Moses reaches the end of his discussion of the importance of the Law that he began in 5:1. In this chapter he repeats many of the themes and warnings he has discussed throughout this address. It is critical that the people love God and obey Him as they enter and conquer the land. They must not forget the terms of the covenant after they settle Canaan. In His love God has protected them, provided for them and disciplined them, and will drive out the Canaanites before them, but they have a responsibility to love and obey Him in return.
The first verse is the thesis for the chapter. The people must love the Lord your God and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments. The command is stated in the form of a logical conclusion to what has gone before. Because God is your praise and He is your God and has done great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen and has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven (10:21-22), you shall therefore do these things. What Moses commands is a response to God’s love and provision and blessing.
The first responsibility they have is to love. Before Moses tells them to obey, he commands them to love. He repeats this throughout the chapter (13,22) and has stated it several times in the book to this point (he included it in the beginning of this section in 10:12). The people are to be motivated to obedience by the blessings and curses in the covenant but also by love for God. Moses knows if they love God they will serve Him as a response. Obedience will be what they want to do instead of what they have to do. Love as a motive for obedience increases the likelihood that it will last.
It is an interesting biblical concept that God’s people are commanded to love Him. Moses commands the Israelites to love Yahweh and Jesus repeats the command to His followers in the New Testament. To command love is totally at odds with how the world views it. What the command means is for the people of God to set Him at the center of their lives and as the highest target of their affections. Nothing matters more than Him. Nothing takes precedence over Him. It is a choice to make HIM the basis of living and to look to Him exclusively for satisfaction and meaning. Moses and Jesus and John can command us to love because it is what the disciple of God does – he makes God his life.
Love is the first response to all that God has done. This is how Moses classifies it here. The people of God who understand how much He has loved them and how that love has infused His actions on their behalf respond to Him with love. They love because He first loved them (I Jn 4:7-21). And this love is active and shows itself in obedience. Because they love, they obey.
In verse 2 Moses tells his listeners that he is not speaking to their sons who have not personally witnessed God’s actions over the last 40 years. He instead speaks to the generation that makes up the leadership of the nation – the generation that has seen all that God has done. What is interesting is that none of his listeners could have been older than nineteen at the time the people refused to enter the land at Kadesh-barnea 38 years ago. That means the majority of the leadership was very young when many of the events Moses refers to occurred (and the vast majority of the nation as a whole was not even alive). Moses seems to discount this and obviously assumes the leaders were old enough to learn from their experiences.
He points to the discipline of the Lord your God – His greatness, His mighty hand, and His outstretched arm. He does not emphasize God’s compassion or mercy but His discipline and might. He reminds the people of what God does to His enemies (Egypt) and those who disobey the Law (Dathan and Abiram – see Num 16 where Korah is also mentioned). He also notes that God disciplined the nation itself in the desert (5 – see also 8:5). He follows up his command to obey out of love with a reminder of the ramifications of disobedience so they will also obey out of fear. Both are to motivate the people to obedience and both are responses to God’s love. His love shows itself in provision and protection but also in discipline and might (more on this in the next section).
After restating the Deuteronomic Principle (obedience will bring longevity and prosperity in the land), Moses says something new about Canaan in verses 10-13. He says the Promised Land is not like Egypt where the people had to irrigate their crops by their own efforts (water it with your foot). Instead, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven. It is a land for which the Lord your God cares and His eyes are always on it throughout the year. God makes sure Canaan is fruitful and blesses it with rain and fertility, unlike Egypt where Israel lived for four centuries.
What is interesting about the explanation by Moses is that God blesses Canaan this way while a vile and pagan people live in it. The sins of the Canaanites seem to have no effect on the fruitfulness of their land. For Israel, however, God will only bless the land if they obey. Moses says in verses 13-17 that God will give the rain for your land in its season as long as they obey. If they do not obey, God will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit. Unlike the pagan Canaanites, the people of Israel will not enjoy a fertile land if they do not obey the Laws of God.
What does this point to? How can this make sense? It is important to remember the Canaanites have no covenant with God – they are not His people. They do not have blessings and curses directly related to their behavior. They are a perfect case in point that in this world the wicked do not always reap what they sow and oftentimes prosper while the righteous suffer. However, the Canaanites are also about to be annihilated. They have lived in a fruitful land for generations but are about to be destroyed for their unbelief. Ultimate destruction is always the final consequence for the wicked even if they seemingly prosper for a time and reap no consequences for their sins. The wicked are sometimes left alone so they store up wrath to the fullest (Rom 2:5). The current state of the wicked is often not indicative of their final end.
So why is it different for Israel? Why do God’s people not get the same leniency as the wicked Canaanites? Because a loving Father disciplines His children. A loving God does not allow His people to disobey without consequence. The Canaanites are left alone to seal their fate and continue their wickedness. The chosen people of God are disciplined to bring them back to what is best for them. Disobedience is the path to destruction – God punishes His people to save them from that ultimate end. To let a sinner alone to store up wrath for the day of destruction is the ultimate curse upon him. To go after a sinner to bring him to repentance is an act of grace and love. God disciplines those He loves. Believers and the world do not play by the same set of rules.
This section repeats what Moses said in Chapter 6 and Chapter 10. The people must not only obey the words of God but they must teach them to their children so the obedience lasts for generations. If generations obey God then generations will live and prosper in the land.
Note how verse 22 repeats the thesis of this chapter stated in verse 1 and dovetails with the commands in 10:12-22. God wants every part of His people. He wants external obedience but He wants it to come from hearts devoted to Him. Love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him. This is how the follower of God lives.
Moses tells the people in verse 24 that everywhere their foot treads will be theirs. From the wilderness they have just traversed in the south to Lebanon in the north; and from the Euphrates River in the east (modern day Iraq) to the Mediterranean Sea (the western sea) in the west, all will be theirs. The Promised Land will be huge if they obey. What is sad is that only under David and initially under Solomon is the land ever this large. For the vast majority of Israel’s history they never control this much land because they never obey long enough for God to give it to them.
Moses gives them no middle ground in how they respond to the covenant. He says that he sets before them a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. It is one way or the other – blessing or curse, obedience or disobedience. There is no such thing as “sort of obeying and sort of being blessed.” The people will love God with all their heart, soul and might or they will not. They will obey or they will not. Moses makes them understand the choice is stark. It is a matter of choosing life or death.
This is the point of all three sermons that Moses speaks. The people must choose how they will proceed. Joshua will put the same choice before them at the end of his life – “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Josh 24:14-15). This is always the choice before all men – especially those who know God’s Law (or His gospel). Serve God or yourself – obey Him or obey something else. There are ultimately only two ways of life regardless of the myriad of names and beliefs. 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, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him (30:19-20a).
Moses tells them in verse 29 to place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. This does not make all that much sense here but will become clear in Chapter 27 when he explains that the people will actually stand on these mountains and rehearse the covenant with its promises and curses so they do not forget it and succeeding generations learn it.
Conclusion – It Is All About the Love
God’s love for His people infuses His actions toward them.
God’s people must love Him in response to His actions and love.
God disciplines those He loves in contrast to the sinners He sometimes leaves alone.
God does not love partially and has no partial children. There are two ways – obedience and blessing, disobedience and curse. To obey is to choose life – to not obey is to choose death. The follower of God loves Him with all his heart, soul and might. The one who loves less is not a follower of God.