Many people believe it is just the involvement in pagan, satanic, or occult practices that are the only ways to be influenced by evil spirits (demons). The fact of the matter is the dangers with the influences of the spiritual realm are broader than we realize. For example, if a person suffered from physical or sexual abuse the dangers are even greater. In this week’s Torah portion God gives His people a warning about the ways of the nations and the dangers of tapping into the spiritual realm that leads to a curse and death. The Scriptures we are looking at this week are from Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:14-21.
Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:14-21
29:14 ‘Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 29:15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today 29:16 (for you know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed; 29:17 moreover, you have seen their abominations and their idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold, which they had with them); 29:18 so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. 29:19 ‘It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ 29:20 ‘The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 29:21 ‘Then the Lord will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law. (NASB)
יד כִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם: [שלישי] טו כִּי-אַתֶּם יְדַעְתֶּם אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יָשַׁבְנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָבַרְנוּ בְּקֶרֶב הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עֲבַרְתֶּם: טז וַתִּרְאוּ אֶת-שִׁקּוּצֵיהֶם וְאֵת גִּלֻּלֵיהֶם עֵץ וָאֶבֶן כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב אֲשֶׁר עִמָּהֶם: יז פֶּן-יֵשׁ בָּכֶם אִישׁ אוֹ-אִשָּׁה אוֹ מִשְׁפָּחָה אוֹ-שֵׁבֶט אֲשֶׁר לְבָבוֹ פֹנֶה הַיּוֹם מֵעִם יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ לָלֶכֶת לַעֲבֹד אֶת-אֱלֹהֵי הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם פֶּן-יֵשׁ בָּכֶם שֹׁרֶשׁ פֹּרֶה רֹאשׁ וְלַעֲנָה: יח וְהָיָה בְּשָׁמְעוֹ אֶת-דִּבְרֵי הָאָלָה הַזֹּאת וְהִתְבָּרֵךְ בִּלְבָבוֹ לֵאמֹר שָׁלוֹם יִהְיֶה-לִּי כִּי בִּשְׁרִרוּת לִבִּי אֵלֵךְ לְמַעַן סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת-הַצְּמֵאָה: יט לֹא-יֹאבֶה יְהֹוָה סְלֹחַ לוֹ כִּי אָז יֶעְשַׁן אַף-יְהוָֹה וְקִנְאָתוֹ בָּאִישׁ הַהוּא וְרָבְצָה בּוֹ כָּל-הָאָלָה הַכְּתוּבָה בַּסֵּפֶר הַזֶּה וּמָחָה יְהוָֹה אֶת-שְׁמוֹ מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם: כ וְהִבְדִּילוֹ יְהוָֹה לְרָעָה מִכֹּל שִׁבְטֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל כְּכֹל אָלוֹת הַבְּרִית הַכְּתוּבָה בְּסֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה: כא וְאָמַר הַדּוֹר הָאַחֲרוֹן בְּנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר יָקוּמוּ מֵאַחֲרֵיכֶם וְהַנָּכְרִי אֲשֶׁר יָבֹא מֵאֶרֶץ רְחוֹקָה וְרָאוּ אֶת-מַכּוֹת הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא וְאֶת-תַּחֲלֻאֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר-חִלָּה יְהוָֹה בָּהּ:
Moshe tells the people the covenant they are making with the Lord involves not just those who are standing before the Lord, but also those who come at a future time (their children). Moshe then contrasts the idolatry and associated practices of the nations the Lord God of Israel calls an abomination. He says those who turn to these things, turn their hearts away from the Lord God and His ways. He says such person bear poisonous fruit and wormwood. Wormwood is poisonous containing the chemical thujone. Wormwood is banned in many countries, but is allowed in European countries if the content is less than 35 mg/kg. Moshe describes these things as being a part of the life of the persons who turn towards the idols and practices of the nations. He also warns of the dangers of deception, saying those who practice these things do not believe what they are doing will bring harm, but the dangers are 29:19 ‘It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ 29:20 ‘The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 29:21 ‘Then the Lord will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law. (NASB) It is absolutely imperative that we as God’s children guard our hearts, our minds, our thought life, and our ways against the ways of the nations and sin.
When Yeshua was beginning his ministry, he went out and he healed people and cast out demons. The evil spirits recognized him for who he was. What was it about Yeshua that caused the evil spirits to recognize who he was? Was it just the fact that he was the son of God? Was there something more that we are not being told that is implied that may be related to this week’s Torah Portion? The Jewish commentary “Sefer HaIkkarim” provides us with some insight into this question in regards to the spiritual realm.
Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 3 8:2-5
And inasmuch as men are eager to know all the things that are going to happen to them from day to day, the ancients used to follow the diviners and pursued the study of astrology. Some nations practiced magic and served evil spirits, depending upon their intellectual status. Some served the demons of fire and caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, others served the demons of the air. (R. Hai writes in a responsum that there are demons composed of the element fire, and demons of the element air.) They did all these things in order that an unclean spirit of the demons should rest upon them and enable them to foretell their future. Others again smoked and burned incense, so as to have communion with the dead, and slept in cemeteries, in order than an unclean spirit of the dead should rest upon them. They went so far as to bury their dead in their idolatrous temples, where men and women gathered together and prayed over the graves. As a result the unclean spirit of the dead rested upon them or upon their priests, and told them what was about to happen to them. Nahmanides, in one of his discourses, on the authority of those who are familiar with sorcery, describes the process … King Saul inquired of the woman who had a familiar spirit. He says, too, that those who inquired of the demons relied much upon this method of inquiry. He says also that this is the origin of the Christian custom of burying their dead in their churches, where the men and women pray together and sound a bell while burying their dead, remarking that when the pagans adopted Christianity they retained their ancestral customs. They also retained a custom of the fire worshipers, which consists in lighting fires on a given night in every year when the sun enters the sign of Cancer of the true zodiacal signs, and dancing and skipping around the fire.
All these practices are forbidden in the Torah because they are unclean and done in the service of evil spirits: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer.” And the reason given is, “For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord …” The meaning is that God is holy and His ministers are holy and pure, therefore you must keep away from all these things which are impure. This is the reason, also, why the Torah legislates concerning uncleanness, and provides the penalty of being ‘cut off’ for one who enters the temple while unclean. The reason is that the spirit of uncleanness may cause the holy spirit to depart from the temple.
Then the Torah makes it clear that the other nations indulged in those practices in order to obtain a knowledge of the future, thinking that it can not be obtained in any other way, and that the holy spirit of God never rests upon a human being: “For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners …,” because they think that there is no one else that one can hearken to, “But as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do;” i. e. it is not as they think, but, “A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me.” One upon whom the holy spirit of God will rest, and from him you will learn the future. You must not grieve in thinking that you have no way of knowing the future, as the other nations have, and that you are without this privilege. It is not so, for you will be complete and perfect with the Lord your God. The meaning is that you will not merely have the ordinary human privileges, but also this one. This is the reason for doubling the letter mem (tamim), as if to say, you will want for nothing in association with Him, for He will reveal to you the future also through His prophets, and you need not follow the diviners or the service of evil spirits or inquire of ghosts and familiar spirits in order to obtain knowledge of the future. For though these agencies do impart knowledge of the future, nevertheless as they are connected with the spirit of uncleanness, they keep man away from his perfection, and man cannot on their account have human perfection and soundness, because it is impossible to know from them what things are acceptable to God and what things are not. This is the meaning of the expression, “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God,” indicating that the idolatrous nations are not possessed of human perfection, but thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God, having both perfections through the prophet who prophesies by the holy spirit and by the will of God, for through him you will know what things are acceptable to God. The expression, “with the Lord thy God,” denotes that the prophetic spirit is given to the prophets for the sole purpose of admonishing mankind to observe the Torah, to worship God and to do the things which are acceptable to Him in order that man may be whole-hearted with God, and not for the purpose of foretelling the future, as will be explained in the twelfth chapter of this Book.
