Saturday Oct 22, 2022

Deuteronomy 30:1-20 - Moses Anticipates Israel’s Failure and Encourages them to Obey the Lord


     In this chapter, Moses anticipates Israel’s rebellion against the Lord and the application of the curses upon the nation (Deut 30:1). However, Moses also anticipates their humbling in captivity, return to obedience, and God’s restoration of blessing in the land (Deut 30:2-5). Simultaneously, God promises to create in His people a new heart that will serve Him (Deut 30:6-8), which will bring blessing (Deut 30:9), but also conditions that blessing on their obedience (Deut 30:10). Moses then reveals that God’s will for them—as specified in the Mosaic Law—is not too difficult (Deut 30:11), nor out of their reach (Deut 30:12-13), but is as near as their own mouths and hearts (Deut 30:14). Lastly, Moses ties the people’s blessings and cursings to their own choices to obey or disobey the Lord (Deut 30:15-18), with a call for them to choose life that they might be blessed (Deut 30:19-20).

Moses’ Promise of Judgment and Restoration (Deut 30:1-10)

     Moses, having previously addressed God’s blessings and cursings upon the nation, depending on their obedience or disobedience to His directives (Deut 28), anticipates the nation’s future failure. He states, “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you” (Deut 30:1). This does not appear to be prophecy, but rather, an expectation of future judgment because Moses knows the sinful proclivity of his people and the Lord’s faithfulness to keep His promises.

     But just as Moses expected the nation’s future judgment, He also foresaw their return to God, saying, “and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you” (Deut 30:2-3). According to Peter Craigie, “the people would remember that the circumstances in which they found themselves were not the result of ‘fate,’ but an inevitable consequence of disobeying the covenant with the Lord.”[1]Suffering can, in the right heart, produce humility and obedience in individuals and groups. This would prove true for the generation that went into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. and later returned to the land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. Jack Deere states:

  • "Moses had passionately urged the nation to obey the Lord and His commands, and had set the blessings and curses before them in order to motivate them. Yet he knew his fickle and stubborn people well enough to realize that their apostasy was inevitable and that the worst curses would come upon them—exile and dispersion among the nations. However, even in the midst of this curse he foresaw God’s blessing. For Israel would come to her senses; she would take God’s word to heart."[2]

     Moses, referring to future generations of Israelites, said, “If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers” (Deut 30:4-5). There was a partial return of God’s people to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah; however, the people were dispersed a second time in A.D. 70, which dispersion lasted until A.D. 1948, when there was another partial regathering in Israel in anticipation of God’s eschatological plans. But complete fulfillment of all Israel being in the land and reaping God’s full blessings will not occur until the future reign of Christ. Jack Deere states, “The prophets made it clear that this great restoration to the land would not take place until the Second Advent of the Messiah just before the beginning of His millennial reign on the earth (e.g., Isa 59:20–62:12; cf. Jesus’ teaching of the regathering in Matt 24:31; Mark 13:27). This will be a time of spiritual and material prosperity greater than the nation has ever known (Deut. 30:5).”[3]

     Not only would God restore His people to the land, but He would also change their hearts. Moses said, “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut 30:6). The circumcised heart refers to regeneration. Eugene Merrill notes, “Just as circumcision of the flesh symbolized outward identification with the Lord and the covenant community (cf. Gen 17:10, 23; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2), so circumcision of the heart (a phrase found only here and in Deut 10:16 and Jer 4:4 in the OT) speaks of internal identification with him in what might be called regeneration in Christian theology.”[4] And this circumcised heart refers to the work God will do for the nation of Israel when He fully implements the New Covenant as specified in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:22-32). This work of God in the hearts of His people will happen when Christ returns at His Second Coming and establishes His millennial kingdom on earth. According to Eugene Merrill:

  • "While the repossession of the land can be said to some extent to have been fulfilled by the return of the Jews following the Babylonian exile (cf. Jer 29:10–14; 30:3), the greater prosperity and population was not achieved in Old Testament times. In fact, it still awaits realization in any literal sense (cf. Hag 2:6–9; Zech 8:1–8; 10:8–12). As for the radical work of regeneration described here as circumcision of the heart, that clearly awaits a day yet to come as far as the covenant nation as a whole is concerned."[5]

