One God – One Fundamental Choice
There is but one choice for those who know that there is but one God and that is to either obey or disobey. In this chapter Moses discusses the obligations of obedience, the motives for obedience, and the contrast of obedience to disobedience.
There is a threefold obligation to obedience. Three times in this chapter we see the phrase “you shall therefore.” In verse 1 we see, “You shall therefore love the Lord your God.” This is the primary responsibility in a covenant relationship. The thinking of some is unclear in the Old Testament in regard to law and grace, love and wrath, as if the Old Testament knew nothing of God’s grace and love. We see in the law that its stipulation flowed from and were initiated by God’s grace. God’s love is the foundation upon which all rest. Paul realized this in his statement that “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) When Jesus had given His great commandment He joined two Old Testament passages. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Of these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) These two combined passages come from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Another obligation of covenant living is “you shall therefore keep all the commandment.” The commandments of God were given to His people to enable them to live in the demands of the covenant they had entered into with God. But their relationship began before the commandments. (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6) The Ten Commandments or Ten Words were addressed to a redeemed community. Yet as all relationships the covenant relationship imposed demands upon the people. It was the demands of the covenant that formed the essence of the law.
Another obligation is “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart.” God’s people are to live out of the Word of God. This would be in response to God’s dynamic quality of creative redeeming power in their lives. There are no human conditions that occur outside of the boundaries of God’s Word. The obligation for obedience to God’s Word then should be clear to the believer. Believers are to love the Lord, keep His commandments, and treasure His Word.
We also see in this chapter that Moses gives us three sections on motivation for our obedience to God’s Word. In verses 1-8 we are motivated to obedience because of God’s discipline in history. Moses tells us to, “He is your praise and He is your God.” We learn the power of the Lord through historical events. The disciple of God will learn from history that they should respond in a positive way to the Lord’s commands. Moses illustrates this by the example of the freedom from bondage by the Egyptians. The Israelites experiences in the wilderness journey and the fate of those who were disobedient. The greatest of these factors for obedience is “your own eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did.”
In verses 8-17 we see the motivation of God’s blessing of the land. The Israelites fidelity to the Lord was clearly connected to their possessing the land, a long life in the land, the goodness of the land, rain in its season, and the grass of the fields. However one may view this there is a link between the good life and ones fidelity to the Word of the Lord.
The Israelites conquest of the Promised Land was related to their fidelity to God. “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.”
There is a contrast between obedience and disobedience and that is in terms of cursing and blessing. In the Scriptures a curse is more significant that than contemporary profanity. God’s Word is dynamic and will fulfill His commands. When the Lord blesses those blessings will surely come to pass. By the same truth that which the Lord curses will surely be cursed.
The alternatives for Israel is the same as it is for us today. Do we desire the blessings of the Lord and do we fall into His cursing? The choice is ours to make. In this chapter the alternatives are clear, a life of curses and filled with disasters, trials, and purposelessness or a life of God’s blessing so richly described throughout the Scriptures.
We have seen in Deuteronomy chapters 5-11 a glimpse of God’s character and man’s responsibility to God. In chapter five we have seen the character of God and chapters 6-11 the conduct of man. In chapter 6 there is to be one faithful fellowship, chapter 7 there is one people for God, chapter eight is one source of live, chapter 9 to 10:11 one source of success, chapter 10:12-22 one ultimate relationship, and in chapter 22 one fundamental choice.
The Demands of Covenant Living
What does it mean to be the people of God, living in covenant relationship with Him and other persons? To a significant degree, this question may be answered by our examining the legal section of Deuteronomy. (12-16) Here the writer collected laws appropriate to defining the nature of covenant expectations. Often Old Testament laws have been interpreted as negative, burdensome impositions on human freedom. But such an interpretation, even in the New Testament, often was much more influenced by the perversion of the law in later Judaism than by an understanding of the relationship of covenant and law in early Israel. For the law was not a personal burden to be borne, not as God provided it as covenant stipulations in the beginning of Israel’s covenant experience. Rather, the law was like a light guiding Israel to embody in history what covenant relationships implied for personal and corporate living.
It would be impossible within the limitations of space imposed for this study to consider each stipulation in isolation in great detail. How then can we study such an extensive collection of laws? First, we might isolate different themes for the broad areas within the legal section. Second, within those larger areas we may develop subsidiary themes. Then we would have a reasonably clear understanding of the major concerns of the legal section and could turn to special studies of Deuteronomy to study individual laws with greater detail. Following this pattern, within the fifteen chapters of the legal section, it is possible to isolate seven basic demands for covenant living: purity in worship, (12:1 to 17:7) acknowledging authority, (17:8 to 18:22) justice in criminal cases, (19:1-21) humanitarian conduct in welfare, (20:1 to 21:14) morality in conduct, (21:1 to 25:18) responsibility in worship and social concern, (26:1-15) and fidelity to the covenant. (26:16-29) Throughout these sections there is a consistent emphasis on exhortation, appealing to Israel to embody the stipulations on covenant living. In Deuteronomy the law is more than a mere listing or codification. It is an urgent, moving appeal which exhorts people to respond. Simply stated, it is a preached law.
Preaching on Purity of Worship
As stressed throughout the book of Leviticus, holiness was central both to Old Testament worship and to Old Testament life. Because God was “wholly other” than persons or places, persons were to worship Him in ways that reflected that holiness. God could be approached only at particular places and in prescribed ways.
Covenant living affirms that worship is central for a person’s life and that it is consistent with the nature and character of God. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the first concern for covenant living focuses on worship. (12:1 to 17:7) Four themes are central to the Deuteronomic concern for purity of worship: the holiness of worship, (12-13) the holiness of worshipers, (14:1-21) the holiness of structures, (14:22 to 17:1) and the fate of the apostate. (17:2-7)
The Central Sanctuary
God wanted worship to be carried out only in the place where He had established His name. For Israel, this place was the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem.
God is transcendent and omnipresent, yet He chose one place for Israel to worship Him. Solomon later asked how the God of heaven could be housed in a human structure. (1Kings 8:27) The answer is that God’s name stands in His place. The Tabernacle and then the Temple belonged to Him and bore His name, so they were, in a sense, His dwelling places. In the ancient Near East, names were more than labels: They represented the character and nature of the named individual. (Genesis 27:36; Matthew 1:21; Acts 4:36; John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 9:5) Thus the ancient Hebrew sage could advise, “Choose a good reputation over great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1)
God made His home in a sanctuary that bore His name. His glorious presence manifested in fire and cloud during the wilderness wanderings served as a constant reminder that His name was there (Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11) and that He was at home among His people. (John 1:14; John 2:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; Revelation 21:22)