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Rumination #48: Why do some have such an aversion to the fact that we will be judged according to our deeds?

If you were to mention that we will all one day be judged, you will get no argument from most Bible-believers. If you say that we will be judged according to our deeds, then you would most likely have many of those same people argue with you. And yet, it is right there in the Bible:

"And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."
Revelation 22:12-13

If you say, Surely we did not know this," Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?
Proverbs 24:12

I, HaShem, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
Jeremiah 17:10

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.
Matthew 16:27

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
2Corinthians 5:10

In these passages, and in many more, there is clear teaching that we will all stand at the judgment - and we will all be judged according to our deeds. Argue about theological twists if you want, it is still in the plain text.

Of course, we know that some people's aversion to this kind of talk is that in their minds, works don't work (there is a pun in there I think). Scripture says otherwise. What I want to know then is this, what are "good deeds"? In Revelation, we are given a clear indication what "good deeds" are.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
Revelation 22:14

Don't be like the "Rich Young Ruler" of Matthew 19:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?"
Matthew 19:16-18

The first indication of a heart problem is, when given the clear instruction from the Creator of the Universe that,"... but if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments," the reply is, "Which ones?"

Which ones, Beloved? Every word that proceeds out the mouth of the Living G-d.

As we approach these days of awe, and as we approach the Judgment Day, let us never again utter the words, "Which ones?" Let us be zealous for good deeds. Keep the commandments. All of them.

For the grace of G-d that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Messiah Yeshua, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works
Titus 2:11-14

Parashat Nitzavim - 'You are standing' (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

This week two half-portions are read: Nitzavim and Va'yeilech.

The title for this week's first half-portion comes from verse 9 (verse 10 in your English Bibles),

Atem nitzavim ha-yom kulkhem lif'nei HaShem Elokeikhem...

All of you stand today before HaShem your G-d...

It goes on to tell us in verse 11 (verse 12 in English) the reason why they are standing on the Plains of Moab that day - on the threshold of going into the Land:

...l'av'r'cha biv'rit HaShem Elokeicha...
...that you may enter into covenant with HaShem your G-d...

We need to look at this word "covenant" found here in this week's parasha.

New Covenant, or Renewed Covenant?

There has been a debate in Messianic circles for a number of years on whether the "New Covenant" spoken of in the Gospels, 1Corinthians, and Hebrews is "new" or "renewed." The debate has centered on the Greek words used. The question is unfortunate in my mind, because it is missing some very important points regarding covenants in general - and at best such a discussion is a distraction. The incorrect focus comes when one tries to fit millennia of anti-Semitic theology into the explosion of interest in the Hebraic nature of our faith. The first step in some people's minds is to better explain what that last third of our Bibles is called. Many Messianics want to call it the "Brit Chadashah" - or, the "New Covenant." The problem of course with that, is that one is attaching a Hebrew name to a portion of our Bibles - using the same mistaken perspective. The books in the "New Testament" are not the "New Covenant" - so calling them by a Hebrew name (Brit Chadashah) still does not correctly convey what they represent. In contrast, will you call the pages before Matthew 1:1 the "Old Covenant?" This is fraught with error, stemming from a misunderstanding of the very word "covenant."

Oddly, the "New Testament" contains no covenants. It surely shows some fulfillments of the New Covenant - but this portion of Scripture itself is not a covenant in and of itself.

If you were to read a commentary on biblical covenants you would read about various covenants named various things. Some books will call the first covenant between G-d and man the "Adamic Covenant" (and some would say the "Edenic Covenant"). The next would be the "Noahic Covenant, " followed by the "Abrahamic Covenant, " the "Mosaic Covenant" and the "Davidic Covenant. " Last in most commentaries will be the New Covenant.

While I do not agree with all the distinctions that most commentators make in this simplistic list of biblical covenants, let's assume for a moment that the list is a fair representation. With that in mind, tell me, which covenant is the one being executed on the Plains of Moab in Deuteronomy 29?

Go back to our Scripture portion again, in Deuteronomy 29:12 in your English Bible. These people are standing at the threshold of the Land and are being told that they are there to make a covenant with the G-d of the Universe. So I ask you again, which covenant is this? Is this the Mosaic Covenant - the Deutero-Mosaic Covenant - the Semi-Mosaic Covenant - the Moabic Covenant or what?

The fact is, as most students of the Torah know, the Scripture makes no such demarcation with this covenant, or any covenant except the New Covenant. As most students of the Torah know, there are multiple covenants listed between Sinai and this place on the Plains of Moab.

While I understand Covenant Theology and what it brings to the table in the way of recognizing how G-d interacts with man, sometimes establishing a theological system can obscure some very obvious truths. So, here is one for you to take to the bank. Pay attention because it will shape the way you see the word "covenant" from here on out. Are you ready? Here it is: Just like the Apostolic Scriptures are not a covenant, the Torah, itself, is not a covenant.

