Section Two: The Law (Exodus-Deuteronomy) [Life Comes Through Covenant]

Section Two: The Law (Exodus-Deuteronomy), Life Comes Through Covenant

A Story

Once upon a time there was a little girl—we’ll call her Little Red Riding Hoodwho was heading to her grandmother’s house to make muffins.  Little Red and her grandmother both loved fresh baked muffins right out of the oven.  It was the plan for Little Red to pick up some extra special supplies for the muffins.  Her grandmother was the expert on blending just the right ingredients to make the perfect muffins.  Her grandmother gave her the plan and the places to stop for the best ingredients.  Her grandmother also always talked over her path with her from one house to the other.  Her grandmother laid out the perfect plan for her whenever they would get together for muffin-making.  Little Red was excited and could not wait for fresh muffins.  Little Red set out from her house on the pre-planned path to her grandmother’s house.  It was not a short walk or a long walk, but a normal walk for a little girl.

Little Red had not gotten far from her house when she came to a cross street with a berry stand.  Mr. Farmer always had the best berries for muffins.  Little Red selected fresh blueberries and strawberries, paid Mr. Farmer, and put them in her basket.  Her grandmother knew the way to mix berries for perfect muffins every time.  Then she had to cross the street.  It was not a busy street or a street with no traffic, but a normal street she had to cross.  Standing on the street corner was a Wolf.  The Wolf smelled the fresh berries in her basket.  “Little girl,” the Wolf called out, “I smell your berries from here!  Could I trade you some berries for some of my magnificent walnuts?  They are most excellent for baking!”  Little Red Riding Hood thought for a moment…they could add nuts to the muffins.  There is certainly nothing wrong with adding some nuts…even though it was never in the plan.  She started to go over to the Wolf to trade some of her berries and then remembered her grandmother.  Little Red stopped in her tracks and realized she could not sell any of her berries.  “I must follow the plan!  I must stay on the path!” Little Red called out.  She went on.

Little Red turned a corner on her journey and she spotted her neighborhood playground.  The swings looked fun.  Her friends were sliding down the slides and giggling.  They beckoned her to come and play.  Oh how she wanted to play!  Little Red loved the merry-go-round.  She started towards the playground, but as she approached, remembered her grandmother.  “I must follow the plan!  I must stay on the path!” Little Red called out.  She went on.  Right after the playground, she stopped into a corner store and picked up a new bag of bakers flour.  The best ingredients were required for grandmother and their muffins!

After the corner store, Little Red was getting closer and closer to her grandmother’s house.  Little Red’s legs were getting tired from the walking.  She had picked up her pace after almost losing her way with the enterprising Wolf and the playground.  Now her legs were tired.  Then she saw it…the General Store.  The General Store had the best butter for muffins.  Her grandmother had told her that.  She got to the front of the store and saw a nice wooden bench.  It was not a large bench.  It was not a small bench.  It was a normal bench for sitting.  Little Red decided to sit down for a moment.  Her feet hurt.  She set the basket next to her and closed her eyes for a moment.  The moment lasted longer than she realized.  All of a sudden she bolted upright from the bench and exclaimed to no one in particular, “I must follow the plan!  I must stay on the path!”  She grabbed her basket full of berries and flour and rushed into the General Store.  After only a moment, she had butter in her basket and went on.

Little Red turned the final corner and her grandmother’s house was in view.  She could see her grandmother’s house with the shutters.  She could see the flowers out front.  She could see the swing on the porch.  And on that porch sat her grandmother!  Little Red Riding Hood could barely contain her excitement.  She called out and waved!  Her grandmother heard the voice of her granddaughter, called out, and waved in return.  Little Red reached the house and embraced her grandmother tightly.

“I am so glad you came dear,” Grandmother said.  “Did you follow the plan I laid out for you?”

“Yes grandma,” Little Red Riding Hood said respectfully.

“I am so glad you made it without incident,” Grandmother said.  “Did you stay on the path we discussed?”

“Oh yes grandma.  I did not turn to the right or the left.”

“I am glad you found your way and you did not get held up,” her grandmother responded as they went into the house.

“Oh,” said Little Red with exasperation, “there were many temptations along the way, but I just had to follow your plan and stay on the path!”

The End.

Life Comes Through Covenant

Whether you and I realize it or not, the Bible is one plan and path from the beginning pages of Genesis through the ending pages of Revelation.  It describes one God.  It describes a God acting a certain way with His people in ancient times and that same God acting in the same way with His people around the time of the arrival of Jesus.  He even acts the same today with us.  About Jesus (for Whom we may extend the meaning to God the Father), Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (NIV 1984).  James 1:17 also reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV 1984).

