Children of Promise

Torah Portion: Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30)
Gospel Reading: Romans 4, Galatians 3
Commentary by: Chris Knight

As we approach the end of the Torah cycle, we come to parshat “vayelech” in which we discuss the passing of the baton from Moses to Joshua. We read in Deuteronomy 31:1-8,

Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: ‘I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the Lord has said to me, “You shall not cross over this Jordan.” The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the Lord has said. And the Lord will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.’ Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.’ (Deuteronomy 31:1-8 NKJV)

As we know from the book of Numbers, the generation that left Egypt was not allowed to enter the promised land. Everyone who was the age of twenty and older had to die in the wilderness before the next generation would be permitted to enter the land of Canaan. This concluded with Moses, who was the last in his generation to pass. What qualified this generation to enter the land versus the previous generation? Why is this passing of the baton so significant? What does is teach us about our faith in Messiah? I believe this all teaches us about faith versus works. God’s promise versus our strength. Confidence in ourselves versus confidence in God.

Throughout scripture, I believe we see this as a consistent theme. One of the first and biggest examples being our father, Abraham. Abraham was given a promise by God that even at his old age he would have a multitude of descendants and eventually inherit the land of Canaan from God. This promise, like many other from the Lord, was only possible through the miraculous provision of God. There was nothing that Abraham and Sarah could have done in their own strength, wisdom, or abilities to bring about this promise. Sarah was too old to conceive and was also barren. This had to be a complete act of God in order to work. In fact, when Abraham and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s promise in their own doing through Hagar as a surrogate mother, the plan backfired rather drastically and has caused tensions and war even to this day. This is also what often times gets us into trouble as believers; when we rely on our ability rather than God’s faithfulness. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,

For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:13-16 NKJV)

With both the generation that left Egypt as well as the “Joshua generation,” the deciding factor of them entering the promised land was not their level of righteous observance of the law or their impressive obedience to God. Rather, what kept the previous generation from entering the land was their lack of faith in God. Both Moses and Joshua sent spies into the land. In the case of Moses, the spies and people cried out in fear and doubt of God’s ability to fulfill His promises. In the case of Joshua, there was trust and confidence that the God of Israel would accomplish His promises regardless of the strength or qualification of Israel. Moses actually makes it a point to mention in Deuteronomy that God was not bringing them into the land based on their own merit of righteousness but because of God’s unfailing faithfulness. Paul teaches us that the example of Abraham’s righteousness by faith was not merely for Abraham’s sake alone but was designed as an example and pattern for us to follow. He writes in his letter to the Romans,

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:23-25 NKJV)

Just as the generation that entered the land of Canaan trusted that it was God who would go before them and fight on their behalf through the leadership of Joshua (Yeshua). So too, we also must trust that it is God who goes before us and fights on our behalf through the work of Jesus Christ (Yeshua). This contrast between the generation of Moses (strength in the law) and the generation of Joshua (strength in God’s promise) is vital to our faith and pursuit of God today. As Paul writes to the Galatians,

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise… For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:16-18, 26-29 NKJV)