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Rumination #41: Why are we commanded to love G-d? Why do the theologians discount this prime command?

To be fair, theologians do not think that they discount the command to love G-d. But if they understood the command as do those who make the Shema a part of their life experience, their appreciation of this commandment would be far better.

If we are "no longer under the law" as some misquote Galatians; are we still under this law? If I am "under grace" am I free to cast aside the command to love G-d with all my heart, soul, and might? If so, then why did Yeshua declare this to be the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:38? Clearly, the theologians do not understand what it means to be commanded to "love HaShem your G-d," if they think it survives their scribe's knife, where they cut out whole portions of Scripture in favor of their tradition.

No, to "love HaShem your G-d" is not merely an esoteric thing. We are not commanded to have "nice feelings for G-d." We are not commanded to merely speak about our "deep love for Him." We are commanded to love Him with all our heart, our soul, and our might. Those are not accidental words. They are intentional. They pertain to all of our human existence. Our all.

Those who think that they can love G-d and still ignore His will for them can think again. Love and Obedience always go together. Love and Fear always go together. There is far more to this command "love HaShem your G-d" than meets the eye of the theologian who is more interested in his hermeneutic traditions than Scripture. Far more. It is why Yeshua called this command the greatest… because it contains all the rest.

Beloved, the Shema is a call of complete allegiance to the King. The Shema is a call to love the King. That means to completely obey Him. You cannot love the King, and disregard His loving instructions found within the Torah.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of G-d is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
1John 2:3-6

Parashat Devarim  - 'Words' (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

This week's Scripture portion begins in the book of Deuteronomy. The Hebrew name for the book is the name for this week's parasha: Devarim. The title for the portion comes from the first verse. 

Eleh ha-Devarim, asher diber Moshe el-kol-Yisra'el, b'ever, ha-iYarden: bamidbar ba'Aravah mol Suf bein-Paran uvein-Tofel, v'Lavan vaChatzerot--v'Di-zahav.

These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.
Deuteronomy 1:1

What "words"? What was the occasion and the purpose for these words? Beloved, the answer to those questions has far more bearing upon us today than many realize.

Verse 2 sets the stage for us in a back-handed sort of way.

It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea.
Deuteronomy 1:2

It is almost like the Torah is rubbing it in. It should have taken eleven days to go from Sinai [Horeb] into the Promised Land. Instead, it has been thirty-eight and a half years. The reason? Because the generation that refused G-d's inheritance at Kadesh Barnea had not listened to the very words that Moses is about to repeat here on the Plain of Moab next to the Jordan River, opposite the pagan Jericho. Just like many in that same location 1,400 years later would not listen to these words. Just like many, 3,400 years later are still not listening to these words. So, what exactly are these words?

We get our English title for this book from the Latin and Greek. "Deuteronomy" literally means "Second Law." This is not a "Second Law" - heaven forbid. HaShem does not undo His words with new ones. In this book of "Deuteronomy" Moses is repeating the Torah to the children of the generation that rejected HaShem's Promised Land. Moses is teaching the Torah to them on the Plain of Moab on the other side of the Jordan River from Jericho. Hence this book is often called "Mishneh Torah," or "Repetition of Torah." He is doing it as a reminder of how they got to this place - because this recounting of the "Law" is call for repentance on their part.

Moses has been told that he will not enter the Promised Land with Israel. Instead, Yehoshua [Joshua] will lead them in to take the Land. Moses will take five weeks to recount G-d's commands and His promises to Israel. Deuteronomy is that teaching. It is fitting that each year on the annual parashot reading schedule that this book is read during the months of Av and Elul. It is read during the recognized time of repentance leading up to the Days of Awe and the High Holy days of Yom T'ruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. As we prepare our hearts not only for this week's reading, but for the entire book of Deuteronomy, it is fitting that we reflect on where Moses is speaking from - and the purpose for his recounting of the "Law of Moses." To do that, let us step back one verse to Numbers 36:13. Watch how Numbers flows into Deuteronomy.

Numbers 36:13 These are the commandments and the judgments which HaShem commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. Deuteronomy 1:1 These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.
Numbers 26:13-Deuteronomy 1:1

Let's compare this to what occurred in this same location 1,400 years later.

