A couple of weeks ago, in Parashat Matot, concerning vows made by an individual to HaShem, we read the following exhortations to fulfill the vow without delay.
Whenever a man makes a vow to ADONAI or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)1
“When you make a vow to ADONAI your God, you are not to delay to make good on it—for ADONAI your God will certainly require it of you, and you would have sin on you. … Whatever comes out of your lips you are to take care to do since you have vowed to ADONAI your God a freewill offering that you have promised with your mouth.” (Deuteronomy 23:22 & 24)
However, in this week’s parashah, D’varim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, we see quite a different situation. As an intro to D’varim Rabbi Garfinkel makes this observation,
When someone is tardy in the fulfillment of an obligation, we often forgive the oversight and say, “better late than never.” Usually, that is a noble sentiment. There are, however, times when it is better not to do something at all than to do it late.2
Remember the narrative, in Numbers 13 and 14, twelve spies were sent to reconnoiter the land HaShem promised through the patriarchs. Upon their return, ten of the spies recognized the bounty of the land but doubted their ability to take the land and in essence, doubted HaShem’s promise. This doubting by the ten caused Bnei-Israel as a community to doubt the ability of HaShem, which brought swift discipline. The ten spies were killed in a plague, and judgment was pronounced upon the community. Even though the people were forgiven through Moses’ intercession on their behalf, the consequences of their actions remained.
ADONAI answered, “I have forgiven them just as you (Moses) have spoken. But as certainly as I live and as certainly as the glory of ADONAI fills the entire earth, none of the people who saw My glory and My miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness—yet tested Me these ten times and did not obey My Voice— not one of them will see the land I promised to their forefathers. None of those who treated Me with contempt will see it! (Numbers 14:2-23)
Unfortunately, the people decided they would now advance and take possession of the land as HaShem had commanded initially. Apparently, they recognized their sin against HaShem and decided, in a turnabout of choices, to go up and fight as HaShem had commanded them. The lack of obedience was not the primary factor that brought about HaShem’s discipline, though it was certainly an aspect. The primary factor was the way most of the people “treated [ADONAI] with contempt” by doubting him and his power even though they had seen his glory and miraculous signs in Egypt. Moses tried to warn the people not to go up and fight after the fact, but they did not listen.
Then you answered and said to me, “We have sinned against ADONAI. We will go up and fight, just as ADONAIour God commanded us.” So, each of you strapped on his weapons of war, figuring it was easy to go up to the hill country. But ADONAI said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight—for I am not with you, and you will be defeated by your enemies.’” So, I told you, but you would not listen—you rebelled against the command of ADONAI and presumptuously went up into the hill country. …and they chased you as bees do and scattered you from Seir to Hormah. (Deuteronomy 1:41-44)
Not only did Bnei-Israel treat HaShem contemptuously, but they acted presumptuously by thinking that just because the promise was there once, they could also walk in that promise at a time of their choosing. For sure, HaShem’s promise of the land remained, but now it would be fulfilled in the next generation.
So, what is the practical takeaway for us from this passage? First, we must never forget that just because we invoke the Name of HaShem as Bnei-Israel did it does not mean he will honor our invocation.
Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23)
Second, many of us know of individuals and groups who stand firm on the word that declares, “For in Him all the promises of God are ‘Yes.’ Therefore, also through Him is the ‘Amen’ by us, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). They feel it is their right to claim any of the promises as their own. While there is truth in this passage it needs to be balanced by these words from Sha’ul.
But who in the world are you, O man, who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does the potter have no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)
In other words, we are not ultimately the ones in control. For sure, we have free will and that is a paradox for another time but in the end, we are the clay, he is the potter, and our times, our lives, and our very existence are in his hands (Psalms 31:16). While we can commit all the scriptural promises to memory and proclaim them as our own, in doing so, we must be very careful and not act presumptuously as did Bnei-Israel and in so doing incur the wrath of HaShem, our LORD, and Master.
Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!
1 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.
2 Eli L. Garfinkel. The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press (JPS), 2021. Apple Books.