by Mark Huey
In last week’s parashah, Moses concluded the recitation of what the Lord expected of Israel, by reminding the people that He did not choose them for service to Him because they were a mighty nation, but rather because He was a covenant keeping God who had made some unbreakable promises to the Patriarchs. The responsibility was then placed upon the Israelites to keep the commandments and statutes that had been communicated by their loving God, in order to reap the blessings of being a chosen nation for His possession:
“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 7:6-11).
Now, in turning to this week’s Torah reading, we see how the Lord reaffirmed the requirement to listen, keep, and do what He had spoken, in order for His people to receive blessings from the promises given. Without hesitation, we see a listing of all of the blessings that the Lord was bestowing upon Israel. The ultimate privilege was having the Almighty in their very midst, not only fighting their enemies—but providing abundantly from the Promised Land and insuring a progeny which would proliferate and thrive:
“Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish. You shall not dread them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you. But the Lord your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you will make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them. The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned” (Deuteronomy 7:12-26).
However, Israel was never to receive a “free ride,” but was to be responsible to follow the ways of the Lord, by recognizing that the people would be accountable for their disobedient actions. The discipline, that the Lord would issue upon the disobedient, would be like the Lord disciplining a child. The love and concern of the Holy One was so intense for Israel, that He reminded the people of their duties in a relatable manner, like the innate desire parents have for the well being of their offspring:
“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
The Creator God knows the nature of prideful, fallen humanity, and the freewill tendency of people to avoid dependency on His provision and protection, seeking independence from Him in order to do what is preferable in their own limited eyes. A warning was issued to Israel, because the Omniscient One already knew what was going to eventually take place as Israel moved through time:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).
Lamentably, because God is absolutely just with His Creation, following embedded designs such as reaping what is sown and laws of unintended consequences for disobedient actions taken, we see that in a similar way to what was about to happen to the godless nations Israel was to displace—the same destiny awaited Israel because the people would eventually not listen to the voice of the Lord and obey His commandments:
“He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:15-20).
Human pride, leading to willful disobedience, is an awful stumbling block for people to overcome. So in categorical terms, the Lord repeated three times to Israel, that they were not being blessed because of their inherent righteousness—but rather simply because of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).
Considering these words today is critical for growth in one’s walk with the Holy One of Israel. The Scriptures are replete with warnings about the incipient rise of pride in the heart of human beings, and just how much the Lord despises its emergence:
“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18).
Throughout the Bible, we see how it is the humble of heart, who will obtain the favor of the Lord:
“A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:10-11).
Of course the ultimate example of humility was exhibited by Yeshua the Messiah, who was incarnated as a human being and humbled Himself, to be the sacrifice for all sinners. The vindication of His humiliation is seen in His exaltation, and how all in Creation will recognize His Lordship:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Messiah Yeshua, who, existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW [Isaiah 45:23], in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue should confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, author’s rendering from Philippians for the Practical Messianic).
Are not the faithful to emulate His actions of service, while being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29)?
Returning to this week’s Torah portion, Moses now described his intermediary role as an intercessor for the rebellious Israelites. Recalling the golden calf incident, and the other times the people of Israel provoked the Lord’s wrath, one is reminded of the sad testimony that God’s chosen have widely been an insubordinate people, since the Father first chose them for their unique mission among the nations:
“The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. And I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God. You had made for yourselves a molten calf; you had turned aside quickly from the way which the LORD had commanded you. I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my hands and smashed them before your eyes. I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was wrathful against you in order to destroy you, but the LORD listened to me that time also. The LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him; so I also prayed for Aaron at the same time. I took your sinful thing, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that came down from the mountain. Again at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the LORD to wrath. When the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice. You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you” (Deuteronomy 9:13-24).
Regretfully, the disobedient, prideful patterns established by Ancient Israel still continue to plague God’s people today—even though since the arrival of Yeshua, redeemed people empowered with the decisive, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit should be behaving differently. This sad reality makes one pause and even question whether some, who claim to be faithful followers of the Holy One, are truly everything they think they are. But since a final judgment of one’s salvation is due only to Him, it is better for us to just ascertain what the Lord has created each of us individually to do, and let Him accomplish whatever He wants through willfully submitting our will to His.
Next, Moses shared his actions to prevent the Lord from obliterating the Ancient Israelites, which makes an excellent case for the necessity of intercessory prayer before Him:
“So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights, which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you. I prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin. Otherwise the land from which You brought us may say, “Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land which He had promised them and because He hated them He has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” Yet they are Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm’” (Deuteronomy 9:25-29).
May each of us today look at this example, and consider how it is through the faithful prayers of the saints, that the Lord hears and responds according to His will. God’s love and goodness extend not only to the rich and powerful, but also to helpless widows, orphans, sojourners, aliens, and those who are down and out. The admonition issued, for His people, is for their hearts to be circumcised, so that they can be sensitive to the Lord, His ways, and His dealings:
“I, moreover, stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights like the first time, and the Lord listened to me that time also; the LORD was not willing to destroy you. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Arise, proceed on your journey ahead of the people, that they may go in and possess the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.’ Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:10-22).
The Holy One had chosen Israel to be a light unto the nations (Isaiah 42:6), and in order to fulfill their mission to the world, they were to follow His ways so that they could not only be blessed, but be a blessing to all they would encounter. Sometimes when one knows this is the plan, the question arises as to just how poorly the mission was being completed. But from limited human knowledge and understanding, one needs to humbly concede that the Almighty has, is, and will accomplish His will for the Creation. Our individual and corporate choice as a part of His people today—is to be part of the solution—rather than contributing to the multitude of problems.
Repetition is a wonderful methodology for teaching, so without hesitation, Moses continued to remind the Israelites not only of the charge to obey, but once again a reminder about what had transpired over the previous forty years of sojourning in the desert on the way to the Promised Land. How do we take these words to heart, as we seek to embody their essential principles in our own hearts and minds, seeking to accomplish the Father’s will?
“You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments. Know this day that I am not speaking with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline of the Lord your God—His greatness, His mighty hand and His outstretched arm, and His signs and His works which He did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land; and what He did to Egypt’s army, to its horses and its chariots, when He made the water of the Red Sea to engulf them while they were pursuing you, and the LORD completely destroyed them; and what He did to you in the wilderness until you came to this place; and what He did to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, among all Israel—but your own eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did. You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land into which you are about to cross to possess it; so that you may prolong your days on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year. It shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. He will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and you will perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:1-17).
The constant reminder that the heart can be deceived, helps to serve as a proper conclusion for this Torah portion. A propensity to lack discernment, perhaps exacerbated by the pride spoken of earlier, has done and will continue to do irreparable damage to the progress of God’s plan, unless people can truly have circumcised and transformed hearts. But regardless of the self-imposed impediments that foster discouragement among God’s people, there is the continual admonition to press forward and constantly reread, reevaluate, and rehearse the truths of the written, Biblical testimony—in order to continue the process through each successive generation. Our Torah portion ends with the Lord defining the Promised Land, with its borders extending the Mediterranean Sea to the banks of the Euphrates River:
“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth. For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours; your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea. No man will be able to stand before you; the LORD your God will lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you” (Deuteronomy 11:18-25).
Because the Lord cannot lie and will absolutely fulfill His promises, each of us has much to look forward to in the years ahead, as we will all somehow participate in the final restoration of Israel. Of course, the intrinsic problems of human nature will always be a challenge, but with perseverance and the gentle leading of the Spirit of the Most High, God’s plans will be done. Simply because!
May He give each of us our assignments to advance His Kingdom on Earth, while we continue to have breath in our lungs, and the willing hearts to submit our will to His!