Nitzavim

Nitzavim

Standing

“Prophecies Here and Now”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ki-Tavo

Ki-Tavo

When you enter in

“A Faithful Treasured Possession”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

“You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice” (Deuteronomy 26:17).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Faithful Remnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More Faith

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 26:1-19.

[2] Deuteronomy 27:1-26.

[3] Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

[4] Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

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

Ki-Teitzei

Ki-Teitzei

When you go out

“Be Well and Prolong Your Days”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

[2] Deuteronomy 23:1-11.

[3] Deuteronomy 21:18-23.

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

[5] Deuteronomy 22:5.

[6] Deuteronomy 22:8.