Nitzavim-Vayelech (You Are Standing–And He Went)
Deuteronomy 29:9–31:30; Isaiah 61:10–63:9; Romans 10:1–12
“All of 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 … to confirm you this day as His people.” (Deuteronomy 29:10–13)
Last week, in Parasha Ki Tavo, Moses instructed the Israelites concerning the laws of the tithes.
This week’s reading, Parasha Nitzavim-Vayelech, is a double portion of Torah.
In the Nitzavim portion of the Torah reading, the Jewish People stand before God about to enter into the covenant, a solemn oath with Him.
Such a momentous occasion! This covenant promised that God would establish Israel as His own people and that He would be their God.
It included everyone standing before God—from the greatest to the least—the heads of tribes, elders, officers, the men and women, the little ones, and the strangers (Deuteronomy 29:10–11)—from that day forward for all time.
It was so sweeping and powerful that it included those who were not present:
“I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.” (Deuteronomy 29:14–15)
It seems that Moses not only foresaw through the Ruach KaKodesh (Holy Spirit) future generations, but also that day when others would enter into this covenant with the God of Israel.
On Remaining a Covenant People
“You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations.” (Deuteronomy 39:16–18)
In Nitzavim, Moses cautions the Israelites to remain single-heartedly devoted to God, and not to follow after the gods of the nations they had passed through.
Likewise, we cannot claim the privileges of the Covenant and at the same time continue to walk in the stubbornness of our own hearts, holding on to a sinful lifestyle as those do in the world (Deuteronomy 29:18).
The Brit Chadashah (New Testament) confirms that there is no sacrifice to cover a person who stubbornly persists in sin, even while knowing the truth of God’s Word:
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.” (Hebrews 10:26)
Especially at this time, as we prepare for the fall mo’adim (appointed times) of Yom Teruah (Day of sounding the shofar / Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), we need to examine our lives for any unrighteousness.
Captivity and Curses: Why Has God Done This?
“When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.’ This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.” (Deuteronomy 29:19)
In this Parasha, Moses warns the Israelites that those who turn away from God and persist in following their own ways will experience God’s wrath. He will not forgive them, their names would be blotted out, and the curses written in the Torah will fall upon them. (Deuteronomy 29:20)
“The Lord will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.” (Deuteronomy 29:21)
Moses warns that the destruction of the Land would be so great because of following after their own ways and the gods of the nations that the whole land would lay desolate and barren like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Indeed, just as foretold, this happened.
And just as predicted, the nations asked, “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce burning anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24)
The bitter answer is always the same: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, the covenant He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 29:25)
The Return to the Promised Land
“They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods He had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that He brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:26–27)
Because of Israel’s sin, the Lord, in righteous anger, wrath and indignation, uprooted the Israelites out of their land and scattered them throughout the world to become the “wandering Jews” in every nation.
The good news, however, is that our God is merciful.
He doesn’t hold onto His anger forever, and He even promised through Moses that one day the children of Israel would return to Him (Deuteronomy 30:1–10).
He would turn things around for Israel, and bring them back to the Promised Land.
I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord; and I will bring you again to the place from where I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29:14)
The continued return of the Jewish People from their places of exile to the Promised Land, which only became an independent nation once again in 1948, is an incredible testimony of the faithfulness and mercy of God and the accuracy of His Word.
When the Lord personally brings each of us out of our captivity, it is a miracle of freedom! We are filled with joy and we can sing of the mercies of the Lord.
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” (Psalm 126:1–2)
Blessing Comes Through Holding Fast to the Lord
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)
One of the highlights of Nitzavim is the promise of a life of blessing through remaining faithful to God.
Our life is in the Lord our God, and if we will listen to His voice and hold fast to Him, then He will bless us and the generations that come after us.
The Hebrew word for hold fast comes from the root word for glue (dabaq). We need to stick to the Lord like glue!
The Mantle of Leadership
“The LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’” (Deuteronomy 31:2)
In the Vayelech portion of the reading, Moses once again addresses the nation of Israel. He is 120-years-old and the Lord has told him that he would not cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land.
At the end of his life, Moses was not weak and feeble, but strong and healthy; nevertheless, God took him home.
The time had come for him to pass on the mantle of his leadership and authority to his successor, Yehoshua (Joshua).
Moses doesn’t feel like he has received the desire of his heart since he deeply yearns to enter the Promised Land.
Still, God does not allow him to enter it; he is only allowed to see it from a distance. In humility, and perhaps with great disappointment, he accepts God’s will in the matter.
Even though the Bible does remind us that there is a time for every purpose, we often struggle with God’s timing and purposes. Sometimes they do not line up with our expectations.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die….” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2)
Finding Courage to Move Forward
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
In Vayelech, the nation of Israel is at a critical transition.
They are on the verge of seeing the realization of God’s promise by entering the Promised Land, but they must move forward without Moses.
Moses wants them to understand that they are not being deserted and encourages the Israelites to be strong and courageous as they are led by God and Joshua across the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Moreover, God is not only going with them, but He is profoundly committed to them.
Like the Israelites, many of us are at critical junctures in our lives, as well.
When we are in transitions and on the verge of entering a new thing, we are blessed when we have godly leadership and authority in our lives that will encourage us to remember that God will never leave or forsake us.
Knowing that even leaders need to be reminded to receive the mantle of authority with courage, both Moses and God encouraged Joshua.
“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'” (Deuteronomy 31:7–8)
“The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: ‘Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I Myself will be with you.’” (Deuteronomy 31:23)
Each one of us should be courageous to enter the promise knowing that we never fly solo. Adonai (The Lord) is always with us.
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.” (Isaiah 62:1)
Today’s Haftarah (prophetic portion of Scripture) is the seventh and final Haftarot of Consolation, which began with Tisha B’Av and ends with Rosh HaShanah, which begins at sunset this Wednesday.
In this Haftarah, Isaiah declares that he will not keep silent until Zion receives a new name from the Lord, and God makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
“You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow…. No longer will they call you Deserted [Azuva], or name your land Desolate [Sh’mamah]. But you will be called Hephzibah [My delight is in her], and your land Beulah [Married].” (Isaiah 62:2–4)
To that end, God sets watch on the walls of Jerusalem.