RENEWING THE COVENANT
When we come to Deut. 29-30, we once more must remember that whereas certain principles in these 2 chapters apply to the Christian life, much of the material applies specifically and exclusively to the nation of Israel. For example, in chapter 30 Moses speaks about restoring the nation of Israel to the land of Canaan after they have been exiled if they return to God while they are in exile. Well, this promise though applying to Israel does not apply to the U.S. or to Britain, etc. God promised the Israelites a specific portion of the earth called Canaan while He has not promised certain other portions of the earth to other nations for all time. As a result, we need to be careful as we start applying the different parts of these 2 chapters to our individual lives.
THE BASIS OF THE COVENANT RENEWAL (Deut. 29:1-9)
Moses once more explains to the Israelites the reasons they should enter into this covenant with God before he actually urges them to enter that covenant. He once more reminds them first of God saving them from Egyptian bondage and second of God delivering the 2 most powerful Canaanite kings into their hands (Sihon and Og). In addition to these, Moses reminds them of how God had provided for the little things in their lives during their wilderness wanderings. For example, their shoes did not wear out on them during the 40 years in the wilderness. Moreover, even though they had been unable to plant vineyards for grapes in the wilderness, and had been unable to produce wine or strong drink, God nevertheless had provided for their drinking needs. God had not just provided for their major needs, He had also provided for their minor needs.
Paul carries this concept over into the NT as well. Because God had gone to the extreme of sacrificing His Son for our greatest need (salvation), Paul claims that God will be glad to take care of our smallest needs (Rom. 8:32). As a dad I love to give Nathan the money to go on the youth ski strip. I'm glad whenever we buy memberships to certain organizations so that both our children can participate in certain sporting activities. These are good; HOWEVER, I love just playing SkipBo with Molly during the evenings. I like to watch sports on TV with Nathan. I like it whenever we give each other hugs and I tell them that if I could choose from all the boys in the world who could be my son and from all the girls in the world who could be my daughter, then I would choose Nathan and Molly. I tell them that because I both mean it and because I love them. Well, if we earthly parents love to do such major AND minor things for our children, how much more does our heavenly Father who is perfect love to do the same kind of things for me, for us.
Moses claims, though, that although the Israelites have experienced all these wonderful blessings from God, He nevertheless has not given them a heart to understand and eyes to see. Why? Because of the hardness of their hearts, they have been unable to appreciate and understand the significance of all that God has done for them. Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted the same attitude that the Israelites possessed. How many Christians really understand all that God has done for them? We tend to believe that all the good things in our lives result from all our labor and hard work, or result from our genius or winning personalities, whereas the truth is that all that is good in our lives comes from the Father (James 1:17).
CALL TO RENEWING THE COVENANT (Deut. 29:10-15)
Moses next commands the Israelites to enter into that covenant relationship with God so that He will be their God and they will be His people. (Remember that they are not just now becoming God's people but that they are renewing their commitment and dedication to Him as His people.) Moreover, Moses reminds them that what they do in their lifetimes will not just affect them but also succeeding generations. Consistently throughout the Bible, God reminds us that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the 3rd and 4th generations, while His lovingkindness falls upon thousands of succeeding generations whenever the forefathers have followed the Lord. This can be the only explanation as to why God continues to favor the Jews and the nation of Israel. Abraham's faithfulness to God, not THEIR faithfulness but Abraham’s faithfulness, has resulted in God being faithful to the nation of Israel.
THE FUTIITY OF OTHER GODS (Deut. 29:16)
It is for their own sake that God points out to the Israelites the utter futility of worshiping other gods. They had seen the gods of Egypt and the gods of the peoples living in the wilderness. These other gods were not viable options for the Lord. They were made by human hands out of materials such as gold, silver, and stone. The Israelites had seen their God annihilate the people who worshiped these other gods. If these other gods could not protect the people who worshiped them why would Israel ever turn to these idols?
