Today’s text is always read in the synagogue on the Sabbath before Tisha B’Av, which is a day of mourning and lamentation commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples.
Both Moses in the Parasha and the Prophet Isaiah in the Haftarah ask the question, “How?”
Moses, in retelling the history of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, attempts to answer this question: How did an 11-day journey turn into a 40-year marathon?
“It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea.” (Deuteronomy 1:2)
The answer, of course, lies in the faithless words from 10 of the 12 scouts sent ahead to inspect the Land. When they returned, they discouraged the hearts of the people with their negative report so much that the people were afraid to obey the Lord’s command to go up and possess the Land, as Moses recounted:
“Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 1:26)
The bad report of the scouts spread like a disease and resulted in the Israelites entertaining unbelief and speaking all kinds of ungodliness.
They lost heart, grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and rebelled against the Lord, despite having witnessed astounding miracles and an incredible deliverance from Egypt.
God heard their faithless speech and grumbling. By doing so, they were condemned to wander around in the wilderness until the entire generation died—all except Joshua and Caleb who followed God wholeheartedly.
“And the Lord heard the sound of your words, and was angry, and took an oath, saying, ‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb.’” (Deuteronomy 1:34–36)
God is listening to us. He hears the sound of our words. We should ask ourselves, “Are they bringing Him pleasure?” Do they reflect faith and trust in His unlimited power and His amazing goodness?
How We Move Forward on Our Path to Promise
In the Haftarah, Isaiah also attempts to answer the question how: How did we come to this place of terrible judgment as a nation?
Both Moses and Isaiah answer honestly: the events that came upon the nation of Israel were not random; they were a result of their own sin.
Isaiah said, “Woe to a sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, evildoing seed, corrupt children. They forsook God; they provoked the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 1:4)
These words might sound harsh to our ears. Isaiah calls the people harlots and murderers and even compared the Jewish leadership to the leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah!
“Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 1:10)
Isaiah, however, does not end with words of condemnation and judgment but rather an encouragement to repent. He promises that if they are truly penitent, then God will forgive their sins, cleansing and purifying them.
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
God never leaves us without hope. Through Isaiah, He extends the promises of redemption, justice, and righteousness to those who sincerely repent before Him.
“Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitents through righteousness.” (Isaiah 1:27)
When we assess our own journey to understand where we are and how we got here, we might realize there were times when we stopped moving forward and maybe even turned back due to fear, sinfulness, or a lack of faith in God.
The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) may bring conviction into our hearts about that, not to condemn us but to reveal the truth so that we will be set free to resume our journey forward unrestrained.
When we sincerely repent and ask God’s forgiveness, He will not only forgive our sins; but will also cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
When we look back on our own journeys through the wilderness and promised lands, we will also see just how far the Lord has taken us and develop a new appreciation for God’s protective care.
We may also realize that He is more than able to fulfill all of His promises to us, if we will only keep moving forward.