Parsha: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22)
The High Price of Disobedience
D’varim דְּבָרִים (“Words”) Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22
This Shabbat brings us to the introduction of the fifth book of Moses, known in the English Bible as Deuteronomy and in the Hebrew Bible as D’varim – “Words”. The book begins,These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness…. The Hebrew names of the books and passages are taken from the key word in the opening sentence. So how did we get the name Deuteronomy? It is from the Greek words deuteros meaning “a second time” and nomos meaning “law” and in fact is actually based on a misunderstanding of chapter 17, verse 18, which reads, Now it shall come about when he (Israel’s king) sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll… Somehow instead of a copy of this law the Hebrew was rendered a second law and so the book itself received that name. In fairness, the book of Deuteronomy does reiterate much of the content of Exodus and Numbers. It is a recapping of our initial approach to Canaan, our disobedience there and having to turn around and head back into the wilderness, and culminates with our return a generation later to claim the land. It also recounts our wars with Sihon and Og, kings of Heshbon and Bashan, and the beginning of the conquest of the land.
Deuteronomy opens with a reminder of Israel’s dismal failure. Verse two says that the entire journey from Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea should have taken just eleven days. Yet verse three goes on to say, “And it came about in the fortieth year…” Forty years to go eleven days’ journey? What went wrong? Are Jewish people directionally dysfunctional? Was it for lack of a GPS system? No, it was because of distrust and open rebellion against God, resulting in judgment. He said to us, See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess it.But Israel second-guessed their Redeemer.
Before the invasion we decided first to send an advance party to check out the situation. For forty days these twelve men, representing each of the tribes, spied out the land. They returned with a report: the land was lovely and fruitful; truly eretz zavat chalav u’dvash – a land flowing with milk and honey. But ten of the twelve spies discouraged the people with fearful stories of fortified cities and races of giants that dwarfed the Israelis by comparison. The ten spies didn’t believe the battle belongs to the Lord. Their discouraging report frightened our people into giving up before we’d even started. The people turned on Moses, accusing him and God of evil intent; this despite the wonderful miracles He had already performed right before their eyes. That generation of Israel was consigned to turn around and spend an entire generation in the wilderness (40 years – a year for each of the days they spied out the land).
God commanded us, saying, As for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea. Once again, however, we refused to obey. We had a sudden change of heart, and decided that fighting the Canaanites was, after all, better than schlepping around for 40 years in the desert. Moses warned us not to attempt it. We had already had our chance but refused. Moses told us that if we went up against Canaan now, God would not go with us, and the results would be disastrous. Well, in spite of the warning, we decided to go up and fight anyway. And just as Moses foretold, we were driven back and many of our people were needlessly killed. Humbled by this tragedy, we were finally ready to obey God, and now turned back to the wilderness, our numbers sadly diminished.
Psalm 95 includes a memorial to the consequences of unbelief and the high cost of disobedience. You and I are expected to learn from Israel’s failure. The Scriptures have been wondrously preserved, in large part so that this generation might not repeat the disobedience and failure of that generation in Israel, and suffer similarly.
The author of the letter to the Messianic Jews, quoting from Psalm 95 wrote, Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation…
He went on to write, Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God (Hebrews 3:8, 12).
Let me share a closing thought specifically with any of you who are uncommitted. Maybe you’re not sure that you’re ready to believe in Yeshua as Messiah; perhaps you’re afraid of the disapproval of family or friends. Or maybe you are a believer in Messiah Yeshua, but you haven’t done anything about it; perhaps you’re not sure you’re really ready to serve Him. If either of these situations describes you, then you have unresolved business with God. By all means, settle it today. Israel would not enter the Promised Land until she was prepared to do so on His terms.
God’s terms are that you transfer your complete loyalties to Messiah Yeshua, that you make it publicly known, and that you live in obedience to His teachings.
The good news for Israel is that God forgives. The next generation, led by Joshua, did indeed conquer the land and take possession of it, according to God’s command. The good news for you and me is that God is unchanging. He still forgives. The atoning death of Yeshua, Jesus of Nazareth, is more than sufficient to bring complete forgiveness for our sins and reconcile us to God. But be clear about this: disobedience to God’s word leads to disaster and heartache. Don’t second-guess Him, and don’t doubt the wisdom that comes through His Word.
Lord God of Israel and Father of our Lord Messiah Yeshua, please help us to have a heart that fully trusts You, obeys You, reverences You; a heart so filled with gratitude for what You have done for us that our greatest desire is to tell the world.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Devarim דְּבָרִים. Other transliterations: D’varim, or Debarim.