Christian life can be best understood through the covenant relationship God established with His people. The covenant of grace calls each Christian to respond to God in love, obedience and trust. Looking at Deuteronomy 30:11-14, this article shows how Christ has fulfilled this covenant and has made covenant obedience possible.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2011. 4 pages.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 - Our Call to Covenant Obedience

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 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? 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 you may observe it? But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

As Christians how are we to under­stand God’s dealings with us? This maga­zine incidentally is called Faith in Focus. But when we consider our faith and God’s dealings with us in this life, how are we to interpret what’s happening to us? How do we remain focused on our Christian faith as we walk through this life? An important truth is to remember we live in a covenant relationship with God. God has made a covenant with us in Jesus Christ. We call this the Covenant of Grace, which basically means that God now relates to us in Jesus Christ. All that Jesus Christ has accomplished is freely given to us and this is why it is a Covenant of Grace. As our Mediator Jesus has obtained salvation for us and earned all the spiritual blessings of the covenant for us by meeting all God’s perfect requirements and now freely shares with us all the benefits that He has earned.

What is the heart of the covenant? Obviously it is God sovereignly entering into a bond of fellowship and friendship with His people. As Reformed Christians, the covenant forms the main framework within which we understand our salva­tion. Sometimes the tendency is for us to theorise covenant at the cost of per­sonal application. But we must be careful here because even though the covenant is unconditionally administered by God, He requires that we be obedient to His word. Closely aligned with God’s grace is His law. By law I am referring to God’s moral law found in the Ten Command­ments and its general application given to us in the Mosaic Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. The reason why I specifically want to stress the impor­tance of covenant obedience is because this is the basis upon which we experi­ence the richness of God’s presence in fellowship.

Today’s tendency in the church is to display a superficial understanding of the place of the law in God’s revelation of salvation. Many Christians view the law in contrast to the gospel. Its requirements we are told, were quite unattainable. Instead they think that the Apostle Paul teaches that the law was given to merely highlight the need for a radically differ­ent order, a dispensation of grace. But this understanding does not do justice to Paul’s understanding of the law.

A favourite quote to support this faulty view of the law is Rom 10:4, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. ‘End’ does not mean that Christ fulfilled the law and therefore terminated the law. This erroneous view makes a sharp contrast between the old dispensation and the new dispensation, claiming that in the former the law was the basis of righteousness and in the latter the basis of righteousness is the gospel. But this is not the meaning of the text. The law was never the basis of righteousness. This verse is simply stating that those who trust in Christ for their righteous­ness cease trying to use the law to es­tablish their own righteousness.

Besides, was not Abraham saved by faith? ‘End’ here therefore means, what we have in view, the object, the aim. In other words the object that the law had in mind was Christ. The ceremonies, the temple, the altar, the priest, and the sacrifices – all had Christ in view. In fact there was never a dispensation of law without the gospel. The law of the Old Testament was also part of the gospel. The law pointed to Christ. When the end was attained, the law dropped away. It is in this sense that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.

As we consider the teaching of Deut 30:11-14, let us start by considering the context of the passage and its place within the structure of the book of Deu­teronomy.

Verses 11-20 are what we may de­scribe as the climax of the book of Deuteronomy. This final volume of the five books of the Law of Moses is the document which records the renewal of God’s covenant with His chosen people, Israel. Israel is camped on the plains of Moab after 40 years of wandering in the desert and is now finally being prepared to enter the land of Canaan which God had sworn to give her. In its structure the Book of Deuteronomy as a whole is a covenant document that sets out the nature of the binding relationship between God and Israel and the terms and conditions for the continuation of that relationship. Meredith Kline best ex­plains this in his book, The Treaty of the Great King, Eerdmans, 1963.

