Renew Your Commitment
Sunday School Lesson for February 17, 2002
Focal Teaching Passage: Deuteronomy 30:1-20
The Glorious Consequences of Covenant Renewal (30:1-10)
Chapter thirty, oriented toward a future day in the land of Israel, describes the time when the "blessings and curses" set forth in the previous words of Moses will have been experienced by the covenant people (v. 1). It pictures the fearsome wrath of God, evidenced by Israel’s dispersal "among the nations," giving way to the spiritual renewal of the people—a renewal brought about by Yahweh Himself who, in covenant-faithfulness, grants a spirit of contrition and humility among His people. The evidence of this covenant renewal is described in verses 2-3:
This section describes what God will do for and in the nation as a result of their covenant renewal—a renewal Yahweh Himself actually brings about in the hearts of the covenant people. Note the powerful emphasis upon that which God will accomplish in the lives of His children:
Just as circumcision of the flesh symbolized the outward identification with the Lord and the covenant community, so circumcision of the heart (a phrase found only here and in Duet. 10:16 and Jer. 4:4 in the OT) speaks of internal identification with him in what might be called regeneration in Christian theology. (Deuteronomy, TNAC, 388).
The Choices Related to Covenant Obedience (30:11-20)
Having taken the people of the nation through a detailed explanation of the blessings of obedience and the curses associated with disobedience, Moses addresses the congregation in terms of their present situation—"Now what I am commanding you today is . . . ." (v.11).
Moses first declares that God’s Law is "not too difficult for you or beyond your reach" (v.11). That is, the "whole revelation of the divine will as set forth in Deuteronomy, was not incomprehensible or unattainable" (Thompson, 286). God had spoken with perfect clarity to His people so that they knew the nature and demands of His will. To say that His commandments are "not too difficult" does not "mean that obedience is easy but rather that it is simple. It is not complicated and distracted by obscure philosophies, complex rules, or esoteric religious rituals, accessible only to the privileged few. All those who are in the covenant relationship are deemed capable of understanding and obeying the covenant law [italics his]" (Wright, 291).
In addition, Yahweh’s Law was not "beyond your reach," or so distant—in "heaven" or "beyond the sea"—that it could never be grasped by finite men. To the contrary, God had placed His Word "very near" His people—"in your mouth and in your heart" (v.14). These expressions are reminiscent of the commands found in 6:6-9—
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The clarity and accessibility of God’s Law (see last week’s lesson on the stones in Deut. 27:2ff) made it possible for the people of Israel to "obey it" (v. 14). Here we must remember, however, that such obedience to the Law "was not the means of achieving salvation but the response to a salvation that was already experienced [italics added]" (Wright, 290).
Now Moses brings this generation of Israelites to a solemn point of decision regarding obedience to God’s will. This is essentially the same choice presented to the first generation of Israelites in the wilderness years earlier (see Merrill, 392). Eugene Merrill observes that such a choice is typically offered to those whom the Lord has called to serve Him (392). See Josh. 24:14-18; 1 Sam. 12:19-25; 1 Kings 18:21,39; Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 18:22 for examples. In this case, the options were "life and prosperity" set over against "death and destruction" (v. 15). In verse 19 this same choice is offered in terms of "blessings and curses."
Moses’ challenge ends as he calls upon "heaven and earth" to act as "witnesses" against the people of Israel (v. 19). Since this entire book is framed according to ancient treaty or covenant lawsuit patterns, witnesses must be summoned to bear testimony to the actions of the people of Israel. The summoning of "heaven and earth" is significant in the light of the practices of the pagan nations in close proximity to Israel. Eugene Merrill explains:
In similar ancient Near Eastern legal transactions the witnesses usually were the gods of the respective litigants, but the monotheism of Israel’s faith dictated that such appeal be to creation, to heaven and earth, for only it would endure into future ages. (393).
In verse 20, Moses calls upon his brethren to "choose life so that you and your children may live." In this context it is clear that choosing life meant "choosing to enter into the covenant with the Lord and to be true to its principles" (Merrill, 393). According to J. A. Thompson, such an emphasis upon choice as it relates to love and obedience directed towards God
is not peculiar to Deuteronomy (cf. Josh. 24:14-16), nor indeed is it unique for Israel. Ready comparison may be made with the New Testament. We have noticed that Paul quotes from verses 11-14 in Romans 10:6-8. But the call to choose (believe, follow) and to obey comes in a variety of contexts in the New Testament (e.g. Mt. 19:17; Jn. 3:36; 6:35; Rom. 6:12-18; 15:18; cf. Rom. 12:1,2. (288).
The section concludes with Moses’ reminder to the Israelites that their choice should be obvious—"For the Lord is your life." That is, life as God designed it for His covenant people is found only in relationship with Him. Yahweh is their life "because he has created and redeemed them, but he is also their life insofar as they capitulate to his sovereignty and live out their lives in compliance with his gracious covenant mandate" (Merrill, 394).
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One- The faithfulness and overcoming grace of God displayed to His covenant children (vv.1-5): This passage reveals that God’s covenant promises are not in any way diminished by the unfaithfulness of His people. In the end, God will prove to be faithful to His promises and His gracious purposes will ultimately overcome their sin. Question: What are the parallels between Israel’s captivity and subsequent deliverance and our lives as New Testament believers?
Two- The necessity of a "heart transplant" (v. 6): Living in fellowship with God requires a radical inner transformation that only He can perform. Knowing, loving, and serving God are privileges granted only to those who have experienced this spiritual re-birth. Question: How does this passage relate to Jesus’ famous words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5?
Three- The responsibility of obedience (vv .8-14): To live in fellowship with God means to live under the authority of His Word. The authenticity of one’s relationship to Him is displayed through careful obedience to His revealed will. Question: How do you interpret John 14:15—"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments"? What about James 2:17—"Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself"?
Four- Everyday choices for covenant children (vv.15-20): Living as a child of the covenant involves making proper choices that reflect love for God and a desire to glorify His name through submission to His Lordship. Question: How do Christians make good and wise choices that glorify God?