Words, Names & Things – Devarim


he book of Deuteronomy’s Hebrew name is “Devarim”. This is how the Book starts, “These are the Words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness…”. All the names in the Hebrew Bible are just “the opening words!” Exodus in all other languages but in Hebrew, “The Names” of the Children of Jacob that came down to Egypt.”

The name Deuteronomy is an actual name that speaks of the content of the book, Deuteronomy comes from two Greek words, Deuteron = Second, and Nomos = Law i.e. the second giving of the Law. And in fact, this is the content of most of the book of Deuteronomy.

Moses in his last address to the people of Israel, encamped on the east side of the Jordan River is giving them about a three-hour lecture standing outside in the Jordan River Valley, in the Spring of the Year (It was not long before the 14 days of the Month of Nissan when they celebrated the first time since they left Egypt).

I imagine that it was hot and there was no air-conditioning and no good, padded theater seats, and Moses was talking and reorganizing the Law as it was given in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and fitting it more for a nation settled securely in their own homes and gardens and property on the Land that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as an everlasting inheritance.

This Shabbat we will be reading from Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22 , from the prophets Isaiah 1:1-27, and from the New Testament, we will read 1Timothy 3:1-7. All these readings are very powerful and if I had to choose one that I would consider most pertinent for our days and times, I would choose Isaiah chapter 1. Isaiah chapter 1 deals with the same issues that Paul deals with in Acts chapter 17 with the idol-worshiping Greeks.

The issue of too much religion and too little faith and morality and justice and righteousness are the issues that Isaiah in chapter 1 is dealing with as also the prophets Hosea, Amos, Haggai…. However, since we are just beginning to read the book of Deuteronomy, I feel compelled to at least deal a little with Moses in the last chapter of his life and the rearrangement of the order and emphasis of the Torah to fit better in the permanent dwellings of the tribes of Israel in the Land of Canaan.

During the 40 years of wilderness wandering of Moses and the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert, the Tabernacle of God was in the center of the camp. There was easy access of all the tribes and their families to the Tabernacle of God and each one could see by day the cloud of God’s presence and by night the pillar of fire. Now in the land of Promise, Canaan, the tribes will be spread all through the land from Dan to Beersheba and beyond.

There is a need for more functioning priests, so every Levite that is not from the family of Aaron the brother of Moses can be a priest in his own town or village and take his turn for a week in Jerusalem once per year. Because there is one temple in Jerusalem the people from the far corners of the land can’t wait to eat meat only after it was offered on the Altar. So, Every Levite in every village could slaughter a Kosher animal in a Kosher way and the people of the village or town could eat meat without having to go from the Galilee or the Negev to Jerusalem.

Here are the issues that bothered Moses, he had to get them off his chest before getting to the real heavy issues of the Torah and the settlement in the land.

1. The sharing of power, “I am alone, and I am not able to bear you!” Moses understands that it is too much of a burden for him to be the only and top leader of the people and he explains to the Israelites that it was good and wise for him to share the leadership and the administration of the people:

“How can I alone bear your problems and your burdens and your complaints? 13 Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.’ 14 And you answered me and said, “The thing which you have told us to do is good.” (Deuteronomy 1:12-14)

2. Moses is worried about the legal system that needed to be standardized and organized. He was the only top judge in the camp of Israel for 40 years. Now he will no longer be there for them and the authority for the righteousness in the Camp of Israel needs to be put in place before his climb to Mount Nebo to die!

“Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. 17  You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it. 18 And I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do.” (Deuteronomy 1:16-18)

3. With all the criticism that Moses has for the people of Israel’s behavior in the wilderness and their desire to go back to Egypt more than one time and blame Moses for taking them out of the fleshpots of Egypt. Now Moses says to the leader of Israel:

“For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hand. He knows your trudging through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” (Deuteronomy 2:7)

I am learning from all the Biblical characters, from their victories and their problems alike, but I have and am continuing to learn from Moses and his leadership of the rabble that came out of Slavery in Egypt and was granted in one generation is a totally great example of what a leader, a pastor, preacher, priest, or just CFO of any community or company ought to do and be an example of what a good leader and how a leader ought to be both a comforting and encouraging leader and also a leader who can point out the wrong things and the weakness of the community.

I believe that Moses is the ultimate divinely led leader in the history of the Bible and one that was most intimate with the LORD and most humble and considerate of the people of Israel. The Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea as a nation of morally broken slaves, faithless, squabbling, and divided triable and selfish aspirations. The wilderness experience is described in very different colors by the 8th Century B.C. prophets.

For Israel the giving of the Torah in Mount Sinai was the wedding, and the Torah is our Ketubah (Writing of Divorcement) and the 40 years of wondering was the Honey-Moon, that is how Jeremiah describes that period:

“Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the LORD, the first fruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; Disaster will come upon them,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 2:2-3 NKJV)

“Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness—Israel, when I went to give him rest.” The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore, with loving kindness, I have drawn you. Again, I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice.” (Jeremiah 31:2-4)

I could go on and bring more such texts that fully reverse the criticism of Israel by the prophets of Israel. Christians need to re-read the Torah from the beginning to the end and also the prophets in order to be cured of the very negative attitude that they inherited from the church fathers of the 2nd to the 6th Centuries after Christ.

I suggest that we all read again Isaiah chapter 1 from the beginning to the end, and we will understand so much better the words of Yeshua and Paul (Acts 17:23-31):

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.”(Matthew 24:41-43)

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.