Sometimes Christians tend to go brain dead and forget about what God has taught them not only in Scripture but also through the lives of others who have preceded them. Both of my parents were good people; however, my mother definitely followed the Lord, whereas my father did not. My dad through the Lord's blessings accomplished success in the world of business. He prospered financially; he was wined and dined by some of the top business leaders in the state of Texas. He also loved to gamble, spend as much time at the deer lease as possible during the winter months even though it meant time away from the family. On his death bed, my dad admitted that he had not lived up to all he should have done. Yes, he knew he was a Christian; however, he also knew that he was now going to have to give an account for all he had done during his lifetime. He was a good man; however, he knew that he had not done all God had wanted him to do. He was not looking forward to giving that account.
My mom, on the other hand, is a different story. Yes, she benefitted from my father's success; however, even though she could have become superficial and become the queen of the country club scene or make the garden club the most important part of her life, she consistently gave herself to the Lord. No, she was not perfect because she is not God; however, her priorities were right. She was in Bible study and worship on a consistent basis. She was active in not only promoting missions but also in giving to missions both financially and physically. On the weekend before she was scheduled for an arteriogram, she was at Hunstville ministering to the families of prisoners by washing their laundry. She had surgery this past week. She might not have come off the operating table; however, her attitude towards death differed significantly from my dad's. She faced the prospect of death with calmness and confident assurance, while he faced it with uncertainty and a justifiable dread.
As I look at both of these 2, I know what fueled each one, and I know what gives life. Life ultimately is not in things, people, entertainment, exciting experiences, trips, etc. Life is found ultimately in a relationship with Jesus Christ. God many times lets us have exactly what we want so that He can show us that these things do not produce life. Once we've tasted the utter dissatisfaction of these other things, we need to let go of them and turn to the Lord who is the source of true life.
FAILURE TO KEEP THE COVENANT (Deut. 29:17-29)
Moses next reminds the people of the consequences of failing to keep the covenant. This time, though, he does not focus on the failure of the majority of the nation to keep the covenant; he zeroes in on the possibility of one individual rejecting the covenant and the consequences the nation suffers because of that one person. When the one person in Israel rejects the covenant, God brings disaster upon the nation by sending them into exile. Why would God punish the people for the continued apostasy of just one person? In order for one person to continue in that apostasy, the nation has to tolerate that one person and his sin. It is only a matter of time, though, before toleration devolves into acceptance. After accepting a certain sin, it is only a matter of time before people start actually committing that same sin. For this reason God punished the whole nation of Israel when only one man, Achan, disobeyed God (see Joh. 7). You see the major leap is not the leap from tolerating sin to committing that sin; the major leap is from rejecting the sin to tolerating it. Once we start to tolerate sin, we land on a slippery slope which ends in committing that sin and suffering Gods discipline for that sin.
Our nation is following the very path Moses railed against in this passage. Thirty years ago certain types of behavior were considered wrong. Eventually these behaviors became labeled as sicknesses instead of sin. They're not even considered sicknesses anymore; now they are labeled alternative lifestyles. Movies rated PG-13 make light of homosexuality and even bestiality. It is only a matter of time before this nation embraces these behaviors completely unless something radical changes the heart of our nation.
God meant what He said in these passages. Israel flirted consistently with idolatry until 721 BC when the Assyrians obliterated the 10 northern tribes to such an extent that they no longer existed. In 586 BC the Babylonians dragged the Jews, Levites, and Benjaminites into exile. Although for the next 500+ years the nation did not bow down to idols of gold, silver, and stone, it nevertheless created a mental idol of God which was as far removed from Him as the idols of gold, etc. Because of Israel’s continual rejection of Him, God finally drove her into exile partially in 70 AD and completely in 125 AD by the Romans. The Romans declared in 125 AD that no Jew was to be allowed to enter Jerusalem. It was only after the Muslims conquered Israel in the 7th century AD that the Jews were allowed to return home. Only then Israel was no longer a nation but just a part of the great Muslim empires.
The devastation of the land was almost total. What was once a land flowing with milk and honey became a wasteland. When the Turkish Empire occupied the land, conditions reached their worst. The Turks had a taxation policy which calculated the amount of taxes based upon the number of trees on a person's property. The Turkish lords who owned land in Israel but nevertheless still lived in Turkey wanted to reduce the taxes upon their Palestinian landholdings. As a result, they ordered nearly all the trees in Israel to be chopped down. When you read in the Bible about all the animals living in Israel and the trees, etc., and then you see how barren it tends to be today, you now understand why. It became a dusty wasteland. The Jezreel Valley, which was once lush with vegetation, actually became a swampland infested with malaria. Only after the establishment of the Jewish nation in 1948 did matters change.
