Parashat Devarim (Deuteronomy)

The Parasha this week is a new book and the name of the book and the name of the Parasha is the same – that is Devarim (words) or in English, Deuteronomy – derived from the Septuagint where Deutero meaning a second time indicates a repetition of the law – nomos. The Jewish title Mishneh Torah meaning ‘repetition of the Torah’ was also given by our fore-bearers, so from that the name Deuteronomion was given in the Septuagint which became Deuteronomy in English. In Hebrew the Ten Commandments are known as the Aseret Hadibrot literally the ‘Ten Words’ so the book of Devarim (words) includes repetition of the words spoken by God to Moses on Sinai.

The reading is Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

After just under forty years of wandering, in the eleventh month of the fortieth year Moses instructs the people to get ready on the east side of the Jordan to cross it and enter the land.

Moses reminds the people of the events that led up to them being in that place. He goes right back to the time he appointed leaders under him to resolve day to day issues leaving him free to take care of the weightier matters. He reminds them of their rebellion in the wilderness and refusal to fight the inhabitants of the land when commanded to. They then try to do the same by their own strength when not commanded to,  resulting in ignominy and defeat. He reminds them of how they defeated the Amorites who would not permit them to pass through their land killing both the kings Sihon and Og.

The lands east of the Jordan as we studied last week in Parashat Matot/ Massei were given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, but the fighting men of those tribes were still to fight alongside their compatriots from the other tribes when they crossed over the Jordan to possess the land promised to them.

Having reminded the people of God’s faithfulness up to that point, he reiterates his endorsement of Joshua to succeed him with the assurance that under Joshua’s command God would continue to bring victory and possess the land the other side of the Jordan.

Haftarat Devarim                                   הפטרות דברים

The Haftarah is the third of the Haftaroth of rebuke completing the trilogy leading  up to Tisha B’av  which is observed this Sunday, which is actually the 10th of Av but deferred one day so as not to be required to fast on Shabbat.  The reading is Isaiah 1:1-1:27

The ministry of Isaiah took place well before the first exile to Babylon but even during his time of the eighth century before the Common Era the behaviour that caused Judah to go into exile was already being displayed. He says they are rebellious children who God has raised and nurtured but in their great wisdom they had decided to reject the LORD

The ox knows its master,
    the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.’  Isaiah 1:3

Even in the time before the exile they suffered incursions from Assyria which left a fertile land desolate. Isaiah however is not a man to end with words of condemnation. There is always a way out in repentance which can always lead to restoration of the things taken away but the people’s own foolishness. The country was full of religious ritual. God was interested in righteous living, not religious ritual.

The prophet offers a deal. Though their sins be scarlet there is a way they can be made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18) The passage ends with a promise to those who ask for forgiveness

Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness. Isaiah 1:27 (ESV)

Messianic Message

In Shakespearean tragedies the heroes often take a long time to die. They recite numerous soliloquies before they finally give up the ghost. Since the Torah precedes Shakespeare we can assume that he got this idea from there since Moses takes a long time to die.

However, the reason the law is repeated is to make sure that we learn it. Repetition emphasizes its importance. In this speech Moses recaps to the people their history over the forty wilderness years. Over that time a rabble of slaves had been turned into a disciplined people. Recounting how we arrive somewhere does not mean we dwell on the past, but it is an important springboard into the future. Joshua had proved his faithfulness by coming back with a positive report after spying out the land. Likewise, we should show ourselves approved by God

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 1 Tim 2:15

The battle for God’s kingdom to be established on earth is with us each day. The crossing of the Jordan was still ahead but all the years of wandering had built up to that moment since they were now a coherent force with a leadership structure and a knowledge of how they were live their lives. Every edict proclaimed by the LORD through his servant Moses had been challenged at some time but each time the challenge had been dealt with. In some cases, it was worship of idols like the golden calf. In others, it was lack of recognition of those appointed by God. Each time there was a challenge to God’s authority it was dealt with, and God’s authority was established by being tested.

The appointment of leadership in the Messianic Community needs great wisdom. We should ask these questions

  • Are they in it for their own aggrandizement or to serve their congregation?
  • Do they recognize and promote talent among those they lead do they want to be always in the limelight?
  • Do they love the Word of God or do they just study when they have to preach a sermon?
  • Do they prove their point by example of by argument?

Once a leader has been tested and found to meet these criteria then he should be recognized, and their position respected and listened to.

As with the crossing of the Jordan river, the entry into the kingdom was to be marked by crossing through water. Likewise, we mark coming into the kingdom through immersion in water. We go under the water to symbolize death to our old way of life and then are raised out of it to symbolize the promise of being raised with Messiah into life eternal.

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.