Deuteronomy

Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

Hear

“The Rock of Salvation”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Moses’ approaching death has inspired him to make some very emotional appeals to the people of Israel, seen in the words of Deuteronomy 32. He knew how his days of leading Israel were soon coming to an end. As any good shepherd would be, he was very cognizant of his sheep’s proclivities. For forty years he had observed the Israelites’ behavior in a variety of circumstances, and he knew their inclinations. As is true of most sheep, they were prone to wander. Moses attests to this in some of his final statements:

“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?…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 31:27, 29).

With Moses getting ready to depart, he delivered some final instructions about what was to be done with the sefer ha’torah that had been compiled during his tenure of leading Israel. The teaching he had delivered from the Lord had been written down as a witness that could be referred to in the future—especially as it would remind Israel of their responsibilities before God, and what would happen if the people or their descendants disobeyed Him:

“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” (Deuteronomy 31:26, 30).

The written testimony of the Lord, which has been communicated through Moses, was to be a permanent witness for His people to seek instruction and guidance. In one of his final acts, a song is delivered by Moses to the people of Israel, making up most of our Torah reading for this week (Deuteronomy 31:1-43).[1] After this message is communicated, Moses again admonishes Israel to take his words very seriously:

“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 32:45-47).

Ancient Israel was commanded to seriously heed what Moses has told them, because their aged leader wants them to “live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (NIV). Thankfully, this song—as well as the entire Torah—have been memorized and studied over the centuries by many followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Millions of people the world over have taken to serious heart the Biblical axiom of choosing the ways of the Lord—the ways of life!

A Song of Moses

In a distinctively didactic ode, the song witnessed in Ha’azinu not only reviews some of Israel’s past history, but also prophetically declares what will transpire to Israel in the days following its entrance into the Promised Land. Moses’ words describe what will happen as “Jeshurun” waxes fat and forgets the commandments of God.[2] The required chastisement is softened, but perhaps only very little, by promises made to vindicate Israel in the future.[3] Veiled references to the future period when Assyria and Babylon will be used to punish Israel are seen.[4]

As you read the song Moses delivers in Deuteronomy 32, his words wax eloquently. One of the significant themes seen is how the Lord is referred to as the Rock or tzur. The Hebrew term tzur appears in a number of distinct places to refer to God, and in one place to describe the pitiful “rock” of false gods:

  • “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • “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” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
  • “You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18).
  • “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” (Deuteronomy 32:30-31).
  • “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?’” (Deuteronomy 32:37).

When we look at how the term tzur is used, we get the impression that just as granite or limestone gives the presentation of firmness or majesty—so is our God steadfast and reliable. In delivering his song to Israel, Moses wants the people to look to the Lord as a Rock they can rely on. He wants them to have vivid recollections of their past, present, and future relationship with Him—so that they might persevere through the foreordained rough times. As you reflect on these significant verses in this Torah portion, are you reminded of any past saints who used these very verses in troubled times, to comfort them through affliction?

One who immediately comes to my mind is a young King David, as he avoided the efforts of King Saul to exterminate him. In 2 Samuel 22, we see that in a time of great turmoil, David turned what is communicated by the Deuteronomy 32 song to find solace:

“And David spoke the words of this song to the LORD in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said, ‘The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. For the waves of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, yes, I cried to my God; and from His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears’” (2 Samuel 22:1-7).

This incident resulted in what became Psalm 18:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said, ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength.’ The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry” (Psalm 18:1-7).

The words of King David should encourage us to rely upon the Lord as our Rock—for strength, direction, protection, and deliverance!

Testimony to the “Rock”

As I ponder these thoughts, I am reminded of an important testimony that my wife Margaret often shares. She has mentioned many times the tragic loss of her first husband, Kimball McKee, who died at 41 due to melanoma cancer. She frequently recalls some of the last words that Kim uttered to her in the hospital room just before he fell into his final coma. As a born again Believer and devoted evangelical Christian, Kim would often refer to Jesus Christ as “the Rock.” In his walk with the Lord, frequently reading the Old Testament, the image of the Messiah as the Rock of Salvation was seriously impressed upon his heart.

During his final days, the cancer had spread to Kim’s brain stem. Just before slipping away, Margaret was in his room, and Kim sat straight up and wide awake in his bed. He pointed through Margaret to an image that he was seeing beyond her. Kim looked straight into the eyes of his wife, and told her “I can see the Rock and hear the music!” Right at that point the ICU nurse came in and ushered Margaret out of the room. These were his last words. The monitors indicated that he had triggered a code blue and he was immediately put on a respirator. He was dying, but according to his last words, he had seen the Rock of his Salvation who was waiting for him with the chorus of Heaven playing, very similar to what Stephen experienced (Acts 7:55-60). While Kim doubtlessly wanted to live, the words of Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23, RSV), were realized for him in 1992. Two days later, Kim McKee was released from the respirator and went to be with the Messiah Yeshua.

When Kim was buried next to his parents, his grave marker included the epitaph, “Jesus Christ, the Rock of my Salvation.” As Margaret, John, Jane, and Maggie frequently remind me—they will all one day be able to touch the resurrected body of Kim McKee again, when Yeshua returns “with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13) at the Second Coming. Some of the most inspiring words we can remember, even if we do sincerely believe that our loved ones who knew the Lord are in Heaven with Him now, regard how the power of Heaven will come to Earth at the time of resurrection. As the Apostle Paul says,

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).[5]

Thinking about the inspiring testimony of Kim McKee, we can be encouraged by how in the future—all of us as redeemed saints—will one day surround the throne of God and will be singing praises to the Rock (Revelation 15:3-4; cf. Jeremiah 10:7). The Rock of our Salvation is the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins. As John the Immerser confessed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Being a part of the company of redeemed from all ages and time periods, and being reunited with our loved ones and ancestors—should cause us to be so overwhelmed with joy, that we simply want to praise our Creator!

It is immensely beneficial for each of us to take some special time this week to reflect upon these foundational truths which are so imperative for our faith. Whether we get lost in the eloquence of a beautiful song that speaks of the marvelous works of the Lord throughout the ages, or whether we praise Yeshua for His work of redemption—the most important thing is that we understand how God has interjected Himself into our lives so that we might have salvation. The Lord Yeshua is the Rock of our Salvation!

In these days of reflection and returning to Him, come to the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. His arms are wide open. Turn and run to the One who is the Rock of our Salvation!


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] Deuteronomy 32:15-17.

[3] Deuteronomy 32:36-43.

[4] Deuteronomy 32:21-27.

[5] For a further discussion, consult the article “To Be Absent From the Body” by J.K. McKee. Also useful is Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven & Hell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002).

V’yeilekh

V’yeilekh

And he went

“The Importance of Obedience”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As the Book of Deuteronomy begins to come to a close, our annual cycle of Torah study begins to wind down. It is during these final words of Moses to Ancient Israel that we find some of his most compelling pleas. For the preceding discussions in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has been summarizing the events of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Now, as Moses’ life is about to end,[1] his final exhortations to Israel are riddled with emotional appeals for the people to choose life (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19-20)!

For those of us studying these words today, who believe that by faith in Yeshua we are a part of Israel—we consider Moses’ admonitions to apply to us and be just as relevant, as they are to the physical descendants of those who stood beside Joshua preparing to enter the Promised Land. God’s people are required to obey Him in order to be blessed. Yet, over the centuries, many theologians and philosophers of religion have done their best to get around the Biblical requirement that God’s people obey His commandments. Liberal branches of Judaism relegate following the Torah to only be a part of Jewish culture. Varied branches of Christianity like to say that Jesus “fulfilled and thus abolished the Law,”[2] or that the Torah was “nailed to the cross.”[3] Others simply do not take the time and effort to examine what the Torah says, and then falsely conclude that God’s Law has no relevance for modern people.

