Deuteronomy 32:1–32:52; Hosea 14:2–10; Micah 7:18–20; Joel 2:15–27; John 20:26–21:25
“Listen [Ha’azinu], O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” (Deuteronomy 32:1)
Last week in Parasha Nitzavim–Vayelech, Moses transferred the mantle of leadership to Joshua. He also finished writing the Torah and entrusted it to the Levites.
In this week’s Parasha, Moses gives the Israelites the Song of Moses, which indicts Israel’s sin, prophesies punishment, and promises God’s redemption.
Songs of praise seem to bookend Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
When Israel was on the banks of the Red Sea, Moses sang a song of praise (Exodus 15), and when Israel was finally ready to cross over into the Land flowing with milk and honey, he again sang praise (hallel) to God.
Even though Moses could not cross the Jordan with the children of Israel, he was content knowing that He had been faithful to his calling and had seen the Promised Land with his own eyes from atop the mountain.
He took joy in anticipating the glorious future that awaited Israel beyond their dry, barren, wilderness wanderings.
We see something of a parallel in Yeshua (Jesus). He endured the pain of the Roman execution stake by anticipating the joy of the resurrection (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9).
A sense of faith-filled anticipation should also be a hallmark of our lives, as well.
We, too, can find joy in this life, even when expectations are not met and outcomes fall short of our heart’s desire. We can do this not only by anticipating the great and glorious things that God will do in this world and the next, but also those things He has prepared for us.
“No eye has seen, nor ear has heard and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9; see also Isaiah 64:4)
The Rock of Israel
“The Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)
In Moses’ farewell song, the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1–43), God is called The Rock (Ha’Tsur) five times.
God is also called El Tsur (God is our Rock) in 2 Samuel 22:47 and Tsur Yisrael (The Rock of Israel) in 2 Samuel 23:3, and Isaiah 30:29.
These names describe His character perfectly since He is solid, unchangeable, immovable and the ever-present reality and foundation. He is a safe place of refuge for all of us.
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), we are told that Israel drank from the same spiritual rock, and that this Rock which accompanied them in the wilderness was Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah (1 Corinthians 10:4).
Just as Yeshua accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings, as Believers, we can take comfort knowing that Yeshua is with us in all of our wanderings. God not only knows our wanderings, He also keeps our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).
God: The Loving Father of Israel
In this Parasha (Torah portion), God’s loving kindness and unchanging faithfulness is contrasted with Israel’s ingratitude and faithlessness.
God is vindicated as a loving Father, while Israel is chastised as a wayward, disobedient child.
Israel’s choice to rebel and sin is no blemish upon the goodness of God. He offered her life and blessing or destruction and cursing, and she chose the latter (Deuteronomy 32:5).
All the subsequent disasters that would befall the nation of Israel were just punishment for their rebellion against God.
But despite Israel’s sin and rebellion, God promises to intervene on their behalf and save them, lest the enemies of Israel exalt themselves and claim that Israel is finished.
And if we are tempted to scorn Israel for her sin, we should remember that if it were not for the grace of God through Yeshua HaMashiach (the Messiah), we would all be doomed.
Thankfully, His mercies are new every morning, and that’s why we are not consumed.
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22–23)
Despite everything, Israel is called “the portion of the Lord” and Jacob is His “allotted inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9). Moreover, God is also Israel’s portion (Lamentations 3:24).
In this Parasha, Israel is likened to a child left to die in the wilderness whom God finds, rescues, and saves.
God cares for the orphaned child, supernaturally supplying all of his needs through food (manna), protection (pillar of fire by night), and guidance (pillar of cloud by day).
“He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, a howling wilderness … He kept him as the apple of His eye.” (Deuteronomy 32:10)
And God’s loving protection has not diminished with the ages. Through the prophet Zechariah, He warns the nations that “he who touches you (Israel) touches the apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)
The apple of one’s eye is the pupil, the most sensitive and delicate part of the body.
Consequently, then, if anyone tries to harm Israel, it’s as if they are poking their finger into the very pupil of God’s eye.
God is intimately involved with Israel. He is represented as both father and mother. And yet Israel turned to other gods and forgot the Rock who bore her.
“They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot God who gave you birth.” (Deuteronomy 32:17–18)
Though God had every reason to give up on the nation of Israel, He had mercy instead, lest Israel’s enemies exalt themselves. He saved Israel for His own name’s sake so that He would be known in all the earth (Isaiah 48:9-11).
Likewise, when we fall back into sin, God’s very name is on the line.
But when we think that we have blown it too many times, and that God has every reason to give up on us, may we remember that although God will deal with us, He is merciful, faithful, and true.
God intends that we exhibit these same characteristics in our dealings with others. He desires that we be long-suffering, extending the mercy and grace that we have received from Him to others.
The Power of Life and Death
There is a lesson in the calamities Israel suffers. God wants her to understand that He is the one true God with the power of life and death in His hands. Although He wounds, He also binds up those wounds.
“See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
Moses concludes his last message to Israel with the exhortation to observe all of the words of the Torah, which is not just a book of meaningless, empty words; it is the instruction manual for a long, full, satisfying life of blessing, health, holiness, and prosperity.
“These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)
At the end of Moses’ ministry, God commands him to ascend the mountain one last time. Even though Moses is still full of health and vigor, he climbs Mount Nebo in the Land of Moab to die and be buried.
Although this great man of God was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but was only given a glimpse of it from afar off, Moses was as faithful to God in death as he was in life (Deuteronomy 32:52).
Haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah (Shabbat of Return)
“Return, Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall!” (Hosea 14:1)
This week’s Shabbat occurs during a very special 10-day period between Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) called Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe) and Aseret Y’may Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance).
The Days of Awe is traditionally the period to get right with God and our fellow man through repentance and asking forgiveness.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuvah or Sabbath of Return since the prophetic portion of the reading (Haftarah) begins with the exhortation “Shuvah Yisrael—Return O Israel.”
It is also called Shabbat Teshuvah (Sabbath of Repentance) because it’s one of the 10 Days of Repentance. Teshuvah is derived from the Hebrew verb shuv which means to return or to turn back.
Hosea urges the people to trust in God and not in any other force or source of security, whether powerful nations, war-horses, or idols.
Hosea promises that when Israel returns to God and confesses her sin, God will turn away from His anger and bring healing and restoration to Israel.
“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” (Hosea 14:4–5)
God is waiting for each one of us to return to Him in teshuvah (repentance). When we do turn to Him, we find Him waiting with open arms to pour out His love, healing and restoration freely upon us. What are you waiting for?
Tashlikh and Finding Mercy
“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)
A well-known promise of forgiveness is also read on Shabbat Teshuvah from a brief portion in the book of Micah.
Earlier this week, on Rosh HaShanah, this scripture was also recited when the Jewish people practiced the longstanding custom of Tashlikh (casting off).
That is the tradition in which the Jewish people go to a river or live body of water and cast bread crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off sin. While doing this, they recite the following verses:
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
“You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.” (Micah 7:18–20)
While we cannot appeal to God’s mercy based on our own righteousness, we can appeal to Him on the basis of covenant.
The Jewish People understand this and know that God is faithful to the covenant He swore to our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Each follower of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) also stands before God on the merit of Yeshua’s blood covenant (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:20; Hebrews 10:29).
Furthermore, Believers are members of the commonwealth of Israel and partakers in the eternal everlasting covenant of mercy and peace with God (Ephesians 2:12, 19; Isaiah 14:1; Ezekiel 47:22).