Be Strong

Moshe’s whole life’s work and calling was about to conclude. His concern to the bitter end was for the future of his people and God’s faithfulness to them and to us. Both he and Joshua are called to go before the Lord in Deuteronomy 31, where they hear some unpleasant things:

  • V.16: “go astray or play the harlot”. The Hebrew is strong here and refers to sexual immorality tied to idolatry.
  • V.20: “grown fat”. This is not about diets or obesity but rather about laxity, taking God for granted. Prosperity is good but if you get ‘fat’ on it, it can cause you to fall away. Prosperity is to be used to continue the cycle of blessings on others, not just yourself.

 
Moshe knew that given our inner disposition and tendency to sin and rebel that the inevitable righteous judgement of God would follow through (Deuteronomy 31:27, 29). Torah is not a book written by humans. Human hands were instrumental in the actual writing but the words belong to HaShem. No other texts contain words that condemn the very people to whom they are given.

Some seek ‘hidden’ things in Scripture: we don’t need to do that. Just taking the Torah at face value is enough to learn from. Our historical triumphs, mistakes and errors, our sins and their results are all meant to be salutary lessons for us. We are meant to learn from what we do wrong and then seek God to set it right. Our lives should become templates not of avoiding the wrong but naturally and instinctively choosing the right. There are enough forms of Judaism that have built fences to avoid the wrong; in Messianic Judaism we focus on choosing positively to do the right. Each time we go round those familiar loops of sinful behaviour in our lives, we see the power of God to overcome our sins, weaknesses and finally be victorious in our lives. God has always provided a way.

At the end of his life Moshe shows a depth of confidence and trust in the Lord which is inspiring, and his words to Joshua are telling (Deuteronomy 31:6). Nevertheless, he says “be strong and courageous”. These words point to the ability to stand in the face of disaster and yet look forward to the future. What doesn’t break you will make you stronger.

God is just so much bigger than the problem of human sin. These words of God’s complete faithfulness ring out as a clarion call during this time of deep introspection, despite our sins, despite our feelings of complete inadequacy and sense of righteous failure before God, we trust that He WILL NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. Yeshua echoed the same sentiments in Yochanan 18:9 (I have not lost one…) and His last words in Mattityahu 28:20. God will never fail you or abandon you; Yeshua is with us to the end of the age. What He has started, He will finish, even if your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. You are not as perfected today as you will be in a year’s time. And you are further on now than last year – and I don’t mean the areas YOU want to see changed; God has His own agenda and timescale. You WILL arrive.

The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 13 verses 5-6 says this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.” Therefore, we say with confidence, “Adonai is my helper; I will not be afraid — what can a human being do to me?”” His presence with us is sure and without doubt. With clear reference back to this portion the writer calls for a trusting of God for all the needs we have, and not to trust our own wealth or prosperity for success. The one area he highlights is that we should therefore trust Him in the financial issues of our lives. God DOES know what we will receive from Him. We may not know, but He does and so we are exhorted to trust Him for this. To trust even in this area is to show that you genuinely believe and have the faith to operate in the reality of His ‘never forsaking us’.

Deuteronomy 31:17-18 may seem to contradict this but the language is one of His eternal covenant with us. He turns away His face for a moment, as if the sun of the universe, the real light, is for a second dimmed and we feel it. The prophet Yeshiyahu puts it like this: Isaiah 54:7: “Briefly I abandoned you, but with great compassion I am taking you back.”

Did God forsake us? No. Eternally He never will, nor will He lose us. So, let us hear the words of the Lord too today in these days of awe: “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you.”

Parashat Vayeilech