Parasha Devarim (Words): The Power of Words

Devarim (Words) דְּבָרִים

Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22; Isaiah 1:1–27; Acts 9:1–21

Last week’s Parasha (Matot-Masei) concluded the Torah portions in the Book of Numbers (Bemidbar) with Israel standing on the banks of the Jordan, ready to cross into the Promised Land.

This week in Parasha Devarim, we begin reading the fifth of the five books of Moses—Devarim (Deuteronomy).  The book starts with “These are the words [devarim] Moses spoke….”

Words are powerful!  They can bring life and blessing or death and destruction.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”  (Proverbs 18:21)

The Torah itself draws attention to the power of words in the first verse of the first book of Moses, which is Genesis:  “In the beginning [bereshit], God created” the entire universe with the power of His spoken words.

In the Brit Hadashah (New Covenant), the first chapter of Yochanan (John) seems to mirror the opening verses of Genesis:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1)

Yeshua (Jesus), the Living Word of God, became flesh and lived among us.

The Connection Between Words and the Wilderness Journey

Parasha Devarim opens with the Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land.

Standing on the banks of the Jordan, Moses knows his life is coming to an end, but before his death, he recounts to Israel their story as a community and as a nation, and rebukes them:

“When the Lord heard what you said, He was angry and solemnly swore:  Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers.”  (Deuteronomy 1:34–35)

What should have been an 11-day journey, only 160–170 miles, turned into a 40-year exercise in futility.  They wandered in the wilderness until they died—all except Joshua and Caleb.

Why did Moses dredge up such an old and painful history?

Perhaps it was necessary preparation for leaving the wilderness and crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land.

The children of Israel, who had failed to possess the Land because of their own rebellion and grumbling, needed to face the truth that their sin had prevented them from entering the Promised Land.

They also needed to forgive themselves in order to move on

In essence, Moses asked the Israelites to examine themselves.  How did we get here?  How is it that an 11-day trip took 40 years?

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves the same questions in order to finally exit our wilderness.

What did we do or say (or fail to do or say) to arrive here?

We need to face the truth—not about others—but about ourselves.  As Yeshua said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)

The Israelites had constantly blamed Moses for their wilderness experience.

In the end, they needed to face the hard truth: it wasn’t Moses’ fault; it was their fault.  Their own negative attitudes and words kept them in the wilderness.

Through Moses, God told this new generation, “You have stayed long enough in this mountain.  Break camp and advance.…  See, I have given you this land.  Go in and possess it.”  (Deuteronomy 1:6–8)

The Hebrew word for stayed in this verse is shevet, which means to sit, remainor dwell.

There is a time to stop sitting in one place, a time to get up and move forward in faith.

But before we do this, we need to take time to look at our journey and face the truth, repent, and determine to be obedient.  Blaming others for our wilderness experiences will never move us forward or set us free.

The Power of Words

“Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?  Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”  (Psalm 34:12–13)

Who doesn’t want to see God’s goodness in the land of the living?  Who doesn’t want to experience the abundant life that Yeshua (Jesus) has promised?

To do so, we must guard our speech from Lashon Harah, which is Hebrew for an evil tongue.

God wants us to use words to nourish, encourage, and build up people—not to tear down, criticize and find fault.

We see this principle in Ephesians 4:29, 31:

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers….  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”

Words are important, and we must never underestimate their power.

That’s one of the reasons that the Word of God tells us to put on our armor, including the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts (arrows) of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

The God of Israel is a refuge from words that have been maliciously spoken:

“Keep me safe from the secret purposes of wrongdoers: from the band of the workers of evil; who make their tongue sharp like a sword, and whose arrows are pointed, even bitter words.”  (Psalm 64:2–3)

When we use our words to criticize, condemn or run down people, we bring the same judgment upon ourselves (Matthew 7:2).

So many sincere Believers are poor in finances, sick in their body, weak in faith, and just plain miserable because they indulge in speaking unkind, critical, perverse, or malicious words.

For an example of this, we need to look no further than the story of Miriam speaking ill against her brother Moses in Parasha Behaalotecha (Numbers 8:1–12:16).

Because she gossiped and spoke critically of Moses, she was struck with skin disease (tzara’at, which is commonly translated as leprosy).

In Matthew 12:36, Yeshua warned us that we will be judged for every idle word we speak:  “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”

The Prophet Isaiah, like Moses, understood what kind of impact our words can have on our lives and the lives of others.

While seeing a vision of the Lord seated on His throne in the Temple, he cried, “Woe to me! …  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  (Isaiah 6:5)

Why did Isaiah, the great prophet of God, feel completely undone in God’s presence?  What brought on this terrible sense of his own sinfulness in contrast to the holiness of God?

By his own admission, it was because he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5).

Haftarah Devarim (Prophetic Portion)

“Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean….  Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:16, 18)

This week’s Haftarah is one of three called the Haftarot of Rebuke that precede Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting mourning the destruction of both of the Holy Temples, the first by the Babylonians (586 BC) and the second by the Romans (AD 70).

Though separated by hundreds of years, the Temples were both destroyed and Jerusalem conquered on the exact same day.

But why mourn about something that happened so long ago, you might wonder?

One answer is that many horrible things have happened on this day; for instance, World War I began on the 9th (tisha) of the month of Av.

Tisha B’Av and the weeks leading up to it are, therefore, a period of somber reflection and much prayer.

It’s a time for facing the truth about our sins and asking God’s forgiveness.

Many secular Jewish people today don’t realize that Jerusalem was overthrown, the Temples destroyed and the people sent into exile because of God’s judgment of Israel’s sin.

For the nation of Israel, the breakdown of morality was directly responsible for famine, defeat, exile and death.  Ultimately, the Babylonians and Romans were only God’s agents in carrying out His judgment.

The prophets tried to warn the people, but they would not repent:

“If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”  (Isaiah 1:19–20)

Today, there are modern-day prophets also calling for the nation to repent and return to God’s standards of morality and holiness.

If we follow the morality and standards of the world, we are making the very same mistake that brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples on Tisha B’Av.

We must look at the destruction in our lives, assess the damage, and repent of the sins that we have committed.

History has a way of repeating itself within nations and people when we don’t learn the lessons.

As Believers in Yeshua, we no longer belong to ourselves; our bodies are a temple of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Let us, therefore, be sanctified, cleansed and made holy (kadosh) in body, mind and spirit for the coming of Yeshua HaMashiach (the Messiah).

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