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" He said: "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of HaShem,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

These things were done in Bet Abarah beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:19-23, 28

Yeshua, when referring to John "the Immerser," made a midrash and compared him to Elijah. In so doing, Yeshua connected the words of Deuteronomy with the First Century and provided the prophetic backdrop for a time yet future - a time before the Great Day of HaShem. Here is what Yeshua said speaking of John:

For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'
Matthew 11:10

It is Yeshua's quote (Malachi 3:1) and the subsequent passage from Malachi 4:4-6 that makes this "sermon" of Moses that comprises the book of Deuteronomy so pertinent to us today - and points to a time yet future. Before we get to that, what exactly was John's message, and what was the purpose for John "the messenger?" What was the message? Beloved, it is the same message that Moses is recounting for that generation on the Plain of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan River. It is the message of repentance.

In those days John the Immerser came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Matthew 3:1

It is the same message that Yeshua taught.

From that time Yeshua began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 4:17

It is the same message that Yeshua sent His first disciples out with.

So, in the First Century, what were the people to repent of? What exactly was John's message of preparation for the coming of Messiah? Beloved, if you can accept it, it was this: return to the Torah. In modern Judaism, like the ancient Judaism of Scripture, repentance always means this: return to Torah.

There is a mistaken belief among many of our brothers and sisters that John was calling people away from following "the Law." This turns Scripture on its head. In that sort of errant teaching, we are presented with a demonstrably false pretense that the "conflict" of the "New Testament" is a contest between Law and Grace. Such a teaching negates the very foundation of Scripture, and Yeshua's own words.

Beloved, the Law, the Torah, is evidence of His grace. It is G-d's loving instruction to us. Our obedience to Him is our love response to His mercy on our behalf. We are not redeemed by it; it was never given for that purpose. It is how we, as redeemed people, lovingly respond to His grace on our behalf. As you begin your study this week of the book of Deuteronomy, determine to watch for the word, "love." You will find it often. This Torah of the Almighty is all about love. Love for us, love for Him, and love for one another.

The problem in the First Century is the same today. People do not obey G-d. The problem is not that people are legalistic - the problem is lawlessness - Torah-lessness. Stephen, the martyr compared some of the religious leaders of his day to the generation that died in the wilderness - not that they were legalistic (as we have been taught), but that they were disobedient to the Torah of Moses!

This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, HaShem your G-d will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.' This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected.

Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the Torah by the direction of angels and have not kept it.
Acts 7:37-39a; 52

Stephen compared the rejecting of the Torah by the generation at Sinai (by their disobedience) to the generation that he stood before in the Sanhedrin that fateful day - a generation that also had rejected the Torah (by their disobedience). John's call for repentance had not been heeded. Yeshua's call for repentance had not been heeded. In the years that followed Yeshua's death and resurrection... the call for repentance was not heeded. They did not listen to these words which Moses spoke.

Which brings us to the prophecy of Malachi 4:4-6. Verse 6 is often quoted by well-meaning conservative evangelicals as a call to multi-generational repentance. It is; but they fail to begin where the passage begins. Where do we start? We start with Moses, on the banks of the Jordan river - playing the role of John - playing the role of Elijah - calling for repentance - preparing the way for the leadership of Yehoshua [Joshua], or I should say, the Kingship of Yeshua (the shortened version of the name "Yehoshua").

Remember the Torah of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of HaShem. And he [Elijah, by teaching the Torah of Moses] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
Malachi 4:4-6

The call to repentance, to obedience, that Moses made on the shore of the Jordan River before Yehoshua [Joshua] led them through the Jordan River, was the call of repentance that John called the people to before immersing them in the Jordan River, in preparation for the Messenger of the Covenant, Yeshua Himself. It is the call that the return of the prophet Eliyahu [Elijah] will make in the time of preparation before the return of Yeshua - before the Great Day of HaShem. I believe the Torah movement among the followers of Yeshua is a precursor to that. I believe that HaShem has stirred the hearts of many of His people, across the globe - without human leadership, and without human organization - to remember the Torah of Moses. Beloved, as you begin to read the book of Deuteronomy this week remember this. You are hearing His loving call, "Remember the Torah of Moses!" It is these words we begin reading this week...

By the grace of HaShem, one day Eliyahu will preach this to all who will listen, "Remember the Torah of Moses!" - and this time there will be genuine repentance - preparing the way for the returning King Messiah, Yeshua our Master. May it be soon, and in our days.

As you study this week, remember these Devarim [words]. The Words of the Almighty are not merely words. They are the words of creation, and sustenance. Each day the daily prayers begin with the "Baruch She'amar" blessing ["Blessed is He Who spoke"]; in which we recount how HaShem created everything, from nothing - with words. At the end of each day, we pray the Ma'ariv blessing, where we bless G-d in the recounting that it is by His word that He brings on evening.

