For the week of October  11, 2008 / 12 Tishri 5769
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:1-52
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 22:1-51

Do You Get It?

For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end! (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:28,29; ESV)

This week's Torah portion is a song that Moses sung to the people not too long before his death. It is a pretty negative song that speaks about how the people of Israel, in spite of all the good and wonderful things that God did for them, would turn away from him. It is a fitting portion to be recited on the Shabbat between the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) as this is a time of self-reflection and of returning to God.

In order to get the impact of Moses' words, we need to hear them, not just as words to a people long ago but as words to us today. If we don't accept that we are no different from the people to whom the words were spoken, our hypocrisy will act like impenetrable armor on our hearts, and we will remain oblivious to what God wants to say to us now.

Jewish people have a tendency to think that we have learned our lesson. The negative stories of our past are thought of simply as history lessons, and we think that somehow our leaders got all the kinks out of our religion, so that everything is OK now. But that certainly misses the point. God through Moses is revealing to us our nature as human beings, which is a tendency to be unfaithful to God - a tendency that remains with us today.

Understanding this should help non-Jews to understand how Moses' words apply to them as well. In spite of a different history, what the Jewish people experienced as God's people is an example of what all people are really like. With all the good things that God has poured out upon the human race, we don't respond to him as we ought.

If I am reading Moses' song correctly, we might give it the title "You just don't get it." Isn't that the gist of the verses I quoted at the beginning?

For they are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end! (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:28,29; ESV)

God is saying through Moses, "You just don't get it." After all they have gone through until this point, including their dramatic deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the miraculous protection and provision for forty years in the wilderness, and the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, they still don't get it.

What is it they don't get? It's the same thing that we still don't get today. It is that life was meant to be lived on the basis of a reality that we cannot perceive with our natural senses. We were not meant to figure out life on our own, based upon our own perceptions and analysis. We were not designed to live life based on what feels right at the moment or our own predictions of certain outcomes.

Remember the Garden of Eden? God said of a certain tree, "Don't eat". Yet the serpent said that God did not have our best interests in mind. The forbidden tree looked appealing and so our first parents took matters into their own hands. They deduced that they knew better and were willing to risk the consequences based on their own wisdom instead of upon what God had said. They didn't get it. They didn't get that God knew better.

This helps us to understand why it is through faith that we experience restoration to God. Many religious and moral activities are good, but they don't help us to "get it." In fact since we naturally don't get it, doing good things can further cloud the issue, because we might think that working harder at doing good is what will make the difference, when it is actually more of the same thing. It is we trying to make it on our own in our own way rather than relying on God and what he is saying to us. This will always result in the failure that Moses sings about. I am not saying that we shouldn't do good things. It is that our efforts are not that which will make us the people we were meant to be.

Once we accept that we don't get it, that we cannot know God on our own terms based on our own efforts, faith becomes our only option. It is when we are humble enough to no longer rely on ourselves and our own wisdom, but instead trust him and his Word that we can learn the lesson of Moses' song. It is by faith, which is trusting in God and in his offer of restoration through the Messiah, that we will "get it."

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