One of the more demonstrative ways God the Father deals with us in a consistent manner is through our relationship in the covenant.  His people, as they came out of Egypt, entered into covenant relationship.  Jesus Christ came to fulfill that covenant relationship (Matthew 5:17).  We also, believers in the postmodern-ever-leaning-post-Christian 21st century, are called into a covenant relationship with God which is the way of LIFE.  As an example (and there are many), let us first take a journey through the Book of Deuteronomy and take five stops along the way.  This will be a balloon ride looking down on Deuteronomy, keeping in mind Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We shall stop first in Chapter 10, and then move to 17, 18, 28, and 29.

Deuteronomy 10: It Can Be a Hard Process

Deuteronomy 10 is the passage in which the revered prophet Moses is receiving a second set of tablets on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments.  He broke the first pair in righteous anger.  The Lord writes on these tablets (Deuteronomy 10:4) and these ten laws serve as the foundation of the Law for the people of Israel who are camped around the mountain.  Why did God do this?

God did this because His people had spent the previous 400 years as an oppressed people in one form or another in Egypt (see Genesis 50-Exodus 12 if you are unfamiliar with this historical narrative).  This meant that all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ingested tremendous influence from the Egyptian culture.  The masses of Israelites did not readily self-identify with God or know the manner in which He wanted them to live.  God needed to remold and reshape their identity in Him if He was to keep His promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).  God had to show them a different WAY…a better way…because being enslaved was the only life they knew.  He had to show them HIS WAY was TRUE LIFE.

Note the following from Deuteronomy 10:12-17:

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  13and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?  14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.  15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.  16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.  17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (NIV 1984).

The relationship that God instituted in the covenant with His people was quite intense, very serious, and was all encompassing.  This passage above from Deuteronomy 10 (along with the very important passage Deuteronomy 6:5) shares with us that a relationship with God includes all aspects of a person and all aspects of life.  What is delineated in other passages about the Law shows us that the WAY of LIFE in God touches all aspects of our lives from diet, clothes, relationships, handling of money, sex, the environment, health, disagreements, and any other issue in life that can be dreamt.  This is a chosen way of life for His chosen people.

It is most significant to note in Deuteronomy 10:16 that His people are to live with a “circumcised heart” even though another circumcised organ was the physical sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:11-14).  A “circumcised heart” indicates a path of absolute faithfulness to God on the part of human beings if they are to follow God.  This notion of complete devotion to God is not an Old Testament idea alone for the Apostle Paul says the same thing in Romans 2:25-29, A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical” (Romans 2:28, NIV 1984).  The Apostle Paul is telling us that a circumcised heart is putting one’s obedient belief in God into practice.

Deuteronomy 17: It is a Purging Process

Our next stop along the journey in Deuteronomy is Chapter 17 in which verse 5 states in part: “take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death” (NIV 1984).  In this short chapter alone, three separate times death and purging are mentioned and needed when evil crept up among the people.  God was prescribing for the people boundaries for worship and sacrifice in a manner worthy of Himself.  The basic message of Deuteronomy 17 is that those who break the covenant relationship die.  That’s it.  It’s not complicated.

Insert in your mind the narrative of death in Exodus 32 with the Golden Calf.  Insert in your mind the narrative of death in Leviticus 10 with Nadab and Abihu.  Insert in your mind the narrative of death in Leviticus 24 with Shelomith’s son.  Insert in your mind the narrative of death in Numbers 15 with the wood gatherer.

This same truth is implied elsewhere in the Law, specifically in Exodus 17:1-7 and other passages in which God provides for the people (manna, water, quail, direction, light, etc.).  Those who were thirsty and grumbling and quarreling in Exodus 17:2 received from the Lord God water from a rock in the midst of a dry desolate dreary land.  The Lord demonstrated His presence and provision among the people, but only among His people.  Please note, God provided manna, water, or quail for His people, but it was only His people who received it.  An Amorite trader, bands of Bedouin Ishmaelites, or others travelling in that same desert would have gone without God’s provision.  In addition, hypothetically, any Israelites who split off from the main camp and did not travel with the group did not receive these blessings.  It was only in being part of the community and being connected with God did the people receive the blessings of LIFE.

