Fox Byte 5775 #52: Vayelekh (And He Went)
Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing. Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration. For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality. Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.
Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it. Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920. The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot. The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.
Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later. It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia. The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors. In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs. The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army. It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.
It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved. Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will. The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands. As usual, art imitates life. YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will. Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough. What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction. About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:
It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken. (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)
The Canaanites knew what was coming, as demonstrated just weeks later when Rahab of Jericho confided in the men Joshua sent into her city as spies:
Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:8-11 NASB)
Rahab’s testimony reveals that the people of Jericho, and presumably all of Canaan, understood that YHVH had judged the gods of Egypt, humbling the mightiest empire on the planet to bring His people out of slavery. They understood also that He had preserved Israel through four decades in the desert wilderness to prepare them for a war of conquest. That much is clear from her words, but when we read between the lines we see something more. She knows YHVH has given Canaan to Israel, and she knows it is because He is the only God. That means she is aware of the promises made centuries earlier to Abraham when he was a foreign resident in the Land:
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16 NASB, emphasis added)
The Canaanite civilization was Amorite. If we want to know what it was like, all we need do is read the Torah. The commandments Moses wrote specifically address the wicked characteristics of a society with a sensual fertility cult at its core. The various nature gods served as excuses to engage in all manner of sexual gratification, resulting in a plethora of inconvenient pregnancies. The remedy was simple enough: offer the unwanted infants to the gods in a state-subsidized system of celebratory birth control. The system worked; it was efficient, it solved multiple problems at once, and it kept the masses happy. Why would they complain about unjust judges, incompetent rulers, violent crime, dishonest merchants, and oppressive taxation if they knew that they could gratify their lusts and at the same time ensure the happiness of the gods? If the gods were happy, the rain would come, crops would grow, and bellies would be filled. Why, then, would there be reason to care about an unwanted infant passed through the fire to Molech? Or about her 14-year-old mother who had no clue what real family life was, or what the love of a father really meant.
When considered this way, the wonder is not that Holy God judged the Amorites, but that He waited 400 years to do it. Yet that is the kind of God He is. Mercy always accompanies justice, and in that case His mercy was a suspended sentence allowing time for the people to repent. What happened during those four centuries? The people of Canaan interacted with the large, wealthy, and growing families of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. The testimony of the Creator was there in the midst of them, demonstrating by word and deed the standard of righteousness, and the terrible sentence for departing from it. It was by no means a perfect witness, as the stories of Genesis relate. Even God’s chosen family fell from grace, suffering the consequences as testimony to the rightness of YHVH’s case against not only the Canaanites, but all of humanity. Yet they never fell away completely from Him, and He preserved them even when they went to Egypt. The Canaanites saw that, too, and they saw when YHVH brought them out of Egypt, no longer just a family, but a mighty multi-ethnic nation. And then they knew that time had run out.
The greatest tragedy is that so few Canaanites chose to repent and fall on the mercy of God. Rahab and her family are the only ones we know who did so, yet even their case is evidence that the door of salvation was open up to the last minute.
This is where we get to the paradox of God’s judgment. To most it is a message of doom and terror, but to those who respond to the invitation of YHVH’s mercy, it is a message of great hope. Think of the millions living in the days of Noah. Those people heard the preaching of Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch warning them of God’s pending judgment, and they saw the visible prophetic sign of Noah’s preparation for the Great Flood (Genesis 6:1-8; Jude 14-15). Most took no heed of the message at all, going about their lives in blissful ignorance until destruction came upon them like a thief in the night. Others who heeded the message found in it much reason for fear and terror, knowing that their world would end and they could not escape. Yet there was hope of salvation in the message of Enoch and Noah: just get in the boat and rise above the watery judgment. Sadly, the only people who believed and received that message were Noah’s immediate family. Although anyone could come aboard, only eight did so.
As we have seen from the record of Scripture, the paradox of God’s judgment was present in the days of Rahab. For her people it was a message of terror, but for herself and all Israel it was a message of salvation. Quite literally, in fact, as indicated in the Torah portion Vayelekh (And He Went, Deuteronomy 31:1-30). These are Moses’ last words. We know because he tells the people he is about to die, and he names Joshua the son of Nun as his successor. Originally Joshua’s name was Hoshea, or Hosea (הוֹשֵעַ, Strongs H1954), a name meaning savior or deliverer. Numbers 13:16 tells us that Moses renamed him Joshua, or Jehoshua in the King James (יְהוֹשוּעַ, Strongs H3091), meaning YHVH saves, or YHVH is salvation. Another rendering of this name is Yeshua (יֵשוּעַ, Strongs H3442), which means He will save. Yeshua is the original Hebrew of the name rendered in English as “Jesus”. The translators of the King James Bible understood that Joshua and Jesus are the same name; they referred to Joshua son of Nun as Jesus in Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8. Why they did not refer to Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth by His Hebrew name is an interesting question. Whatever the reason, their choice of transliteration aided the process of obscuring Yeshua’s Jewish and Hebrew identity from the world. It is only now that many of Yeshua’s followers are rediscovering His Name, and with it the Torah by which He lived.
