Ekev

Ekev

Because

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

“What God Ultimately Requires: Faith”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Ekev falls on the heels of the last exhortation seen in last week’s Torah portion, V’et’chanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11), where Moses commands the people of Israel to faithfully observe the instructions, statutes, and judgments that he has delivered to them from God (Deuteronomy 6:25-7:11). Deuteronomy 7:12 begins with the statement, “Then it shall come about…,” ekev tishme’un, employing the word ekev, which is a conjunction meaning “to the end,” or “result, reward” (CHALOT).[1] Sometimes it can be rendered as “if” (NJPS) or “because” (ESV). Its usage indicates the results of obedience to the list of instructions given.

The opening verses of our parashah this week describe many of the blessings that are to come from listening to and performing the commandments of God:

“Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish. You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you will make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them” (Deuteronomy 7:12-24).

As you read this opening section from Ekev, you should marvel about what a great and awesome God Ancient Israel truly had, as its Provider, Protector, and Champion against all other gods and principalities. But while rejoicing in all of the wonderful things that the Holy One promises to do for His people, there is one nagging caveat or requirement that should really gain the attention of someone who has read these words. It appears from a straightforward reading of these verses that the God of Israel requires His people to keep His commandments in order for His blessings to be manifested toward them. Does this require obedience to the Torah, so that God’s people might receive His blessings? Let us read it again to see if this is what it says, and consider the implications for our lives today:

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 7:12, NIV).

God told Israel that if the people adhered to His Law then He would remember them. He specifically said that He “will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love which he swore to your fathers to keep” (RSV). Can you detect the conditional nature of these blessings, based on Israel’s obedience to His commandments? Is the God of love requiring obedience for Him to pour out His blessings? Or, is He telling Israel what the formula is for avoiding the penalties and curses of disobedience?

If you are a parent, then you should understand that our loving Father is absolutely concerned about the welfare of His children, just as you would be toward your own children. Just as you would institute rules for the well being and care of your family, so has the Lord likewise instituted rules for the well being of His people. God’s admonitions are designed to emphasize the importance of obedience to His Instruction. Moses served as God’s mouthpiece, as he was used to affirm how He gave Ancient Israel the Law, because He wants the very best for His chosen. In a way, just as older children in the family sometimes have to institute a parent’s rules, so does Moses institute the rules for his fellow Israelites.

After forty years of intimacy with the Creator, Moses surely knew the Lord and His ways. But he also knew the nature of the Israelites, as he had guided them through the wilderness sojourn. Moses had seen an entire generation perish in the desert because of rebellion and unbelief, in spite of the visible presence of the Most High in their midst. Even with the daily provision of manna for bread, quail for meat, water from various rocks, protection and victory over enemies, and a myriad of other miracles during the desert journey—Moses had witnessed the unbelief and the consequences of disobedience. Moses grieved over the fact that he would not be able to make the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land.

Moses’ concern for Israel’s obedience is heightened by his knowing about a future scattering of Israel due to future disobedience. Just a few chapters earlier in Deuteronomy, we can read a statement that describes what Moses has already perceived:

“The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you” (Deuteronomy 4:27).

When you combine this realization with the fact that Moses also knew that his days were coming to an end, the urgency of his appeal is better understood. With some of his last activities on Earth, he continued to exhort Israel to obey God’s commandments in order to receive His blessings. The heart of a shepherd over his flock is evident. Almost to his last breath, Moses continued to repeat the words of instruction that lead to the promises of blessing and happiness.[2]

As the narrative continues, Moses recalled the horrific incident of the worship of the golden calf.[3] This tragic event resulted in Moses breaking the tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. One can only imagine how terrible this display of disobedience was indelibly etched in Moses’ mind. But without breaking stride, Moses went to describe how a loving God, by His own finger, etched the Ten Commandments on two new tablets.[4] By recalling this seminal event in the early history of the wilderness journey, Moses was appealing to the Israelites to take note of God’s forgiving love for His people.

It is at this point that Moses issued a rhetorical question to the people, and then answered it. This is a question which has been probing my spirit throughout the week:

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, NJPS).

The Hebrew verb sha’al, appearing the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), can notably mean “to make a request for something specific, to claim, demand” and “to beg for, demand, wish” (HALOT).[5] It is these admonitions that summarize not only what God requires of His people, but also how they can do certain things to fulfill these requirements. If we consider the wider scope of what God asks of us, it is actually not that difficult—especially if we are Believers empowered by the Holy Spirit:

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:12-22).

