Copyright © 2012, John.W. (Jack) Carter
As we approach the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we are also approaching the end of the message that Moses brought to the nation of Israel as they were about to cross over the Jordan River, settling in the land of Canaan, the land of their ancestor, Abraham. Moses would not be crossing the river with them. He would stay behind in the mountains of Moab where he would live out his days, which at the age of 120 presumably were very few.
Israel had spent two generations as a huge (possibly numbering about two million) nomadic tribe that wandered around the plains of Sinai. During this time they encountered some opposition from populations in the northern region of Sinai, but for the most part, the nation was held together geographically by its continual close proximity to the Tent of Meeting and the Shekinah Glory, the Pillar of Fire that stood over the Tent and guided them in their movements around Sinai. Though they would follow the Shekinah Glory over the Jordan, once establishing a foothold there, the nation would disperse throughout the region of Canaan as each tribe would populate its apportioned land. However, there would be an entirely different situation in Canaan: it was already populated by other nomadic tribes that were completely ignorant of the God of Abraham, and were universally engaged in the pagan worship of mythological gods.
Consequently, Moses was about to send the nation of Israel into this pagan, and quite ungodly, culture. They have been taught about the LORD, and were quite aware of Godís plan for them. They understood that to follow the LORD was to be provided with the land and to find protection in it. They also knew that to reject the LORD was to remove themselves from that hand of protection.
The situation facing Israel is not unlike the situation facing the Christian church today. Just as Israel had its remnant of faithful believers who truly loved the LORD, the church today has a similar remnant. Just as Israel was about to be immersed in a culture that has no knowledge of or interest in the LORD, the church today is immersed in a likewise secular and pagan culture. Consequently, the message that Moses had for Israel over three thousand years ago is just as relevant for believers today.
Deuteronomy 30:1. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,
The first challenge given to Israel is one that we often give little consideration to, yet it forms one of the primary purposes that God had for Israel and for those who are His children today: given the knowledge of the gospel, the blessings that come from faith and the consequences that come from rebellion, Israel is to ďcall them to mine among the nations.Ē Godís purpose for His people is to spread the gospel message throughout all the world.
As Israel developed into a nation in the land of Canaan, there formed a disconnect between Godís purpose for His people, and their obedience to that purpose. Israel not only failed to spread the good news of the blessings of the LORD to the nations, they purposely cloistered themselves, considering the nations to be beneath themselves to the point of blatant and legislated prejudice. There is a similar disconnect in the church today. Most people who call themselves Christians are not engaged in any form of personal faith sharing. There is no question today that Godís purpose for His people is the spread of the gospel, yet there is very little actual personal evangelism going on. Most church members think that it is the responsibility of the pastor or of career missionaries to be engaged in the work of evangelism. However, quite the opposite is true. The purpose of the pastor is to equip the church for the task of evangelism. There were a few non-Jews who became part of the nation through intermarriage and occasionally some would choose to join the Israelites as they would learn of the LORD. The same is true today, as the church sometimes receives new members from intermarriage and occasional faith sharing.
The same barriers that caused the disconnect between Israel and their purpose exist today between the Christian church and her purpose. Moses continues as he attempts to break down the barriers that are keeping Israel from obedience.
Deuteronomy 30:2. And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
The disconnect between those who call themselves Christians and the task of evangelism to which they are called comes from one source: disobedience. The Israelites, as is true in the church today, had wandered away from their focus on and their love for the LORD. The things of this world were more important than obedience to the LORD. Their love for the things of this world was greater than their love for the LORD. As long as oneís love for this world is greater than oneís love for the LORD, the disconnect will remain, and Godís purpose will not be fulfilled.
