45. Va’etchanan (And I pleaded) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Does God’s Mercy Trump Israel’s Disobedience?

Torah Portion for week 45: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

וָאֶתְחַנַּן

Va’etchanan (And I pleaded)

Today we will focus on one of the most hopeful passages in the entire Torah – Deuteronomy 4 marks a turning point in the book. Chapters 1 – 3 focused on the failures and successes of the desert journey. Chapters 4 – 29 focus on God’s commandments and the importance of obedience. We can see this change in focus in Deuteronomy 4:1: “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” If Israel is to enjoy life in the promised land, they must obey God’s commandments.

The central theme in Deuteronomy 4 is the dangers of idolatry and the making of images. In verses 3-4, Israel is told to remember the sin of Baal-peor as well as the fate of those who worshipped false gods. Then in verses 9 and following, Israel is commanded not to forget how God appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai, “Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deut 4:12, 15). Moses is saying, “Israel, don’t forget that when I appeared on Mount Sinai, you didn’t see a form, and so, don’t you dare make a form or image in the future.” The chapter offers several warnings with respect to idolatry, two of which are worth repeating. In verse 16, Israel is warned not to “act corruptly” by making idols. In verse 23, Israel is encouraged not to “forget the covenant of the Lord your God.”

Sadly, and in spite of these very clear warnings, Moses prophetically anticipates Israel’s future apostasy in the promised land in Deuteronomy 4:25-28. He writes:

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you.

Though there is an “if” in the English version, “if you act corruptly,” the Hebrew can also be translated “you will act corruptly.” Israel will act corruptly, they will forget the covenant, they will be scattered among the nations, as biblical history later confirms.

If disobedience is a prophetic certainty, then where is Israel’s hope? According to Deuteronomy 4:31, Israel’s hope is in the merciful God who will never “destroy you.” The word used in this verse for “destroy” is the same Hebrew word used in verse 16 to describe Israel’s acting corruptly, but here we see that God will never treat Israel as Israel treated him. In this same verse, we are also told that the merciful God will never forget the covenant he swore to the patriarchs, unlike the Israelites who forget the Sinai covenant.

And this merciful God who won’t destroy or forget his people is that same God who assures Israel in verse 30 that Israel will return to him in the last days (the end times). There is no conditionality attached to this return. It is a promise, a promise rooted in God’s mercy! Israel’s hope is not contingent upon obedience to the Sinai covenant, but upon the merciful God who will fulfill his promises to the patriarchs in the last days.

And so, dear friend, no matter how far you’ve strayed, let me encourage you through Israel’s example – there is hope for you as well!