One of the encouraging things about reading and studying the Bible is when God’s Word takes you to your knees. When you identify with Ancient Israel in this historical setting on the plains of Moab, statements like these, when taken to heart and meditated upon, can have a profound impact on your walk with the Messiah Yeshua. Questions like these might erupt in your heart, spirit, soul, and mind:

  • Do I fear the Lord?
  • Do I walk in His ways?
  • Do I love the Lord?
  • Do I serve the Lord with all my heart and soul?
  • Do I keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes?

Are these requirements applicable to you today? If they are, what are you to do?

If you are totally honest with yourself, you probably realize that you fall short of these things—in some capacity—on a regular basis. Certainly, there are times when you might be able to say “Yes and Amen” to these expectations, but can you honestly say you achieve each one of these things consistently?

What happens when your fear of God is minimized? What happens when you do not necessarily walk in His ways, but instead decide to do your own thing? What happens when you place your own selfish interests ahead of His, indicating that you love yourself more than you love God? Do you serve God out of guilt or condemnation, or because your heart and soul are tuned exclusively into serving Him? What happens when you deliberately disobey some of God’s commandments and statutes?

No one, no matter how hard he or she tries, is humanly able to keep all these things. And yet, these requirements are necessary if we are to receive the blessings of God. Some wonder if God is trying to play some kind of trick, or worse, think that He has singled out Israel as the one group of people which is destined to fail according to these requirements.

When you analyze what God asks us to do, you have to come to the logical conclusion that you are either humanly incapable, or in some cases, not fully willing, to comply with the Lord’s demands. Once you realize that His requirements are beyond your ability to achieve, you can either turn to Him for answers and ask for mercy and His Divine empowerment, or disregard God and live in a life of obstinance and rebellion against Him.

I urge every one of you to turn to the Lord! You can turn to Him in prayer, and through the confession of your sins, admit that you fail in complying with His Instruction. I believe that our Heavenly Father delights when we are honest with ourselves. With a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, we can turn to His Word, and discover that this is just what the Lord is looking for in His people. King David, a man after God’s own heart, stated it quite eloquently in Psalm 51—after he had been confronted with his own sins of adultery and murder:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar” (Psalm 51:1-19).

While our sins may not be on the level of adultery and murder, the fact still remains that when we are honest with ourselves, we are people who largely do not comply with the simple things that God asks us to do. Sometimes, we may think we are right with God because we are obeying Him in part, and that this constitutes us having a holy and righteous heart. This is especially true today in a Messianic community that largely emphasizes outward observances, but may be lacking in emphasizing ethics and heart attitude. Perhaps some more thoughts from the heart of God, as given by the Prophet Jeremiah, will give us a fuller picture:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

If the heart is so deceitful, what is one to do? I believe that Moses gives us a part of the answer in his narration by indicating a number of key things that Israel should have been doing as they recognized the hardness of their hearts. Moses knew that the Ancient Israelites were going to fail the test, and would eventually be scattered to the nations—but hope is not lost. In Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Moses gave some important advice to the people, in spite of the fact that they will be punished.

First, Moses told the people of Israel to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). God is aware of the hardness of people’s hearts and that they must be circumcised—or torn in two—to have a heart of flesh that can serve Him. This is a difficult command to visualize because it is more than just tearing an outer garment as a sign of grief. What it requires is an honest personal assessment of just how hard one’s heart is toward God and others. By tearing away the calloused places of the hardened heart, we become more sensitive to the ways of our Creator.

If we do this, then we can do the second thing that Moses commanded, which indicates that a heart is being softened (Deuteronomy 10:20). We can begin to loosen our necks to the ways of the Lord. A hardened heart is one that is full of pride, and a stiff neck is one that will not bow to the will of God. This is a despicable combination, but sadly one that has prevailed throughout the centuries among many who have claimed to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The third thing that Moses declared, that the people of Israel should have been doing, was to show love for the alien who resides in the Promised Land, because they had once been aliens themselves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19). God knew that Israel should be able to identify with an alien people who lived among them. By loving and empathizing with these people, it would have a softening effect on those uncircumcised hearts. How do any of us identify with the strangers in our communities today, i.e., the downtrodden, the oppressed, and those in despair? Do we show any level of concern for their circumstances?

