Moses begins to conclude this portion of his second sermon (which began in 5:1) by explaining how the incidents he has described affect the people going forward. His concluding remarks will lead into the specific application of the Law which begins in 12:1. Along with 30:15-19, this is one of the key passages in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is all about putting before the people the choice of whether to serve or not serve God – choose life or do not choose life. This passage explains what it means to choose life – what God requires of those who choose to serve Him.
These words are born out of the golden calf incident which Moses just finished retelling in 10:11. As a result of his intercession on behalf of the people and God’s purging of the worst offenders, the covenant was renewed at Sinai shortly after the great sin. The people Moses now addresses continue to live under its benefits. Because of that – and really, because of everything Moses has said to this point – God requires certain things of His people. Moses couches his admonitions in this text as the proper response to God’s mercy and faithfulness He has demonstrated over the last four decades. The people have a duty under the covenant as well as an obligation to God for His love to abide by His commands and honor Him with their lives. They are here because of Him and blessed because of Him and about to conquer because of Him and none of these is because they deserve it. Consequently they must respond to Him in love and fear and obedience.
This is how a follower of God is to live. In eleven verses this text gives a fairly comprehensive picture of what should characterize a believer’s life. Though these words are written specifically to Israel as it waits to cross over into the land, their meaning is as applicable to us as it is to them. We do not obey to uphold a covenant, but the claim God has on our lives is actually greater because of our redemption. Moses’ words provide a standard by which we can measure how we live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.
What God Requires
Moses begins this section with a concluding statement. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord require from you…?” Based on all that happened at Sinai with the golden calf and the fact that God mercifully forgave the people and restored their place in the covenant, what does He require from them? This gives us further understanding of why Moses retold the story – he wants them to understand the debt they owe to God and that they have no right to stand before Him except by His mercy and grace. God requires certain conduct and beliefs from them and has every right to make the claim. [We cannot understand God without first understanding our sin.]
What he lists as God’s requirements fleshes out the covenant. The people must obey the stipulations of the covenant (summarized in the Ten Commandments) to enjoy its benefits (longevity and prosperity in the land). What it means to fully obey the covenant is what Moses describes here. It is not just obedience to the letter of the Law that God wants. He wants them. He gives them Himself and in return He wants them to give themselves to Him. He wants their hearts. Just as Jesus will later explain the full intent of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, here Moses gives us a picture of what God intends for Israel as it follows Him under the covenant.
What does God require?
- Fear the Lord your God (12,20)
- Walk in all His ways (12)
- Love Him (12)
- Serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (12)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes for your own good (13)
- Circumcise your heart and stiffen your neck no more (16)
- Show your love for the alien (19)
- Cling to God (20)
- Swear by His name (20)
This list is for the Israelites but is applicable to New Testament Christians. This is not the road to salvation but a description of how a follower of God lives. The people of God should be characterized by these qualities and this level of commitment. God does not just want external obedience – although He does want that – He also demands our hearts and every part of us. We are to be fully His and completely centered on Him. This is what Moses describes.
Note how much of this list concerns the heart. We are to fear God and love Him. We are to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. We are to circumcise our hearts – cut away what inhibits God’s control and place on them the mark of a follower of God. We are to cling to Him – hold fast, remain faithful – the same verb is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the one flesh relationship of husband and wife (see also 4:4). Moses makes it clear that God has never been concerned only with externals – it is what is in the heart that is important.
It is amazing that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time focused almost exclusively on outward obedience even though they had the entire Pentateuch at their disposal and committed to memory. This passage makes it so clear that at no time does God tell Israel that only outward obedience is important. God obviously wants His people to abide by the Law, but at no time – from Abraham to Jesus – does He ever settle for purely external actions.
That is not to say that external actions are not included. We are to walk in all His ways (conduct ourselves in a godly manner – become more and more like Him), we are to keep God’s commandments and His statutes (the statutes Moses refers to likely include the ceremonial Law which in fact does not apply to us), and we are to show love for the alien (practice justice and compassion on the less fortunate or those who do not have a voice in society). Notice the first admonition – walk in all His ways. The summary of this list is that we are to be godly – we are to act more like Him. God’s intention is that our outward actions stem from a heart given to Him – that we act like Him because our hearts are His. Our outward obedience should never be an end in itself. Our actions are to stem from what is in our hearts – we serve (outward conduct) with all our heart and with all our soul.
Moses says something interesting at the end of verse 13. He says they must keep God’s commands for your good. Obedience does more than just please God or meet His requirements. It is what is best for the people of God. Moses’ specific meaning relates to the covenant. As has been pointed out several times in the book, if the people obey they enjoy the benefits of the covenant. But it likely goes beyond this too. Obedience to the Creator is what is best for His creatures.
God has created a world wherein those who obey His commands profit and those who do not suffer the consequences. This is not to say that obedience leads to more success and prosperity or that wickedness is always punished to the fullest extent. But what it does mean is that sin has ramifications that obedience avoids. These can be very straightforward like prison, broken families and disease or less tangible like a never-ending search for satisfaction. The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his – Proverbs 14:14.
This means that God’s commands are not a burden for the people but a benefit. God does not require obedience to enslave them but to liberate them from a world of sin. This is similar to what Jesus means in Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
God is Worthy of What He Requires
Moses sprinkles attributes of God throughout the passage to show that He is worthy of the people’s obedience and commitment. God can require things of the Israelites because of His faithfulness to them and His covenant. But He also is worthy of what He requires because of who and what He is.
Moses lists the following about God:
- God owns heaven, the highest heaven, the earth and all that is in it – and yet He chose you and loves you (14-15) [we love Him because He first loved us – I Jn 4:19].
- He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords (17).
- He is great, mighty, and awesome (17).
- He does not show partiality or take a bribe (17).
- He executes justice for the orphan and the widow (18).
- He shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing (18).
- He is your praise (21).
- He is your God who has done great and awesome things which you have seen (21).
Notice the mix of God’s actions and His attributes. He is mighty and awesome and owns all things, and He chose His people, does not show partiality, and provides for the defenseless. He is God of gods and Lord of lords who shows love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. His actions stem from His nature and His worth is based in both.
The primary act of God which requires Israel’s loyalty and commitment is the first listed – He chose the people and set His affection to love them. Moses discusses this in terms of who God is. He owns heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it – and YET…chose you above all peoples, as it is this day. God can do whatever He wants and owns everything and needs nothing – yet He chose the smallest and least powerful people on which to set His name. Israel owes everything to Him because He owed nothing to them and yet blessed them above all people. The same is obviously even truer for the believer saved by His blood.
This list further clarifies what it means to be godly – to walk in all His ways. God loves us so we love Him and others. He does not show partiality or take a bribe, so we interact with others with integrity. He provides for the orphan, widow, and alien, so we practice justice toward the defenseless and provide for the poor. [It is interesting that providing for aliens is the only specific righteous act mentioned in this text – it is apparent that God is VERY concerned about our treatment of those on the fringe of society or those without a voice of their own – Jesus makes this clear in Matt 25.]
A similar passage to this is in Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Without mentioning the characteristics and actions of God this verse really summarizes Moses’ instructions. We are to do justice to those around us – especially the poor and the defenseless. We are to live kindly with all people. And we are to walk humbly with our God – we are to walk in all His ways.
How is the follower of God to live? This text gives us a perfect answer and Moses shows in doing so that God has always had the same requirements for His people. The God who is completely faithful, who owns heaven and the earth and all that is in it, who chose us and loves us, who is God of gods and Lord of lords, and who is great and mighty and awesome – deserves all of our heart and all of our soul and is worthy of His people walking in His ways.