The people of Israel are camped in the desert on the east side of the River Jordan, across from Jericho. They’re right on the edge of the Promised Land and are about to enter it. And ever since Deuteronomy chapter 5, Moses has been going over the law of the Lord with them to make clear God’s will for them and how they should live as his people in the Promised Land. So, in chapter 5, he repeated the Ten Commandments. Then, in chapters 6 to 26, he explained the Ten Commandments and he applied them to life in the Promised Land at that time. And then, in chapter 27, he said to them that when they cross the River Jordan, they had to do two things. They had to set up stones with the law written on them to remind them of God’s law and what he required of them. But they also had to set up an altar to present burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. And while the stones represented the law, the altar represented the gospel and the good news of God’s willingness to pardon their sins for the sake of Christ, who was coming into the world to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins.
And then, in chapter 28, we had the blessings and the curses. So, when they enter the Promised Land, six of the tribes were to stand on one mountain to pronounce blessings on the people; and six of the tribes were to stand on another mountain to pronounce curses on the people. These were blessings for obedience and these were curses for disobedience. So, if they obeyed the Lord in the Promised Land, they could expect to receive blessings, good things, from the Lord. But if they were disobedient, they could expect to receive curses, bad things, from the Lord.
Having made clear God’s will for them, and having heard the blessings they can expect to receive for obeying the Lord, and the afflictions they can expect to suffer for disobeying him, the people are now in a position to renew the covenant with the Lord. And that’s what chapters 29 and 30 are about: the people are renewing the covenant which the Lord has made with them 40 years previously at Mount Sinai.
Now, do you remember? A covenant is a relationship based on a promise. For instance, marriage is a covenant, because when a man and a woman are married, they make promises to one another and enter into a new married relationship. And back at Mount Sinai, the Lord and the Israelites made promises to one another: God promised to be their God and to take care of them; and they promised to be his people and to do everything he said. That took place 40 years previously at Mount Sinai.
But that first generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt and who entered into the covenant with the Lord died in the wilderness. And so, there’s a new generation now. And they’re the ones who are camped in the desert on the east side of the River Jordan, across from Jericho. They’re the ones who are about to enter the Promised Land. But before they cross the river to enter the land, it’s necessary for them, this new generation, to renew the covenant with the Lord.
And so, we read in verse 1 that these are the terms of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, where they were camped, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb. Horeb was another name for Mount Sinai. So, verse 1 of chapter 29 refers to the earlier covenant made at Sinai and to the renewal of the covenant which they were about to make at Moab. Verse 1 also refers to the terms of the covenant. That’s a reference to everything we’ve been reading from chapter 5 onwards, because the Ten Commandments, and the explanation of the Ten Commandments and the blessings and curses are the terms of the covenant. In modern day contracts, all the terms and conditions are set out plainly on paper so that you can consult them to see what your obligations are under this agreement. In the same way, Moses set out plainly all the terms and conditions of the agreement they’re making with the Lord. The Lord has made clear what their obligations are. And now they’re to accept the terms and renew the covenant.
In verses 2 to 8, Moses summarised once again all that God has done for them. He refers to all that God did to the Pharaoh in Egypt in order to rescue them from their captivity. He refers to the trials and signs and wonders which the Lord performed. Think of the ten great plagues which the Lord performed on behalf of his people. And then, jump to verse 5, where Moses points out to the people that the clothes they wore and their sandals did not wear out in the wilderness. Clothes and shoes — especially clothes and shoes which we wear often — do not normally last 40 years. But the Lord miraculously persevered their clothes and shoes the whole time they were in the wilderness. ‘You ate no bread and drank no wine or fermented drink.’ In other words, they didn’t have bread or wine to drink. Where were they going to get bread and wine in the wilderness? But again, the Lord miraculously provided for them, sending them manna to eat every day and bringing water from the rock to quench their thirst.
So, they’re about to enter into a covenant with the Lord; and Moses is pointing out to them how the Lord has already cared for them. And then, in verse 7, Moses reminded them of the time when Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to attack them. But the Israelites defeated them and the Israelites were able to take their land and give it to some of the tribes of Israel. And the reason they were able to defeat Sihon and Og was because the Lord was with them to help them.
So, Moses summarised all that God has done for them. But look now at verse 4 where Moses said to them:
But to this day, the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.
Moses is saying that though they hard been surrounded with evidence of God’s power and goodness, they hadn’t yet understood what God had done for them. Think of an infant who receives one good thing after another from his parents, because his parents feed him and dress him and clean him and move him from place to place. The infant receives all these good things from his parents, but because he’s only an infant, he doesn’t understand or realise how these things happen and where this food comes from and where these clothes come from. And the Israelites have been like that: they’re received all these good things from the Lord, but they’re haven’t understood where these things have come from.
