Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Ha'azinu

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Ha’Azinu / Give Ear Deuteronomy 32:1 – 52 Hosea 14: 2-10; Joel 2:11-27; Micah 7:18-20

The last words of Moshe before Yahweh takes him are a song of praise in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel. To this song Moshe adds the words; "They are not just idle words for you – they are your very life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (Deuteronomy 32:47)

With this Moshe goes to Mount Nebo in Moab were he sees the land Yahweh is giving to the Israelites. It is here Moshe will die because he had broken faith with Yahweh in the presence of the Israelites and did not uphold Yahweh’s Holiness. May we be a people who do uphold His holiness and not break faith with Yahweh.

The Purpose of the Song

Ha’azinu means "you pay attention" or "you heed with your understanding" or simply "you listen to me". He is calling to "the heavens, you listen to the words I am speaking to you." Then he continues, "and you, the earth, hear and obey the words of my mouth." God is commanding the heavens to listen and the earth to obey. The heavens are in alignment with His will already, as can be seen in the disciples prayer, Matthew 6:9-13 but the earth is not yet aligned with His will (Matthew 6:10). It is our responsibility for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

"And now write this song for yourselves, teach it to the children of Israel, and place it in their mouths; in order that this song will be a witness for Me with the children of Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:19). This is not merely a poetic opening, but represent the crux of the song - a calling of witnesses who will be able to testify when the time comes.

"And Yahweh said to Moshe: Behold, you are to sleep with your fathers. And this people will rise up and will go astray after the gods of the strangers of the land in which they will be among them, and they will abandon Me and violate My covenant which I have made with them. And My anger will burn against them on that day, and I will abandon them and I will hide My face from them, and they will be devoured, and many evils and troubles will befall them... And now, write for you this song... in order that this song may be for Me a witness against the children of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land which I promised to their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they shall have eaten and been satiated and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and provoke Me, and violate My covenant. And it will be when many evils and troubles have befallen them, then this song will answer before them as a witness." 31:16-21

The song therefore is to be a future witness, connected to the evil deeds of a future generations, and to the evil that will befall them as a result.

1. What then is the purpose or need for a "witness?" and to what does the song witness?

2. Why is it in the form of a song?

Yahweh knew that Israel would sin and that they would be punished according to everything that was written in the record of the curses. Because of these terrible events that would punish Israel throughout its long years of exile, there was a great danger that Israel might weaken and lose hope. Therefore, it was necessary to promise them that despite all the terrible suffering, the final Redemption will surely come, as it is written, "...For He will avenge he blood of His servants; He will render vengeance onto His adversaries, and He ill bring atonement to the land of His people" Deut. 32:43

Therefore, in order that this message should penetrate into the depths of the heart of Israel, this song was made for them to sing, and in this way they would not despair of salvation. Remember, this was a prophetic song. At the time Israel had not entered the land, they had not yet experienced any of the things Moshe is warning them about here. This was a new generation, young and idealistic, they in other words had themselves never experienced the consequences of Torah disobedience that is why this song was necessary. The song was meant to be a national ballad, one to be sung for generations to come in hope that those singing it would learn from it. Thus when the hearers of this song started to backslide from Yahweh, heading in the wrong direction, this ballad would speak to them and they would correct their ways - hopefully!

The ancients have said that music is the language of the heart. It is very deep, and beyond the grasp of human intellect and reason. In song, where melody and words are joined together, the intellect and the emotions are united into a powerful force which penetrates into the depths of a person's inner being. This force pervades his entire being, stirring and motivating the heart. God knows that music has a great influence on us and that is why He had Moshe write this down as a song. Through the singing of this song, the past present and future of Israel would be indelibly inscribed on the minds of those who learned it, sang it and listened to it. It was a prophetic direction for them when trouble came upon them as a result of their idolatrous ways. It was not written for the people of that desert generation but for "when many evils and troubles shall befall them, THEN this song shall answer them as a witness" (31,21). It was to be read and studied so that it should be ready "in their mouths" (31,19), so that "it will not be forgotten from their seed" (31,21). At that future time, this song will suddenly become terribly relevant - it will then be the WITNESS who comes to testify to them in response to their claim and accusation that "HE HAS ABANDONED US". This statement is an accusation, against God in their time of trouble. In response, God brings witnesses, the song, the heavens and earth, to rebut the accusation - i. e. your troubles are because YOU have abandoned God. It is meant to serve as a testimony and a warning of the events that will take place immediately following their entry into the land, and during the many generations of their habitation there.

The Application of Ha'azinu

Moshe declares (31:27-29): "For I know your rebellion and your stiff neck: While I am still alive with you, you have been rebellious against God, and so likewise after my death... For I know after my death you will become corrupt and turn away from the way... and evil will befall you at the end of days for you will do evil in the eyes of God, to anger Him with the deeds of your hands." - These verses repeatedly emphasize that the reference is to an historical process that is not far off, and which will commence immediately after Moshe's death.

