Moses warned Israel against thinking that their own righteousness merited their success. “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land…’ It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but…in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5)
We would do well to take the same warning. Though there are always blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience, it would be foolish of us to assume that our righteousness amounts to anything. A person busily engaged in keeping the commandments might assume that he is a pretty righteous person and that God owes him some reward. It’s a wrong assumption. Rabbi Hillel taught, “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.” (m.Avot 2:4)
Moses reminded Israel that if not for his own intercession on their behalf, they would not have survived the trip from Sinai to the Promised Land. Therefore, they should not imagine that their righteousness amounted to anything. In the same way, if we are ever tempted to imagine that our own righteousness has amounted to something, we had best remind ourselves that if not for Yeshua’s intercession on our behalf, we would never survive the journey.
Even if one’s righteousness did accumulate enough to merit a reward, that is God’s business, not ours. We are not supposed to keep Torah for the sake of receiving reward. The Master teaches us to obey God simply on the basis that it is what we are supposed to do. We are his servants, and a servant’s job is to obey his master.
Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:7-10)