Shoftim

Shoftim

Judges

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

“Required Words”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Shoftim concentrates on justice and what God required of the Ancient Israelites, as they enter into the Promised Land. Our absolutely righteous and just Creator was very concerned that His chosen people maintain justice, as they established a governing system in Canaan. For without righteous justice, God knows that any society will fail, due to the human proclivity toward evil inherited in the fallen nature.

Here in this parashah, Moses touches upon a wide variety of ordinances to help insure proper balance in Israel. These include the requirements for a judicial system,[1] specific guidelines for a government led by a king or regent,[2] inheritance for the priesthood,[3] prohibitions against various forms of false worship,[4] how to deal with true or false prophets,[5] the establishment of cities of refuge,[6] laws regarding boundaries,[7] regulations for military warfare,[8] and how to handle the discovery of a slain person in any tribal territory.[9] God is very specific about these different areas of concern, because He recognized that conflict is inevitable and that people need rules in order to resolve it. By detailing these ordinances from God, Moses has given Israel some foundational guidelines for handling the different issues that will arise in the life of the nation.

We must be mindful that Ancient Israel did not get a pass on the inherent human nature that gravitates toward selfishness and corruption. This is one of the reasons that the Torah was communicated to Israel. Undoubtedly, down through the ages, many judicial codes or customs that have been established among many other societies, can trace their roots to some of these very texts. It is through adherence to many of these specific ordinances that have been incorporated into different national civil codes, through which different cultures and ethnic groups have been able to maintain various degrees of civility.

As the people of Israel prepared to enter into the Promised Land, Moses will no longer be the person to turn to for resolution of conflict as he did in the wilderness. As the different tribes inherit their specific territories, it will be incumbent upon each tribe to appoint judges to handle the levels of conflict that are inevitable in human affairs. As the teaching seen in Shoftim begins, Moses lists a number of commands and criteria for the people who are to be appointed by the various tribes to function as judges and officers to handle disputes between people. In this reading, Moses describes the criteria and attributes for a judicial system and the appointment of judges:

“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

The first requirement is that the people select from among themselves judges and officers or magistrates, who do not distort or “pervert” (NIV, ATS) justice. Distorting justice perverts God’s intention for His people to be holy and prosper.

Years earlier, while in the desert sojourn, Moses was advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, to appoint judges to help with the workload of mediating disputes between the Israelites. In the following passage, some basic criteria are established for those who are chosen to be judges:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:13-24).

The three basic criteria that Jethro counseled Moses to discern in a judge are that these are: (1) to be individuals who fear God, (2) they are committed to truth, and (3) they are those who hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these are similar character traits that Moses now gives to the people of Israel in Shoftim, as they were to find judges who would preside over conflict in each of the cities that would be established in the new tribal territories.

The first attribute that a judge must have is a healthy fear of the Lord. In selecting judges, one must understand how “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Fear generates wisdom, which in turn gives one knowledge and understanding about who God is. Without fear of the Lord, one can become a kind of god unto himself, or at least some kind of potentate who can make rulings and decisions entirely unchecked. By fearing the Creator, one recognizes that His justice is absolutely perfect in all of its ways. The goal is then to attempt to emulate His perfect justice. By fearing the Lord, one will not distort justice or be partial toward the wealthy or the poor. This is told to us earlier in Exodus, because various temptations can have a tendency to pervert justice:

“You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:1-9).

In order for these things to be accomplished, the second attribute that a judge must have is to be a person of truth, and recognize that truth comes from the Word of God. By studying and applying the established principles of God’s Word, a judge will not rely upon his own standards, but rather the standards of the Holy One. The Psalmist describes it this way:

“He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth, to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:9-10).

In order to administer justice, one must know the truth that is embodied in the testimonies of the Almighty.

The third attribute that is required of a judge is that he hates dishonest gain. Moses elaborated, “and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:18). In this statement Moses indicated that even the wise and righteous will be blinded if they are bribed. The need to hate dishonest gain is of paramount importance.

