1 - 10 Returned to the Lord and Brought Into the Land
1 “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call [them] to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. 5 The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. 7 The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. 9 Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; 10 if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.
This chapter shows that God can always give restoration. This applies to Israel and it also applies to us today, to the church. The return of Israel will begin when they are scattered. God will work in their hearts the longing for return to Him and His land. They will realize that they have been removed from the land because of their sins, and will confess this to God with shame: “Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations” (Eze 6:9).
We see a pre-fulfilment of the return from the scattering in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, although there it almost exclusively concerns the return from Babylon and not from all kinds of peoples. We hear in the prayer of Nehemiah how he pleads with God for the scattered Israel on the basis of this promise (Neh 1:5-11). The final fulfilment will be done on the basis of God’s promise to His Messiah (Isa 49:6a).
We live in a time of great decay which marks Christianity as a whole. On the whole is written ‘Babylon’ – that means ‘confusion’. The believers are scattered in all directions. But for all those who bow before God under this situation, it is possible to return to the lost blessings.
God wanted to show us much of the blessing of the land and the place where He dwells through this book of the Bible. We may lose sight of these things if we do not stay with the Lord. But always He can give restoration, as here in verse 2. Restoration can be the matter of the individual, but it can expand. God wants to gather His whole people around Himself. There is also restoration of the land.
To the blessing of the land belongs a circumcised heart (verse 6). The circumcision of the heart is a spiritual circumcision (Rom 2:29). This circumcision can only happen in connection with the work of Christ (Col 2:11). For Israel, it means the recognition that, as far as personal responsibility is concerned, every blessing is hopelessly lost.
Only in someone who has been circumcised in heart there is love for God. Then man’s heart and soul turn to God and he gains an eye for the secret things. This happens when God works in grace, where man has corrupted everything in his works. God works the conviction of this in the hearts. The circumcision He performs is to bring to self-judgment and to take the place of grace. That attitude is answered by Him with blessing.
The first consequence of such a sincere and profound return is love for the LORD their God, and that with their whole being. That is both the starting point and the motive for their lives. A second consequence is that they will receive a more abundant blessing from the LORD than they have lost. As for their enemies, they will perish by the plagues that first came upon the people.
When the people repent, God does everything for the good for them. With the inveterate enemies of His people He does everything for evil. On a people that repent or a person who repents, the pleasure of God rests. They please Him because they give Him His place and they take their rightful place before Him. Harmony has been created. The following verses show how that happened.
11 - 14 Not Too Difficult and Not Out of Reach
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
The purpose of these verses is to show us that what God asks of a man or His people is not burdensome. No personal effort is required: it is “not too difficult … nor … out of reach”. God’s commandment is also given in audible – “in your mouth” – and comprehensible – “in your heart” – language. God, from His side, has made everything so that man can fulfil His commandments without any effort and thereby enjoy the blessing. Why? Because every human effort is doomed to fail. Why? Because man is naturally corrupt.
This is what Romans 10 is talking about, where these verses from Deuteronomy are quoted and explained: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”” (Rom 10:5-8a).
Paul speaks here of people who have pursued a law of righteousness, but without achieving that goal. Only when a person sees the uselessness of his efforts does he see Christ as the end of the law. Then he has finished his efforts and believes for righteousness (Rom 10:3-4). The end of the law is not achieved if one keeps it, but if one acknowledges that it is impossible to keep the law. Then the heart is focused on Christ.
Then the purpose of the law is quoted: ‘Do this and you shall live’ (Rom 10:5; Lev 18:5). God thus indicates that one can earn one’s own righteousness by keeping the law. But no one has kept the law. There is another way to get righteousness and that is by faith. Only then there is no longer any question of one’s own righteousness.
When it comes to faith, all personal effort to come to heaven is excluded. That is what Paul means when he quotes from this section in Deuteronomy and says, ““Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” In the word ‘ascend’ lies the thought of reaching heaven by one’s own strength. As long as that is thought, the work of Christ falls short and He is brought down again.
Paul adds not to say in the heart: “Who will descend into the abyss?” With this he indicates that one does not have to descend into the abyss to erase one’s own guilt in a kind of penance. That is also impossible. Who can ever descend into the depths of misery in which Christ descended? Whoever tries to do so, brings Christ up from the dead, as it were. Own attempts to penance are proof that it is considered superfluous that He died, for he who does this thinks he can pay his own debt.
Moses also speaks about crossing to the other side of the sea. As if somewhere on earth, in a faraway place, the commandment is available. If any man could pick it up from there, we could accomplish it. But it is not necessary to travel around town and country or make pilgrimages and then believe that we have fulfilled God’s commandments. For example, many people have travelled to the east to find their salvation in Eastern religions.
Moses speaks to the remnant that has come to conversion in the foreign world and has learned that it is totally dependent on the grace of God. They have not been able to accomplish the law, so what should they do? How can they be restored? Should they go and get that grace in heaven or on the other side of the sea? These questions cannot be understood without the key of Romans 10 and therefore certainly cannot be solved.
Once the people have accepted their Messiah, Christ, God will give His laws into their minds and write them in their hearts (Heb 8:10). Then all the promises made by God will be fulfilled to a people who know Him. He is gracious to their iniquities, and will not remember their sins (Jer 31:31-34).
How can God bestow grace on a people who have spoiled all completely? This is only possible through Christ. For those who are connected with Christ by faith, the commandments of God are neither unattainable nor impracticable. For them God works in the mouth and in the heart, so close. The heart believes, the mouth confesses. It is about Christ. He that has Him has salvation, has restoration.
For us, the path of restoration begins when we confess Jesus again as Lord. This means that every member of the people will acknowledge the rights of the Lord Jesus to his life. For such believers the commandments of God are not burdensome (1Jn 5:3). Those commandments are not those of the law of Moses; for those commandments are given to sinful man, and he is not able to keep them. The commandments John writes about, are commandments that fit completely with the new life, the eternal life.
Whoever believes in the righteous actions of God knows that God has come very close in Christ. He has come so close that He has put His word “in your mouth and in your heart”. We have been saved because the word of faith has been preached to us. The content of the preaching is: confess Jesus as Lord with the mouth and believe with the heart that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9).
The order is remarkable: first the mouth and then the heart. The mouth is mentioned first because our faith can only be perceived by others through what they hear and see from us. You can’t say that someone is saved if you don’t notice anything of it in his speaking and behavior.
15 - 20 Faced with the Choice
15 “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; 16 in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. 17 But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong [your] days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
Moses summarizes the whole content of his speech on the law in the terms “life and prosperity, and death and adversity” (cf. Deu 11:26). Love is the condition for fulfilling the commandments (Deu 6:5). The choice that Moses sets before them also has consequences for their offspring. Parents who choose to follow the Lord wholeheartedly can generally count on it that their children will follow them in their choice. The same applies to a choice for adversity.
In the choice that Moses sets before the people here, we stand at the beginning of the history of the people in the land. At the end of the history of the people in the land, Jeremiah will once again set this choice before the people just before they go into exile: “You shall also say to this people, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death”’” (Jer 21:8). The choice there is to voluntarily take the place of judgment and leave the city and surrender to the enemy sent by God.
Love is the motive, obedience is the expression and holding fast to Him gives the power to persevere (verse 20). If that is present, life can be lived as God intended. The expression “this is your life” can also be translated as “He is your life”.