     Not only would God restore and bless His people, but He would keep His Word to judge Israel’s enemies. Moses said, “The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you” (Deut 30:7). God always keeps His Word, both to bless and curse, whether to Israel, or those who attack her. Moses, speaking to His people, said, “And you shall again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you today” (Deut 30:8). Moses wants the best for his people, so his directives are always to walk with the Lord in obedience. And if his people obeyed, he said, “Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers” (Deut 30:9). If obedience was pursued by the nation, then God would bless His people’s work, their offspring, and the fruit of their ground. Moses concludes this section with the conditional clause, saying, “if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul” (Deut 30:10). The book of the law refers to the book of Deuteronomy as a whole (cf., Deut 31:24-26), and if Israel obeyed, prosperity would follow. Concerning the ultimate fulfillment of this passage, Thomas Constable states, “God has not yet fulfilled these predictions. Therefore we look for a future fulfillment of them. The passages cited above indicate that this fulfillment will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, and in His millennial kingdom that will follow that return. A distinctive of dispensational theology is the recognition that God has a future for Israel as a nation, that is distinct from the future of the church or the Gentile nations.”[6]Warren Wiersbe agrees, saying:

  • "Bible scholars disagree about the future of Israel. Some say that the church is now “spiritual Israel” and that all of these Old Testament promises are now being fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church. Others say that the Old Testament promises must be taken at face value and that we should expect a fulfillment of them when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. Moses seems to be speaking here to and about Israel and not some other “people of God” in the future, such as the church. The church has no covenant relationship to the land of Israel, for God gave that land to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15); and the blessings and curses were declared to Israel, not the church. It would appear that there will be a literal fulfillment of these promises to Israel. When they repent, turn back to Jehovah, and open their hearts to the operation of His Spirit (Ezek 37:1–14; Isa 11:2; Joel 2:28–29), God will save them from their sins and establish them in Messiah’s glorious kingdom (Zech 12:10–13:1; 14:8–9)."[7]

     In closing out Deuteronomy 30:1-10, some dispensational Bible teachers such as Chafer, Pentecost, Lightner, and others, believe this section constitutes what is commonly called the Palestinian Covenant. However, Thomas Constable sees this section not as a new covenant, but a call for Israel to commit themselves to the Lord. Constable states:

  • "Some premillennial commentators have called Deuteronomy 30:1–10 the Palestinian Covenant. They have not used this term as much in recent years, because these verses do not constitute a distinctively different covenant. Verses 1–10 simply elaborate on the land promises made earlier to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:7; et al.)…I would say this section is a call to commit to the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Josh 24:1–28) that, at the same time, contains further revelation concerning the land. The further revelation is that, even though the land would be Israel’s to occupy, the Israelites could only inhabit it if they were faithful to Him."[8]

     I have previously taught Deuteronomy 30:1-10 as being the Palestinian Covenant; however, after closer examination, I am more inclined to agree with Constable’s assessment. Though I greatly love and appreciate many Bible teachers (i.e., Chafer, Pentecost, Lightner, etc.), there will, on occasion, be disagreement with them. It is always helpful that such disagreements are done in love and grace.

Moses’ Call to Choose Obedience and Life (Deut 30:11-20)

     Moses wants the best for his people and he keeps setting truth in front of them with a call to learn and walk in it. The commandments he’s giving to them are not out of reach nor impossible to live by. Moses said:

  • "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deut 30:11-14)."[9]

     God had clearly revealed His Word to His people, and that revelation had been inscripturated. Adherence to His commands did not require superhuman ability. Nor was it necessary to travel to some unreachable location such as heaven above or across a vast ocean to secure it. Moses said God’s Word was near them, as near as their mouth (to be verbally repeated) and heart (to be contemplated). If obedience were not possible, God could not bless Israel when they obeyed, or curse when they disobeyed. For God to impose an impossible standard of law, and then punish His people when they failed, would be a form of abuse rather than love. Daniel Block states, “In calling for wholehearted obedience, Yahweh does not demand what is unknowable, impossible, or unreasonable. If Israel fails—and they will (Deut 31:16–18)—it will not be because the people cannot keep the law because the bar is impossibly high, but that they will not keep it.”[10] God made success possible. The choice was up to His people.

