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Parasha Nitzavim-Vayelech: New Beginnings and the Covenant

Nitzavim (You are Standing) / Vayelech (And He Went)
Deuteronomy 29:9(10)–31:30, Isaiah 61:10–63:9, Luke 24:1–12 / Luke 24:13–43

You are standing [nitzavim] today in the presence of the Lord your God…. You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 29:10, 12)

Lifting the Torah in Jerusalem

Lifting the Torah in Jerusalem

Last week, in Parasha Ki Tavo (When You Enter), God instructed the Israelites to bring the first-ripened fruits (bikkurim) to the Temple in Jerusalem once they have finally entered the Land He promised to them.

This week, in Nitzavim-Vayelech, the Jewish People stand before the God of Israel about to enter into the covenant, a solemn oath with Him.

The Parasha opens with a declaration of the unity of Israel.

Why were the Israelites collectively standing before God? It was for one reason alone: to enter into a covenant with Him.

The expression you are standing (atem nitzavim) is used almost 300 times in the Bible and always to enter into some kind of contract, pact or agreement.

All were invited to enter into the brit (covenant) with Adonai—from the least to the greatest. Everyone, from the leaders, elders and officers of tribes, to their wives and children had equal opportunity to receive a place in the Kingdom of God.

Even the ger (stranger or foreigner) was offered an equal place in the covenant with Elohim, in order “that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God (Elohim) to you.”  (Deuteronomy 29:13)

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

This covenant was unique in that it transcended any limitation of time or place. It was made with “those standing there as well as with those who were not present at that time.” (Deuteronomy 29:15)

After Israel broke this covenant, God promised through the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah a “New Covenant” (Brit Chadashah) for the people of Israel and Judah:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant (Brit Chadashah) with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:31–32)

Once again, this covenant is extended to everyone—from the least to the greatest:

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 31:34)

So if this New Covenant has been promised to the House of Israel and the house of Judah, how do the Gentile followers of Yeshua the Messiah enter into God’s Kingdom?

We are told in the book of Ephesians that it is through the blood of Yeshua that those who were far away have been brought near and granted an equal place in the covenants of promise.

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.” (Ephesians 2:11–13)

An Orthodox Jewish man and a tourist stand side by side at the Western (Wailing) Wall praying fervently.

An Orthodox Jewish man and a tourist stand side by side at the Western (Wailing) Wall praying fervently.

The Hebrew Scriptures from Parasha Nitzavim-Vayelech are always recited on the Sabbath preceding the evening Selichot (prayers for forgiveness) service, which takes place on Motzei Shabbat, the night after the Sabbath ends; that is, after nightfall on Saturday (around midnight).

These special tefillah (prayers) are recited before the normal shacharit service (morning prayer) from the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) until Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  They add an extra 45 minutes of prayer.

Thus, the mood of repentance becomes more urgent as the month of Elul draws to a close, as we prepare for a special period called the Yamin Noraim or the Ten Days of Awe, a time designated for repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In English, this period is often referred to as the High Holy Days.  It is a time for deep introspection, reflection, and an honest examination of one’s spiritual state.

A rabbi recites selichot.

A rabbi recites selichot.

In this Parasha, Moses asks the people to examine themselves.

He warns them, in a dire prediction, that because of their obstinacy, idolatry and sin, they would be forced to endure a nightmare of tragedies including siege, famine, poverty, war, forced exile, and desolation: however, Israel would survive as a nation and would return to the Holy Land.

This prophecy was fulfilled in May 1948 with the rebirth of the state of Israel.

This rebirth of an independent Jewish state stands in contrast to so many great empires which have come and gone.

God has faithfully kept His covenant with Israel.

A Jewish lad holds the flag of the State of Israel.

A Jewish lad holds the flag of the State of Israel.

The Haftarah (Prophetic Portion)

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)

For the past seven weeks since Tisha B’av—the remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temples—all the prophetic messages in the Haftarot have focused on comfort and consolation.

The Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, comforts the exiles of Israel with the assurance that God has forgiven their sins and, in His mercy, will bring them back to their Land. Haftarah Nitzavim is the climax of these seven messages of comfort.

The prophetic portion of Scripture studied this Shabbat passes over the first portion of Isaiah 61, which is an important Messianic prophecy. Whether or not this is a deliberate omission to keep the knowledge of Yeshua from the common people is debatable.

However, it is important that we read and study the entire Bible and not rely only upon the traditional Haftarah portions that may leave out these crucial Messianic prophecies.

