to reckon with two types of writing: a usual (running) script in italics for daily practice, and a more sophisticated script for use in final matters of religion, administration (Isaiah 10:1), jurisdiction, etc. And so, Chukah (record) has to do with recording of formal and final issues in a book/scroll/document (Job 19:23).
The meaning of the beginning of verse 8 is also interesting:
“And now, go, write it before them on a tablet.”
Isaiah had to go to the people, and in their presence he had to write on a tablet. As a prophet he could write down his prophetic messages on a wax tablet, or it could be done by his pupils. Anyway the spoken word of the prophet would be preserved and written down on a leather scroll for the future.
The First Documentation Formula of the Hebrew Bible
A commandment is given at a moment it is necessary to be fulfilled, to be done. It does not make sense to write it down ten years later. As soon as it is written, the command is ready to be used for instruction. So, actually we have in the formula my commands, my decrees and my instructions a documentation formula of rapid writing on wax tablets and recorded into a leather scroll: “My commandments, records and instructions.”
Abraham is introduced after his death as a prophet, as the spiritual father of the later people of Israel. He gave them the first mizwotai, commandments, to teach the people of his tribe. All the prophets after Abraham followed in his footsteps. They all recorded and preserved the revelations of the Lord God on behalf of their people.
Abraham was responsible for (1) the writing down when the commandments were given in a revelation or shortly thereafter, on a wax tablet (katab), for (2) the writing down in a scroll (chakak), for (3) the active teaching of the content to his people (jarah).
It is a pity that neither Rabbi’s nor Christians of later time recognized the precise meaning of these powerful words. In the rabbinic tradition it has always been taught that Moses on Mount Sinai received not only the Law, but also the written stories of the patriarchs. And that is certainly not the case. The patriarchs provided their own stories through the power and the assistance of the Holy Spirit that guided them.