Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

Hear

Deuteronomy 32:1–52
2 Samuel 22:1–22:51

“The Rock of Salvation”


by Mark Huey

This week we are in the midst of the Fall festivals of the Lord. The Ten Days of Awe are ending, and Yom Kippur is about to take place. The annual Torah cycle is nearing completion. Final preparations for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot are being made. The time to contemplate some of the final words of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher, could not be better, as the message of Sukkot is that the Lord desires to take up residence with His people, “tabernacle” with them if you will, during the Millennial reign of Messiah Yeshua—and beyond into the Eternal State.

Before Ha’azinu begins, we witness how Moses’ time as the leader of the Ancient Israelites is coming to a quick conclusion. Yet, there is a definite message that God wants to give the people of Israel, in the form of a song that speaks of the destiny that is to befall them.[1] Before Moses dies, he was specifically asked to record this song that will detail the future history of Israel. What was recited is not very good, as God’s people would prostitute themselves with other gods and break the covenant that they have made with Him. As a result, God will be angry and temporarily turn His face away from Israel, who would then be consumed by many evils and troubles. The scene opens with the following,

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.’ So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the tent of meeting. The LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent. The LORD, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, “Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?” But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods. Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:14-22).

The Lord had some very specific reasons about why Moses was to write a song. The Almighty appeared in a pillar of cloud and gave Moses a word that would be a witness to the rebellious behavior to be anticipated in the future. Moses was instructed to teach this song to the people of Israel, who will fall into sin after his death:

“Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.’ Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete” (Deuteronomy 31:28-30).

The song Moses was to compose would become a witness against Israel, not only for the time period after Moses’ death, but also b’acharit ha’yamim or “in the days to come” (RSV), the Last Days or the end-times. When you read or contemplate this song or poem, it has multiple meanings that surely transcend time, and speak into the common problems associated with people in general rejecting God. Surely implied, within the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43, is the need for all who hear to turn back to the Lord in repentance and obedience to His Instruction:

“Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, as the droplets on the fresh grass and as the showers on the herb. For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you. Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds of cows, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs, and rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the finest of the wheat—and of the blood of grapes you drank wine. But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this, and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters. Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness. They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation, for a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap misfortunes on them; I will use My arrows on them. They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague and bitter destruction; and the teeth of beasts I will send upon them, with the venom of crawling things of the dust. Outside the sword will bereave, and inside terror—both young man and virgin, the nursling with the man of gray hair. I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces, I will remove the memory of them from men,” had I not feared the provocation by the enemy, that their adversaries would misjudge, that they would say, “Our hand is triumphant, and the LORD has not done all this.”’ For they are a nation lacking in counsel, and there is no understanding in them. Would that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would discern their future! How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this. For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them. For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever, if I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword will devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’ Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:1-43).

The song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43 is not exactly something to be read, recited, or even sung without a strong degree of sobriety—recognizing that it is largely a rebuke of the sins of Israel. Immediately following, we see how Moses and Joshua went before the camp of Ancient Israel, and the people were admonished to observe God’s Torah, as it is to serve as their living body of instruction for entering into the Promised Land. In spite of the sin that is anticipated to come, there will still be a wide degree of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord:

“Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun. When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess’” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47).

While contemplating the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43 during this season of repentance, two important statements kept coming into my mind—because they contrast the consistency of our God, with the frailty of our human condition before Him. The first passage concerns how the Hebrew term tzur or “rock” is mentioned, as the Lord is the One who has been consistently just with the people of Israel:

“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32:4-5).

Moses asserted that God, as the Rock of His people, never changes. This is one thing that all of us who follow Him today can surely rely upon! Moses went on to state how loving God has been toward Israel, and how He has taken care of them:

“For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12).

After describing this loving relationship with Israel in poetic terms, the contrast is made between the Rock and “Jeshurun,” a term of endearment for the nation of Israel:

“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this, and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters. Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness’” (Deuteronomy 32:15-20).

