Nitzavim-V’yeilekh

Nitzavim

Standing

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

V’yeilekh

And he went

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

“Choose Life”


by Mark Huey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

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

Ki-Teitzei

Ki-Teitzei

When you go out

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

“Love Thy Neighbor”


by Mark Huey

Ki-Teitzei is traditionally considered during the month of Elul, as one is preparing his or her heart for the Fall high holidays. It is during this forty-day season of repentance or teshuvah, which lasts from 01 Elul through the Ten Days of Awe (01-09 Tishri) preceding Yom Kippur (10 Tishri), that many of our Jewish brethren turn, or in some cases return, to the God of Israel, and review their personal relationship with Him. For a Messianic community which studies the Torah portions on a weekly basis, this is a good example to follow. In some respects, this forty-day period is almost like an annual inspection of one’s soul to determine where a person stands in his or her relationship not only with the Almighty, but with one’s fellow human beings.

The Book of Deuteronomy is an important review of the Torah—and a great tool for instruction—as hearts are being prepared for not only the Day of Atonement, but also the season of joy that envelops the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. While Believers in Yeshua do not necessarily approach the Fall high holidays in the same way as non-believing Jews, the fact remains that meditating upon God’s Word is of great personal benefit. The Psalms are replete with statements to this regard:

  • “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
  • “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways” (Psalm 119:15).
  • “And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on Your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

Last week in Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9), the text dealt with the theme of justice in national civil matters, as instruction for judges, kings, priests, and prophets was described. This week, Ki-Teitzei deals primarily with matters that pertain to individuals, their families, and their neighbors on a more personal level.

As you read through these chapters of Deuteronomy in Ki-Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), you are confronted with a wide array of instructions, including but not limited to: family laws,[1] laws of kindness,[2] laws about the holiness of the camp,[3] how to handle fugitive slaves,[4] laws prohibiting prostitution,[5] interest on money lent,[6] vows,[7] gleaning in neighbors’ fields,[8] divorce,[9] pledges,[10] treatment of workers,[11] individual responsibility,[12] avoiding injustice to the stranger,[13] instructions relating to orphans and widows,[14] judgments short of capital punishment,[15] kindness to animals,[16] the laws of levirate marriage (for a deceased brother),[17] flagrant immodesty,[18] honest weights and measures,[19] and finally remembering Amalek.[20]

This is a wide breadth of topics to consider. I would encourage you to take the time to read and consider these passages, because these commandments have helped to inform and guide many of the civil codes and social structures founded in the Judeo-Christian world. While there is a diversity of instructions witnessed in Ki-Teitzei, the overall theme we witness focuses on how one should handle affairs between people from all walks of life, namely, one’s family and neighbors. Where the emphasis appears on how to love God, these commandments give us a clearer understanding about how we are to love our neighbors.

Consider the question of the lawyer or Torah teacher to Yeshua, asking for His opinion about the greatest commandment:

“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).

Here, the greatest commandments tell us that we are to love God unconditionally, and then we are to love our neighbors unconditionally. Yeshua responds to the lawyer by first quoting from the Shema:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Yeshua then amplifies His answer by stating that the second commandment is the application of the first. As one begins to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might, it will manifest itself tangibly by evidence of loving one’s neighbor. If you turn to where loving one’s neighbor is first detailed in Leviticus 19:9-20, you will notice that many of the actions that are described in this passage are also a part of this week’s Torah portion. Just listen to how some of this week’s themes come forth in Leviticus 19:9-20:

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. 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. You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free” (Leviticus 19:9-20).

Do you hear some of these same themes further articulated in Ki-Teitzei? Proper gleaning of crops, payment of wages, how to sow crops, and dealings with virgins and others, are just a few of the topics considered in this passage from Leviticus. Ultimately, the overwhelming theme of Leviticus ch. 19 is the concept of loving your neighbor as yourself. By demonstrating fairness and love when dealing with your neighbor—or even your enemy—on a wide variety of personal issues, you demonstrate obedience to this commandment. Consider how this week’s Torah reading lists some commandments with how to help one’s neighbor with a lost animal:

“You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him. Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them. You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up” (Deuteronomy 22:1-4).

Putting others’ needs before your own is definitely an indication that one loves his or her neighbor.

Another example comes from the concept of equal weights and measures. The essence of honesty is expressed as God extends a reward for equality, but regards inequality as an abomination:

“You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Consider this: Do you truly love your neighbor if you have unequal weights and measures? Yeshua’s saying, commonly called “the Golden Rule,” essentially summarizes the command to love one’s neighbor. The concept of doing to others as you would have them do to you is a major theme of Yeshua’s teaching in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 7:1-12).

Here in this passage, Yeshua brings great understanding to His listeners about some of the critical components of loving one’s neighbor. The parallel account in Luke’s Gospel offers us some different dimensions of what it means to love one’s neighbor that must be considered:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

Earlier, I discussed how meditating upon the Torah is beneficial to the soul. But what about meditating upon the words of Yeshua—the Word of God made flesh? After all, many times throughout Gospels, Yeshua helps clarify what is meant by what Moses originally directed in the Torah. The question asked of the Lord in Matthew 22:35-40 cited earlier, where Yeshua made His declarations about the greatest commandments, was preceded by another question about one of the passages from this week’s Torah portion. Here, the Sadducees question Yeshua about remarriage in light of Deuteronomy 25:5:

“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed’” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

This is how Yeshua deals with them asking about this:

“On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Yeshua and questioned Him, asking, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “IF A MAN DIES HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR HIS BROTHER” [Deuteronomy 25:5]. Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.’ But Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: “I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB” [Exodus 3:6, 15, 16]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that Yeshua had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 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 22:23-40).

The Sadducees, who denied anything supernatural such as the resurrection (Acts 23:8), asked the Lord about a hypothetical case where a widow ends up marrying seven brothers. They were actually trying to trick Yeshua into saying something that would discredit Him. The Sadducees’ shock comes when Yeshua admonishes His questioners with the succinct statement that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” This profound statement was meant to shock the Sadducees into reconsidering their perverse thinking, as the Patriarchs were still to be considered as “living,” presumably in some kind of disembodied temporary state until the resurrection.

Yeshua taught that what matters the most is evidenced in our heart attitude toward God and toward one another. It is critical that such love is evidenced by us. If one is unable to demonstrate love toward a human being who can be seen—then how can we truly love a God whom we cannot see? This is why I would like to close with some thoughts on love from the Apostle Paul. Here in 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes regarded to be the famous “love chapter,” Paul describes the essence of agapē love. Each of us needs to consider whether our love for our neighbor is evidenced by this type of love:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

If we cannot say that we love our neighbor by these standards, is it possible that we cannot love others as we would have them love us? This is something for each of us to think about as we evaluate our relationship with God in this season of repentance. I pray that we would be continually conformed to the loving image of His Son, who not only loved His neighbors—but died for everyone so we all could live!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 22:13-23:1-6.

[2] Deuteronomy 23:7-9.

[3] Deuteronomy 23:10-14.

[4] Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

[5] Deuteronomy 23:17-18.

[6] Deuteronomy 23:19-20.

[7] Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

[8] Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

[9] Deuteronomy 24:1-5.

[10] Deuteronomy 24:6-13.

[11] Deuteronomy 24:14-15.

[12] Deuteronomy 24:16.

[13] Deuteronomy 24:17-18.

[14] Deuteronomy 24:20-21.

[15] Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

[16] Deuteronomy 25:4.

[17] Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Levirate Marriage.”

[18] Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

[19] Deuteronomy 25:13-16.

[20] Deuteronomy 25:17-19.

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.