After a brief preamble on Moses, the covenant mediator (1:1-5), there follows a historical prologue (1:6-4:49), which updates events since the time of the orig­inal institution of the covenant at Sinai. The bulk of the document (5-26) is then concerned with Israel’s obligations, par­ticularly as they relate to the new situ­ation facing them, that of entering and possessing their inheritance. Verses 27-30 give a subsequent account of the bless­ings and curses that follow, depending on how Israel relates to God’s requirements. In Chapter 29 the consequences of un­faithfulness are spelled out in a virtual prophecy of exile from the land Israel is about to possess; while 30:1-10 is an assurance of God’s gracious purpose in what amounts to a prophecy of resto­ration after exile. The dominant theme is that of grace; it is about what God intends to do for His people.

He will bring you to the land that be­longed to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.Deut 1:5-6

Correlative with this gracious activ­ity, the requirement of covenant obedi­ence is again mentioned: v8, you will again obey the Lord your God and follow all His commands I am giving you today.

This then is the preceding context to the passage we are considering, wherein Moses gives his final appeal to Israel for a response of loving and faithful com­mitment to the Lord (30:11-20). The concluding chapters (31-34) relate to the provisions for the continuity of the covenant, after Moses’ death, under the mediatorship of Joshua.

Israel’s Covenant Requirements🔗

v11, now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

In v8-10 Moses had spoken of ‘com­mandments’ in the plural, referring to Israel’s obligations under the covenant, but here he sums up the whole of what is required of Israel as one obligation, speaking literally of ‘the commandment I am commanding you.’

This obligation denotes the sum and essence of the law, which is a commit­ment of love and loyalty to the Lord. The summons to love the Lord is a constant refrain of the book of Deuteronomy. From such love flows obedience to God’s other commandments. What is required of Israel is not a super-spiritual understanding but an understanding of the law given to them or their performance of it.

v12-13 it is not in heaven ... nor beyond the sea ... to get it.

The thought of v11 is now further explained in these verses. A man does not have to engage in an impossible search or struggle to attain a knowledge of God’s requirements. For Israel to ask such questions is to try and evade their responsibility to God.

To be sure, there are bounds to human capacity and understanding; and there is a knowledge that is beyond even the reach of the redeemed, but the knowledge of the law does not fall within this category, for God has revealed it in Deuteronomy.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law. Deut 29:29

Instead we read in Verse 14, no, the word is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.

The ‘word’ like the ‘commandment’ above, sums up the whole law. God’s ‘word’ is His self-expression originally exercised in creation and given through Moses and the rest of Scripture and finally manifested in Jesus Christ (Joh 1:14, Heb 1:2).

The verse gives us the reason why no difficulty is involved for Israel in knowing God’s will. It is because God has graciously revealed Himself in cov­enant, bringing His covenant word near and placing it not merely on tablets of stone, but in His people’s mouth and heart. This truth must serve as a powerful corrective for any tendency to see the Old Testament simply as a demand for conformity to an external code of law. This inward aspect of the law is seen in Deut 6:6-7 and again in Jer 31:33.

The new covenant is not to be some­thing totally different but a glorious re­alisation of all that was promised under the old covenant.

Our Covenant Response🔗

In the light of this, namely, the old cov­enant’s evaluation of itself, how are we to assess the place of the law from our stance under the new covenant? Thank­fully, in God’s providence we are not left to draw inferences from any normative principle for a New Testament perspec­tive on this passage. Paul explicitly deals with this subject in Rom 10:6-8.

But the righteousness that is by faith says; do not say in your heart, who will ascend into heaven? (That is, to bring Christ down) or who will descend into the deep? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming. Rom 10:6-8

Paul uses the text from Deuteronomy to demonstrate his point about the ‘righteousness of faith.’ Incredibly the ‘word’ of Deut 30:14 is for Paul ‘the word of faith we are proclaiming.’ Commenta­tors have found these verses perplexing because Paul uses a passage that unde­niably refers to the law in its original context, to demonstrate the accessibil­ity of the righteousness that comes by faith. In addition, he has just explicitly contrasted law and faith in v5 where he says, Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” The text of this quota­tion follows the wording of the Greek Septuagint translation fairly closely.