I have found that all of these—and other arguments—are generally superficial. They are excellent tactics of our enemy to cause people to disobey the Lord, and at the very least, experience a very stifled and ineffective faith. It is my hope and prayer as a Messianic Believer that we would not find ourselves trying to make up excuses for ignoring the Scriptures. While there are certainly questions on applicability of various commandments in the Twenty-First Century, a widescale dismissal of Moses’ Teaching is unjustified.

Simply Obey

Messianic Believers today have some distinct advantages over the Ancient Israelites. We can read the words of Deuteronomy and recognize that many of Moses’ prophetic statements have already been fulfilled to some degree.[4] From a Twenty-First Century perspective looking back in history, we can review tangible evidence from the record of Scripture in how obedience to God brings blessings, while disobedience results in curses:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Certainly if you follow the history of Israel since the time of Moses for the past 3,300 years, you can see how God has been faithful to enact punishment on those who have disobeyed Him. Sadly, in spite of the warnings of either Moses or the Prophets, God has sent Israel into numerous exiles into the nations of the Earth.

We can be thankful that there is an anticipated time when scattered and dispersed Israel will return to the Holy One with all of its heart and soul. In our era, especially since the creation of the modern State of Israel, the restoration and gathering back to the Promised Land has become a reality. More is to be anticipated to be sure, but it is to all likely be preceded by a more concentrated return of individuals to God and to His ways first. The Lord is clear to say that obedience to His commandments is not at all something to be difficult or overbearing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-16).

Many Christians today investigating the Messianic movement, and seeing its emphasis on the Torah, often do not know what to do. Many have been inappropriately told or taught that following God’s Law is a complete impossibility. But the Lord Himself says that it is absolutely doable. The problem is often with our human volition, and our widespread tendency to make a choice leading to death and adversity. We often do not want to commit the little time and effort it takes to obey our Heavenly Father the way He asks.

Post-Resurrection Choices

The Apostle Paul understood how bad choices can lead to negative consequences, especially among many of his fellow Jews who had denied Yeshua as the Messiah in the First Century. If you will recall his comments throughout Romans chs. 9-11, Paul addresses many of his heartfelt concerns regarding his fellow Jewish people, who would be most familiar with the words of Moses:

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Romans 9:3-4).

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2).

Paul knew that his own Jewish people, who had inherited the promises of God, and who exhibited a sincere zeal for His ways, did not largely comprehend the very essence of what the Torah was intending to communicate. Many deliberately blinded themselves to the message of the gospel, and were unable to see how the Torah’s focus had always been the Messiah Yeshua:

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination [telos] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: ‘Whoever does these things will live by them’” (Romans 10:3-5, TNIV).

Here as Paul addresses the zeal of his people, he references a concept that is found in Leviticus 18:5: “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.” If you can keep the commandments as they have been given perfectly, then you will have a blessed life and will never have to suffer the Law’s capital punishment. The problem is that if you disobey just one commandment, you have broken the entire Law and are subject to its penalties—which is what all of us have done (Romans 3:10). As James the Just reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). What this human reality forces us to do is to entreat the mercy of the Lord, and it intensifies one understanding how the goal, acme, or aim of the Torah is to point people to the Messiah Yeshua and the salvation He provides. If in our quest to be obedient to the Lord, we find that we have erred—born again Believers can now have the comfort in knowing that they have been redeemed from any of the curses of the Torah.

Such a righteousness is based on faith—the same faith that Abraham exhibited when he believed God’s promises to him (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Paul’s writing continues, as he specifies,

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven [Deuteronomy 30:20]?” (that is, to bring Messiah down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead).’ But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart [Deuteronomy 30:14]’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:6-10).

Here, the Apostle Paul describes a word of faith which confesses with the mouth that Yeshua is Messiah, and believes in the heart that He has been raised from the dead. The righteousness of faith is focused around His completed work at Golgotha, recognizing that He came and paid the price for our sins. Yeshua the Messiah fulfilled the Law perfectly for us, and paid the debt that we had incurred before the Father as Law-breakers. Nowhere does the Torah itself claim that by following its commandments a person will merit eternal life; at most the Torah promises a blessed life for those who follow its commandments on Earth. Eternal communion with God can only be a reality via the accomplished work of His Son.

Still, even though the Torah does not provide eternal life, obedience to its statutes and decrees is required if we intend to be the holy and separated people that God desires. The Apostle John reminds us that believing that Yeshua is the sacrifice for human sin is one thing; in order to signify that such a belief within us is real, we must demonstrate it via acts of obedience:

“[A]nd He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:2-6).

An indication that one truly knows Messiah Yeshua, is if one chooses to keep His commandments. If one does not keep His commandments, then John indicates that one is a liar who does not have the truth. This is very serious. If a person claims with his or her mouth and “believes” in the heart that Yeshua is the Messiah, and yet does not expel any effort to keep (any of) His commandments—notably those of loving God and neighbor—there is an obvious disconnect. Perhaps such a confession of faith was just some kind of lip service and not a true heart confession? Thankfully, only our Eternal God can truly judge the heart intention of any person.

How debilitating has it been for today’s Christianity to often leave obedience out of the gospel message? While none of us can “earn” salvation, our being cleansed from sins and spiritually regenerated is to follow with our being obedient to the Lord. How can today’s Messianics become a force of positive change, helping to not only see many Jewish people come to faith in Messiah Yeshua—but many Christians turn toward a path of diligent obedience to God?

These, and many other questions, should be reflected upon during this season of reflection and repentance, as we consider the themes of the Fall high holidays. As we each meditate upon the issues before us, and consider a future time when we will be standing before our Creator, may we each be encouraged to choose the eternal life provided in Messiah Yeshua with all our hearts, minds, and souls!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 31:1-13.

[2] Consult the exegetical paper “Has the Law Been Fulfilled?” by J.K. McKee, examining Matthew 5:17-19.

[3] Colossians 2:14 specifically says “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. This comprises the capital penalties pronounced upon sinners who break the Torah, which Yeshua by His sacrifice absorbed in His death; it does not take away the standard of sin contained in God’s Law.

[4] Deuteronomy 31:14-22.

Nitzavim

Nitzavim

Standing

“Prophecies Here and Now”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

The events of Nitzavim occur near the end of Moses’ declarations to the Ancient Israelites, and contain some extremely profound prophecies. I believe that we are witnessing the fulfillment of some of these prophecies today. From the creation of the State of Israel in the Middle East to the emergence of the Messianic community of faith, elements of these profound realities are forecast in this Torah portion. In this season of repentance in the month of Elul, as we are preparing our hearts for Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I find it very encouraging to consider some of these passages.

As this section of the Torah commences, Moses specifies how the broad-sweeping influence that the covenant God has made with Israel affects every level of society. As you should notice from the opening verses of our parashah, the different groups of people range from the leaders of Israel, to wives and children, to those who perform menial labor, to those who are aliens or sojourners in the camp. We see how the God of Israel is an all-inclusive God, who wants all of humanity to be blessed by the covenant which has been established with His chosen nation. Perhaps most important for us to consider is that the agreement made between Himself and Ancient Israel is not only made with them, but is considered to have been made with future generations:

“You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here today” (Deuteronomy 29:10-15).

Remember that the group of Israelites which Moses addresses here are the second and third generations who have experienced the desert sojourn. The Exodus generation which first departed from Egypt—except Joshua and Caleb—have largely all died in the wilderness due to believing the bad report of the ten spies (Numbers 14:26-30). Their children and grandchildren are being admonished to obey the Lord and to keep His covenant. It is not just enough for the people to acknowledge His faithfulness in delivering Israel, but each successive generation of Israel has the responsibility of obeying His commandments.

