Turning back to our continuing study of the book of Deuteronomy, we come to chapters 29 and 30.
The context follows from the proclamation of the blessings that arise from an attitude of obedience and the curses that result from a heart set on disobedience, set forth in immediately preceding chapters.
Scripture and Summary
The first line of this section could be taken to be the close of the immediately preceding section or the header of this section. Either way, the point seems to be the same: the blessings and curses that are expressed are united to what is about to be discussed in the calling of Israel to hear Moses’ instructions.
In giving his instructions, the aged leader calls to mind what had occurred in the past: the mighty vengeance that YHWH inflicted on Egypt for their impudence as well as His immediate responsiveness to both the needs of the people as well as their disobedience.(1) However, Moses makes something clear: in spite of those mighty acts, the willingness and speed with which Israel would slip into rebellion was because God had not given them the ability to see their own heart.(2) Their obtuseness to the great works that they had seen demonstrates their impending state of judgement.(3) God’s provision—in clothing that did not succumb to deterioration, in the manna that was provided, in tremendous victory against terrible foes, and in the giving of the covenant itself—was meant to wake them up, to keep their minds clear to reality of their dependence upon Him for all things.(4)
Key to this section is its closing line: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law. (v29, ESV, emphasis added)” God, via Moses, has given Israel a tremendous vision of the future in the blessings of obedience spelled out in the previous sections. In spelling out the curses that spring from disobedience he has painted a bleak future. They are held up to everyone both present (v10-11) and with those who stand off in the future (v15). Men did not approach God to offer terms, rather God approached them and made terms; the focus was placed squarely upon God.(5) When engaging in this covenant, the people were to do so carefully and fear complacency (vv18-19) lest they think that they are themselves responsible for the peace that they enjoy, lest that complacency turn into sedition and then cause wrath to break out among the nation.(6)
Moses speaks that both the blessing and the curse will happen. While the terms are spoken of in the future sense, the expectation seems to be implied that people will begin to take the necessary steps to secure the end that is desired. God desires obedience, but God also desires to show man just who he is apart from God. That makes the next section even more important.
Moses is adamant: there is a clear choice that Israel must make. Will they seek to obey and adhere to the terms of the covenant or will they break the terms? Will they choose life, or will they choose death? The decision is not a difficult one to make and, in reality, the commands of the law are not hard to do. What is at stake is the will. The warning here is that what lies in the covenant terms is not a set of empty promises but rather a definite set of conditions.
The late-1st-early-2nd-century Christian manual called the Didache begins with a rather terse statement:
There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between the two Ways is great.
From that opening statement, the author(s) set out to contrast these two ways of life.
In the state in which I currently reside an option exists to purchase vehicle license plates that, for an additional fee, support various groups or organizations. These organizations have various slogans that get printed on the tag, whether it be college alumni groups, or fraternity/sorority, or military groups. Whichever group it is that is featured on the tag, a portion of the funds collected from the sale of licenses ($35-$55[US] above the regular fee) goes to that group. A rather popular license plate that I see is one that is blazoned with a somewhat crude stick-figure crayon-like drawing of a child holding a ballon on a string with the words “Choose life” similarly scribbled in child-like crayon across the bottom of the plate. The existence of the plate is part of a movement of the organization Choose Life, Inc. that was founded in 1997 to help fund alternatives to abortion provided by crisis pregnancy centers. And while that is one aspect of “the Way of Life” to which the writer(s) of the Didache spoke of, it is not the way.
Through the covenant law, particularly in rejection of its standards, we see people embrace death. In rejecting the command to “not kill” they will embrace the murder of innocent children through abortion. In rejecting the command to “not steal” they will advocate for theft through coercive and excessive taxation and wealth “redistribution” through socialist policies. The instant you reject the source of Life itself you run headlong into the arms of Death. Moses pleads with his fellow Israelites in such a way that you can hear the pain in his voice because he has seen what happens when Israel rejects God, let us hear his voice and accept his plea and dedicate ourselves to it.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20, ESV)
- Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 471
- Ibid. p. 472
- Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 260-1
- Rushdoony. p. 472-3
- Ibid. p. 476
- Bruegemann. p. 261-2