The bottom line that we see in these Scriptures is that God requires His judges to exercise, to the best of their human ability, a justice that is a reflection of His perfect justice. By placing these criteria upon the judges selected for the different cities, Israel, or any subsequent society, has the best chance of administering justice in a fair and equitable manner.

As I reflected on these matters of justice and how the Lord desires His judges to not pervert justice, there is a passage that comes to mind in this week’s Torah reading which speaks to the ultimate justice that all people must contend with in their lifetime. This is the reality that eventually the Lord would send a future prophet whose words must be heeded. The Scripture declares,

“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 18:19).

The words of the passage are of utmost importance to all who are seeking a relationship with the God of Israel. Consider them in their entirety:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 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 18:15-19).

In this passage, Moses declared that God will send a prophet like him from among the people of Israel, whose words must be followed. It is from this passage that the ultimate justice for humanity is embodied. Moses says that a future prophet will make declarations that must be believed.

As Moses described this future prophet, it is categorically clear that the “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable” (Deuteronomy 18:19, NRSV). This future prophet will speak words from God, in His name, that must be complied with—or else God Himself will issue judgment.

The Apostles understood the significance of the future Prophet whose words must be heeded, or they would not be saved. After Shavuot or the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained to those gathered that Yeshua the Messiah was the Prophet who Moses testified about:

“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; Leviticus 23:29] 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 declared that Yeshua is indeed the future Prophet whom Moses refers to in this week’s Torah portion. His words must be heeded! If they are not, then the Almighty will require it of all those who hear. What this means is specified by the words of Peter, as he stated, “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people” (NRSV). Peter makes it clear that failure to believe in the words of Yeshua will bring eternal damnation, and banishment from God’s presence. This is far more serious than what a human judge might decree. This has eternal significance.

When you take this to heart, and read and consider the words of Yeshua—recognizing that He is the future Prophet that Moses speaks of in Shoftim—you realize that the Messiah’s words must be believed or you will face eternal separation from the Holy One. Statements like the following must be believed:

“Yeshua said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Yeshua said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him’” (John 14:6-21).

Yeshua alone is the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through belief and faith in the shed blood of the Messiah. Other truthful words indicate that the Messiah via the Holy Spirit will take up residence in the hearts of His followers. We also see that Yeshua is in the Father and that He is in His followers. Those who truly know Him and love Him will embrace words like this.

According to the statements of Moses, the Lord will require His children to believe the words of this future Prophet. Do you believe Yeshua’s words? These are actually the required words of more than a prophet, but indeed, are the words of the very Son of God!

How seriously do you take the words of Moses? I suspect that if you are a committed Messianic Believer, probably reading through the Torah portions every week, that you take Moses’ Teaching very seriously. While many of you read the Torah portions so that you can have a foundation established in your heart and mind for understanding the remainder of Scripture, other Messianics read the Torah portions as the only part of the Bible that they think is important. Is this a problem? Other than the fact that there are key Biblical doctrines that are elaborated on elsewhere than the Pentateuch—it is a serious problem when it comes to understanding Yeshua. Only encountering the Torah, without encountering Yeshua, leaves one devoid of the reality of eternal life.

If one does not understand the work of Moses, one cannot understand the work of the Messiah. If one believes Moses, a further step must be taken to absolutely believe the Messiah. The Messiah’s words are the words that all people will be required to heed. As our Lord clearly declared,

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?’” (John 5:46-47).

For those without faith, it is impossible to believe His words. Yet, God requires belief in them. In all of this, God’s justice is perfected. May we all cling to the words of the Messiah, but most importantly, we must cling to Him, for in Him and Him alone we have eternal life!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 17:1-13.

[2] Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 18:1-8.

[4] Deuteronomy 18:9-14.

[5] Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

[6] Deuteronomy 19:1-13.

[7] Deuteronomy 19:14-21.

[8] Deuteronomy 20:1-20.

[9] Deuteronomy 21:1-9.