In these passages we see an eternal truth that LIFE must be found in God and consequently also in Jesus Christ.  For the Israelites, there was no life outside of camp for only God could provide life and sustain it.  For Christians, there is no life outside of our relationship with God for only God provides life and sustains it.  Queue Jesus…Jesus Christ was quite specific about this in John 15 in which He said (the words are in red!), “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4, NIV 1984).  You may try and live life on your own apart from God, but you cannot.  You may do something or exist in a certain way, but it isn’t life.  Not really.  Only God has life in Himself and only He can give it (John 6:33).

Deuteronomy 18: We Must Listen

Deuteronomy 18 is our third stop of five in the Law.  In terms of passages that look, smell, and taste of Jesus Christ and His way of life, this passage is tops.  In fact, Deuteronomy 18:15-19 is all about Jesus Christ:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.  16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’  17 The LORD said to me: ‘What they say is good.  18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account’”. (NIV 1984).

Look up this passage in the MSG, HCSB, TLB, NET, and the KJV (any version you wish honestly) and the word that you will find is “prophet.”  This “nabiy[1]“ that Moses speaks of in the future Who in context will be blameless, full of authority, and trustworthy is Jesus Christ.  The basic message from this passage is that the people of God should do what this future prophet says.  The passage also tells them to follow all the prophets (test them first and follow them) if they want to hear from the Lord.  Do what the prophet says.  Again, this message is not complicated.

When we do what God says (and His selected prophets and His Son), we remain in God’s community and we remain part of the family.  The result of this obedience is a shedding of light on the WAY life should be.  The result of this obedience is an uncovering of absolute TRUTH.  The result of this obedience is LIFE.

This same principle is quite evident in Exodus 12:13 in the midst of the plagues in Egypt in which God says, And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (ASV).  Take note: those who obeyed were passed over and spared by the angel of death.  Those who disobeyed would have been cursed with losing their firstborn.  Now, while the Passover Lamb is an obvious picture of Jesus Christ (because of John the Baptist’s declaration in John 1:29), what is also obvious is the direct result of obedience.  Those that did what Moses said lived.

Deuteronomy 28: Blessings and Curses are from God, but He prefers Blessings

Fourth base on our overview balloon journey in the Law is Deuteronomy 28 in which God outlines for His people the blessings and the curses of following Him.  This passage is eerily similar to Joshua 8 in which the people, once in the Promised Land, called out the blessings and curses of following God.  God makes it very clear that His way of life has blessings attached with it.  By following the covenant in obedience, the Israelite people were promised a good LIFE.  The list in this chapter of the blessings that occur because of covenant relationship with God are astonishing.  The promises cover verses 1-12:

“set you high above all the nations on earth”

“blessed in the city and blessed in the country”

“fruit of your womb will be blessed”

“your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed”

“blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out”

“enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you”

“blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to”

“establish you as his holy people, as he promised”

“abundant prosperity”

“rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands”

“lend to many nations but will borrow from none”

“make you the head, not the tail”

The chapter also covers the other side of the coin in which the people of God may choose to break relationship with God.  Did they ever do this?  They did.  Often.  Repeatedly.  See the book of Judges for a cycle of faith and rebellion.  Check out the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah or Hosea.   This chapter in the Law serves as a warning.  Please note that the curses portion of this chapter is significantly longer.  While the blessings cover verses 1-12, the curses cover verses 13-68.

Blessings Verses 1-12 315 words 16%
Curses Verses 13-68 1583 words 84%

The message of this passage and any other passage that describes the benefits of being in relationship with God is that without God there is no LIFE.  Moses shared with the Israelites that if they broke off covenant relationship with God that there was nowhere else to go.  The message is the same for us.  When we break off our relationship with God, where else is there to go?  What is left?

The answer to those important questions cut right to the heart of John 14:6 and why they are so important and why belief in Him is so important.  We must heed the words of the writer of Hebrews who has these Israelites in mind (as well as Christian believers) when it is said: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3, NIV 1984).

Deuteronomy 29: God Guards His Heart

As the balloon touches down on our journey in the Law, we find ourselves in Deuteronomy 29, which again presents our authentic covenant relationship with God as the source of LIFE.  Note verses 19-20 in this chapter: “When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.’ This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.  20 The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 29:19-20, NIV 1984).  We find in this passage that an authentic relationship with God requires that we obey and go His way.  When we go our own way, we find that we have sinned and are apart from God.

