This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon (“Sabbath [of] vision” שבת חזון). It derives its name from Isaiah’s words of rebuke and doom in the Haftarah (Isaiah 1:1-27) that is read on the Shabbat immediately prior to the mournful fast of Tisha b’Av. Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av) commemorates a number of the great catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries, primarily remembering the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples and subsequent expulsions from the land of Israel.
This week’s parasha is Devarim, Deuteronomy 1.1 – 3.22.[i] Deuteronomy is a collection of Moshe’s final discourses to Bnei Yisrael as they prepare a second time to enter into Canaan, the Land of Promise. The parasha is largely a historical overview, beginning at Mt. Horeb with the charge, “‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” (1.6). Jeffrey H. Tiguy, in his commentary on the passage states that, “God’s first words in Deuteronomy express impatience, indicating the He was eager for Israel to enter the land immediately. The nearly forty-year delay was not God’s intention but the result of Israel’s failure to trust and obey Him.”[ii] Then most emphatically, verse seven begins, “turn, journey on…” or maybe better said, “start out, move it already.” Bnei Yisrael needed to be at Mt. Horeb, to receive Hashem’s covenant, the revelation of His care and concern for the people. Also, the people needed to know how to respond to their God as well as to one another – not as strangers living in a strange land but as a newly formed community. But enough was enough, it was time to get moving, time to live out the reality of being Bnei Yisrael. The first step on that journey led them to the hill country of the Amorites and their neighbors. Moshe immediately told the people,
“You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which Adonai our God is giving to us. See, Adonai your God has set the land before you—go up, take possession, as Adonai God of your fathers has promised you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” (1.20-21)
“Go up and take possession” in Hebrew is simply עלה רש (aleh, resh). The Hebrew does not have the conjunction “and”. Thus, the brevity of the phrase expresses “the intended ease of the conquest”[iii] from the LORD’s point of view; it was a done deal. Often, we face the same situation. When we first come to the LORD, we have a lot to learn about His character, His expectations for us, and how we are to respond to Him. This is expressed in Yeshua’s final command recorded in Matthew, He stated,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.19-20)
The first step, as with Bnei Yisrael, is the command to “go.” The disciples had had enough training now it was time to move on and out. The next is to make disciples, to teach others to know Yeshua, His teachings and methodology, before sending these new disciples out to do the same. Neither Bnei Yisrael nor Yeshua’s disciples were sent out to “conqueror” before they were trained and equipped. At the same time, they were not allowed to remain in “school” forever. The purpose of training is to go out into the world and conqueror – and in that going out, we are to walk in faith and trust, not being dismayed or discouraged by the enemies or opposition we might face. As Moshe reminded Bnei Yisrael “our God is giving to us (the promised land),” so Yeshua reminded His disciples, “I am with you always.” None of Israel’s battles and none of our battles were ever meant to be faced alone, we always have divine assistance.
Unfortunately, as Tiguy notes, things did not go according to the original plan. The lack of faith and trust in Hashem caused the original plan to be detoured, and Bnei Yisrael wandered in the Wilderness for almost forty-years. Later in this week’s parasha we read, “You have gone around this hill country long enough—turn to the north” (2.3). In other words, let’s get back on track and prepare to return to Canaan and enter in as was originally purposed. The enemies and giants who caused your fathers to fear and doubt remain, but “You must not fear them, for it is Adonai your God who fights for you” (3.22).
The LORD has a plan for each one of us. He has “sent us to school” as it were, to learn how to walk in faith and trust. As believers in Messiah, Yeshua, we even have the extra advantage as He taught His disciples,
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14.15-17)
But just as Bnei Yisrael had to exercise their faith and trust in Hashem as they walked out their journey, so we too must remain in a position of faith and trust. In one of this week’s readings from the Apostolic Writings, (Hebrews 3.7 – 4.11), the writer of the Book of Hebrews reminds us to “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil heart of unbelief that falls away from the living God” (Hebrews 3.12). Notice please that the writer is addressing brothers and sisters, those who already know and are in relationship with the Messiah and walk in His ways. He continues, “For we have become partners of Messiah, if we hold our original conviction firm until the end” (3.14). I am not suggesting that it is easy to fall away or to abandon “our original conviction” but the potentiality must exist or else the writers would not make the point yet again,
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through the same pattern of disobedience. (4.11)
As noted in the beginning, the Haftarah is Isaiah 1.1-27 and for the most part, Isaiah’s vision is quite bleak. Judgement is coming upon the whole house of Israel as they were “a people weighed down with iniquity” (Isaiah 1.4). However, in the midst of coming desolation, Isaiah portrays a glimpse of the heart of Hashem and His desire for His people.
“Wash and make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your deeds from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together,” says Adonai. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they will become like wool.” (Isaiah 1.16-18)
Even knowing that judgement and devastation would come, His desire was for His people, His am segula, was to return to Him. Times would be the blackest, Jerusalem would fall and the people would be scattered to the four corners of the earth, but even in this darkness, all was not lost. He promised Israel that one day
I will restore your judges as at first, your counselors as at the start. Afterward you will be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. Zion will be redeemed with justice, her repentant with righteousness.” (1.26-27)
Plans may be detoured and seem lost, but the plans and purposes of the LORD never fail. Later, the prophet recorded this assurance from the LORD, “Adonai Tzva’ot has sworn, saying: ‘Surely, as I thought it, so it will be. As I have purposed, so it will stand’” (Isaiah 14.24). Therefore, let us make every effort to enter the rest, the shalom, that the LORD has prepared for us, even as we remember the devastation that will be commemorated Tisha b’Av next Tuesday.[iv]
[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Jeffrey H. Tiguy. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: דבררים: The traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. p 8.
[iii] Ibid. p 14
[iv] As with all Jewish commemorations, the day begins the evening before, thus in this case on Monday evening.