And that’s what people are like in every generation. The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hand. Day after day they speak to every person around the world and they say to us that God is great and God is good. But people don’t get it. Or, as Paul says in Romans 1, since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. And yet, although men and women know God, they neither glorify him or give thanks to him. Everything around us speaks to us of God and his glory. But men and women don’t get it. Their hearts are hard and their eyes are blind and their ears are deaf to the glory of God which is displayed all around them. And that’s what the Israelites were like. The NIV refers to their minds in verse 4, but Moses is really referring to their hearts. To this day, the Lord has not given them a heart that understands.
What is needed, of course, is a new heart. And we’re going to get to that in a moment. But for now, Moses complained that despite all that they have witnessed, they still haven’t understood what God has done for them.
But let’s move on now to verses 9 to 15 where Moses makes clear that God was entering into a covenant with all of them: with their leaders and chief men and with their elders and officials and with the other men of Israel, together with their children and wives and even with the aliens, or foreigners, who were living among them. All of them are included in the covenant; and God is promising all of them that he will be their God. This is the same covenant he made with their forefathers, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And he’s not only making it with them, but he’s making it with future generations. That’s the point of verses 14 and 15, where Moses refers to those who are not here today. He’s referring there, not to people who didn’t turn up because they were sick or had other things to do. He’s referring to future generations. God’s promise was with that generation and with their children after them. The Lord was committed to them and to their descendants; and his love for them and his faithfulness extended down through the years to future generations.
But, of course, the people must remain faithful to him. And that’s what verses 16 to 29 are about, where Moses warns them about idolatry. So, when they were in Egypt, they saw the detestable images and the idols of wood and stone and silver and gold which the Egyptians worshipped. So, make sure that none of you turns away from the Lord and turns instead to one of those false gods. In verse 18 he refers to a root that produces bitter poison to convey the idea that idolatry will spread like a poisonous weed, so they must be careful not to let idolatry grow in their midst.
And Moses imagines one of the Israelites, hearing God’s word, and apparently agreeing to the terms of the covenant, but he has no intention of abiding by the covenant. He will persist in going his own way. But if anyone thinks like that and acts like that, then it will mean disaster for him, because the curses of the Lord will fall on him and the Lord will afflict him because of his rebellion and sin. If the person is unrepentant, the Lord will not forgive him and his wrath will burn against the man, who continues to rebel against the Lord. The Lord will single him out for disaster, according to the terms of the covenant, which promises blessings for obedience, and curses and affliction and trouble for disobedience. So, Moses is warning the people to remain faithful to the Lord and to the terms of the covenant.
But in the following verses, Moses anticipates a time when the whole land will be under God’s curse. And so, he refers to calamities that will fall on the land and diseases which will afflict them. In verse 23 he describes a time when the whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulphur, where nothing is planted and where nothing is sprouting and where no vegetation is growing. He anticipates that the land will become like Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim which the Lord overthrew in his anger. Admah and Zeboiim were located near Sodom and Gomorrah and were presumably destroyed at the same time. And Moses anticipates a time when people will come from other nations and they will ask:
Why has the Lord done this to this land?
Why this fierce, burning anger? And the answer will be: it’s because the Lord’s people abandoned the covenant of the Lord. Though they agreed to do everything the Lord commanded, nevertheless they went off and worshipped other gods. And so, because of their idolatry, the Lord’s anger burned against the land and he poured out on them all the curses he warned them about. In his great wrath, he uprooted the people from the land and sent them away into exile.
None of these things had happened yet. But Moses was warning them not to turn from the Lord and not to turn to other gods, otherwise these terrible things would happen. If they turn away from the Lord, disaster will come upon them. All the curses will fall on them. So, don’t do it. Remain faithful to the Lord. Love and serve him always.
But, of course, if you know your biblical history, you know that what Moses warned them about happened. Throughout the period of the judges, the people did evil in the sight of the Lord; and they turned away from him to worship false gods. And the Lord, in his anger, handed them over to their enemies. Things improved in the days of David, but later generations turned away from the Lord to worship false gods. Instead of trusting the Lord, they trusted the gods of the nations. Instead of obeying the Lord, they went their own way. And though the Lord sent them prophets to declare his word to his people and to call on them to repent, the people did not listen and they did not repent. And so, in the end, the Lord handed them over to their enemies. First the Assyrians and then the Babylonians came and destroyed their cities and took the people into exile; and the Promised Land was left desolate and abandoned. And people asked:
Why has the Lord done this to this land?
And the answer was that it happened because the people abandoned the covenant of the Lord and they turned away from him.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God. That’s what Moses said at the end of chapter 29. God has not revealed everything to us. But there are many things he has revealed to us and to our children. In particular, by giving us his law, he has revealed his will to us, how he wants us to live. So, the secret things belong to the Lord, but his law belongs to us and to our children, that we may follow all the words of the law. Moses was telling the Israelites that God had given them his law so that they might do it. But again and again and again, the Israelites disobeyed the Lord.