Re’eih

Re’eih

See

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

“Tests from Within and Without”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week, Re’eih continues Moses’ admonitions to the people of Israel by listing a number of commandments that when obeyed will result in God’s blessings, but when disobeyed will result in God’s curses. The opening verses spell out the dire warnings and establish this theme for the balance of our Torah portion:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

Moses continually reemphasizes the necessity to obey the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Lord. Without a doubt, Moses was most concerned about the propensity for the Ancient Israelites to follow after strange gods. In the months just prior to when these words were issued, Moses witnessed how readily the men of Israel succumbed to the temptations of the Midianite and Moabite women, as they had enticed them into the sexual sins of Baal-Peor. The judgment of God on those who succumbed to these vile enticements was devastating. Between execution by sword of the flagrant violators and the plague that erupted, many Israelites died and were buried on the plains of Moab (Numbers ch. 25).

In contrast, Moses was also able to witness a miraculous victory over the Midianites, when the people obeyed God and slaughtered their enemies without losing a single combatant (Numbers 31:48-49).

This vivid contrast, of the curses of disobedience and the blessings of obedience, was undoubtedly fresh in the mind of Moses as he continued to plead with the people. But now that the time had arrived for Israel to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, Moses expanded upon the types of temptations that will meet the Israelites upon their entry into their inheritance. While the influence of idol worshipping nations and their obvious debauchery is readily apparent, it is in this section of the Torah that Moses introduced Israel to even more insidious temptations that will be used by God to test them. Moses specifically warned about the eventuality of various individuals arising in their midst, who will be either adding to or taking away from his teachings:

“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).

Moses stated in absolute terms that the commands he had relayed to Israel come from the Lord (cf. Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8). Moses foresaw the inevitability of different people radically altering the meaning of his words—especially those which were imperative for the Israelites to avoid idolatry and sexual immorality—and this was most troubling to him. He followed this warning with a list of some of the different types of people who will be sent to test the hearts of Israel, describing how they will alter God’s commands:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-11).

The first group of people, that Moses warned about, are false prophets and dreamers who will arise. Apparently, God is going to send these individuals into the midst of His people, throughout the ages, in order to test their hearts. What each of us needs to be conscious of is the fact that these deceived individuals will largely come from within the ranks of the faithful. There will be some commonality between the deceivers and those who will be deceived, making the deceivers various individuals who at times one might least expect to be agents of evil.

This is a very difficult subject for anyone to consider. Have you ever encountered people who sincerely think that they are speaking for God—but are in actuality quite deceived? Many, at times, may not even know that they have been deceived, but truly believe that they speak for God. They might have “heard a voice” or “had a vision” or “received a call,” which they will swear is definitely from the Most High. Such self-deceived prophets can be some of the most difficult to encounter, because they speak their words with great personal conviction and authority. If you have ever been exposed to people like this, you can probably understand how convincing they are to the naïve and spiritually immature. But this does not excuse any of us from blindly following words, which may take us away from the Instruction of God—and most especially the salvation of Messiah Yeshua.

To make things even more difficult, some of the false prophets and dreamers will actually be known for various “signs and wonders,” that accompany their messages. Once someone has personally witnessed a so-called sign or wonder, the perceived credibility of the prophet or dreamer is elevated in the eyes of the witness. People then naturally have a tendency to let their spiritual and mental defenses down, and they begin to believe the words of the false prophet. Critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism then get jettisoned.

Once a degree of credibility for a false prophet or dreamer is attained, insidious teaching is introduced. This can be very confusing to many (supposed) Believers, because visible signs and wonders are difficult to refute. But the evidence that God is moving, should not be in signs and wonders. The evidence is found in whether or not people are being drawn to God—or to a human being. Is this not what Yeshua Himself warned His Disciples about?

