Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

Hear

“The Rock of Salvation”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

“For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death?…For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:27, 29).

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

“Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26, 30).

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

“When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess’” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47).

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

A Song of Moses

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

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

  • “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
  • “You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18).
  • “How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this” (Deuteronomy 32:30-31).
  • “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?’” (Deuteronomy 32:37).

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

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

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

This incident resulted in what became Psalm 18:

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

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

Testimony to the “Rock”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

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

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

[2] Deuteronomy 32:15-17.

[3] Deuteronomy 32:36-43.

[4] Deuteronomy 32:21-27.

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

Approaching One Law Controversies: Sorting Through the Legalism

A definite controversy that has been present in the Messianic movement, is whether non-Jewish Believers are at all supposed or anticipated to keep (any of) the Torah or the Law of Moses. Many have committed themselves to a Messianic walk of faith, wanting to live more like Messiah Yeshua, in obedience to the Father’s commandments. They have taken a hold of things like the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, and eating kosher, as a means of grace, approaching these practices as being an important part of maturing in faith.

There are Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers who do not believe that non-Jewish Believers are to follow the Torah, there are others who are more open to it, and then again there are others who believe that all of God’s people should be striving to adhere to Moses’ Teaching via the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Within the 2000s, and now into the 2010s, divisions have been witnessed in various sectors of the Messianic world, per what has been commonly labeled as the “One Law” issue. At much of the center of the discussion, involves quotations from Torah passages such as Exodus 12:49 or Numbers 15:29. They have been frequently invoked by non-Jewish Believers to emphasize that within the community of Ancient Israel, both the native and welcome sojourner were supposed to adhere to the same basic Torah instruction.

For many adherents of a “One Law” theology, the emphasis is on today’s Jewish and non-Jewish Believers both taking instruction from Moses’ Teaching, and being united together in Israel’s Messiah as brothers and sisters, as fellow members of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6). Many have used Torah passages emphasizing “one law” or “one statute” to stress the equality of God’s people (cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11), and how a relatively uniform standard of jurisprudence for all within the community of Ancient Israel, was certainly contrary to the different law codes of the Ancient Near East.

In practice, however, the One Law/One Torah sub-movement is not broadly facilitating assemblies and fellowships where study of the Torah and being discipled in its precepts—as a person grows in the Messiah and His love—is what is emphasized. What people too frequently encounter from the One Law/One Torah sub-movement, is a great deal of legalism, judgmentalism, pride and superiority, a condemnatory spirit, and stifling environments widely devoid of the presence of God’s grace. Assemblies where “one law” or “one statute” is emphasized, hardly tend to be places where the Holy Spirit can easily write the Torah’s commandments on hearts and minds at the Holy Spirit’s pace onto a redeemed man or woman (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). This resource hopes to provide some fair examination of the different Torah passages employing the terms “one law” or “one statute,” while at the same time stressing that we do indeed live in a post-resurrection era with some new spiritual realities.

208 pages




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V’yeilekh

V’yeilekh

And he went

“The Importance of Obedience”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

Simply Obey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Resurrection Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 31:1-13.

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

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

[4] Deuteronomy 31:14-22.