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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 9

A commentary on the ninth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 29-31. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 4

God’s Oath to All Men

Moses continues in Deut. 29:10-13,

10 You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The first thing we see in this is the various classes of people who are listed in verses 10 and 11. The “chiefs” were the princes of the tribes. Their right of leadership was passed down to them from the original sons of Jacob, who had declared their successors (normally their first-born sons).

Under them came other elders, officers, and the heads of families. Under them were their wives and children and “the alien who is within your camps.” Because the governmental structure was built upon succession according to the will of the preceding chief, it was most often the first-born son of each chief who succeeded his father. All who came under his authority received benefits from the tribe or family estate.

It is important to note that in verse 12 all of these people stood before God and entered into that covenant “in order that He may establish you as His people.” All of them, men, women, children, and even the aliens became “His people.” This was God’s declaration of citizenship in the church that was soon to become a Kingdom.

Who are God’s People?

Those who say that aliens could not become Israelites should understand that there are two main definitions of an Israelite. One is a genealogical descendant of Israel; the second is a citizen of the nation of Israel. In Moses’ day, the aliens did not alter their genealogy by obtaining citizenship in Israel, but nonetheless, they were included in the nation of Israel and, as such, became “His people” and, more specifically, members of one of the tribes.

I have also heard it said that before Christ non-Israelites could not be saved. Salvation is a function of the covenant, and all of the aliens in Israel were required to stand before God as participants in that covenant. This is the basis of the prophet’s statement many years later in Isaiah 56:6, which spoke of “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…and hold fast My covenant.”

In other words, the covenant which was made with Israel “My people” was not limited to genealogical Israelites. Isaiah says that God’s intent was for the temple to be “a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

God’s New Covenant Oath

The second major point found in Deut. 29:12, 13 is that all of these people became covenant people on account of God’s oath—not on account of their own oath. They entered “into His oath, which the Lord your God is making with you.”

God Himself was making this oath in order to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (vs. 13). This promise to Abraham is seen most clearly in Genesis 15, where God put him into a “deep sleep” (Gen. 15:12) and then made the covenant by Himself. It was therefore an unconditional covenant which could be broken only if it were possible for God to violate His word, or if God were somehow incapable of making good on His oath.

The oath that God made in Deut. 29:12, 13 is simply a restatement of that “promise” which God gave earlier to Abraham. In both cases, the oath had yet to be fulfilled, for it was a long-term promise.

The promises of God laid the foundations of the New Covenant that was prophesied in Jer. 31:31-34 and confirmed by Jesus Christ, who mediated that covenant. This Deuteronomy covenant is another witness of the New Covenant, for it is unlike the Exodus covenant made in Exodus 19:5, which said,

5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and [if YOU] keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine.

The first covenant in Exodus 19 is shown to be conditional upon the people’s obedience, whereas the second covenant in Deuteronomy 29 is shown to be conditional upon God’s ability to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This distinction is important, because the Israelites were incapable of obeying the first covenant. Hence, a different sort of covenant was required to bring salvation to men. Jeremiah 31:32 says,

32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke…

He goes on to tell us that this New Covenant would be something that God would do on our behalf. He says in verse 33, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” In other words, God vowed to take responsibility to make it happen, and He has indeed done so, first by His death and resurrection, and secondly by sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to write His laws on our hearts.

The Oath to Make us His People

Both Moses and Jeremiah link this covenant to being “My people” and to God being “their God.” The implication is that apart from this covenant, they were not God’s people, nor was Yahweh (Jesus) their God. This is proven from Hosea 1:9, where the prophet prophetically named his son Lo-ammi, which means “Not My People.” The prophet’s wife was a harlot, picturing Israel’s harlotry as the nation went after false gods. Such spiritual adultery produced illegitimate children that were Lo-ammi, regardless of their physical genealogy from the man called Israel.

In other words, to be “My people” is not possible apart from having the God of Abraham as their God. Under the Exodus covenant (i.e., the Old Covenant), the people broke their vow of obedience and submission to their Husband. They committed adultery, and so the judgment of God said, “you are not My people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9).

The only way that the Israelites could be reinstated as God’s people was by means of a New Covenant, where God Himself took the responsibility to work by His Spirit within the hearts of the people. Those who try to adhere to the Old Covenant will find themselves under condemnation, because, as Paul says in Rom. 3:23, “all have sinned.” He quotes David as well, saying in Rom. 3:10, “there is none righteous, not even one.”

