Devarim: The Resurrection
'Can you hear the call of our Master?'
Torah Portion: Devarim
Context is everything when studying scripture.
Typically though, when considering the context of scripture, we tend to look to the archaeological research that the many scholars have conducted. We look to the culture, to the history, to the local idioms and religions of the day, all to give us context and understanding around what the Scripture is really saying.
In today’s study though, I want to look at the context from an emotional perspective. Rather than study the archaeological context to Moses’ words, let’s try to understand the feeling behind what’s been said.
As such, I want to read the following article written by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, from chabad.org, who I believe gives some very good context to the scene we find ourselves in when reading Deuteronomy 1.
When our time on earth winds down, our focus naturally turns to the next generation, the children, who depend on our wisdom and life experience. For years, if not decades, we teach our children to love their heritage, embrace their tradition and believe in G‑d, but nothing speaks more powerfully to our children than the final will and testament that we bestow when life wanes
My great-aunt was raised in the Soviet Union, where her father, a student of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, risked his life to build and maintain an underground network of Jewish schools for children, a crime punishable by exile and even death under Soviet law. It did not take long for the NKVD to learn of his “counter-revolutionary activities,” and one night the infamous knock on the door was heard. The agents burst in with customary roughness and searched the home for evidence. Knowing that he would soon be led away, never to see his children again, my great-great uncle searched for the right words.
He gathered his children close and whispered to them urgently while the agents ransacked his home. What can a father possibly say in such a short time? Which words to choose, what is most important, what will be most impactful?
G‑d led him to the right words because his message impressed my aunt deeply and she never forgot it. “Devote your lives to what they are taking me away for,” he told them. Succinct and profound.
It worked. Neither she nor her sisters rejected G‑d for the loss of their father. They were passionate about their Judaism. My aunt’s faith and energy were boundless. She never saw her father again and suffered terribly, but somehow she survived the war and famine and came to these shores intact. She built a family and lived a long life surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
How do you pack an entire lifetime of teaching into one sentence?
Devote your lives to what they are taking me away for. They never forgot it. If it was his last statement, it was his highest priority, and they treated it as such.
Moses used his last moments the same way. He outlined his most important values and taught the people to trust G‑d at every turn. Don’t falter like you have in the past. When you encounter difficult trials, place your trust in G‑d. He will come through for you.
…. (skipping ahead)
It is best to live each day as if it is our last. We must work to provide for the future, but it is critical to live in the present. Our children need to know that they are our highest priority, and we must use each moment to cement this relationship of love. If you have something to teach them, teach them now. Tomorrow might be too late.
That is the context we find ourselves in when we read the words of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. Sure, we can look at the context of the ancient world, and typically, when studying Deuteronomy 1, people study ancient suzerain treaties and how that relates to Moses; but do not forget; these are a man’s dying words to his children.
Whilst it may not seem to be so, Moses said these words with heart and with a passion we do not comprehend.
One of the profound differences from Devarim to the rest of the Torah, is not just that it is exclusively Moses doing the speaking, but that Deuteronomy is speaking in the first person. There are many examples, but even in this first chapter you see Moses repeatedly saying the phrase ‘And I told you such and such’, or, ‘and I commanded you…’
A couple examples been;
Deuteronomy 1:15 (The Scriptures)
15 “And I took the heads of your tribes…
Deuteronomy 1:20 (The Scriptures)
20 “And I said to you…
Which is unusual and not found earlier in the Torah which is typically written in the third person. Normally the Torah is ‘Thus saith YHWH’ etc, and not ‘Thus saith Moses…’.
Rather than just a change of tense, there’s a couple really interesting things going on with Moses speaking in the first person and really taking ownership of what’s been said. One example is;
Deuteronomy 1:22–23 (The Scriptures)
22 “And all of you came near to me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we would come.’
23 “And the matter was good in my eyes, so I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe.
What I want you to notice is that this account here describes Moses as deciding to send the spies into the land where this was not actually so. In the book of Numbers, when the spies were sent, the command was given by YHWH.
Numbers 13:1–2 (The Scriptures)
And יהוה spoke to Mosheh, saying,
2 “Send men to spy out the land of Kena‘an, which I am giving to the children of Yisra’ěl. Send one man from each tribe of their fathers, every one a leader among them.”
How do we understand this apparent contradiction?
Secularists, in arguing that this is not the Word of God state that the contradiction is a mistake and a change of authorship in the scripture.
