“Tests from Within and Without”
by Mark Huey
This week, Re’eih continues Moses’ admonitions to the people of Israel by listing a number of commandments that when obeyed will result in God’s blessings, but when disobeyed will result in God’s curses. The opening verses spell out the dire warnings and establish this theme for the balance of our Torah portion:
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
Moses continually reemphasizes the necessity to obey the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Lord. Without a doubt, Moses was most concerned about the propensity for the Ancient Israelites to follow after strange gods. In the months just prior to when these words were issued, Moses witnessed how readily the men of Israel succumbed to the temptations of the Midianite and Moabite women, as they had enticed them into the sexual sins of Baal-Peor. The judgment of God on those who succumbed to these vile enticements was devastating. Between execution by sword of the flagrant violators and the plague that erupted, many Israelites died and were buried on the plains of Moab (Numbers ch. 25).
In contrast, Moses was also able to witness a miraculous victory over the Midianites, when the people obeyed God and slaughtered their enemies without losing a single combatant (Numbers 31:48-49).
This vivid contrast, of the curses of disobedience and the blessings of obedience, was undoubtedly fresh in the mind of Moses as he continued to plead with the people. But now that the time had arrived for Israel to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, Moses expanded upon the types of temptations that will meet the Israelites upon their entry into their inheritance. While the influence of idol worshipping nations and their obvious debauchery is readily apparent, it is in this section of the Torah that Moses introduced Israel to even more insidious temptations that will be used by God to test them. Moses specifically warned about the eventuality of various individuals arising in their midst, who will be either adding to or taking away from his teachings:
“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
Moses stated in absolute terms that the commands he had relayed to Israel come from the Lord (cf. Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8). Moses foresaw the inevitability of different people radically altering the meaning of his words—especially those which were imperative for the Israelites to avoid idolatry and sexual immorality—and this was most troubling to him. He followed this warning with a list of some of the different types of people who will be sent to test the hearts of Israel, describing how they will alter God’s commands:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-11).
The first group of people, that Moses warned about, are false prophets and dreamers who will arise. Apparently, God is going to send these individuals into the midst of His people, throughout the ages, in order to test their hearts. What each of us needs to be conscious of is the fact that these deceived individuals will largely come from within the ranks of the faithful. There will be some commonality between the deceivers and those who will be deceived, making the deceivers various individuals who at times one might least expect to be agents of evil.
This is a very difficult subject for anyone to consider. Have you ever encountered people who sincerely think that they are speaking for God—but are in actuality quite deceived? Many, at times, may not even know that they have been deceived, but truly believe that they speak for God. They might have “heard a voice” or “had a vision” or “received a call,” which they will swear is definitely from the Most High. Such self-deceived prophets can be some of the most difficult to encounter, because they speak their words with great personal conviction and authority. If you have ever been exposed to people like this, you can probably understand how convincing they are to the naïve and spiritually immature. But this does not excuse any of us from blindly following words, which may take us away from the Instruction of God—and most especially the salvation of Messiah Yeshua.
To make things even more difficult, some of the false prophets and dreamers will actually be known for various “signs and wonders,” that accompany their messages. Once someone has personally witnessed a so-called sign or wonder, the perceived credibility of the prophet or dreamer is elevated in the eyes of the witness. People then naturally have a tendency to let their spiritual and mental defenses down, and they begin to believe the words of the false prophet. Critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism then get jettisoned.
Once a degree of credibility for a false prophet or dreamer is attained, insidious teaching is introduced. This can be very confusing to many (supposed) Believers, because visible signs and wonders are difficult to refute. But the evidence that God is moving, should not be in signs and wonders. The evidence is found in whether or not people are being drawn to God—or to a human being. Is this not what Yeshua Himself warned His Disciples about?
“For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
False signs and wonders are just a part of God’s testing program for the saints. But did you notice that Yeshua said that even His chosen ones can be susceptible to false signs and wonders? This is a dire warning to any of us who are truly seeking God, as we all must constantly be on guard and alert. Interestingly, as a way to combat these temptations, Moses repeats aspects of an admonition that we saw in Ekev last week:
“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 10:20).
Moses repeats elements of this command once again, when challenged by the words of false prophets, who will knowingly or unknowingly direct people away from the true worship and service of the Holy One:
“You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4).
It appears that by following the Lord, fearing Him, keeping His commandments, listening to His voice, serving Him, and clinging to Him—that one should be able to avoid most of the pitfalls of the deception that will inevitably come to every generation of those who follow Him. While the Torah says that false prophets and dreamers will be dealt with by just retribution, there is another group of tempters who will come, and hit much closer to home. These are one’s immediate relatives, who are once again sent to test our allegiance to God:
“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people” (Deuteronomy 13:8-11).
These admonitions are very severe. Moses describes that the temptations to deviate from God’s Instruction may come from people like your blood brother, your natural son, your natural daughter, your cherished wife, or your best friend. They might not exhibit the same dedication that you have to the Lord, and may therefore tempt you to follow after other gods or objects for your spiritual affection. The requirement to deal with such temptation is unbelievably personal in nature. Not only are you not to yield to the temptations issued or listen to them, but you are also not to spare or conceal the attempts of the tempter to steer you toward idols. The original instruction in the Torah is that those deceived were to be the ones who first put the tempters to death. This exemplifies, at least, how serious deception can be.
