Key Verse: “This day the LORD your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 26:16
The covenant concluded (read 26:16)
The sermon containing the commandments that would direct Israel’s life in Canaan is over now. Verse 16 serves as a bridge between the preceding stipulations and the covenant formula that follows. In content, verse 16 ties back to Deuteronomy 12:1:
These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.
We have printed verse 16 as the key verse for this lesson. Notice the following details.
The phrase “this day” lends to these concluding verses a sense of urgency, immediacy and summons. God’s people have been listening to Moses’ sermon, recounting God’s faithfulness and their unfaithfulness, setting forth His expectations for their life in Canaan. Now the time has come for Israel to ‘own’ the covenant for herself. Later Joshua would urge the people to covenant renewal with similar words:
And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Josh. 24:15).
“Owning” the covenant requires Israel to pledge her loyalty to the One who, in a very real sense, created her. The name of Israel’s God and King is the LORD, “I Am Who I Am.” It was He who elected her from among every other nation and brought her from death (slavery in Egypt) to life (the fertile land of Canaan). Observe again the personal and penetrating piety required of israeL Keeping the LORD’s commandments with full heart and soul is richly Old Testament. It differs radically from that burdensome piety loaded on the backs of God’s children centuries later by the scribes and Pharisees who neutralized God’s commandments with their traditions. (Question 1)
Moses: the mediator of the old covenant (read 26:17–19)
In these concluding verses Moses clearly functions as a mediator between the LORD and Israel. In a style consistent with covenant agreements he summarizes in the presence of both parties what Israel has acknowledged as one partner to the covenant and what the LORD has declared as the other partner.
Let’s study the content of each covenant declaration in more detail.
Moses begins with Israel’s side:
Today you have proclaimed the LORD to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice (v. 17).
Although there is a translation difficulty here that need not detain us, we may understand this verse to reflect the formula whereby Israel accepted the obligations of the covenant. Accepting the LORD as God entailed submitting to His commandments and listening to His voice alone. Conversely, promising to heed God’s law points to a prior relationship with God that provides the context for that obedience.
Observe that Israel’s oath declaration comes first, as if she initiated the covenant. Although it is certainly true that the covenant originated with God, whose love was its sole source, yet here there appears a striking mutuality of covenant partnership and obligation. Like wife and husband, Israel and the LORD are speaking vows to each other. (Question 2)
This is the LORD’s oath:
Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God, just as He has spoken (vv. 18–19).
The giving of the law on the LORD’s part was to confirm His promise that israel would be His special possession, whom He would glorify above the nations and whom He would sanctify in His service. That law was based on divine election; it arose from God’s special love which created a special people to live in a special way.
Covenant as context for law
The covenant is a relationship between God and His people wherein the seed of gracious election blossoms into the flower of our sanctification.
God’s election stimulates our obedience, and our holiness is the crown upon God’s initiative. God and His people, grace and holiness, converge at “the place the LORD our God chooses,” the place where blood atonement is rendered: the cross of Jesus Christ, foreshadowed in all the ceremonies of the entire law, proclaimed and presented in the church of Jesus Christ by means of Word and sacrament. (Question 3)
Deuteronomy 12–26 teaches us that God’s covenantal law (and God’s law is, finally, strictly covenantal) functions properly only within the context of that relationship established by election for holiness.
The apostle Peter put the same truth this way:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).
The apostle Paul explains it to the Ephesians this way:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
To pastor Titus he writes concerning
our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).
Covenant law as our delight
As we conclude our study of Deuteronomy 12–26, we need to reflect on the question: What is the relationship of the New Testament believer to God’s covenantal law? Books have been written in answer to this question, so we can hope only to scratch the surface of this very broad subject.
In our first lesson we asked the student to find all the references in Psalm 119 that speak of the LORD’s law as the believer’s delight. A concordance check would have led to verses 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92 and 174. We do not exaggerate when we say that delighting in God’s law is a prominent Old Testament theme! But can we find a similar emphasis in the New Testament?
Writing to believers in Rome about the struggle of indwelling sin, Paul describes it as a contest between the inner and the outer man:
For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:22–23).
Regardless of whether Romans 7 describes pre- or post-conversion experience, the apostle’s statement in verse 22 must be understood as the believer’s confession. The law of God—including the Old Testament, theocratic, covenantal, treaty stipulations we have been studying—delights the believer. Its wisdom, righteousness, goodness and mercy excite heartfelt love in Christ’s disciples. (Question 4)
Our prayerful effort in this Bible study series has been devoted to increasing among God’s people their love for and understanding of His covenantal law as that points us to the Lord Jesus Christ and redemption in Him. May the LORD be pleased so to bless this study that our lives may be filled with worship to His glorious praise, and that our worship be living and vibrant in service to His holy will. Together these form the essence of our covenant response.
Questions for Reflection and Reply
1. Read Mark 7:1–13. Mention examples of the Pharisees invalidating the Word of God by their tradition. Mention examples of the same today.
2. Find passages in the Old Testament that speak of the relationship between the LORD and Israel in terms of marriage, of husband and wife. Where in the New Testament do we read of the church’s relationship to God in terms of marriage?
3. In light of the definition of “covenant” given in the lesson, explain how our obedience serves to assure us that we are elect. Why can’t our obedience be seen as the basis of election? Are all those under God’s covenant elect? Defend your answer from Scripture.
4. Explain two or three of the most meaningful things you have learned from studying Deuteronomy 12:26. How will these affect (1) your worship of God and (2) your work in His service?