This week it would have been easy to look back and reflect on Tisha b’Av, but Rabbi David Friedman beat me to the punch with his Torah commentary for the UMJC (https://www.umjc.org/commentary/2020/7/30/the-groan-of-redemption). So, I began to think about the cornerstone of Jewish life and which Yeshua, with the agreement of the scholars of his day, considered the most important commandment,
Shema Israel, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad. Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4; cf. Matthew 22:37-38)
But this too has been done and will probably be the focus of many teachings and devotionals this Shabbat. However, this Shabbat is also Shabbat Nachamu, the first of the seven haftaroth of consolations that take us from Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashana on the first of Tishri. The haftarah for Shabbat Nachamu is Isaiah 40:1-26, which begins Nachamu, nachamu ami, amar Eloeichem, Comfort, comfort My people says your God. That this reading follows on the heels of Tisha b’Av speaks volumes about the grace, mercy, and compassion of Hashem for His people.
While Hashem’s grace, mercy, and compassion for Israel are worth elaborating, I have chosen to focus on Moses entreaty to ADONAI to allow him to enter the Promised Land, found in the first five verses of Ve’etchanan (Deut. 3:23-7:11).
“I pleaded with ADONAI at that time, saying, ‘O Lord ADONAI, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand—for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do deeds and mighty acts like Yours? Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon.’ But ADONAI was angry with me because of you, so He would not listen to me. ‘Enough!’ ADONAI said to me, ‘Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 3:23-27)
Moses’ plea sounds remarkably like Rav Shaul’s comments when he wrote to the believers in Corinth,
…a thorn in the flesh was given to me—a messenger of satan to torment me, so I would not exalt myself. I pleaded with the Lord three times about this, that it might leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Like Moses, Rav Shaul appealed to ADONAI for a positive answer to his request. And just like Moses, the answer was “no.” From this, we see that hearing the word “no” from Hashem is not just an “Old Testament” issue. Some people may see a “no” answer as a contradiction to Yeshua’s words to his talmidim, “…whatever you pray and ask, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24; cf. Matthew 21:24). The problem is, we have all prayed for things with as much faith as we could muster, and the answer was either a resounding “no” or a “wait” for which you may still be waiting.
I suggest that this is not a conflict, but a paradox. First, doctrine should not be built on one or two Scriptures, but rather on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Sometimes the answer will simply be “no”, with no apparent explanation or blame. This leads to the reason for seeing a paradox instead of a conflict; Hashem is sovereign and in control of all things. Our prayers, even our heartfelt concerns cannot and will not supersede Hashem’s sovereignty or plan for our lives or the lives of others.
Consider briefly King David, who received a few “nos” to his requests from Hashem. Two that immediately come to mind are the death of his first-born son with Bathsheba and the denial of the right to build the House for ADONAI. David prayed, repented, and was forgiven for his illicit affair with Bathsheva, but his son from that union still died. David dreamed of building a House for ADONAI, yet he was denied this right. Although it was a noble desire, David again received a “no” answer. This time, however, it was not a consequence of sin, but because he was a man of war (1 Chronicles 17:4 & 22:8). Hashem, in His sovereignty, determined that a man of peace was to construct the Temple, not a man of war. After all, His house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
While David never saw the House he desired to build for Hashem, Moses was at least able to see the Promised Land. Rabbi Elazar (b. Berachot 32b) explains that Hashem granted Moses’ plea in a limited manner; though he could not enter the Promised Land, he was able to go up on the mountain and to look into it. Furthermore, some say that Moses did finally enter the Promised Land when he appeared with Elijah and Yeshua on the Mt of Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17).
So, where does this leave us today? Should we keep praying for our heart’s desire, expecting Hashem to answer? Absolutely! We must. However, at the same time, we must remember that Hashem sees the broader picture, not just the part we see. He knows the whole story. A “no,” a “wait” or even at times silence does not necessarily mean that we are to stop praying for about something – unless, of course, we hear a resounding “no” like Moses and Rav Shaul. We also need to remember the double exhortation, first from Jeremiah and then from Rav Shaul.
For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
With these two affirmations, I encourage you to stand strong in faith as you pray, trusting in the care and sovereignty of our God.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.