In this second passage of interest, Yeshurun is a name that means “upright one,” and is a “poetic name of Israel, designating it under its ideal character” (BDB).[2] But as we learn in this song, the beloved Israel will scorn the Rock of its salvation, and neglect the Rock who gave birth to it. Israel will forsake God, and as a result He will hide Himself from them. Sadly, this pattern will repeat itself for generation after generation. However, as the instruction of Ha’azinu continues, describing the consequences of neglecting and turning away from the Rock—there will come a definite future time when the vengeance of the Lord will come to deal with the enemies of Israel:

“Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this. For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them. For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand’” (Deuteronomy 32:31-39).

Moses reminded the Ancient Israelites in his message to the people, that there is no other rock like the Rock, the LORD God. Moses’ message in Ha’azinu concluded with a word of hope, in that God will avenge His people from the attacks of their enemies:

“Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever, if I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired leaders of the enemy. Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:40-43).

This is a guarantee from some of Moses’ final words that the Holy One of Israel will be the Rock, which in the end will fully avenge the blood of His servants and restore Israel to its fullness. Down through the history of Israel, we can detect how the themes of Ha’azinu would have surely given tremendous courage and strength to those who diligently followed God, in the midst of turmoil, and even in the midst of many others rejecting Him. The Prophet Isaiah seems to have used the words present in our Torah portion, to encourage his own generation to pursue the Lord in righteousness:

“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; and they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water. This one will say, “I am the LORD’s”; and that one will call on the name of Jacob; and another will write on his hand, “Belonging to the LORD,” and will name Israel’s name with honor.’ Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none (Isaiah 44:1-8).

It can be very easy to read through the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-34 and get a little depressed and upset. While this song surely lauds the great power of God and His supremacy, it is also a strong rebuke of those who are rebellious toward Him and who seek after other objects of worship. How are we to understand and apply its message? We need to each make sure we understand how the Lord “will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The atonement (Heb. verb kafar) to be issued is notably not one that the descendants of Israel themselves are to alone benefit from, but also the nations at large (cf. Romans 15:10). As you contemplate the Rock of your salvation, Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), whoever you are make sure that you have His shed blood for your sins covering your life! Have the confidence of knowing that a resolution to the problems of sin and rebellion to the Holy One has been provided in the Son of God.


NOTES

[1] Please note that the Song of Moses referred to in Revelation 15:3 is most probably the Song of the Sea of Exodus 15, something employed in the daily liturgy of the Jewish siddur.

For a further discussion, consult the article “The Song of Moses and God’s Mission for His People” by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 449.

Nitzavim-V’yeilekh

Nitzavim

Standing

 Deuteronomy 29:9[10]-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

V’yeilekh

And he went

Deuteronomy 31:1-30
Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

“Choose Life”


by Mark Huey

The annual Torah cycle has begun to wind down. On typical years, this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of Repentance (or Return), and it usually falls between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. During what is intended to be a season of repentance, the Ten Days of Awe from 01-10 Tishri, provide followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob an annual opportunity to reflect upon their relationship with Him and their required return to Him and to His ways.

The Holy One of Israel desires to have a meaningful relationship with His people. As followers of the Lord, we have each been called out of the world to be a treasured possession unto Him. This is what Moses declared in Deuteronomy 26:18-19:

“The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession [l’am segullah], as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people [am-qadosh] to the LORD your God, as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).

Please note that being a “treasured possession” of the Almighty has some incumbent responsibilities—notably that His people obey Him. The results of obedience to God are praise, fame, honor, and ultimately composing a holy nation which can be used to proclaim His goodness to a sinful world:

“‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

If you consider yourself to be a follower of the Most High, and recognize that you are His “treasured possession,” then I would urge you to consider the great responsibility He has truly given to you. As we all compose “a kingdom of priests” (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9), we have the job of interceding for the lost of Planet Earth. I believe that this season is an excellent time to review your relationship with the Almighty. As you turn to Him in confession and prayer, recognize that He willingly accepts a broken spirit and contrite heart. Turn to Him for forgiveness of sin and iniquity, so that you can be fully restored to Him and be able to serve Him more effectively:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

The Apostle John tells us as Believers in Yeshua, that we have the additional assurance that through heartfelt confession, our transgressions are forgiven:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

For Shabbat Shuvah, I pray that all who read this commentary will take some time to go before our Heavenly Father and confess sins of commission or omission. I also pray that we will all be reconciled one to another, as we allow the Holy Spirit to enact a special work on our hearts and minds.

