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Israel’s Covenant Renewal (Deuteronomy)

The Book of Deuteronomy134

Our Lord resisted and refuted Satan’s temptations by citing the truths of Deuteronomy (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). In many ways, his testing in the wilderness paralleled Israel’s testing in the wilderness for 40 years. Our Lord, however, came through His testing without failing, as He entrusted Himself to the faithful care of the Father.

The Book of Deuteronomy records several important transitions. It records the transition from the first generation of Israelites, who died in the wilderness (the Book of Numbers), to the second generation of Israelites, who would possess the land of Canaan (the Book of Joshua). It marks the transition of Israel from a nation that dwelt in tents to one that possessed land and houses, from a people who ate manna and water to a people who ate “milk and honey.”

Deuteronomy marks the end of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses). In this book, Moses hands the torch of leading the nation Israel to Joshua. Moses knows that he cannot enter the land and that he is soon to die. These are the last words of Moses, written to the Israelites who are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. It is almost as though Moses were preaching his own funeral. Kenneth Boa and Bruce Wilkinson appropriately call this book “Moses’ Upper Desert Discourse.”136

Deuteronomy is the account of this generation of Israelites embracing the covenant of God with their fathers as their own, of their entering into a covenant relationship with God. This is the renewal of the covenant:

16 Today the Lord your God is commanding you to keep these statutes and ordinances, something you must do with all your heart and being. 17 Today you have declared the Lord to be your God, and that you will walk in his ways, keep his statutes, commandments, ordinances, and obey him. 18 And today the Lord has declared you to be his special people (as he already promised you) so that you may keep all his commandments, 19 so that he may elevate you above all the nations he has made as a cause of praise, as a name, and as an honor, and so that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, as he has said (Deuteronomy 26:16-19, emphasis mine).

9 “Therefore, keep the terms of this covenant and obey them so that you may be successful in everything you do. 10 You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, every Israelite, 11 your infants, your wives, and the foreigners living in your encampment, those who chop wood and those who carry water—12 so that you may enter into the covenant of the Lord your God and into the benefits of the oath that the Lord is making with you today, 13 to affirm you today as his people and himself as your God just as he said to you and already swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 And it is not with you alone that I am making this covenant and oath, 15 but with whoever stands with us here today before the Lord your God as well as those not with us here today” (Deuteronomy 29:2-15, emphasis mine).

None of this generation has been circumcised, which was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham (see Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27; compare Exodus 4:24-26). In only a few days, this whole generation will undergo circumcision and observe the Passover before they attack Jericho (Joshua 5:2-12). This is further confirmation that they have now entered into covenant with the God of their fathers.

At the age of 120, Moses made his way to the top of Mount Nebo, where God allowed him to look across the Jordan Valley and into the Promised Land. It was as close as he would ever get to entering the land. Deuteronomy is certainly the high ground of the Pentateuch. It is one of those high points in the Bible from which we may look back in time, and by means of which we can look far ahead in Israel’s history. Several times in this book, God lays out the broad scheme of Israel’s future. An early indication of Israel’s future is found as early as chapter 4, in this brief statement of blessings and cursings:

25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupted and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be destroyed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will be totally devastated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you in the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands—wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and listen to him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

At the end of the book, very clear statements are made regarding Israel’s future, both by God and by Moses:

15 The Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud that stood above the door of the tent. 16 And the Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die, and then these people will begin to prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land into which they are going. They will leave me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 On that day my anger will flare up against them and I will leave them and hide myself from them until they are devoured. Many hurts and distresses will overcome them so that they will say at that time, ‘Have not these difficulties overcome us because God is not among us?’ 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 19 Now compose for yourselves the following song and teach it to the Israelites—put it into their very mouths!—so that this song may serve me as a witness against the Israelites. 20 For after I have brought them to the land I promised to their ancestors—one flowing with milk and honey—and they eat and become satisfied and fat, then they will turn to other gods to worship them and will reject me and break my covenant. 21 Then when many hurts and distresses overcome them this song will become a witness against them, for their descendants will not forget it. I know the intentions they have in mind today, even before I bring them to the land I have promised.” 22 Therefore on that day Moses wrote this song and taught it to the Israelites, 23 and the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun, “Be strong and courageous, for you will take the Israelites to the land I have promised them, and I will be with you.” 24 When Moses finished writing on a scroll the words of this law in their entirety, 25 he commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the Lord’s covenant, 26 “Take this scroll of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. It will be there as a witness against you, 27 for I know about your rebellion and stubbornness. Indeed, even while I have been alive among you, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more will you be so after my death? 28 Gather to me all your tribal elders and officials so I can speak to them directly of these things and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after I die you will totally corrupt yourselves and turn away from the path I have commanded you to walk. Disaster will confront you in the days to come because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting him to wrath because of your works.” 30 Then Moses recited the words of this song from start to finish in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:15-23).

