Tag Archives: Law & Commandments

Contract or Covenant

“You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”” (Malachi 2:17 ESV)

The people have wearied the Lord by accusing Him of being unjust and uninvolved.  It is funny that the eternal God of the universe would describe Himself as being “wearied,” for our God never sleeps (Psalm 121:3).  The people were back in the land and had rebuilt the temple, but they were still under foreign rule, were insignificant on the global stage and prosperity was nowhere to be found.  They looked around at other, pagan, nations and saw their prosperity and they were bitter.  They reckoned that God was not upholding His end of the bargain – the part where He promised to bless them (Deuteronomy 27-28).

The entire book of Malachi is addressing the people’s low view of God.  A low view of God and an elevated view of ourselves always produces bitterness.  This is because God is there to serve us & meet our needs because we have done our part.  This is contractual language, not covenantal language.  We have paid our rent, done our part, followed the rules and now God is letting down His end of the bargain.  That is exactly where the people are – they are going through the religious motions and “doing their part” and God was not blessing them.  They were so blind and calloused that they could not even understand God’s dissatisfaction with them.  The weren’t loving God with their heart, mind & strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) – they were loving themselves.  They didn’t want God, they only wanted what God could give them. 

If you find yourself struggling with bitterness, is it because you believe that God owes you something that He has not delivered because you have prayed & obeyed?  In the gospel, we get God – that’s it; we get reconciled with the God of the universe and we become family.  Disappointment and difficulty are part of life, but we need to beg God to get us to a place where we no longer believe that He owes us anything.  He does not and yet He gracious provides all that we need.  Lord, help us to see you as you really are!

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Need is all that you need

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”(Deuteronomy 30:11–20 ESV)

If you have been in the church for a while, then you have likely heard this passage used as a charge for you to walk in obedience.  It certainly is that!  It certainly is a call to obey the Lord’s commands, but what is in view is not some white knuckled, hard fought self reliant form of sanctification.  NO!  Obedience is only possible with new hearts.  It is only by trusting in God’s grace that you will find the fuel to obey His commands.  It is not too hard if the heart has been regenerated.  This text looks forward to a day when the word is in their hearts & mouths so that they would obey (14).  The circumcised heart enables obedience (30:6).  Paul quotes this passage in Romans 10:6-8 to distinguish between a righteousness that comes by faith versus dutiful obedience to the law.  God’s requirement is not superhero like works, but faith in the gospel.  Dependence is all you need; need is all that you need.  Joyful obedience flows from hearts that have been made new.

The options before them were clear and the consequences of their actions were clear, but they didn’t obey – they couldn’t obey rightly.  They did not have believing hearts.  God is not after just any type of obedience, He is after a certain kind of obedience.  God is after loving hearts that overflow in joyful obedience (v16).  Obedience without love is not real obedience – it is external compliance, which does not glorify God.  Moses gives them a choice at the summit of His preaching – it really is about trusting in the goodness, sovereignty & grace of God and walking in glad submission to the Lord of the universe (15-16).

If, however, your heart turns away & your ears become hard of hearing and you worship other gods then you will perish (17-18).  Love, affection & desire are at the heart of man; the very essence of a man is what he decides is worthy of his worship.  We become like that which we worship (Psalm 63:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18).  Moses says that life & death was before them and he implored them to choose life (19-20)!  Life consists of loving God, trusting God & obeying God.  Life comes from Christ and Christ alone (John 10:10).  Jesus is the One that perfectly obeyed the law as a result of His perfect love for God.  He then gave us His perfect obedience and took our sinful rebellion upon Himself in what has been called the “Great Exchange.”  If you are a Christian, then striving to please God is done – God is pleased with you because of the perfect obedience that Jesus gave to you.  You can stop striving and begin walking in joyful submission to the commands of God because you no longer have to earn or prove anything because Jesus victoriously proclaimed, “It is Finished!” (John 19:30)

The need for new hearts

“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.”
(Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 ESV)

The Israelites problem was their hard, unbelieving hearts.  This is a major focus of Deuteronomy – God is not after mere dutiful obedience, He is after our joyful submission overflowing from grateful hearts.  The people did not have these kinds of hearts because God had not given them believing hearts.  But God, being rich in mercy, promises to give them hearts that obey – new hearts, hearts of flesh rather than hearts of stone.  Only with new hearts are we able to enjoy a covenant relationship with the Creator.