But in verses 1 to 10 of chapter 30, there’s the promise of restoration, isn’t there? Moses looks ahead to a time when all the curses had come on the people and they have been dispersed among the nations. And he also looks ahead to a time when the people and their children return to the Lord and obey him once again. When that time comes, the Lord will restore their fortunes and he will have compassion on them and he will gather them from the nations where he scattered them. Even if they’ve been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, the Lord will gather them from there and bring them back to the Promised Land. And he’ll even make them more prosperous and numerous than their fathers.
Again, if you know your biblical history, you’ll know that this took place as well, because after 70 years in exile, the people of Israel were allowed to return to the Promised Land in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The temple in Jerusalem and the walls of the city were rebuilt. And the people gathered for worship and do you remember? In Nehemiah 10 we read how they renewed the covenant with the Lord and bound themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the law of God and to obey carefully all of his commands.
However, do you remember from our studies in Ezra and Nehemiah that things were still not right even after the exile? In fact, it became clear that the people after the exile were no better than the people who were sent into exile. Like the people before the exile, the people after the exile were still sinners. And despite their promise to follow the law of the Lord and to obey carefully all his commands, they still disobeyed the Lord and went astray.
You see, they needed a better covenant than the old one which they were renewing. And the good news is that God announced through the prophet Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant with his people, a covenant that they would keep and would not break. And in this new covenant, he promised to forgive all their sins and to remember them no more. And he would write his law on their hearts and minds; and all of them would know him. And through the prophet Ezekiel, he promised to sprinkle them in order to cleanse them from their guilt. And he promised to give them a new heart to love him. And he promised to give them his Spirit to enable them to obey him. While his people were in exile, suffering the curses of God because they had broken the old covenant, the Lord promised his sinful people that one day he would enter into a new covenant with them, a better covenant, by which he would pardon their sins like never before; and fill them with his Spirit like never before; to enable them to love and obey him like never before.
And Moses anticipates that new covenant in what he says in verse 6 of Deuteronomy 30, because in verse 6 he says that the Lord will circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants. Circumcising their hearts is just another way of referring to the way he would give them a new heart. And he goes on to say that God will circumcise their hearts so that they would love the Lord with all their heart and soul. The curses they suffered will be taken from them and will fall on their enemies. And they will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands. And the blessing of the Lord will be on them.
In chapter 29, Moses said that the Lord has not yet given them a heart that understands. And so, despite all that God had done for them, they remained spiritually blind and hard and disobedient. But Moses looked ahead to a time when the Lord would give them a new heart to love him like never before and to obey him like never before. Moses was looking ahead to the time when God would make a new covenant with his people and when he would fill them with his Spirit to enable them to walk in his ways and to do his will.
And years later, the Lord Jesus gathered his disciples in the Upper Room for a meal. And during the meal, after sharing the bread with them, he took a cup of wine and he said:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
He was announcing the new covenant. The time for the new covenant had come, when God would pardon his people for their sins like never before; and when God would fill them his Spirit like never before; and when God would enable them to love and obey him like never before. The Lord Jesus shed his blood on the cross for the complete forgiveness of all our sins. Then he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which he has poured into our hearts. And the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and fills our hearts with love and enables us to love and to obey the Lord our God and to keep his law like never before.
Even as Moses renewed the covenant with the Israelites, which he knew they would not keep, he was looking ahead to the new covenant which was established in the blood of the Jesus Christ our Saviour, who gives us his Spirit to renew us and to make us more and more willing and able to obey the Lord our God.
In verses 11 to 20, Moses calls on the people to make a decision. He’s saying to them:
What’s it going to be? Life and prosperity or death and destruction?
Those who love the Lord and walk in his ways will have life and prosperity in the Promised Land. But those who turn from the Lord and disobey him will suffer death and destruction. So, what’s it going to be?
The answer is obvious, isn’t it? No one wants death and destruction. Everyone wants life and prosperity. But the problem is that by nature our hearts are hard and we’re not able to love the Lord or walk in his ways. We’re not able to obey him, because by nature we’re sinners who sin against the Lord continually. Therefore we all deserve death and destruction, the wrath and curse of God in this life and forever. That’s what we all deserve.
But the good news of the gospel is that for the sake of Christ, God is willing and able to pardon all who trust in his Son and seek his forgiveness. He is willing and able to pardon you, because Christ the Saviour bore the wrath and curse of God in place of sinners. He faced death and destruction so that whoever believes in him can have life and prosperity. And so, through faith in him, you are pardoned by God and accepted as righteous in his sight. Though you may have done everything wrong in your life, God regards you — if you trust in Christ and his perfect righteousness — as if you’ve done everything right. And because of Christ, he promises you eternal life and everlasting joy and pleasures forevermore in the life to come. And while you wait for that, he fills you with his Spirit to renew your heart and to enable you to love the Lord more and more and to do his will here on earth more and more.