The Secret Things

The Torah says that "the secret things belong to the LORD." What are the secret things?

Secret door in a library. (Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Nitzavim (נצבים | Standing)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
  • Gospel: John 12:41-50

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 31:1 | Joshua Becomes Moses' Successor
    • Deuteronomy 31:9 | The Law to Be Read Every Seventh Year
    • Deuteronomy 31:14 | Moses and Joshua Receive God's Charge
    • Deuteronomy 31:30 | The Song of Moses
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 55:1 | An Invitation to Abundant Life
    • Isaiah 56:1 | The Covenant Extended to All Who Obey
    • Isaiah 56:9 | The Corruption of Israel's Rulers

Portion Summary

The name of the fifty-first reading from the Torah is Nitzavim (נצבים), which means "standing." The name is derived from the first verse of the portion in which Moses says, "You stand (nitzavim) today, all of you, before the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 29:10). In this portion, Moses invites the entire assembly of Israel to take on the covenant. He warns them that if they sin, they will go into exile, but he also predicts that, in the future, they will repent and God will return them to the land of Israel. In some years, Nitzavim is read together with the subsequent Torah portion, Vayelech, on the same Sabbath.

The justice system on earth is responsible for punishing crimes. The judges in a court of Torah law, such as a beit din or the Sanhedrin, are responsible for punishing transgressions of the Torah, but what happens when the transgressor’s sins remain secret? Does the sinner escape punishment so long as he hides his sin? The traditional interpretation of Deuteronomy 29:29 explains, “The [punishment of] the secret things belongs to the LORD our God, but the [punishment of] the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever.”

This explanation of Deuteronomy 29:29 does make the best sense in the context, but the words are true on other levels as well. God has revealed some things to us. He has granted us glimpses of some things. Some things have remained closed to us. There are a great many things we do not know about which the Scriptures have only hinted. We are left guessing at what lies beyond the edge of our perception.

What is the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked after the grave? What is the nature of God? How can He be fathomed and explained? What is the nature of Messiah? How do we reconcile His divinity with His humanity? What about the problem of evil? What is the role of the Adversary, and how do we reconcile his presence with the sovereignty of God? How is it that God both chooses His people and assigns them choice? How will the age culminate, and when will the Master return?

These, and similar matters, are always of great interest to Bible students. Healthy minds and souls are naturally curious to probe these mysteries, and the Scriptures offer insights into all of them, but we peer into them as a man peers into a dim mirror. We know in part and understand in part, because these things are the secret things that belong to the LORD.

Ironically, things which are essentially unknowable and intangible are the things which divide us, one from another, the most deeply. Differences of opinion and interpretation on theological issues typically define the borders between one sect and another, between one denomination and another, between one congregation and another, between one brother and another.

These differences are often over matters of conjecture—things inferred from the Scriptures but left ultimately unanswered. When we attempt to take possession of the secret things of the LORD, we find that they slip through our hands and leave us fractured and divided. We cannot create a forum for unity when unity depends upon defining the indefinable.

Moses gave us a different forum for unity. He said, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this Torah.” In other words, we are responsible for what has been explicitly revealed to us, and that is “all the words of this Torah.” The commandments of Torah provide a more solid forum for unity than theological speculation. Though we may have different theories regarding the end times, we all have definite commandments to keep today.

Though we may have different explanations of the Messiah’s divine nature, we all have the certain obligation to heed His commandments. We should learn to let the secret things remain the LORD’s and expend our energy on accomplishing that which has been clearly revealed.

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