While these first three remedies might be accomplished to some visible degree, as softened hearts and pliable necks seek to love and welcome the sojourner within the community, Moses went back and restated, in so many words, some of the original expectations as more requirements are issued (Deuteronomy 10:20-21). Once again, Moses told the people of Israel that they are to fear the Lord. This requirement never goes away. Almost like a broken record, the refrain to fear God is incessantly declared for all to hear. Israel is to revere God and recognize His sustaining power and awesome display of love that continues down through the ages. This is why Proverbs tells us,

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

Clearly from this statement, we can conclude that fearing the Lord and recognizing His existence is the beginning of wisdom. Without our reverence and appreciation for Him as the Supreme Being, and for all that He has done and that He is doing, our knowledge is minimal. Certainly, without fearing the Holy One, our ability to understand Him and His ways is greatly impaired.

Moses also reminds us today about the requirement of service to God (Deuteronomy 11:1). By serving God you display a willingness to let Him use you in the circumstances of life in which you find yourself. Through your service to the Lord, in whatever capacity, you put His interests ahead of your own, and you learn to be sensitive to what His wishes are for your usefulness in the work of the Kingdom. Additionally, you are to cling to Him for all that you are worth. In reality, you do not have anywhere else to turn but to Him for all things in life. By clinging to Him for your life, health, provision, and daily bread—you learn to be solely dependent upon Him for all that life requires. The Psalmist gives us a brief explanation of some of the benefits of clinging to the testimonies of the Lord:

“I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:30-32).

When you read these words and the statement that God will enlarge one’s heart—as we cling to His testimonies and follow the way of His commandments—the benefits of obeying Him become apparent.

If these actions appear similar to the other requirements listed earlier, you are hearing correctly. For the most part they are the commands to fear God, serve God, cling to God, and swear by Him. There is no doubt that one can never get away from the commandments that God has issued to His children.

Thankfully, Moses’ exhortation is only part of the answer. If absolute obedience is required for communion with God, then no person can ever commune with Him since no one has ever been humanly able to obey perfectly. The Apostle Paul candidly tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all fall short of compliance to God’s commandments in some regard, no matter how many sacrifices we make. In reality, we will never be able to remember all of our transgressions and iniquities that separate us from a holy and righteous God.

What are we to do? This is an age-old dilemma that followers of the God of Israel have struggled with since the days the Torah was formally given via Moses. How are we going to honestly comply with its direction, recognizing that there are times when we have disobeyed them?

Thankfully, the Lord knew what He was doing when He directed Moses to deliver His Instruction to Israel. God knew that not one human being, stained by Adam’s transgression, would be able to totally satisfy His requirements.

Why did God do this? Is it because He knew that a part of his plan was to bring forth the Messiah, who in time would be able to perfectly fulfill His requirements? Keep in mind that Adam and Eve were promised a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), the first reference to the Messiah in the Bible. Even prior to the time of Moses, faithful followers of God were anticipating a Redeemer to come. Our Heavenly Father, in His mercy to humanity, has consistently been speaking to various people so that they might know that an Anointed One was going to arrive and defeat the works of Satan. Consider that Moses tells us in Ekev that what proceeds forth from God’s mouth is what we need for life:

“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

Yeshua Himself quoted these verses in His refutation of Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). Yeshua did this because He knew and was able to perform His Father’s will. He was humble and able to be completely obedient to Him, in spite of His extreme hunger. He did not command stones to become bread, but submitted to His Father.

Do you understand that God is constantly in the process of humbling and testing His children, in order to determine what is in their hearts? In this simple illustration, Moses reminded the people of Israel that God was intentionally letting them go hungry so that He could demonstrate His provision through the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. But then, He dropped the ultimate in brain twisters. God told Israel the spiritual fact that people are not to live by bread alone, but more importantly, by everything that proceeds from His mouth. We know from the Messiah’s own words that what ushers forth from the mouth is indicative of what is in the heart:

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).

Certainly down through the ages, a loving God has brought forth words which exemplify His loving concern for His own. And yet, in so many words, God’s mouthpiece Moses declares words that to the natural mind do not often add up. First, God requires impossible obedience. Secondly, God requires additional impossible obedience to overcome the disobedience. All along the way, Moses joins his statements with declarations that Israel will not be able to comply with these words, and will be scattered to the nations. Just what is God trying to do? Is He trying to confuse His people?