“For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

False signs and wonders are just a part of God’s testing program for the saints. But did you notice that Yeshua said that even His chosen ones can be susceptible to false signs and wonders? This is a dire warning to any of us who are truly seeking God, as we all must constantly be on guard and alert. Interestingly, as a way to combat these temptations, Moses repeats aspects of an admonition that we saw in Ekev last week:

“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 10:20).

Moses repeats elements of this command once again, when challenged by the words of false prophets, who will knowingly or unknowingly direct people away from the true worship and service of the Holy One:

“You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

It appears that by following the Lord, fearing Him, keeping His commandments, listening to His voice, serving Him, and clinging to Him—that one should be able to avoid most of the pitfalls of the deception that will inevitably come to every generation of those who follow Him. While the Torah says that false prophets and dreamers will be dealt with by just retribution, there is another group of tempters who will come, and hit much closer to home. These are one’s immediate relatives, who are once again sent to test our allegiance to God:

“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people” (Deuteronomy 13:8-11).

These admonitions are very severe. Moses describes that the temptations to deviate from God’s Instruction may come from people like your blood brother, your natural son, your natural daughter, your cherished wife, or your best friend. They might not exhibit the same dedication that you have to the Lord, and may therefore tempt you to follow after other gods or objects for your spiritual affection. The requirement to deal with such temptation is unbelievably personal in nature. Not only are you not to yield to the temptations issued or listen to them, but you are also not to spare or conceal the attempts of the tempter to steer you toward idols. The original instruction in the Torah is that those deceived were to be the ones who first put the tempters to death. This exemplifies, at least, how serious deception can be.

God is absolutely concerned about the subtle ability of loved ones to turn people away from loving Him. Remember that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15). God expects us to love Him more than we do our own family members.

For many, this admonition is difficult to swallow. After all, our parents, spouses, children, and siblings are the closest tangible living beings who warrant much of our attention and love. The concept of actually initiating punishment upon them, if and when they take us away from the wholesale love of the Creator, does not make logical sense. In fact, in the balance of the Scriptures, we do not have one recorded event where capital punishment is executed upon a loved one, because their influence enticed someone away from the worship of God. Is killing one’s son or best friend what Moses is actually saying—or is he using this as an hyperbole, to make a point that absolute love and commitment toward God is what is required? Even the idea of entering into a form of self-imposed exile or banishment away from one’s loved ones, who are deceivers, is tough to think about.

If we examine our own hearts honestly enough, we may also see that we tend to personally choose to love ourselves more than we love God. Do we ever punish ourselves for not loving God as much as we should?

How should we understand some of the difficult words that we see in our Torah portion? As I thought about these words, I could not imagine that our Heavenly Father truly wants us to put to death, those in our immediate family who have somehow been used to (temporarily) draw us away from Him. Certainly as Believers in Yeshua, who have been redeemed from our sins and recognize that He has absorbed the required capital penalty upon Himself in our stead (cf. Colossians 2:14), there has to be an important lesson that we can learn here.

Since my initial salvation experience in 1978, I have been investing a great deal of time in prayer for those in my family who do not know the Lord. In my commitment to Yeshua, I have hoped and prayed that my testimony of change would encourage my loved ones to consider who He is. Somehow I think, these instructions of Moses must be understood in the light of what the Messiah clarifies in His ministry and sacrifice for fallen humanity. Certainly since stoning my loved ones is not an option, perhaps Yeshua’s words can bring clarity to what Moses instructed Ancient Israel.

Consider Yeshua’s statements about His mother and brothers, while ministering to those in desperate need of deliverance from evil spirits:

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).

Yeshua knew that Mary and His half-brothers were trying to speak with Him. And yet, here He stated that the true “mother and brothers” are those who do the will of His Heavenly Father. Those who do the will of the Heavenly Father will actually be more closely “related,” as it were, to the Messiah than blood relatives. Yeshua expanded the breadth of God’s family to those who seek to perform His will.

