Monday, 17 March 2014

(77) March 18: Deuteronomy 29-30 & Mark 16

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note what is predicted about Israel’s future.

To ponder:
This covenant is “in addition” to that at Horeb (29v1). Its structure is the same, but detailing actual life in the land to the next generation. When referring to the Mosaic or “old” covenant, we are therefore referring to two agreements that combine to make one overall agreement (29v25).
            As previously, the present generations’ witness of God’s acts of deliverance and provision are appealed to as testimony that the LORD is God and to be obeyed. Significantly, we learn that God has not enabled Israel to “understand” what they’ve seen. The language of verse 4 looks to Jesus’ description of why people don’t recognise the significance of his feeding the four and five thousand (Mk 8v18). The point is the same. We should realise that Jesus is “the LORD” our God.
            It is stressed that Israel are in God’s “presence” as they are exhorted to “carefully follow the terms of this covenant.” He is witness to their commitment, and “seals” (guarantees) the covenant with “an oath” for future generations too.
            Once more Israel are warned against idolatry. Indeed, they are to keep one-another from turning away from the LORD, ensuring “no root” grows up to “poison” the community (as Heb 12v15).
            In particular, the people are warned against the self-delusion of assuming the covenant means they are “safe” even though they go “their own way.” Such people should instead be sure this will bring disaster on the land, and they will suffer God’s burning wrath and zeal, being “singled out” for disaster according to the covenant curses. This rebukes the assumption so prevalent in Jesus’ day and that so easily arises within the church.
            A prophetic description of Israel’s future follows: Future generations and foreigners will see the “calamities” that fall on the land. Ironically, it will be like Sodom and Gomorrah, which represented God’s judgement on Gentile sin. The nations will ask “why”? And the response will be that Israel “abandoned” God’s covenant, provoking his wrath.
Verse 29 affirms that mystery surrounds God’s purposes in all this, but that what he has revealed is to encourage Israel’s obedience. When scattered amongst the nations people will “take to heart” what’s happened, perhaps by recalling these words. They will return to the LORD and obey him wholeheartedly; and he will then restore them in compassion, and even “circumcise” their hearts so that they and their descendents “love” him and so “live,” obeying him and therefore prospering because he “delights” in them. This looks to the new covenant work of rebirth by the Holy Spirit (Ezek 36v25-34, Jer 31v31-35, Rom 2v29), in which sin is “cut off” from the heart, setting the person apart for God just as circumcision set them apart from the nations.
  As stated in verse 4, it is therefore only God who can make obedience possible. So it is not “beyond reach” requiring Israel to ascend to heaven as Moses on the mountain or cross a sea as the people did the red sea. It is “near” because God is near: in their “mouth” as they teach one-another his commands, and their “heart” if they look to him to do the inner work he promised. Paul points out this is essentially the gospel in which the Christian confesses God’s lordship in Christ, and believes he raised Jesus (Rom 10v5-10), implying faith in all that means for renewed inner life (Rom 6v4). Therefore, where Moses solemnly calls “heaven and earth as witnesses” in charging Israel to choose life (with echoes of Eden) so that she and her children “may live,” we should hear the call to “love”, “listen to”, and “hold fast” to Christ.
Praying it home:
Thank God for his work of regeneration by the Spirit that enables us to love and obey him. Pray that you would be faithful in seeking to keep not just yourself but others from turning away from the Lord.

Thinking further:
Ezek 36v25-34 and Jer 31v31-35 suggest regeneration or rebirth in its fullest sense is a new covenant work of God in which he permanently recreates our hearts so that they love and obey him in a way old covenant believers were never able to (John 7v37-39). Nevertheless, Deuteronomy 30v14 hints that God would always enable old covenant believers who look to him in faith, so that they could actually keep the covenant. This faith is exemplified in David’s prayer in response to a realisation of his own sin: “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51v3-6, 10). This tells us once again that it is quite wrong to hold that the old covenant was about meriting God’s favour by obedience whereas the new is about receiving it through faith. In making provision for atonement, the old clearly didn’t require perfection. As with the new, its obedience was always to be an expression of faith in God’s promises that looked to him for that atonement and for any ability to obey. As all these things foreshadowed Christ, it was therefore ultimately faith in him.

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