As we turn to this week’s Torah reading, we find that Moses is now 120 years old, and ready to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua, before his death:

“And he said to them, ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the LORD has said to me, “You shall not cross this Jordan.” It is the LORD your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the LORD has spoken’” (Deuteronomy 31:2-3).

Joshua has been the faithful servant of Moses for nearly forty years. His service goes back to his youth:

“Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them’” (Numbers 11:28).

He led the Israelites in the battle against Amalek after departing Egypt:

“So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17:13).

Joshua accompanied Moses to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God:

“Now the LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:12-13).

Joshua, along with Caleb, came back from Canaan with a good report:

“But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land” (Numbers 14:38).

God instructed Moses to lay his hands on Joshua in front of the Israelites, to indicate that he will follow in Moses’ position and lead the people into the Promised Land:

“Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses….Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Numbers 27:22-23; Deuteronomy 1:38).

Now as our Torah reading begins, Moses realized that Joshua was ready to inherit the leadership responsibilities for Israel. It is at this point that Moses exhorted the people to “be strong and courageous,” prior to entering the Promised Land:

“‘Be strong and courageous [chizqu v’imtzu][1], do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’ Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous [chazaq v’ematz], for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8).

In a comforting word, Moses said that God will not fail Israel or forsake Israel. In order to reaffirm Joshua’s position, Moses turned to Joshua and repeated the words of encouragement to “be strong and courageous.” Joshua had been a firsthand witness of God’s guidance and deliverance of Israel for nearly forty years. Observing and serving Moses had prepared him for leadership for some time. But still, Moses was led to encourage him directly. In fact, at the end of this statement Moses added the words, “Do not fear or be dismayed.” Moses had told the same thing to the Israelites earlier, when recounting the mission of the twelve spies to venture into Canaan:

“See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

We need to remember that God’s people, in spite of the written record of Scripture and testimony of Biblical witnesses, do have the tendency to become fearful and dismayed. Moses, more than anyone else, knew this from his personal observations over the previous forty years. Moses was very concerned about the destiny of Israel. At the end of this parashah, Moses reiterated these same words to Joshua. This time Moses also added the request to put the scroll of the Torah next to the Ark of the Covenant so that it will remain a witness against Israel:

“Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.’ It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:23-29).

Remember that Moses has already prophesied what would happen to Israel if and when they acted corruptly. Here, he once again called upon Heaven and Earth to be witnesses against the people. If you will recall, these are the same two witnesses that Moses called upon when he gave Israel the choice of life and death:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Heaven and Earth still testify against God’s people, and the choices of life or death—blessing or curse, favor or penalty—still remain to those of us who live in this generation. God’s Word can stand against us as a third witness of what will happen when we choose to obey, or disobey, Him. Much like Ancient Israel would face neighbors who tried to lead them astray from God, so do we face obstacles and temptations that can likewise take us away from Him.

Before Deuteronomy 31 concludes, Moses added a prophetic statement based on his observations of Ancient Israel for the previous forty years:

“For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:29).

As the shepherd of Israel since the Exodus from Egypt, Moses knows how the people will react after his death, even with the anointed leadership of Joshua. Moses was able to look to the future and make a reference to the evil that will come upon them in the Last Days. Certainly today, we are seeing much of what Moses foresaw coming to pass, when many are doing evil in the sight of the Lord. But let us not forget that God’s people have always been given a choice.

Today, we can choose to follow and obey the Lord, or choose disobedience and suffer the consequences. This is one of the huge reasons that a season of returning to the Lord is so vitally important to us. This is a time for individual and corporate confession and repentance. We can be spiritually strengthened and resolve ourselves to another year of service and devotion unto Him.