The prophets had indeed also this power of foretelling the future as a secondary consideration, as a testimony to the truth of their prophetic teaching, in order that men may believe them. Accordingly we find that all the prophets admonish us constantly to observe the Torah and carry out the commandments. The main purpose of God in inspiring the prophets was that through them man may attain to his perfection by doing those things which are acceptable to God and not in order to give mankind a knowledge of the future, as is the case with the diviners. These foretell the future by certain practices which strengthen the power of imagination in a natural way, and not through the spirit of God, as the prophets do; unless, indeed, we say that prophecy is also a function of the imagination, as is the opinion of some of our wise men who follow the Philosopher. They hold that prophecy is a natural phenomenon, pertaining solely to the power of imagination, like dreams. They go so far as to say that it is an unusual thing if a man does not prophesy being wise and prepared thereto, i. e. if his imagination is prepared for prophecy.
Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 3 speaks of men desiring to know all things. The concept of knowing all things, knowing the future, and seeking the answer to our questions about the future is the root and source of inquiry in the act of idolatry, astrology, etc. The commentary goes on to describe how the nations served evil spirits through astrology and magic. The Torah describes how some would serve demons of fire causing their children to pass through the fire, others demons of the air, some would burn incense in order to have communion with the dead, or slept in cemeteries, or bury the dead in their temples and pray over them assuming this gives one power where the underlying source of power is that of an evil spirit. They did all of these things so a demon would rest upon them and they would have the power to foretell the future. In most cases the practitioner would not know it was by demonic powers they received their insights. It is said that some of these practices were adopted by Christianity because of one’s ancestral customs. The commentary states that all of these things are forbidden in the Torah because they are unclean and done in the service of evil spirits. Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 3 goes on saying, “The meaning is that God is holy and His ministers are holy and pure, therefore you must keep away from all these things which are impure. This is the reason, also, why the Torah legislates concerning uncleanness, and provides the penalty of being ‘cut off’ for one who enters the temple while unclean. The reason is that the spirit of uncleanness may cause the holy spirit to depart from the temple.” This is why the Torah makes it clear to not do as the nations do by indulging in these practices involving evil spirits. For the people of God, the commentary states, “The expression, ‘with the Lord thy God,’ denotes that the prophetic spirit is given to the prophets for the sole purpose of admonishing mankind to observe the Torah, to worship God and to do the things which are acceptable to Him in order that man may be whole-hearted with God, and not for the purpose of foretelling the future…” or doing things in our own sinful ways. According to Mark 1, Yeshua found many people in the synagogue who were possessed by evil spirits. When He saw them they cried out and He commanded them to leave and the demons came out immediately. The people asked what is this new teaching (מַה־הִיא הַתּוֹרָה הַחֲדָשָׁה אֲשֶׁר אַף־לְרוּחוֹת הַטֻּמְאָה מְצַוֶּה הוּא בִּגְבוּרָה)? The Hebrew translations says “what is this new Torah?” (מַה־הִיא הַתּוֹרָה הַחֲדָשָׁה) The Hebrew translation makes it clear how the word Torah תורה means “instruction” of God. The response according to Mark was concerning this new teaching, that he (Yeshua) commanded and the evil spirits were just compelled to leave. This new teaching was not “something new” as the church teaches Jesus came to change the Law. Yeshua was the son of God and walked according to God’s Torah, blameless and pure. The evil spirits had no choice not to listen and obey. It is important to note how often Yeshua entered into the synagogue or the Beit Midrash and cast out demons from the people. This week’s Torah portion teaches us the idea of walking in the ways of the nations, which is opposed to the ways of God, has the spiritual component of serving evil spirits. There is a serious danger and a warning for us to do all that we can to steer clear of the ways of the nations, and from sin and unfaithfulness. The Gospel of Mark is showing how God is establishing His Messiah and the power of His Word. Yeshua the Messiah lived by example, and we are called to walk in His foot steps. The Lord God Almighty has established His Messiah, who comes in the authority and power of God, that name above all other nations whereby all men are saved (Acts 4:12) and that name which is powerful to tear down strongholds and set me free from the spiritual forces in this world. When we enter into a covenant relationship with God, we are given power over the spiritual forces, and this carries with it all the responsibilities that we see listed in the Torah that was given to God’s covenant people. If you desire to know the truth, do not seek out the ways of the world, but the One who created the world and all that is in it, seek the Lord God Almighty who is in Heaven and His Messiah! If you find yourself in the situation of having walked in the ways of the nations, repent, turn from these ungodly ways, and seek the Lord God in heaven for forgiveness and deliverance in the Name of Yeshua the Messiah!