     Moses was seeking the best for his people and wanted them to succeed and prosper. Moses said, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity” (Deut 30:15). Moses would soon die, and only God’s directives communicated through him would remain. God’s law would be with them in written form, which they could carry with them, study, talk about, and adhere to in everyday practice. This gave the people real choices concerning life and prosperity or death and adversity. Of course, Moses desired their best, saying, “I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deut 30:16). Choosing God and a walk with Him according to His Word was a choice to be blessed (cf., Deut 11:26-28). Daniel Block notes:

  • "Moses the teacher/preacher presents two options and outlines the consequences of each. If they demonstrate love for Yahweh by walking in his ways and obeying all his commands, they will enjoy life and prosperity; but if they turn away from Yahweh and his way, they “will certainly be destroyed” (v. 18). Here “the life” and “the good” represent functional equivalents to “the blessing” (Deut 11:26; 28:1–14), while “the death and the destruction” represent the curse (Deut 11:26; 28:15–68)."[11]

     But Moses warned of God’s judgment upon the people if they turned away from Him, saying, “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it” (Deut 30:17-18). A rejection of God and His directives meant a rejection of life and blessing. Here, negative volition, which leads to disobedience, would result in self-induced suffering. Moses challenged his people to obedience today, which reveals his pastoral heart and call for immediate action, not a delay that might lead to forgetfulness and hardening of heart. It would be dangerous to delay one’s response.

     In closing his third address, Moses called for witnesses to the words of the covenant (heaven and earth), as well as a positive response from the nation in order that they might be blessed. Moses said:

  • "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, 20 by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." (Deut 30:19-20)

     Choosing God and a life of obedience would result in blessing, not only for His people, but for their children as well. Concerning Moses’ legal language, Eugene Merrill states:

  • "Once more Moses announced that there and then he was offering the covenant to Israel, doing so as the agent of the Lord and in his name (vv. 19–20). This time, however, the offer was couched in the formal terms of a legal setting in which witnesses were invoked to bear testimony in the future to the response of Israel to the Lord’s gracious overtures. In similar ancient Near Eastern legal transactions the witnesses usually were the gods of the respective litigants, but the monotheism of Israel’s faith dictated that such appeal be to creation, to heaven and earth, for only it would endure into future ages. Such appeal to creation is attested elsewhere in the Old Testament when the Lord enters into some kind of formal legal encounter with his people (cf. Deut 4:26; 31:28; 32:1; Isa 1:2; Mic 1:2)."[12]

     Life and blessing, as well as death and cursing, were tied to the choices God’s people would make, not only for the moment, but for years to come, and not only for themselves, but for their children, who would possess God’s revelation and have everything they needed for a successful life. God has integrity and keeps His Word. The question before the nation was whether they would keep theirs.

Present Application

     God’s desire for the Christian is to develop his/her character so that righteousness, goodness, grace, and love flow easily and with continuity of expression. But godly character does not automatically occur in the life of the Christian, nor does it happen overnight; rather, it matures over a lifetime as we make many good choices to walk in step with God and let His Word transform us from the inside out (Rom 12:1-2). But we should be aware that it is possible to abuse our liberty and make bad choices with the result that we weaken the will and forfeit our freedoms (the alcoholic or drug addict knows this to be true). Paul said, “You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

     Our own choices to live righteously are seen in: 1) our commitment to God and learning His Word (Psa 1:2-3; 2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2), 2) submitting to His will (Rom 12:1-2; Jam 1:22), 3) being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), 4) walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), 5) confessing our sin daily (1 John 1:9), 6) displaying Christian love (John 13:34; Rom 13:8), 7) seeking to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31), 8) living by faith (2 Cor 5:9; Heb 10:38; 11:6), 9), speaking truth in love (Eph 4:15, 25), 10) modeling humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and peace (Eph 4:1-3), 11) forgiving others (Matt 18:21-22), 12) doing good (Gal 6:10), )13), encouraging others to do good (Heb 10:24), 14) fellowship with growing believers (Heb 10:25), 15), praying for others (1 Th 5:17; 2 Th 1:11), 16), building others up in the Lord (1 Th 5:11), and 17) being devoted to fellow believers (Rom 12:10). The wise believer will choose God and His ways, walking with Him daily in the light of His Word, and resting moment by moment in His promises.



[1] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 363.

[2] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 315.

[3] Ibid., 315.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 388.

[5] Ibid., 388.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Dt 30:1.

[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 175.

[8] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Dt 30:1.

[9] In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul borrowed Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and brought it into his line of reasoning to refute those who taught that obedience to the law was necessary as a means of salvation (Rom 10:1-3). But the Mosaic Law was never given as a means of salvation. Rather, it was given as a set of rules for Israel to adhere to in God’s theocratic kingdom, and when followed, would glorify Him and bless others. According to Scripture, only Christ kept the law perfectly and never sinned (Matt 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Furthermore, the standard of the law—ideal perfection—is fulfilled in the one who trusts in Christ as Savior (Rom 10:4), who gives us “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17) at the moment of salvation (Phil 3:9).

[10] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 708–709.

[11] Ibid., 710.

[12] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 392–393.

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