Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah 48 Shof’tim (Judges): Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-53:12
Brit Chadashah: Mattityahu 5:38-42; 18-20; Acts 3:13-26; 7:35-53; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-22; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 10:28-31
This week’s parashah begins with broad social concerns including the entire process of conquering lands designated by Adonai and setting up a suitable structure for the community/Israeli society versus a tribal system. Justice is a primary motif that runs throughout the teaching this week. A Torah way of life does not limit its legislation to religious issues. Interestingly, the Torah juxtaposes the command to appoint righteous judges with a seemingly unrelated directive ” You shall not plant for yourself… any tree near the altar of HaShem… And you shall not erect for yourselves a pillar, which HaShem, your G-d hates. You shall not slaughter for HaShem, your G-d, and ox or a lamb or a kid-goat in which there is a blemish…” What do these statements have to do with the appointment of righteous judges?
One would think that a beautiful tree growing near the altar would be a nice landscaping touch. However, seeing with spiritual eyes reveals that this is revolting to G-d. How can this be? A tree symbolizes growth. A fatal idolatrous misconception is that G-d “grows” somehow by man’s service. In Judaism we learn that G-d does not need man’s actions and that nothing we do adds to or subtracts from Him as the Infinite One.
This concept is also illustrated with the 10 Commands. They were engraved on stone because stone does not change or grow. The ark however, with its wooden core symbolizes man. The unchanging Words of G-d on tablets of stone were placed in the Ark, a “heart of man” of sorts. When man places the Torah in his heart, he experiences growth. His spiritual soul expands as his animal soul contracts and he develops like a tree. Conquering the animal soul in us is a daily battle between “Jacob and Esau.” But is a battle we can win with perseverance, prayer, and practice!
Secondly, we address the pillar. Remember that pillars and statues remind of things that were. True believers come to know that G-d is not just Asher haya (Who was), but Who is and is to come. He continues to create and sustain existence every second of the day. We recognize G-d created us for a specific purpose with the overall objective being to glorify Him and make His Name known before all the nations. We are obligated to live for Him and fulfill our specific purpose in an ongoing relationship/race to win the prize as Sha’ul wrote in Acts 17:11.
Finally, the third abomination is a blemished offering. We are to love the L-rd our G-d with all our hearts, soul, and might (Deut. 6:4-11). This necessarily mandates giving Him our very best in everything we offer; time, money, talents, etc. A “second-best” offering clearly indicates to G-d that we do not think He is all that serious and that a half-hearted commitment gives us a “passing score.”
Torts and damages are a significant part of the Torah’s legal sections. These rulings and directions imply that if they are followed in the spirit and the letter of G-d’s Laws, Israel will continue to ascend in their relationship with G-d and will exemplify what He expects of a people set apart to set the example for the rest of the world. In the context of the B’rit Chadashah Israel (true believers) will live and act more like the new priesthood that we are described in 1 Peter 2:9. G-d demands that we remove everything from our lives that may distract us from loving and serving Him as our top priority. This mandate is expressed in the following verses:
“As for the towns of these peoples, which Adonai your G-d is giving you as your inheritance, you are not to allow anything that breathes to live. Rather, you must destroy them completely- the Hitti, the Emori, the Kena’ani, the P’rizi, the Hivi, and the Y’vusi- as Adonai your G-d has ordered you; so that they won’t teach you to follow their abominable practices, which they do for their gods, thus causing you to sin against Adonai your G-d. (Deut. 20:16-18).
The first question we must ask in attempts to understand this passage is “Why these specific groups? “In order to logically work through this passage we must first translate the names of each group and research the importance of each in relation to the Israelites.