This is not so for many reasons, and changes in tense, changes in literary style, whilst in Western thinking indicate some sort of problem with the authorship of the Bible, do not in Hebraic thinking. Hebraic thinking looks at ‘contradictions’ and searches for the truth that is been communicated in two apparent opposing facts. Hebraic thinking searches for the ‘singularity’ of truth and is a big shift from a dualistic mind set.
When it comes to Moses speaking in the first person, saying statements like he did above, the Hebraic answer here is very profound.
The Zohar (yes, an ancient Kabbalistic commentary which you shouldn’t read) teaches that the shekinah (the divine presence of God) dwelled within Moses and spoke through the throat of Moses. Meaning then, that whilst it is Moses speaking here, that it is really God who is speaking through Moses. The Lubavitcher Rebbe comments on this idea saying;
the Divine Presence enclothed itself in [Moses] until the two were united in a bond so powerful that “the Divine Presence spoke from [his] throat.”
Further, in the Zohar again, it is taught that Moses, due to his connection with God and his adherence to Torah, was ‘word made flesh’. Just like;
John 1:14 (The Scriptures)
14 And the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us, and we saw His esteem, esteem as of an only brought-forth of a father, complete in favour and truth.
Reading John 1 many have convinced themselves that this concept of the ‘word made flesh’ is something new. But really, its deeply connected to Moses been our picture of Messiah, and is a reference to perfect Torah observance. Even today Rabbi’s may refer to particularly good students as the ‘word made flesh’; meaning that they are enacting the words of Torah in their lives in such a way that it is as if the words of Torah became man. Which is exactly how it was with Moses, and this is essentially what we are reading in the book of Deuteronomy.
Isn’t it interesting though, that Moses, the man who once said that ‘I am not a man of words…’ actually spoke out the whole book of Deuteronomy?
Exodus 4:10 (The Scriptures)
10 And Mosheh said to יהוה, “O יהוה, I am not a man of words, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
This is, I think at least, a minor point to discuss but interesting nonetheless. I’ve heard it taught that Moses had a stutter or a speech impediment and that he physically could not speak properly. Which I think is obviously not true. Moses spoke the book of Deuteronomy which is a process, at least traditionally thought, to have taken 37 days to complete.
The belief though of Moses having a stutter has persisted for a very long time in both Christianity and Judaism.
An alternative understanding of this that was once taught to me, is that Moses, having received an amazing revelation from God in Exodus 4, was left speechless. Moses in this case was faced with seeing things and comprehending things too great for the human mind, but in having these things revealed to him, found himself struggling with the thought of conveying this to other humans.
It’s a worthy point, because if you saw heaven right now, a world that we cannot see, that exists in different dimensions, how then would you describe it to mere humans? For this reason it could be argued that Moses was ‘slow of speech and slow of tongue.’
In the same vein then, we can understand that Moses was ‘unified’ with the shekinah of God, allowing him to convey the Torah and the message of YHWH. This also helps us to understand another traditional take on verse 5;
Deuteronomy 1:5 (The Scriptures)
5 Beyond the Yarděn, in the land of Mo’aḇ, Mosheh undertook to [explain] this Torah…
He expounded the Torah in seventy languages, as it says, ‘He explained this Torah’. The very mouth which said ‘I am not a man of words,’ now says, ‘these are the words’.
- Midrash Tanchuma
It stands to reason (at least for me), that if the Holy Spirit is speaking through Moses, declaring the Torah to all of Israel, that it could be understood in every language. Whether or not you believe that, you must understand that this concept of speaking in tongues is not new to Acts 2.
Let’s for a moment though, go with the idea that Moses could not physically speak and that he did have a stutter. How then do the sages explain the fact that Moses spoke the book of Deuteronomy?
The answer, I would have thought, would simply be YHWH’s response to Moses in Exodus 4 where YHWH states;
Exodus 4:11–12 (The Scriptures)
11 And יהוה said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, יהוה?
12 “And now, go, and I shall be with your mouth and teach you what to say.”
But the sages, believing that Moses had a stutter, cite a different verse to explain Moses miraculously been able to speak so eloquently now. The verse they quote, which they say is, on a level, a reference to Moses, is also connected to our Torah portion today through geography.
Let’s make this connection first.
Deuteronomy 1 states;
Deuteronomy 1:1 (The Scriptures)
These are the words which Mosheh spoke to all Yisra’ěl beyond the Yarděn in the wilderness, in the desert plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laḇan, and Ḥatsěroth, and Di Zahaḇ,
Where the verse states ‘in the desert plain’ the Hebrew is really saying ‘in the Arabah…’
The Arabah, being a specific place called the ‘Arabah Rift Valley’ is part of the wilderness near the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, continuing down as far as the Red Sea.