Whereas what Moses says here applies specifically to the nation of Israel, certain principles here do apply to God's people even today. No Christian will ever lose his or her salvation; however, the Christian who persists in rebelling against God is asking God to bring His discipline down upon him. In the church at Corinth the Christians were abusing the Lord's Supper by actually getting drunk at it and acting like gluttons. Paul claimed that because of their actions many among them were sick, while some had even died (1 Cor. 11:30). A Christian will never go to hell; however, if he remains in disobedience to God, he can sure feel like he is already there.
THE PROMISE OF RESTORATION (Deut. 30:1-10)
The purpose of the exile was not to destroy the people of Israel. Like any father, God desires only good things for His people. The only reason God afflicted them with exile was that they had hardened their hearts against him to such a dramatic extent that exile was the only way God could bring them back to their senses. God in this passage comforts the people with the assurance that if they returned to God even during their exile, then He would return to them. He would bless the land in such ways that they would prosper even greater than their own fathers had prospered.
Just like the warning in the previous passage was not idle, so the promise here is not idle. Since 125 AD until 1948 the Jews had no home in Palestine because of their prior disobedience. Although they were without a homeland, against almost insurmountable odds they held together as a people. That alone is a miracle. When the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was asked how he could prove there was a God, he said he could prove God's existence with 2 words, "The Jew."
The plight of the Jew was so desperate that finally in the late 1800's a movement called “Zionism” emerged among the Jewish peoples in Europe and in North America. After WW1 the British took note of their plight and promised to give them the land of Palestine (the Balfour Declaration), the same territory now occupied by Israel and the kingdom of Jordan. Little did the Jews realize that the British had also promised the same piece of real estate to the Arabs. The British "protected" the land from 1918 until 1948 at which time they withdrew from Palestine. The question was what would happen to the Jewish people living in that land. Many wanted to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; others, such as General Marshal of the Marshal plan were totally against it because they knew it would antagonize the Arabs who owned the oil in the region. Harry Truman ultimately did not care about economics and politics; he ultimately cared about doing the right thing. As a result, the U.S. became the first major nation to recognize the Jewish state, thereby guaranteeing her continued existence, all in fulfillment of God's promise in this passage.
Since then the land has become fruitful. Olive trees now dot the landscape. Israel, being located on the same latitudinal line as Texas and experiencing the same kind of climate as Texas, has negotiated with pecan companies in Texas about planting pecan trees in Israel. The Jezreel Valley, which was a swampland, now is some of the most fertile land in the world. Joppa oranges come from this region. With all the sand in the area, it is not surprising that Tel Aviv has become the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.
In the same token, when a Christian who has disobeyed God or rebelled against him returns to Him, what once was a wasteland spiritually can actually become the fertile soil for God to work and to produce wonderful things through him. God does not delight in the destruction of His people; He desires only their good.
THE NEARNESS OF THE LORD (Deut. 30:11-15)
Sometimes God's people claim that they did not know any better, that they would not have fallen into sin if they had known what God's Word was. This passage states that God's people have no excuse because God's Word and will are too close at hand for them to be able to make this excuse. According to Moses a person does not need to ascend into heaven in order to bring down God's Word; nor does that person have to plunge into the depths of the ocean in order to retrieve it. Instead God's Word is as near to us as the words in our own mouths. Knowledge has never been the problem in obeying God; our stubborn refusal to obey God has been the problem all along (John 3:19). [Paul interprets this passage to mean that the person does not need to work in order to obtain God's Word (see Rom. 10:6-11).] God is far more interested in communicating to you and me than we are in hearing from Him. God is so much a communicator that Jesus calls Himself the Word (John 1:1-3). If we fail in our journey on earth, God is going to be totally guiltless (Rom. 3:4); the fault will lie completely with us.
THE FINAL CHALLENGE (Deut. 30:15-20)
Finally, Moses places the burden squarely upon the shoulders of the israelites. All has been provided for them. God's Word is as near them as the words on their own lips. All that remains is that they choose either obedience or disobedience, life or death. The choice is theirs.