Our reading begins today with the promise of blessing for obedience. Let us remember the promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis 12:2-3:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…
Here we see the promise of that blessing being remade to the nation of Israel (28:1-14), along with the promise to curse those who dishonor them (v. 7). God’s blessing is to make successful whatever Israel does. But unlike with Abraham, we see that curses are also threatened for Israel. This shows that the nation is not the true heir of the unconditional promises given to Abraham. The condition given to Israel here is obedience, particularly as touching idolatry (v. 14). The curse is that all of Israel’s efforts will be useless, because God will not bless them (v. 20). Their punishment will ultimately be death. This points to the ultimate punishment of spiritual death for all who fall under the curse of God.
Beginning in verse 36, God through Moses threatens removal from the land. They will be like the Canaanites they are about to dispossess. But some of the descriptions here are very specific, and they reveal exactly what will happen to Israel in the Babylonian captivity. Notice in verse 36 that God speaks very matter of fact about Israel having a king. This king will be taken captive. This is fulfilled in King Zedekiah (2 Kings 25 – see Ezek 17:12). The great locust swarm the prophet Joel speaks of may in view in verse 38 (see Joel 1:2-12). The description of the nation in verses 49-50 is Babylon, likened to an eagle by the prophets Jeremiah (Lam 4:19) and Habakkuk (Hab 1:8). While the Bible gives only a brief description of the siege and breach of the walls of Jerusalem by Babylon, extra-Biblical history reveals an extended siege (v. 52) that lasted so long, that food became so scarce that people resorted to eating their own children (v. 53). While this may sound harsh, it is not unlike the punishment God would work through Israel on the inhabitants of the land. It points to the ultimate punishment of hell for unbelief. In verse 68 is a symbolic threat for God to undo all the good He has done for Israel.
With the Law given, and the promise of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, the covenant is renewed (29:1). This is a conditional covenant, based on the gracious salvation God has already provided (vv. 2-3). Note in verse 4 that Moses tells Israel that they still doubt in their hearts. Notice how God is sovereign even over that. Moses calls Israel to realize that God has been giving them the blessings all along (v. 5). In verses 10-12, notice who may “enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God” (v. 12): not just Israel, but the sojourner and the slave (v. 11). They are together established as God’s people (v. 13). And note in verses 14-15 that God’s covenant is open – and very explicitly so – to those outside of physical Israel.
Beginning in verse 16, Moses reminds Israel not to be idolaters like the nations around them. God warns against allowing even one person in their midst that breaks the covenant (vv. 18-21). A little leaven leavens the whole lump. But notice beginning in verse 22 that the entire nation – the whole congregation – will bear the guilt of allowing it in their midst. I mean, He compares what He will do to them to Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 23)! In verses 25-26, we see that covenant breaking is equated with idolatry. And the punishment is removal from the land (v. 28).
Verse 29 is an important verse. There are things God has not revealed to His people. But what has been revealed is the basis for obedience. And it will be enough forever. In other words, what God has revealed is always enough and always will be. There are a few implications to this. For Israel at this point in history, they had seen enough and know enough to keep the covenant. But some of what was secret to them is not to us, as God has revealed more and more throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ and the written Word His Spirit inspired. So on this side of the cross, we have more than enough of God’s revelation to keep His covenant. The Reformers would point to this verse to try to quell any theorizing about what God has not revealed. Those things belong to God. The Word of God belongs to us.
In chapter 30, we see that disobedience, the subsequent curse, and removal from the land is now assumed by God (30:1). This will happen. But we see that through repentance, God will graciously restore them to the land (vv. 2-5). This points us to those who were formerly not in the presence of God entering into His presence through repentance and faith and entering into the New Covenant. That this is in view is made evident in verse 6 (see Jer 31:33-34). In verses 11-14, we see that the obedience God requires is attainable. And they do not have to ascend to heaven to find it. It will be brought from heaven by Christ (see Rom 10:6-8). In verse 15, we see that the options before Israel (before anyone) are really life and death. Notice how the promise in verse 16 echoes the creation mandate and the mandate to Noah.
Chapter 31 records the commission of Joshua to lead Israel after Moses’ death. In verse 9 we see that Moses inscripturated the Law (this may be the original manuscripts of Exodus – Deuteronomy!). Moses commands Israel to read the whole law every seventh year (v. 10). God then calls Moses and Joshua into His presence for Joshua’s commissioning (v. 14). In verse 16, God tells Moses that Israel is going to fail (see also v. 20). So God teaches Moses a song (that we will see tomorrow) which is meant to be a witness to them for when they have broken the covenant. In verse 23, God commissions Joshua and promises to be with Him. Moses knows that Israel cannot keep the covenant (vv. 27-29). And that is the point. Throughout, God has pointed His people to the better covenant that He will make with them. The Mediator of that covenant – the Prophet like Moses – He will provide the ultimate blessing to the true offspring of Abraham.