Recently, as I gave my weekly d’rash on Parashat Nitzavim at my synagogue in Atlanta, I took some time to reflect on how important Deuteronomy chapter 30 has been in my journey as a Messianic Jew.
In my opinion, Deuteronomy 30 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. On a personal level, this chapter has had a huge impact upon my life and development as a Messianic Jew.
For about ten years, I was hung up on Deuteronomy 30. It gave me anxiety and theological paranoia because it created an ongoing problem in my theology. Here’s a little history. When I first came to faith in Jesus, it didn’t take long for me to begin to reconnect with my Jewish identity that had been dormant since my Bar Mitzvah. But even with a renewed fervor for my Jewish identity as a believer in Jesus, for the most part, for many years, I embraced a standard Christian theology when it came to the Old Testament in general and the Torah in particular. To be clear, when I refer to “standard Christian theology,” my intention is not to bash the church or Christian theology. I am grateful for both. But in my Messianic Jewish journey, I encountered some major problems and questions in the Bible that needed to be answered.
Early on as a believer, and as a new resident of Atlanta, I was challenged by a lady in the Jewish community to get “straightened out” as a Jew by studying at a shul with some local Orthodox rabbis. It was there that I met a rabbi to whom I am still close to this day. As we began studying together, this rabbi was inspired to convince me that Yeshua was not the Messiah. One of the chief texts that he pointed to was Deuteronomy 30. His point was that Jesus could not be the Messiah because Christians say that the Torah has been done away with, or fulfilled, or in some way doesn’t need to be followed anymore. The rabbi rightly noted that Deuteronomy 30 presented an irreconcilable problem with Christian theology because this chapter is explicit that the redemption of Israel involves a return to the Torah. I distinctly remember that the rabbi pointed to Deuteronomy 30:1-3, which says:
And 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 the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. (Emphasis mine)
The part that the rabbi emphasized was that a day would come when the Jewish people return to the Torah and obey God’s voice in all that he commanded us that day (as it says in verse 2). Then the rabbi took me down to verse 8 where it says:
And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. (Emphasis mine)
So, this was a problem. This was a major problem. I had no answer for this rabbi. Sure, I gave him some standard Christian responses. But honestly, it was like bringing a plastic knife to a gun fight. These verses in Deuteronomy 30 are very clear. And the clear point is that the process of teshuvah for Israel involves a return to the Torah as given to Moses. Israel will not be redeemed until she returns to the Torah. The circumcised heart for Israel that this chapter talks about is not something that conflicts with the Torah, rather, a circumcised heart and keeping the Torah go hand in hand. And Moses isn’t the only one who said this. Ezekiel made the same point. In the profound chapters 36-37 of Ezekiel, the prophet says this:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
According to Moses and according to Ezekiel, a new heart and a new spirit for Israel, and the Spirit within us leads us to walk in God’s statutes and compels us to be careful to obey his rules.
And what are God’s statutes and rules?
Answer: The Torah that God gave to Moses “that day,” as it says in Deuteronomy 30.
Now, Deuteronomy 30 is all about the future redemption of Israel. However, what is described in this chapter has not happened yet. Israel has not done what God says that she will do in verses 9-10:
The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
It’s interesting and significant that the Messiah is nowhere to be found in this chapter, which speaks of the future redemption. The “Messiah” concept is hinted at in the Torah, but would develop further in the later writings of the prophets. The prophets expand the picture of redemption and they indicate that Israel’s redemption will involve a “return” to God and to the Davidic King. Hosea speaks of this when he says:
For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:4-5)
Putting this picture of Israel’s redemption together, a day will come when Israel will return to God and that return involves a return to the Davidic King and a return to the Torah.
Back to my story, I came to a point where in order for me to see the Bible as consistent; I had to change my view of the Torah. I came to see that God didn’t do away with the Torah. The Torah is a blessing. It’s a standard for righteousness. So why would God do away with that?
When I changed my view of Torah, so many passages fell into place. And when it came to Deuteronomy 30, my new view of Torah allowed me to read it with excitement rather than frustration and anxiety. This has become one of my favorite chapters of the Bible! Also, it is nice that I am still good friends with the rabbi that I met fifteen years ago. We still dialog about this chapter, and even did so just recently. But now I don’t have to defend it. I simply say “yes,” teshuvah for Israel absolutely involves a return to Torah, as it was given to Moses “that day.”
May God speedily bring the day when all Israel will return to the Torah and to the Messiah!