Perhaps you can understand this principle when you consider some of the relationships you have with others who you are spiritually connected with. Lamentably, I can think of many Believers whom I feel closer to in the Messiah, than some of my own blood relatives. This does not give us an excuse for “stoning” our relatives with our words of unfair condemnation or rebuke, but instead should be a greater incentive for us to pray and intercede for their salvation. We need to remember that our patient God of love desires that no one should perish, but rather come to the knowledge of the truth through repentance:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

As I ponder these words, I am personally convicted that my time in prayer for my loved ones has waned in recent years. Perhaps by looking at these passages from the Torah, the Holy One is prompting me to increase with fervency my petitions for their repentance?

Most of us can identify with the challenges of praying for loved ones, especially if the fruit of our prayers is lacking. Let me encourage you to spend some more time in prayer for their redemption. Furthermore, consider what it truly takes for you to be considered Yeshua’s disciple:

“But He said to him, ‘A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.” And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the slave said, “Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the slave, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.” Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear’” (Luke 14:16-35).

Yeshua used a parable to describe the complete surrender that is required by the faithful, to become a disciple of His and enter into His Kingdom. There are some important parallels between this and what we see in this week’s Torah portion.

In this parable, the master who prepares a large banquet is like our Heavenly Father, who is calling all who will listen, to come and partake. In many respects, this is an invitation for all who would hear, to become a part of His Kingdom. Note that this host sends out his servants to invite all who would hear, that they are to attend the meal. This could be compared to the Lord using various servants like Moses, and also the Prophets, to make declarations about what is required to maintain a proper relationship with the Creator God. Or to personalize this parable and make it applicable to our own walks of faith, this can mean that each one of us is called out to invite others into God’s Kingdom. Are we not all called to be witnesses of the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)?

In this parable, the results of inviting different people to the banquet are explained. As is noted, many have excuses for not attending. Some are caught up in the business affairs of the world. Others have recently married, and are more concerned about their honeymoon and relationship building with their new spouse. If you have ever shared the good news of the Messiah, you know many of the excuses that people use to avoid what is required to come to a true salvation experience.

The host tells his servants to take the invitation to the people on the highways and byways of the world. We see from this how if those who are near and dear to you do not respond to the invitation, then the Heavenly Father will extend His invitation to those who are lame, blind, and crippled. The less fortunate ones, those who are down and out—who know that they are in desperate need—are those who will definitely respond to the invitation. Generally speaking, this has been the history of the gospel as it has been proclaimed since the time of the Apostles.

Then Yeshua brings another difficult word to His listeners, which in some respects is reminiscent of what Moses speaks about in this week’s parashah, about how to deal with close family members. However, Yeshua’s words are not only about the temptations that come from loved ones who might turn you away from the Father, but even your own personal proclivity to wander away from placing Him first in your life. It is in the context of inviting people into the banquet, or by extension into the Kingdom of God, that Yeshua makes it perfectly clear what is required to become His disciple. It is on this point that too many people balk:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

But what is this just supposed to mean? Just like Moses says that family members or close friends who take us away from God were to be stoned—could Yeshua likewise be using shock language? He probably is, as “hatred” for people is not a personality trait of the Holy One. Yet, the truth of the matter is that the presence of any human being in our lives—a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent—can impede our relationship with the Lord. What Yeshua says is that a person must place his or her love and allegiance to Him as Messiah, above his or her love for one’s family members—or even one’s very own life.

Of course, this does not occur until you realize that before a holy and righteous God, you are totally bankrupt in your trespasses and sins. Remember that there is no one who is righteous:

“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’” (Romans 3:9-12; cf. Psalm 14, 53).

We do not have the human ability to perfectly follow the commandments of God—and this is why we all need a Savior. Paul did not mince words when he included “both Jews and Greeks” as those who were “under sin.”

Being honest with yourself is critical no matter what your heritage is. For those who think that they might be righteous of themselves, because they “follow the commandments,” the clarifying words of Yeshua to the people gathered around the adulterous woman need to be recalled: “He who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Obviously, if you realize your sinful nature, you will not even consider picking up a stone to unwarrantedly condemn another.