Yahweh gives Israel the land and provides them with all types of good therein (verses 13-14), but they will forget Who provided all the good and worship foreign gods (verses 15-18). From verse 19 until verse 25 we find a description of God's anger towards His children and the punishment He brings upon them. The Ramban interprets with great precision this stage of the song: "[The Torah] describes His anger towards them, so much that He sends them WITHIN THEIR LAND [i.e. Israel] pestilence and hunger and wild beasts and destruction by the sword." This is not a reference to the punishment of exile but a judgement to come upon the land and its produce (v. 22). They would not enjoy the goodness of the land which He had given them as they had broken the covenant in which it was given. In verses 26-27 we find the turning point: God reveals His exceedingly harsh plan regarding the punishment of Israel, which He cancels because of the erroneous future perception of this punishment in the eyes of their enemies. "I said, 'I shall consume them, I will erase them from human memory' - were it not for the anger of the enemy, lest their adversaries misunderstand, lest they say, 'Our hand is high; it is not God Who has done all this.'"

The word 'consume them' "af'ehem" in verse 26 according to the great majority of the early commentators, agree that the meaning is, "I shall consume them," or "almost consume them," on the basis of the parallel in the verse: "I shall erase them from human memory." Only the idea of punishment by annihilation of Israel arouses in the Torah the fear of "chilul Yahweh" (desecration of God's name) to such a grave extent that God cancels it. This is indeed what occurred following the sin of the golden calf and also following the sin of the spies. What is unique here is that it is God Himself Who relinquishes the plan of annihilation for this reason.

The plan for the (complete or almost complete) destruction of Israel is not realized, and here the song begins to turn in the opposite direction: to the detriment of Israel's enemies, and to Israel's salvation from them. The commentators who focus on the literal meaning of the text have generally agreed with the opinion of R. Nechemia in the Sifri, that verses 28-35 deal with the enemies, and not with Israel. And in verse 36 we already find Israel's salvation: "For God will judge His nation and comfort Himself for His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is none, closed or abandoned."

As the punishments described in these verses take place in Eretz Israel, so the deliverance and redemption from their enemies spoken of here will also take place there. This does not fit in with the numerous warnings in the Torah that Israel's sins in their land will eventually lead to exile, so the song is not addressing this issue.

In this respect, Ha'azinu is different from the blessings and curses – "the words of the covenant" – conveyed at Sinai (parashat Bechukkotai) and on the plains of Mo'av (parashot Ki-Tavo-Nitzavim). The testimony of the great covenants sealed with Israel on those occasions went so far as to include the destruction, the exile and the eventual redemption.

At one point in , in a clear parallel to the covenant at the end of the Chumash, we are told: "When you will bear children and grandchildren and you WILL HAVE LIVED LONG in the land, and you shall be corrupt and shall make a carved idol... I call the heaven and the earth to testify against you today that you will quickly perish completely from upon the land... and God will scatter you among the nations..." Devarim 4:25-27 It is stated explicitly here that the threat of exile pertains to a time when Israel will have "lived long in the land" – they will have been settled there for many generations. But the degeneration and the sin of idolatry threaten Israel from the very beginning of their stay in the land. How will God choose to deal with the rebellious nation during these first generations in the land? This is the purpose of Ha'azinu.

In the verses of punishment (e.g. 27, 29, 30) the Torah speaks of the victory of Israel's enemies IN WAR. The enemies do not understand their great victory over Israel as a punishment that the God of Israel brings upon His sinning nation. Therefore we read in verse 26 that God does not wish to give Israel entirely into the hands of their enemies - to the extent of their memory being erased – IN WAR (i.e., their annihilation by the enemy), for the enemy will interpret this as their own victory ("our hand is high"). Thus, the description of the revenge on Israel's enemies also indicates that the reference is not to nations among which Israel was later exiled, but rather to those who waged war against Israel and killed many of them in war. It is against them that God will wage a war of revenge to avenge the blood of His nation and to atone for the blood spilled upon the land.

