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The roller-coaster ride of ancient Israel through trust in the LORD, apathy and rebellion mirrors our the turmoil that swirls around our daily lives. This week’s Torah reading, דברים Devarim (“words,” Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22), starts a “second telling” — Deuteronomy in Greek — to the post-Exodus generation of why Israel exists and what its mission is.
One lesson of the first generation of the Exodus is this: We don’t have forever to decide if we are going to accept God’s call. When God tells us to act, we need to respond quickly in obedience. If we stall and delay, our reward may pass us by.
Moses is giving them the “where we have been” speech. He is going over the past 38 years. They had traveled around for 38 years on a journey that should have only taken 11 days. The land was not that far away but God was not going to let them get anywhere near it.
You might have noticed the phrase “stop traveling around the mountain.” The wilderness wandering included a time of circumnavigating Mt. Horeb. They had to pick up their entire camp, including the Tabernacle, just to move a short distance and settle down again. This pattern repeated around the entire mountain.
Moses encourages the people to choose their elders and Moses would anoint them for office. One of the reasons for the appointment of elders for this community is based on the advise of Moses’ father in law, Yitro. During the early years of the Exodus, Israel had friendly relations with the nation of Midian, but at the end, Midian turned against Israel and corrupted them with idolatry.
Moses encourages them to think about not just where they are going but who are you going to be? They are a nation following a long legacy of promises going back to Abraham.
Israel was not the only nation given promises by God. The children of Esau and Lot also received their own “promised lands” from God, although Edom, Ammon and Moab didn’t fully appreciate or give thanks to the One who blessed them.
History matters. Knowing where you come from matters, whether it’s your genealogy, your case-law, constitution. If they don’t, you will drift away from who you are towards something else.
The picture of rest that this land will give the people is more than this is where you have your mail forwarded to. This land will be the land where they belong. If the children of Israel fail to hold up their end of the bargain, they will no longer belong to the land and God will kick them out.
Apostle Paul outlined qualifications for leaders of congregations in letters to Timothy and Titus (1Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–2:14). Overseers are held to a very high standard.
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:1-7 NASB)
“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 3:8-13 NASB)
The other instructions about leaders of the assembly that parallel this passage is found in the letter to Titus. It’s a little tiny letter before the book of Hebrews.
One of the things expanded on here, is that Titus doesn’t just talk about how the leaders are supposed to behave but how the congregation are supposed to behave, too. The rank and file members of the congregation must also be people of good character. People of poor character do not tend to appoint people of good character over them. They tend to elect people like themselves.
“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,” (Titus 1:5–2:11 NASB)
We don’t have “bondservants” in our culture but we are all supposed to be bondservants to God. The instruction about being a good bondservant can also apply to being a good employee.
This advise is not just a “set and forget” recommendation. We aren’t just supposed to hold those around us to a high standard but we are to hold ourselves to the same high standard.
The qualifications for leadership that Paul gives Titus they are to “stick to sound teaching” so they can correct others. If you don’t have a standard of “sound teaching”, it’s hard to keep oneself straight.
The Bible is NOT “a living document” it does not bend and warp depending on the changing of the culture around us.
Deuteronomy lays out Israel’s mission statement. It’s not just about one incident over another or one instruction over another. It shows us the greater plan of what God is doing and wants to do through the people of Israel.
One of the things we need to consider to get some perspective, is to look at the Haftarah in Isaiah 1:1–27.
This reading is a part of three parashah admonitions between the fast of the month of Tammuz and the fast of the month of Av:
- First: Pinchas/Mattot: Jer. 1:1–2:3
- Second: Mattot/Massei: Jer. 2:4–28; 3:4; 4:1–2
- Third: Devarim: Isa. 1:1–27
The events in the book of Isaiah take places hundreds of years after the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, they are preparing to enter the land. In Isaiah, God is preparing to kick them out.
Deuteronomy ends with talk of a new covenant. It foreshadows a renewal of the covenant. But Isaiah shows us that something has to change. A different kind of people has to be a part of this. They have to be changed from the inside. When we are changed on the inside, the outside will change too. If only the outside is changed, no long-term good comes from that.
Think about this: If you were to fast-forward to the end of your life and take down an assessment of your life and send a message back to your younger self, what would you say?
If you could send a message to George Washington and tell him about how the US has changed, what would you tell him?
God set up His house for a reason and when He re-establishes it, it will serve a similar purpose. The abomination of desolation is a sober warning to all of us, whether it comes from Moses, Isaiah or the Apostle Paul.
We should be cognizant of what the Temple on earth is: a pattern of what is in Heaven. The kind of sacrifice it takes to move us from the world to God’s presence is an innocent, one-time permanent sacrifice.
One “benefit” of the Temple Institute and their efforts of restoring traditional temple rituals, including the animal sacrifices, teaches us the horror of death and the horror of how sin causes death. That was always the point of them.
In Isaiah 1:8, Isaiah tells us that the daughter of Zion will be left desolate. like a sukkah or shelter in a vineyard. This image is used again a few chapters later when God calls Israel the LORD’s vineyard (Isa. 5:7).
Functionally, one would put up shelters or sukkahs in vineyards during harvests. Here in Sonoma wine county, you will find similar temporary shelters set up in the vineyard workers during the harvest.
After harvest, when the leaves have fallen off and the grapes are picked off, and the vines take their winter nap, the vineyard looks abandoned desolate.
“And He has violently treated His tabernacle like a garden booth; He has destroyed His appointed meeting place. The LORD has caused to be forgotten The appointed feast and sabbath in Zion, And He has despised king and priest In the indignation of His anger.” (Lam. 2:6)
These are all things that are wrapped up in the worship of God and the praise of God on earth. The appointed times are reminders of God’s work on earth. If you see God’s work and how God has removed Himself, that should be a cause for mourning.
Why did He remove Himself from those things that He personally set up?
God also compares Zion to a besieged city. This could be the vision of Sennacharib’s besieging Yehudah’s cities, leaving Yerushalyim standing. Yerushalyim was an island in a sea of destroyed cities and villages.
He even compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah, which should have stung like a slap in the face.
“Now the generation to come, your sons who rise up after you and the foreigner who comes from a distant land, when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’ “All the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ “Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. ‘They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them. ‘Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.’” (Deuteronomy 29:22–28 NASB)
Wow. That should be a sobering thought about what the message we should get when God takes down something He personally set up.
Yet this curse was about following other gods. The northern tribes had mixed in worship of other gods with that of the LORD, and the southern tribes later started adopting that, to the point that it was going on in the Temple.
What happened in the North, didn’t stay in the North. The seeds of their idolatry went to the South and took up root there too.
Archaeologists have dug up many little statues from this time period that say “To YHVH and his Ashtoreth.” That should disgust anyone who believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but that is part of Israel’s history.
The Apostle Paul quotes Isa. 1:9 in Rom 9:29 to communicate that if God hadn’t spared a remnant, Israel wouldn’t have survived. There will always be a remnant who understands what God is doing and follow Him.
He also compares the leadership of Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the back story behind Rev. 11:8, which likens Yerushalayim to Sodom. The people of Sodom wanted to kill Lot just for the little bit of light he tried to show to them. That is why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. They insulted, ignored and tried to extinguish the little bit of light God gave them.
We should talk a lesson from Israel and the history of other people who rejected God’s mercy and light and not follow in their disobedient footsteps.
In Isa. 1:11–17, God starts railing against the sacrifices, the assemblies and then against the New Moon and other modem. God calls them a burden. Since the 2nd Century AD, this text was one of the “a-ha” moments that lead the Church to chart its course away from the biblical calendar and feasts and towards the path of creating their own.
This passage was given a lot of legs by the second-century writing Epistle of Barnabas, alleged to be from Paul’s traveling partner (Barnabas 2:4–6).
“He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation” (Barnabas 2:6).
But the context of Isaiah 1:11-17 and the entire book itself is about hypocrisy and perversion, not what God originally commanded. After all, Isa. 1:15 talks about hypocritical prayer, which few would say God abolished.
Later in Isaiah 58, he condemns their hypocrisy on Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement).
What was God memorializing? Was He teaching a slot machine kind of salvation? No. He wants to be Emanuel, “God with us.” That is what He wants. But being with us requires us to allow Him to change our hearts.
The Epistle of Barnabas teaches that what God said in Isaiah is that He was abolishing His feasts, His sacrifices, etc.. If that’s the case how about Isaiah 1:15?
“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Isaiah 1:15 NAS95)
Did God abolish prayer, too? No. He is calling them to remove the evil from their hearts and actions. He tells them how to change their hearts. When their hearts are in the right place, the feasts, sacrifices, etc. mean something and God will acknowledge and enjoy our feasts.
There are four stages of repentance.
1. Wash yourselves. Make yourselves clean.
2. Remove the evil of your deeds from YHWH’s sight. God sees what is done in secret.
3. Cease to do evil. Change your behavior.
4. Learn to do good.
We can’t fool God, we can’t hide anything from God, even if we fool and hide our true selves from others. Even if they can’t see the wall between you and God, God sees it and deep down, if you are not in repentance, you see that wall, too.
God wants an open heart, if your heart is not open, you need to ask God for a new heart. You have to realize there’s a problem and go in a different direction.
Yeshua warned us about mixing the “doctrines of men” with God’s Torah.
“The Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”” (Mark 7:5–8 NASB)
God wants faithfulness. God was faithful to Israel even when they weren’t. He stood by them far longer than they deserved. He kept calling them and trying to restore them but they didn’t listen. God endured their abandonment of Him, their adultery against Him.
God knew there was always someone who would be willing to hear. In the days of Abab, 7000 people refused to bend their knees to Ba’al. God has people who are willing to follow Him.
“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalms 51:7 NASB)
This is what God is about. God wants those who have hearts that He can write His words upon.
The gods of the nations around them did not care about their subjects hearts. They demanded outward obedience and lots of blood.
We have to be cunning because there are people out to get us, but we can’t be out to get people. We need to be vigilant and kindhearted, not nasty or naive.
The purification and repentance that Messiah will come to do is discussed in the prophets and the New Testament.
The haftarah reading ends on a triumphant note.
“Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness.” (Isaiah 1:27 NASB)
It will be a place everyone will want to be. It will be the place of prayer Solomon prayed it would become. People want to be around people who are warm and likable.
We have to be ready to speak the message that God wants to be with them and what God wants of them is not a hard yoke.
We don’t want to be a people who when God tries to turn the key to our heart, that there’s no response. We don’t want our heart to grow stony and cold.
We have seen the back of the book and we know how God will triumph. God’s law is not “behind the times” but forever relevant.
Banner Photo: When God speaks to you, the time to respond is NOW! (Photo by Richard Dudley/Freeimages.com under Creative Commons License).