by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song… If you were thinking of Sgt. Pepper, think again. The parasha for this Shabbat is Deuteronomy chapter 32, and is entitled HaAzinu, from the Hebrew word ozen אֹ֫זֶן – ear. HaAzinu means “Give ear!”. It opens this way:
הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה
Give ear, O you Heavens, and I will speak!
Who knew Moses was a songwriter? This parasha is comprised of a song that Moses wrote according to God’s command; a song which was to be read aloud before all of Israel. The words are strikingly similar to those which would be spoken by the prophet Isaiah many centuries later – words of warning and judgment against Israel’s sin:
Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the Lord speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have rebelled against Me (Isaiah 1:2).
Music has always been an important component of the worship offered by God’s people. You may recall that shortly after the Exodus from Egypt Moses and Miriam sang a song to the Lord, declaring His might and the victory over our oppressors. Everyone knows about that song, but this one is a little more obscure. I guess that makes it the “B side”. If it isn’t quite as popular, the reason is that this is a song that foretells God’s judgment on our people for repaying His goodness by our treachery. Our collective betrayal would earn us God’s wrath. In that sense, the song is a prophecy but woven in poetic style. It is a preview of the centuries to come, a complete pre-history of the dealings between God and Israel and the surrounding nations.
One of the most striking features of the Song of Moses is the repetition of God as our Rock. No less than five times Adonai is declared to be the Rock:
He is HaTzur – the Rock (v. 4)
He is Tzur Yeshuato – the Rock of Israel’s salvation (v. 15)
He is Tzur Yelad’cha – the Rock who gave you birth (v. 18)
He is Tzuram M’charam – their Rock who sold them (v. 30)
And in verse 31 it is categorically stated, Lo c’tzureinu tzuram – their rock (the false gods of the other nations) is not like our Rock!
God’s great power, love and faithfulness is contrasted with Israel’s weakness, need and disloyalty. Verses 7-14 show God’s jealous love and protective and guiding hand upon our ancestors, and His gracious and generous provisions. It even goes so far as to declare that God determined the boundaries of the nations based on the number of the sons of Israel (vs. 8-9). Israel is the apple of God’s eye, the object of His unique affections.
But in verses 15-17 we read,
But Yeshurun grew fat and kicked – you are grown fat, thick and sleek – then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to shaydeem – demons!
These demons are the gods of the nations with whom Israel played the harlot. They are described as “new” gods – gods they had not known – “Johnny-come-lately” gods.
In judgment against their faithlessness, Moses sings in prophetically perfect past tense of God’s abandoning Israel to the whims of the nations. Centuries later Israel would, in fact, be subject to captivity in Assyria and Judah to captivity in Babylon.
Gratefully, the song does not end on a suspended chord; it resolves. Beginning in verse 34, God declares that He will have compassion on His people, vindicate them, and turn around and execute vengeance on the nations that abused them. In verse 39 He says, See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
1,400 years later those words would be echoed by the Rock now incarnate. Messiah Yeshua declared,
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
One of the haftarah readings that accompanies HaAzinu is Hosea 14:2-10. It paints a beautiful picture of a once-wayward people acknowledging their transgressions, and in repentance being brought near to the Lord again.
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Bring words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips… and the Lord responds, I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them.
I think it’s especially appropriate on this Shabbat – Shabbat Shuvah, that we be reminded that the same God who is holy and who will not tolerate sin also desires to save us and to reconcile us to Himself.
The lesson we are meant to learn from HaAzinu is that God judges transgressions, sin and iniquity, but when He judges His people, it is with their eventual restoration in mind. He desires that we return to Him. God continues to declare, “Return to Me and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
Now that the Messiah has come, returning to God consists not only of turning from sinful ways in a generic sense, but more specifically of renouncing your unbelief and trusting in Yeshua the Messiah. He alone is the One upon whom God has set His seal of approval. Yeshua Himself is our Yom Kippur sacrifice. He Himself is Tzur Yeshuataynu – the Rock of our Salvation.
This song is one that has a happy ending. Your life can have a happy ending; your place in the World-To-Come can be secure. Are you listening to God’s music?
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Ha’azinu הַאֲזִינוּ. Other transliterations: Haazinu or Ha’Azinu