This omitted prophecy of Isaiah 61 is the passage that Yeshua read in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Shabbat) to proclaim Himself Messiah, as well as proclaim “The Year of the LORD’s Favor.”  (Luke 4:16–19)

“… The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.”  (Isaiah 61:1–2)

Yeshua Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by James Tissot

Yeshua Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by James Tissot

The rest of the verse, which Yeshua apparently did not read, is for future fulfillment: “… and the day of vengeance of our God” looks forward to the day of Yeshua’s return, when He will take vengeance on the enemies of Israel.

In this Haftarah portion, God appears dressed as a warrior in that day of vengeance; His clothes stained in the blood of Israel’s enemies.

“Who is this coming from Edom [descendants of Esau—terrorist faction of radical Islam], from Bozrah, with His garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of His strength? ‘It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save.’” (Isaiah 63:1)

Israel stands as a sign and beacon to all peoples everywhere of the wonderful grace and mercy of God.

Its glorious restoration reveals that He can replant, rebuild, re-establish His people from the worst destruction in each one of our lives.  If we will give Him our ashes and mourning, He will give us beauty and the oil of joy.

“The Lord has anointed Me to … provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1, 3)

praise wheat field sunlight

“They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11)

New Beginnings in the Haftarah

This week’s Haftarah (prophetic portion) provides three powerful images of new beginnings:

1. New Clothes:

“For God has clothed me in garments of triumph, wrapped me in a robe of victory, like a bridegroom adorned with a turban, like a bride bedecked in her finery.” (Isaiah 61:10)

God is going to give us a whole new look, and whether we are male or female, we’re going to look gorgeous!

He will be giving us a new beautiful wardrobe, fixing up our hair, placing the necklace of precious jewels around our neck, fussing with our appearance to make us look our best, a perfect Bride without spot or wrinkle.

This is the ultimate makeover.

God’s Bride, Israel and the foreigners who all abide in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), is being prepared to meet her Beloved.  Instead of defeat and despair, we are going to be clothed in triumph and victory!

A bride and groom

A bride and groom

2. A New Name (Identity):

In the Bible, a name change is a sign of a major life change or transformation.

God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah by adding the Hebrew letter hey (ה). This Hebrew letter occurs in two out of the four letters of God’s name YHVH. With a part of God’s identity meshed into their own, they were able to be fertile and fulfill their God-given destiny.

Jacob’s name was also changed from Yaacov (which can mean heel, but also deceiver) into Yisrael—triumphant with God.  Or it may be derived from the verb yashar, meaning straight / honest with God.

Likewise, the Bible promises that God will give Israel a new name.

“You will be called by a new name… No longer will you be called Forsaken [Azuva], neither shall your land any more be called Desolate [Sh’mamah]; but you shall be called, ‘My delight is in her [Heftzi-bah] and your land, Married [Be’ulah]; for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married.” (Isaiah 62:2, 4)

In Revelation 2, a chapter emphasizing repentance, God once again promises a new name:

“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)

God wants to change our name so we can know our true identity in the Messiah: righteous, holy, redeemed, forgiven, free, friend of God.

Once we truly know who we are in Him, we will begin to act differently, like true children of God.  Others will see us and relate to us differently, and our whole lives will be transformed.

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  (Proverbs 23:7)

A Jewish woman prepares to unroll the Torah scroll for public reading.

A Jewish woman prepares to unroll the Torah scroll for public reading.

3. New Love and Intimacy

The third image is that of new love and intimacy.

The Hebrew root word Baal, which occurs several times in Isaiah 62:4–5, means marry. God loves Israel and He loves us as a Bridegroom loves His Bride.

We are the beautiful Bride of the Messiah, a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lorda royal diadem [precious gem]”and He  rejoices over us:  “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”  (Isaiah 62:3, 5)

God is so intimate with us that He Himself dresses us with new garments, like a mother with a little child; He names us with a new name, as the parent of a new baby; and He rejoices over us, as a lover with His Bride.

A bride and groom in Israel (Photo: Go Israel)

A bride and groom in Israel (Photo: Go Israel)

On our journey of transformation, as we at times go through the fires and floods of affliction, we can find comfort in the knowledge that God is with us and He cares for us.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He is so intimately involved with us that in all of our affliction, He is afflicted.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Isaiah states that Messiah is a “man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

One of the names of God is YHVH Shamah, which means God is There. Sometimes that’s all we need—to know that He is “there for us.”  He is God with usEmanu-El.

Yes, God wants to restore, rebuild, renew, and even avenge, but as we reflect on this past year, if we see pain and anguish, let us remember that God can do much more than just meet our needs:  He is the parent who dresses and provides for us, the counselor who guides us into all we can be, and the lover who adores us.

This may not take away the hurt. God doesn’t always instantly fix every broken thing in our lives, but He is always there for us to provide, comfort, and encourage.

Perhaps this is all we need to find the courage to begin again—to walk into the new thing that God has prepared for His Beloved.

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