In spite of the propensity to wander, the promises of God to restore His people are replete throughout the Bible. Interestingly enough, when you consider the Haftarah selection for this week, you find that the Hebrew term shuvah, used for the designation Shabbat Shuvah, comes from the first word in Hosea 14:

“Return, O Israel [shuvah Yisrael], to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips.’ Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy. I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them” (Hosea 14:1-9).

In this oracle concerning the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the prophecy of Moses about evil is echoed. The Northern Kingdom departed from the Torah, pursued evil, and suffered the consequences of disobedience toward God. This included the punishment brought upon them by the Assyrians, as they were largely exiled, scattered, and assimilated. Hosea pleaded with these people to return to the Lord! Hosea exhorted them to ask God for forgiveness while confessing their sins. Hosea reminded them not to rely on the work of their hands or their own strength. Hosea invoked the reality that as orphans, they would find their pity only in the Holy One.

God will respond to these pleas by declaring that He will heal the affliction of the people and take them back in love. As His anger will turn away from their disobedience, He will cover them like dew and the boughs of a cypress tree. Returning to God will result in blessings of new grain, new wine, and abundant fruit. Hosea confirms that confession and repentance have great rewards to all who return to Him. Hosea’s final admonition is that the wise will consider his words and the discerning and righteous will walk in His ways, while sinners will stumble.

These are encouraging admonitions to consider in association with Shabbat Shuvah. However, just reading or hearing these words will not benefit anyone unless he or she acts upon them. But in order to act, one must have faith in the testimony of Moses. And, one must be strong and courageous to overcome any of the thoughts or doubts that prevent a person from exercising his or her will to confess, repent, and return to God.

It is my prayer that God would give each of us the strength and courage to be honest with Him in this season of repentance. I pray that the confession of our lips will touch His heart, and that He will restore us into His loving arms. The author of Hebrews specifically tells us that Yeshua is the same yesterday, today, and forever—not only speaking of His timelessness—but also in His ever-present compassion and mercy:

“For He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU [Deuteronomy 31:6],’ so that we confidently say, ‘THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME? [Psalm 118:6]’ Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Messiah Yeshua is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:5b-8).

May we entreat and receive the Lord’s mercy always!


NOTES

[1] Or, “Be strong and resolute” (NJPS).

Ki-Tavo

Ki-Tavo

When you enter in

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-22

“Love Thy Neighbor”


by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah reading, Ki-Tavo, continues Moses’ final instructions to the Ancient Israelites, as they are being prepared for entry into the Promised Land. It is in these chapters of Deuteronomy that Moses lists the benefits or blessings of obedience to God, but also details the curses or penalties resulting from disobedience to Him. The very last statement that Moses gives at the end of the reading, succinctly summarizes what he was trying to communicate to his ancient audience:

“So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 29:8).

When you read and meditate upon our Torah portion, if you want to prosper in all that you do, then it is important to obviously obey God’s commandments. Obedience brings blessings, while disobedience brings curses—or at least some sort of problems. I personally do not know any other way these words can be understood. Whenever I am asked by others why I am Torah obedient, particularly by a Jewish person, I often turn to Deuteronomy ch. 28, read some of the blessings and curses to my questioner, and then ask the following: Why would anyone want to receive the curses of God, when through obedience, the blessings of God will come to the faithful? As the Torah tells us,

“Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings [kol-ha’berakot ha’eileh] will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

I usually get perplexed looks in response, but most discussions usually stop right there. I feel confident that I have fulfilled my duty of provoking my Jewish brothers and sisters to jealousy for faith in the Messiah (cf. Romans 11:11), as they are forced to recognize that I, as a non-Jew, am doing my best to follow God’s Torah (unlike many of the Christians they may encounter). Some may ask further questions as to why I think all Believers in Yeshua should follow the Torah, when as a “Gentile” some Jews may assert that I only have to follow the so-called Noahide laws.[1] I frequently say that the New Testament asserts that those who belong to the Messiah Yeshua are considered the seed of Abraham, and they are inheritors of the promises God that began with him:

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Yeshua. For all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:24-29).

