“I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction” (Deut. 30:15).The most significant choice any human being can make is the choice between life and death; between loving and serving God, and ignoring Him.
Definition of Key Terms
The Hebrew brit is a flexible term used of a variety of legally binding agreements. Between nations a brit is a treaty. Between individuals it can be a contract. God even used one familiar covenant form to confirm His promises to Abraham. In ancient times brit was also used to describe the formal relationship between a ruler and his subjects. This passage of Deuteronomy follows the format used in the second millenniumB.C to state just such a relationship. It is in this “constitutional” sense that “covenant” is typically used in Deuteronomy, and especially here. These two chapters are in essence a review of Deuteronomy 1–28. Israel had heard Moses’ lengthy explanation of the relationship God, as King, intended to have with His people. Now, perhaps a few days later, Moses briefly reviewed the covenant that would serve as Israel’s national constitution, and called on the people to commit themselves to it and to God.
Moses summarized God’s covenant with Israel. He reviewed God’s saving work (29:1–9) and His call to covenant relationship (vv. 10–15). Moses warned of curses on rebels (vv. 16–29) but stated God’s intention to ultimately restore Israel (30:1–10). In view of this, Moses called for a firm commitment to the Lord (vv. 11–20).
Understanding the Text
“Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did” Deut. 29:2–9. Israel’s relationship with God was initiated by saving acts. When the people were helpless, slaves in a foreign land, God performed “miraculous signs and great wonders” to free them. The most powerful motive the Israelites can have to commit themselves to God is to remember what He has already done for them. It’s the same with you and me. God doesn’t ask for blind faith or commitment to the unknown. The God who calls for our commitment has acted in Jesus to save us from the power and the penalty of sin. We know His love through Jesus’ death for us, and His power through Jesus’ resurrection. Is it really safe to commit ourselves completely to God? In view of all He has done for us, we can answer with full assurance—yes! “You are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God” Deut. 29:10–15. Hundreds of years earlier God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be their God and the God of their children. He had confirmed the initial promise to Abraham in a legally binding covenant-making ceremony (cf. Gen. 15:8–16). This early covenant was still in force, stretching on through the centuries, giving each generation of Israelites a special relationship with God. The Covenant of Law, proposed at Sinai, was God’s way of showing the Israelites how each generation could experience the blessings of relationship with the God who was already committed to them. The issue facing the Israelites who stood before Moses in that “today” was simple. Would they commit themselves to the God who was already committed to them? The issue is very much the same for us today. God has executed His New Covenant of love in Jesus. Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection are proof of God’s irrevocable commitment to you and me. The only question left, which each of us must face in our own “today,” is, will we commit ourselves fully to Him? “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way” Deut. 29:16–29. I was converted while in the Navy. I started a noon Bible study and began to put up Bible verses on the bulletin board near the office coffeepot. These stimulated a number of conversations and some debate. One of the big arguments my friends had against my new faith was, “Hey, if you’re saved, you go to heaven no matter what, right? Then you can do whatever you want, and it’s OK? That just can’t be right.” I tried to explain that a person who knows Jesus loves God. It is love for God, not fear of Him, that keeps Christians from sinning. My cynical Navy buddies just couldn’t accept that. If they knew they could get away with doing whatever they wanted to do, everyone figured he’d overdose on sin. I suspect that, while my answer was right, I might deal with the question a little differently today. Perhaps as Moses dealt with Israel. We can’t look at all God has done for us and decide that it means, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” Going our own way is never safe. It is a prescription for disaster. For Israel, failure to commit to the God of the Covenant meant calamity. The land would become a burning waste; the people would stagger because of disease and foreign enemies. For us, a similar failure means life on a spiritual desert, with no sense of God’s presence, no experience of divine guidance, no comfort or assurance, and the likelihood that our choices too will lead to disaster. “Even if you have been banished . . . the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back” Deut. 30:1–10. A survey of Bible history shows that many generations of Israelites did turn from God to idolatry. The disasters Moses predicted happened, including exile from the Promised Land. But, as Moses made plain, God remained committed to His people. Disobedient generations experienced disaster, but their disobedience did not void God’s promises to Abraham. You and I can sin. But the door is always open for us to return to God. We can claim the promise made to Israel so long ago. “When you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart . . . then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes” (vv. 2–3).
“I Do”(Deut. 30:11–20)
Perhaps the best analogy to the commitment God asks us to make to Him is the wedding ceremony. The wedding comes as the culmination of months (or better, years) of gradually coming to know another person. In time friendship blossoms into love, or initial attraction deepens into appreciation. Then each person realizes, “I want to spend my life with this individual!” Then the two plan a wedding—a ceremony to announce to one and all that two people have decided to cleave only to each other, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do them part. Yet it’s fascinating. That ceremony, the culmination of so many young women’s dreams, isn’t an end but a beginning. It is the beginning of a lifetime of acting on the decision that the ceremony marked. It is the start of a lifetime of making choices shaped by the fact that at a particular point in time, two people stood side by side and committed themselves to one another. For then. And forever. It’s just this kind of ceremony that is in view in Deuteronomy 30. Moses calls on the new generation to make a life-shaping decision. Moses calls on Israel to make a commitment to God, to choose life with Him, and then to carry out that commitment the rest of their lives. As Moses says, the life this commitment calls for “is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” That life is spelled out in the word God has given us, a near word, in our mouths and in our hearts. Make and keep this commitment, Moses promised, and “you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” Hold back or turn away, and “you will certainly be destroyed.” We Christians need to realize that our initial relationship with Jesus is intended to grow and deepen to the point at which we too realize, “I want to commit my life to this Person who loves me.” That realization may come in church, in response to a pastor’s call. It may happen in the privacy of your own room, reading devotional literature like this book. When the realization does come, then you too have a decision to make. Will I commit myself fully to God, realizing that this decision will shape my choices for the rest of my life? Perhaps Moses himself gives us the most compelling reason to make that commitment now. “This day,” he says, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (vv. 19–20).
If you have not made a specific commitment to love and obey God, why not make it now?