20200912 Parsha Nitzavim-Vayelech – Here we are, Now what?
Getting back to God’s Normal
This week’s Parsha is a double Parsha because we are not in a leap year. It encompasses Deuteronomy 29:9 to 31:30. The most significant aspect of this portion is the renewal of the Mosaic Covenant with Israel. We have to remember that the vast majority of Bnei Israel standing on the East side of the Jordan River were not present at Mt Sinai. All the people above the age of 20 had died out in the wilderness due to their lack of faith.
Therefore, at Hashem’s direction, Moses gathered the people together to renew the covenant that their fathers heard at Mount Sinai and to which they agreed wholeheartedly.
Deuteronomy 29:9-14 “You are standing today, all of you, before Adonai your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, (10) your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). (11) Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of Adonai your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. (12) “This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. (13) Not with you alone am I cutting this covenant and this oath, (14) but with whomever is standing here with us today before Adonai our God and with whomever is not here with us today.
So what were they renewing? Which Covenant? Certainly, they were renewing the Mosaic Covenant because that would be the laws and regulations for their daily lives. These laws and regulations also made them distinct from the peoples and nations around them.
But Genesis 22 tells us of another covenant. That was the Covenant God made with Abraham. The Mosaic Covenant was a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant that promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Even more importantly, it promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his seed.
That is the promise of the Messiah, who would come and be a savior to anyone who would believe in him. All the world is blessed by the Messiah Yeshua IF they will just lay hold of that promise.
Verse 14 has some strange language in it. God was cutting the covenant for all who were standing there at that moment. But then He says it was for whomever was NOT standing there on that day. In other words, God’s promise to Abraham and the Children of Israel was not for a moment in time. It was for ALL generations. When God makes a promise, it is a forever kind of thing.
On this occasion of getting ready for the crossing over into Canaan what did Moses do? He recited the Law that God had given them at Sinai. He had a copy written for each tribe. He gave a commandment that every 7 years, the people would get together hear the Law read out to them. In the intervening years the Law was retold by memory and we know that sometimes memory can fail us, so that 7 year requirement was important to bring us all back to the center of the road.
There was another 7 year requirement that was important to God, that was outlined in Exodus 23:10-12. It pertained to giving the land an opportunity to rest, and it also provided the poor among B’nei Israel an opportunity to gather and be fed. It was an issue of social justice and provision for the poor, and also a prescribed Sabbath for the land, for animals, and for the servants among them.
10 “For six years you are to sow your land and gather the increase. 11 But during the seventh year you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people may eat. Whatever they leave behind, the animals of the field may eat. You are to deal with your vineyard and your olive grove in the same way.12 “You are to do your work for six days, but on the seventh day you will rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and also the son of your handmaid and the outsider may be refreshed.
Let’s fast forward a thousand years to the end of the Babylonian exile. The Children of Israel were coming back into the land after 70 years of exile in Babylon. You can read about it in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Did you ever wonder why they were exiled for 70 years? It was because Israel did not keep the 7 year sabbath for the land and for the poor beginning with the reign of King Saul. There was 490 years from the time of Saul to the destruction of the first temple. 490 divided by 7 equals what? That’s right, 70 years. The land got its prescribed years of rest, and Israel was reprimanded for her social injustices.
2 Chronicles 36:20-21 He exiled to Babylon those who had escaped the sword and they became slaves to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia— (21) in fulfillment of the word of Adonai by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid back her Shabbat rests—for as long as it lay desolate—the Shabbat rest was kept till 70 years were complete.
Israel had not let the land rest, or her people rest. They had not observed the commandments concerning the shmitah such as returning land back to the original clans, freeing slaves, and perhaps, most important, they did not gather together and read aloud the Torah. They had abandoned God’s standard of holiness and pursued their own path. The reading of Torah may very well have avoided the exile if they and read it and heeded its words.
But God left a remnant. It seems as though He always has a remnant. And God’s remnant is enough for a majority. We can read about it in Ezra.
Ezra 9:8 But now for a brief moment Adonai our God has shown us favor in leaving us a remnant and giving us as a peg in His holy place. Thus our God has enlightened our eyes and has given us a little relief in our bondage.
I like the imagery in this verse. He has given us a peg in the Temple. Some translations say a nail in the Temple. For all of our transgressions, Hashem still grants us his grace and a place in the temple. Through a lot of difficulty, danger and delay, the Temple was finally rebuilt along with the wall around Jerusalem. There were divisions among the people. They had different opinions about how things should be done.
Ezra 3:12 But many of the kohanim, Levites and patriarchal leaders, older men who had seen the former House, wept loudly at the sight of the founding of this House, while many shouted for joy.
It was the glass half full or the glass half empty conundrum. Some Levites wept at past glories lost and others rejoiced that there was still a foundation and a place to start the rebuilding.
