The Danger of Self-Righteousness

Parashat D’varim (Words)
D’varim (Deuteronomy) 1:1-3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1–27
Shabbat Hazon (Vision)

This week’s reading from the Haftarah is the last of the three weeks’ reading prior to the ninth of Av (known as Tisha b’Av), which is the day the Jewish people remember some of the most horrific events in our history such as the first and second destruction of the Temple, as well as the exile of the people of Israel into the diaspora.

This specific shabbat is called “Shabbat Hazon”, which means “vision”; it comes from Isaiah 1:1:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Israel’s poor spiritual condition during the time of the first temple is a main theme in this week’s Scripture portion. The reality is that, throughout history, Israel turned their backs to God over and over again, and the spiritual condition of Israel as a people was rarely good.

I think the fact that this specific week’s reading is from the book of Deuteronomy is very significant. The book of Deuteronomy is an important book for us believers because it is a book of reminders. In my opinion, we need these reminders for two reasons: 1) we are forgetful people and 2) God strongly emphasizes certain things that are important to Him, so we would be wise to pay attention to them.

As I was reading this week’s portions, I was reflecting upon the danger of taking matters into our own hands, and the disaster that can occur when we try to manipulate situations (or people). I was also thinking about how important our heart’s motivation is to God.

In the Parashah, we read that Israel was trying to do what was right in their own strength, in an effort to please God. While the Scripture does not explicitly say, it is possible that Israel’s desire to please God was motivated by fear, which caused them to simply fail to listen to God’s instructions:

Then you replied to me, ‘We have sinned against the LORD; we ourselves will go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.’ And every man of you strapped on his weapons of war, and you viewed it as easy to go up into the hill country. But the LORD said to me, ‘Say to them, “Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies.”’ So I spoke to you, but you would not listen. Instead, you rebelled against the command of the LORD, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country. And the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do, and they scattered you from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD did not listen to your voice, nor pay attention to you. So you remained at Kadesh for many days, the days that you spent there.”
Deuteronomy 1:41–46

In our Haftarah portion, there are some puzzling verses:

Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!“What are your many sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courtyards? Do not go on bringing your worthless offerings,Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the proclamation of an assembly— I cannot endure wrongdoing and the festive assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am tired of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you offer many prayers, I will not be listening. Your hands are covered with blood.”
Isaiah 1:10-15

These are some harsh and difficult words! What can we make of them? Why would God not take pleasure in the very things that He commanded the people of Israel to do? The answer, I believe, has to do with the heart.

I personally believe that the issue is not with God’s appointed times, the sacrificial system, prayers, etc. When God gave the instructions to observe these things, I believe He intended for them to be reminders of Him and the reason He created us, which was to worship Him and to have relationship with Him. God never intended for these things to be religious acts or rituals, but we have turned them into such.

Just as the account from Deuteronomy 1:41–46 warns, we must be careful to not obey God in our own strength or understanding; it is not about how we feel things should be done… it is about how God asks us to do things. Even if our motives are right, it has to be in the way that God has deemed for us.

God gave us His Word so that we will be reminded of what He desires us to do. You may be reading this commentary and say in your heart, “Well I follow Yeshua as the Messiah, so I get it all and I am not like them…”. I want to exhort you not to repeat the same mistakes that Israel made throughout the centuries, but rather embrace God and His call in your life in a spirit of humility and gratitude for all He has done!

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

Share this Post

3 Comments on “The Danger of Self-Righteousness”

  1. To further support your guidance, notice that He states that He hates “YOUR new moon festivals and feasts…” Not HIS. Interesting.

  2. Thank you Moran. It’s warning for all of us. I’m praying for peace in Jerusalem! May the Lord Israel today from all its enemies. All the rockets will not harm His people. I pray for God to free people in Gaza from their own enemies within their country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *