The Covenant in Deuteronomy

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses preaches a series of sermons or discourses to the Israelites as they prepare to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Lane. Although each of Moses' discourses has its own emphases, seven points weave back and forth between them, providing a continuous, unified whole. This excerpt from Lutheran Bible Companion speaks on the first five points of the covenant, while the last two points deal with future temptations. Read below to learn more about these themes in the Book of Deuteronomy.

1. The Covenant Land as “Promised Land”

The opening words of the first sermon stress Israel’s conquest of Canaan as part of a long-range plan of God.

“See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.” (Deuteronomy 1:8)

The conquest of Canaan would not be a national achievement or the result of natural cause and effect. Without the promise to the fathers there would be no conquest. The Promised Land was to be theirs only as heirs of the promise.

2. Continuing Validity of the Covenant

Moses recalled many events of the past to show how God had been fulfilling this promise ever since the exodus began. But most often he called attention to the history of the past few months: the defeat of the Amorite kings, Og and Sihon, the most recent link in the chain of events that firmly bound this people to the covenant made with the patriarchs. Moses’ purpose seems obvious—everyone in his audience had experienced the event. Though many had been born after other victories, no one could say of this one, “I don’t know whether your story is true.” This victory over the Amorites proved to all, young and old, that they had overcome not by their own strength but by God’s. Possession of the land would be possible only because “I give it to you.”

Moses also had to impress on his listeners in sharp and precise language the contemporary nature and continuing validity of the covenant. Therefore, he said to people who were but children or not even born yet at the time of Sinai,

“The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire.” (Deuteronomy 5:2–4, emphasis added)

With an eye toward asking this new people to commit itself to the covenant, Moses emphasized that thereby they would enter into a relationship with God identical to what He had established with their fathers at Horeb (Mount Sinai). The presuppositions, terms, and obligations of the covenant had not changed after 40 years—and they were to remain unchanged. To be the covenant people, Israel is required always

“to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 10:12– 13)

The basis and foundation of instruction in God’s will were laid down once and for all in the Ten Commandments engraved on two tables of stone (4:13). Now Moses engraves them on his hearers’ hearts by repeating them verbatim (5:6–21) before using them as the text of an extended sermon (5:22–11:32). Israel’s covenant status depends on continued obedience to these basic and all-embracing requirements of undivided loyalty to God.

3. Covenant Forms and Ceremonies

Furthermore, God had required at Sinai that the people observe outward forms and ceremonies. Moses proceeded to remind the living generation also of these covenant obligations to be

“a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:2; cf 7:6)

The moral, ceremonial, social, and political expressions of their separation from all other nations and total consecration to God were designed not merely for the desert, but

“You shall be careful to do [them] in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.” (Deuteronomy 12:1)

Moses repeats many of these provisions in his second discourse (chs 12–26), fully expounding some and making minor adjustments in a few to meet the needs of life in the Promised Land.

4. The Covenant of God’s Grace

Just as the Ten Commandments remained the same, so did the terms of the covenant shaping God’s relationship to His people. The covenant would never be based on merit. It would remain His instrument of grace to a people that had not and never would deserve what He had bound and pledged Himself to give in the promises to the patriarchs and to the fathers at Sinai.

The covenant had to be of grace. From the beginning Israel stubbornly had broken the covenant often, shamefully, and defiantly. Moses reminds them:

“Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:7)

5. Obedience and Repentance

In view of Israel’s past performance, Moses rightly worried whether the people would or could continue as the covenant nation. If the people persist in breaking the covenant by their disobedience, God has no obligation to keep them as His covenant people. He even will deprive them again of the land they have not quite inherited.

On the other hand, the God who began the covenant with the patriarchs and the fathers at Sinai also promises to continue to show mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments. As in the past, He will receive back into His grace those who penitently plead for His forgiving mercy. God’s power has not grown weaker. He can and will bless beyond expectation, for

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set His heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” (Deuteronomy 10:14–15)

In Deuteronomy, Moses provided important guidance for every succeeding generation in Israel. It is no wonder when Jesus was tempted by Satan, all His recorded answers came directly from these discourses of Moses.

Post adapted from Lutheran Study Bible Companion, Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament, copyright © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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