The Hittites (also Hethites) and children of Heth are a people listed in Book of Genesis as second of the twelve Canaanite nations, descended from one Heth (חת ḤT in the consonant-only Hebrew script). Under the names בני-חת (BNY-ḤT “children of Heth”) or חתי (ḤTY “native of Heth”) they are mentioned several times as living in or near Canaan since the time of Abraham (estimated to be between 2000 BC and 1500 BC) to the time of Ezra after the return from the Babylonian exile (around 450 BC). Heth (Hebrew: חֵת,) was a son of Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah. So our first clue is that the Hittites were one of the Canaanite nations descending from Ham. G-d does not forget anything from the beginning to the end of our created time. Ham was the son of Noach who went into his father’s tent and “saw” him shamefully exposed (Gen. 9:22). Instead of covering Noach, Ham went out and told his brothers. Shem and Yefet walked into Noach’s tent backwards and covered their father so they would not see him shamefully exposed. (Gen. 9:22). One might think there is no great sin in walking in on a relative finding them shamefully exposed. However, if we read further we learn there was much more to this “seeing” than just looking. “When Noach awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. He said, ‘Cursed be Kena’an; he will be a servant of servants to his brothers” Gen 9:24. Following the genealogy of Ham we learn that from Ham came the Ethiopian peoples (Kush), Arabs (Mitzrayim), Libyans (Put), and the Canaanites (Kena’an) otherwise known as the Philistines. (Gen. 10:6). Nimrod who is associated with the tower of Bavel also came from the line of Ham (Gen. 10:8). The Hittites in particular were become degenerate in the time of Isaac and Rebekah; for they could not endure the thoughts of Jacob’s marrying one of the daughters of Heth, as Esau had done. From this time, then, we may date the prevalence of those abominations which subjected them to the divine displeasure, and made them unworthy of the land which they possessed. In the days of Moses, they were become incorrigible idolaters; for he commands his people to destroy their altars, and break down their images, (statues or pillars,) and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. And lest they should pervert the Israelites, the latter were strictly enjoined not to intermarry with them; but “to smite them, and utterly destroy them, nor show mercy upon them,” Deuteronomy 7:1-5. They are accused of the cruel custom of sacrificing men, and are said to have made their seed pass through the fire to Moloch, Leviticus 18:21. Their morals were as corrupt as their doctrine: adultery, bestiality of all sorts, profanation, incest, and all manner of uncleanness, are the sins laid to their charge. “The Canaanites were a sister tribe of Mitzrayim (Egypt; sin) and resembled them in their rites and religion. They held a heifer, or cow, in high veneration, agreeably to the customs of Egypt. Their chief deity was the sun, whom they worshipped, together with the Baalim, under the titles of Ourchol, Adonis, or Thamuz.”
The Emori – AMORITES (Heb. אֱמֹרִי; Emori)
Researching the Talmud reveals some of the abominable practices of this nation; providing insight into why G-d commanded the destruction of everything associated with this nation. Take special note that the Orthodox rabbis of the Talmud make an exception for any Amorite practice is not forbidden if done for medicinal purposes. Does this interpretation make it alright to make this exception? You must come to your own conclusions.
The term Amorites is used in the Bible to refer to certain highland mountaineers who inhabited the land of Canaan, described in Genesis 10:16 as descendants of Canaan, son of Ham. They are described as a powerful people of great stature “like the height of the cedars,” (Amos 2:9) who had occupied the land east and west of the Jordan. The height and strength mentioned in Amos 2:9 has led some Christian scholars, including Orville J. Nave, who wrote the classic Nave’s Topical Bible to refer to the Amorites as “giants.”
The Amorite king, Og, was described as the last “of the remnant of the Rephaim” (Deut. 3:11). The terms Amorite and Canaanite seem to be used more or less interchangeably, Canaan being more general and Amorite a specific component among the Canaanites who inhabited the land.
The Talmud applies the term darkhei ha-Emori (“the ways of the Amorite”) to superstitious heathen practices not covered by specific prohibitions but subsumed under the general prohibition of “neither shall you walk in their statutes” (Lev. 18:3). The verse actually refers generally to the prohibition against “the doings of the land of Canaan” in general. The Mishnah (Ḥul. 4:7) forbids as “Amorite practices” the burial at the crossroads of the afterbirth of the first born of an animal which had been set aside for an offering, or hanging it on a tree, and the wearing of such charms as “a locust’s egg, a fox’s tooth, or a nail from the gallows of an impaled convict” (Shab. 6:10). Chapters 6 and 7 of Tosefta Shabbat give a comprehensive list of such prohibitions, and are referred to as “the chapter on Amorite practices” (Shab. 67a where other examples are given). Nevertheless, the rabbis held that whatever is done for medicinal purposes is not prohibited as Amorite practice (ibid.).
