We now come to Moses’ last sermon to the people before he dies and the people of Israel enter the promised land. Moses is ratifying the covenant between God and the people, a foreshadowing of when Christ would come and ratify the covenant people God and his people. The people of Israel need to understand the nature of this covenant. The people need to understand who they are and the dangers they face regarding their covenant keeping with the Lord who loves them and has delivered them. Let us look at what Moses has to say as his final words of warning and encouragement to the people.
God’s Grace to the People (29:1-15)
The Lord is making a covenant with these people as they enter the land. The covenant made at Sinai applied to these people and the words that Moses has declared to the people are given in addition to the Sinai covenant. In verses 2-3 Moses tells the people that they have seen what the Lord has done. Your eyes have seen the signs and great wonders. But there is a problem which is stated in verse 4. “But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” In spite of all that the people have seen the Lord do, they have not comprehended what these signs were to mean to them. We will need to come back to this staggering statement. But let us listen to what else Moses says about this.
Moses reminds the people that for 40 years he led them through the wilderness and God cared for them (29:5-6). Their clothes and their sandals did not wear out. Further, they did not have it easy in the wilderness. They did not have food, wine, or strong drink for a reason. Why did they go day after day without what they would need for the next day? God says that he wanted the people to know that he is the Lord. They did not have food so that they would see that God would give them the food that they needed each day. God gave them manna and nothing else to try to teach the people to know this God. Moses further reminds the people of the victories God has given up to this point (29:7-8).
Moses rounds out this section by declaring a simple truth in verses 9-15. You are standing here today because God brought you here. You are standing here so that you can be in a covenant relationship with him. You are standing here by the mercy and grace of God. You are standing here because God has provided for you to such a degree that you are able to stand here. Therefore, keep the words of this covenant and do them so that you will prosper (29:9). We can never forget this message each day. You are living at this moment because God by his grace and mercy has brought you to this moment. You are alive today because God has cared for you.
Do you see the problem that Moses is identifying with these people? God has done all of these marvelous works for them but they have not seen it! Yes, they have observed these truths. They have seen what God did to Egypt. They saw that their clothes and sandals did not wear out. They saw that they are on the brink of entering the promised land and receiving what God had promised. They saw the facts. But they did not see God through these facts. They saw the signs but not the one who performed the signs.
This issue will continue throughout Israel’s history. God tells Isaiah that he is not going to give Israel a heart to understand in that day either.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9–10 ESV)
God made the same declaration about these people in Ezekiel 12:2. Jesus made the same declaration about the people by quoting from Isaiah in Matthew 13:14-17. Paul also quotes this in Acts 28:25-28 and in Romans 11:7-8 that it was still happening even in his day. Jesus noted the same thing in John 6:43-45, saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” What I want us to see is that this is a huge and continual problem for the people who were supposed to be God’s chosen people. Yet the warning began in the days of Moses as he observed the problem in the hearts of the people. The Lord has not given them a heart to understand, see, or hear. Notice how this leads into Moses’ teaching in the rest of chapter 29.
Do Not Reject God’s Grace (29:16-28)
Look at the warning in verses 18-20. Beware of your heart turning away from the Lord to serve idols. “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” Notice what will happen in verse 19. This is one who hears the words of this covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying that he shall be safe even though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart. Moses warns against a heart that is turned away from the Lord. Moses warns of a heart that has a root in it bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. Moses warns about a stubborn heart that thinks that you can get away with being stubborn in heart. Notice what God says in verse 20. The Lord will not forgive but such a heart brings out God’s anger, jealousy, and curses. There is no forgiveness for defiant and arrogant hearts. There is no forgiveness for rebellious thinking. A person has sealed their own fate if this is the heart they have. Verses 21-24 describe the disaster that comes upon the person, not just the nation, but the person who has this kind of heart.
Then the nations will ask why the Lord has brought about curses and destruction on the land (29:24). The answer will be given that it is because the people abandoned the covenant of the Lord and went after other gods (29:25-28). Rebellion equals disaster. The Lord appears to Solomon in 1 Kings 9:4-9 to remind and warn Solomon of this outcome. Do not turn away from the Lord. Do not have a heart of rebellion because it will lead to disaster. Further, the prophet Jeremiah used these words to condemn the nation in Jeremiah 22:6-9. The nation was being uprooted and destroyed for having this heart.
What is the issue? What is the problem? The problem begins with the heart. The Lord’s work had not changed their hearts but they had hearts that still possessed a root that would bear poisonous and bitter fruit. I want to focus on this picture in verse 18. Beware of a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. There are roots in our heart that need to be pulled out. If you have ever pulled weeds, you know what happens if you do not get the root of the weed out. If you pull a weed and you only get the top of the weed, the visible green part, then you know that weed is going to quickly grow back. It may look nice on the surface, but just give it a day or two and you will see it return. The same thing happens when mowing the lawn. You can have a lawn that has weeds mixed in it. When you mow the lawn, your lawn looks great. It all looks like grass. But in a couple days you see the weeds again, mixed in with the grass. The reason is that the root was not dealt with. Only the surface was dealt with and the root remained. You see that Moses is telling the people to get to the root. Do not stay on the surface but look for these roots in your heart that will cause poisonous and bitter fruit. The writer of Hebrews uses the same illustration toward the end of his sermon.
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many. (Hebrews 12:14–15 CSB)
It is a warning for the heart. Do not seal your fate by allowing these roots to remain in you. Moses is recognizing that this is a problem in the hearts of the people at this moment. What God has done has not changed their heart. What God has done has not made them different. It has not impacted their lives or their way of thinking. They have enjoyed what God has done but they still do not see, hear, or understand. This can just as easily happen to us. We can think we see when we are not seeing clearly at all. We can say that we see the cross and see Christ and see the gospel and yet there is not fruit that shows that we are different in our thinking and actions. We are still the same worldly people. God has brought us to this moment and we simply do not see that it is God.
Secret Things Belong To the Lord (29:29)
Now verse 29 means more than what we may often attribute to it. This does not merely say that the secret things belong to God. Look at the verse again.
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)
This verse acts as a hinge verse between to warning of judgment in chapter 29 and the future hope of chapter 30. The secret things belong to God. But that is not the point right here. The point is that God has revealed to us all that we need to do all the words of this law. Our knowledge is not complete. But we have been given enough to obey. There will always be things that we want to know that we may never know. But what we have is enough for our complete obedience to the Lord. You do not need to know the secret things. There is a reason those things are secret. But they do not impact our obedience.
Finding the roots in our hearts is not impossible. God had revealed what we need to look for. You will notice one important characteristic described in verse 19 that reveals the stubborn heart that has the root for poisonous fruit. The person blesses himself in his heart, saying that he will be safe even though he is stubborn in heart. They think they will be safe even though they persist in their own way. They think they will have peace even though they follow the desires of their heart. But here is the certain, declared result: “This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.” It is no secret that such a heart will judged and swept away. Moses’ big message is a warning against having a heart problem. We have what we need for a change of heart. But we cannot remain in our stubbornness, believing that we will not have a consequence for keeping these roots of bitterness in our hearts. When we maintain our stubborn hearts and continue in our disobedience, the Lord will not give us the heart to see. We have closed our hearts off from God. Only with a complete commitment to the covenant could the people grasp all that God was doing for their lives. Let us stand in fear knowing that it is possible to see the works of God and hear the very voice of God and still neither trust or obey the Lord.
Pulling weeds is not easy. It is hard work. Roots do not come out quickly nor easily. The easy thing to do is mow over the top of the weeds. The easy thing to do is to just pluck what is visible so that no one else sees your weeds. Do the hard work by grabbing the root and pulling that weeds out of your heart. Do not let those roots remain any longer.