The Covenant is Universal

The Deuteronomy covenant shows clearly that it applied to all, regardless of their genealogy, gender, age, or status. By entering this covenant, they all became God’s people, because God promised to be their God. In other words, some of God’s people are physical Israelites in that they are descended from the man named Israel; but in the broader definition of the term, God sees all of His people in the end becoming part of a single nation called Israel, i.e., The Kingdom.

And not only did this apply to that generation but to all those who would come afterward, for Moses says in Deut. 29:14, 15,

14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.

The broad nature of this statement makes it clear that Moses was not limiting this covenant to the descendants of the Israelites, but to all, even to those who were not present to hear and witness that oath. Of necessity this included all of the nations of the earth, for they were not present. In other words, God’s oath and covenant was to benefit all nations and all men in every generation. It is a statement of universal reconciliation, which God vowed by Himself.

Not once in this entire speech does Moses require the people to make a vow of obedience in order to make the covenant effective. The oath is always said to be something that God was vowing. As we will see, however, God reserved the right to discipline them for disobedience and even to destroy them as a nation. Indeed, He did so in later centuries. Because His Deuteronomy oath was unconditional, He also took the responsibility upon Himself to work within the hearts of all men so that they would be saved in the end.

Salvation through Judgment

Most people have no understanding of how God could do this. They believe that the only chance for salvation is for a man to have faith in God during his life time. Since most men live and die without having faith in Christ, they think that this is the end of the matter and that all such people will be lost forever. They quote Heb. 9:27, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” and assume that there is no salvation in divine judgment. Yet the prophet says in Isaiah 26:9,

9 … For when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

In the next verse the prophet goes on to explain that if the wicked were just given grace apart from holding them accountable, they would not learn righteousness. The best translation of Isaiah 26:10 is in The Concordant Version, which reads,

10 If grace is shown to the wicked, he will fail to learn righteousness; in a land of correctness, he will commit iniquity, and will fail to see the pride of Ieue. Ieue, Thy exalted hand they will fail to perceive. 11 Yet they shall perceive and be shamed by the zeal of the disciplined people…

In other words, even if the wicked lived in a righteous and upright nation, they would continue to deal unjustly, because they have no perception of the mind of God. Hence, it is necessary to teach such people righteousness by means of judgment. Then these undisciplined people will indeed perceive His ways, because they will “be shamed by the zeal of the disciplined people.”

This is a reference to the fact that the “river of fire” coming from the throne in Dan. 7:9 judges the people according to the “fiery law” of God (Deut. 33:2). When the law judges sinners who have nothing with which to pay restitution for their sin, the wicked are “sold” (Exodus 22:3), and placed under the authority of righteous men, who are then responsible to teach them righteousness. This law will be fulfilled in its greatest way at the Great White Throne in Rev. 20:11-15.

All will Swear Allegiance to Christ

The prophet says also in Isaiah 45:23,

23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

When did God swear such an oath? It is found in Deuteronomy 29:10-15, where God swore an unconditional oath to all Israel, including the aliens among them, to establish them as His people and to be their God. Paul refers to this in Phil. 2:10, 11,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Isaiah says that all men will “swear allegiance” to God. Paul says “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Paul also tells us in 1 Cor. 12:3, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” who works within our hearts according to the terms of the New Covenant. Since most men do not swear allegiance to Jesus Christ during their life time on earth, it is obvious that they will do so after they have died—that is, at the Great White Throne when they are raised for judgment. And when they do, it will be “to the glory of God,” who can then claim that He has fulfilled His oath.

The judgments of God are designed not only to restore the lawful order by making men pay restitution for their past sins, but also to correct the sinners and cause them to repent. Because no man can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, it is plain that those sinners who are judged at the Great White Throne will be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit at that time. Their time of judgment will be in that great “lake of fire,” which is the character of God Himself (Deut. 5:4). It will be a time when God will write the fiery law in their hearts as He vowed to do in Deuteronomy 29.

The age of judgment that follows the Great White Throne will bring spiritual maturity to those who are being judged in God’s “fire.” This process will continue until the time of the Creation Jubilee, when the law prophesies the cancellation of all debt (sin), and everyone returns to their inheritance in Christ (Lev. 25:10).