A fuller description of Israel’s sins and their consequences is given in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. It is not all bad news, as we shall point out later in the lesson. What we should recognize at the beginning of this study is that Deuteronomy is a crucial book because it does lay out in broad terms the history of Israel. The Old Testament prophets will frequently return to Deuteronomy as their point of reference. Deuteronomy provides the major outline of the history of Israel, and as such, it is foundational to God’s “unfolding plan of redemption.” Let us listen well to the words of this book. Not only do I say this, but Moses does also:

8 Now pay attention to the whole commandment I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey (Deuteronomy 11:8-9).

26 Take note—I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing if you take to heart the commandments of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, 28 and the curse if you pay no attention to his commandments and turn from the way I am setting before you today to pursue other gods you have not known (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Deuteronomy 12:32)

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18).

My Approach in this Lesson

It is generally accepted that Moses’ sermons in the Book of Deuteronomy were delivered over a period of about a week and that they fall into three major divisions. These divisions are essentially chronological: the first chapters look back in time; the middle chapters look to the near future; and the final chapters look into Israel’s more distant future. The more I have studied this book, however, the more intertwined I see the past, present, and future. Consequently, I will focus on some of the issues that Moses raises because Israel is very soon going to be entering the Promised Land. I will attempt to show how Moses draws upon the past to buttress his instructions regarding the near future. Then we shall address the subject of the later chapters, which speak of Israel’s more distant future long after this generation of Israelites has died.

Israel’s Response to What Lies Ahead

THE FIRST ISSUE: HOW WILL THIS NEW GENERATION OF ISRAELITES RESPOND TO THE DIFFICULTY OF TAKING THE PROMISED LAND FROM THE CANAANITES? This issue was the turning point for the first generation of Israelites, who were terrified by the strength and size of their adversaries (Numbers 13:26—14:35). Moses knows full well that the difficulty of their task will be an issue the second generation must deal with as well:

17 If you think, “These nations are more numerous than I—how can I dispossess them?,” 18 you must not fear them (Deuteronomy 7:17-18a, emphasis mine).

1 Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan River so you can dispossess the nations there, people greater and stronger than you, large cities with extremely high fortifications, 2 the Anakites, a numerous and tall people whom you know about and of whom it is said, “Who is able to withstand the Anakites?” (Deuteronomy 9:1-2, emphasis mine)

Moses turns to the history of God’s previous dealings with Israel to show that He will fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan.

First, Moses reminds this generation that their fathers refused to possess the land and rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, consequently losing their opportunity to enter into God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 1:18-46).

Second, Moses commands the Israelites not to fear by reiterating God’s promise that He will most certainly give them the land He promised their fathers under the leadership of Joshua:

18 I instructed you at that time as follows, “The Lord your God has given you this land for your possession. You are to cross over before your fellow Israelites, all the warriors, equipped for battle. 19 But your wives, children, and livestock (of which I know you have many) must remain in the cities I have given you 20 until the Lord helps your fellow countrymen prevail as you have, and allows them to possess the land that he is giving them on the other side of the Jordan River. Then each of you may return to his own territory which I have given you.” 21 I also commanded Joshua at the same time, “You have seen everything the Lord your God did to these two kings; he will do the same to the kingdoms where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God will personally fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

Third, Moses reminds the Israelites of what God had already done for the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt, and while they were in the wilderness:

32 Indeed, ask about earlier days that have preceded you, from the day God created mankind on the earth and from one end of heaven to the other, whether there has ever been such a great thing as this, or even a rumor of it. 33 Have a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire, as you yourselves have, and lived to tell about it? 34 Or has God ever before tried to deliver a nation to himself from the middle of another nation, accompanied by testings, signs, wonders, war, strength, power, and other very terrifying things like the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 You have been made to understand that the Lord alone is God—there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he spoke to you in order to teach you, and on earth showed you his great fire from which you also heard him. 37 Moreover, because he loved your ancestors he chose their descendants who followed them, and personally brought you out of Egypt with great power 38 to dispossess nations greater and more powerful than you and brought you in to give you their land as an inheritance—just as it has taken place today. 39 May you understand today and take it to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below—there is no other! 40 And may you keep his statutes and commandments that I am setting forth today so that it may go well with you and your descendants and that you might enjoy longevity in the land that the Lord your God is about to give you forever” (Deuteronomy 4:32-40, emphasis mine).

You must carefully recall what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, 19 the great afflictions you saw, the signs and wonders, the strong hand and extended arm by which he brought you out—thus the Lord your God will do to all the people you fear. 20 Furthermore, he will release the hornet among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You must not overcome them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will trouble them with great difficulty until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to stand before you until you annihilate them” (Deuteronomy 7:18b-24, emphasis mine)

1 Therefore, love the Lord your God and keep his obligations, that is, his statutes, ordinances, and commandments forever. 2 Bear in mind today that I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen the instruction of the Lord your God, his greatness, strength, and power, 3 or his signs and works that he did in the midst of Egypt to Pharaoh king of Egypt and his whole land; 4 what he did to the army of Egypt, their horses and chariots, when he made the waters of the Red Sea overwhelm them when they were pursuing you, and how he destroyed them to this very day; 5 what he did to you in the desert until you reached this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their children, their tents, and everything that followed them, in the middle of all Israel— 7 but it is your very eyes that saw all the great deeds of the Lord! (Deuteronomy 11:1-7, emphasis mine)

Fourth, Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s intervention in the more recent past:

2:24 Get up, make your way across Wadi Arnon. Look! I have already delivered over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Go ahead! Take it! Engage him in war! 25 This very day I will begin to fill all the people of the earth with dread and to terrify them when they hear about you. They will shiver and shake in anticipation of your coming.” 26 Then I sent messengers from the Kedemoth Desert to King Sihon of Heshbon with words of peace, 27 “Let me pass through your land; I will keep strictly to the roadway. I will not turn aside to the right or the left. 28 Sell me food for cash so that I can eat and give me water to drink. Just allow me to go through on foot, 29 just as the descendants of Esau at Seir and the Moabites of Ar did for me until I cross the Jordan to the land the Lord our God is giving us.” 30 But King Sihon of Heshbon was unwilling to allow us to pass over near him because the Lord our God had given him a resistant spirit and stubborn determination so that he might deliver him over to you this very day. 31 Surely enough, the Lord said to me, “Look! I have already begun to give over Sihon and his land to you. Start right now to take his land as your possession.” 32 When Sihon and all his troops emerged to encounter us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, along with his son and everyone else. 34 At that time we seized all his cities and put every one of them that was inhabited under the divine curse, even the women and children; there was not a single survivor. 35 Only the livestock and plunder from the cities did we keep for ourselves. 36 From Aroer, which is at the edge of Wadi Arnon, and the city in the wadi, all the way to Gilead there was not a city too inaccessible to us—the Lord our God gave them all to us. 37 However, you did not approach the land of the Ammonites, the Wadi Jabbok valley, the cities of the hill country, or any place else forbidden by the Lord our God.

3:1 Next we set out on the route to Bashan, but King Og of Bashan and his whole army came out to meet us in battle at Edrei. 2 The Lord, however, said to me, “Don’t be afraid of him because I have already given him, his army, and his land to you. You will do to him exactly what you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.” 3 So the Lord our God did indeed give over King Og of Bashan and all his people to us and we rained blows on him until not a single survivor was left. 4 We took all his cities at that time—there was not a one we did not capture from them—sixty cities, all the region of Argob, the dominion of Og in Bashan. 5 All of these cities were fortified by high walls, gates, and bars; in addition there were a great many open villages. 6 We put all of these under the divine curse just as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon—every occupied city, including women and children. 7 But all the livestock and urban plunder we appropriated to ourselves. 8 Thus at that time we took the land of the two Amorite kings in the Transjordan from Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion and the Amorites call it Senir), 10 all the cities of the plateau, all of Gilead and Bashan as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 11 Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaites. (It is noteworthy that his sarcophagus was made of iron. Does it not, indeed, still remain in Rabbath of the Ammonites? It is thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide according to standard measure.) (Deuteronomy 2:24—3:11)

