“The Fighting Father’s Promised Plan Reiterated”
by Mark Huey
This week as the final book of the Torah commences, our parashah, Devarim, essentially begins a lengthy reiteration of the forty year desert sojourn of the Israelites, with reminders of the Lord’s promises sprinkled in among the testimony of a people challenged with trust in the Almighty. The aged prophet/leader, Moses, was fully aware of the stark reality that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, so in an attempt to set the record straight once again for the Israelites, he recalled much of the itinerary with positive and negative testimonies of how various events transpired. However, what must have been a painful exercise in remembering the failures, Moses ultimately wanted the people to know that the Holy One would absolutely fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is also something that modern-day followers of Yeshua the Messiah should know without a shadow of doubt:
“In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the LORD had commanded him to give to them, after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei. Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law, saying, ‘The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and set your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negev and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them”’” (Deuteronomy 1:3-8).
During the course of this week’s reading, we find some sound principles regarding how Israel’s chosen leader handled the challenges of guiding the recalcitrant brood of Israelites, from bondage in Egypt to the precipice of entering the Promised Land. But, understand that because of the sovereign call on the life of Moses and the level of unique intimacy he had with the Lord, speaking to him face to face (Exodus 33:11), Moses had a genuine fear of Him and knew that His words were without equivocation. This created a problem, because those whom Moses was leading did not have as much familiarity with the Lord, which inevitably manifested in not only challenges to his leadership—but also in how to spread the workload. Hence, one of the first things Moses did, as he communicated to the people of Israel, is that he reminded them that leadership responsibilities needed to be shared by wise, discerning, and experienced leaders and judges:
“I spoke to you at that time, saying, ‘I am not able to bear the burden of you alone. The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number. May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand-fold more than you are and bless you, just as He has promised you! How can I alone bear the load and burden of you and your strife? Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ You answered me and said, ‘The thing which you have said to do is good.’ So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes. Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do” (Deuteronomy 1:9-18).
Note in this description of the way judges were to handle the disputes, which they were to judge righteously and equitably, including issues between fellow native Israelites as well as the sojourners within the community. The emphasis witnessed, was not on fearing human people—but understanding the fear of the Lord, and that He is the ultimate judge of every person. This is a great reminder to anyone who is a part of today’s Body of Messiah, who either seeks, or is already recognized as one with the responsibilities of leadership in the community of faith. We may also wish to consider some of the requirements articulated by the Apostle Paul to his young disciple Timothy, who had the responsibility to sort out the leadership positions in the vicinity of Ephesus:
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the [assembly], so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
As members of the Body, it is imperative that people do not submit to leadership that does not qualify according to the tenor of the various principles laid out in the Holy Scriptures (i.e., 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Titus 1:5-16). We should each be most concerned about the thrust of what Moses communicates in Exodus 18:19-22 and Deuteronomy 16:18-20:
“Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you” (Exodus 18:19-22).
“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
Note the emphasis in these two statements from Moses about the temptation of “dishonest gain,” and the perversion of monetary or compensatory “bribes” to judges. Clearly, this is a reminder of the Biblical axiom that the “love of money is the root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10a), and if greed or selfish ambition is detected in leadership, it should be an absolute warning that motivations are impure (Philippians 1:17; Romans 2:8). Be warned brothers and sisters! These temptations are rampant today, and such a cancerous infection in the Body of Messiah does much damage to the hearts and souls of sincere Believers! (Just read the Epistle of Jude for a sobering assessment.)
After recalling some aspects of leadership, our Torah reading turns to perhaps one of the most disappointing points in Israel’s desert sojourn, when the twelve spies returned from Canaan with contradictory reports. Lamentably, the lack of faith, exhibited by the ten spy majority, redirected the Israelites to nearly forty more years of wandering in the desert. The great emphasis placed by Moses, on this testimony, is that the people simply did not trust the Lord and the promises He had made to not only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but directly to Moses himself:
“I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do. ‘Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the LORD our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea. I said to you, “You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the LORD our God is about to give us. ‘See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter.’ The thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe. They turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the valley of Eshcol and spied it out. Then they took some of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and they brought us back a report and said, “It is a good land which the LORD our God is about to give us.” Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; and you grumbled in your tents and said, “Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there.’” Then I said to you, “Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go’” (Deuteronomy 1:18-33).