This passage makes an important impression on us as we think about LIFE in God through a covenant relationship.  We fool ourselves when we state we are believers and yet live our lives apart from God.  This is not acceptable.  This is not acceptable to God.  This should not be acceptable to us!  When we live our lives apart from God (author and pastor Craig Groechel would term this a “Christian Atheist”[2]), we end up walking alone outside of the life God has decreed.

We bring disaster on ourselves (verse 19 above).

We risk a completely dysfunctional relationship with God (verse 20 above).

We risk God not forgiving us (verse 20 above).

We have God’s wrath on us (verse 20 above).

We risk being apart from God forever (verse 20).

Now we know that some of you take a look at Deuteronomy 29 (specifically verse 20) and will say that those consequences do not apply to the New Testament Christian.  Heed the warning.  Present and ongoing belief is commanded for there is no “autopilot” to faith. God will guard His heart against sin and against you if need be.  Christ Jesus gives us His LIFE.  Christ Jesus does not give our own life back to us.  We must take our sin seriously!  God warns His people in the Old Testament that one cannot give God lip service and spout the right words and then duplicitously live in sin.  If we do so, we are fools.  God is not fooled and God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).  There must be obedient belief and a moving forward in covenantal relationship toward the Father that Jesus the Son has revealed.  The attitude of denying self must be present. The nature of Lord Jesus expressed in our lives is the goal.  Titus tells us “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (NIV 1984).

God will not be mocked by going to church on Sunday and living differently Monday-Saturday.  God will not be mocked by our “grace covers me” attitude in which we think we then have a license to sin.  God will not be mocked by our choice to live in sin and call what is wrong right.  God will not be mocked as we live our lives the way we want and expect Him to bless us.

The Bible warns us not to lie to ourselves and to God in the life and faith that we profess to live.  It is a lie to God if we say that we walk in light and follow Him, but inwardly do not and are not consistent with laying down our rights before Him.  It is a lie to ourselves because you cannot live life the way you want and remain in God.  You cannot.  It is an impossibility.

The New Testament agrees with this sentiment when it faithfully records the Words of Jesus Christ (note the five passages below):

#1 Matthew 7:19-23, Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

#2 Matthew 12:31, “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

#3 Luke 6:46, Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

#4 Luke 9:59-62, He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’  60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’  62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

#5 John 15:6, If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Deuteronomy 29 as well as these important passages from the New Testament records for us the emphasis of staying in the covenant relationship with God which will bring LIFE.  The Truth of the matter is that we must give our whole selves to God and we must obey with our whole heart.  We cannot have LIFE apart from God.  We cannot have LIFE apart from Christ.  We cannot have LIFE apart from fellowship with the Holy Spirit.  It is only God who gives LIFE through Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Review of the Five (5) Stops in the Law

What do these five passages from the Law teach us about “Life Comes Through Covenant?

Deuteronomy 10: Our covenant relationship with God requires our whole circumcised heart.

Deuteronomy 17: Breaking the covenant relationship with God means death.

Deuteronomy 18: Obedience to Jesus Christ (empowered by Him as well) provides a way for the relationship to be lived.

Deuteronomy 28: Without our covenant relationship with God there is no life.

Deuteronomy 29: Covenant belief and actual life must be grown together with the goal of matching

What do You and I need to understand?

Do you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood from the beginning?  We hope so.  That little girl was constantly faced with choices and temptations that would have led her off of the path to her grandmother’s house.  At each juncture, Little Red made a choice to stay on the path.

You and I need to understand that though God commands us to be in covenant with Him, He does not force us to be in covenant.  In that sense, we have the opportunity to leave our covenant relationship with God if we so choose.  We are in danger when we take a haphazard faithless attitude.  We are told this very thing in Hebrews 3:7-12 when we are warned not to be like the people of Israel in the past.  They did not live out their covenant relationship with God either.

Hebrews 3:7-12 says:  “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice,  8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert,  9 where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.  10 That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.”  11 So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’  12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (NIV 1984).

We must take the warning from Hebrews 3 to heart in that we need to take our sin seriously, commit our whole selves to an authentic covenant relationship with God, and not allow sin to make us fools.

LIFE is found in living faithfully to God.

LIFE is found in taking sin seriously.

LIFE is found when we let the Holy Spirit mold the desires of our heart after God.

 

[1] aybn = nabiy’ = naw-bee = the Hebrew word for prophet, spokesman, speaker; also used in verse 18

[2] Craig Groeshel “The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.” Zondervan, 2010. ISBN: 9780310332220

 

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