Devarim – “Words”

Our parasha passage for this week is entitled, D’varim, which means “words.”  This passage covers Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22.  The parasha name comes from the Hebrew in Chapter 1:1:  Eleh ha d’varim, “these are the words.”  This last book of the Torah contains Moses’ overview of the history of their journey through the wilderness after leaving Egypt, instructions and further explanation on laws that have been given by God, and Moses’ final words and blessing before he passes away.

As the passage opens in Chapter 1, we find that we are in the first day of the 11th month of the 40th year after leaving Egypt.  All the people are gathered to listen to Moses as he addresses them prior to their entering the Promised Land.  This discourse takes place over the next 37 days.  At the conclusion of these 37 days, Moses’ life will be at an end.  Moses begins recounting the past 40 years, first, by telling how he was advised to put wise men and leaders over groups of the Israelis in order for their problems and conflicts to be addressed quickly and righteously.  We move quickly from this point to one of the greatest disappointments in Jewish history, the sending out of the spies to find out about the Promised Land.

Instead of reporting back to Moses and Aaron, the spies, especially those representing the majority, negative opinion about entering the land, go to the people.  Hearing this negative report, most of the Israelis fall into despair and start complaining against God, yet again.  This is not the first time the people had complained; however, this time, the consequences are quite severe.  The Lord calls them, “an evil generation” in verse 35 and says that no one of this generation will pass into the Promised Land (this applies to those 20 and older).  From this time on, the Israelis were forced to wander in the desert until the last of the generation, other than Joshua and Caleb, pass away.

Deuteronomy Chapter 2 relates two similar events that took place during the time of the wilderness wanderings.  This involved two warnings that God gave the people, and which they followed.  The first is that while they were passing through the land of Edom, God told them not to attack that land or take anything from it.  The land of Edom was given to Esau and his descendants (Genesis 36) and God remembered Esau through the relationship that He had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Esau being the twin brother of Jacob.

The second warning, which was also followed by the Israelis was very similar.  They were to pass by and not enter or attack the land of Moab.  The land of Moab was given to the descendants of Lot.

Chapter 2 is an interesting contrast to Chapter 1.  While the dominant theme of Chapter 1 is Israel’s rebellion, unfaithfulness to God and resulting consequences, Chapter 2 recounts incidents where Israel follows the Word of God.  In addition, in Chapter 2 the great victory over Sihon, the Amorite king, is recounted.

In Chapter 3, Moses recalls another great victory, the total destruction of the total kingdom of Og, a total of 60 cities.  Og was said to be a remnant of the Rephaim, a race of giant people.  Where at the beginning of the wilderness journey, the Israelis were afraid to attack a much larger people, here they win a great victory against people much larger than they were.   The end of our parasha takes us up to where the tribes of the Gadites and the Reubenites are given land just outside the Promised Land, but indicate their willingness for their men to cross over and help take possession of the land along with the rest of the tribes.

First, we learn the importance that the Word of God must be transmitted to all the people.  It is not just for the leadership.  And, God’s Words, or teachings, must be communicated in such a fashion so that they can be understood.

Second, we can learn that continual grumbling against God is never the answer.  Instead of being grateful for being set free from Egypt, the Jewish people always seemed to be looking backward instead of looking forward.  Is a new circumstance or encounter always an opportunity to think about how good things were in the past and how difficult they are now?  Let us be careful not to fall into that trap.

Third, we learn that, at times, even righteous people must suffer along with the unrighteous.  Joshua and Caleb spoke up vigorously against the majority opinion, but that did not exempt them from having to spend all 40 years in the wilderness with the rest of those who complained against God.  Yet, they accepted their situation, and when the time came, rose up to be great leaders of the people after Moses as they entered the Promised Land.

And, finally, I think these chapters offer us a great lesson in how we can develop in our faith walk.  Perhaps there were times when we grumbled against God and were disciplined.  We made mistakes, and we will probably continue to make some more.  However, as we grow in our faith, we can learn to be like the Israelis who learned the tough lessons from the consequences of grumbling after the spies’ report and then heeded God’s warnings about the lands of Edom and Moab.  And then, after that, where once the people were scared to take on a larger enemy, they were able to defeat the armies of Sihon and Og.  We too can pass from fear to victory in our own lives, no matter what the circumstances, if we trust in our Lord and Savior, Messiah Yeshua.