Despite the literal presence of the Almighty depicted in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, the rebellious Israelites not only struggled with trust, but actually provoked the Lord to anger, resulting in the judgment of the Exodus generation. But then to further incite Him, the smitten Israelites foolishly decided to take on the Amorites without the guidance and protection of the Lord:
“Then the LORD heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying, ‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully.’ The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it. Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.’ Then you said to me, ‘We have sinned against the LORD; we will indeed go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.’ And every man of you girded on his weapons of war, and regarded it as easy to go up into the hill country. And the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them, “Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; otherwise you will be defeated before your enemies.”’ So I spoke to you, but you would not listen. Instead you rebelled against the command of the LORD, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do, and crushed you from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD did not listen to your voice nor give ear to you. So you remained in Kadesh many days, the days that you spent there’” (Deuteronomy 1:34-46).
Here, the great lesson to learn is that when one disobeys the Lord by lacking in faith in His Word—then do not attempt to rashly rectify the disregard for His commands by doing something in the flesh to make up for the transgression. It is better to simply confess the sin, seek forgiveness, and repent of the action—following this with praying and patiently waiting upon Him, so that whatever period of disfavor would dissipate and restoration would be achieved. For as stated to Moses years earlier, the Almighty is a long suffering Creator who forgives the iniquities of His children:
“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6-7).
In Deuteronomy ch. 2, Moses recalled the more recent episodes with the descendants of Esau (Edom), the descendants of Moab, and the descendants of Ammon. The various challenges with these people groups, in the final days of Israel’s sojourn, should remind the reader that the Holy One had made some promises to Esau regarding His descendants’ occupation of the Mount Seir region (Joshua 24:4), and even the incestuously-initiated offspring of Lot (Genesis 19:36-38). Apparently, according to further insight from the Apostle Peter, the Lord considered Lot righteous, despite his wine-induced indiscretions. Note that once again the warning for modern-day Believers about the association of intemperate alcohol consumption and the lustful indulgence of the flesh:
“[A]nd if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:7-11).
Finally, as Devarim winds down to a conclusion, there is a strong statement for all to remember that ultimately followers of the Holy One of Israel are not to fear mere mortals, but to fear the Almighty. After all, it is He who fights for His people, not only in the physical realm, but equally important, in the spiritual battles that take place between human vessels:
“Then I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The LORD your God has given you this land to possess it; all you valiant men shall cross over armed before your brothers, the sons of Israel. But your wives and your little ones and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in your cities which I have given you, until the LORD gives rest to your fellow countrymen as to you, and they also possess the land which the LORD your God will give them beyond the Jordan. Then you may return every man to his possession which I have given you.’ I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so the LORD shall do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. Do not fear them, for the LORD your God is the one fighting for you’” (Deuteronomy 3:18-22).
Ultimately, as the reiteration of God’s promises to the children of Israel continue for the balance of the final book of the Torah, everyone should be reminded, not only of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, etc. (and even a host of less-than-righteous people such as Ishmael, Esau, and others)—but that the Lord is the One fighting for His faithful followers. But it must be absolutely understood that the war with the saints is not only on the terrestrial plane, but also taking place in the Heavenly realm. The Apostle Paul summarizes what is recommended for all who engage in the warfare that is inevitable, until the Messiah returns:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH [Isaiah 11:5], and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS [Isaiah 59:17], and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE [Isaiah 52:7]; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION [Isaiah 59:17], and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:10-19).
Whether one was a part of the Joshua generation preparing to possess the Promised Land millennia ago, or is among the modern-day followers of Messiah Yeshua—it is imperative that a fuller understanding of the Holy One and His ways, in order to fight the good fight of faith, is required. This is why it is highly recommended that people faithfully study through the Torah on a systematic basis (1 Corinthians 10:11), in order to learn the ways of the Lord—and most importantly—obey them. Without so doing, it would be comparable to unwisely entering into battle unarmed, unshielded, and with little if any hope of survival. The Apostle Paul reminded the Roman Believers about their true status as conquerors in Yeshua the Messiah, and how the redeemed will never be separated from the love of the Holy One:
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
May one and all embrace a fuller understanding of our individual roles in advancing His Kingdom on Earth, through a more profound knowledge of His Word. May we obey it, while depending upon Him to fight our adversaries. Let us, proclaim His truths to the wicked in need of Yeshua’s salvation, that they might be transformed by His love and receive eternal redemption!