This involves God writing His laws on our hearts which produces relational intimacy (Jeremiah 31:33), and hearts of flesh that allow us to walk in true obedience (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  Those that are truly His are not based on external heritage & race – it is those who have circumcised hearts wrought by the Spirit (Romans 2:25-29 & Colossians 2:11).  Circumcision was an external sign of the covenant, but this was merely an outward picture of the inward reality of our need for circumcised hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16).  Circumcision symbolizes the removal of our stubbornness that prevents us from loving God rightly (which is the first & greatest commandment – see Deuteronomy 6:5).   This is the same as uncircumcised lips that do not speak well (Exodus 6:12) or uncircumcised ears that do not hear well (Jeremiah 6:10).   We are a stiff-necked, rebellious & stubborn people apart from the regenerating, faith depositing grace of God (here).

The book of Deuteronomy readily points out that the people need new hearts – hearts that obey, but this is not something that they can produce on their own – they need God to do it in them (Deuteronomy 30:6, 29:4).  Only those whose hearts have been made new are truly His – external rituals, signs & obedience are not enough; new hearts are required (Jeremiah 4:4 & 9:25-26 & Romans 2:25-29).  Faith springs forth from a regenerated heart.

If you are a Christian, it is not because you prayed a prayer or walked an aisle.  If you are Christian, it is because God graciously determined before He made anything (Ephesians 1:4-6) that He would make your dead heart alive (Ephesians 2:4-6, Colossians 2:3, 1 Peter 3:18).  It is because of His sovereign choosing, not because of you being spiritually attuned to God or seeking after Him.  We don’t seek God (Romans 3:11, 10:3), He seeks us (Luke 15:4-10, 19:10).  When we realize that our best efforts are but filthy rags before a perfectly holy Creator (Isaiah 64:6), we are moved to cry out for mercy.  When we realize that our faith is the result of God’s regenerating work in our hearts, then our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude & appreciation and we worship.  Be thankful today that He chose to regenerate your heart not because of anything that you did, but solely because of His goodness & grace.

Being okay with your smallness

““You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the LORD has made it sick— the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath— all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’” (Deuteronomy 29:16–28 ESV)

Beware lest just one person’s heart turns away and chases other gods and idols.  Apparently, idolatry is contagious.  Pride & hardness of heart will lead a person to the point at which he (or she) says, ““I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” (Deuteronomy 29:19 ESV).  WOW, what arrogance & pride; I’ll walk in disobedience because I am the master of my own fate, master of my own soul.  God’s response to this outright rebellion is wrath.  He will not sit idly by, while His chosen people mock Him openly!  This is rooted in the justice, holiness & jealousy of God.  He has rights on their souls (and ours) and He had been profoundly merciful & gracious towards His people (and towards us), but there is a point at which He exacts justice because He will not allow His people to tread on His holiness.  Mass destruction of the land will ensue because of the people’s rebellion and their neighbors will want to know why God did such a thing.  The answer:  ““It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 29:25 ESV).  The Christian is safe from these curses because a Substitute obeyed perfectly on our behalf. 

What is ironic is that they had no relationship with these false gods, and yet they chased after them thinking that they would produce soul satisfaction (v25-26).  God is completely involved with His people – He cares & is connected, He is not some distant deity!  He is close!  And yet, created gods which are no gods at all, hold power in the hearts of the people.  God, protect us from chasing created gods thinking that they will satisfy our souls!

Verses 24-28 anticipates the people’s rebellion & idolatry as they break the first commandment and chase after other gods!  Chapter 28 weighed blessings & curses, but now it seems apparent that the author anticipates the people’s rebellion because “the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV).  These are strong words that show us that apart from God’s divine intervention, we will not be able to obey.  Yes, unless the Spirit regenerates the motivations of your heart, you will not be able to believe & obey.  This is no white knuckled effort, this is dependent grace that glorifies God.

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV).  God has some secrets that He has chosen not to reveal to us and we are going to have to be okay with that.  We are going to have to trust that He is faithful, good & sovereign.  We are going to have to admit that we aren’t unlimited in our understanding & perspective.  This means that even when I don’t fully understand, I’m called to obey.  This is not mechanical obedience; my obedience is rooted in a relationship of trust, not in trying to earn God’s approval because it has already been earned.  I must walk by faith & not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) because my eyes always fail me, for there is a way that seems right to me, but it really leads to death (Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25).  Lord, help me to recognize my limitedness and help me to walk in joyful obedience, trusting in your goodness & grace.

God, give us believing hearts

“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4 ESV)

The Israelites had been witnesses of the loving care, miraculous power & sovereign rule of God and yet they did not have seeing eyes, hearing ears or understanding hearts.  They had wandered in the desert and their clothes & shoes had not worn out, God had defeated kings and given them their land (29:5-9).  Their obedience was designed to flow out of grateful hearts that remembered their God & His faithfulness to them.  It is easy for us to look down on the Israelites for their unbelief – after all they saw God do mighty miracles with their own eyes!  We ought to be careful with our self-righteousness, because unbelief is our problem as well (“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV), see also 1 John 3:23).  Jesus alludes to unbelief by using the same analogy of having a hearing problem (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 12 & 23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).

Why didn’t the people obey?  Because the Lord had not given them believing hearts.  Unless the Lord opens our eyes, ears & hearts, we will remain blind, deaf & cold towards Him.  God is the one who opens hearts (Acts 16:14), and enables faith by the regenerating power of His Spirit; our only contribution is the sin that makes reconciliation necessary.  One of the major themes of Deuteronomy is Israel’s need for right hearts; it foreshadows the people’s inability to respond rightly to God (Deuteronomy 5:29, 8:17, 9:4).  It looks forward to a day when God would give His people new hearts (10:16, 30:6), which is a theme that is continued throughout the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Our greatest need is not more impact, influence, morality or even obedience.  Our greatest need are hearts that truly believe the seemingly impossible promises of God.  The Central Promise of the bible is that a good, perfect, holy & all powerful God would make a way for His rebellious creatures to be reconciled into a relationship with Him.  The staggering implications of this should mark our entire lives.  The more that we understand that we are far more sinful than we first thought, but the gracious sacrifice of God in Christ covers our ongoing apathy & rebellion, the more that we walk in dependent humility.  A deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel shatters self-righteousness which is rooted in our own performance & morality.

Let us abandon our propensity of pretending to be godly, and let us actually pursue godliness.  Let us beg God to give us faith to believe, for we cannot produce this on our own.  God, take our far too small faith & multiply it, we do believe, but help us with our unbelief (Mark (9:21-24); help us to behold you for who you really are and cause us to become more like you (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Singular devotion, first affection

““If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deuteronomy 13:6–11 ESV)

Loving God with our whole heart precedes the closest of human relationships (siblings, children, spouse or friend).  In this passage, if someone close tries to draw their affections & obedience after a false god then they were not to follow them, listen to them, pity them, spare them or conceal them.  This is radical in a culture where high value was placed upon family.  Singular devotion to God comes before family.

Radical measures are again called for when they are called to stone the tempter, and they are called to be the first one to cast the stone!  Imagine casting a stone against your sister, husband, child or best friend.  The standard of God’s holiness is HIGH.  Do we pursue holiness with this fervor today?  Do we aggressively eradicate the idols in our midst today?  

Singular devotion is of such importance that He instructs the people to completely destroy  one of their own cities if it is given over to following other gods (v 12-15).  Are we this violent with the competing affections in our hearts?  Probably not!  God longs to bless His people by showing them His mercy & grace (v 17-18).  But, the people must obey God – obedience starts with loving the Lord with all of our hearts and not having any other gods. 

They were never able to obey out of a heart of love and we persistently fail also.  Thankfully Someone did obey perfectly out of a heart of love.  He not only took our sin, but also gave us His perfect obedience so God continually showers us with mercy & grace.  Thank God for a substitute.  Be thankful that His grip on & delight in you is not contingent upon your grip on & delight in Him.  Your spiritual performance does not direct His love, approval & affection for you; Jesus imputed that to you so you can stop striving!

Cooling affections

““If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 13:1–5 ESV)

This section warns the Israelites not to listen to or follow prophets who do miracles and tells them to follow & serve other gods!  This seems easy and straight forward to us, but at this point in history the scriptures had not been fully given to the people so prophets played a major role in God revealing His will to His people.  The Israelites were called to follow God (who was familiar), to fear God, to obey God and to hold fast to God.  In the western world, there is little cost to count for this, but for the Israelites it would be their lives and their very existence.

God calls them to take radical steps to purge the evil in their midst, in this case a false prophet.  That false prophet shall be put to death!  Scripture always paints the removal of evil & the killing of sin (mortification) in violent ways.  It paints pictures and uses words like murder, annihilation, mutilation & amputation (Colossians 3:1-11, Matthew 5:29-30 & 26:41).  This was physical for the Israelites – a picture of what we should pursue in our walk with the Lord.

