Devarim – “Words”

This Shabbat’s parasha is entitled, D’varim, and covers Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22.  D’varim comes from the Hebrew in the opening verse: “Eleh had’varim…”, “these are the words.” D’varim is also the name of this 5th and final book of the Torah. Deuteronomy reveals much about the attributes of God. It is directly quoted over 40 times in the New Testament (exceeded only by Psalms and Isaiah). Deuteronomy reveals that the Lord is the Only God and that He is jealous, faithful, loving and merciful, yet will not tolerate sin.

This book contains Moses’ recounting of Israel’s 40 years’ journey through the wilderness after leaving Egypt. It also contains instructions and deeper explanations of the laws already given by God. Finally Moses delivers his final words and blessings to Israel before dying.

The book of Deuteronomy can be viewed as three separate sermons delivered by Moses. According to Jewish tradition, the three speeches took 36 days to deliver – beginning on the first of Shevat and ending on the sixth of Adar. These sermons stressed God’s special relationship with the people of Israel. They are reminded that they were not chosen because they were more virtuous than other nations. If the nation wasto fulfill its 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 Him.

In this first of the sermons, Moses recounts his appointment of judges and magistrates to ease the burden of his being solely responsible 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.

Moses goes on to retell the discouraging incident where ten of the spies that were sent brought back a dismal report, and the people refused to enter the Promised Land because of the perceived obstacles that they would encounter. The failure of the people to take the land at the beginning of their time in the wilderness shows that they did not take God at His word and therefore did not obey His command. This disobedience is described in Numbers 14 (and Psalm 95) as a lack of faith in Adonai. This unbelief caused God 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 11 days, ended up being an epic 40-year wandering in the desert.

Moses uses the history lesson to remind this next generation that a 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.

The truth of Moses’ words echo across the corridors of time. By ignoring generational boundaries, his words warn us that children are affected by the actions (or inaction) of their parents, and are heirs of their parents’ legacies.

Moses, too, was disobedient to God, when Adonai told him to speak to the rock and instead Moses struck it. This action would cause Moses to forfeit the privilege of crossing over into the Promised Land. Although Moses’ disobedience occurred almost 39 years after the failure of Israel at Kadesh, he includes it here with Israel’s disobedience to the Lord so the people will know that God doesn’t have double-standards. Disobedience to Adonai invites His judgment, no matter who you are. Moses would not be the one to bring Israel across the Jordan. That privilege would fall to Joshua.

Moses also recounts more recent events. He recalls the refusal of the nations of Moab and Ammon to allow the Israelis to pass peacefully through their countries; the wars against the Amorite kings Sichon and Og, and how God gave Israel supernatural victories, and the settlement of their lands by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Moses goes on to give a message to his successor, Joshua, who would take the people into the Land and lead them in the battles for its conquest.

One interesting feature of these sermons is their depiction of Moses as a dynamic speaker. Back in Exodus chapter 4, 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 words. But through the power of God, Moses overcame that which he feared. 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 can learn and should 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 will 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’s not. Then, when we cross over from this life into the promised land of Heaven, 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 which can only have 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 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.