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Believers in Galatia are very clear. The Torah is a pedagogue (Grk. paidagōgos), whose discipline is to lead us to faith in Messiah Yeshua.[2] It is to train us in the rudimentary principles of right and wrong, which are to be instilled in our psyche. When we reach the point of understanding our fallen sin nature, the Torah should then reveal our need for a Divine Savior, who is in fact the telos, meaning the “culmination” (Romans 10:4, TNIV) or “goal” (CJB) of the Law.[3]

It is by faith in the accomplished work of Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary), that any of us can truly become children of the Most High. As a born again Believer, I know that I have been immersed into the Messiah, and have been covered by His atoning work. Being welcomed and included into the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with one’s ethnicity, societal position, gender, or financial status. It comes by one recognizing himself or herself as a sinner, condemned by God’s Torah, yet requiring redemption by Yeshua’s sacrificial work for us:

“Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]” (Galatians 3:13).

Later in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see how Paul wrote Believers—particularly non-Jewish Believers—in Asia Minor, how all of those who have come to faith in Yeshua the Messiah, are to reckon themselves as a part of the Commonwealth of Israel, and fellow citizens with one another:

“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel[4], and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in [dogma],[5] so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR [Isaiah 57:19; 52:7; Zechariah 9:10]; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Further on, Paul says how “the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6), and they are a part of the community of Israel in unity and common cause with the Jewish people. Because of the Messiah’s completed work, a “one new humanity[6]” (Ephesians 2:15, NRSV/CJB) is to surely emerge, a people who are reconciled one to another via the sacrifice of the Messiah for the sins of men and women. As a born again Believer, I am no longer to be considered a stranger or alien to the Commonwealth of Israel, but instead have become a citizen of the Kingdom and a part of God’s household. By belief in the Messiah of Israel, I am fitted together with all others who share my belief as a part of the eternal dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Another analogy Paul uses to describe the relationship, of non-Jewish Believers to the community of Israel, appears in his letter to the Romans, with the example of Israel’s olive tree. The Apostle Paul writes that those of the nations, likened unto wild olive branches, have been grafted in along with the natural, Jewish olive branches of Israel. In Romans ch. 11, Paul describes in great detail what he was largely witnessing regarding the unbelief of many Jews in the mid-First Century. While non-Jewish Believers are to regard themselves as grafted into Israel, they are not at all to be arrogant or despiteful of the Jewish people—and they are to most especially make sure that they are vessels of mercy and grace to them, if they do not know Yeshua!

“If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB. THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS’ [Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34]. From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LROD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN [Isaiah 40:13]? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:16-36).

Paul makes the argument to the non-Jewish Believers in Rome, that they “have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (NIV). The inclusion of such people, within the community of Israel, is a part of the eventual redemption of all Israel. It regards the emergence of “the fullness of the Gentiles,” to plērōma tōn ethōn, which among other things relates to people from the nations possessing a “fullness” of a profoundly high spiritual and moral caliber.

How might this involve keeping God’s Torah? While it is absolutely true, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua” (Romans 8:1), it is also true that “the requirement of the Law [is to] be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). The Holy Spirit, which is to be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:17), is to supernaturally transcribe God’s Instruction onto the hearts and minds of all of His people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:14-18).[7]

I am convinced that no matter when you recognize Yeshua as Savior, you need to follow God’s commandments, as the Holy Spirit transforms your heart and mind and compels you to further obedience. In this week’s Torah portion, we see that Israel is a special possession, from God’s perspective, and thusly this makes all who follow the Messiah of Israel bidden to holiness:

“This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice. The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God, as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:16-19).

Throughout the Scriptures, there is a unique relationship between not only being “a people for his own possession” (RSV), but also a holy and separated people called out to perform God’s special tasks in the Earth. As Ancient Israel was being prepared to receive the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the Lord called them to this purpose:

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5).