God is absolutely concerned about the subtle ability of loved ones to turn people away from loving Him. Remember that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15). God expects us to love Him more than we do our own family members.
For many, this admonition is difficult to swallow. After all, our parents, spouses, children, and siblings are the closest tangible living beings who warrant much of our attention and love. The concept of actually initiating punishment upon them, if and when they take us away from the wholesale love of the Creator, does not make logical sense. In fact, in the balance of the Scriptures, we do not have one recorded event where capital punishment is executed upon a loved one, because their influence enticed someone away from the worship of God. Is killing one’s son or best friend what Moses is actually saying—or is he using this as an hyperbole, to make a point that absolute love and commitment toward God is what is required? Even the idea of entering into a form of self-imposed exile or banishment away from one’s loved ones, who are deceivers, is tough to think about.
If we examine our own hearts honestly enough, we may also see that we tend to personally choose to love ourselves more than we love God. Do we ever punish ourselves for not loving God as much as we should?
How should we understand some of the difficult words that we see in our Torah portion? As I thought about these words, I could not imagine that our Heavenly Father truly wants us to put to death, those in our immediate family who have somehow been used to (temporarily) draw us away from Him. Certainly as Believers in Yeshua, who have been redeemed from our sins and recognize that He has absorbed the required capital penalty upon Himself in our stead (cf. Colossians 2:14), there has to be an important lesson that we can learn here.
Since my initial salvation experience in 1978, I have been investing a great deal of time in prayer for those in my family who do not know the Lord. In my commitment to Yeshua, I have hoped and prayed that my testimony of change would encourage my loved ones to consider who He is. Somehow I think, these instructions of Moses must be understood in the light of what the Messiah clarifies in His ministry and sacrifice for fallen humanity. Certainly since stoning my loved ones is not an option, perhaps Yeshua’s words can bring clarity to what Moses instructed Ancient Israel.
Consider Yeshua’s statements about His mother and brothers, while ministering to those in desperate need of deliverance from evil spirits:
“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Yeshua knew that Mary and His half-brothers were trying to speak with Him. And yet, here He stated that the true “mother and brothers” are those who do the will of His Heavenly Father. Those who do the will of the Heavenly Father will actually be more closely “related,” as it were, to the Messiah than blood relatives. Yeshua expanded the breadth of God’s family to those who seek to perform His will.
Perhaps you can understand this principle when you consider some of the relationships you have with others who you are spiritually connected with. Lamentably, I can think of many Believers whom I feel closer to in the Messiah, than some of my own blood relatives. This does not give us an excuse for “stoning” our relatives with our words of unfair condemnation or rebuke, but instead should be a greater incentive for us to pray and intercede for their salvation. We need to remember that our patient God of love desires that no one should perish, but rather come to the knowledge of the truth through repentance:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
As I ponder these words, I am personally convicted that my time in prayer for my loved ones has waned in recent years. Perhaps by looking at these passages from the Torah, the Holy One is prompting me to increase with fervency my petitions for their repentance?
Most of us can identify with the challenges of praying for loved ones, especially if the fruit of our prayers is lacking. Let me encourage you to spend some more time in prayer for their redemption. Furthermore, consider what it truly takes for you to be considered Yeshua’s disciple:
“But He said to him, ‘A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.” And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the slave said, “Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the slave, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.” Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear’” (Luke 14:16-35).
Yeshua used a parable to describe the complete surrender that is required by the faithful, to become a disciple of His and enter into His Kingdom. There are some important parallels between this and what we see in this week’s Torah portion.
In this parable, the master who prepares a large banquet is like our Heavenly Father, who is calling all who will listen, to come and partake. In many respects, this is an invitation for all who would hear, to become a part of His Kingdom. Note that this host sends out his servants to invite all who would hear, that they are to attend the meal. This could be compared to the Lord using various servants like Moses, and also the Prophets, to make declarations about what is required to maintain a proper relationship with the Creator God. Or to personalize this parable and make it applicable to our own walks of faith, this can mean that each one of us is called out to invite others into God’s Kingdom. Are we not all called to be witnesses of the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)?
In this parable, the results of inviting different people to the banquet are explained. As is noted, many have excuses for not attending. Some are caught up in the business affairs of the world. Others have recently married, and are more concerned about their honeymoon and relationship building with their new spouse. If you have ever shared the good news of the Messiah, you know many of the excuses that people use to avoid what is required to come to a true salvation experience.
The host tells his servants to take the invitation to the people on the highways and byways of the world. We see from this how if those who are near and dear to you do not respond to the invitation, then the Heavenly Father will extend His invitation to those who are lame, blind, and crippled. The less fortunate ones, those who are down and out—who know that they are in desperate need—are those who will definitely respond to the invitation. Generally speaking, this has been the history of the gospel as it has been proclaimed since the time of the Apostles.
