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The Call to Obey God


Torah Portion: Parashat Devarim

Shabbat: July 22, 2023 | Tammuz 26, 5783

Prophets: Isaiah 1:1-27


Jesus’ Prayer For All Believers

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me”. John 17:20-23


The Call to Obey God | Further thoughts on Parashat Devarim

The Book of Deuteronomy (ספר דברים) begins with Moses recalling that the very people delivered from Egypt had refused to take possession of the promised land: "You refused to go up and were bitter regarding the commandment of the LORD your God" (Deut. 1:26). Because of the people's bitterness and disobedience, God's judgment was sure: "Say to them, 'As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this desert, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this desert. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.' I, the Lord, have spoken" (Num. 14:28-35; cp. Heb. 3:17:19).

After this tragic review of Israel's history immediately following the Exodus, Moses appealed to the surviving generation of people, repeating the same commandment to "go up and take possession" of the promised land. Moses is encouraged this time because the subsequent generation had evidenced obedience regarding God's commandments, first when the people obeyed God by refraining from fighting the nations of Edom, Ammon, and Moab as they passed by their lands, and also how they had obeyed God by willingly fighting both Sihon of the Amorites and Og of Bashan. Because the new generation had underwent genuine teshuvah, they were ready to take possession of the promised land, and therefore he made appeal to the people to continue to obey God's commandments: "And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you" (Deut. 4:1-2). This is the starting point of all that follows in the book, the second part of which is a subsection called "Sefer Ha'Mitzvot" (ספר המצוות) or the Book of the Commandments.

The midrash says that though Moses "stammered" and was "kevad peh" (heavy of mouth), he was enabled to speak fluently whenever the Holy Spirit moved him. Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) is unique among the five books of Torah because it represents Moses' great farewell appeal to follow the LORD with a whole heart. In this final book, we hear Moses - who once described himself as lo ish devarim, "a man of no words" - speaking some of the moving words of all of the Scriptures, calling us to embrace the truth of Torah, to walk in God's love, and to await the final redemption...

John J. Parsons

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