We tend to minimize our sins & idols as “not being that big of a deal.”  But, God’s standard is holiness and He is completely devoted to conforming His children into the image of His Son.  Far too often we are content to bring our sins & idols into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:3) where we dream about them, place our trust in them & rely upon them for our well being in life.  In short, we worship them.  Killing sin always starts in our hearts and is aimed at ripping out the things that we have come to rely upon for our identity, safety, well being (emotional, physical or spiritual) – the things that we have placed our hope for deliverance in.  When things get ripped out of our hearts, pain is involved because a part of us is dying.  Dying is painful.  But the person who is willing to endure the pain will find true life, abiding joy & deep satisfaction (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).

What tugs at your hearts affections?  Do you find your affection for the Lord cooling, while your affections for other things warming?  We must flee those things that create competing affections in our hearts.  This is done practically by removing ourselves from the situation & exposure, and by cultivating a deeper love for God.  The answer is to see God more clearly (sovereign, holy, merciful, good, gracious) so that the things that vie for our affections become less attractive because they pale in comparison.

A deceived heart

“Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16 ESV).

The warning to guard their heart comes back up again (see 8:11-17).  It seems that abundance has a way of drawing the heart away from the Almighty.  In this situation, it is likely that the Israelites would attribute the bountifulness of the land to the Canaanite’s fertility god.  Allowing their heart’s affections to be pulled off of their God and placed upon another will enrage God, Who has been so long suffering & gracious toward a persistently rebellious people.  We aren’t much different today.

The risk of abundance & affluence has always been a danger to authentic faith; the heart looses its wonder with the provisions of God.  It begins to attribute the abundant blessings to something else like hard work, intelligence, education, savvy, etc.  When this happens the heart’s affections are pulled off of God and placed upon something else – something else becomes the object of our worship.  How do we battle this?  We go to the Scriptures to see God and We beg God to show us His sovereign majesty.  We ask Him to imprint our souls with His goodness & faithfulness.  We seek to understand, at a deep heart level, that we are totally undeserving of the unearned affection of the Creator of the universe because our hearts are prone to want His good gifts far more than we want Him.  When we begin to understand and embrace these truths, our hearts will marvel at His goodness & grace towards us.

The outward expression of an inward reality

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5–9 ESV)

The laws, statues & commandments of Deuteronomy 6-11 should be viewed as the outward expression of the ultimate command:  to love God with all of your heart, soul & strength.  Obedience to the commands demonstrated that the people loved God.  The law was not given to save.  In the same way, we should strive to obey out of love rather than duty or obligation.  Jesus said the same thing – if you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).  This is not a way of earning Jesus’ blessing – this is an increasingly natural outflow of a heart that has a growing love for God.  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”” (John 14:21 ESV)

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 in Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27 and summarizes it by saying that to love God is the great and first commandment (Matthew 22:38).  The thought is completed by indicating that this is not some cognitive, head knowledge, but is to penetrate all the way to the heart.  We are to love God with every fiber of our being – all of our obedience was designed to flow out of a heart that loves God.  The work is to love God and the scripture addresses this from different angles – abide in Christ (John 15), our work is one of belief (John 6:29), as we behold Him we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18).  These are ways in which we grow in our love for God.  Loving God is not produced by our hard fought, white knuckled discipline – it is a Spirit wrought, utterly dependent, monergistic endeavor that glorifies God because we can’t produce it on our own.  Loving God involves our begging Him to produce in us that which we can not produce on our own.

God’s requirement for a heart that fully loves Him is seen throughout Deuteronomy as it is looking forward to a day when God will write His laws on the hearts of His people and they will worship Him with their new hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Romans 2:25-29, 8:14; Galatians 5:16, 18, 25; Colossians 2:11; Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:8-12, 9:9, 14 (purify our conscience), 10:1, 15-18, 10:22 (draw near with a true heart); Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:16, 29:4, 30:6-8).  Jesus fulfills this promise as He makes our dead hearts alive to God – He regenerates us.  We are not only to have these commands on our own hearts, but are to teach our children and those around us the same thing.  This is the foundation of discipleship.  Many of the Jews did this externally, but missed it internally.  How often do we pass down a code of moral conduct to our children that is void of a passionate love for God?  The thing(s) that we love, we talk about.  What do you love, really?

The awe of the Almighty

“Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV).

God knows the open rebellion that His people (and all people) will continue to walk in and the cost to buy back this rebellious lot.  The awe of the Almighty should leave an imprint on our souls that we fear and revere Him.  There should be a  growing awareness of the chasm between the eternally, holy, transcendent Creator and us which produces awe, admiration, reverence and obedience that flows out of a place of gratitude that He would make a way for us, not that He will “get us” if we don’t obey.  Please reveal your glory so that we may fear and follow.