So Moses spoke these words in ‘the Arabah…’.It is the place where, based on the sages teaching, that Moses, a man with a speech impediment, spoke the words of Torah.
The sages say this is connected to Isaiah 35 and from the Midrash Tanchuma the teaching goes;
This is what the Prophet Isaiah meant when he said, In Isaiah 35:6, ‘Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy (think Exodus 4 where YHWH mentions the mute). For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah’. This is why it says, in Deuteronomy 1:1, ‘These are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah’.
- Midrash Tanchuma, Devarim 2
To further understand the connection which the sages are making, you need to understand that water is a symbol of the Torah and the shekinah. So, where you see water, on a deeper level, think Torah, and where Israel is grumbling against YHWH, typically because of lack of water, the problem is not really a physical lack of water, but a spiritual lack of Torah and obedience and faith in God.
Therefore, what the Sages are saying here, is that Moses, at the start of Deuteronomy, is like water bursting forth and giving Israel the water of life.
Remember before when I said that Moses spoke from the heart? Remember how I mentioned that Moses spoke for 37 days? Well, 37 is the numeric equivalent to the phrase ‘ha lev’. Which translates as the heart. Whether you believe it’s literally true or not, that Moses spoke for 37 days is beside the point, but the view of Israel has always been that Moses spoke from 37 days, out of his heart.
This is all Messiah. As Moses says later in the book of Deuteronomy, ‘there will be a prophet…like me’. Moses is the benchmark when it comes to Messianic expectations and in the time of Yeshua, as we should still be doing, people are constantly making the connections between Moses and Yeshua.
Now think about water bursting forth from the heart, and let’s re-read;
John 7:37–38 (NKJV)
37 … Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
And this concept of believing in Jesus, as the one whose heart is bursting forth the water of life, is not new either
The Mechilta itself states;
…the Jews’ belief in Moshe is equivalent to their belief in G‑d Himself
But it’s Torah.
It’s all Torah. Everything, literally everything Yeshua said, taught and did is connected to the Torah and to Moses. The Word been made flesh, believing in God’s servant as equivalent to believing in God, all of it is based on Torah.
At any rate though, here we have our picture of Moses giving forth water, in the spiritual sense at least, and Yeshua doing the same thing.
In many respects, time in the Bible is cyclical, and it often has the same story, repeated over and over again, but just with different names, in a different time. Whilst we can make the connection with Moses and Yeshua, due to the Bible been cyclical, we can also make the same connection to Elijah and to John the Baptist. You see both of these men operated in the same place as Moses, with the same function. Both men, John and Elijah, ministered in the wilderness, opposite the Jordan, just like Moses.
And just like Moses, they both prepared the way for Joshua.
I’ll only briefly mention this but we have Moses here, renewing the covenant of YHWH with Israel, making the way for his predecessor Joshua. For those that don’t know, Joshua in the Hebrew, Yehoshua, has a shortened version to his name, which is Yeshua. Thus Moses (yes been a picture of Messiah himself), also made the way for the Messiah, just like John the Baptist and Elijah, who both renewed God’s covenant, like Moses, in the wilderness, in the Arabah, just like Moses.
But the point I want to stress, is that time is cyclical. When you read your Bible you will find yourself, if you have eyes to see, reading the same story told over and over again, just with different people, in a different ‘time’. Hence, on a level, this is why Elijah, John and Yeshua, do the same things as Moses.
I want that concept of cyclical time to sit with you as we look again at verse 1 which reads;
Deuteronomy 1:1 (The Scriptures)
These are the words which Mosheh spoke to all Yisra’ěl beyond the Yarděn in the wilderness, in the desert plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laḇan, and Ḥatsěroth, and Di Zahaḇ,
In particular, I want you to look at the word, for ‘words’. In the Hebrew this is the word debar, which translates as word or utterances etc. Now the word here is a verb, meaning that it is an action, that something is happening, in this case, that someone is speaking.
When we look at English, there are various linguistic forms that a verb can take. Now I may be wrong, but for example, a verb in English can have different tenses like past, present and future. So, the verb to run can be ‘ran’, ‘running’ and…I don’t know… ‘going to run’ or something like that.
In the Hebrew however, a verb has 7 different forms (called conjugations) that it can take, which influence how the verb is to be understood in relation to its tense and mood.
It’s similar to our concept of an English verb having different tenses but is more detailed.
Of the seven forms that a verb can take, the verb ‘debar’, in Deuteronomy 1:1, is the pi’el form (pi’el been one of the 7 verb Hebrew conjugations).
