And I Pleaded
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11
Shabbat Shalom, and good morning. This week’s Torah portion is found in the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses and the nation of Israel are finally in the plains the Moab —just outside of the promised land, about to enter in. However, before entering, Moses gives the nation final instructions on how to remain faithful to God in the land.
Now, if you have ever read through the book of Deuteronomy, you may have thought to yourself: “These laws/instructions sound familiar.” The reason is because Deuteronomy is literally a retelling of the law (Exod. –Num.). For example, in Deuteronomy 5 we have the 10 commandments; and in Deuteronomy 14, we have an account of the clean/unclean animals — all of which we have seen before. The very name Deuteronomy means Second Law. So, Moses is retelling the law for this new generation.
However, before we think, “Well, I already read through Exodus to Numbers — I do not need to read Deuteronomy,” keep in mind that this Second Law is not just a “copy/paste” from what came before. Moses is now 40 years older, and he is 40 years wiser. And so, he is not only retelling the laws, but he is reapplying the laws for this new generation. The book of Deuteronomy begins: “In the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law,” (Deut. 1:5) meaning “to clarify it” So, in Deuteronomy, Moses is not just retelling the laws, but he is providing more details, new applications, and even new laws to guide Israel into obedience. This is exactly what Yeshua did in the Sermon on the Mount — he explained the heart of the Torah for a new generation. So, be sure to spend the time to read through Deuteronomy, and to consider how Moses is guiding this community.
Now, in Deuteronomy 1–3, Moses gave an historical account of Israel’s wilderness journeys (the places they went, nations they fought, etc); and the purpose was to remind the nation of God’s faithfulness. You see, by looking back at what God has done, Israel would have the confidence to walk forward with His commands. And this provides a great model for how to interact with our past. For many, our past could be a scary place, full of regret. However, Moses shows us that we are to learn from the past, so that we could be effective in the present.
After this historical account, we come to our parasha this week, which is called va-etchana (וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן) meaning “And I implored.” And this is where we see Moses’s vulnerability. If you remember in Numbers, God told Moses that he could not enter the promised land anymore because of his disobedience. However, in Deuteronomy, Moses implores God to reconsider this judgment: He says, “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan” (Deut. 3:25). However, God said, no.
And here, we see the difficulty of accepting when God says no to prayer requests. How do we respond when God closes a door that we are convinced should be open?
Paul underwent the exact same issue in 2 Corinthians, when he asked God to remove the thorn from his flesh: “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Cor. 12:7–8). But God said, no. However, what we see is that, while the Lord said No to the request, He continues to sustain Paul, and he gave him the ability to persevere. God said “My grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In the same way, while God said no to Moses, he allowed him not only to see the land from a distance, but He also used Moses to raise up and train Joshua, Israel’s next leader. So, while Moses could have felt jealous or angry with this closed door, he kept his eyes on the bigger picture of what God was doing, and he continued to play a faithful role.
And this is a challenge to us as well: What part/role are we playing in the story of God? While it is easy to sometimes neglect our responsibilities because of anger, or because things did not work out the way we wanted — we must remember that the same God who sustained Moses and Paul is the same one who will sustain us as we continue to be part of His story.
Finally, Moses spends the remainder of this Torah portion warning Israel to be obedient to God in the land: to refrain from idolatry, from intermarriage, and from making foreign alliances. But the key to be being faithful to God is found in one iconic phrase; one foundational proclamation.
In Deuteronomy 6:4, we have the Shema, a portion of Scripture which Yeshua considered to be the most important law: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Now, this passage has been used for the past 2000 years in debates about God’s nature (Is he singularity; Is He a compound unity) — but that misses the points. Many interpreters today properly note that this passage has nothing to do with God’s nature. Instead, a better way to translate Deut. 6:4 is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.” In other words, the key to obedience to God is understanding that He alone deserves our worship, and that all other counterfeit gods — whether money, fame, adoration from others — must be put away. As Yeshua said, “No one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24), so this morning, we are faced with the question: Is the Lord the only God in our lives?
Let’s therefore keep a tunnelled vision and maintain our focus on the one true God of Israel, because He alone deserves our praise.