I’ll mention just in passing another odd parallel between the Exodus from Egypt and the return to Israel from Babylon. Only about 20% of all the Hebrew people in Egypt left to go to the promised land. And only about 20% of all the Jews left the lives they had carved out for themselves in the land of Babylon. In fact, Nehemiah 3:12 says that “Shallum son of Hallohesh, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, and his daughters repaired the next section.” I think it would be wise for us to acknowledge and honor the efforts of ADONAI’s daughters, who rise up to the occasion and readily accept the labor intensive efforts that are required to build the Temple. We could not move forward as a congregation were it not for the significant contributions of our ladies here at Tree of Life. It is clearly significant to ADONAI also, as it was recorded in scripture that certain women worked side by side with the men, in dangerous circumstances, to do God’s work.
I think though that one of the most important things that B’nei Israel did in the building of the walls and the Temple was what happened at the rededication of the Temple. Let’s read together some more excerpts from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 9:5 5The Levites… said: “Stand up! Bless Adonai your God, from everlasting to everlasting! May Your glorious Name be blessed; may it be exalted above all blessing and praise…
Nehemiah 9:7 7“You are Adonai, the God who chose… Abraham… and made the covenant with him to give the land… to his seed. You have fulfilled Your words, for You are righteous… 13“You descended on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven. You gave them just judgments, reliable laws, and good statutes and mitzvot. 14You made known to them Your holy Shabbat and ordained for them mitzvot, statutes and Torah by the hand of Your servant Moses…
Nehemiah 9:16 16“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant. They stiffened their neck and did not obey Your mitzvot.
Nehemiah 13:1 On that day, the scroll of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people.
As they were trying to get back to a normal, pre-exilic existence, Israel began the right way.
- They stood up together as a unified body.
- They worshipped ADONAI together
- They remembered the covenants together
- They confessed their sin together
- And then they read the Law of Moses out loud to the people. They redirected the people to God’s standard of holiness.
Today we are also beginning again. The world would have us believe that we are “Stronger Together” and use it as a campaign for wearing protective masks and following the same handwashing hygiene protocols that ADONAI prescribed for B’nei Israel thousands of years ago. I don’t know why we went through all of this. Perhaps We have been exiled for 6 months due to the actions of misguided government officials and aided by a corrupt media. In some parts of the country, their local governments are suing congregations and fining them $5,000 per day because they to the courageous stand to meet together to worship God. Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of extremes here in Texas. So instead of wailing and crying about the government abuses, let’s be like those that rejoiced that at least the Temple foundations still stood. We have our beautiful facility back and we can once again gather to worship God.
So here we are. Now what? We are one week away from the High Holy Days. Next week we will all gather back here with our shofarot and we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. This is a perfect opportunity to reassess our lives and our relationship to our Creator. How can we best “Get back God’s Normal?”
READ THE WORD
Instead of having someone read God’s word to us, we all have Bibles available to us. I encourage each of you to make a concerted effort to get into the Word, study it, meditate on it and follow it. It is our roadmap. It is what keeps us on the right path.
For our part at Tree of Life, we will continue to teach directly from God’s word and not from the latest thing that is trending on social media. If you want to get a head start on what I will be teaching each week, look up what Parsha is for that week. A great resource for the weekly portion is the website at First Fruits of Zion. You can see their website up there on the screen. Unless I get a special direction from the Lord, I will be teaching somewhere in the Parsha.
INTERNALIZE THE WORD
David said in Psalms 119:11
Psalms 119:11 I have treasured Your word in my heart, so I might not sin against You.
David used an analogy of eating God’s word, taking it into your body so that it becomes part of you.
Psalms 34:9 Taste and see how good Adonai is. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.
SPREAD THE WORD
Finally, don’t be the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is dead because it doesn’t have an outlet. The Jordan river and other streams flow into it but nothing comes out. One of the requirements for a mikveh is that it must be living water, not stagnated water that doesn’t flow. It’s the same with our lives as Believers. We can take in all the teaching and preaching, but if we don’t do something with it, then what good is it. One of the last things Yeshua said to his disciples did not include sitting on a bench doing nothing.
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, (20) teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Some will ask why did all this COVID stuff happen. I’m not going to go into global geopolitics and economies and all that stuff. But I have been thinking on something that Moses said.
Deuteronomy 8:15-16 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness—fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water. He brought forth water for you from the flinty rock. (16) He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, in order to afflict you and test you, to do you good in the end.
I don’t know why, but I do know that it is all for our good in the end. Let’s pick up, and go forward in the Lord’s grace and strength, letting the world know that greater is He that is in me and he that is in the world.
STAND with me, and let’s pray TOGETHER:
Father, we acknowledge together, as a unified body of Believers, that You are Almighty, the maker of the heavens and earth, the King of the Universe. Teach us how to worship You in the way that You deserve, instead of with vapid empty praise. We remember Your covenant with Abraham, that all the earth would be blessed through the promised Messiah. We remember Your covenant with Moses, that if we listen AND obey Your commandments, You would be faithful to hear our prayers. We confess our sin, and our need for Yeshua HaMashiach, our promised Messiah, and His sacrifice by which we are reconciled to You. And we ask that You create in us the craving to consume Your Living Word, that Your Word would be the guiding light within us, that leads us during this season and those times yet to come…