Last week’s parasha was entitled Kee Taytasay (“When you go out”). This week it’s Kee Tavo (“When you come in”), covering Deuteronomy 26:1 through 29:8. Coming and going – sounds like the history of the Jewish people, doesn’t it? And it all began with our father Abraham. Kee Tavo opens on a hopeful, joyful note, with the command that in the third year we were to bring a special tithe of all the first of the produce of the land to the priest serving the Tabernacle at that time. That tithe was to be shared with the Levite, the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner living in our midst. When the worshiper presented his gift, he would make a really unusual confession: My father was a wandering Aramean! – an allusion to Abraham. The confession continued with an overview of our history as a people – our humble beginnings; our hardship in Egypt, and an affirmation that our present prosperity defied all the odds, demonstrating the kindness and power of God who had brought us into the Promised Land. But after all, wasn’t that part of His covenant – His contractual agreement with us?
Our lives are filled with contractual agreements: credit card companies, banks, utility companies, employers and employees, contractors; even with governments. Every contract has stipulations to which two parties agree to conform. The world is filled with contracts; and because humanity is fallen, sinful, and selfish, those contracts are frequently broken, which is why the world is also filled with lawyers. Now before you start with the lawyer jokes, let me point out that if all of us would simply honor our word, there would be no need of contracts, let alone enforcement of them by threat of legal action.
The book of Deuteronomy is one big covenant document. In fact, it follows the same pattern as many Ancient Near Eastern treaties. There were typically five parts to those treaties: a Preamble (naming the two parties), an Historical Prologue (recounting the events that led to this day, naming the Stipulations (the particulars of the covenant), the Ratification (with animal sacrifices, vows of intent to honor the covenant, and naming the consequences for its violation), and finally the Calling of Witnesses. According to this pattern, the chapters that make up Kee Tavo represent the fourth section, the ratifying of the covenant, including vows and consequences.
In chapter 26, verses 17-18, we read, You have declared this day that Adonai is your God and that you will walk in His ways, that you will keep His decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey Him. And Adonai has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession… That’s the ratifying of a covenant!
In chapters 27 and 28 Moses commands our people, once in the Land, to assemble on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, to pronounce blessings for obedience and curses for defiance. In chapter 27 the Levites pronounced 12 curses specifically for some of the most serious offenses; including deviant sexual practices such as incest and bestiality, corruption in the administering of justice – especially as it targeted the weak and vulnerable, idolatry and the dishonoring of one’s parents.
God obviously knew that we would break the Covenant, since the promised curses are four times as long as the promised blessings. The consequences of defying the covenant would be dreadful. We would forfeit God’s protection, and be subject to invasion, famine, starvation, deportation, and to be in constant torment and fear. It is summed up in this statement in chapter 28: Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you…
All these things took place historically. Our ancestors broke faith with God, and as a result we went into long and bitter exiles into Assyria and later into Babylon. Our cities were laid waste, Jerusalem and the marvelous temple Solomon built were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of our people died; all because we violated the covenant into which we willingly entered with God.
But that covenant also included the promise that the One who sent us into exile would regather us to the Land and restore our prosperity. In fact, that is the theme of Isaiah 60, which is this week’s haftarah reading. It’s a lovely picture of a people forgiven, re-gathered, living peacefully and prosperously, enjoying the good favor with the surrounding nations, and acknowledging Adonai as our everlasting light.
And while in our own day Israel has been re-born as a nation, and many Jewish people have returned there, Isaiah’s prophecy of peace, prosperity and favor with the nations still eludes us. And that has to do with the repudiation of the NEW COVENANT – the one established by God through Messiah Yeshua. So long as my people persist in unbelief, we will be left to fend for ourselves, as it were. But, by God’s unfailing word, Messiah will return, the eyes of Israel will at last be opened, and better days will follow.
Sadly, many people today, including far too many Christians, see the rebirth of Israel and the return of my Jewish people to our ancient homeland, as little more than circumstantial. Whether through ignorance or outright prejudice, they fail to grasp what God’s merciful nature is all about. Even those who are quick to claim grace for themselves, insist that Israel must earn the right to be there. “Grace for me, but not for thee.”
Let those of us who enjoy life in the New Covenant economy be grateful, not resentful, and not hold a double-standard. And I admonish any who think that God is done with Israel, and that the Church has replaced her, to repent of that arrogance; arrogance about which we were specifically warned. Adonai is the same gracious, forgiving, covenant-keeping God yesterday and today, yes and forever.