Based upon God’s faithfulness to Israel in the past, God assures the Israelites of victory in the future, as they obey Him:

18 I instructed you at that time as follows, “The Lord your God has given you this land for your possession. You are to cross over before your fellow Israelites, all the warriors, equipped for battle. 19 But your wives, children, and livestock (of which I know you have many) must remain in the cities I have given you 20 until the Lord helps your fellow countrymen prevail as you have, and allows them to possess the land that he is giving them on the other side of the Jordan River. Then each of you may return to his own territory which I have given you.” 21 I also commanded Joshua at the same time, “You have seen everything the Lord your God did to these two kings; he will do the same to the kingdoms where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God will personally fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:18-22, emphasis mine).

THE SECOND ISSUE: THE DANGERS OF CANAANITE IDOLATRY AND IMMORALITY. The second issue facing the Israelites as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land is the temptation posed by the Canaanites’ immorality and idolatry.

We should recall that it was the danger posed by Canaanite idolatry and immorality that necessitated Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. In Genesis 38, we read that Judah separated from his kinsmen and married a Canaanite woman. After his wife died, he had a sexual relationship with a woman whom he thought was a Canaanite cult prostitute (Genesis 38:21-22), though this woman turned out to be his own daughter-in-law. God ordained Israel’s sojourn in Egypt for two reasons: (1) Because the sin of the Canaanite people had not reached maturity, and thus the time for divine judgment (Genesis 15:12-16); and (2) because the Egyptians loathed the Hebrews and would, generally speaking,138 The Canaanites worshipped fertility gods, and so it is little wonder that sexual immorality would be involved in their “worship.”

Israel is repeatedly warned against the evils of idolatry in the Book of Deuteronomy (4:25-26; 5:8-10; 11:16-17; 29:17-20). They are informed that they will turn to idolatry in the future (31:16, 20; 32:15-23). The cure is to take drastic preventative action with regard to the temptations of idolatry and immorality in the land of Canaan.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are going to occupy and forces out many nations before you—Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you—2 and he delivers them over to you and you attack them, you must utterly annihilate them. Make no covenant with them nor show them compassion! 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods. Then the wrath of the Lord will erupt against you and he will soon destroy you. 5 Instead, this is what you must do to them: You must tear down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, cut down their sacred Asherah poles, and burn up their images. 6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be a people prized above all others on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

25 “You must burn the images of their gods, but do not covet the silver and gold that covers them so much that you take it for yourself and thus become ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the Lord your God. 26 You must not bring any detestable thing into your house and thereby become an object of divine annihilation like it is. You must absolutely abhor and detest it, for it is an object of divine annihilation” (Deuteronomy 7:25-26).

12 “If it should come to your attention in one of your cities that the Lord your God is giving you as a place to live that 13 some evil people have departed from among you to entice the inhabitants of their cities, saying, “Let’s go and serve other gods whom you have not known before,” 14 you must investigate thoroughly and inquire carefully. If it is true and certain that this abomination is being done among you, 15 you must by all means slaughter the inhabitants of that city with the sword; put under the divine curse everyone in it, even the livestock, by the sword. 16 You must collect all of its spoil into the middle of the plaza and burn the city and all its spoil as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It will be an abandoned ruin forever—it must never be rebuilt again. 17 You must not take for yourself anything of that which has been cursed, so that the Lord might relent of his intense wrath and show you compassion, that he might have mercy on you and multiply you as he promised your ancestors. 18 Thus you must obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all his commandments that I am presenting you today and doing the thing that is right before him” (Deuteronomy 13:12-18).

These texts were crucial to Israel’s well being in the land of Canaan, where the temptations for idolatry and immorality were many. They were commanded to completely annihilate the Canaanites, destroying every living thing. They were to show no pity or fear (7:16). When they defeated the Canaanites, they were not to keep any of the spoils (7:25-26). This is where Achan would soon go wrong (Joshua 7). God clearly spelled out the consequences for failing to obey His commands concerning Israel’s separation from the pagan practices of the Canaanites (11:16-17). Any Israelite who sought to lead the Israelites away from God to follow other gods was to be put to death (13:1-18).