Thinking about this, what might we really need to be considering today? What is most significant for us in the Twenty-First Century is the closing comment with how God’s covenant is made “with the future generations who are not standing here today” (Deuteronomy 29:15, NLT). The message of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy has relevance for us living now, as much as it did to its first recipients as Israel was preparing to enter into the Promised Land.

Moses was a prophet who had a unique relationship with the Creator, and so as he nears the end of his life, many of the words he delivers in Deuteronomy have tremendous prophetic significance for our times. He was very concerned for Ancient Israel, because already several times in Deuteronomy, he has said that they will not obey the Lord in the future—and will be punished and scattered accordingly:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:26-29).

“Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (Deuteronomy 28:64).

This week in Nitzavim, Moses once again communicates that Israel is going to be severely chastised for not obeying God and maintaining its covenant with Him. Moses again tells Israel that the people will be cast into other lands to live:

“Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 29:27-28).

We see how Moses has reiterated a tragic future for the Ancient Israelites as a by-product of their collective, future disobedience. Plagues and diseases upon Israel, and a curse upon the Promised Land, are just some of the penalties that will be incurred (cf. Deuteronomy 29). At the same time, not all hope is lost, because as Deuteronomy 29 comes to a close, we see Moses communicating a profound truth which all generations can take great encouragement from:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

There are many secret things that only God knows, but Israel as God’s chosen people have been revealed things by Him—in order that they might follow His Instruction and be blessed. With such knowledge given to Israel by the Creator, they have a serious responsibility to be a blessing to others and be able representatives of Him in the world. The classic problem—as witnessed throughout the Tanakh, sadly—was that Ancient Israel was largely unable to follow God’s Law. Even in spite of Moses’ and the Prophets’ warnings that if Israel disobeyed the Lord, punishment would come—disobedience still too frequently prevailed.

Following this, Deuteronomy 30 begins with one of the most important end-time prophecies regarding the future of Israel. This word not only considers how Israel will be scattered into the nations, but also how a future obedience of Israel will result in its return and restoration to the Promised Land:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).

This prophecy is to take place at a distant future time, when a scattered Israel remembers the words Moses delivered in Deuteronomy chs. 28 & 29, and as is declared, “you [will] come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you” (HCSB).

If you are familiar with the broad history of Israel, then perhaps you can think about how the various blessings and curses Moses details have impacted the Jewish people—no matter where they have been scattered down through the centuries. Furthermore, the blessings listed in ch. 28 are noticeable in certain societies which have either directly or indirectly adhered to the morality and ethics of the Torah. On the other hand, the predominance of any disobedience to God, in and among the nations, is likewise readily discernible. Even if you do not know that much about the history of Ancient Israel or Judaism, the axiom of how obedience to God merits blessings and disobedience to God merits some kind of penalties—is quite easy to witness, if not just on a personal level.

In many respects, the prophecy of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 may have a direct correlation to much of what we are now witnessing with the emerging Messianic movement. Since the late 1960s, more Jewish people have come to faith in Messiah Yeshua than since the First Century. Also important is how since the 1990s, many evangelical Christians have been exposed to their Hebraic Roots and have started diligently studying the Torah of Moses. For the first time since the early decades of the Apostles’ ministry, Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are coming together as one in the Messiah, and are submitting themselves to a regimen of considering Moses’ Teaching every week (cf. Acts 15:21). Many Messianics think that Moses’ prophecy of “…calling them to mind in the nations where the LORD your God has banished you…” (Deuteronomy 30:1b) is occurring in our day.

It is very true that our generation has witnessed a community of Messiah followers come forth who recognize Yeshua as the Savior of the world, and are considering a very high role for the Torah to play in their lives. While recognizing that Torah-keeping does not merit one eternal salvation, the emergence of a Torah observant sector of Believers does make one realize that God’s Instruction is to mold men and women in ways of holiness and good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Any born again Believer naturally wants God’s blessings, and God’s blessings can only come by a diligent and faithful obedience to Him. Yeshua may have been sacrificed to take away the capital penalties of the Torah (Colossians 2:14), but He still bids His followers to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-19).

People around the globe today are desiring to fully return to the Lord, and are letting His Torah teach them about His holiness and what it means to be a part of a treasured people. Our own family—where two generations recognize the Torah as relevant instruction for Messiah followers—I believe is very much influenced by how “the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV). While we do not know all of the future details of Moses’ prophecy coming to pass, today’s Messianic movement is doubtlessly going to be involved in the future return of scattered Israel to the Holy Land (Deuteronomy 30:4-5).

Many have rightly concluded that the formation of the State of Israel is a definite fulfillment of this prophecy. Many “outcasts” have been gathered from the ends of the Earth and brought back to reside in Eretz Yisrael. The remarkable achievements of the State of Israel are easily seen in how a primitive desert land can be turned into a productive and vibrant economy, and Israel today is one of the leading technological innovators in our world. We have already witnessed some prophetic fulfillment of Moses’ words—although it is notable that most of Israeli society today is secular, and many do not acknowledge the existence of God. But as we move closer and closer to the Messiah’s return, not only will more begin to acknowledge who God is, but they will also recognize Yeshua as their Savior. It should be our persistent prayer that the main essence of Moses’ prophecy comes to fruition in the lives of all modern Israelis:

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 10:12-16).

Apparently, one of the challenges that Moses knows will plague Israel throughout history is the inability for them to willfully circumcise their hearts. At some future time, God will circumcise the hearts of Israel so that they will love Him, obey Him, and be empowered to perform some mighty deeds. Paralleling this, to be sure, are the words spoken by the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in detailing the forgiveness provided in the New Covenant—and the supernatural ability to keep God’s Law:

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28).

These two passages specifically describe how God will transform the hearts of His people, writing His Law onto them via the power of His Spirit. As those who have placed our trust in Yeshua the Messiah, we believe that His sacrificial work has already inaugurated this within the hearts of His followers (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8-12). At the same time, the expectation of the New Covenant involves not only a cleansing from sins, but God’s corporate people being brought back into the Promised Land. When all this is going to take place is unknown. It is safe to say that as the Messianic movement grows and matures, that the full realization of the New Covenant is going to come to fruition.

As our Torah reading for this week closes, Moses summarizes all of his teachings to one simple choice: life or death. Now that Israel has been given the Torah, will they choose an existence of being in God’s plan and favor—or one dominated by separation and exile from Him?

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. 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, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Moses’ summary statements bring his previous prophecies to a fitting conclusion—especially for those of us living today. Every single one of us can experience either life and prosperity, or death and adversity. We can love the Lord and walk in His ways, or we can choose not to follow Him and suffer the consequences of disobedience. God gives each of us a free will to make these choices.

If you choose obedience to God, He promises His blessings. If you choose anything else, He promises penalties. As God puts it, Heaven and Earth are witnesses against all who originally listened to Moses in the wilderness prior to crossing the Jordan—and all who are reading and having to consider these passages today. Heaven and Earth have not gone away, and neither have these Divine principles. Now that these prophecies are becoming real to many, perhaps it is time to be serious about whether you are going to choose an existence dominated by the power of life or death!

The Prophet Isaiah affirms how eventually the prophecies of Moses will be fulfilled. In this week’s Haftarah selection, the reality of these end-time events coming to pass is amplified, as Isaiah looked forward to the times which Moses’ prophecies direct us to:

“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:10-12).

The future time which Moses talks about is seen through a different set of eyes, as Isaiah sees righteousness and praise springing up before all nations—an emphasis on the worldwide effects of Israel’s restoration. While we might still be some distance from this taking place, each one of us can experience the essential reality of the New Covenant in our lives today, and we can individually play a role in seeing God’s goodness demonstrated to all in the world. As more and more of us commit ourselves to returning to the Lord and to His Instruction, the restoration of His Kingdom will accelerate.

I pray that whether we are the final generation—or even if these things occur ten generations from now—we will all experience the fullness of God’s Kingdom, and know the eternal life available through faith in the Messiah Yeshua!