(The conjunction of debar is altered here as debar is spelled slightly differently, missing the Hebrew letter vav, which is typically how third person masculine verbs begin in Hebrew).
Pi’el is a somewhat unusual form for a verb to take and is not as common as other tenses and conjugations that a Hebrew verb can take.
The pi’el conjugation of a verb, in regards to the verbs tense, doesn’t just convey whether the verb happened in the past, or present, but conveys that the verb which is been described, has already happened, but has current implications for our lives now despite occurring in the past, and has ongoing future implications.
So when it comes to tense, a pi’el verb, covers past, present and future.
This is profound, because if we fully incorporate this understanding of the Hebrew into an English rendering, you could say;
‘These are the words which Moses did speak, will speak, and is still speaking to all of Israel’.
Remember that time is cyclical, so Moses then, is speaking to all of Israel. These are not words that are been spoken to ancient Israel, that are still relevant to each and every one of us, these are words spoken directly to each and every person within Israel because Moses is still speaking the words of this covenant.
What if the Bible really meant, when it says that ‘Moses spoke to all of Israel’ that, ‘Moses spoke to ALL of Israel’, and like the verb tense is telling us, is not restricted by time.
(That word, all, in the Hebrew kal, can be rendered ‘the entirety’.)
Like Moses says later in Deuteronomy;
Deuteronomy 29:14–15 (The Scriptures)
14 “And not with you alone I am making this covenant and this oath,
15 but with him who stands here with us today before יהוה our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today.
Moses spoke, and is still speaking this Torah, to all of Israel.
It is eternal and it may take different forms, through Elijah, through John, through Messiah, in the book of Acts even, but it is the same voice, that same shekinah, speaking in every man’s language, communicating the same thing to all of Israel.
The Torah – The Covenant.
The Resurrected Man
Allow me to add some kind of restriction though to this explanation.
Now, Moses is speaking to all of Israel. To be specific, Moses is speaking to the generation that survived the wilderness, the younger generation. Remember in Kadesh Barnea, when Israel refused to go and enter the land of Israel, some 38 years earlier? God said that not one person from that generation would enter the land, and that they would all die in the wilderness.
This has happened now, so Moses is not speaking to the generation that had to die in the wilderness, he is speaking to their children.
But I want to shift gears and give you a deeper understanding of this. To do so, I need you to understand that Israel, though it is a nation of people, in Scripture, is often likened to being one individual man.
Yes, on a level this is Messiah, Jacob too (who was called Israel). But when you think of Israel as a nation, one way you can correctly conceptualize the story of Israel, is to understand it as the story of one individual person.
Time is cyclical and with that understood; you can begin to see that the story of the Torah is each and everyone’s personal life story.
You see this idea of Israel as one man in Balaam’s blessings to Israel;
Numbers 23:9 (The Scriptures)
9 “For from the top of the rocks I see him (singular), and from the hills I observe him. Look, a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations.
Notice how he is seeing ‘a people’, being a collective group of people, Israel, but likens them to ‘him’, being one man.
What I want you to understand therefore, is that Israel, this particular person, was called out of Egypt, but later died in the wilderness. In a sense then, the people that Moses is speaking too, the younger generation, is an image of a resurrected man, whose flesh has died, and who is now ready to enter into the Promised Land, which is a picture of the world to come (heaven in Christian talk).
Ironic then, that in order to enter Israel, the world to come, that you have to die for it.
Matthew 16:25 (The Scriptures)
25 “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.
How much more beautiful is it then, that Moses’ predecessor, a man called Yeshua (Jesus), is the one to take Israel into the resurrection?
As Scripture says;
5 ... if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
And He, Messiah, doesn’t ask Israel to do anything that He himself has not done. Moses in this case, is Messiah dying so that Israel can enter the world to come.
I know there are many justifications given as to why Moses had to die. But please know that it was not his striking of the rock that caused him to die outside of Israel. See, when Israel sinned at Kadesh Barnea and God said that no one of that generation would enter into the land, that included Moses. So Moses died for a sin he did not commit and it is for his sake in the Torah that Israel was spared and allowed to enter the land. Of Moses it is written;
Isaiah 53:12 (The Scriptures)
12 Therefore I give Him a portion among the great, and He divides the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His being unto death, and He was counted with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Like the eternal nature of Moses’ words, so too, is the death of our Messiah. Like an echo that gets louder every day, defying time and never fading, is the words - the covenant, and the death of our Messiah. The echo is a call we can all respond too.
Israel, we are all standing on the banks of the Jordan, can you hear the call of our Master?
Be blessed, Jason HRM