Let Israel give heed to the lessons of the past and to God’s warnings regarding the future so far as idolatry and immorality are concerned. This is a time when sin must be dealt with decisively. I am reminded of our Lord’s words in the New Testament:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

THE THIRD ISSUE: THE DANGERS OF APATHY, PRIDE, AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY. There is yet another serious danger for the Israelites as they prepare to possess the Promised Land of Canaan – that they become smug, arrogant, and self-sufficient. In other words, in their prosperity they will be tempted to forget that God is the source of their blessings and begin to take credit themselves:

10 Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give you large, excellent cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with choice things you did not provide, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat to your satisfaction, 12 be careful lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, the place of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

11 “Be very careful lest you forget the Lord your God, not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat to your satisfaction, when you build and occupy good houses, 13 when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, 14 be careful lest you feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery, 15 and who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, a thirsty place of no water, bringing forth for you water from flint rock and 16 feeding you in the desert with manna (which your ancestors had never before known) so that he might test you and eventually bring good to you. 17 Be careful lest you say, “My own ability has gotten me this wealth.” 18 You must remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, even as he has to this day. 19 Now it will come about that if you forget the Lord your God at all and run after other gods, worshiping and prostrating yourselves before them, I testify to you today that you will be utterly destroyed. 20 Just like the nations the Lord is about to decimate from your sight, so he will do to you because you would not pay attention to him” (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Up to this point in time, the Israelites had not experienced what we might call “the good life.” They had come out of slavery in Egypt. They had to live in tents in the desert. They were dependent upon God for their food and water. Their “menu” was almost always the same – manna. They could not settle down to plant crops but were always on the move. They were often threatened by other nations who opposed them. But soon the Israelites would enter the land of Canaan and possess it. They would enjoy vineyards and orchards they did not plant. They would experience God’s material blessings in many new ways. The very real danger was that they would begin to take the credit for these blessings, rather than to be grateful to God, who gave them.

God graciously built in some protective elements. He did not make farming so easy for His people that they would not have to trust and obey Him. God put the Israelites in a land that was dependent upon Him for its rains:

8 Now pay attention to the whole commandment I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land where you are headed as your possession is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, a land where you sowed seed and which you irrigated by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 Rather, the land where you are going as your possession is one of hills and valleys, a land that drinks water from the rains, 12 one the Lord your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. 13 Now, if you conscientiously attend to my commandment that I am giving you today, that is, to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your mind and being, 14 then, he says, “I will send the rain of your land in its season, the autumn and the spring rains, so that you may gather in your wheat, new wine, and olive oil. 15 I will provide pasturage for your livestock and you yourself will eat until you are satisfied.” 16 Watch yourselves lest you become deceived and turn to serve and worship other gods! 17 Then the anger of the Lord will boil up against you and he will close up the sky so that it does not rain, the land will not yield its produce, and you will soon die off from the good land that he is about to give you” (Deuteronomy 11:8-17).

Israel was to learn from its past as it looked toward the future. They were reminded that God did not choose them because of their greatness, but because of His sovereign grace:

7 It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord considered and chose you—for in fact you were the smallest of all peoples— 8 but because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the oath he swore to your ancestors the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Therefore, take note that it is the Lord your God who is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9).

The Israelites were reminded of the humble circumstances from (and through) which God brought them to the Promised Land:

20 “When your children ask you later on, ‘What are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord our God commanded you?,’ 21 you must say to them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt in a powerful way. 22 And he brought signs and great, devastating wonders on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on his whole family before our very eyes. 23 He delivered us from there so that he could enable us to have the land he had promised our ancestors’” (Deuteronomy 6:20-23).

1 “When the time comes for you to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you occupy it and live in it, 2 you must take the first of all the ground’s produce you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, place it in a basket, and go to the place where he has chosen to locate his name. 3 You must go to the priest in office at that time and say to him, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest will then take the basket from you and set it before the altar of the Lord your God. 5 And you must affirm before the Lord, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor, and he went down to Egypt and lived there as a foreigner with a household few in number; but there he became a great, powerful, and numerous people. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed us, assigning us burdensome labor” (Deuteronomy 26:1-6).