Ki-Tavo

Ki-Tavo

When you enter in

“A Faithful Treasured Possession”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Ki-Tavo is frequently remembered for the lengthy lists of blessings and curses that are promised to Israel as a result of their obedience or disobedience to the Lord. In this season of repentance, which traditionally comes during the month of Elul as we approach the Fall high holidays, reflecting on such blessings and curses can be a sobering exercise. After all, God has declared many times throughout the Scriptures that Israel is a chosen people who have been designated as His own possession among all the peoples of the Earth—who are to in turn be a blessing to all they encounter. Here in our parashah this week, after we see instructions on how Israel should honor the Lord with offerings of first fruits and tithes,[1] Moses summarizes that the people are declaring their willingness to follow and obey Him fully:

“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” (Deuteronomy 26:17).

This commitment receives a positive response from the Lord, who reiterates and amplifies just how treasured a possession Israel will be:

“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 26:18-19).

Being “the chosen nation” above all the nations of the world has some rather incumbent, serious responsibilities. Israel is required to be an example of a consecrated people, which fully submits itself to the will of God. He requires specific actions from His people to affirm that they are indeed His, and that they can truly be as prominent as He desires them to be.

Moses gives explicit instructions on what must be done once the Israelites have crossed the Jordan and entered into the Promised Land. In a very dramatic way, the Israelites are ordered to travel to the area around Shechem to perform a solemn ceremony on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. There, the Levites will position themselves between the two mountains with six tribes on each side, and make loud declarations about curses that will come upon them as a result of deviant behavior.[2] Declarations about blessings as a result of obedience to God will be made,[3] but so will the consequences of disobedience be specified.[4] As all of these statements are ushered forth, the people will be expected to proclaim Amein, issuing their agreement with what is said. Just imagine a scene of hundreds of thousands of people declaring forth Amein to words that will determine their future (cf. Joshua 8:30-35)!

As we review the different statements that Ancient Israel was to make when they entered into the Promised Land, there are some things that should really strike us. Moses said that if Israel was to diligently obey the Lord, that His blessings will just “overtake” them:

“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 will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

The lengthy list of blessings offered by the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:3-12) culminates in the ultimate elevation for Israel to always be the head and never the tail among those in the world:

“The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully” (Deuteronomy 28:13).

All that is required to attain this status is simply obedience to God. But as the testimony of Scripture is clear, this is much easier said than done. The narrative and the tone shifts, because there is a much longer list of curses that will come upon Israel if the people choose to disobey God. Moses summarizes,

“But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

As you read curse after curse (Deuteronomy 28:16-65), you realize that these negative words touch almost every aspect of human life. After reading through these curses a number of times, you can understand why frequently—when this part of the Torah portion is often read in Jewish synagogues—it is traditionally read quickly and in an almost inaudible tone. So severe are the curses upon Israel that the Rabbis have sought to minimize even the contemplation of the possible curses. And yet, in this time of personal and corporate repentance, is it not an ideal time to consider some of the consequences of disobedience? Just consider some of the concluding remarks about just how the people of Israel will act once the effects of disobedience have taken their hold:

“So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deuteronomy 28:66-67).

Once all of the curses have taken their toll, life will be so miserable that one will not be comfortable with either the day or the night. There will be no assurance of life at all. One’s existence will be in a sphere dominated by the power of death—a routine marked with incessant fear and loathing—especially since the people will have been scattered into the nations as a result of their disobedience.

With all of this being witnessed in our parashah this week, is there not a great incentive to be obedient to the Lord? Surely, as a part of His people today—even though we have experienced redemption in Messiah Yeshua—should we not recognize that we can only be blessed if we expel the effort to follow and obey? Sadly, much of religious history is marked by people who have made more of an effort to disobey God, or bend the rules with trying to do as little as possible, then people who have strived to love Him and His ways. Lamentably, the Lord has been quite true to His Word to enact curses and penalties upon disobedient people throughout the ages.

 

The Faithful Remnant

Pondering this sad reality, I was also reminded that, thankfully, there has always been a faithful remnant of people throughout history who have chosen to diligently obey God to the best of their ability and understanding.[5] As a result, these people of faithful obedience have received the promised blessings, and have prepared the way for each successive generation. In His sovereignty the Lord has always had a group of people who are faithful to perform His Word, making a concentrated, positive difference in society—whether they be Jews or Christians. As the writer of Hebrews states it, faith is foundational to acts of obedience:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible…And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6).

Apparently, over the ages, it has been the faith of many men and women—who beyond a shadow of a doubt can be counted among the “treasured possession” of God’s people—that has caused them to be obedient to the Lord. They have been responsible for demonstrating acts of kindness and mercy to others, fulfilling what James the Just calls, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

Considering the requirement of faith as a critical ingredient for generating obedience, my thoughts turned to some of the words of the Apostle Paul which address the requirement of God’s people to function as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Paul specifies how each person has been given a particular allocation of faith, requiring all Believers to work and serve together in the Kingdom of God:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

Reading this, I also had to recognize how Paul further says that faith is the means by which we receive salvation—not our human works:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But, too many people stop reading at Ephesians 2:9, because nowhere in his letters does Paul ever negate the need for the children of God to have good works. Instead, he asserts how Messiah followers have been created for good works, which come as a natural result of our faith demonstrated in action:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

James the Just is also noted for his description about how faith and works are to compliment one another. A true follower of the Messiah of Israel is to have a dynamic, active faith, that manifests itself in the appropriate deeds:

“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’ [Genesis 15:6], and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-26).

 

More Faith

In these days of contemplation and repentance, as I have considered the different blessings and curses contingent upon obedience or disobedience to God—all I can do is entreat Him to give me more faith. I ask the Father to increase my faith, so that I can have a heart desirous of serving Him. In a day and age when temptation is rampant and is at clear odds with the will of the indwelling Holy Spirit—I beseech the Lord to reveal more and more of Himself, so that I can endure the trials and tribulations that have been thrust upon me in life. I want to live in accordance with His ways.

It is a great blessing to be given a significant measure of trusting faith. This gift results in one not only desiring to be obedient to the Lord, but it places one’s total confidence in His will for the future. It lets me know that I, personally, am a treasured possession of His—who He loves and who He truly cares about!

What about you? Have you been turning your heart and attention toward God in this time of contemplation, in anticipation of the Fall high holidays? What about your actions toward your neighbors? Have they been consistent with what is expected of able Messiah followers? If not, I would recommend that you go before the Lord and truly seek Him with all of your being—remembering that He is faithful to reveal Himself to those who truly seek Him:

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

May you be found to be one of His faithful treasured possessions!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 26:1-19.

[2] Deuteronomy 27:1-26.

[3] Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

[4] Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

[5] Editor’s note: Of useful consultation would be the many people described in Robert G. Tuttle, The Story of Evangelism: A History of the Witness to the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006).

Ki-Teitzei

Ki-Teitzei

When you go out

“Be Well and Prolong Your Days”

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-10 (or finish at 52:13)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

The final stretch of the Deuteronomy Torah portions through the month of Elul to Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and the Fall feasts is now upon us (2003/5753). Our reading for this week, Ki-Teitzei, details many commandments that will directly apply to the Israelites upon their occupation of the Promised Land. A wide variety of unique subjects, ranging from how to deal with foreign women in the battlefields[1] to admonitions about those excluded from the assembly,[2] are covered. Reading and meditating about many of these different instructions can take Torah students to places in both spiritual reflection and Biblical examination that they may have not considered before. Further investigation into the thoughts of different Rabbis, commentators, and scholars is often in order. As you may begin to consider some of the writings that have dissected many of these instructions over the ages, you will discover that the amount of material is voluminous.