The theme of Israel being God’s special or treasured possession (Heb. segullah) is seen throughout the Tanakh, indicating the relationship that Israel is to have with Him:

  • “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
  • “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
  • “For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession” (Psalm 135:4).

Allow me to encourage each of you, that if you truly consider yourself to be a part of the Commonwealth of Israel, redeemed by faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), to take your privileged position seriously. As Paul wrote to Titus, the Lord “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).

I believe that any Believer who is honest wants to receive the blessings of God, and not be cursed by Him—or at the very least be penalized by or distanced from Him in some way. I would ask you to remember that the Scriptures are replete with admonitions about the requirement of obedience in order to receive the blessings of God. The forerunners of our faith understood what was required. Joshua, the inheritor of Moses’ leadership position, grasped the concept of obedience and service in order to receive the blessings of God:

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

The Prophet Samuel knew that obedience was far greater than sacrifice:

“Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Yeshua makes it absolutely clear that if you love Him, you will obey His commandments:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

This critical concept is confirmed by the Apostle John:

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:2-4).

If you are a part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) by faith in Messiah Yeshua, then you need to obey Him in order to receive His blessings. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is to be permeating your very being, this should be something that is not difficult—especially if our motivations for obeying God are a strong love for Him and wanting to please Him! As Paul put it,

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET’ [Exodus 20:13-15, 17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19, 21], and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:19]. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

By reviewing texts like Ki-Tavo, we each have an opportunity to reconsider some of the choices we make when it comes to the commandments of God. The choice is ours. We can either have a blessed relationship with our Maker, or one that is constantly riddled with problems.

When you consider the list of blessings and curses in Deuteronomy ch. 28, it is easy to prefer the blessings to the curses. The difficult thing is obedience. Fortunately, the answer to obedience is found in the ministry examples of Messiah Yeshua, and can be attained by receiving Him into our lives and having our hearts and minds transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is my sincere prayer that you choose obedience to the Lord in order to receive His blessings, and thus be counted among those who are part of His people—a treasured possession!


NOTES

[1] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Noahide Laws.”

[2] It is unavoidable that some Bibles have chosen to render the clause eis Christon, as “until Christ came” (Galatians 3:24, RSV/NRSV/ESV). For a detailed, exegetical analysis of this, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Galatians 3:24, 25.”

[3] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Romans 10:4.”

[4] Grk. tēs politeais tou Israēl; “citizenship in Israel” (NIV); “the national life of Isra’el” (CJB).

Editor’s note: In some branches of today’s Messianic Judaism, notably those that advocate what they call a “bilateral ecclesiology,” non-Jewish Believers being a part of the Commonwealth of Israel is not quantitatively different from them being a part of a separate “Church” per Christian dispensational theology. Such a Commonwealth of Israel is simply thought to compose two groups: the Jewish people and the Church. The Greek term politeia is approached from the perspective of it being “commonwealth” like the British Commonwealth of Nations, as Yeshua is King over the Jewish people and the Church much like Queen Elizabeth II is monarch of independent countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

The classical Greek meaning of politeia does not imply a kind of citizenship where a single monarch rules over a collection of separate states, but rather of either a single government or a way of conduct within a society (sometimes set within the context of a city). Cf. LS, 654; Plato Republic 10.619c; Aristotle Politics 3.6.1278b; 3.7.1279a; 2 Maccabees 8:17.

For a further analysis, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Commonwealth of Israel.”

[5] Grk. dogma, “that which seems to one, an opinion, dogma” (LS, 207).

This related to various extra-Biblical instructions which were responsible for erecting the barrier wall in the Second Temple complex. For a further explanation of the clause ton nomon tōn entolōn en dogmasin, which may be understood as “the religious Law of commandments in dogmas,” consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Ephesians 2:14-15.”

[6] Grk. kainon anthrōpon.

[7] Consult the article “What is the New Covenant?” by J.K. McKee.