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Parasha Devarim: The Lord Calls for Change

Devarim (Words)
Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22; Isaiah 1:1–27; Mark 14:12–26

“These are the words [devarim] which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness.” (Deuteronomy 1:1)

Last week, the readings in the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) concluded with the double Torah portion of Matot–Masei.

This week, we begin the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), with the Torah portion that is also called Devarim.  In this portion, Moses retells the wilderness saga and reviews with all the people everything that Adonai had ordered them.

He begins with God’s directive at Horeb to get moving and take the Promised Land, which extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River, including the lands of Ammon, Moab, and Edom.

It is possible that the people were quite content not to move forward once they had received the Ten Commandments at Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai). They were no longer under bondage, and the easiest thing to do would be to stay there.

Change can be difficult.  It takes effort to cope with a new situation.  But life is a journey.  We are not meant to stand still and stagnate.  We are meant to move forward.

He Led Them by a Pillar of Cloud (Providence Lithograph Company Bible card published between 1896 and 1913)

He Led Them by a Pillar of Cloud (Providence Lithograph Company Bible card published between 1896 and 1913)

Facing the Consequences of Sin

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

In this Parasha, Moses reminds the new generation that before the Israelites left Horeb, he had to create a system of leaders in charge of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens because their quarrelsome nature has been such a heavy burden.

These leaders were commissioned to judge cases and disputes fairly, showing no favoritism.

After this, they moved on.  When they reached Kadesh-Barnea, Moses told them: “Look, Adonai your God has placed the land before you.  Go up, take possession, as Adonai, the God of your ancestors, has told you.  Don’t be afraid, don’t be dismayed.”  (Deuteronomy 1:21)

But the idea of representative leadership seems to have taken hold, and the people approached Moses asking that scouts go ahead of them to find the best way into the Land.  Moses appointed one man from every tribe.

Each representative came back saying that the Land was bountiful; however, 10 scouts said the inhabitants were bigger and stronger than the Israelites.  The implication was that God was not big or strong or faithful or real enough to defeat them.  The Israelites chose to believe the faithless majority, instead of the two faith-filled spies.

silver Torah tik-Sefer Torah

Jewish men pay reverence to the Torah, which is protected in a magnificent silver Torah tik (case).  (Photo by Betty Nudler)

Believing the majority report was contrary to everything that they had witnessed and experienced.  God had moved powerfully and miraculously on their behalf both in Egypt and in the desert.

Not only that, He had proven Himself by going ahead of them and charting the way they should go.  They only had to follow.  There was no reason to think that God would bring them to the edge of the Promised Land only to desert them and leave them to their own devices.

In this Parasha, Moses reminds the new generation of the devastating consequences for their parents’ lack of faith: the entire generation died in the desert, as would he.

Moses also reminds them that when their parents knew they had sinned by listening to the 10 spies, and understood the consequences of their sin, they tried to “make it right” by fighting the enemy in their own strength.

Subsequently, they suffered a terrible defeat.

Moses seems to be teaching that the majority doesn’t always know what is best, and sometimes following the majority can have unforeseen, tragic consequences. It is far too easy to get pulled along by the crowd.

We also understand that although God forgives us when we repent for not following Him, we cannot escape the consequences of our actions.

God will not desert us, but there will be changes that we have to live with and accept.

A Jewish woman sways back and forth as she prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

A Jewish woman sways back and forth as she prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Moses Prepares the Nation for Change

In Parasha Devarim, we see that Moses is giving his parting words.  In less than 40 days, he will die.

Moses will not be crossing the Jordan with the Israelites.  So, he takes this opportunity to point the people toward Adonai and impress on this new generation the importance of heeding His instructions.

As they move forward, he wants them to be aware of their tendency to get into trouble, but self-examination will help them bear fruit.

He also wants them to remember that their strength is in the Lord Himself.  It is YHVH whom they will follow as they cross the Jordan to take the Land.

In that Land, they will experience a drastic lifestyle change.  They will no longer journey through the wilderness under His leadership, but will live in an abundant land under Joshua’s leadership.

He wants the people to internalize the message that despite their disobedience and grumblings, God had carried them throughout their 40-year journey through the wilderness the way a father carries his children.

“The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness.  There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries His son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30–31)

Although they will experience a change that will require great effort on their part, Adonai will be with them.

Likewise, when Adonai ordains a season of change for us, we can trust Him and confidently move forward.

Father with children having fun on the beach at the day time.

Isaiah Chastises the People

This week’s Haftarah (Prophetic) reading is the last in a series of three Haftarot of Affliction, which are read during the Three Weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av.

In this Haftarah, Isaiah chastises the people for their rebellion against Adonai. Despite having been repeatedly reprimanded and punished while in the Promised Land, they have continued on with their sinful ways.  Isaiah even calls their leaders “rulers of Sodom.”

In fact, the people have become so sinful that God no longer delights in their sacrifices and holy day observances.  There is no problem with the actual sacrifices or observances, however.  God ordained them.

The problem is a people whose hearts are far from Him and are just going through the motions as though that is what makes them holy.

God actually requires us to bring our sacrifices and offerings to Him in holiness, with a heart that seeks Him first, so He expresses His displeasure:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to Me.  New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.” (Isaiah 1:13)

In this portion, we learn that while they are going through the motions of required observances, their hearts follow after pagan practices and idolatry.

Coupled with this hypocritical admixture of the law of Moses and the ways of the world are selfishness, cruelty, and the perversion of justice.  Isaiah calls them “partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts.  They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.” (Isaiah 1:23)

While these sins, if not repented for, will result in the destruction of the Temple, God does not leave Israel only with words of reprimand: He encourages the people to repent and turn to Him by performing just acts and showing kindness to the widows, orphans, and the needy.

A homeless man sleeps on a street corner in Tel Aviv.

A homeless man sleeps on a street corner in Tel Aviv.

The Lord Prepares the People for Redemption

This Haftarah portion contains a very precious promise that points to our redemption in the Messiah:

“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)

This precious promise of renewed intimacy finds its ultimate fulfillment in Yeshua (Jesus) and the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant) that He ratified with His own blood.

“It was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin.” (Isaiah 53:10)

At that time, a cleansed people would wholeheartedly follow the Lord, and their hearts and minds would be supernaturally filled with the knowledge of God.

“‘After that time,’ declares the LORD.  ‘I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD.  ‘ For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:33–34)

A model of the Second Temple as Yeshua might have seen it.

This model of ancient Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Second Temple is located at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

On this Shabbat Chazon, as we prepare for Tisha B’Av, we remember that the First Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’Av because of idolatry and wickedness, and the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among Jews (and especially, perhaps, of Yeshua).

But that is not the end of the story.  Yeshua will return to Israel when the Third Temple is built and there is a national turning to Him, as the Prophet Zechariah foretells.

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10)

Oh how we look forward to this wonderful day of grace and changed hearts!

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