Many of the instructions witnessed in Ki-Teitzei can only make sense when read in the context of Ancient Israel within the world of the Ancient Near East. Still, some of the instructions, such as covering up one’s leavings (Deuteronomy 23:13), can be followed today (even if you just go out camping in the woods). One of the most perplexing yet intriguing instructions, is seen in how those who might take the eggs of a mother bird must make the effort to shoo away the bird before taking them:

“If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).

There is certainly a level of humanitarianism seen in shooing away a mother bird before taking her eggs. But, the Torah actually instructs people to do this “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (NIV).

Also witnessed in our parashah is instruction on how a rebellious child was to be tried and stoned to death.[3] Many Bible readers have no idea what to do with this material in the Scriptures, and in Jewish history there is likewise considerable discussion as to how these instructions were to legally play out in the process of jurisprudence.[4] Since the Torah is the constitution of Israel, one can easily see why observant Jewish people have debated these instructions over several millennia.

As I pondered the text of our Torah portion, and reflected upon how the Holy One desires to be intimately involved with His children, I could not get the instruction I read about the mother bird and her eggs out of my mind. It is juxtaposed between prohibitions about cross dressing[5] and the need to build a parapet on the roof of one’s house.[6] Catching my attention was how the blessing of a long life is attached to this commandment, and how the same will be incurred by honoring father and mother:

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Comparing these two commandments (Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and 5:16), I really did not see a connection. It seems far more logically important to honor one’s parents rather than showing kindness to some random, female bird. After all, God Himself had included the command to honor one’s parents as a part of the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments engraved in stone. The Apostle Paul further points out how the Fifth Commandment is the first commandment with a promise of blessing:

“HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise)” (Ephesians 6:2).

It is natural to ask yourself if there is any connection between honoring one’s parents and showing kindness toward a female bird—both of which elicit the same blessing. Is it possible that the Lord wants His people to demonstrate kindness not just to one’s fellow humans, but also to those creatures that humanity has dominion over (cf. Genesis 1:26, 28)? Comparatively speaking, honoring one’s parents is obviously more significant than being kind to a bird—but perhaps in showing kindness to an animal, we will be more akin to show kindness to actual people?

In the late 1990s, my family and I lived on a small, three-and-a-half acre country farm in North Texas. We had some goats, sheep, a donkey, and a number of free-range chickens that roamed around the barn area. I can remember the mornings when I would be on a search for eggs. It was usually a quiet time, when I would find myself reflecting upon the mercies of the Lord and giving Him praise for our many blessings. As I recall this delightful chore, I can remember the times when I would have to shoo away the hens to look for eggs. My heart occasionally considered the thoughts of the mother hen. Even though I was glad to have the eggs, the hen was going to have to go about her business and lay another egg after I left the barn. At the time, I thought shooing the hens was simply a practical matter of moving them away so that I could more readily access the eggs. I never really thought about the blessing that I was going to receive for treating the hen with human kindness. For whatever reasons, this approach to retrieving eggs was the way that the Father intended His people to do it. It seemed to come naturally to me without any extensive instruction. But apparently, based on the words of the Lord—by extending basic human kindness to our hens—I was receiving blessings, even without my knowledge of this particular Scripture.

Remembering this past experience this week, I then turned my thoughts to the Biblical requirement to honor one’s father and mother, with its commensurate blessings. I reflected upon how natural my obedience to this instruction had been over the years—and I also remembered a period of time when I had a rebellious streak in me, which consistently dishonored my parents. Thankfully, the stubbornness was short-lived! My parents’ love for me prevailed, and our relationship has been wonderful for decades.

Thinking about the material seen in Ki-Teitzei more and more, the reality of lovingkindness kept coming to mind. After all, is love not one of the principal attributes of our Heavenly Father? Is He not constantly working to have this attribute become ingrained into the hearts, minds, and souls of His people? Is it possible that God wants us to be as tender hearted to mere birds as He is to us? By using the example of the mercy we might show to a brooding hen, how truly significant is it that He wants us to extend a similar amount of mercy and lovingkindness toward the people we interact with? Extending love toward our neighbors is the most tangible example that we are diligently obeying the Lord. Remember how Yeshua reacted when questioned about the greatest commandment in the Torah:

“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Yeshua concludes that the entire Torah rests on the requirements for people to love God and their neighbors. If people can observe these simple commandments, then they will understand why God gave us His Law to follow. The command to love one’s neighbor is perhaps the most basic when it comes to human interaction. Consider in tangible terms what loving one’s neighbor actually involves:

“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:13-18).

The requirement to love one’s neighbor goes back to the foundational instructions delivered by God about separating out a unique people for His own possession (cf. Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). The Ancient Israelites were commanded to judge their neighbors fairly, and to not oppress, rob, slander, hate, bear grudges against, or take vengeance against them. Such is all summarized and made complete in the actions witnessed in the ministry of the Messiah Yeshua.

To what degree do you need to be reminded that we need to be treating a brooding hen the same way we might treat our neighbors? If you show disrespect to animals, then it should not be surprising why you might show disrespect to human beings. Each of us needs to heed the admonitions of Scripture, striving to have hearts and minds indwelt with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). We need to be people who can treat all of God’s creatures with dignity and honor. Perhaps if we learn to extend loving kindness to the animal kingdom, then we will treat people properly. If we can exhibit love to all those we encounter, then we can truly live long and blessed lives.


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

[2] Deuteronomy 23:1-11.

[3] Deuteronomy 21:18-23.

[4] Scherman, Chumash, 1047 summarizes some of the Rabbinical discussions on this passage, including the thought of there being so many prerequisites in order for a rebellious child to be executed, that the inaction of capital punishment is effectively impossible (cf. b.Sanhedrin 71a).

[5] Deuteronomy 22:5.

[6] Deuteronomy 22:8.

Shoftim

Shoftim

Judges

“Words Required for Life”

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12 (or finish at 53:12)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Shoftim continues to establish the constitution for the emerging nation of Israel. Moses addresses issues like the judicial system[1] and the inevitability of Israel having a monarchy,[2] and how all are to be subject to God’s Law and authority. Specifics about the Levitical priesthood are also described,[3] and warnings are issued to Israel about some of the abominable practices that will be tempting the people as the conquest of the Promised Land proceeds.[4] Specifics about the cities of refuge are reiterated,[5] and further definitions about court proceedings are discussed.[6] Preparations for war with the obligations of the selective service or draft are outlined, with the rules of engagement for war included.[7] Finally, some specifics about how to handle homicide are detailed.[8] As you read and reflect upon Shoftim, you can easily see how the God of Israel is indeed a Master of order. He has laid out important aspects of the judicial, executive, and priestly functions that are to make His chosen nation be prosperous.

However, in the midst, of all of this instruction for the people of Israel, is a strikingly significant Messianic prophecy. Moses speaks of a Greater Prophet who will one day rise up with the words of God in His mouth. This Greater Prophet will speak all the words that God commands Him to speak. Not listening or heeding the words this Prophet will speak will incur a man or woman some severe consequences:

“I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

This expectation has a degree of finality to it. Moses declares that this future Prophet will speak words that must be obeyed by those who hear them. If they are not obeyed, then God Himself “will call…to account” (NIV) those who ignored or disregarded them, holding those responsible who did not take seriously the words conveyed. Deuteronomy 19:18-10 is a powerful prophetic statement made by Moses, which pointed ahead to the eventual arrival of the Messiah. And yet, when the Messiah did come, how many chose to really believe His words?

One group of people who fully believed and acted on the words of the Greater Prophet were the Disciples of Yeshua the Messiah. Ten days after the ascension of the Messiah into Heaven, on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Believers. As it is recorded in Acts 3, the Apostle Peter confidently declared that Yeshua was indeed the Greater Prophet who Moses had foretold:

“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Yeshua, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED [Deuteronomy 18:19] to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED’ [Genesis 22:18; 26:4]. For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:18-26).

