Parasha Vayeilech Devarim (Deut) 31:1-31:30
By Rav Mihael
Shalom Brothers and Sisters,
I will begin by saying that this week’s parasha commentary will be more controversial than most. The subject matter is the future of Israel as the specific chosen people of God. A short note on biblical interpretation. We usually come to the text with a lot of assumptions about a great many things. We look over history, our own experience, that of others and even, at times, wishful thinking. All these things are in the back of our minds when we approach a text. Sometimes when we look at a text, it doesn’t fit with our worldview and we want to try to make it mean something else. This is the case with our parasha, indeed the final several parashot of Devarim. We must, however, let the text speak for itself and adjust our theology and worldview accordingly. Finally, you may not like my questions or agree with my conclusions but if you thought seriously about the issues we have sharpened each other.
Moshe begins this parasha with some words of encouragement to the people he is about to leave. He tells them to go in and possess the land, not to be afraid. He tells them that YHVH will be with them, he will not forsake them (31:8). Then he instructs them to read the Torah he wrote during Succot every seven years so they hear it and learn to fear God and keep the commandments so they will prosper in the land God is giving them. So far so good.
Beginning in verse 15, YHVH speaks to Moshe. He tells Moshe that this people will go after other gods and YHVH will forsake them. He will conceal his face from them and many evils will befall them. Then he tells Moshe to write a song about this (next week’s parasha) so that it will serve as a witness against the people of Israel. At this point we would expect that Moshe would give some good news. The song will be a witness and the people will see it and repent and God will return to them. That God will draw them back to Himself and they will be his people once again. We expect a ray of hope. None is given. We continue in verse 20 with more of the same. Israel will go into the land and grow fat and forget YHVH and that this song will not be forgotten as a witness against them. Then Moshe starts in with the people in verse 26. “This book of the Torah is a witness against you for you are rebellious and stiff necked since you left Egypt and you will be all the worse after my death.” And when this happens, evil will encompass them. Then he sings the song which is all about YHVH’s blessing and Israel’s rebellion and the evil that befalls them which is compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah! Except for some questionable translation in spots that is inconsistent with the context of the song, there is no hope in it for Israel either.
Now, what exactly am I getting at here? After all, both Jewish and Messianic theology are based on the eternal preeminence of Israel, the Jewish people descended from Avraham. They are God’s people to the exclusion of any other. YHVH has watched over them and protected them and will gather them and bless them. We believe all this is true but in our text it is not found. Allow a possible alternate understanding of history. The generation present in our parasha and described in the book of Joshua was the high point in the history of Israel. It is then a bumpy road to the bottom. The Glory of YHVH only appears once more at Solomon’s Temple dedication. The people do not follow the Torah, they do not keep the Shemittah years, they did not even keep the Passover regularly or properly. Read II Kings 23. Josiah did everything right, no one before or since repented as he did yet 23:26 says God did not turn away from his anger. They then go into exile. Never after this time, under Moshe and Joshua, was Israel the people YHVH intended, not even under David. After the Exile, most Jews stayed in Babylon. Their righteousness was not exemplary under the Maccabees or the Romans and after 70CE there was no longer a nation. And what Israel became under the rabbis cannot begin to compare to what they were under Moshe and Joshua. Even today, Israel has a state but there is no spirit. Those are the historical facts. Now look at the teaching of Y’shua in Matthew 21 and 22. The parable of the tenants and the wedding feast. In both cases the Jewish leadership, the priests and the Pharisees at that time, are removed from the scene. Read chapter 23 for Y’shua’s views on them specifically. As Messianics who accept the current form of Judaism as legitimate, we like to make excuses for such things. It was just some Pharisees. It was just the current leadership of the Jews. Yet that is not what is in the text, it is merely hopeful interpretation.
Could it be that regardless of the hope of many prophets, there is no restoration of Israel, there is no repentance to look forward to. Israel, as the unique people of God, no longer exist. They have a covenant because of Avraham that gives them title to the land but as a special ‘spiritual’ people, their time has been over since Y’shua’s time. What if Daniel’s prophesy in chapter nine was not a promise but a warning. They themselves, as the people, had 490 years to finish transgression, put and end to sin and atone for wickedness (repent), bring in everlasting righteousness (live according to the covenant), seal up vision and prophesy (to decide on a course of action that would confirm one set of prophesy or another) and anoint the most Holy (anoint the messiah as king). That was their time frame and it came and went without the people accomplishing it. It was their last chance and they blew it so God ended their special relationship. Individually everyone has an opportunity to relate to their creator but there is no nation, no group at this time that is ‘God’s people’ they way Israel was under Moshe.
I realize this is controversial to say the least, and that it goes contrary to everything taught about Judaism for two thousand years. Yet the text says that the text says and it says nothing about Israel’s return. Y’shua offered no hope for their repentance and restoration as a nation. Moshe and the Prophet like Him are clear on this issue. I say this not to ‘bash Jews’ or destroy someone’s identity or to day that there are not righteous Jews. I say it because our life and relationship with God needs to be based on truth and not assumptions taught by anyone or any religion. In Messianic circles there is an overriding desire to gain the acceptance of ‘mainstream Judaism based on assumptions about their special relationship with God as a people. But if we want to become part of something that no longer exists, of what benefit will it be? We must be sure of where we are heading and the signposts we are reading so we are not disappointed. We must each take our own journey. There may not be a bus called ‘Judaism’ we can hop on to make it easier. Think about it.