The Israelites were to remember how God brought them through adversity and need, in order to teach them to trust and obey:

1 “You must keep carefully the entire commandment I am giving you today so that you may live, multiply, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test to see whether deep within yourselves you would keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and feeding you with unfamiliar manna to make you understand that mankind cannot live by food alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth. 4 Your clothing did not wear out nor did your feet swell all these forty years. 5 Be keenly aware that just as a human being disciplines his child, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 Thus, you must keep his commandments, that is, walk according to his ways and revere him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates, of olive trees and honey, 9 a land where you may eat food in plenty and find no lack of anything, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. 10 You will eat and drink and then bless the Lord your God because of the good land he will have given you” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10).

Israel’s blessings were not the result of her faithfulness to God, but the result of God’s faithfulness to His people, as He kept His covenant promises:

4 “Do not think to yourself after the Lord your God has run them out before you, ‘Because of my own righteousness the Lord has enabled me to possess this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations he is dispossessing them from before me.’ 5 It is not because of your righteousness, or even your inner uprightness, that you have come to possess their land. Instead, because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is expelling them before you in order to confirm the promise he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people!” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

To help the Israelites remember their past and the wondrous ways that God blessed them, God gave them a number of memorials. The annual celebration of the Passover reminded the Israelites of the way God had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. The Feast of Booths (or Temporary Shelters) reminded the Israelites of the years they (or their forefathers) spent in the wilderness, dependent on God for their every need (16:13-17; 31:10-13). They were never to forget their humble beginnings and the true source of their blessings and prosperity.

It is true to say that the blessings the Israelites experienced from the hand of God were in spite of Israel’s sins. Time after time the Israelites provoked the Lord to anger:

6 Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people! 7 Remember—don’t ever forget—how you provoked the Lord your God in the desert; from the time you left Egypt until you came to this place you were constantly rebelling against him” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7; see also 9:8—10:11).

In spite of all these lessons from the past, the Israelites will disregard them and become smugly self-sufficient and arrogant. Through Moses, God warns the Israelites about the future, assuring them that they will fail to heed these words of warning and instruction, spelling out the consequences for their sin. The first warning is found in Leviticus 26. The first warning about the future in Deuteronomy is found in chapter 4:

25 “After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, if you become corrupted and make an image of any kind and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, 26 I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be destroyed from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will be totally devastated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you in the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship gods made by human hands—wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul. 30 In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days, if you return to the Lord your God and listen to him 31 (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31).

There is a lengthy pronouncement of blessings and cursings in the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. In chapter 27, the Israelites erect stones on which the law was inscribed. Half of the people gathered on Mount Gerizim, where they proclaimed God’s covenant blessings. The other half gathered on Mount Ebal, where the curses of the covenant were proclaimed by the Levites, and all must acknowledge them by saying, “Amen.” (Notice that in 27:14-26 only the cursings are enumerated specifically.)

In chapter 28, the first 14 verses outline the blessings that God will shower upon His people if they obey the Lord by keeping His commandments. The remaining verses (54 of them) describe the curses which will come upon the Israelites for disobeying God’s commandments. The proportions certainly reflect the fact that the Israelites will not obey God’s commandments and will experience these curses. Israel’s disobedience is a certainty, as is its outcome:

47 “Because you have not served the Lord your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, 48 instead in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and lack of everything you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. They will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you. 49 The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or consideration for the young. 51 They will devour the offspring of your cattle and the produce of your soil until you are destroyed. They will not leave you with grain, new wine, olive oil, increased herds, or larger flocks until they have demolished you. 52 They will besiege all of your villages until all of your high and fortified walls collapse—those in which you put your confidence throughout the land. They will put under siege all your gates in all parts of the land the Lord your God has given you. 53 You will then eat your own offspring, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you, because of the stressful siege in which your enemies will constrict you… . 64 The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. 65 Among those nations you will have no rest nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. 66 Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. 67 In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. 68 Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you” (Deuteronomy 28:47-53, 64-68).