Consequently, the first challenge that Moses lays down is the basic challenge given to everyone who is not in a close relationship with God: ďreturn to the LORD.Ē One might read this passage and come away with a ďto doĒ list that includes, repentance, obedience, etc. However, it may be more accurate and instructive to consider the power and consequence of the first imperative to return unto the LORD. When one turns to the LORD in the biblical sense, this is to make God the LORD of life, giving Him first priority in oneís life, loving Him with ďall your heart, soul, mind, and strength.Ē This is the imperative that brings life-changing results. If one does turn to the LORD in this way, the remainder of the verse is no longer a to-do list, but rather a description of what will spontaneously take place in the life of the believer: obedience.
Deuteronomy 30:3-5. That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
Some who do not know the LORD may think of Christianity as a religion with a lot of rules, and sometimes Christians act as though this is true. However, Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with the Creator. Prior to that relationship with God all people were separated from Him, scattered among the peoples of this world, and captive to the spirit of death. In that state, many people, when presented with the truth about the LORD believe that they are too broken, too sinful, or simply not worthy of the love of God. However, Godís love for His creation is unconditional and is extended to all who will simply trust in Him. Note that this verse states that ďGod will turn thy captivity.Ē There is nothing that we can do to be good enough to stand in Godís presence on our own. Even the most righteous person in the eyes of the world, is as unrighteous as the most wicked person on earth if that person does not have a relationship with God. Consequently, Godís promise is extended to all people, without regard to where He must gather them from.
Note also, that Moses states that the very scattering of those who are lost is a work of God. God is the One sovereign LORD and judge of all of the earth, and it is Godís plan that people would come to Himself through faith. Consequently, in His sovereignty He allows those who reject Him to become scattered. If the LORD has allowed us to wander, it is certainly within His authority to bring us back home.
Deuteronomy 30:4-5. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
Since Godís love is unconditional, it makes no difference how far away from God one has wandered. There is no sin great enough that God will not forgive the repentant sinner, simply because there is no sinner who is greater than God, and no sin that is greater than Godís power to forgive. The prophet Jonah thought He could leave Godís presence by simply getting in a boat and sailing far away from Israel. Yet, God is the One God of the universe, the cosmos, and there is no place in all of this universe that God is not sovereign. We might be reminded of Paulís statement,
Romans 8:38-39. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is a quite comprehensive list. There is no place in all of heaven and earth, past or future, that can separate us from the love of God.
Deuteronomy 30:5. And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
When God brings us home, He brings us to a new place. Jesus stated, ďI have come that you might have life, and live it to the full.Ē God does not leave us in the hopeless place that we knew before coming to Him in faith. He brings us to a place that has been home for all who have come before. Of course, the metaphor that Moses is using refers to the land that Israel is about to possess when they cross the Jordan, a quite literal example of Godís plan to bring us out of bondage, prepare our hearts to love Him, and provide us with a new life, a life of true peace, love, and joy.
Deuteronomy 30:6. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
The life-change that God brings to us involves a complete change of heart. Prior to knowing God, our hearts were set on ourselves and the things of this world. After coming to the LORD in faith, He works the miracle in us that turns our hearts to Him. As ďthe LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart,Ē the change of heart is not our own doing. It is done by the LORD when we give our heart to Him.
We find here another reference to the Shema of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6. This truth cannot be understated. Those who profess faith in God but have never actually followed through with that stated profession find that they have not received the blessings that God describes. A heart that is fully surrendered to Him is one that He can fill with the love for Himself that fulfills this promise: that the one who trusts in Him will love Him with all of their heart and soul. To the ancients, the sum of heart and soul represented the whole person. It is when one has turned to God in this way that they will indeed live life ďto the full.Ē It is a life that is blessed this side of death as God opens the eyes and heart to live a life of love, and blessed on the other side of death with eternal life with Him.
Deuteronomy 30:7. And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.