The Kena’ani are next. The term is synonymous with Canaanite. Kena’an was the son of Ham who we previously introduced (Gen.9:22). Kena’an fathered Het who ‘s progeny included the Y’vusi, the Emori (Amorites) Gen. 10:15), and other sons as ancestors of nations not specifically mentioned in the parashah. Again, the Kena’ani were cursed by Noach as previously mentioned as a result of Ham’s sin of inappropriate relations with him. We are reminded of how our behavior affects others as did Adam’s sin. In the case of Ham, his progeny was indeed cursed by both Noach and G-d as evidenced in this parashah. In the case of Adam, original sin continues to curse mankind with the only forgiveness found in the Seven-fold witness in the book of Revelation.
The Pri’zi- The Bible mentions a specific group of people who lived in the Promised land for many generations, from the time of Abraham (Gen. 13:7) even to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:1-2). However, the time during which they were mostly at odds with the Kingdom of Israel seems to be the time of Joshua into the early period of the Judges. It appears as though a peace between the Israelites and the Perizzites (Pri’zi) eventually came to pass, with intermarriage as well as religious conversion to idolatry as being part of this peace (Judges 3:5-6 Ezra 9:1-2). The Canaanite tribe settled in the south of Canaan between Hor and Negev, although it is not mentioned in the genealogy in Gen. 10. According to the Biblical references, Abraham, when he entered Canaan, found the Perizzites dwelling near the Canaanites, and God promised to destroy both these peoples. Jacob reproved his sons because of the crime of Shechem, inasmuch as he feared the Perizzites and the Canaanites. Moses promised the Israelites to bring them unto the place of the Perizzites and the Amorites (Ex. xxx. 8); and at a later time the tribes of Simeon and Judah conquered the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
The Hivi and the Y’vusi were also the progeny of Kena’an (Gen. 10:17) associated with Canaan and the sins thereof. On the rigorous treatment of the nations of Canaan by the Israelites to which infidels have taken so many exceptions, we must understand the first thing to be observed is that the nations of Canaan were destroyed for their wickedness. This is plain from Leviticus 18:24. The facts disclosed in this passage sufficiently testify that the Canaanites were a wicked people; that detestable practices were general among them, and even habitual; that it was for these enormities the nations of Canaan were destroyed. It was not, as some have imagined, just to make way for the Israelites; nor was it simply to make away with their idolatry. We may also discern from the passage, that God’s abhorrence of these crimes and his indignation against them, are regulated by the rules of strict impartiality commanded in the opening paragraph of our parashah. Moses solemnly warns the Israelites against falling into the like wicked courses, “that the land,” says he, “cast not you out also, when you defile it, as it cast out the nations that were before you; for whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people,” Leviticus 18:28-29. Now, when God, for the wickedness of a people, sends an earthquake, or a fire, or a plague among them, there is no complaint of injustice, especially when the calamity is known, or expressly declared beforehand, to be inflicted for the wickedness of such people. It is rather regarded as an act of exemplary penal justice, and, as such, consistent with the character of the moral Governor of the universe. We must remember this in our wicked generation. We have no valid argument against G-d for anything that is happening in this generation for the same reason Israel could not complain as they were punished for their idolatry and other crimes.
Another reason which made this destruction both more necessary, and more general, than it would have otherwise been, was the consideration, that if any of the old inhabitants were left, they would prove a snare to those who succeeded them in the country; would draw and seduce them by degrees into the vices and corruptions which prevailed among themselves. Vices of all kinds, but vices most particularly of the licentious kind, are astonishingly infectious. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. A small number of persons addicted to them, and allowed to practice them with impunity or encouragement, will spread them through the whole mass. This reason is formally and expressly assigned, not simply for the punishment, but for the extent to which it was carried; namely, extermination: “Thou shalt utterly destroy them, that they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods.”
In reading our parashah, what seems to be unreasonable and impossible for a G-d of love to order, the conquests in Canaan, and the terrible destruction brought upon the inhabitants thereof, remind us that we are reading the execution of a dreadful but just sentence pronounced by YHVH/Yahshua (G-d) against the intolerable and incorrigible crimes of these nations. That they were intended to be made an example to the whole world of God’s avenging wrath against sins, which, if they had been suffered to continue, might have polluted the whole ancient world. The Israelites were mere instruments in the hands of a righteous Providence for effecting the extirpation of a people, of whom it was necessary to make a public example to the rest of mankind; that this extermination, which might have been accomplished by a pestilence, fire, or earthquakes, was appointed to be done by the hands of the Israelites, as being the clearest and most intelligible method of displaying the power and the righteousness of the God of Israel; his power over the pretended gods of other nations; and his righteous indignation against the crimes into which they were fallen.