Man's words are only that - words. G-d's words are always a complete representation of what He does.

These "words" of Devarim are eternal - because HaShem spoke them.

Blessed is He Who spoke...

Haftarat Devarim (Isaiah 1:1-27)

The Torah portion for this week is the first from the Book of Devarim [Deuteronomy]. The haftarah comes from the first chapter of Isaiah. These passages are read during the last week of the three weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and the 9th of Av. The 9th of Av is the saddest day in history. It is the day the ten spies gave their bad report. It is the day that HaShem decreed that the "wilderness generation" would not enter the Land. It is the day that the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE. It is the day the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Our three week period of repentance and mourning is meant to remind us of our sin, of judgment, and also of our ultimate redemption.

Our haftarah begins:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For HaShem has spoken: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider..."
Isaiah 1:2-3

How sad: Israel has sinned against the Almighty, and even continues to sin. After all, that is what we are focused upon during these three weeks. And, it gets worse:

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Isaiah 1:7

The Land, the very evidence of His blessings and promises, is desolate. Is HaShem still amongst them? Will He ever return them?

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. "When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
Isaiah 1:11b-15

Beloved, can you hear the pain in the Almighty's words? These are not words of rejection - they are words that a husband would say to wife who is constantly unfaithful.

When we think about the destruction of the Temple, we understand that it was the ultimate of judgments. Judaism has long seen the destruction and the dispersion to the ends of the earth as the result of Israel's sin. Our prayers for the return of the Temple are prayers of repentance. The Talmud begins with an account that explains both the heart cry of the Almighty and the pain of Israel in being banished from the Land, and in having the Temple destroyed. The account is about a time well after the destruction of the Second Temple - when Jerusalem had been in ruins for many years.

Rabbi Yose says, "I was once traveling on the road, and I entered into one of the ruins of Jerusalem in order to pray. Elijah of blessed memory appeared and waited for me at the door till I finished my prayer. After I finished my prayer, he said to me: 'Peace be with you, my master!' and I replied: 'Peace be with you, my master and teacher!' And he said to me: 'My son, why did you go into this ruin?' I replied: 'To pray...'

He further said to me: 'My son, what sound did you hear in this ruin?' I replied: 'I heard a divine voice, cooing like a dove, and saying: "Woe to the children, on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burnt My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world!"'

And he said to me: ... "Not in this moment alone does it so exclaim, but three times each day does it exclaim this! And more than that, whenever the Israelites go into the synagogues and schoolhouses and respond: 'Y'hey sh'meh raba m'varach!' ['May His great Name be blessed!', from the Kaddish prayer] the Holy One, blessed be He, bows His head and says: 'Happy is the King Who is thus praised in this house! Woe to the father who had to banish his children, and woe to the children who had to be banished from the table of their father!'"     
b.Berachot 3a

Yes, the Temple was destroyed. The Father destroyed His Temple, His House, because of His children's sin. Because of His children's sin, He exiled them among the nations. Imagine three times a day, the "crying" of a Father.

Three times a day around the world in synagogues and study halls we pray the Kaddish prayer. Three times a day, we respond to the Almighty with praise and worship. Happy indeed is the King Who is praised this way. We pray, remembering our Creator. We pray, remembering our King. We pray, repenting of our waywardness and rebellion. We pray... and He has heard our prayers!

Our haftarah continues:

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together," says HaShem, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land..."
Isaiah 1:16-19

He still hears the prayers of His people! He is drawing us back to Him!

And our haftarah ends with these blessed words:

I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness.
Isaiah 1:26-27

As we approach Tisha b'Av [9th of Av], let us continue in repentance. As we remember the saddest day in our history, let us have hope... He has heard our prayer. He will one day return and dwell in His holy city Jerusalem. Messiah is coming, and He will reign over us from David's throne in Zion!

Even so, come quickly Yeshua.

Prayer Focus for Devarim -  "Hashivah Shofteinu" [Restore our Judges]

Hashivah Shofteinu [Restore our Judges] is also known as Birkat HaDin [Blessing for Justice]. It is from the Shemoneh Esrei [Amidah] prayer which is prayed three times daily. It comes from our haftarah this week, and because HaShem has said that He will restore our judges... we know that He has heard our prayer.

Restore our judges as in earliest times, and our counselors as at first; remove from us sorrow and groan; and reign over us - You, HaShem, alone - with kindness and compassion, and justify us through judgment. Blessed are You, HaShem, the King Who loves righteousness and judgment.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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