Moses gave Israel two covenants within the broader context of the Old Covenant. These two covenants represent the Old and New Covenant.
The Exodus Covenant
The first was the Exodus covenant, a conditional covenant given in Exodus 19:5-8, where the people took an oath of obedience in order to obtain God’s blessings:
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine… 8 And all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!”
This covenant could be fulfilled only “if” the people were obedient. Subsequent history shows that they did not fulfill their vow, and so both Israel and Judah were destroyed and expelled from the land.
The Deuteronomy Covenant
The second covenant was given to Israel 40 years later at the end of their wilderness journey. It was a covenant where God alone took an oath to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deut. 29:1 says,
1 These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.
Later God speaks through Moses, telling them who is making this oath and to whom it was being made.
10 You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God; your chief, 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 today 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.
We see from this that the covenant was being made with the whole House of Israel as a nation, including the aliens who were with them. In other words, this oath was not only beneficial to the genealogical descendants of the man called Israel, but to all who were part of that nation.
Beneficiaries of the Covenant
Moses then goes further to include everyone else who was NOT present at the time:
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant, and this oath, 15 but 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.
Moses does not limit his scope to the future generations of those who were present, but essentially includes all men in other nations who were not present. He then mentions those nations in a parenthetical statement in the next two verses, saying,
16 (for you know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed.)
Many Egyptians and people of unknown origins had joined the Israelites when they left Egypt (Ex. 12:38). But the majority of the Egyptians remained behind, and it is self-evident that the vast majority of the other nations had not joined the Israelite nation. Instead, they continued to follow their idols and false gods, as we read in verse 17,
17 (Moreover, you have seen their abominations and their idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold, which they had with them.)
In other words, those other people, who were not present when this second covenant was revealed, were yet under the illusions of idolatry. Hence, the oath of God in this second covenant meant that God intended to be their God and to make them His people—to the best of His ability. The real question, then, is whether or not God is able to fulfill His promise, especially in light of the fact that those people were hard-core idolaters.
Take note that this was God’s oath alone. Unlike the previous covenant, Moses does not say “if,” nor does He make its fulfillment dependent upon man’s will or man’s ability to follow God.
This is what makes this Deuteronomy covenant special and different. When God makes an oath by Himself, its fulfillment does not depend upon the will of man. Further, God makes it clear that this covenant is actually based upon the promises that He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So we ought to go back and see the nature of those promises, especially as given first to Abraham.
The Promise to Abraham
Genesis 12:1-4 says,
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation [goy] , and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 and I will bless [barak] those who bless [barak] you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed [barak].”
God intended to bless Abraham—or “Abram,” as he was then known. But it is also clear that the blessings of Abraham were supposed to be shared with all nations and all families of the earth. As Scripture unfolds later, we see that such blessings were to come, not through the Old Covenant, but through the New.
How? We are told in Acts 3:25, 26,
25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 26 For you first, God raised up his Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.
In other words, God blesses all families of the earth “by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” This is the nature of the oath that God made in Deut. 29, where He swore an oath to make them His people and to be their God. That oath was also given to all families of the earth who were not present on that day to hear the nature of this covenant.
God’s Oath in Numbers 14
A similar oath was given earlier in Numbers 14, after the people believed the evil report of the 12 spies. God threatened to eliminate all of them and start over with Moses and his children, but Moses reminded God that the neighbors were watching to see if God was really powerful enough to bring Israel into the Promised Land. We read in Numbers 14:13-16,
13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Thy strength Thou didst bring up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land… 15 Now if Thou dost slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Thy fame will say, 16 “Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.”
In other words, if the disobedience of Israel could thwart the promise of God; if the will of man was stronger than the will of God; if the rebellious heart of the people was too much for God to change—then all nations will know it and will remain satisfied with their own gods.
The average Christian says, “Who would blame God? God had good intentions, but the people refused to follow Him. It is the fault of the people, not of God.”
Such people miss the whole point of the discussion. The fact is that if God had to defer to the will of man, then He never should have taken such an oath. That oath was not to TRY. That oath was a promise to SUCCEED. God vowed nothing about good intentions offset by “if” clauses. He vowed to make it happen. God’s reputation was at stake.
God then drew back the curtain to reveal the big picture to Moses, saying in Numbers 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
This, too, was an oath, for the term “as I live” means that God vowed by Himself, seeing that there was no higher power to swear upon.
He vowed to fill the earth with the glory of God. What does this mean? This oath is referenced by the prophets in Isaiah 6:3; 11:9; Psalm 72:19; and Hab. 2:14, which says,
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The last time I saw the sea, I took note that the waters covered 100% of the sea. Hence, the glory of God will cover 100% of the earth. This is consistent with our view of the second covenant in Deut. 29, which extends to all men, those present and those not present.
The Promise in Psalm 22
Psalm 22 gives us further clues, for this is the psalm that Jesus quoted as He hung on the cross to ratify the New Covenant. This psalm is entitled, My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? The title is taken from the first phrase of the psalm. In biblical times, the first few words of a psalm or book normally formed the title.
Jesus quoted Psalm 22 in Matthew 27:46,
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying [that is, quoting], “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
In other words, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, ending with “It is finished” (John 19:30) just before He died. “It is finished” is the final phrase of Psalm 22:31, which the NASB translates,
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
The KJV read, “that He hath done this.” Young’s Literal Translation reads,
31 They come and declare His righteousness to a people that is born, that He hath made! [He has finished making]
What Work did Jesus Finish?
