Moses has been preparing the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land: the land which God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants; the land where they would enjoy the presence of the Lord in their midst; the land which was a foretaste of the new heavens and earth, where all of God’s people will dwell with the Lord forever and forever.
And so far we’ve seen how Moses reminded the people in chapter 1 of the rebellion of the previous generation, who doubted God’s word and who died in the wilderness. And in chapters 2 and 3 he reminded them of how the Lord helped them to defeat their enemies on the eastern side of the river Jordan. In chapters 4 and 5 Moses reminded them of the law of the Lord, including the Ten Commandments, which they were required to keep. In chapter 6, Moses warned the people not to forget the Lord, but to love him with all their heart and soul and mind and strength; and to teach their children to love and serve him only.
In chapter 7, Moses commanded them not to make peace with the nations in the land of Canaan and not to make a treaty with them or to intermarry with them, because the pagan nations would only lead them astray. He also reminded them of God’s electing love, because — though they did nothing to deserve it — the Lord nevertheless set his love on them and graciously and freely chose them to be his people.
And in chapter 8, Moses reminded them of how the Lord humbled them in the wilderness by causing them to hunger so that they would learn to rely, not on the things around them which they could see, but to rely on the Lord and his word: to trust his promises and to obey his commands. And Moses also warned them about the dangers of prosperity: since the Lord was bringing them into a good land, where they would have all they needed and where they would prosper, they needed to be careful lest they became proud and took the credit for all their success, instead of giving all praise and thanks to the Lord.
And finally, in chapters 9 and the beginning of chapter 10, Moses made clear that they did not deserve or merit life in the Promised Land, because they had always been a rebellious people. However, the Lord is gracious and merciful and was willing to renew the covenant which he made with them at Mount Sinai, but which they broke because of their rebellion. And we thought about how the covenant God made with them in those days has now been surpassed by the new covenant, which Christ established in his blood, by which God promises to remember our sins no more, and to write his law, not on stones tablets, but on our hearts, hearts which have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit comes and fills us and helps us to walk in the ways of the Lord and to do his will here on earth.
And as we’ve studied these chapters together, we’ve tried to get the balance right between God’s grace and God’s law. The book of Deuteronomy contains lots of laws and commandments and regulations which God’s people are required to keep. As we’ll see as we go further into the book, some of the laws and commandments have now expired, because they were for the nation of Israel at that time. Others — all the laws to do with sacrifices and festivals — pointed to Christ and have been fulfilled in him; and have therefore come to an end. But then there are lots of other laws about how we’re to love the Lord and how we’re to love our neighbour, which we’re to keep. The book of Deuteronomy contains lots of laws which we’re required to keep.
However, throughout the book Moses has made clear the priority of God’s grace. The Israelites did not and could not earn life in the Promised Land, but God graciously and freely gave it to them as a gift, which they did not deserve. So, we’re not to think that the law was the means to life in the Promised Land. It was not the means to life, because life in the Promised Land was God’s gift to them which they could not earn. However, the law was to be the rule for their life in the Promised Land. By the law, God was showing his chosen people how he wanted them to live their lives in the Promised Land.
And life for us in the new heavens and earth is not something we can earn or merit by our good deeds. No, life in the new heavens and earth is a gift which God graciously and freely gives to all who trust in his Son. It’s his gracious gift to us, which we did not and could not earn. But, having received by faith the free gift of eternal life, God gives us his law to show us how he wants us to live our lives.
And we’ll see this balance between God’s law and God’s grace in today’s passage, which can be divided into three main sections. First of all, there’s the remainder of chapter 10 where Moses asks the question:
What does the Lord your God ask of you?
And in the verses which follow, Moses answers that question. And then, secondly, there’s verses 2 to 25 of chapter 11, where Moses instructs them to love and obey the Lord in the land which he is giving them. And finally, in verses 26 to 32, Moses sets before them a blessing and a curse.
Let’s turn to the first main section, which is the remainder of chapter 10. In fact, we can include the first verse of chapter 11 in this section, because verse 1 of chapter 11 really concludes this first section. Moses says to the people:
Now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you?
The word ‘Now’ suggests that he’s asking this question in view of everything he has said to them previously about the grace of God and his kindness to them. So, in view of God’s grace and mercy, which he has lavished on you, what should you do? What should your response be? How should you respond to God’s grace?
And in the verses which follow Moses answers his own question and he shows them how they should respond to God’s grace. And his answer can be divided into three parts. First of all, in verses 12 to 15, there are five verbs, things they’re to do. They’re to fear the Lord. They’re to walk in all his ways. They’re to love him. They’re to serve the Lord their God with all their heart and soul. And they’re to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees which Moses is giving them for their good. The commentators suggest that the basic idea behind all five verbs is the idea of allegiance. They are to remain loyal and faithful to the Lord and to him alone, loving, trusting and obeying him above all others. And loving, trusting and obeying him should not be difficult for them, because the Lord their God is a mighty God, who possesses the heavens, even the highest heavens, as well as the earth and all that it contains. He’s a great and awesome God, who is to be feared. However, he set his affection on their forefathers and on them; and he set them apart from all the other nations of the world.
And so, there’s that balance again between God’s grace and obedience to the law. God was very gracious to them, choosing them to be his own special people. In love he elected them. And in view of God’s grace, they’re now required to swear allegiance to him and to do his will. And if you’re a believer, then you can say the same, because God set his love on you and he chose you for himself and he set you apart from the rest of the world who do not believe and he made you one of his people. And so, in view of God’s grace, and his electing love, you ought to live your life for him, loving, trusting, obeying him above all others.
Secondly, in verses 16 to 19, there’s the command to circumcise their hearts. Now, God gave circumcision to Abraham as a sign of the covenant between God and his people. But, none of the generation Moses was addressing had been circumcised. And so, later, in the days of Joshua, the men will be circumcised physically. However, Moses makes clear in this verse that all of them must circumcise, not their bodies, but their hearts, which means that in their hearts and minds, deep down inside, they’re to be committed to the Lord and devoted to him. Or, as Moses continues to say, they must not be stiff-necked. In other words, they must not be stubborn like an ox, but must be willing to yield themselves to the Lord and to do his will.
And just as Moses highlighted God’s greatness and his grace in verses 14 and 15, so he does the same in verses 17 to 19. The Lord their God is great: he’s God of gods and Lord of lords. He’s great and mighty and awesome and he can’t be swayed by bribes. But he’s also very gracious and kind, because he defends the weak and the vulnerable and the needy. Indeed, since he loves the alien, they too must love the alien, the foreigners who have come to live among them. So, the Lord is mighty; but he’s also gracious and kind. Therefore, don’t be stiff-necked and stubborn, but yield to him.
And then thirdly, in verses 20 to 22, Moses commands the people to fear the Lord and serve him. Hold fast to him, just as husbands and wives are to hold fast to one another and be faithful to each other always. And take your oaths in his name, because, of course, he’s the only God. And once again, Moses highlights the greatness and the grace of God. He is your praise, Moses says, which means he’s the one they’re to praise. They’re to praise him because of the great and mighty deeds he was able to perform before them. And he’s been very gracious and kind to them, because he took what was once only a family and turned it into a mighty nation, so that they’re as numerous as the stars in the sky.
What does the Lord ask of you? Moses answers his own question in these verses. And then he offers a conclusion in verse 1 of chapter 11 which summarises what he’s been saying:
Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.
That’s what the people of Israel were to do, because the Lord is great and mighty and awesome, but he’s also been very gracious and kind to them, graciously and freely choosing them; treating them with kindness; multiplying them and making them into a great nation; though they did not deserve or merit it.
And God has been gracious to you, because, if you’re a believer today, you know that before the world was made, he chose you in Christ Jesus for salvation; and he sent his only Son to die to save you; and he sent his Spirit to enable you to repent and to believe; and he’s blessed you with one spiritual blessing after another, and he’s also filled your life with good things to enjoy; and he’s made you part of his people, a member of his kingdom which he’s multiplying throughout the world. He’s been good to you, though you have done nothing to deserve or merit it. He has been good to you. And he calls on you to love him and to keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and commands always. Fear him and walk in his ways. Love him and serve him always. Observe his commands. Circumcise your hearts so that deep down inside you’re devoted to him. And do not be stiff-necked and stubborn, refusing to yield to him. Hold fast to him and remain faithful to him always.
