Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Adonai is completely unique; in all the universe there is none like the Lord. This week our parasha is Va’etchanan, meaning “and I pleaded” and covers Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11. The name of this parasha conveys a major theme: the plea of Moses to God and for the generation about to enter the Promised Land, and all the generations that would come after. This parasha contains many laws, as well as the Shema, and the repeating of The Ten Commandments. However, this morning I would like to discuss the plea of Moses to our people, both then and now, and how it is still very relevant to Messiah’s Community today.
In the previous chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses has been recapping the history of our people, and at the end of chapter 3 we reach the point where Moses was told by God he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his sin. We continue with chapter 4 where Moses expounds upon the great theme of Deuteronomy: namely, to follow The Lord completely so that you may live. Most of the nearly 2.5 million people who left Egypt were condemned to die in the wilderness for their sins; we had roughly the same number in the next generation that took control of the Promised Land. For these numbers to occur thousands had to die every single day in the wilderness. In that sense, Moses led the longest and largest funeral procession in the history of mankind!
Now Moses reminds the people of what had happened a few weeks previously at Baal-Peor, where a plague struck all those who had decided to follow that false pagan god. Those who followed that false god were killed, but those who followed the ways of the Lord were kept alive. Moses continues, contrasting the people of God with all other peoples on the Earth. We have a God who is everywhere and that can be called upon at any time As David wrote in Psalm 139:7 “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Unlike the pagan gods of the other nations, we do not have to journey to a specific place to pray to the Lord. Adonai does not just have control over a hill, or a river, or a nation, but all of creation is His and there is no place the Lord cannot be found.
Moses also declares that there is no people with statutes like ours. The Torah, the Law of God, is holy, as are all the divinely inspired writings of the Old and New Covenants. There is no book on Earth like the Bible: Over 40 authors, separated by thousands of years, with one voice through their writings in complete harmony, conveying truth on every single aspect of existence. The writings of all other religions and philosophies are “mixed bags” containing contradictions and falsehoods. They are “spiritual knock-offs”. So when it comes to the Word of God, you cannot accept any substitutes and hope to attain to life, either in this world or the World-To-Come.
In light of these things Moses charges our people to speak to their children and their children’s children about the greatness of The Lord. We are to tell how they were called at Mount Horeb to hear the Lord speak His commandments while the mountain burned with fire, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. They heard the voice of God speak to them but there was no visible form. The Lord did not reveal himself as an old man with a white beard, or any other silly depiction we have of Him.
Since there was no form we were to have no idols of any kind, but Moses warned that if we resorted to worshiping idols, we would be cast out of the Promised Land. But we were also promised that the Lord would later restore us when we turned back to Him; not because of our own merit, but because of the mercy of God and the covenant He made with our forefathers. We know this prophecy of exile and return was fulfilled with the first exile.
Moses concludes by stating the complete uniqueness that is the history of our people in verses 32-35: For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.
We were chosen by God, and because of His great love we were saved from Egypt. There is no god like Adonai, The Lord alone is God, and Moses commands us to press this fact onto our hearts. He also commands us yet again to keep His commandments, generation to generation, so that we might live.
In chapter 5 Moses repeats the Ten Commandments to this new generation. Moses makes the powerful statement that God did not make this covenant with the previous generation but with this one. Our covenant with God is not one of ancient history but is renewed through every generation. The Lord is the God of the living, not the dead.
Chapter 6 has Moses continuing with the greatest commandments: declaring the uniqueness of God, and loving Him with the totality of who we are. This passage of Scripture we call The Shema and it has been recited for thousands of years. Messiah Yeshua taught these were the greatest commandments of them all. Moses commands us to follow the commands of God with diligence; binding them to our hands, teaching them at all times of the day, teaching them to our children, and applying them to the doorposts of our homes. God’s Word should permeate our lives.
Moses again states we are not to forget the Lord in the land to which we are going, to shun idolatry, and to not test God like we did at Massah. The chapter concludes with Moses stating that when our children ask why we follow the commands of God that we tell them what He did for us in Egypt: that He led us from that land to this promised one. Also that if we follow these statutes the Lord will keep us alive, as he continues to do to this day.
The message wasn’t meant merely for our people in that generation; it is a message for us today. The exhortations of Moses to keep the commandments of God, to truly know Him, to love Him with the totality of our being, and to raise up the next generation is given lip service today by most of our Jewish People, and many of those who claim to be followers of Yeshua, but far fewer are prepared to believe it, and fewer still to live it.
Only 16% of American Jews attend services at least once a week according to recent findings by the Pew Research Forum. Too many of our people have forgotten what the Lord has done for us, with the Shema recited by rote, out of mere tradition, and religious trappings have been substituted for a living relationship with our Creator.
We have idols of all kinds in this age, courtesy of humanism and paganism. Syncretism abounds. Jewish homes have mezuzahs (those small containers with Scripture) placed on their doorposts, but then they also have Buddha statues on their desks. As long as you don’t believe in that “Jesus guy” it seems that everything else is permissible to the secular Jew and Gentile. I have been to Passover Seders, which for thousands of years have commemorated and taught our liberation from Egypt, where the majority of the adults around the table couldn’t explain what the elements meant when asked by the children!
This isn’t limited to just the Jewish Community but to Messiah’s Community of Jews and Gentiles as well. We know of all the false and erroneous doctrines being taught today, the liberalization and casual disregard for the Word of God, and the elevation of a person’s opinion over what God states clearly. We have forgotten the plea of Moses and strayed from the Lord in all the ways talked about today. But Moses was not the only person to call us to follow God’s ways and not our own. We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” – a long line of godly men who spoke His word, culminating in the greatest Rabbi of them all, Messiah Yeshua.
Yeshua’s teachings echo and more deeply touch the same themes Moses taught on. Our people in His day had been seduced by Greek thought and legalism. In contrast, Yeshua taught returning to the ways of God so that we may live, not just life in this world but eternal life with Him forever. The majority of our people and people worldwide have rejected their Redeemer who is the fulfillment of all of Scripture. Many people choose to test the Lord and presume that they can get to Heaven on their own merit, or the merits of those who came before them; but the truth is no human being can draw near to Adonai on their own “goodness” and survive. There is only one way, one truth, and one life and that is through the Son of God, Messiah Yeshua.
If you have not yet made Him the focus of your life and joined yourself to Him, then “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your heart”. Take heed to the plea of Moses and all of God’s anointed servants, and resolve this day to return to the Lord. May we never forget all the great things Adonai has done, is doing, and will do for us.