For the week of August 13, 2016 / 9 Av 5776
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
Download Audio [Right click link to download]
The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:6-7)
This week we begin the fifth book of Moses, entitled “Devarim” in Hebrew, meaning “words”, taken from the beginning of the very first phrase, “These are the words.” The common English name, Deuteronomy, is derived from the Greek and means, “second law,” because a good portion of it is a recounting of much that had been previously recorded. But don’t be fooled! This recounting is full of reflection and explanation. Plus there is much material unique to this book.
The section we are specifically looking at is a recounting of some of Israel’s journey in the wilderness, in particular when God told Moses it was time to leave Mt. Sinai and head to the Promised Land. I am not sure how many times I have heard people recount their own story and how this passage provided them with supposed divine guidance. In each case, they had been living in a region for a considerable amount of time and then, either in their daily Bible reading, or a spontaneous glance at the page, they encountered the words, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey…”. In at least one case, the person had been living in a mountainous area. So the words had additional meaning to them. According to these accounts, God spoke to them through these words, which they took to mean it was time to move to a new location.
The problem with this approach to Scripture is that God wasn’t speaking to these people here. He was giving guidance to the people of Israel many centuries before. On what basis can the directions given to Israel be applied to give people similar directions now? On one hand, there is no such basis. I cannot recall a Scripture that encourages us to derive special guidance by taking passages out of context. On the other hand, after years of reading the Bible, I am aware that God can choose to use just about anything to speak to us. But that doesn’t justify people’s claim that God’s words to Israel at Sinai are also his words to them. This is not something I or anyone else can necessarily judge on behalf of others. These people need to answer to God. Bible verses like this or not, we all should be careful to make sure we are discerning God’s leading accurately.
Which brings us to what I think is the real lesson to be derived from a passage like this. The Bible is not designed to function like fortune-cookie sayings or horoscope readings, where we peruse its pages to find statements that jump out at us to provide magic for our lives. Again, God could use Scripture to bring something to mind that is outside of its context, but that’s not the actual function of Scripture.
What we learn from this passage is not that you or I should prepare to move to a new location, but that God leads his people. We haven’t been left to ourselves to figure out life on our own. God wants us to have wisdom and learn to interact with life effectively according to the principles of his Word. At the same time, we are not alone in this process. God wants to speak to us as he spoke to the people of Israel.
The promise of the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit) in Joel’s prophecy (3:1-4; English: 2:28-32) is mainly about divine communication, including prophecy, dreams, and visions. This is the experience given to followers of Yeshua the Messiah under the New Covenant (See Acts 2) and is in keeping with the internalization of the Torah and the knowledge of God anticipated by the prophet Jeremiah (31:31-33).
Yeshua said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). This is not simply metaphor referring to nothing more than a life inspired by him, but rather that his followers would be intimately led by his communicating with us through his Spirit.
So while the Ruach HaKodesh may choose to highlight a Bible verse to get our attention, he is likely trying to get our attention in many other ways as well. Perhaps it’s time we started listening more carefully.
All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible