Moses is in the midst of his final sermon before he dies and Israel enters the promised land. Moses has begun this sermon by warning the people about their hearts. They have seen the mighty works of God in the wilderness. They have seen that their clothes and sandals did not wear out. They have seen God wipe out the enemies that attacked them. They have seen God overthrow Egypt. Yet they did not have a heart to see, hear, or understand. They have hearts with roots that produce bitter and poisonous fruit. They have stubborn hearts that say that they will not be judged for living how they want to live and doing what they want to do. God has given them all that they need for obedience. In chapter 30 Moses continues his sermon.
Failure and Success (30:1-10)
Now Moses declares that all things are going to come upon the people, the blessings and the curses (30:1). Moses gives no indication that the people are going to do what God has commanded and only enjoy the blessings. They are going to enjoy both the blessings and the curses. The people are going to ultimately disobey the Lord and they will be taken off of this promised land so that they live among the foreign nations, just as God promised would happen (28:64). They are going be living among the nations and they are going to remember that God said these things would happen to them for their disobedience. Then they will return to the Lord with all their heart and with all their soul (30:2). When the people return the Lord, then the Lord will restore their fortunes, have mercy on the people, and gather them from the nations where they have been scattered (30:3).
This is a very important promise that the Lord is making through Moses because the prophets will key in on this promise. The prophets like Jeremiah (30:18; 32:44; 33:7), Ezekiel (39:25), Hosea (6:11); Joel (3:1), Amos (9:14), Nahum (2:2), and Zephaniah (2:7; 3:20) declare the restoration of Israel’s fortunes. Restoration is going to be God gathering the people from where they have been scattered, showing mercy on them, and restoring their fortunes. This is really important to the New Testament as well because we see this hope of restoration being declared and looked for in the first century. Jesus declared that Elijah would come and restore all things (Matthew 17:11). The apostles asked Jesus if he would restore the kingdom to Israel after Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 1:6). Listen to what Peter preached in Jerusalem.
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:19–21 ESV)
I hope that we see the connection. Moses said that when the people return to the Lord with all their heart (repentance) then God will restore their fortunes. Peter preaches for the people to repent so that they would have their sins blotted out (receive mercy) and that the times of refreshing would come on them as Christ remains in the presence of the Lord until he restores all things. The point is that the hope of restoration was not a false notion regarding Israel but exactly what Moses and the prophets said would happen when the people turn to the Lord. We are also seeing in the New Testament that this hope that God promised was not fulfilled in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra, or Nehemiah, though a remnant had returned from exile. That was not the hope that was promised. But we are seeing this picture coming about in Acts 2 when Jews from all the nations all return to Jerusalem and listen to Peter’s sermon. The hope promised was a reversal and restoration of Israel.
We can see this even more clearly in Deuteronomy 30:5-6. Notice that God is going to make the people more prosperous and more numerous. We do not see this in the return from exile. But we do see this recorded in the book of Acts where multitudes upon multitudes are being baptized and coming into the kingdom of God. Now look at verse 6 where Moses says that Lord is going to circumcise the people’s hearts so that they will love the Lord with all their heart and soul. Back in Deuteronomy 10:16 Moses commanded the people to circumcise their hearts and no longer be stubborn. In chapter 29 Moses tells the people that they still have stubborn hearts and all the blessings and curses are going to come upon them. They are going to completely fail. So what is going to happen? God is going to circumcise the people’s hearts so that they will love him. But this is all that is said. This restoration is left as a mystery because there is no explanation how this is going to come about.
The issue is not the people’s ability to do God’s will. The issue is the people’s desire to do God’s will. But God is going to work to cut the people’s hearts so that they will obey. God’s final message to Israel and to the world is not a message of judgment. Rather, God’s final message to Israel and ultimately to the world is a message of restoration. This echoes what the apostle Paul wonderfully declared in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” God’s final word is the hope of restoration. This reveals God’s unwavering desire for his people and his unwavering commitment to his people.
The Accessibility of God’s Revelation (30:11-14)
Now after saying these things, listen to what Moses says in verses 11-14. What Moses saying is not too hard for the people nor beyond their reach. The demands of this covenant are not unknowable, unachievable, impractical, or impossibly idealistic. The message is near them. It is in their mouth and in their hearts. Their obedience is not too difficult. They simply need their hearts to be changed. The covenant needs to be in their mouths and in their hearts and they can do it. Now the apostle Paul uses these verses to make an important to the Christians in Rome, which again shows that Moses is speaking of the days of a new covenant.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:5–9 ESV)
The righteousness of the first covenant was to do the law. But Moses declared at the beginning of Deuteronomy 30 that they would not do it. The blessings and curses would come upon them and they will be scattered among the nations. That path to righteous does not work because we have stubborn hearts. God needs to circumcise our hearts. So Moses also spoke about the righteousness based on faith. The righteousness based on faith does not say what I am going to do. Rather the righteousness based on faith sees what God has done. God has done the work, not us. We did not have to bring Christ down nor did we have to bring Christ up from the dead. God did the circumcising work by sending Jesus down to us. We did not have to ascend to God. God came down. Further, God did the circumcising work by raising Jesus from the dead. We did not have to bring him up out of the ground. God has done the miracle to change our hearts: bringing Christ down to the earth and raising him from the dead. This is the message that is to be in our hearts and in our mouths. This is why the good news (gospel) is about Jesus coming to earth, dying, and raising from the dead. This is the act to cut our hearts so that God’s laws are on our hearts and mouths so that we will do what God says.
Now we can see in Romans 10:9-10 that this is not at all speaking about just saying the words because that is not the context of Deuteronomy 30 or Romans 10. The point is that God has changed the hearts of the people, not by our works, but by his own works in sending Jesus so that now we have the hearts cut for the Lord so that we will be justified and we will be saved. This is referring to a people that God takes delight in because their hearts are circumcised for him. This is the belief that Paul is referring to (Romans 10:11). This covenant that we have is not too hard for us because we have Jesus who has come down and ascended again. God has made our obedience possible.
The Choice (30:15-20)
Now Moses says that we have a decision to make. The choice is ours. Obey and live, so that you will enjoy the blessings of the Lord (30:16). Or allow your heart to be turned away and surely perish (30:17-18). Choose life for you and your children by loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to the Lord (30:19-20). Let God be your life and your length of days. In spite of our need for help and predicted failure, we must still choose life and not give up. God has made mercy possible. God’s final word is restoration, not judgment. If Christ is not enough to change your heart so that you change your life, there is nothing else God can do. There is nothing anyone can do. God has done what should cut the heart. This is what we see recorded in the book of Acts. The message of Jesus is proclaimed and people are cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). The message of Jesus is proclaimed and God opens the hearts for obedience (Acts 16:14-15). This is how God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This is how Christ lives in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). This is why the writer of Hebrews repeatedly implores Christians to not harden their hearts (Hebrews 3:8,12,15; 4:7). Which will we choose? Will we choose life, letting God circumcise our hearts? Will we choose death, walking in the stubbornness of our hearts?