RENEW YOUR DEVOTION TODAY

 

Week of June 24, 2007

 

 

Bible Verses:  Deuteronomy 29:10-15;30:1-3,6,11-14,19-20.

 

Biblical Truth: When believers come before God in worship, they should seize the opportunity to renew their devotion to Him.

 

Come before God.  Deuteronomy 29:10-15.

 

[10]  “You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, [11]  your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, [12]  that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, [13]  in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

[14]  “Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, [15]  but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here today.”  [NASU]

 

The life and work of Moses is gradually drawing to its end. Four final things remain. He will give a closing address, commission his successor, teach the people a unique song and deliver a pastoral farewell. A brief historical narrative, describing the departure of Moses, will bring the book to a close.

 

An unbelieving generation who heard the covenant at Horeb had died in the desert, but their children and grandchildren are now about to cross the Jordan. For them the covenant must be renewed and in this closing address Moses reminds the people of the terms of the covenant agreement which God makes with His uniquely chosen and greatly loved people.

 

As the Israelites face the future they are urged, once again, to recall the past. If we are to cope with tomorrow’s problems we must remember yesterday’s blessings. The people are helped by his reminder of the deliverance from Egypt, but now they are confronting a different crisis. In these new and challenging circumstances Moses assures them that the covenant is a present reality. It has immediate, widespread and lasting appeal. The covenant’s immediate appeal is seen by the repetition of you and today in these verses: you stand today [10]. The message of the covenant has present relevance and inspires renewed confidence in the God who will meet the immediate needs of those who will soon be on Canaanite soil.

 

The covenant also has widespread appeal: it is for all of you [10]. The blessings are for everyone in the nation of Israel. This agreement binds them all together, whatever their background, status or possessions. The God of the covenant demands the total submission of all of them, every man, woman and child in Israel, from their senior leaders (your elders and your officers, 10) to the socially insignificant aliens (the alien who is within your camps, 11) engaged in the most menial household duties (from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 11).

 

The covenant also has lasting appeal: it is for ever. It is not just for the immediate occupants of Canaan. It addresses the people of God in the centuries ahead [14-15]. Generations yet unborn were to rejoice in the promised resources and guaranteed security of this enduring agreement. Bound closely to Him in this dependable treaty, they are linked inseparably both to their forefathers [13] and successors [14-15]. God is sufficient for the needs of His covenant people in every generation.

 

Return to passionate obedience.  Deuteronomy 30:1-3,6.

 

[1]  “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, [2]  and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, [3]  then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.” [6]  “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”  [NASU]

 

The Lord knew that His people would break the covenant and incur His threatened wrath [29:28], but in His generous love He made advance provision for their restoration. The Lord knows that His idolatrous and apostate people will be driven into exile but a further thing is equally certain: they will be forgiven. One of the revealed things is that God loves His people and, no matter how sinful we have been, we can be pardoned, cleansed and restored: He will bring you back [4]. Moses tells the people that God’s forgiveness is conditional, guaranteed and generous.

 

[1-2]  God’s forgiveness is conditional. There must be penitence: you return to the Lord your God and obey Him. The Hebrew word for return indicates an act of genuine repentance, a right about turn. It is the same word that was later on the lips of the Old Testament prophets as they begged their contemporaries to return to the Lord. Those who have grieved God must be genuinely penitent or they will not be able to appropriate the forgiveness only He can give. Moreover, the sorrow for sin must not merely be on the level of the emotions. Their conduct must be different for, in addition to their repentance over the past, God expects their obedience in the present: obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today.

 

[3]  God’s forgiveness is guaranteed. If they turn from their sin then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you. No penitent individual Israelite or the entire nation of them need doubt for a moment that they will be forgiven and restored. Even though the enormity of their transgression had led to their banishment to the farthest corners of the world, still He will bring them home again if they repent and obey.

 

[6]  God’s forgiveness is also generous. It is not simply that he will wipe the slate clean and give us a fresh start. Our restored lives will be crowded with innumerable blessings. He not only welcomes us home like the waiting father in the famous parable; he travels to the far country (from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back, 4).

 

Just as the circumcision of the flesh symbolized outward identification with the Lord and the covenant community [cf. Gen. 17:10,23; Lev. 12:3; Joshua 5:2], so circumcision of the heart (a phrase found only here and in Deut. 10:16 and Jer. 4:4 in the Old Testament) speaks of internal identification with Him in what might be called regeneration in Christian theology. Paul equated circumcision of the heart with spiritual renewal, especially in the Epistle to the Romans. He argued that circumcision has value for the Jew who obeys the law (i.e., who keeps the covenant), but as a mere outward physical sign it has no value at all to the disobedient [Rom. 2:25-27]. What is required is inward circumcision, that of the heart and spirit that attests to genuine faith [Rom. 2:28-29]. The classic example Paul cited is that of Abraham, whose faith and not his circumcision rendered him just and righteous before God. In effect, said the apostle, Abraham was circumcised in the heart before he ever was in the flesh, and it was that inner work that set him apart as a covenant son [Rom. 4:1-12].