Peter directly quotes Deuteronomy 18:19, which details who the Greater Prophet is to be,[9] and identifies Him to be Yeshua the Messiah. But there is further amplification as to what the concept of “requiring” one to recognize Him actually means. Peter makes it much more succinct and to the point. He states that: Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people” (NIV). This statement is really to be taken seriously, because those who disregard Yeshua will have severe consequences leveled against them. The early Messiah followers understood that Moses was indeed foretelling of Yeshua—because before he was stoned, the young disciple Stephen likewise directly quoted from Deuteronomy 18:15, defending himself with the word,

“This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN’” (Acts 7:37).[10]

Based on the prophecy delivered by Moses, and the confirmation offered by Peter and Stephen—we must believe in and heed the message declared by the Greater Prophet, Yeshua the Messiah—or the consequence will be eternal punishment. This might seem like a harsh word, but the author of Hebrews’ words are even more direct than those witnessed in either Deuteronomy 18:19 or Acts 3:23:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES [Isaiah 26:11]. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE’ [Deuteronomy 32:35, 36; Psalm 135:14]. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Reading this rather direct and stern admonition—born again Believers should recognize how they have the authority to not only rebuke those who have heard the knowledge of the truth and keep on sinning, but also those who completely turn away from the truth that the Messiah is Yeshua, the only Savior for humanity.

Brothers and sisters, you do not want to find yourself a sinner who fails to turn from bad habits, one who has known but has rejected the good news, or one who has just rejected the good news. While all of these negative predicaments are terrible—those who once professed to believe in, but later deny, the blood atonement of Yeshua on their behalf—are going to be punished even more seriously than those who just reject Him outright.

Have you truly believed in the words of the Messiah? Has the good news of salvation in Yeshua changed your heart, and truly enabled you to love God and neighbor like never before? If you have not experienced the supernatural power of the gospel—now is the time to go before the Lord in prayerful repentance! One must believe in the words of Yeshua to experience eternal life; it is not enough to only have the words of Moses.


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 17:1-13.

[2] Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 18:1-8.

[4] Deuteronomy 18:9-14.

[5] Deuteronomy 19:1-13.

[6] Deuteronomy 19:14-21.

[7] Deuteronomy 20:1-20.

[8] Deuteronomy 21:1-9.

[9] Kurt Aland, et. al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1998), 418.

[10] Ibid., 433.

Re’eih

Re’eih

See

“Choices and Tests”

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Re’eih continues where Ekev left off. Moses is persistent in encouraging the Israelites to obey the Lord with due faithfulness, so that they can prosper in the Land He is going to give them. If Israel chooses to listen to and obey the commandments of the Lord, then blessings will emanate from Him. On the other hand, if Israel chooses to disobey the commandments of the Lord, then curses will manifest themselves. Once again, the bottom line for Ancient Israel is how their choices—positive or negative—will affect them when they dwell in the Promised Land. Will Israel choose to follow Moses’ Teaching? Or will Israel choose to abandon it? Re’eih opens with a rather critical admonition:

“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).

It is not difficult to compute how obedience to the Lord will result in people being blessed by Him, and how disobedience to the Lord will at least result in some kind of penalties being dispensed. If people desire to obey the Lord, then such obedience is a manifestation of one’s love and loyalty to Him. What does it say of those who do not desire to obey Him?

In Re’eih this week, we are introduced to a variety of tests that the Lord will use to ascertain whether His people will truly choose to follow Him. The tests which are given are fairly challenging, as they will come not only in the form of false prophets, but even one’s close personal relatives. False prophets, in particular, are said to be allowed to perform signs and wonders that come true:

“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” (Deuteronomy 13:2-5).

These visible and/or tangible signs and wonders have the intention of drawing people away to worship and serve other gods—especially when the signs or wonders the false prophets claim will occur, come true. But, because false prophets have every intention of leading people away from God’s commandments, Israel is instructed to execute them:

“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” (Deuteronomy 13:5).

As serious as detecting a false prophet may be, even more hard-hitting is the fact that spiritual tests may come via one’s own kin:

“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” (Deuteronomy 13:6-8).

At this point, Moses warns Israel that siblings, children, best friends, and even wives can be used as vessels of temptation to get people to deny the Lord. God knows how intimate relationships with people who are unfaithful toward Him, can easily draw us away from Him. For Ancient Israel, at least, the answer was to similarly see that those close people would be put to death. And, the one who was tempted by a fellow family member, is the first one who had to throw stones:

“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 13:9-11).

This is a difficult test. After your loved one has been accused and convicted of enticing you away from serving the One God of Israel, you were required to be the first to cast a stone to initiate the capital punishment. Thankfully, we now live in an era where Yeshua’s sacrifice has absorbed such capital punishment (Colossians 2:14). Yet, even if we might not stone false prophets or relatives who worship other gods—we still have to be very mindful of the deceptive influences present in our world. We have to avoid them and not listen to them! Each of us has to make the conscious choice to fully love and serve the Lord—or pursue other things that take us away from Him and His promised blessings. Such has always been the age-old question for the followers of the God of Israel.

During the ministry of Yeshua, we also see some tests present, similar to what is described this week in Re’eih. The Apostolic Scriptures warn about the coming of false prophets, with signs and wonders, which are again going to be used by God to test the hearts of those who have claimed faith in His Son. In His Olivet Discourse on the Last Days, Yeshua warned His Disciples about the eventual coming of false messiahs and false prophets who will arise to show great signs and wonders, saying,

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NRSV).

The significance of such signs and wonders will be to test the hearts of the elect. The signs and wonders will be designed to mislead, and have the capacity to seriously disrupt how Messiah followers are to be exclusively loyal to Him. Taking Yeshua’s warning to serious heart today, we should always question the motives of any minister or ministry that is actively (or exclusively) soliciting a following based on the manifestation of “signs and wonders.” Are they the genuine activity of the Holy Spirit? Are they really confirming evidences of the work of the Lord, and in helping people be set free from their sins?

Just as Re’eih says that one’s close family may be a source of temptation, Yeshua also told His Disciples that there will be division in families, because of belief in Him:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD” (Matthew 10:34-36; cf. Micah 7:6).

In both Moses’ and Yeshua’s instructions, it is asserted how God’s people are going to be tested. False prophets will arise with signs and wonders. Families will be at odds because of loyalty to God and to His Messiah. Sadly today, the reality of circumstances on the ground is that many people actually desire to hear ear-tickling and sensational words—rather than receive instruction which can aid them in their relationship with the Lord and spiritual effectiveness. As the Apostle Paul wrote his colleague Timothy,

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

The Final Test and Choice

Within Deuteronomy the subject of prophets is seen multiple times,[1] but it is not exclusively about false prophets who will plague the Israelites. Moses will later speak of a Greater Prophet who will be raised up by God and speak definitive words that the people must heed. This Prophet will provide the ultimate test, and not heeding what He says will bring disastrous consequences:

“I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

The Apostle Peter knew who this Greater Prophet was, as he made a direct appeal to Deuteronomy 18:19—applying it to the ministry and work of Yeshua the Messiah:

“Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people’” (Acts 3:22-23).

Here, the test of believing in Yeshua is clearly stated. The consequences of unbelief are utter and complete ruin. Have you placed your trust in Yeshua the Messiah, the Greater Prophet? Anything else short of this, and you will have chosen poorly. Only by expressing true saving faith in the Messiah of Israel, can one also possess the wisdom and discernment to identify all of the false prophets and deceivers out there—which the world will throw at us!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 13:1, 3, 5; 18:15, 18, 20, 22; 34:10.