I do not believe that God is trying to confuse His people, but that He repeats His intentions over and over again because too many are hard of hearing. He is trying over and over again to demonstrate, from the Instruction delivered by Moses to the admonitions of the Prophets, that the only way to fully commune with Him will be through a Redeemer sent by Him. Something else has to be factored in if we are to properly obey Him and receive His blessings, because we are humanly incapable of obeying Him perfectly.

This is a difficult word for fallen humanity to stomach, let alone believe. After all, it takes a great deal of faith to believe that someone else can pay the debt for all of the sins you have committed. And yet, this is the very pattern that was established by faithful ones down through the ages. Remember that it was by faith that Abraham was considered righteous:

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This is the same thing that the Prophet Habakkuk states:

“Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

The pattern for becoming righteous by our faith has been established and confirmed by the Prophets. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we see that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen:

“And what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities that we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NEB).

Faith is something that has nothing necessarily tangible to hold on to, in order to activate it. It is a belief in something that is hoped for, such as the Promised Redeemer. It is a conviction in something that cannot be seen or touched. There is probably no adequate way to describe faith, unless you have faith in something larger than yourself. When it comes to communion—and ultimate reunion with the Creator in eternity—you must have confidence that you have faith in the right thing. Certainly, if you are honest with yourself, you do not want to have faith solely in the human works you have done to seemingly gain approval with God.

One of the most important examples of faith comes from the Patriarch Abraham, when he willingly offered up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, at the simple request of God. Abraham had so much faith in God, believing that God could raise people from the dead, that he was willing to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice. The author of Hebrews attests to the great degree of faith that Abraham had:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED’ [Genesis 21:12]. He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

As you can see, this week’s Torah reading has taken me through a diverse range of Scriptures, as I have dealt with the teaching of Moses and the requirements that he declared to Ancient Israel at this point in the Book of Deuteronomy. I believe this has been a good exercise in returning to the basics of faith that we have received, not only in the Torah and the Prophets, but also in the Apostolic Writings. In these texts we see Torah obedient followers of Yeshua the Messiah, who were filled with the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit, and were empowered to not only obey God more fully—but also expand His Kingdom through the spread of the good news.

Through the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary), the Apostles were able to see that their faith in Yeshua’s work is what made them finally acceptable before a holy and righteous God. This did not, however, keep any of them from stopping the Torah obedient life in which they had been reared prior to His arrival. In a like manner, as many of us in the Twenty-First Century return to our Hebraic Roots, it is critical for us to understand that we likewise need to be following the Torah with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. This is not to be an obedience that precedes faith in God—but comes as a result of us believing in God and being empowered by His Spirit, accomplishing the good works He desires of us (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10) via the promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:14-18). With the Comforter and Teacher indwelling a heart that has been circumcised by the Lord, we should understand more clearly what Moses says when we read this section of Deuteronomy.

Through the comforting promptings of the Spirit, we can each appreciate what truly fearing and revering the Lord is all about, as we pursue Him in prayer and supplication. We should desire to walk in His ways so that we can please Him, as we are being conformed to the image of the great example we have in Yeshua. We can learn to love Him more, as we understand the greater depths of His love for us. We can seek to serve Him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Finally, we can each seek to obey His commandments so that He can bless us according to His Word, recognizing that in Yeshua, our sins are forgiven as we confess and repent from our misdeeds.

Those of us who follow the Torah today as Messianic Believers cannot forget Yeshua. Not surprisingly, the issues that the Messianic community faces largely surface among those who tend to deemphasize Yeshua’s place in a person’s life. A fervent belief in Yeshua is absolutely imperative for a person who wants to study and understand the Torah properly. If we lose sight of the goal of the Torah being Yeshua (Romans 10:4), then we will be unable to correctly fear the Lord, walk with Him, love Him, serve Him, and obey Him properly. If we do not have a steadfast belief in Yeshua and in His accomplished work, then our good works will all be performed in vain.

As this Torah portion so eloquently explains, people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Do you feast on His Word to fulfill you every day? Do you “feast” on Yeshua, allowing the Lord to empower you to perform His work here on Earth? I pray that you do so. Enjoy your feast of His Word on this Shabbat, remembering that our God requires faith in His Word to please Him!


NOTES

[1] CHALOT, 281.

[2] Deuteronomy 8:1-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 9:1-29.

[4] Deuteronomy 10:1-22.

[5] HALOT, 2:1372, 1373.

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