God's gracious law. 30:10-14
A Near Eastern Covenant agreement had four major parts: i] The preamble, ii] Historical prologue, iii] Stipulations, iv] Sanctions. Deuteronomy follows this pattern. As Moses was now aged and about to pass authority over to Joshua, he calls on the new generation to ratify the covenant agreement between God and the people of Israel, now gathered in Moab. He warns them of the sanctions, 28:1-68, calls them to swear to the covenant, 29:1-29, and promises redemption beyond the curse of exile, 30:1-10. When the people return to the Lord he will "delight" in them and make them "prosperous". Their only requirement is to "obey", to "turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul", v10. Moses then calls for radical decision, 30:11-20. He tells the people that the Lord's stipulations are not beyond them. They are clear and precise and so the people cannot plead ignorance, v11-14. He warns them that their choice is a simple one; it is either blessing or cursing, life or death, v15-20. Moses assures the people of Israel that a choice for life, for God's gracious law, is not a choice that is beyond them.
v11. God's commands are not beyond his people; they are not unreasonable, too difficult to obey; they are not beyond understanding. This is because the law comes from a gracious and kind God who has stooped down to reveal his will to his people. He asks of his people a grateful trust in his mercy and a generous loyalty toward their neighbour. God's law is reasonable.
v12. The law is not something incomprehensible, hidden in the recesses of heaven, beyond the mere understanding of earth-bound humans. God's law is simple.
v13. Nor is the law hidden behind some massive barrier, such that it is impossible to gain a knowledge of it to obey it.
v14. The law is not a secret thing. It is not hidden nor incomprehensible. There are secret things, for the mind of God is beyond our understanding, Ps.131:1. God does not reveal everything; knowledge is the exclusive domain of God, but in his mercy he reveals a portion of his wisdom, Job.28. The Torah, the covenant law, is one such portion.
The idea of the law in our "mouth" and in our "heart" is not so much saying that it is revealed within our psyche, but rather that its reasonable nature and clarity enables it to take root in our reasoning faculties ("heart" is the seat of reason rather than emotions). We therefore cannot claim that it is a truth either unreasonable, hidden or beyond our understanding, for it's truth becomes part of us. The law takes root within because it is designed by a gracious and kind God.
It is worth noting that Paul quotes v13 and 14 in his letter to the Romans, 10:6-8. It is often argued that Paul doesn't properly exegete this passage because he applies it to Christ. Yet, Paul has no problem doing this because Christ has fulfilled the law in that he is its perfect revelation, both in teaching it (eg. the Sermon on the Mount/Plain) and living it. We don't need to ascend to heaven or descend to the deep (Paul has used "abyss" for "sea", meaning "sheol") to find God's righteousness. It is here now with us in Christ, impinging on our very beings, and it calls for a response of faith in the mercy of God if we wish to possess it in Christ.
The Lord's gentle Law
In our passage for study, Moses paints the law in terms that are not easily recognizable for many believers. Many Christians see the law as a burdensome and complex thing, yet Moses tells us that it is reasonable (not demanding), all-sufficing, evident (simple, easily understood and communicated), imminent (it is clearly before us, becoming part of us) and easily obeyed.
The passage also reveals something of the character of the law-giver. God is displayed as gracious and kind in giving his people such a reasonable law, a law designed not to cause problems between the Lord and his people. He gives his people a law which is not beyond them. We can summarize the law, from the body of Deuteronomy, as a grateful trust in God's mercy and a generous loyalty toward our neighbour. We can surmise from these facts that the law is given for our good, for our enjoyment. Rather than something to please God, the law is given for our good pleasure. In simple terms, we may describe the law as a manual for life; it is life's operational instructions from the hand of a kindly Designer.
The Lord's gentle law only becomes burdensome and complex when we forget the following truths:
i] The law's prime purpose is to expose our sinful nature, not subject us to slavery. Although "the law is holy.... righteous and good", Rom.7:12, it "was added so that the trespass might increase", Rom.5:20. Yet, this end has a good purpose; the law "was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith", Gal.3:24. A believer should never use the law as a "yoke of slavery" for "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free", Gal.5:1.
ii] The law also serves as a guide to right-living. For those Israelites who had discovered the way of faith, a faith like Abraham's, the law served as a guide to their life lived under God's covenant promises. Sadly, many Jews failed to see the gracious nature of the law and of the law-giver and sought a righteousness through obedience rather than faith (trust in the mercy and kindness of God). It is very easy for believers to slip into the same error. "Are you so foolish, after beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Gal.3:3.
iii] In using the law as a guide to right-living, we have to distinguish between "camel" law and "gnat" law. Jesus was highly critical of the Pharisees who focused on matters of piety, but "neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness", Matt.23:23-24. We need to get our priorities right.
iv] Again, in using the law as a guide to right-living, we must always remember that ideals are to be aimed at, not obeyed. Believers are undone when they try to obey Jesus' moral ideals, eg. "anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment", Matt.5:22. Ideals set direction, not expectations, while at the same time they serve to remind us that our righteousness is but "filthy rags."
The law reflects the gracious character of its designer. We dishonour our Lord when we use His law as a "yoke of slavery".
God's law can easily become a burden. What are the causes? Discuss.
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