Ha’azinu – “Give Ear!”

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song… Not Sgt. Pepper, but Moses! Our parasha this Shabbat is Deuteronomy chapter 32, entitled HaAzinu “Give ear!” from the Hebrew word ozen (אֹזֶן) ear. It opens this way:

הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה

Give ear, O Heavens, and I will speak!

This parasha is comprised of a song Moses wrote according to God’s command, and which was to be read aloud before all Israel. The words are strikingly similar to those which would be spoken centuries later by the prophet Isaiah – words of warning and judgment against Israel’s sin: Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the Lord speaks, ‘Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have rebelled against Me’” (Isaiah 1:2).

Music has always been an essential component of the worship offered by God’s people. You may recall that shortly after the Exodus from Egypt Moses and Miriam sang a song to the Lord, declaring His might and celebrating victory over our oppressors. Everyone knows about that song, but this one is a little more obscure. I guess that makes it the “B side”. If it isn’t quite as popular, maybe it’s because this song foretells God’s judgment on our people for repaying His goodness with treachery. Our collective betrayal would earn us God’s wrath. In that sense, the song is a poetic prophecy – a preview of the centuries to come, a pre-history of the dealings between God and Israel and the surrounding nations.

One of the most striking features of the Song of Moses is the repetition of the theme of God as our Rock. Five times Adonai is called our Rock:

He is HaTzur – the Rock (vs. 4)

He is Tzur Yeshuato – the Rock of Israel’s salvation (vs. 15)

He is Tzur Yelad’cha – the Rock who gave you birth (vs. 18)

He is Tzuram M’charam – their Rock who sold them (vs. 30)

And in verse 31 it is categorically stated, Lo c’tzureinu tzuram – their rock (meaning the false gods of the other nations) is not like our Rock!

God’s great power, love and faithfulness is contrasted with Israel’s weakness, selfishness and disloyalty.  Verses 7-14 show God’s jealous love and protective and guiding hand upon our ancestors, and His gracious and generous provisions. It even goes so far as to declare that God determined the boundaries of the nations based on the number of the sons of Israel (vs. 8-9). Israel is the apple of God’s eye, the object of His unique affections.

Sadly, in verses 15-17 we read, But Yeshurun grew fat and kicked… he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to shaydeem – demons!  These demons are the false gods of the nations which the Israelis worshiped . They are described as ‘new gods’ – gods they had not known – ‘Johnny-come-lately’ gods.

In judgment against their faithlessness, Moses sings in prophetically perfect past tense of God’s abandoning Israel to the whims of the nations. Centuries later Israel would, in fact, be sent into captivity in Assyria and Judah sent to captivity in Babylon.

Gratefully, the song doesn’t end on a suspended chord; it resolves. In verse 34, God declares that He will have compassion on His people, vindicate them, restore them, and turn around and execute vengeance on the nations that abused them. In verse 39 He says, See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

1,400 years later those words would be echoed by the Rock now incarnate. Messiah Yeshua declared, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

One of the haftarah readings that accompanies HaAzinu is Hosea 14:2-10. It paints a beautiful picture of a once-wayward people acknowledging their transgressions, and in repentance being brought near to the Lord again. Listen to the prophet’s words:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Bring words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips…” and the Lord responds, I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them.” It is so reassuring to know that the same God who is holy and will not tolerate sin also desires to save us and reconcile us to Himself.

The lesson we are meant to learn from HaAzinu is that God judges transgression, sin and iniquity, but when He judges His people, it is with their eventual restoration in mind. He desires that we return to Him. God continues to declare, “Return to Me and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).

Now that the Promised Messiah has come, returning to God consists not only of turning from sinful ways in a generic sense, but more specifically of turning from your unbelief and trusting in Yeshua the Messiah. He alone is the One upon whom God has set His seal of approval. Yeshua Himself is our Yom Kippur sacrifice. He Himself is Tzur Yeshuataynu – the Rock of our Salvation.

This song is one that has a happy ending. Your life can have a happy ending; your place in the World-To-Come can be secure. Are your ears attuned to hear God’s music?