11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it? 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (NRSV).
We have entered into the third speech of Moses with this stirring text. Beginning at 29.1 we hear Moses' farewell speech flow from his heart. This humble servant recalls the wondrous mighty acts of God (i.e. his amazing grace for Israel) all through chapters 29 and 30 . . . the Lord has indeed been gracious to his People. The Lord has proven himself not only a Redeemer but also Faithful to the faithless. This is why Israel must put her hope, faith and trust in Yahweh, even as Moses is about to depart. Israel's faith can not rest upon any human, not even one so great as Moses. It is the Lord, who has redeemed Israel with a mighty grace, that is to be the object of devotion and faith.
Israel is at a fork in her existence. Up to this point Moses has been the highly visible Man of God sent to be her prophet and mediator. But now Moses is about to depart and he is preparing Israel for this transition. It would have been easy for an Israelite to think God had loved Israel for Moses' sake and so the people lean upon him, but Moses encourages them that Yahweh is Faithful to Israel and not just him.
A Time for Choices
It is now time for each Israelite to make a choice for God even as Moses is about to die. Each individual Hebrew must choose to honor the covenant of love (cf. 7.9) with the Redeeming Lord. To live by the covenant means we are under Yahweh's Lordship, not our own. We will live as he wants us to. We cannot say I'm on the Lord's side but I won't alter my wish as he wishes (cf. 29.19)! That is not a choice for God, but for the Idol of Self.
Our text declares there are only two real choices a human being can make in life. We, in America, talk about choice and freedom a great deal. Abortion on demand is reduced to a choice, drugs are simply a choice, even sexual lifestyles are said to be our choice. We have the freedom to choose whatever we want and live however we want. Choice has become a very large idol even in American Christianity . . . some may even call it God.
Have you noticed, though, that the choices we fight for as fundamental tend to be quite trivial. They are meaningless and carry little significance in the grand scheme of things. Moses, a man with great insight, says that life can really be reduced to two very basic choices that every human must make every day of his or her life. Moses says the chultimaten to us is the ulitimate choice: The Gift of Life or The Agony of Death! This is it. There are no other choices at all. Everything we do in life, every action, every moment flows directly from this ultimate choice that we have made for either life or death.
When life is reduced to what it is all about, when we peal back all the veneer - the choice that must be made is not to difficult to see. The Choice to live for a God, who loves us the way our God loves us, is the only choice. The choice to live for God and follow his ways is made even easier because Moses tells us that the Lord's commands are not burdensome. They are intended to bless and guarantee quality and abundance in our lives. They are not in the heavens as to be beyond reach. They are not even across the sea where they are out of sight. No they are near and in the heart (30. 12-14).
Beloved, God has never intended his Gracious Torah to be an instrument of death, rather it is to be Life and Blessings. It is only in the context of legalism that Torah becomes a burden. Man in his sinful nature turns the Torah into something it was never intended to be . . . a means of gaining, attaining and winning salvation. The Law, not even the Law of Moses, was intended to bring salvation. Israel did not earn salvation by observing the Torah . . . she was ALREADY saved when God gave the Torah. She was saved by grace (not works) in the Exodus itself, she was not redeemed at Sinai! Exodus comes before Sinai; Calvary comes before Pentecost; Grace comes before faith; it always has and always will. The Torah was to enable Israel to live in fellowship, to experience the blessing of life with God.
Moses says the covenant is simply loving the Lord our God and to walk in his ways. We honor God by making a covenantal decision for Yahweh everyday of our lives. We cannot love God and fail to live in a way that honors him. What Moses is challenging us to do is to choose life . . . in so doing we will honor God.
Why Choose the Gift of Grace - that is Life?
To reject God and to walk in our own ways is to choose death. Only the proverbial fool would willingly choose death over life. Only one self-deceived would follow such a course. Who would reject what God has done on our behalf. He has defeated the "Gods" of Egypt, the Pharaoh and his mighty armies, he fed Israel as they wandered in the wilderness and graciously blessed them so that even the soles of their sandals did not wear out. He has given them a land flowing with milk and honey and most amazing of all . . . he has made his abode in their midst! What god has ever done what Yahweh our Lord has done?
Moses asks which will we choose; The Gift of Life and blessings from God or Death and destruction away from God? We all must individually make that Ultimate Choice. There is no escape from it, God has not given us that particular choice.
Resources for Living the Choice
Living for God, loving him and walking in his ways is a lifetime commitment. But God does not leave us alone to our own strength and devices even in the Hebrew Bible! Earlier God had commanded that we circumcise our hearts (10.16) as a way of showing our love for him. Humans, however, stained as we are with Sin do not have it in their own ability to do this. Moses informs us that God, in his amazing grace, performs the needed surgery for us. He will circumcise our hearts so that we may be able to love and serve him with all of our hearts. Here the gracious word:
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and LIVE . . . (30.6)
Israel's religion was never one of Self-reliance but God reliance. God did not give the commandments and then expect Israel to climb a ladder to righteousness. Boot-strap religion is alien to the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. God knows we will never live perfectly and that is not the point of Deuteronomy 30. We are not expected to be perfect. Moses says that what is expected is that we make a choice for the Gift of Life! We make the choice for life and God will take care of us . . . I call that Good News. I call that the Gospel According to Moses. I call it Grace. I, nor you, are or ever will be (in this life) perfect, but we can make a choice to serve the Lord.
Moses closes his speech in vv. 19-20 by calling heaven and earth as witnesses. We have heard God's grace proclaimed, we have heard the word in the Torah, we have heard the Faithful One say he is on our side . . . so what will we choose? God will not allow us to stay on the fence . . . he has too much invested in you and me. We must choose him or reject him. We must make the Ultimate Choice, the only choice in life that matters, we must choose Life or Death. Moses pleads with us to choose God's gift of life . . . in fact he almost commands us to choose it (30.19). We must choose him for in a very real way his is Life. I love the text:
hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life . . .(NIV)
May the Lord bless and keep those who have read this piece. And may he make his face shine upon them.