The Historical Outworking of the Song

In hindsight, Parashat Ha'azinu deals with Israel's past and future. The Ramban believes that the brief song of Ha'azinu contains a comprehensive historical vision, encompassing the whole of Israeli history from the very beginning of the selection of Israel as "God's portion" up until the completion of the future redemption. The historical pattern that repeats itself over and over during the period of the judges, and also appears later during the first commonwealth, is that a strong enemy rises against Israel and oppresses them cruelly, until at some point there is deliverance and the enemy is overpowered. This historical rhythm is generally described as arising from Israel's sins in turning to idolatry. As a punishment, God gives them into the hand of the enemy, but ultimately God relents, in the face of superficial repentance on the part of Israel aimed at facilitating their deliverance, but which does not last long. At times Yahweh delivers them even though they do not engage in repentance, but rather because His mercy is aroused at the plight of His people who have reached such degradation. This national degeneration, starting shortly after the conquest of the land – as early as the period of the judges – and continuing throughout most of the generations that lived in the land (with the exception of the period of David and Shlomo), stands in sharp contrast to the awesome events surrounding the exodus from Egypt, the miracles of the desert and the success in the conquest of the land. What causes this degeneration? Why do Israel fall after they have settled in the land? It is this question that Ha'azinu comes to answer, warning Israel that if they serve idols in their land the descent will follow soon after, and they will be given into the hands of their enemies.

If Israel indeed engage in idolatry and consequently are punished with harsh measures, why does God not carry the judgment to its full extent? Why does He save them time after time from their enemies, even transferring the punishment onto those same enemies? The song provides a dual answer to this: firstly, the enemies of Israel are ultimately also the enemies of God. They themselves are idolaters and deserve punishment for their actions. They attribute their victories over Israel to their own power and strength, not realizing that they are God's messengers, sent to punish Israel who have sinned. Secondly, despite all God's anger against His people, He nevertheless regrets the evil that has befallen them when He sees their helplessness and their lowly degradation – "There is none, closed or abandoned" (verse 36).

Ha'azinu then is not a review of a single historical process at all; rather, it sketches the outline of a historical reality that repeats itself over and over during many generations, with slight changes in tone and in emphasis. There are references back to Ha'azinu in the description of the growing suffering of Israel at the hands of the Arameans during the period of the royalty, and God's salvation of Israel from them, also echo the words of Ha'azinu (Melakhim II 13:22-23): "And Chazael king of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Yehoachaz. And God was kind to [Israel] and had mercy on them, and turned towards them for the sake of His covenant... AND WOULD NOT DESTROY THEM; and to this day He has not cast them off from before Him."

And in the days of Yeravam ben Yoash, Israel expanded even though it was said of this king that he did evil in God's eyes. His military victories are therefore surprising, but the answer is provided (Melakhim II 14:25-27) with the aid of the language and logic of Ha'azinu: "He returned the border of Israel from the entrance to Chamat back to the sea of the Arava... for God saw the plight of Israel, that it was very bitter – that there was none closed and none abandoned and none to help Israel. And God had not said that He would erase the name of Israel from beneath the heavens."

The Judgment and the Redemption

Down through the history of Yisrael, we can read that this song gave tremendous courage and strength to the followers of the God of Yisrael. The Prophet Isaiah used this song to encourage his generation to pursue the Holy One in righteousness and echoes the Song of Moshe and some of the very words that are quoted from Deuteronomy 31:

"But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Yisrael, whom I have chosen: Thus says Yahweh who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, 'Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; .... "Thus says Yahweh, the King of Yisrael and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.... And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:1-8).

Isaiah goes on in this chapter to remind Yisrael of all the things that men have made and fashioned with their own hands to worship other than the Holy One of Yisrael and exhorts them to return to the Rock of their salvation.

As a result of their idolatry, the Holy One says that He will hide His face from Yisrael. Sadly, this pattern repeats itself for generation after generation until the present day. Moshe foresees this and incorporates it into his song. When we disobey Torah, God allows calamity to come into our lives, and we are left to our own devices. Ultimately we are told, once calamity and adversity has done its work, God has His way, deliverance will come.

This is part of the meaning of the term "hester panim" - God's hiding His face - which is God's answer to the accusation that He has abandoned His people. Practically, it is the same as abandonment - but it hints at presence as well. God is near, close, so close that in order to express His anger He has to cover His face. Were He really far away, detached from the people who were once His, He would not have to do that. But in fact, the "abandonment" is deliberate and measured.

The result is, that the very acts called forth by the abandonment elicit a contrary response from the God of Yisrael, one of anger at the enemy. The song tries to express God's emotions, as it were, a complex and contradictory love and anger at them. In this sense, the shira (song) is a witness and answer to the complaint that the bad things happen because God is not with us. God answers - or rather, will answer THEN, when you will be able to truly understand it - that He is with us, even as He has abandoned us, for He has hidden His face.

The shira waits, waits for a time when it will be right, not because there is some new idea there that they were not intellectually ready for, but because only when the fullness of despair and life are reached in their cycle will the song become a witness rather than a prophecy. The shira has the ability to demonstrate that God IS close to them, even when they sinned - not by denying the facts that He has left them to their enemies, but by showing, by eliciting the feeling, that His presence exists even in such times even though hidden from them.