Then Yeshua brings another difficult word to His listeners, which in some respects is reminiscent of what Moses speaks about in this week’s parashah, about how to deal with close family members. However, Yeshua’s words are not only about the temptations that come from loved ones who might turn you away from the Father, but even your own personal proclivity to wander away from placing Him first in your life. It is in the context of inviting people into the banquet, or by extension into the Kingdom of God, that Yeshua makes it perfectly clear what is required to become His disciple. It is on this point that too many people balk:
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
But what is this just supposed to mean? Just like Moses says that family members or close friends who take us away from God were to be stoned—could Yeshua likewise be using shock language? He probably is, as “hatred” for people is not a personality trait of the Holy One. Yet, the truth of the matter is that the presence of any human being in our lives—a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent—can impede our relationship with the Lord. What Yeshua says is that a person must place his or her love and allegiance to Him as Messiah, above his or her love for one’s family members—or even one’s very own life.
Of course, this does not occur until you realize that before a holy and righteous God, you are totally bankrupt in your trespasses and sins. Remember that there is no one who is righteous:
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’” (Romans 3:9-12; cf. Psalm 14, 53).
We do not have the human ability to perfectly follow the commandments of God—and this is why we all need a Savior. Paul did not mince words when he included “both Jews and Greeks” as those who were “under sin.”
Being honest with yourself is critical no matter what your heritage is. For those who think that they might be righteous of themselves, because they “follow the commandments,” the clarifying words of Yeshua to the people gathered around the adulterous woman need to be recalled: “He who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Obviously, if you realize your sinful nature, you will not even consider picking up a stone to unwarrantedly condemn another.
Thankfully, our example for living is found in Yeshua the Messiah. He endured the same human difficulties that we all face, but was able to overcome them because He lacked the fallen nature that we have inherited in fallen Adam:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
When we consider what Yeshua had to go through for us, enduring great trial, we likewise need to be reminded about the need to count the cost of discipleship:
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:27-35).
Here, Yeshua essentially says that it may cost you all that you have in order to follow Him. It will certainly cost you your entire life, your various habits, your creature comforts, and how you relate to others—if you are going to be a true disciple of the Messiah of Israel. Understanding what Moses has to say this week in Re’eih, and what Yeshua declared to His listeners, can be summarized by the Messiah’s last statement: “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (NLT). Thankfully, as Believers filled with the Holy Spirit who is to be instructing us, while challenging us, following the Lord should not be as difficult as we think.
The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that when we come to the end of ourselves and take on the life of the Messiah, that we have, in essence, exchanged our life for His:
“For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).
Notice that it is through the knowledge of the Torah that one is to die to the Law. It is not God’s Instruction that becomes nullified in the life of a person, but it is violation of the Torah that affects one’s spiritual death. Paul clarifies this reality, stating:
“I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua” (Romans 7:9-10; 8:1).
Thankfully, each one of us has been released from the condemnation of the Torah through the atoning work of Yeshua. On its own, all the Torah can do is show us how sinful we are before God, and condemn us. When we die to the Law, we do not die to its standard of holiness and proper conduct, but to its penalties pronounced against us as unrepentant sinners. This comes through the regenerative work of Yeshua, which reconciles us to the Father, and now enables us to obey the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We must identify with the sacrifice of the Messiah, and trust in His work to cover our sins. By faith in the blood atonement provided by the Son of God, each one of us can become a servant of the Most High, and allow the Holy Spirit to walk out Yeshua’s life through us. This is a great mystery, of course, but it is clearly what the whole counsel of God’s Word communicates.
To connect this with what I opened up with from Deuteronomy, we must recognize that the Apostles were fully aware that lawlessness was at work in their generation. They constantly battled with false teachers and false prophets, who deceived the early Messianic Believers. Paul specifically warned the Thessalonicans about the ultimate man of lawlessness, the antimessiah/antichrist, and the strong delusion that God Himself would send to see if His people would at all be loyal to Him:
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-13).
We are once again reminded that at some future point in time, a man of lawlessness will be empowered by Satan himself to deceive the world. But note that people will not necessarily be deceived by his signs, exclusively. These people will be deceived because they did not wish to believe in the truth of salvation. The salvation experience that requires one to be fully humbled before a holy and righteous God, never took place in the lives of these people.
This is a frightening prospect, because there are many professing Believers today who claim to be followers of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), but who may not have the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit present in their lives to actually substantiate it. (Thankfully, it is not our job to determine their salvation—but only God’s.) Those who are led astray in the final days, however, are actually going to be sent a “strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, KJV) by God Himself. We need to be brought to our knees to pray for anyone who might be led astray by this—or any deception. Even if the antimessiah/antichrist does not arrive on the scene for quite some time, there is undoubtedly a deception opposed to the Messiah Yeshua—growing in today’s world—which will eventually culminate in the arrival of the beast system. For as the Apostle John reminds us, “many antimessiahs have appeared” (1 John 2:18).
Let me conclude with this admonition as you ponder these words: Check to see that you are in the faith! Remember how the Apostle Paul steadily reminded his fellow followers of the Messiah with these words:
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Messiah Yeshua is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).
For all of our lives, we are each going to be tested from within and without. My prayer is that no one who reads or hears these words will fail the test!