Devarim – “Words”

Our parasha this Shabbat is entitled, D’varim. It covers Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22. D’varim means “words” or “matters”. D’varim is also the Hebrew name of this 5th and final book of the Torah, since the opening verse begins: These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness

Did you know that Deuteronomy is quoted over 40 times in the New Testament (exceeded only by Psalms and Isaiah)? In fact, when He was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, Yeshua rebuffed each of his offers by directly quoting from Deuteronomy.

This wonderful book reveals much about God’s attributes. It affirms to the reader that El Shaddai, Adonai, the Lord, is the One and Only God. It further reveals that He is jealous, faithful, loving and merciful, yet will not leave sin unpunished.

Deuteronomy contains Moses’ written account of Israel’s 40 years’ journey through the wilderness after leaving Egypt. It also contains deeper explanations of the laws already given by God. Finally, in this book Moses delivers his last words of both warning and blessing to the people of Israel before dying.

Some scholars view the book of Deuteronomy as three separate sermons delivered by Moses. According to this view, the three sermons occurred during the last 36 days of Moses’ life – beginning on the first of Shevat and ending on the sixth of Adar.

The words Moses spoke represented his final instructions, last warnings, and his admonitions to Israel. These sermons stressed God’s special relationship with the people of Israel.

In them, the nation was reminded that they were not chosen by God because they were more numerous or more virtuous than other nations.

He also reminds them that if they are to fulfill their role as a light in this dark, wayward world and point people to the only True God, Israel would have to remain steadfastly loyal to Adonai.

This morning’s parasha begins the first of these three sermons. In it, Moses recounts his appointing of judges and magistrates to ease the burden of the responsibility for dispensing justice and teaching the people the word of the Lord.

These leaders were to be men of understanding, who would know how to apply their knowledge of Torah. Justice is one of God’s attributes and flows out of His holiness.

Adonai expected the nation of Israel to emulate Him by being Holy; meaning, to obey His instruction. Therefore, if the Nation of Israel was Holy, then justice would flow out of that. In addition, they were to be an example to other nations who were not very just.

Moses then recounts the incident where 10 of the 12 men sent to spy out the land brought back a dismal report, and the people refused to enter the Promised Land because of the perceived obstacles they would encounter.

The refusal of the people to take the land at the beginning of their time in the wilderness proved that they did not believe God’s promise, which in turn caused them to disobey His command. This disobedience is described in Numbers 14 (and Psalm 95) as a lack of faith in Adonai.

This unbelief caused Adonai to say, “Surely not one of these men of this generation shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers.” Thus, a trip that Scripture tells us should have taken just 11 days, ended up being an epic 40-year wandering in the desert. So disastrous was the bad report of the ten spies and the rebellion that it started, that the rabbis consider it to have been one of the five national calamities that occurred on Tisha B’Av [1]  (which is an annual fast day in Judaism which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem).

Moses’ history lesson would serve to remind the next generation that lack of trust in God and failure to obey His commandments would result in disaster; but that faith and obedience will lead them to victory in the Promised Land. And the truth of Moses’ words still apply today.

His words warn us that children are affected by the actions (or inaction) of their parents, and are heirs of their parents’ legacies.

Moses recounts his own disobedience to God. Sometime after leaving Egyptian slavery the Nation of Israel had a dire need for water. Instead of asking and having faith in God, they turned to complaining against Moses and Aaron.

Moses sought counsel from the Lord, and God instructed him to strike the rock so that the people could have water. However, Moses and Aaron were both resentful. Moses stated “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” As a result, Moses unintentionally made it appear as if he and Aaron were providing the water by their own power as opposed to the power of God.

The Lord was trying to teach the nation to depend on Him, but Moses’ actions circumvented this lesson. This action would cause Moses to forfeit the privilege of crossing over into the Promised Land.

Although Moses’ disobedience occurred long after the failure of Israel at Kadesh, he includes it here with Israel’s disobedience to the Lord, so that the people will know that God doesn’t have double-standards.

Disobedience to Adonai invites His judgment, no matter who you are. So unfortunately, Moses would not be the one to bring Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. That privilege would fall to Joshua.

Moses also describes more recent events. He recalls the refusal of the nations of Moab and Ammon to allow the Israelis to pass peacefully through their countries.

He describes the wars against the Amorite kings and how God gave Israel supernatural victories over them, and the settlement of their lands by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Moses goes on to give a message of encouragement to Joshua, his successor.

One interesting feature of these sermons is that Moses appears to be a dynamic speaker. Back in Exodus chapter 3, God chose Moses at the burning bush to lead His people to freedom, and Moses protested on the grounds that he was not a man of eloquence.

But through the power of God, Moses overcame that which he feared. This shows us that through the power of God, our weaknesses really do become strengths when we surrender our will to His!

While the majority of parasha D’varim is a re-telling of past events, there are many valuable lessons that we need to learn and put into practice in our daily lives.

Moses was conducting an after-action review of sorts, and reminding the nation of past accomplishments and failures with the goal of motivating them to properly take possession and retain the land that Adonai was giving to them. In addition, he wanted to warn them against acting independently of God. To do so would only bring disaster.

We, too, should periodically take inventory of our lives, and perform our own after-action review. We are prone to sin, and in these mortal bodies will never get it perfect. Nevertheless, godliness is the goal at which we should aim.

So we should prayerfully look at our lives and see what’s pleasing to God and what isn’t. Then, when we cross over from this life into the World-To-Come, we will hear our Lord and Master say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

A lack of faith leads to a lack of obedience. In turn, a lack of obedience is what causes additional trouble in our everyday lives. If we will be diligent in prayer and in reading the Word, it will strengthen our faith, and Adonai will give us the power to overcome temptation and sin, leading to a positive outcome.

This is one of the central themes within Scripture. Obedience leads to blessing, but disobedience leads to a curse. God has placed before you today the choice of a blessing or a curse. Which will you choose?

Just as the nation of Israel wasn’t chosen for their righteousness, but for God’s purposes, we as believers in Yeshua HaMashiach need to remember that we were not saved because we are more righteous than other people.

Once we are saved, we need to stay close and loyal to God, and, with His help, fulfill the calling He has given us – to be a light to those in darkness and point them to the only One who can save them, Messiah Yeshua.

Another lesson to learn is that, as parents, we should be careful and thoughtful about our actions and decisions, because they will directly influence our children’s lives, and can cause either joy or hardship to come upon them.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk of failure within this parasha, but even though Moses and Israel may have failed at various points, God is merciful and His mercies are renewed daily. God restored both Moses and the nation of Israel, and He can do the same for you and me. I am so glad that we serve a Savior who is faithful and just; who will one day cleanse us from all unrighteousness and present us blameless and spotless to God the Father.

May the Lord Yeshua bless you on this Shabbat.