That’s how you show your gratitude to him for his grace and kindness to you in Christ Jesus. In your daily lives, as you live at home with your family, as you go to work each day, as your go about each day, fear the Lord and obey his commands. That’s what you’re to do. That’s how you display your gratitude to him. The Lord has set you apart for himself; and therefore it ought to be clear from the way you live your life and from the things you do, and from the things you will not do, that you belong to the Lord who has graciously and freely chosen you and saved you by his Son.
And so, we come to the second section today, which is verses 2 to 25 of chapter 11. And in these verses Moses instructs the people to love and obey the Lord in the land which he is giving them.
It begins in verses 2 to 7 with Moses reminding the people of some of the mighty acts of the Lord which some of them saw with their own eyes. Of course, the previous generation — who were adults when they left Egypt, and who doubted the word of the Lord — died in the wilderness. But their children are still alive. They’re the ones Moses is addressing in particular in these verses. They were only children at the time, but they can remember the signs the Lord performed in Egypt; and the things he did to the Pharaoh and his people; and what he did to the Egyptian army when they drowned in the Red Sea. They can remember what the Lord did for them in the desert. And they can remember what happened to Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled against the Lord and against Moses in the wilderness. And the Lord was angry with them and he caused the ground to open up beneath them, so that they went down alive into the depths of the earth.
You can remember these things, Moses was saying. You saw them with your own eyes. You know what the Lord can do and you know the power he possesses to destroy his enemies. You know what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Therefore, you should remain faithful to him and not turn away from him. That’s the point of verses 2 to 7. Do not forsake the Lord or disregard his word, because the Lord is not weak. He’s not a pussy cat. He’s a roaring lion.
And so, in verses 8 to 12, Moses commands the people to observe all the commands of the Lord, so that they’ll have strength from the Lord to take over the land and to live long in it. The land is God’s gift to them, which he promised to give them. And it’s a wonderful land, a land like the Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey. Unlike the land of Egypt, which was hard to water, the land of Israel will flow with water from the heavens. It’s a land which the Lord cares for and his eyes are on it from the beginning of the year until the end. The pagan nations believed that their gods were only available to help them some of the time, and not all of the time. But here’s Moses making clear to the people that the Lord will be watching over them and their land all of the time. He’s giving you the land as a gift. He cares for the land and he’ll help you. However — and this is Moses’s point — in order for you to enjoy the land, and the Lord’s blessing on it, make sure that you remain faithful to him.
In verses 13 to 21, Moses teaches the people that if they faithfully obey the Lord, then he will send the rain they need to grow their crops. And he’ll provide grass in the fields for their cattle. And they will eat and be satisfied. However, if they are enticed away from the Lord and begin to worship false gods and idols, then the Lord’s anger will burn against them and he’ll shut the heavens so that it won’t rain. Their crops will not grow; and they will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving them. That’s what will happen if they forget the Lord and his commands.
Therefore, to ensure you won’t forget the Lord and his commandments, fix them in your hearts and minds; tie them on your hands and foreheads; teach them to your children; write them on the door-frames of your homes. As I said before when we came across the same instruction in chapter 6, Moses probably intended this metaphorically to mean they were to give their attention to God’s law. However, orthodox Jews take these words literally and wear miniature scrolls on their head and hands and they attach them to their doorposts. But Moses’s point is that they were to give their attention to God’s law. Furthermore, they were to teach God’s law to their children, talking about these things in their daily lives. Teach them to obey, so that their days in the Promised Land will be many. Instead of being afflicted because of disobedience, obey the Lord and enjoy his gracious rewards.
In verses 22 to 25, Moses sets before the people the promise of the Lord. If they are faithful and obedient, he will drive out the nations. Even though the nations in Canaan were stronger and mightier than Israel, the Lord will enable the Israelites to dispossess the nations and take over the land. Every place where they set their foot will become theirs; and no one will be able to stand up against them. The Lord will make the other nations terrified of them. And, of course, we only need to think about what happened when they reached Jericho to see how the Lord kept his promise. Jericho was a city with a high and strong wall. But the people inside were terrified of the Israelites. And when the Israelites trusted the Lord and obeyed his command to walk around the city, day after day for a week, the Lord caused the walls to fall down so that they were able to go in and take over the city and defeat the people. They trusted the Lord and obeyed him. And he helped them. However, when Achan disobeyed the Lord, they discovered that the Lord was not willing to help them when they attacked the city of Ai. He would not give them the victory, until Achan confessed his guilt and was punished for his sin.