There is another interesting point about this name. Hosea, Joshua’s original name, is the name of the prophet who pronounced YHVH’s judgment on the Ephraimite kingdom of Northern Israel. At the Lord’s direction, he took a prostitute as his wife, and with her had three children: Jezreel (“God sows”), Lo-ruhamah (“No mercy”), and Lo-ammi (“Not my people”). The names indicate the judgment YHVH is about to execute: revoking His mercy from the House of Ephraim for their chronic rebellion, revoking their status as His own people, and scattering (or “sowing”) them into all the nations of the earth. It is a fearful message, but not a hopeless one. Hosea goes one to say that one day YHVH will regather the Northern tribes and return them to the Promised Land, saying again that they are His people, and they will call Him their God (Hosea 1:1-11, 2:23). This promise is not without echo in the Apostolic Writings (New Testament). Paul and Peter both quote from Hosea, indicating their understanding that the Gospel of the Kingdom is not merely about personal salvation of individuals, but bringing individuals into (or back into) the nation of Israel in anticipation of the entire nation’s restoration (Romans 9:22-25; 1 Peter 2:9-11). It is no coincidence either that the Haftorah for Vayelekh includes these words from Hosea:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.” I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them. (Hosea 14:1-9 NASB)
It takes a prophet to proclaim this message of judgment and deliverance. How interesting that this particular prophet carried the message of deliverance in his very name. Yet to accomplish that deliverance requires something more. YHVH’s justice cannot be satisfied without a sacrifice of blood, for the price of rebellion against Him is death itself. Temporary atonement for blood guilt was possible when a Temple and a priesthood existed to carry the sacrifices to the altar, but then as now permanent removal of the offender’s guilt required a sacrifice that God alone could provide. And indeed He did: a perfect Lamb named Yeshua (Genesis 22:6-8; Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29-36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:17-19; Revelation 5:6-6:1).
But then there is also a requirement for a priest or mediator to apply the blood of the sacrifice and complete the work of atonement. It just so happens that the priest also has the same name, Yeshua. It would be enough for us to know that YHVH had sworn to make Messiah Yeshua his High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110; Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:19-20; 7:15-17), but there is more. Thanks to another Joshua in the Bible, a man who lived one thousand years after Moses, Zechariah can show us Yeshua’s commission as High Priest:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here. Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.’” (Zechariah 3:1-10 NASB)
The applications of this Name seem never to end. Already we know that Yeshua is Deliverer, Savior, Lamb of God, and High Priest, but still there is more. The other Hosea, the one we know as Joshua, led the people in a battle of deliverance from the depredations of Amalek soon after he had helped Moses deliver them from Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16), but to fulfill his next role Joshua required a new name. Under his leadership the people would become God’s instrument of judgment, and at the same time witnesses to YHVH’s salvation. Thus Hosea became Joshua, commander of the Lord’s armies. In that capacity he had opportunity to meet the actual Commander of the Lord’s armies, the One Who would bring victory to Israel (Joshua 5:13-15). Who was this Commander of the Lord’s armies? We see Him again at the end of the book:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16 NASB)
This is Yeshua the King, the Messiah whom all Israel awaits. Like the first Yeshua (Joshua), He has received a new Name so that He may carry out His new mission. After having delivered and redeemed His people, He now comes to bring judgment on the nations of the earth, just as Joshua did long ago. Like Joshua also He is the successor of Moses, the one who prepared the nation for His leadership and carried it to the edge of the Land (John 5:45-47). Moses could not bring the people to ultimate victory; the Law (Torah) Moses gave explains how YHVH expects His people to live and gives blessing and cursing according to one’s obedience, but it gives no power to overcome death. That requires a Redeemer Whose very Blood imparts life, and Whose Spirit imparts power to live as YHVH has always required. This is the One Who will bring His people into their ultimate rest, completing the work of that other Yeshua who could bring them into the Land, but could not guarantee their ability to remain there.
Here we come back to the words of Moses, and to an intriguing pattern in Vayelekh. Moses begins by announcing his own passing and Joshua’s commission to lead the people in his place (Deuteronomy 31:1-8). He speaks encouragement to the people and Joshua, and judgment on the nations of Canaan. Then he instructs the priests and elders, telling them they are to ensure the Law is read to all the people, including the foreigners among them, every seven years at the end of the Shemitah during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). His reason is straightforward: “so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”
After this the Lord Himself speaks, repeating that Moses will die, and announcing Joshua’s commission
the new leader. Then He explains that the people will rebel as soon as Moses is dead, and that all the evils He has promised as results of their disobedience will come upon them – the very evils Hosea repeated nearly a millennium later, on the eve of Israel’s exile (Deuteronomy 31:14-23). Then come more words to the Levites as Moses issues his final instructions:
It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 31:24-29 NASB, emphasis added)
We should not be surprised that Moses repeats the warning YHVH Himself had just spoken, nor that he calls heaven and earth as witness against the people. Messiah Yeshua made reference to those same two witnesses when He asserted that He had not come to do away with the very Law that Moses had proclaimed (Matthew 5:17-19). What is a surprise, now that we have come to the end of this age, is the realization that God’s people have already undergone this terrible judgment. There is yet much refinement to take place – very painful refinement, but Israel has suffered the sentence of exile and national death, and has begun to experience the promised national resurrection. What remains but the judgment of the nations? This is a message of hope, but also a message of great terror for those on the receiving end of the judgment. The Captain of the Lord’s Host is coming as promised. Better to be among those following behind Him than to be in front of Him and experience His unfiltered wrath.
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I Peter 4:17 NASB)