Thankfully, our example for living is found in Yeshua the Messiah. He endured the same human difficulties that we all face, but was able to overcome them because He lacked the fallen nature that we have inherited in fallen Adam:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

When we consider what Yeshua had to go through for us, enduring great trial, we likewise need to be reminded about the need to count the cost of discipleship:

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:27-35).

Here, Yeshua essentially says that it may cost you all that you have in order to follow Him. It will certainly cost you your entire life, your various habits, your creature comforts, and how you relate to others—if you are going to be a true disciple of the Messiah of Israel. Understanding what Moses has to say this week in Re’eih, and what Yeshua declared to His listeners, can be summarized by the Messiah’s last statement: “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (NLT). Thankfully, as Believers filled with the Holy Spirit who is to be instructing us, while challenging us, following the Lord should not be as difficult as we think.

The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that when we come to the end of ourselves and take on the life of the Messiah, that we have, in essence, exchanged our life for His:

“For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Notice that it is through the knowledge of the Torah that one is to die to the Law. It is not God’s Instruction that becomes nullified in the life of a person, but it is violation of the Torah that affects one’s spiritual death. Paul clarifies this reality, stating:

“I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua” (Romans 7:9-10; 8:1).

Thankfully, each one of us has been released from the condemnation of the Torah through the atoning work of Yeshua. On its own, all the Torah can do is show us how sinful we are before God, and condemn us. When we die to the Law, we do not die to its standard of holiness and proper conduct, but to its penalties pronounced against us as unrepentant sinners. This comes through the regenerative work of Yeshua, which reconciles us to the Father, and now enables us to obey the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We must identify with the sacrifice of the Messiah, and trust in His work to cover our sins. By faith in the blood atonement provided by the Son of God, each one of us can become a servant of the Most High, and allow the Holy Spirit to walk out Yeshua’s life through us. This is a great mystery, of course, but it is clearly what the whole counsel of God’s Word communicates.

To connect this with what I opened up with from Deuteronomy, we must recognize that the Apostles were fully aware that lawlessness was at work in their generation. They constantly battled with false teachers and false prophets, who deceived the early Messianic Believers. Paul specifically warned the Thessalonicans about the ultimate man of lawlessness, the antimessiah/antichrist, and the strong delusion that God Himself would send to see if His people would at all be loyal to Him:

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-13).

We are once again reminded that at some future point in time, a man of lawlessness will be empowered by Satan himself to deceive the world. But note that people will not necessarily be deceived by his signs, exclusively. These people will be deceived because they did not wish to believe in the truth of salvation. The salvation experience that requires one to be fully humbled before a holy and righteous God, never took place in the lives of these people.

This is a frightening prospect, because there are many professing Believers today who claim to be followers of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), but who may not have the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit present in their lives to actually substantiate it. (Thankfully, it is not our job to determine their salvation—but only God’s.) Those who are led astray in the final days, however, are actually going to be sent a “strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, KJV) by God Himself. We need to be brought to our knees to pray for anyone who might be led astray by this—or any deception. Even if the antimessiah/antichrist does not arrive on the scene for quite some time, there is undoubtedly a deception opposed to the Messiah Yeshua—growing in today’s world—which will eventually culminate in the arrival of the beast system. For as the Apostle John reminds us, “many antimessiahs have appeared” (1 John 2:18).

Let me conclude with this admonition as you ponder these words: Check to see that you are in the faith! Remember how the Apostle Paul steadily reminded his fellow followers of the Messiah with these words:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Messiah Yeshua is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).

For all of our lives, we are each going to be tested from within and without. My prayer is that no one who reads or hears these words will fail the test!

Ekev

Ekev

Because

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

“What God Ultimately Requires: Faith”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the same thing that the Prophet Habakkuk states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] CHALOT, 281.

[2] Deuteronomy 8:1-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 9:1-29.

[4] Deuteronomy 10:1-22.

[5] HALOT, 2:1372, 1373.