What about those who seem to prosper so well and who clearly have rejected the lordship of God? A true profession of faith sets one apart from those in this world who have made no such profession. This ďsetting apartĒ is the basis of holiness, as one is no longer living for the world, but is living for the LORD. Those who do not know God cannot fully understand and reject such a concept. Yet, as difficulties come into the lives of the faithful, God uses them for His purposes. When people who do not know God come into similar difficulties, they have no such hope. The curse that they receive is simply a consequence of their separation from God: the lack of the hope of His providence. Even at their best moments, and at their seemingly richest and greatest positions in this world, they are still devoid of the true peace, love, and joy that comes only through faith in God. Furthermore, the promise of the land, eternal life with the LORD is not available to those who have rejected God. Consequently, as blessed as the lost seem to be on this earth, that blessing is shallow and quite temporary.
Deuteronomy 30:8-10. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. 9And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers: 10If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
One of the most significant components of the pagan worship of mythical gods involved religious practices that the people believed would inspire the gods to bless the work of their hands, in child-bearing, in the reproduction of their livestock, and in the production of the harvest. They believed that their gods required of the people works and great sacrifices to gain their attention and favor. Godís statement stands in stark contrast to pagan beliefs: true blessing, coming from the One true God is a gift, freely given to those who place their trust in Him.
God does not require any great work, or great sacrifice. God does not operate on a work-reward system that so much characterizes natural human philosophy. Where the pagans strove to find reward in works they did for their mythical gods, there is no work that can attain Godís grace. His grace is freely given. Though this concept makes no sense to those who do not understand God, it is the fruit of Godís very nature.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 14But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
The good news of Godís grace is not a great mystery. When the Apostle Paul refers to the gospel as a mystery, the word he uses refers to one that has been clearly revealed to those who would listen to understand. Moses reviews some of the pagan beliefs concerning the locations of their gods and the great tasks that the pagans believe they must accomplish to be blessed, doing so by contrasting Godís grace.
The gospel is not hidden, and it has not been placed out of reach. God has not kept the gospel to Himself in heaven, requiring someone to climb to great heights to find it. God has not placed the truth in some faraway place that requires great effort and sacrifice to find it. There is no need for people to serve as intermediaries between the people and God. There is no need for ďseersĒ or ďwizardsĒ to serve as channels of Godís blessings. Rather than seeking God, God has come to us, making Himself fully known and fully available.
Deuteronomy 30:15-16. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; 16In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
Having presented the gospel message to the people, it is now time for decision. Likewise that same decision is available to everyone today. God has declared His goodness and His plan for the welfare of all who place their trust in Him. How can one continue to chase after imaginary mythical, and hence powerless gods when the One True God beckons to us in such a way? The blessings for knowing God go beyond anything that any power of this world has to offer.
Rejecting that offer has eternal consequences.
Deuteronomy 30:17-18. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.
Without God there is no hope. God created us for His purpose, and beckons all people to come join Him in His purpose of redemption. If we rebel against Him and seek to find our lives elsewhere, we will find exactly what we are looking for. Without faith in God there is no promise of his protection or provision. Without faith in God there is no eternal life with Him, only eternal life separated from Him.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: 20That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
The LORD has set before us a choice. God is not a great puppet-master who uses His power and His sovereignty to manipulate and control those who He has created. Desiring a relationship with His creation, He breathed into each person an eternal spirit that, unlike every other created being, empowers one to seek and to know God. It is Godís desire that we would choose Him by placing our faith and trust in Him, the only One in this universe that is truly worthy of that trust.
Israel was about to embark on a dangerous journey as it would find its tightly-knot tribal nation dispersed among a vast and dramatically ungodly pagan community. It would be difficult to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit when their lives would be immersed in such a cacophony of competing messages. Mosesí message to Israel is still as relevant today as Godís promise remains the same: the blessing of relationship, provision, protection, and eternal life for those who place their faith and trust in Him. The alternative is to place oneís trust in this world and its prince, the lord of death, a choice that carries with it none of Godís promises, other than the promise of deathís true consequence: eternal separation from God.
Choose life, or choose death?
As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Will you serve Him with me?