There are multiple covenants identified within the Torah. And, there is a direct correlation between the Sinai Covenant and the Torah - but that is the same correlation between the Torah and every covenant made by G-d from the beginning.

The Torah is G-d's self-revelation. It contains descriptions of what His righteousness and His holiness "look like" when manifested in this world. It describes what His acts of redemption "look like." In the sense that the Torah is the "shape" of Him, we are able to see an outline of the One who makes these covenants with man - but that shape is not the covenant itself.

What were the terms, or stipulations of the covenant made on Sinai? Did not G-d pledge His love and fidelity to Israel? Did the people not pledge fidelity to G-d? Did the people not break that pledge immediately with the Golden Calf incident? But here is my question - was the covenant then annulled? No it was not. The people broke the covenant in a matter of days - but was it not still binding? Yes it was. Certainly, G-d does not cast them off, does He? Instead, He immediately makes a new covenant with Israel. Yes, you read that right. As every student of the Torah knows, the covenant made in Exodus 20 and following was broken by the people almost immediately, and G-d's response was to inscribe a new set of Tablets with the Ten Words on them (Ten Commandments). Beloved, this event was the institution of a new covenant no matter what anyone ever tells you. Here it is in Exodus 34:10:

And He said: "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of HaShem. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you."
Exodus 34:10

If you were to continue reading in Exodus 34 you would read the stipulations of this covenant. It is not the same covenant made some days earlier - the covenant that the people broke. What changed? The One Who made the covenant was the same G-d. The measurement of fidelity, written in ten broad commands was the same. The people who were parties to this new covenant were the same people (except for the fact that some of the previous offenders were dead). Even the medium for writing the measurement of fidelity was the same - stone tablets. What was different? Nothing.

Beloved, pay attention to this, because this is what we are seeing on the Plains of Moab in this week's portion. This covenant that is being made between G-d and the people of Israel is far-reaching. The blessings and the curses that were named last week and this week are certainly going to apply. The confusion that most people have with these covenants is that they sound so similar. All the covenants G-d makes through His prophet Moses sound the same. But they are not the same covenant. That is why the "Mosaic Covenant" as a title far too simplistic (although I am not necessarily opposed to lumping all of these together under such a title for simplicity's sake). If you err in this understanding you will have a very difficult time when you begin to learn about the New Covenant.

So with all these covenants that appear to have the same ingredients but are not the same covenant - one must ask why not just make them one covenant that is being renewed each time? The reason why, is the same reason why the debate of New Covenant versus Renewed Covenant misses the point. None of these covenants annul the previous covenants. In fact, if you go back and read why G-d is even entering into covenant with the children of Israel - it is because of His covenants (plural) with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You will note that in each subsequent covenant, G-d is the same. The people who were the other parties to the covenants were descendants of the previous covenant (i.e. the same people), and the test of fidelity to the covenant is always the same - obedience to HaShem. Although different covenants, they share the same elements.

But wait, don't just take my word for it. Our Bible has within it, the inspired words of one of the greatest Torah-scholars who ever lived. Speaking of the covenant G-d made with Abraham, Paul writes:

And this I say, that the law [given at Sinai], which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by G-d in Messiah, that it should make the promise of no effect.
Galatians 3:17

Here is a principle that should be self-evident. Since G-d is unchanging, so too His covenants. For they are made by Him swearing on Himself. It should be obvious to us that no covenant made by G-d can ever annul a previous covenant. Our theology has blinded us at times to this truth. Here is a question I have for those who doubt this Scripture, and this biblical principle: If G-d can annul the Covenant made at Sinai (and Moab etc.), by the New Covenant - what makes you so sure He won't do it again with an even Newer Covenant?

When I pose that question to some people they get very defensive. They know full well, that our only hope lies in the unchanging promises and covenants of the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

So, where does the New Covenant fit into all of this? As most students of the Torah know, the New Covenant is not a "New Testament thing." You see, the brit chadashah [New Covenant] as described in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is not speaking of "new" in the sense of chronological as much as in the sense of something being different. In our western minds, we think "new" is something that follows "old." But that is not the way it works. Let me show you. This is quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews as well.

