We have a double-parasha this morning: Nitzavim and Vayelech. Nitzavim means ‘Those taking a stand’ and Vayyelech means ‘And he went’. These two parashas span Deuteronomy 29:9 (29:10 in our English Bibles) through 31:30.
The parasha opens with all Israel assembled to stand before Adonai. In fact, the usual verb for ‘stand’ (omayd) isn’t the word used here. The verb is natzav, which is much more formal in meaning; as in rising when a judge enters the courtroom, or standing up in order to swear an oath, or taking a stand in one’s defense.
Moses also declares that the words of this Covenant are for the future generations of the Jewish people, which is where we get the mystical Jewish view that all Israel stood before Adonai on that day; we were merely in our ancestors’ loins.
Moses prophesied what the future would hold for us; and we were not even in the Land yet! Israel was still encamped at Moab. I say this because the descriptions of Israel’s apostasy, leading to judgment and exile, and the promises of God restoring us to the Land in the future, seem so specific and accurate, that those who deny the possibility of the supernatural (such as prophets who foretell future events) claim that this part of the Torah was written after-the-fact; perhaps after the Babylonian Captivity. Not so! God announced it beforehand, precisely so that in retrospect we would learn to trust Him.
One of the things we learn about the nature of God in these chapters is that He is merciful and forgiving. He is the God of second (and third, and fourth) chances. This is where the Torah (Deuteronomy especially) parts ways with the conventions of the Ancient Near East. God offers grace and forgiveness – something no Hittite king ever offered in a treaty with a conquered nation!
Chapter 30 represents the heart of the promise of Israel’s future restoration. Adonai promises that if our people, while in captivity, will think better of our disloyalty and repent and serve Him only, that He will gather us even from the remotest corner of the earth, and bring us back into the land of our fathers, there to prosper us abundantly.
Not only did God promise to re-gather us to Eretz Yisrael, but also that He would circumcise our hearts (30:6). It’s a strange sort of imagery – performing a bris upon a person’s heart. What we’re supposed to understand is that the heart of man is hard, and that only through God’s intervention can we become tender and teachable, and come to a place of repentance. I believe this passage anticipated the future giving of the New Covenant – the Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, and inaugurated through the person of Yeshua – Jesus the Messiah.
And what of our enemies – those who took us captive? In verse 7 God says He will inflict all the curses described in the Covenant on those who hate and mistreat us. The Haftarah readings from Hosea, Joel and Micah all have the theme of Israel’s restoration. When we broke covenant with God and were defeated by enemies, those nations credited themselves and their false gods for the victory. They also presumed that God was finished with the Jewish people. But God says that it is He who allowed us to be defeated, and that He would restore us. In fact, God turned around and punished those nations that treated Israel harshly. There is a lesson here: do not make yourself Israel’s enemy. Do not gloat over her failure, for God intends to restore her and dwell in her midst, and then where will that leave you?
Pastors and theologians who lightly esteem the modern state of Israel as just another country, having no special importance; and who claim the promises made to Israel for themselves and the Church, are treading dangerously. It’s what I call spiritual identity theft.
Rabbi Paul had this in mind when he cautioned the Gentile believers in Rome not to gloat over the fact that Israel, for the most part, failed to acknowledge Messiah Yeshua. Some might be tempted to say, Branches were broken off, so that I might be grafted in. Paul warns them, writing, If some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them… do not be arrogant toward the branches… and he culminates his remarks with this affirmation: that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved (excerpted from Romans 11:19-26).
In chapter 31, Moses reminds Israel that he will not cross over into Canaan with us, but promised that we would be in good hands; Adonai would go before us and drive out the inhabitants, and Joshua would lead us. Moses also directed that every seven years, on Sukkot – the Holiday of Tabernacles, this Law was to be read aloud to the people, so that every generation would reverence Adonai.
As God speaks to Moses of his impending death, He tells him that once Israel has settled in the Land, our people will be disloyal, dabbling in the religious practices of the Canaanites, and that Adonai will send judgments upon the Jewish people. And so He commissions Moses to write a song, warning of the cost of rebellion. That song will be the subject of the next parasha.
Let me conclude with this: There will be occasions in your life when you will have to take a stand. Some stand on tradition rather than truth; some stand on their own pride, rather than admit a mistake; some stand for noble causes. We at Shema take our stand on the fact of Jesus’ Messiahship and the truth of Scripture. Where do you stand? May the Lord grant us the courage to stand, and the wisdom to know who and what to stand for.