Chapters 28-30 of Deuteronomy are the key to understanding the history of Israel from the time they enter the land of Canaan. It outlines the consequences for disregarding God and His commandments. It also prescribes the cure for these curses:

1 “Now when all these things happen to you—the blessing and the curse I have set before you—and you remember them in all the nations where the Lord your God has exiled you, 2 if you turn to the Lord your God and listen to him just as I am commanding you today—you and your descendants—with your whole mind and being, 3 then the Lord your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if any of your dispersed are under the most distant skies, from there the Lord your God will gather and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today. 9 The Lord your God will make the labor of your hands abundantly successful—in your offspring, the offspring of your cattle, and the crops of your fields. For the Lord your God will once more rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, that is, if you turn to him with your whole mind and being” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Moses concludes by presenting the Israelites with a choice, urging them to choose to trust and obey God:

11 “For this commandment that I am giving you today is not too awesome for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, “Who will go up to heaven to get it for us so that we may hear and obey it?” 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, “Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us so that we may hear and keep it?” 14 For the thing is very near you—it is in your mouth and mind so that you can do it. 15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20).

Conclusion

The Book of Deuteronomy concludes with the “song of Moses” in chapter 32, a blessing pronounced by Moses (chapter 33), and a description of the death of Moses (chapter 34). One might conclude that the Book of Deuteronomy ends in a very depressing way. Even before the Israelites have set foot in the Promised Land, they are told that they will fail and that they will be cast out of the land. Where is the “good news” in all of this? Consider the following truths that we find in the Book of Deuteronomy.

First, God has given man a choice to serve God and live, or to disobey and die:

15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land where you are going to take possession of it. 17 However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, 18 I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan River to possess. 19 I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you today that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you may live—you and your descendants! 20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and cling to him, for he is your life and the means of your longevity as you live in the land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Second, the Book of Deuteronomy makes it clear that, left to himself, man can never merit God’s blessings on the basis of law-keeping. The problem with man is that he is fallen and he does not have a heart to serve God:

28 “When the Lord heard you speaking to me he said to me, ‘I have heard all that these people have said to you—they have spoken well. 29 If only it would really be their desire to fear me and keep all my commandments forever, so that it may go well with them and their descendants eternally’” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29).

But to this very day the Lord has not given you an understanding mind, perceptive eyes, or discerning ears! (Deuteronomy 29:4)

Third, the Israelites, left to themselves, will only bring divine judgment upon themselves.

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “You are about to die, and then these people will begin to prostitute themselves with the foreign gods of the land into which they are going. They will leave me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 On that day my anger will flare up against them and I will leave them and hide myself from them until they are devoured. Many hurts and distresses will overcome them so that they will say at that time, ‘Have not these difficulties overcome us because God is not among us?’ 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 18 But I will certainly hide myself on that day because of all the wickedness they will have done by turning to other gods. 19 Now compose for yourselves the following song and teach it to the Israelites—put it into their very mouths!—so that this song may serve me as a witness against the Israelites. 20 For after I have brought them to the land I promised to their ancestors—one flowing with milk and honey—and they eat and become satisfied and fat, then they will turn to other gods to worship them and will reject me and break my covenant… . 29 For I know that after I die you will totally corrupt yourselves and turn away from the path I have commanded you to walk. Disaster will confront you in the days to come because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting him to wrath because of your works” (Deuteronomy 31:16-20, 29).

Fourth, Israel’s blessings will only come to pass on the basis of God’s grace and His faithfulness to His covenant promises:

6 The Lord your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being, in order to live. 7 Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you. 8 You will return and pay attention to the Lord, keeping all his commandments I am giving you today” (Deuteronomy 30:6-8).

39 “See now that I, indeed I, am he!” says the Lord,
“and there is no other god besides me.
I am the one who kills and brings to life.
I smash and I heal,
and none can deliver from my power.
40 For I raise up my hand to heaven,
and say, ‘As I live forever,
41 I will sharpen my lightning-like sword,
and my hand will grasp hold of judgment;
I will execute vengeance on my foes,
and repay those who hate me!
42 I will satisfy my arrows fully with blood,
and my sword will eat flesh;
with the blood of the slaughtered and captured,
from the chief of the enemy’s leaders!’”
43 Cry out, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge his servants’ blood;
he will direct vengeance against his enemies,
and make atonement for his land and people (Deuteronomy 32:39-43, emphasis mine).

26 There is no one like God, O Jeshurun,
riding the heavens to help you,
and in his lofty clouds.
27 The everlasting God is a dwelling place,
and underneath are eternal arms;
he has driven out enemies before you,
and he has said, “Destroy!”
28 Israel lives in safety,
the fountain of Jacob quite secure,
in a land of grain and new wine;
indeed, its heavens rain down dew.
29 Most happy are you, Israel—who is like you?
A people delivered by the Lord,
your helpful shield
and your exalted sword;
may your enemies cringe before you,
but may you trample on their backs (Deuteronomy 33:26-29).