Behold, the days are coming, says HaShem, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says HaShem. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says HaShem: I will put My Torah in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know HaShem,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says HaShem. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Jeremiah 31:31-34

If you read this passage in context you will see that this is a covenant between G-d and the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This covenant will not be like the "covenant which they broke" (which covenant was that? - as you have seen, it is not so easy an answer). This New Covenant will be different from the covenant that they broke. This New Covenant is what Yeshua was speaking of at His last Seder with His talmidim. This New Covenant is what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was speaking of when he quotes this passage. Here are my questions for you to ponder:

When you can answer those questions from Scripture, rather than your theological position, you will have a far greater understanding of the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 is prophetic about an event that has not yet fully occurred. That is because this is a national event. It is about the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Our parasha deals with this same event. In the cycle of disobedience and restoration described in the Book of Deuteronomy, we come to a place in Deuteronomy 30 where a very important thing is revealed - a prophecy of something that has not yet occurred. I believe it is a prophecy of the final redemption - and the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant.

Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where HaShem your G-d drives you, and you return to HaShem your G-d and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that HaShem your G-d will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where HaShem your G-d has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there HaShem your G-d will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then HaShem your G-d will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And HaShem your G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love HaShem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Also HaShem your G-d will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you will again obey the voice of HaShem and do all His commandments which I command you today.
Deuteronomy 30:1-8

Beloved, what is it to have a circumcised heart? Is this not the difference between the "covenant which they broke" and the New Covenant? Is this not what Ezekiel is speaking of?

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your G-d.
Ezekiel 36:26-28

You should recognize this passage as a primary passage regarding the New Covenant - but again, this is a prophecy that has not yet fully come to pass because it is tied like Deuteronomy 30 to a yet future restoration of Israel and Judah.

Beloved, Paul makes this direct connection between the events prophesied of Deuteronomy 30 and the New Covenant. In fact, he ties all of these to faith as well. He quotes right from Deuteronomy 30:11 regarding what I call this "New Covenant prophecy."

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach).
Romans 10:8

Herein lies the issue at hand. Most folks equate the New Covenant as being a covenant of faith - and every other covenant as not being of faith. That is a false assumption. All of G-d's covenants are covenants of faith, but the New Covenant is a covenant of enablement.

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Beloved, can you see that the New Covenant is something all believers have participated in from the beginning? What sets this covenant apart is the fact that it is written on our hearts. Circumcised hearts. It was written there for one purpose: that we may live in covenant fidelity. In other words, the New Covenant is a covenant of faithfulness on our part. Deuteronomy 30 is prophesying that this New Covenant is something that the people of Israel will all participate in corporately - nationally - at a time yet future from us now. It is not separate from the covenant at Sinai - it is actually expressed within it.

The modern interpretation of the New Covenant places it as separate, and distinct from all of G-d's other covenants (remember, this does not work because a subsequent covenant cannot annul a previous covenant - Galatians 3:17). They would represent the New Covenant and what they call the Old Covenant as exclusionary things. This is not the way they are spoken of in Scripture. Concentric circles of would be a better representation of the relationship to the covenants of G-d.

If you trust in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and follow HaShem's righteous Messiah, Yeshua, then you and I are the first fruits of that New Covenant. Baruch HaShem!

Haftarat Nitzavim - 'You are standing' (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

This week's haftarah is the last in the series of seven haftarot of consolation that are read between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashana. Our time of repentance is now being summed up in the approach of the High Holy Days. Yom T'ruah [Rosh HaShana], and Yom Kippur are coming. Sukkot is coming. The King is in the field. Our redemption draws nigh.

This haftarah sums it all up. Israel is once again is reminded that HaShem's anger with her is forgotten. Not only has HaShem forgiven Israel, His great favor is upon her.

It is rather easy, when you read the news to discount this week's reading from the Prophets as literal. After all, how is it possible that what we see in regard to Israel can ever be what we see in Isaiah? It depends upon whether you believe G-d's Word or not.

When the news of the day invites despair; when the nations rant against the chosen; when the current leaders of the State of Israel consider selling their inheritance and dividing their Land for some promise of "peace" - there is one thing that we should focus upon: the Promises. Then we will remember the One Who Promises. He is faithful. He always does what He says. Our hope is not in the promises of man. Our fear is not of the curses of man. It is solely upon the Holy One of Israel, blessed is He. And He says,

For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.
Isaiah 62:1

There is no declaration of "Arab unity" that can undo it. There is no President or Secretary of State of the United States that can negate the words. There is nothing any coalition of world leaders who hate Israel can do. Nothing. HaShem's word stands. It "stands," where Israel is standing. And she will stand... forever.

Prayer Forcus for Nitzavim - 'Kedushat HaYom'

On Shabbat, the daily prayers are different. The Shemoneh Esrei has fewer paragraphs and some of the blessings are completely different. The afternoon [Minchah] version of the Kedushat HaYom blessing blesses the Almighty for the unique position in which Israel stands.

You are One, and Your Name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth. The splendor of greatness and the crown of salvation, the day of contentment and holiness You have given to Your people…
--  ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
Bereans Online