What exactly did Jesus “finish” at the cross? What was this “finished work”? To what end did He die? What was the purpose of the New Covenant that He ratified on the cross? The answer is found in the earlier verses of Psalm 22, beginning in verse 27,
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee. 28 For the Kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations, 29 All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive. 30 Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 31 They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born that He has performed it.
This appears to be a direct reference to the New Covenant as Moses presented it to the nation of Israel. Whereas Moses reminded them that many other people were not present when this second covenant was being instituted in Deuteronomy 29—on account of their idol worship—even so, God rules all nations. God is sovereign, and He is then responsible to bring all those nations into the New Covenant, as Moses confidently prophesied.
Psalm 22:29 implies that most of them will die before bowing to Him, and yet “all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him.” In other words, as Isaiah 45:23 affirms, “to Me every Knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” But how? Most people throughout history never even heard the name of Jesus. How could they bow and swear allegiance to Him? How could they declare Him to be Lord to the glory of God the Father, as Paul states in Philippians 2:11?
David gives us the best clue in Psalm 22:29, “All those that go down to the dust will bow before Him.” To put it plainly, all who die will bow before Him. That includes all nations. When will they bow? Will it not be at the Great White Throne? When they stand before the great Judge of Creation, will there be any unbelievers in the crowd? Of course not. All eyes will be opened at that time. All men will realize the error of their ways. All will know that the idols they served during their life time were mere creations of men.
David then tells us in Psalm 22:30, “Posterity will serve Him.” He equates it to “the coming generation.” In other words, this is a prophecy of a future time, and in that day, “they will come and will declare His righteousness” (Psalm 22:30). Biblical righteousness is more than mere justice. It is God’s ability to make good on His vow.
Declaring His Righteousness
The New Covenant oath, Moses says in Deuteronomy 29:13 is “that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God.” This is something that God is vowing to do. Jeremiah 31:33 affirms this, saying, “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.”
Can God actually fulfill His promise? Does He have the ability and the power to fulfill His oath and to change the hearts of all men, whether they were present among the Israelites in Moses’ day or not? Yes, indeed, He is a righteous God, and when all who go to the dust rise again and swear allegiance to Him at the Great White Throne, it will be, as Paul says, “to the glory of God the Father.”
In other words, as David says in Psalm 22:31, “they will come and declare His righteousness.” The Hebrew word for “declare” is nagad, “to stand out boldly, announce, to expose, predict, explain, praise.” When the ex-idolaters of the earth boldly testify by personal knowledge and experience that the true God of Creation was actually able to change the hearts of all who gone into the dust, this declaration will be proclaimed “to the glory of God the Father.”
That is the finished work of Christ. That is what He “performed” (NASB) on the cross. That is what was “done” (KJV). These are the people “that He hath made” (Young’s Literal Translation).
Not all yet recognize this, of course, but in the end, He will manifest Himself to all at the Great White Throne, and all will swear allegiance to Him. Then in the age that follows, they will learn righteousness at the mouth of those who rule and reign with Christ. Those who are given “life” at the Great White Throne will receive authority to teach and to train the ex-idolaters in the ways of God.
The Timing Factor
The final result will be that God will write His laws upon the hearts of all men. The finished work of Christ established this FACT. The TIMING of this, however, is another matter. The overcomers will be the first fruits who will receive the reward of “life.” The dead overcomers will be raised in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6), while the last generation of overcomers will be “changed” without dying (1 Corinthians 15:51).
The rest of the believers will be given “life” a thousand years later when the unbelievers are brought into judgment at the Great White Throne (John 5:28, 29). The unbelievers among them will become believers when they see the glory of God, and they will declare their allegiance to Him and be filled with the Spirit. This will begin the divine process of writing the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2) in their hearts, which had not occurred during their former life on earth. This is the “lake of fire,” baptism of fire, the divine judgment that the Spirit of God executes upon all flesh, either in this life time or in that which is to come.
The judgments of God could never thwart, contradict, or work against His promise. This is a basic truth that is little understood in the church today. Many think that the holiness of God forbids Him to save those who come under judgment at the Great White Throne. But the opposite is true. The holiness of God demands that He should fulfill His New Covenant oath. His unconditional vow put His reputation on the line. It challenged His ability to change the hearts of men. Will God’s holiness thwart His sovereignty and cause Him to break His oath? No, God’s wisdom will always find a way for His holiness to work in concert with His sovereignty.
The underlying assumption among many Christians is that there is no salvation after a person dies. But such a view makes God’s holiness work against His promise and against His desire (and will) to save all men. Scripture never tells us that there is no salvation beyond the grave.
In fact, in the law itself, God provided two Passovers in order to prophesy that there are two opportunities to be justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God. (See Numbers 9:9-11.) This prophesies that if a man is far away from God and does not keep the Passover, he is commanded to keep the Passover in the second month. There are, therefore, two opportunities in the law to be justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb.
Further, the promise of the New Covenant does not depend upon man’s will, as did the Old Covenant. If man’s will were more powerful than God’s will, then one might conclude that God was unable to write His law upon the hearts of most men. It really comes down to the question of power. Does God really have the ability to write His law upon the hearts of all men? Or is His ability limited by the power of men to resist His will?
In my view, God is able. When the Israelites believed the evil report of the ten spies, Moses reminded God that the nations might say that God was not able to bring Israel into the Promised Land (Numbers 14:16). God’s answer is given in Numbers 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
In other words, not only will God bring Israel into the Promised Land, but He intends to fill the whole earth with His glory. Is God able to do that? I believe so.
He proved His ability when He changed the heart of Saul to Paul on the Damascus road. If God could do this with ease in the case of Saul, what stops Him from doing it with all men at the Great White Throne? Death is the divine deadline to become an overcomer, but it is not a deadline for salvation itself.