We could paraphrase Paul’s threefold use of the words, ‘that is...’ by ‘this actu­ally refers to...’ By his interspersed com­ments on the quotation, Paul appears to be relating the passage to Christ. To ask such questions as ‘who will ascend...?’ or ‘who will descend...?’ is tantamount to denying the incarnation and resurrec­tion of Christ from the dead. It is only because of Christ’s incarnation and res­urrection that the righteousness of faith is accessible.

This passage, together with Paul’s use of Deuteronomy, brings us to the heart of the question of the relationship between the covenant responses in the two Testaments. How does observing the law as the covenant obligation in the Old Testament relate to exercising faith in Christ in the New? As indicated initially, many Christians make a sharp distinction between the two expressions of covenant response. But the fact that Paul freely quotes from an Old Testa­ment law-keeping passage to prove his point about faith ought to cause us to question this assumption.

One could even raise the question as to whether there is any contrast between law and faith intended in Romans 10. The word translated ‘but’ in v6 could be rendered as ‘and,’ the point being that in the context of Paul’s discussion on the universality of salvation – for Jew and Gentile alike, both the law and faith speak with one voice. Certainly, the original context of Lev 18:5, which Paul quotes in v5, is not one of perfection but of a loyal commitment to the Lord and avoidance of idolatry.

Calvin concurs that in Paul’s discus­sion in Romans 10 we need to see the importance of the unity of the covenant of grace. In the light of what Paul says, Moses cannot be speaking of law in con­trast to the gospel or to faith. The law is not to be confused with legalism, some­thing that the Jews annexed to them­selves from their understanding of the law. Paul, in countering the views of his proponents, stresses faith over against the works of the law, because he needs to make clear that acceptance with God is wholly of grace. Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace (Rom 4:16).

Paul is under no such misapprehen­sion as to the place of the law rightly understood. Far from ignoring the context of the quotation from Deuter­onomy, Paul has with great insight seen the same principle of grace operating in both the Old and New Testaments. It is impossible to attain our salvation by meritorious performance of the law or meritorious faith. It is only by the reve­lation of God’s grace in the redemptive work of Christ that the covenant ‘word,’ the ‘word of faith,’ is brought near, ‘so that (we) may obey it.’

It is, then, our response to God’s grace, not the attainment of it, that is in view in both Deuteronomy and Romans. Yet it remains true that without that response there is no salvation. Paul continues to echo the language of Deu­teronomy when he says:

If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.Rom 10:9-10

Both confession with the mouth and belief with the heart are indispensable aspects of a commitment to the Lord, whether for the Old Testament or the New Testament saint.

The above evaluation of the law and the identification of the Old Testament with the New Testament response to the Covenant of Grace and the equation of obedience with faith is fully endorsed by the New Testament. Faith as the appro­priate New Testament response to the grace of God is never abstracted from obedience. Believers are those who obey the Gospel (Rom 1:5, 6:16, 17; 10:16, 15:18; 16:19, 26).

Jesus portrays obedience as a realis­tic and practical requirement of faith. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mt 11:30). Whether these words have reference to law or to wisdom makes little difference, for wisdom is but the application of law to the individual. John the apostle wrote, ‘this is love for God; to obey His commands, and His commands are not burden­some...’ (1 Joh 5:3).


Deuteronomy 30:11 touches the heart of the covenant, which is to say the heart of the gospel, for there is but one cov­enant of grace. God requires a response of love, trust and obedience from His people. This is a response which is not inaccessible, but as Paul explains, has been brought near by the redemptive work of Christ.

Obedience to God flows out of the bond of covenant love and issues in life and blessings, whereas disobedience brings death and God’s curse. What was revealed to Israel in the Old Testa­ment endorses the fact that there is no discontinuity between the law and the gospel. In the light of this, the chal­lenge to God’s people today, no less to the Israelites on the plains of Moab is: ‘choose life.’

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