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Parasha Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded): When God Says No

Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)
Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11; Isaiah 40:1–26; Matthew 23:31–39

“At that time I pleaded with the Lord: “O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand.  For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?  Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”  (Deuteronomy 3:23–25)

Jordan River

In this week’s Parasha, we read that God told Moses that he would not cross over the Jordan River to go into the Promised Land.  The Israelites would cross without him, under the leadership of Joshua.

Last week, in Parasha Devarim (Words), on the east side of the Jordan, Moses recounted to the Israelites the giving of the Torah, the appointment of leaders, the 12 scouts who were sent to into Canaan, and the giving of the land on the east side of Jordan to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

This week’s Parasha begins with Moses’ remembrance of how he implored God to allow him to enter the good land beyond the Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:23–27).  God, however, refused and instructed him to ascend a mountain so that he could see the Promised Land.

“Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east.  Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.”  (Deuteronomy 3:26)

The Promised Land was Moses’ dream, vision, and goal.  And after all his hard work, and all the complaining and trouble he put up with, not only was he not allowed to enter, but he had to support his successor who would—Joshua.

Here is a true test of character: not only accepting that we won’t have our heart’s desire, but also being happy for those who will, and even encouraging them.

Still, imagine the disappointment of Moses at not being personally able to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise!

Moses-Pisgah-Death of Moses-Jordan River

Because Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock, instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20:11), Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.  God did allow him to see it from a distance from atop the Pisgah mountain range, which is east of the Jordan River.

How Should We Respond When God Says No?

Sometimes, we desperately want something with all of our heart and soul.  We plead with God over and over again, but in the end, He refuses to grant our request.

We can learn how to respond to these situations through the example of Moses and other Bible characters, such as King David.

When King David’s infant son from his adulterous affair with Bat Sheva became gravely ill, David begged God to spare the child’s life.  He fasted and prayed and prostrated himself face to the ground all night (2 Samuel 12:16).  Nevertheless, the child died.

How did King David react to God’s decision?

When David learned that his child was dead, he picked himself up, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.  Then he went home and ate something (2 Samuel 12:20).

What a picture of submission to the will of God!

David realized that God in His wisdom had made His judgment, and he accepted it, recognizing God’s divine rule and sovereignty.

woman-praying-at-the-Kotel

Woman praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

In the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant), we see an excellent example of perfect submission in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

Even He was met with the answer “No” from His beloved Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Yeshua asked if the cup of suffering could be taken from him.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

Although Yeshua was sorrowful and deeply distressed to realize the terrible suffering He’d endure, even death on a cross, He submitted to the will of God, saying,

“O My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”  (Matthew 26:42) 

Olive trees-Garden-Gethsemane

Ancient olive grove: The Garden of Gethsemane

In Hebrew, the Garden of Gethsemane is called Gat Shemanim (oil press).  Shemanim is the plural form of shemen, the Hebrew word for oil.

Since oil represents the anointing of Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), it was an appropriate place for Yeshua to submit to the will of His Abba (Father) and receive an anointing to carry it out.

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”  (Hebrews 5:8)

What can we learn from Moses, David and Yeshua?

We learn that there will be times when God’s resounding NO may cause us pain and sorrow.  We can also learn that God says no for a variety of reasons; for instance, in the case of Moses and David, the consequences of sin was involved.

In the case of Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was but one way for the will of God—mankind’s redemption from sin—to be accomplished.

From these examples, we can also see that if we graciously accept and trust God’s answer of no, our trials may refine our character and make us more like Yeshua.

May we all be wise enough to recognize when God is saying no.

Praying-Western Wailing Wall

This ultra-Orthodox Jewish man is praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall with his son, who seems to be curious about the slips of paper containing prayers that are lodged between the great stones.

Encouraging the Next Generation

“But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land.”  (Deuteronomy 3:28)

Just as God told Moses to encourage Joshua to cross over the Jordan and to take the next generation into the Promised Land, we may also be called to pass the torch of faith to the next generation.

This Parasha discusses this very thing—the importance of encouraging and strengthening the next generation to follow God, perhaps even more wholeheartedly than we do!

In Deuteronomy 4, God commands us to teach His Torah to the generations to come:

“Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”  (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Observing and doing the commandments of God is to be our wisdom and understanding in the sight of all the peoples.  God’s people should be known as a wise and understanding people.

“Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”  (Deuteronomy 4:6)

Knesset Menorah

Israeli school children take a break near the Knesset Menorah, a bronze monument which is located in front of the Knesset (Parliament) in Jerusalem.  This menorah is engraved with 30 key events, characters, and terms from Jewish history, including the Hebrew text at the right, which reads Shema Yisrael–HEAR, O ISRAEL (Deuteronomy 6:4).

The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5-9): Love and Obedience

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’”  (Mark 12:28)

This Torah portion contains the Shema, the most famous prayer in Judaism, which Observant Jews recite daily.

“Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad” (Deuteronomy 6:4), which means “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

The Hebrew word shema does not only imply hearing, but also listening and acting upon what is heard.

Yeshua highlighted the importance of this passage when the Scribes asked Him which was the first and most important commandment.  He answered, “Shema Yisrael…”  (Mark 12:28–31).

The Shema is an affirmation of the basic tenets of Jewish faith.  It is also a declaration of faith in one God for a nation surrounded by a sea of pagans worshiping a variety of false gods.

The verses that follow the initial words of the Shema (listen, hear, do) is commonly called the V’ahavta (and you shall love).  It expresses Israel’s duty to love God with all her heart, soul, and might.

“Love the LORD [YHVH] your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Torah scroll-Yad-Torah pointer

Torah scroll with Yad (Torah pointer)

The Shema reflects the first instance in human history that the love of God was demanded in any religion.  In fact, the love of God is the distinctive mark of a true worshiper.

What is love of God?  The First Letter of John provides a wonderfully succinct answer: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.”  (1 John 5:3)

The V’ahavta also reveals that loving God involves what we say.  We are to teach His commandments to our children and speak about the Word of God all day long.

“Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  (Deuteronomy 6:7)

We are even to go so far as binding God’s word as a sign on our hand and between our eyes.  In other words, loving God involves not only what we say and teach, but what we think and do.

“And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”  (Deuteronomy 6:8)

Observant Jewish men keep this commandment literally with the custom of putting on ‘tefillin’, little leather boxes containing these verses that are worn on the head and arm.

Tallit Katan-Tallit Gadol

These Jewish men are wearing tefillin while they pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The love of God involves where we go and how we live.  For that reason, the Word of God is also to be written on the doorposts of our house and on our gates.

“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:9)

Jewish people observe this part of the Shema by affixing a mezuzah (doorpost) to the right-hand side of the doorpost of every dwelling room in the house.

This little box contains a parchment on which the Shema is carefully handwritten, as well as  Deuteronomy 11:13–20  and Numbers 15:37–41.  The Hebrew word  Shaddai (Almighty) is written on the back of the parchment.

The mezuzah is a symbol of God’s watchful care over the house and its occupants.  It’s a reminder to everyone who goes in and goes out that this house is devoted to God and keeping His commandments.

The mezuzah is in itself a declaration: “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15)

Mezuzah doorpost

The mezuzah is affixed to the right-hand side of the doorpost of the outer entrance to every dwelling room in the house.

Haftarat Va’etchanan (Prophetic Portion)

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  (Isaiah 40:1–2)

This Shabbat is called the Sabbath of Comfort, “Shabbat Nachamu,” the first of seven haftarahs of consolation that lead up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

Because the prophetic reading for Parasha Va’etchanan follows Tisha B’Av, a time of severe judgment against Israel, God’s message of comfort and encouragement to His people, Israel, through the prophet Isaiah is read.

Jerusalem Mountains

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.”  (Psalm 125:2)

Even today, Isaiah is a voice crying out to comfort Israel for her suffering, and to proclaim to her the Restoration of Zion.  All those who love Jerusalem are commanded to comfort Israel.

“You who bring good tidings to Zion [m'vassert Tzion - messenger of good tidings to Zion], go up on a high mountain.  You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”  (Isaiah 40:9)

To share the ‘good news’ (gospel) in Hebrew is levasser.  The word used in this verse is the feminine form – a female messenger bringing the good news to the people of Israel.  God is calling His people up into the mountains of Israel to proclaim ‘good tidings’ to Jerusalem.

“See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him.  See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.  He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40:10–11)

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