 

 

Ekev

Ekev

Because

“Because of a Circumcised Heart”

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

by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Ekev continues Moses’ monologue to the people of Israel as he is anticipating his death. He knows that his days are numbered, and how he is charged with preparing the Israelites to enter into the Promised Land. In many respects, the entire Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last will and testament to his beloved Israel. Following Deuteronomy’s recollections and instructions will be critical for a successful conquest of Canaan. Like any good leader, Moses knows the power of words—and as we saw last week in V’et’chanan, Moses is quite aware that he has been chosen to be the communicator of the voice of God to the people (Deuteronomy 4:2).

As we reflect on Ekev this week, one of the very first things we notice is that the term ekev, from which our parashah gets its name, begins the reading: v’hayah ekev, “Then it shall come about, because…” (Deuteronomy 7:12). You might consider what I have to say on Ekev to be a bit of a stretch, but I do wonder if there is something about the Hebrew term ekev that might communicate important messages to Bible readers. While stylistically ekev can be translated a variety of ways throughout English Bibles, TWOT describes how it means “consequence. Usually occurs as an adverbial accusative, as a consequence of, because.”[1] I simply ask, does this seemingly, insignificant connecting word have a more important meaning than just “because”?

Within our lives, we can probably all remember prefacing answers to questions with the word “because.” We have certainly heard other people use “because” to justify various actions, saying “Because of such-and-such I did so-and-so,” or “Because of so-and-so, such-and-such happened.” How many times have you encountered an immature child, who has been caught in the wrong, use “because” as an excuse? Frequently in speech today, we see a term like “because” used—really exposing some of the negative reasons or causes because of an action committed. Yet at the same time, the English term “because” can have positive uses as well. Within Ekev, is it possible that God is trying to get Israel to seriously consider the absolute root of their convictions, that they might take certain actions? Let us consider a variety of instances where ekev appears, so we can evaluate the function(s) it performs.

The opening verses of Ekev include a response to the final verses which concluded V’et’chanan last week. Recall how Moses ended his pleadings with a command to the Israelites: “Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:11). This summary statement covers a broad range of instructions that have been given to Israel during the wilderness journey. Now this week as Ekev begins, we see a positive affirmation implied in the term ekev or “because,” listing some of the blessings that the Israelites will receive as a result of obeying the commandments given:

“Then it shall come about, because [v’hayah ekev] 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” (Deuteronomy 7:12-14).

Ekev is employed to describe the blessings that the Israelites will receive if they obey the Lord. The term ekev is only used two times in our Torah portion,[2] and only nine other times in the rest of the Torah.[3] At the conclusion of Deuteronomy 8, Moses reminds Israel of the consequences they will incur if they do not listen to the Lord:

“But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God [ekev lo tishme’un b’qol ADONAI Eloheikhem]” (Deuteronomy 8:18-20).

What you discover between the two “ekev bookends” of our parashah (Deuteronomy 7:12 and 8:20) is a list of some of the benefits for Israel’s obedience to God, and some of the serious consequences for disobedience. The blessings bestowed upon Israel—from fertility to disease prevention to expulsion of nations from the Promised Land[4]—are described. Details about how to deal with pagan idols,[5] and helpful reminders about the forty-year wilderness journey,[6] are included. Moses does this to remind the Israelites about the provisions that have been maintained by God since their departure from Egypt.

While pondering the two opposite results of listening versus not listening to the voice of God, a further look at some of the other uses of the Hebrew term ekev seemed appropriate. I thought that perhaps some insight could be gleaned from other contexts where ekev is used.

The first time ekev appears in Scripture is where Abraham has not withheld his son Isaac for sacrifice. God will appropriately bless him because of his obedience:

“Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice [ekev asher shama’ta b’qoli]’” (Genesis 22:15-18).

The second time ekev appears is where Isaac is warned by God not to travel to Egypt, but rather to remain in Canaan. Isaac, as the son of Abraham, will be an agent of blessing to the world because of the obedience of his father:

“The LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me [ekev asher-shama Avraham b’qoli] and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:2-5).

Finally, a third time, before this Torah portion where ekev is used, is in the description of the faith exhibited by Caleb, one of the two faithful spies:

“But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully [ekev hayatah ruach acheret immo v’yemalleih acharay], I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it” (Numbers 14:24).

In these three examples of ekev, preceding our parashah this week, we see how “because” is used to describe either obedience to God or people faithfully following Him. Certainly, every usage of ekev in the Tanakh is contingent on context—and as I have previously mentioned, in speech today “because” is often used to self-justify one’s sinful actions. But most important to us as people of faith is how ekev does indeed explain specific ways of how the Lord can demonstrate His favor to individuals who have heeded Him. And is this not one of the main points of Ekev that we are reading about? Is it possible that God was trying to get the Ancient Israelites—and by extension us today—to seriously consider following Him with their whole hearts?

Within Ekev Moses makes the serious point to Israel that God is going to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, because of His previous promises made—and also because of the Canaanites’ own wickedness and sin.[7] Interestingly enough, within these words Moses also declares to Israel that they are quite stubborn and discordant, frequently not wanting to follow the Lord:[8]

“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people…The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people’” (Deuteronomy 9:6, 13).

After recalling how a second set of Ten Commandments had to be written, and how the Levites were separated out for duty as priests,[9] Moses reminds Israel of the critical duty that is required of them:

“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?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

The Israelites must fear or revere the Holy One, walk in His ways, love Him, and serve Him with all their hearts and all their souls. The problem was that too many had hard hearts. Just how were they going to deal with those hard, stubborn hearts that they had? Moses provides an answer: a change of heart. The Lord demands that His people possess a circumcised heart, which will be sensitive to Him and to His ways:

“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” (Deuteronomy 10:16-20).

As you read this injunction for the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, you might consider the varied usages of ekev I mentioned—describing the obedience of Abraham and Isaac, and the faithfulness of Caleb. We cannot know whether these individuals consciously had heard of the idea to “circumcise” their hearts, but what we do know is that they were not stubborn and stiff-necked in their relationship with God. They knew of the Lord’s supreme power, and they desired to accomplish His will and purposes, not resisting Him or disbelieving Him.

The command for people to circumcise their hearts is not the whole picture of what it means to submit to the Lord. Later in Deuteronomy, Moses asserts how the Lord Himself will have to circumcise hearts—indicating how this is not only a human action, but also a Divine action:

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

To this may be added the Prophet Ezekiel’s expectation of how in the era of the New Covenant, people will be given new hearts, filled up with God’s Spirit:

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

Both a heart circumcision and transplant refer to how the Lord will give His people the desire and ability to fully obey Him and walk in His ways. This will come not out of compulsion, but rather be a positive result of the love people have toward Him and for the acts of deliverance He has accomplished. There is no greater act of deliverance that we can conceive of than the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah at Golgotha (Calvary), and how it results in us possessing eternal life:

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Yeshua the Messiah our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

Do you truly have a circumcised heart of flesh, that eagerly desires to obey the Lord and accomplish His tasks for your life? Do you receive of the blessings promised to those who follow the commandments? How will the Lord describe your life when you meet Him face to face? If there were any descriptions of your life employing the Hebrew word ekev, would they at all be similar to those of Abraham, Isaac, and Caleb?


NOTES

[1] J. Barton Payne, “eqev,” in TWOT, 2:691.

[2] Deuteronomy 7:12; 8:20.

[3] Genesis 3:15; 22:18; 25:26; 26:5; 27:36; 49:17, 19; Numbers 14:24.

[4] Deuteronomy 7:12-8:20.

[5] Deuteronomy 7:16, 25.

[6] Deuteronomy 8:2-5.

[7] Deuteronomy 9:1-5.

[8] Deuteronomy 9:6-29.

[9] Deuteronomy 10:1-9.

V’et’chanan

V’et’chanan

I pleaded

“Shema, O Israel!”

