My oldest son, Owen, is a freshman this year at Vernon College. One of his courses is on public speaking. As you might expect, one of the major requirements of this class is to prepare and deliver speeches. As he has done this, Owen has become more comfortable with and adept at speaking before groups of people. As the leader of the exodus, Moses often found himself addressing the all or parts of the congregation of Israel. With so much practice, is it any surprise that he became one of the greatest speakers in the entire Bible?
The book of Deuteronomy is primarily a collection of three written speeches or addresses that Moses delivered to his people during their encampment in Moab. These were likely delivered in a matter of days near the end of Moses’ life. Most of the content in this book is in quotations, with only minor non-spoken headings included between the orations. The word “Deuteronomy” actually means “repeated law” and is used because the it fits the main topic of Moses’ speeches. In these addresses he restates much of the law which was originally given to the first generation of Israel at Mt. Sinai and recorded in the book of Leviticus.
Though their is some redundancy, the book of Deuteronomy does contain a few additional laws and new material not found in Leviticus. However, for simplicity's sake, we can consider it to be basically a renewal of the previous vow. In other words, the sons and daughters of the first generation who are now on the the verge of invading the Promised Land are being called to recommit themselves to the covenant that their parents had made in Midian but failed to keep.
The three speeches recorded in the pages of Deuteronomy touch on differing topics. The first reviews the historical events of the exodus and celebrates God’s faithfulness to His people. The second, which is the longest of the three, restates much of the law that was given at Mt. Sinai. The third address calls the people to renew their commitment to God and His commands, promising and blessing or a curse dependent upon the people's’ choice.
This morning we will study a portion of Moses third speech - his final charge to the people of God. These are his last words to Israel. He knew that he would not be with them much longer, and would not being crossing over the Jordan himself. Thus, he set forth a tremendous challenge that would endure long after he was gone. His words still apply to Christians today just as they did to the assembly in Moab centuries ago.
I. THE CURSE (Deuteronomy 29:1-29)
After reviewing the laws, ordinances, and statutes that God had given to Israel, Moses begins to present the consequences that will come as a result of disobedience. He has seen and experienced firsthand how the first generation forsook these laws and invoked God’ judgment. Having wandered in the desert for almost 40 years under the heavy hand of the LORD, Moses foresees that these new generation will fail to keep their vow to God as well. Thus, he details some of the curses that will surely come in the future as a result of their disloyalty to God and the renewed covenant.
The LORD promises to curse those who walk in stubbornness, unwilling to repent, stating that He will not forgive them and that His anger will burn against them. Furthermore, God will single him out individually as a target for adversity. Collectively, God will curse the nation that forsakes Him and lives in disobedience. Its’ land will become as waste, desolate and unproductive. Plagues and various diseases will afflict it. Ultimately the people of the wayward nation will be uprooted and scattered, as it will fall under the yoke of foreign powers.
Simply stated, continual disobedience to God bring about the curse - His divine and righteous judgment upon sin. Moses prophesied that this would surely happen at some point to the people of Israel, because he understood the sinful nature of men.
II. THE BLESSING (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)
Despite the severity of the curses and Moses’ certainty that Israel will violate this covenant, He prophesies of a coming future when the people will return to God and be restored. Against this backdrop, Moses describes the abundant blessings that come with obedience to the LORD’s commands. The first is that God will gather those who have been scattered among the nations and bring them back to possess the land of Israel that He promised to them. Not only will they return, but will multiply and prosper them as His blessed and chosen people. God will again anoint the work of their hands and the fruitfulness of their land.
One of the most wonderful and unique aspects of this covenant it that the LORD promises to circumcise the hearts of those who obey him. In so doing, He inscribes the love of God into the hearts and souls of people. In other words, the covenant is more than merely a legalistic contractual agreement between two parties, but rather a loving relational commitment seared within the hearts of both God and man. The abundant blessings that flow will come not simply because they are the terms of the covenant, but because of the immeasurable and boundless love that emanates from the Father.
In short, God bless obedience. While Moses is acutely aware of man’s weakness and carnal nature, He is also confident in God’s strength and mercy. The LORD has the power to restore broken and sinful people. Though this covenant overtly ties blessings with good works, it also reveals the LORD’s willingness to forgive and restore His imperfect but repentant children. Stated another way, God doesn’t require perfection as the condition of blessing. He blesses those who loving follow Him, though on occasion they surely stumble and fall.
III. THE CHOICE (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
Having set before the congregation the commands of God, and having explained the blessings and curses that are associated with them, Moses now make his final charge to the people. He presents them with a choice between life and death, between the blessing and the curse. As he does so, Moses urges them to choose life though he undoubtedly knows that most will not.
Some teachers have interpreted this to be an evangelical passage referring to the choice between salvation and eternal life in heaven and condemnation or eternal death in hell. While not discounting this view completely, I think that Moses is speaking more about the temporal blessings and curses that we receive in this life. The people being addressed are not pagans who need to hear about God - they are already God’s chosen people and are quite familiar with Him. Moses is not exhorting a group of lost people to come to salvation. Rather, he is urging the children of God who already know Him to walk in obedience to Him,
When he charges the people of the exodus to choose life, Moses is actually calling them to walk in obedience. He is calling them to actively and consciously choose to follow God by honoring and keeping His commandments.
We live in an age where “works” in theology is under fire because obedience is so unpopular. Some of these criticisms are justified, but not all of them. Clearly, the New Testament teaches that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the theme of the new covenant, and is clearly taught in numerous places and in various ways in the writings of the apostles. The only way that any person can be saved is through the grace of God, because no human can obey the law of God perfectly - Moses understood this 1500 years before the coming of Christ. Whatsmore, God graciously loves people even when they sin.
That said, do our works matter at all? Do they have any relevance or connection to Christians today? Absolutely yes! There is much said about the relationship between a true saving faith and the works that accompany it - particularly in the book of James. We must understand that though the blessings and curses that were spoken to Israel in Moab may take on different connotations and forms for us today, they still come as a result of our obedience and/or disobedience. Look at the condition of America, and tell me that she is not suffering as a result of disobedience to God!
In conclusion, what we does matters and there are real consequences that come as the result of our behaviors - disobedience comes with a steep price. And so, like Moses, I urge those listening to my voice today to love God, to walk in obedience to His commandments, and to hold fast to Him. Choose life (that is obedience), that you and your descendants after you might live under the lavish and bountiful blessings of our magnificently wonderful LORD.