Unfortunately, we have not learned from the history of mankind. G-d is visiting increasing and tremendous disastrous upon mankind just as Yahshua said would be as the end times approach. Many of these disasters in the form of plagues and diseases were not previously known to us, just as Deuteronomy 28:61. This is another of the verses of which we should highlight as a reference that can be used when someone asks you about why all the things we see around us are happening.
I am going to include the entire paragraph to make the point that G-d is serious; “ 58If you will not observe and obey all the words of this Torah that are written in this book, 59 then Adonai will strike down you and your descendants with extraordinary plagues and severe sicknesses that go on and on.60 He will bring back upon you all the diseases the Egyptians had, which you were in dread of; and they will cling to you.61 Not only that, but Adonai will bring upon you all the sickness and plagues that are not written in this book of the Torah-until you are destroyed. 62 You will be left few in number, whereas you were once as numerous as the stars in the sky-because you did not pay attention to the voice of Adonai your G-d.” When the sins of our nations are full once again, G-d will continue His plan until Yahshua returns. Let us take heed (Re’eh) and t’shuvah (truly repent) so we may be counted among those who will one day reside with YHVH/Yahshua forever.
In the midst of the forthcoming judgment, there is hope and peace to be had for those who are true believers (Israel) who will one day become the bride of Yahshua. G-d lovingly takes the time once again to tell us that He will always be with those who love him and we can never fail if He is with us. In the context of our parashah, it is described as physical warfare with spiritual implication and application to the generations that were to follow this generation of Israelites:
“When you go out to fight your enemies and see horses, chariots, and a force larger than yours, you are not to be afraid of them; because Adonai your G-d, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are about to go into battle, the cohen is to come forward and address the people. He should tell them, ‘Listen, Israel! You are about to do battle against your enemies. Don’t be fainthearted or afraid: don’t be alarmed or frightened by them; because Adonai your G-d is going with you to fight on your behalf against your enemies and give you victory.’” (Deut. 20:1-4). We can rest assured that if we follow G-d’s Torah, we will also be victorious.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu 51:12-52:12
This is the fourth of the “seven prophecies of comfort” read between the Fast of the ninth of Av and Rosh Hashanah. So very tenderly as a righteous groom who is about to forgive his idolatrous bride, HaShem says, “Anochi, Anochi hu m’nachemchem” (I, I am he who comforts you). Adonai assures us that although Israel was punished greatly for the sin of idolatry, He will redeem her, punish those who led her astray and return His people to Zion. He escorts the exiles, (Adonai will go ahead of you, and the G-d of Israel will also be behind you (Is. 52:12) in a slow methodical processional in sharp contrast to the hasty exodus from Egypt. This haftarah reiterates the truth of a progressive salvation versus an instantaneous, all- inclusive event taught by most Christian clergy. We are also reminded that G-d is not “all love and mercy.” His justice will prevail against those who led Israel astray and against those who choose to follow their own ways and gods. Although G-d’s mercy endures forever, He will return as the conquering King Yahshua with justice and righteousness (Psalm 119:137; Rev. 19:11).
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 3:1-17
Yochanan proclaims repentance to prepare the way of the L-rd (Mt.3:4, 6). Proclamation begins at Bethany, house of poverty, a village outside of the Land, and east of the Jordan (Jn.1:28). Yochanan calls the people to repentance and holy living. G-d is present, going before and behind His people, as the grand, holy processional moves from exile to Jerusalem (Is. 52:9-12). These are reminiscent of the column of cloud and the column of fire during the Exodus. G-d sends His Son as the suffering servant (Is. 42:1). People arrive from all directions, including Jerusalem (Mt. 3:5, 13). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Yahshua asks Yochanan to immerse him at the Jordan, the entry point into the Land. Yochanan is obedient and immediately the heavens open and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) descends. A Voice from heaven announces the coming of G-d’s only begotten Son (Mt. 3:17). Contrary to Christian teaching, Yahshua was not sent to abrogate all the instructions and laws of YHVH. Rather, He was sent to show us how to live them as a tangible, living Being for a time. This is the meaning of the verse in Matthew 5:17. If we love Him, we will keep His commands (John chapter 14). The only way to understand what these commands encompass and how we can live them is to diligently and prayerfully study, internalize, and act upon the Word of G-d. Sh’ma Israel! (hear, internalize, act upon) G-d’s Torah.
Rabbi Tamah Davis