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-26

by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

V’et’chanan is perhaps one of the more inspirational and instructional collections of statements that Moses conveys to Israel in any one Torah reading. Not only is the Decalogue reiterated, but also the Shema—which many consider to be Israel’s pledge of allegiance—is articulated. As I read and meditated upon this motivating section of Scripture, many thoughts came to my mind about how the Lord is presently using many of these words to encourage His people to return to a disciplined and regular study of the Torah—as we are to all be instructed in His ways and in holiness. Today’s generation of Messianic Believers possesses significant potential to make a concentrated difference in the lives of Jews and Christians today, if we are willing to submit ourselves to God’s Word and allow it to mold our hearts and minds for His purpose.

A Great Nation

One of the most profound things that is stated in V’et’chanan—that any person who has placed his or her trust in the God of Israel and His Messiah Yeshua must commit to memory—summarizes how obedience to Him manifests itself as His wisdom. Others can then witness this wisdom, and see how awesome God truly is:

“So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deuteronomy 4:6-9).

Here, Moses reminded Ancient Israel that they were indeed “this great nation” or ha’goy ha’gadol ha’zeh, but that such a great nation likewise has serious responsibilities. In order to be a wise and understanding people that other nations recognize and turn to for spiritual answers, Israel could not disobey the Lord. The kind of impact that Israel was chosen to make on the world would not happen all at once either, as Moses’ Teaching had to be taught to the succeeding generations. I think that one of the exciting features of the Book of Deuteronomy is that readers get to not only be reminded of the things that were to make Ancient Israel great—but that they are the same things which are to make all of God’s people today great!

Today via the growth and expansion of the Messianic movement, many thousands of born again Believers—both Jewish and non-Jewish—are making a concentrated effort to make the Torah a firm foundation for their faith. As the Holy Spirit moves upon them, they want to make the statutes and commandments Moses delivered to Ancient Israel a part of how they think and act too. Just as Ancient Israel was admonished to be, they want others to witness their obedience to God, and use it as an opportunity to testify of the Father’s goodness and the salvation He has provided in His Son.

The Fundamentals Required

As you have been reading through V’et’chanan, you have no doubt seen how Moses is instructing the Israelites in how they can be a special, separated, holy nation unto God. One of the main reasons for heeding the instructions of the Lord is very clear: Moses wants Israel to live and prosper in the Land that He has promised to them. He details,

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

Moses knew that his days were numbered and that he would soon die. He also recognized that he had been used by the Holy One to communicate His words to the Israelites, which will allow them to ably take possession of Canaan. As he begins to reiterate many of the words and experiences from the previous forty years of Israel sojourning in the desert, he makes a strong admonition to remind his listeners about the imperative to follow God’s instructions already given:

“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

This terse statement carries weight. It not only carries weight in terms of how authoritative the instructions of God are, but how the Israelites are to make sure that they do not carelessly nullify them. These words do not prohibit how in further history, God’s Prophets would reveal more things to Israel, or that additional books of Scripture would be added to the canon. These words similarly do not prohibit how in later generations, religious authorities would need to make rulings and decisions on how the Torah was to be applied in complicated circumstances. What these words do more than anything else is to highlight how God’s Instruction is to force His people to follow and serve Him alone—versus any other gods—as further specified:

“Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you. But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you” (Deuteronomy 4:3-4).

As you read through V’et’chanan, the Israelites are reminded in summary form about many of their wilderness experiences. Moses specifies prohibitions against idolatry and making any idols of a created object for worship.[1] Moses restates the reality that the Lord is a jealous God and a consuming fire.[2] Following this, Moses prophesies about the future when the chosen people, through willful disobedience, are going to provoke God to scatter them among the nations of the Earth. But, in spite of this anticipated punishment, He will restore them to the Promised Land when they will seek Him with all their hearts and souls. This is one of the most sobering parts of our parashah that you will read:

“When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

In spite of future judgment that will come, Moses continued to encourage Ancient Israel by reminding them of the great things God had done for them:

“Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:32-40).

After this, Moses takes a break from the exhortative reminders, and chooses three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan River.[3] But, he quickly picks up where he left off, and reminds the Israelites about the words they received at Mount Horeb.[4] In fact, he just goes ahead and restates the Ten Commandments for the entire assembly to hear. Most important, Moses wants the Israelites to know that these words were not only applicable to those who originally heard them, but to future generations also. The point is made that the covenant passes on to their descendants:

“Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today” (Deuteronomy 5:1-3).

Moses mentions the great fear that the people of Israel demonstrated when they first heard the words of God being declared from the smoking mountain.[5] The significance of the exhortations continues. Moses encourages Israel with more instructions for those listening, and the generations to come:

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).

Following this, Moses gives Israel what is commonly referred to as the Shema, derived from the Hebrew verb shama meaning “to hear.” Throughout Biblical history, the Shema is believed to be the quintessential statement declaring not only a person’s complete loyalty to the God of Israel, but also of monotheism. Observant Jews proclaim the Shema every day in their traditional prayers, and every Shabbat as the Torah scroll is pulled from the ark and ready to be canted. I personally like to refer to the Shema as Israel’s “pledge of allegiance”:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one![6] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

As you can see, the positive encouragements just continue to be made statement after statement in the Shema. By a variety of educational actions, including impressing the significance of Moses’ Teaching on one’s heart and mind, frequently discussing it, and actually placing it on one’s hand, forehead, and doorposts (even if just figuratively, and not always literally)—people can be reminded to be loyal to God and to diligently follow after Him.

Finally in V’et’chanan, Moses tells Israel some of what they are to expect as they enter into Canaan, take the Promised Land, and defeat the seven nations which currently occupied it.[7] Of notable importance is how these nations are stronger than Israel, but how God will deliver them over to be defeated:

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

In the last verses of our parashah, we see a significant reminder from Moses regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel and to His promises:

“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. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10).

Final Thoughts

As you read and consider V’et’chanan, Moses is delivering what is largely a very encouraging word to the people of Israel. Of course, the Israelites are being told of some of the challenges of disobedience to the Lord. But, the positive comments about the blessings they will experience so outweigh the negative—that any reader should walk away from this week’s Torah portion with a great sense of relief for the love that God has for His people. We should all want to obey the Lord.

Thinking about these encouraging words, I naturally reflected back on my remembrance of the Ninth of Av this past week—as I fasted in remembering the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Reflecting upon V’et’chanan, Moses’ words are quite uplifting and encouraging—especially for those who have been in mourning for the loss of the Temples. Those who are serious about their relationship with the God of Israel can be positively encouraged to seek Him with all of their being:

“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Moses says that God will remember His people like this b’acharit ha’yamim, or “in the latter days.” For the generation that is alive today, many of the prophecies seen in the Bible have been fulfilled. In particular, in 1948 we witnessed the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish State of Israel, with the Jewish people being returned to the Land of their ancestors. The possibility of rebuilding a Temple on the Temple Mount is debated every year. People are waking up and being stirred all over the world as they sincerely seek the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and pay attention to the Scriptures. The covenants promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are being remembered. And, we all know how this will culminate with the return of Yeshua the Messiah as King from Jerusalem![8]

We have much to be grateful for as we learn to listen and obey the admonitions given to Ancient Israel three millennia ago. But what is to befall us in the future? I think understanding this begins with each of us falling on our faces before the Lord, and crying out to Him with that simple declaration: Shema Yisrael! or “Hear, O Israel!” Then we can allow our Father to answer our pleadings…


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 4:15-20.

[2] Deuteronomy 4:23-24.

[3] Deuteronomy 4:41-43.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

[5] Deuteronomy 5:22-33.

[6] Heb. shema Yisrael ADONAI Eloheinu ADONAI echad; also validly rendered as “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (NRSV/NJPS), emphasizing Israel’s exclusive worship of Him.

Consult the article “What Does the Shema Really Mean?” by J.K. McKee.

[7] Deuteronomy 6:10-7:10.

[8] For a further discussion, consult the book When Will the Messiah Return? by J.K. McKee.