 

Under a slightly different figure Israel’s restoration to full covenant blessing was described by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as the engraving of the covenant stipulations upon the fleshy tablets of the heart. In the last days, Jeremiah said, the Lord will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, one whose statutes will be put in their minds and written on their hearts. The result will be that He will be their God and they will be His people [Jer. 31:31-33]. Ezekiel spoke of this hope as the giving of a new heart and spirit following the return to the land, a return to be marked by prosperity and abundance for the nation [Ezek. 36:24-30]. The miraculous, totally regenerating nature of the circumcision of the heart would be manifest by Israel’s ability to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul [Deut. 30:6]. This is an obvious reference to the demand of the Shema [Deut. 6:4-5], adherence to which was at the very core of covenant commitment. This impossible standard was always understood as the ideal of covenant behavior, one to be sought but never fully achieved. Here, however, Moses did not command or even exhort his audience to obedience. He promised it as a natural by-product of the renewal of the heart. People can love God with all their heart only after the heart itself has been radically changed to a Godward direction. When that happens, not only is obedience possible but so is life. Here more than physical life on the land is in view. There is a glimpse of life that does not end, life that comes to birth with the supernatural work of grace that alone is sufficient to account for all these aspects of Israel’s future restoration.

 

Realize you can know and obey.  Deuteronomy 30:11-14.

 

[11]  “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. [12]  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ [13]  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ [14]  But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”  [NASU]

 

Having set forth the results of covenant disobedience [29:16-29] and the blessings of covenant reaffirmation even in the midst of judgment and exile [30:1-10], Moses returned to the reality of the present situation and pleaded for Israel’s obedience to the Lord. If God’s people were faithful to Him and to their responsibilities as a servant nation, they need have no fear of judgment and therefore no need for whatever measures of grace would be necessary to call them back to Himself. The secret lay in accepting the terms of the covenant being offered to them then and there and resolving to commit themselves to unswerving allegiance to them.

 

[11-14]  In order to make clear the possibility of knowing and doing the will of God in this respect, Moses spoke of the accessibility of the Lord’s requirements. These were not remote, abstract, esoteric principles but a word that was among and within them. The word [14] is the commandment of the Lord, that whole body of stipulation that Moses was commanding that very day [11]. This single word “commandment” occurs regularly in Deuteronomy as a term denoting the entire covenant text. The point at issue here was not the ease or even possibility of keeping the word of the Lord but of even knowing what it was. Contrary to the inscrutable and enigmatic ways of the pagan gods, the Lord’s purposes and will for His people are crystal clear. They are not too difficult or beyond reach [11]. That is, they can be understood by the human mind despite its limitations. Though originating in the transcendent glory of heaven, the word of the Lord need not be pursued there by a messenger sent to inquire of God’s covenant expectations [12]. Nor need such an envoy be sent to some distant place on earth to learn of God’s revelation [13]. Instead, Moses said, the word is very near you, so near, in fact, that it was in their mouth and heart [14]. All that God wants for His people to know is contained in His covenant revelation, a word that is disclosed to their hearts and that is to be communicated to others by their mouths.

 

Paul cited this passage to speak of the accessibility of Christ and the gospel [Rom. 10:6-8]. There is no need, he said, to go to heaven to bring Christ down or to descend to the deep to bring Him back from the dead. The incarnation and resurrection have already occurred and need not be repeated. Instead, there is the powerful, life-changing message of the gospel, the word of faith that is to be believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth [Rom. 10:9]. Just as the gospel message represents the very presence and purpose of Jesus Christ, so the word of covenant, Moses said, is as close and authoritative as the Lord Himself is. The linkage between this passage and the Shema and its context is confirmed by the appeal to love the Lord your God [16], a command that lies at the very center of the covenant relationship. What this means is to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments [16], that is, the covenant in all of its particulars.

 

Choose life today.  Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

 

[19]  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, [20]  by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”  [NASU]

 

Once more Moses announced that there and then he was offering the covenant to Israel, doing so as the agent of the Lord and in His name. This time, however, the offer was couched in the formal terms of a legal setting in which witnesses were invoked to bear testimony in the future to the response of Israel to the Lord’s gracious overtures. Here the appeal is to creation, I call heaven and earth to witness. Such appeal to creation is attested elsewhere in the Old Testament when the Lord enters into some kind of formal legal encounter with His people. Witnesses were always a part of the ceremony of covenant enactment. But it was particularly important that they be present to hear the oaths of those who pledged themselves to covenant commitment, for in articulating such pledges they invoked upon themselves the blessings and curses that attended obedience and disobedience respectively. The Lord called His people to swear before witnesses that they were inviting divine blessing or displeasure upon themselves, depending on the extent of their loyalty to Him. In light of the formal solemnity of covenant transaction, then, Moses set before Israel life and death, that is, the blessings or curses that follow covenant obedience or disobedience. Obedience brings life in all its fullness whereas disobedience causes the greatest curse of all, death now and forever [19]. The appeal, therefore, was to choose life so that life might result. To Moses, choosing life meant choosing to enter into the covenant with the Lord and to be true to its principles. Such a choice also would enable Israel to love the Lord, to obey Him, and to hold fast to Him [20].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      A constant theme of our study in Deuteronomy has been the importance of not forgetting the past. Why is it important to remember all that God has done for us in the past when we are facing future uncertainties? What things can you do to help you remember and not forget?

 

2.      How is God’s forgiveness conditional, guaranteed and generous?

 

3.      What three things does Moses set forth as evidence that a person is choosing life and not death [30:20]? What do these evidences tell you about the nature of life that God’s people are to choose?

 

References:

Deuteronomy, Eugene Merrill, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Deuteronomy, Raymond Brown, Inter-Varsity.