In this second main section, Moses instructed the people to love and obey the Lord in the land which he was giving them. If they were faithful, he would fill their lives with good things. If they were unfaithful, he would fill their lives with bad things. And so, they needed to remember to love and serve the Lord and to obey him carefully.
Once again I need to remind you of what our church’s Confession of Faith says and how it explains that the threats contained in God’s law show us what our sins deserve and what afflictions we may expect ‘in this life’ when we disobey God’s law. Now, we need to notice that whatever afflictions God may send when we continue in our sin, without confessing it or turning from it, are in this life only, because whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will never be eternally condemned. Believers need not fear eternal punishments, because Christ has saved every believer from God’s eternal wrath.
Nevertheless, the Lord may still send afflictions on us in this life if we do not turn from our sins, but continue in them. But if he does so, he doesn’t do so as an angry judge who wants to punish us. No, he does it as a loving father, who wants to discipline his wayward children for our good. Remember Proverb 3?
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
The Lord reproves, he rebukes, and disciplines the one he loves. When the rain did not fall in Israel, it was not so much a sign of God’s wrath, but of his love, because he wanted his wayward children to come back to him. And when the Lord disciplines his people today, it’s not a sign of his wrath, but of his love, because he wants his wayward children to come back to him.
On the other hand, our church’s Confession of Faith explains that the promises contained in the law show us what blessings we can expect to receive from the Lord. We can never deserve or merit these blessings, just as the Israelites did not deserve or merit them. But instead, we receive them from our loving Father as his gracious reward. The Lord was not obligated in any way to send rain on the land of Israel to water their crops. But he was willing to give them rain as a gracious reward when they were obedient to him. And the Lord is under no obligation to us, but he presents us with the promise of reward to motivate us and to stir us to greater obedience.
Section 3 and Conclusion
That helps us to understand the significance of, not only the second main section of today’s passage, but also the third main section, which is verses 26 to 32. Moses set before the people a blessing and a curse: the blessing for obedience; and the curse for disobedience. In the Promised Land, they were to proclaim the blessings on Mount Gerizim; and they were to proclaim the curses on Mount Ebal. They were to proclaim these things to motivate the people to obey the Lord.
And notice, of course, the note of grace, because Moses assures them in these verses that they will indeed go in and possess the land. The Lord was indeed giving it to them. It was his gift to them. And so, their obedience in the land was to be their grateful response to his kindness to them.
And God has promised you life in the Promised Land to come. He has promised you eternal life in the new heavens and earth. He has promised you eternal life on his holy hill, where all of God’s people will live in safety, forever and forever and where they will have fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in the presence of the Lord. He has promised it to you as his gracious and free gift.
And he’s able to give it to you and to all who trust in his Son, because the Lord Jesus Christ redeemed you from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for you. On the cross, he bore all the punishment you deserve for all the ways you have disobeyed God’s law. And so, he took the blame for you and he satisfied the justice of God on your behalf. He was condemned in your place and he paid the wages of your sin, which is death. And so, he suffered and died to secure your forgiveness and to bring you to God. He did all of that for you, so that, by believing in him, you may have eternal life and live with God forever and forever in glory. All who trust in him will never ever be eternally cursed or condemned, but will have eternal life.
And since God has promised you eternal life in the Promised Land to come — for the sake of Christ who died to bring you to God — then you must live your life for him. Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. That’s what he wants you to do in your daily lives. That’s how you show your gratitude to him. Love and obey him always.
And, of course, remember that the Lord has established the new covenant in his blood. And by that new covenant, God promises to fill you with his Spirit to enable you to love the Lord your God and to keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands. He not only commands your obedience, but he gives you his Spirit to help you obey. And so, once again we should give thanks to the Lord for his gracious provision, because for the sake of Christ our Saviour he gives us what we do not deserve.