The covenant is now presented to the people. They will not be faithful to it, and this defection is important in the teaching of the New Testament. “These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel . . .” (Dt. 29:1-29).
The first nine verses are a review of what God had done for Israel to this point (vv. 1-8), along with a charge to keep covenant (v. 9). The covenant is with the entire people (vv. 10-15). At the center of the covenant is the charge to avoid the filthiness of idolatry (vv. 16-21). Judgments for disobedience will not be done in a corner (vv. 22-28). The whole world will see it. And the chapter concludes with a charge to walk in obedient humility (v. 29).
One of strangest features of this sinful world is that of “eyes that will not see.” We sometimes wonder at the obtuseness of ancient Israel. If we had seen Egypt destroyed by plagues, the Red Sea divide, manna fall from heaven, and so on, we would be really obedient. Not like Israel. But this neglects what God told Israel. What was their problem?Israel was called to cut the covenant with God (v. 1). They saw great wonders in Egypt (vv. 2-3). And when they got to the wilderness, God clothed them (v. 5), fed them (v. 6), and gave them military victory (vv. 7-8). They are called to obedience therefore (v. 9). The problem was that God had not given them the internal eyes to see what He had done (v. 4).
With whom is the covenant made? The aristocracy is there (v. 10). The men are there (v. 10). The women and children are there (v. 11). The lowliest servant is there (v. 11). They are therefore (lit.) to “cross over into the covenant and into the curse” (v. 12). When this is done, God will be their God (v. 13). Who else stands before Him? Not just those physically present, but also generations to come (v. 14-15). God deals with mankind over generations.
They have seen idolatry in Egypt, and in the lands they passed by (v. 16). The words used here for abominations and idols are unusual, indicating a necessary contempt and detestation (v. 17). And yet, for sinners, filthiness can still be attractive (v. 18). Idolatry is closely connected to gall and wormwood. A man being seduced into hypocrisy can easily deceive himself, and in his heart bless himself when God has cursed (v. 19). God will strike that hypocrite with all the curses of Deuteronomy (vv. 20-21), and the land with him (v. 22).
As the chosen people of God, the blessings come to them first, but so do the curses. When future Israelites and aliens see the devastation (vv. 22-23), they will naturally ask why this has happened (v. 24). The answer is that they forsook the covenant (v. 25), and that they worshipped idols (v. 26). Consequently, the anger of the Lord burned against them (v. 27), and He rooted them out of the land (v. 28).
The temptation is for us to set up shop as amateur philosophers. Why did God punish them for disobedience to the covenant (vv. 27-28), and why does He command obedience to the covenant (vv. 12-13), when He is the one who did not give them eyes to see and ears to hear (v. 4)? The secret things belong to God, the things revealed to us and to our children.
We may turn to the New Testament for some of the key points of application from this chapter. The wormwood and the gall—there are several references to the “bitter root” of verse 18 in the New Testament. The first allusion is in Peter’s rebuke of Simon Magus (Acts 8:23). Idolatry consisted here of trying to buy the power of the Holy Spirit. The connection between idolatry and bitterness is interesting. Note Hebrews 12:15. Avoid bitterness. Live at peace with all men, and be holy. Without holiness, no man will see God. The secret things—the fourth verse of this chapter is quoted (along with Isaiah 29:10) in Romans 11:8. God preserved a remnant for Himself—even when it looked as though He had not. But forgetting the previous point, we still want to murmur in bitterness: why does God command things from us when He does not give the power to obey? The secret things belong to God. Is the appropriate response therefore fatalism? No, the things revealed belong to us and to our children.