NITZAVIM (You are Standing)
Deut 29:9(10)–31:30, Isai 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.” (Deut 29:10, 12)
The parasha from Nitzavim is recited on the Shabbat in the week leading to Rosh ha Shanah through to Yom Kippur.
This Torah portion describes how the Israelites stood in unity to make a solemn oath before God. The word ‘nitzavim’ means to stand upright as a pillar and it reminds us of the words in Ephesians 6 where after the apostle Paul exhorts us to put on the whole spiritual armour of God concludes with the words, “therefore, stand, and having done all, to stand!” The redeemed of the Lord will stand upright in heart before Him when they come before His throne face to face on that day acknowledging that He alone won the victory through the shed blood of Yeshua..
Some people are bowed down by the weight and enormity of the sins that enslave, cripple and destroy lives. Let the Lord remove them and rather stand upright in His presence, and having done all to stand!
The phrase ‘Atem Nitzavim’ (you are standing) always refers to a covenant (‘Brit’) made between YHWH and His people. Everyone, irrespective of gender age or status were equally eligible to enter into this covenant. It is the same for every believer both Jew and Gentile and we see this illustrated with the “ger’ (foreigners/strangers who dwelt in the midst of the Israelites.) [cf. Deut 29:13]. This was reiterated by Jeremiah after Israel and Judah rebelled against YWHW refusing to repent:
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant 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)
The previous month of Elul is one of introspection and repentance but at Rosh ha Shanah it becomes even more filled with a sense of urgency, and following this, the Ten Days of Awe known as ;Yamin Nora’im’ ushers in a time of increased intensity in preparation leading to Yom Kippur.
Moses prophesied to the Israelites that they would endure many tragedies as a nation and people, yet God would protect them from being annihilated and at a set time in the future they would return from exile and be reestablished in their Homeland a momentous prophetic event which occurred in May 1948 with the re-birth of the state of Israel. The Lord is always faithful to His promises although His timing is not always as we would like it to be!
The Torah portion includes Deuteronomy 29:29 which reads, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
There are many things which happen in our lives which are puzzling and despite everything we remain clueless to the reason why they occurred. “Why did the Lord allow such-and-such to happen to me/my family/ my friends or other innocents?”
The Lord understands that familiarity breeds contempt and that human knowledge breeds pride and contempt, so He keeps certain things hidden from us to keep us humble and fully dependant upon Him. Remember the Tree of Knowledge was our downfall and we should instead be making our focus the Tree of Life!
However, God has revealed to us everything we need to know that will provide us with abundant life and blessings in relationship with Him through His ‘Ketubah’ His marriage contract that specifies the conditions regarding this relationship.
Scripture never discourages us from questioning God over things that may happen or surround our lives. Yet, in all of this we do so in the knowledge that all of God’s ways are perfect. (Psalm 18) Although in this life we may not receive all the answers to our questions, in the fullness of time that which is incomplete will become complete!
We may also wonder why the Lord hid His face from the Jewish people unto this day in a manner which Paul describes as ‘a veil or blindness in part which has overtaken all but a remnant although we know from Scripture (eg Zechariah 12) that in His eternal purposes there will come a time when they will embrace Him as the Mashiach they once rejected. All the signs were there in full view yet were missed.
The first nine verses of this Haftorah portion in this parasha is omitted in the traditional readings in the synagogue because it too closely reflects Yeshua who is the Messianic fulfilment and who read this portion of Scripture at the very commencement of His public ministry:
“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 favour.” (Isaiah 61:1–2) (Luke 4:16–19)
The Haftarah (prophetic portion) provides three 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)
This thought emerges right at the beginning of the Book of Isaiah as God is urging the Jewish people to choose righteousness over iniquity:
“Come now,” says Adonai, “let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land;” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
2. A New Name (Identity):
In the Bible, a name change represents radical change (positive or negative) (eg:Abram and Sarai’s names) Jacob’s name was also changed from Yaacov (which can mean heel, but also deceiver) into Yisrael—triumphant with God.
In the same manner, YHWH promises that Israel would receive 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)
Likewise in Revelation 2:
“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)
3. New Love and Intimacy
The Hebrew root for the word Baal (meaning ‘master’) which occurs several times in Isaiah 62:4–5, means marry. God loves Israel and each one of His elect individually as a Bridegroom loves His Bride.
We are called to be the Bride of the Messiah, a “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord—a royal diadem [precious gem]”—and He rejoices over us: ‘As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride…’ (Isaiah 62:3, 5)
This week’s parsha raises a question that goes to the heart of Judaism, but which was never asked down through its history right until the Fifteenth Century AD. The question was, “Why be Jewish?” The Israelites were about to cross into the Promised Land and God told Moses to renew the covenant between the people and God before he died. This was highly significant and impacts upon the greatest gift that God has given to each one of us: free choice.
A generation before, the Israelites’ parents had entered into a commitment at Mount Sinai where they declared enthusiastically, “We will do and obey all that God has declared” (Ex. 24:7). Now all of that generation had died and Moses sought to ensure that the next generation would be bound by it so that no-one could say,
“God made a covenant with my ancestors but not with me.Therefore, since. I was not there. I am not bound by it.” Moses emphasised this point to the new generation here in this parasha:
“It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today (i.e., the succeeding generation) before the LORD our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” (i.e., future generations) (Deut. 29:13-14)
And so, the question was first asked in Fifteenth century Spain when the Jewish people were being faced with expulsion – “Why be Jewish?” This question had never arisen before because to be Jewish had never been a choice but was a fact of birth which no-one could choose. But now Jews were faced with a choice for the first time.
Between 1391, until their expulsion in 1492, Jews became increasingly ostracised and faced with pressure to convert to Catholicism. Some chose to do so and others maintained their Jewish identity in secret. This group of people became known as ‘Marranos.’ (Spanish for ‘pig’) Those who chose neither of these options were expelled.
The debate about who is a Jew has raged without consensus throughout world Jewry for many years, although the biblical definition is very clear. Whilst in the main, Messianic Jewish believers are ostracised within the Jewish community and denied the right of making Aliya on the basis that they are no longer considered as Jews, our citizenship is in Heaven and our identity crystal clear! For many non-Jewish believers, especially amongst former Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, the cost of aligning oneself to the faith is no less costly. However, as the apostle Paul summed it up:
“8 But more than that, I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him—a joy unequaled]. For His sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him [believing and relying on Him], not having any righteousness of my own derived from [my obedience to] the Law and its rituals, but [possessing] that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9)
Raphael ben Levi