The shira, then, is the finishing touch on God's Torah and Moshe's life-mission - beyond the intellectual eternal teaching of the principles of the Torah. There is an element of life-experience, of history, that must be learnt through disaster and triumph, through tears and even suffering. The Torah itself, in prophecy sets down the basis for this shira, this song of life, and in the same way that God finishes His Torah by including this part, so too Moshe concludes his mission of what cannot be included as such in the present, but waits, in trust with the heaven and the earth, for its proper moment of truth. For he knows his mission after his death, will become a "failed mission" - it will "all fall apart" - they will become corrupted, that is until the final singing of the shira. Although the song continues describing the consequences of neglecting and turning from the Rock, eventually there will come a time when the vengeance of Yahweh comes to deal with the enemies of Yisrael which is the final note of the song.

Moshe reminds them that there is no other “rock like our Rock” and there is no god besides the Holy One. 31-33

Throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer develops a comparison between the mandates of Torah with the message of Messiah. At the outset of the book of Hebrews he said, “For if the word spoken through angels (i.e. Torah) proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:2–3) Then again, near the end of the book he uses the same argument regarding Moshe and Messiah. He says, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (i.e. Moshe), much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven (i.e. Messiah).” (Hebrews 12:25) He is not setting the two in antithesis but rather saying that if the word of Moshe is inviolable, how much more so is the word of Messiah! He is “the goal" of all the Torah which Moshe taught. (Romans 10:4)

In Hebrews 10:28–31 the writer uses the same argument with regard to sin and punishment. He states that one who commits a capital offense against Torah receives retribution from a human court of law which has the authority to issue the death penalty. If that is the case with a human court, how much more terrible to face the heavenly court? And if an offense against Torah is so punished, how much more so an offense against “the Son of God” and “the Spirit of Grace”? Anyone who has set aside the Torah of Moshe dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “Yahweh will judge his people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28–31 quoting Deuteronomy 32:35–26) To make his point, he quotes from the Song of Moshe where it says, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution … For Yahweh will vindicate His people...” (32:35–36) The Hebrew word translated as “vindicate” can also be translated as “judge.” This is the sense in which the writer of the Hebrews takes it. He sees God judging His people for turning away and rejecting Messiah, with the greater redemption in Yeshua, there is greater responsibility and judgement. Even so, the song will will reach the hearts of a remnant who will rise to the challenge and enter into the promise of life.

The Final Anthem of Ha'azinu

Along with the heavens and the earth, the “Song of Moshe” becomes a witness against the sons of Yisrael for not only the time period “after my death” but also in the “latter days.” Therefore, when you read or contemplate this song or poem, it has multiple meanings that transcend time. Additionally, not only is the song a view of the history of the Yisrael of God, but when you get toward the end of the portion, you discover that when coupled with the balance of the Torah, it is the very “life” of God’s chosen people: Joel echoes the prophetic call of Ha'azinu for God's people to intercede and receive the endtime promises of deliverance and redemption between the 'porch and the altar' - the place of cleansing and consecration.

"Blow the trumpet (shofar) in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare your people, O Yahweh, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will Yahweh be jealous for his land, and pity his people. " Joel 2:15-18

In our discernment of the future considering that Israel is back again in the land, we need to always remember that the arm of flesh will never deliver us from the enemy. Instead, Moshe is quick to remind us that vengeance is Yahweh’s, and that He and He alone will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants.

“'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.' "For Yahweh will vindicate His people, And will have compassion on His servants; When He sees that their strength is gone, And there is none remaining, bond or free.” Deuteronomy 32:35-36 We need to remember that it is the Holy One Who will avenge the blood of His people and ultimately, He will atone for His land and His people.

"Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people." Deuteronomy 32:43

In the revelation written by the Apostle John those who persevere for the truth as they battle with the anti-Messiah will rise in triumph and sing this very song of Moshe as their testimony. They have experienced as Moshe said, "For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). They are those who have responded to the call of the shofar and come to the fullness of the life that is in the Lamb that was slain for the redemption of the nation:

“And they sang the song of Moshe, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Yahweh God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! "Who will not fear, O Yahweh, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED" (Revelation 15:3-4).

This is at the end of the Great Tribulation, that the saints are singing the Song of Moshe and the song of the Lamb. They have experienced the avenging of the blood of His servants and the avenging of His adversaries, marvelling over the great works of the Rock of their Salvation. (Deut 32:43) They are praising Him for the revelation of His righteous judgements and glorying in His complete redemption.

"For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, As I live forever, if I whet my glittering sword, my hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to my adversaries, will recompense those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, my sword shall devour flesh; with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the head of the leaders of the enemy. Rejoice, you nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, will render vengeance to his adversaries, will make expiation for his land, for his people." (32:40-43)

This is speaking of the last war against Israel before the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua when He renders judgement to the nations who come up against Jerusalem. This text is in line with Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19.