“Promises Reiterated to a Chosen Nation”
by Mark Huey
This week’s parashah is so filled with incredible descriptions of the Lord’s love, promises, and anticipated plans for His chosen people, that direct quotations from this reading will be extensively repeated, because I feel that not much can be really added to the compelling words of Moses. For clearly, after the opening paragraph where Moses made his final appeal to the Almighty, to gain entrance into the Promised Land, the realization that he was going to die prior to Israel’s entry, undoubtedly inspired him to simply restate in a very precise and succinct manner, many of the promises and admonitions communicated to Israel over the previous forty-year sojourn. In precise language the Ancient Israelites received a summary account of what was promised, and most importantly, what was required of them in final preparation to invade Canaan, with Joshua as their new leader, following the death of Moses:
“I also pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, ‘O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours? Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he will give them as an inheritance the land which you will see.’” So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor” (Deuteronomy 3:23-29).
Now that Moses’ fate is understood, he turned to reminding Israel of the critical need to take his words of discourse seriously, not adding to them or taking away from them. Not only was Israel to cling to the Lord with the understanding that they were a uniquely chosen nation with a mission from Him to not only take their inheritance—but that they were to retain their new territorial possession, by faithfully remembering what had been communicated to them, and inculcating it to future generations:
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the LORD your God has destroyed them from among you. But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you. See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deuteronomy 4:1-9).
Of course, understanding that Israel was indeed to be a great nation, with a unique relationship with the Creator who had providentially chosen to impart His wisdom to them—made it imperative that the current and future generations were to instruct their progeny with these blessed truths. Hence, we find in history how the Jewish Sages developed various systematic studies of the Torah, which certainly allow students and followers of the Almighty to consistently review, and hopefully, actively rehearse these truths.
Maintaining absolute trust in the Holy One was going to be crucial for enduring success in the Promised Land. Moses turned to recollecting the words spoken by the Lord and heard by the Ancient Israelites, with the specific reminder that the Decalogue (the Ten Words or Ten Commandments) included the foundational instructions for learning to worship Him, and ultimately for demonstrating love for neighbors. Avoiding the temptations of falling into the traps of the pagan nations the Israelites were to supplant was essential, so Moses pointed out the errors of acting corruptly toward graven images or even the awesome lure of a wide host of celestial bodies:
“Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it. So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today” (Deuteronomy 4:10-20).
The Lord God demanded absolute allegiance to Him and His ways, and by reading these words, each of us should be constantly reminded of even the subtlest forms of idolatry which can seep into the heart. As is admonished, each of us must watch ourselves carefully, because ultimately the Holy One is looking at the hearts of His people. Any deviation from worshipping Him exclusively, will have major negative consequences. Even something as inane as reading a daily horoscope can turn His face away from His people—so be forewarned that He is a jealous God!
Moses’ admonition to Israel is that the jealous God they are to worship and serve will absolutely execute judgments, if and when the Israelites deviate from His instructions. Moses knew the result of his transgression at Meribah, and forecasted that when the people of Israel would fall into corrupting temptations, that God would execute righteous judgment. This would require Him to scatter and exile His people into other nations, where they would naturally be influenced to worship other gods. But as a loving Heavenly Father, He would also provide a solution to disobedience, as His people could repent and turn back to Him. They would be surely able to seek Him with all of their hearts and souls, because the Lord is the One who made irrevocable promises to the Patriarchs, regardless of the lack of faith at times that would be exhibited by their descendants:
“Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. For I will die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan, but you shall cross and take possession of this good land. So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 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. “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them. Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:21-40).
How wonderful it is to realize that despite the human propensity to wander away from the Lord God, He always provides a means to return to Him and reestablish relationship! However as stated, a major key is to not disobey His commandments.
At this point in our Torah reading, having just seen Moses’ emphasis on Israel’s need to adhere to God’s statutes and commandments, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20). The fact that these are reiterated in this Torah portion should remind anyone who is seeking the Lord that He takes these commands very seriously. He expects all of His people, ancient or modern, to adhere to them:
“Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. 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. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me’” (Deuteronomy 5:1-22).
Of course, the reception of the Decalogue was such a profound experience for Moses and the Israelites, that Moses would follow this by recalling many of the details of that historic event. He reminded the people that they audibly heard the voice of the Lord, and they responded by promising to follow Him and His word without ever questioning it. But as experienced during the desert sojourn, Israel’s ability to live up to its word was compromised by years of disobedience, and the subsequent deaths of the generation that fell short of the goal to enter into the Promised Land. Hence, another reminder of the need to keep God’s commandments and receive the blessing rather than the curse, was issued:
“And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.” But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.’ So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:23-33).
To ensure their success in the mission to conquer, secure, and occupy Canaan, Moses admonished Israel to diligently teach and keep all of the Lord’s statutes and commandments. What is often known as the Shema is recited, as Israel must bear true allegiance and fidelity to the One God of Creation—and not to any other gods or objects of worship. The blessings of following His ways are noted, with the requirement that God’s people are to fear Him and only Him, as the jealous God does not want to kindle His anger against disobedient children:
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:1-15).
Since the Lord is absolutely aware of the proclivity of the human heart to wander away from Him and is concerned that the people will continue to “test Him” as done by the previous generation, Moses reminded His ancient audience about the testimony of what had transpired, as the Lord delivered Israel from bondage to the Egyptians:
“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give your fathers, by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has spoken. When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:16-25).
Remembering Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is absolutely critical to understanding the love of our gracious God. This is why the annual remembrance of the Exodus, commemorated at the Passover seder, is so important for His people to come together, and remember His salvation activity!
Our Torah portion closes, as Moses issued this most key instruction, by citing the seven nations that were then occupying the Promised Land. He reassured the Israelites that with God going before them, they would utterly destroy them, despite overwhelming odds in military strengths. But after the Conquest would be completed, Moses warned Israel about not only the temptation of making covenants with their defeated foes, but also the lure of intermarriage with the pagan women, who might turn Israel toward worshipping other gods (similar to what had already been done on the plains of Moab with the sin of Baal-peor). The absolute reminder that Israel was to be a holy people before the Lord, and a uniquely chosen people exclusively for the possession of the Holy One, should be a great incentive to obey His ways and trust in Him:
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you. But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-11).
As is noted down through history, as recorded in the balance of the Torah and the Tanakh, Israel has had a tendency to fall into all sorts of idolatry, and general disobedience of God’s ways. Despite the assurance that the faithful God who keeps His covenantal promises with the Patriarchs, and whose lovingkindness extends to a thousand generations—He is the God of Creation who will judge those who hate Him and deny His Word, and as is true in far too many cases, His very existence.
With all of these awesome promises and instructions given this week, I hope that everyone, who reads and studies these words, will revel in His sufficiency to not only provide protection and deliverance from the obstacles of life—but that His promises will be fulfilled to those who sincerely search for Him. Finding faith in God must be coupled by trust in His beloved Son, our Messiah Yeshua, who came to Earth to shed His precious blood for the transgressions of all people. For, when disobedience occurs, there is a Divine solution to the problem. Only in Yeshua can ultimate salvation and redemption be found!