At this point in time, the warnings that are so clear and emphatic in Deuteronomy are not taken seriously enough, in spite of Moses’ best efforts. This moment in time is very much like a wedding ceremony. Everyone is happy, and the couple feels so much in love. As a preacher and an elder of a local church, I know all too well that time will present these newlyweds with many challenges. I know that some of the weddings at which I officiate will end up in failed marriages. I also know what it is that will destroy them. I instruct, I warn, and I encourage those being married to carry out God’s instructions, yet I know that many marriages will not survive because of sin and disobedience.

How much easier it is to understand Moses’ words in Deuteronomy from our vantage point. We understand that the Law of Moses was not given to save men, but as a standard of holiness that no man can meet:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Only one person has ever fulfilled the Law completely – the Lord Jesus Christ:

15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin… . 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; see also Matthew 5:17-18; 27:4; Luke 23:4, 14, 22; 23:47; John 7:19; 8:46; 1 Peter 1:18-29).

It was His death in the sinner’s place that made salvation possible. He bore the penalty we deserve as sinners; His righteousness is imputed to all those who trust in Him. It is in Christ and Christ alone that the requirements of the Law have been satisfied.

3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).

This is what the prophet Jeremiah foretold:

31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It will not be like the old agreement that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 33 “But I will make a new agreement with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. That is because all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “All of this is based on the fact that I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

It is also what the Apostle Paul proclaimed as the gospel in the Book of Romans. Taking up the words of Deuteronomy 30, Paul writes:

4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:4-13).

No wonder the Book of Deuteronomy is so often quoted in the New Testament. It foretells the history of the nation Israel. It lays the foundation for the gospel message. It calls upon men and women to trust in God and to obey His Word. It points to the salvation which Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, will bring.

Moses called upon the second generation of Israelites to enter into a covenant relationship with God, just as the first generation had done. New Testament saints do not live under the old covenant, but rather under the new, but we must embrace the New Covenant in order to enter into its blessings. This we do by faith in Jesus Christ. In our church, we celebrate and remember the New Covenant each week by the celebration of the Lord’s Table (communion).

To many, the Book of Deuteronomy is a book of duty and obligation. While this is true, I want to remind you that “love” is emphasized in this book as well. It is not a teeth-gritting kind of obedience that God desires, but an obedience prompted by love:

12 Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to fear him, to walk in all his ways, to love him, and to serve him with all your mind and being? 13 Keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord that I am commanding you today for your own good. 14 The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. 15 However, only your ancestors did he decide to select, and he chose you, their descendants after them, from all peoples—as is apparent today. 16 Therefore, cleanse your heart and stop being so stubborn! 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God and awesome warrior who is unbiased and takes no bribe, 18 who acts justly toward orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. 19 You, therefore, love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. 20 Revere the Lord your God, serve him, cleave to him and take oaths only in his name. 21 He is the object of your praise and your God, the one who has done these great and awesome things for you that you have seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt as only seventy people but now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky” (Deuteronomy 10:12-22).

The Book of Deuteronomy reminds us that every generation must enter into a covenant relationship with God. It is not enough that your mother or father trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation; you must personally embrace Christ’s work on the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the gift of eternal life. If you have not done so, I urge you to do it this very moment. Simply acknowledge your sins, and that Jesus Christ bore the penalty for your sins on the cross of Calvary. Believe that God raised Him from the dead, and that in Him, and Him alone, you have eternal life. This choice is a simple one, but it is a matter of life and death.


134 Henrietta C. Mears, What the Bible Is All About (Ventura, California: Regal Books, revised edition, 1983), p. 75.

136 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

138 There was a very great difference between the “worship” of the people before the golden calf and that of the elders on the mountain. The people not only ate and drank, they “rose up to play” (32:6). This term “play” refers to illicit and immoral sex play. The same expression is used in Genesis 26:8, where Abimelech “looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah” (emphasis mine). Thus, this “worship” had turned into an orgy. /docs/ot/books/exo/deffin/exo-25.htm

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Law