SynopsisThe last few passages have been about God giving the Israelites promises of blessings if they follow Him, and curses if they don’t. They renewed the covenant, and He told them that He knew they wouldn’t always follow Him the way that they should. So I find it interesting that this passage is one where God once again asks the Israelites to choose: Follow Him, or not.
First off, God (or Moses, depending on your viewpoint) tells the Israelites that the choice they have to make is within their ability to understand.
It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (verses 12–14)So the Israelites can’t plead ignorance; they can’t say, “well, yes, I agreed to follow God’s commands, but I didn’t actually understand what I was getting myself into.” What God is asking of them is perfectly understandable.
And what does this choice amount to? It’s “life and prosperity,” or “death and destruction” (verse 15). They can either love the LORD, and obey His commands, in which case He will bless them, or they can turn away and disobey, in which case He will destroy them.
So the choice is theirs.
ThoughtsThis passage got me thinking about the ability of humans to obey God. This passage makes it clear that the Israelites understood what was being asked of them, and if they disobeyed, they’d be doing so knowing that they were breaking God’s commands. (If they gave it any thought—we often disobey and conveniently don’t think about what we’re doing, and in later years, the Israelites seemed to get more and more “secular” in their thinking.)
There seems to be a dichotomy between the Old Testament, in which the Israelites were commanded to obey God, and the New Testament, which tells us that we’re slaves to sin. (See Romans 6, for example.) So which is it? Would the Israelites have been able to obey God, or not? I don’t think this dichotomy exists, and see this as the difference between sin in general, and specific sins. For example, in general, a human is sinful, and is a slave to that sin. We can’t be holy or righteous, on our own. But in specific, any time a human commits any particular sin—whether it be murder or just hate; adultery or just lust—that human is responsible for that sin. (That wasn’t enough detail for this to actually be correct; I’d have to write for days and days to try and tackle a subject this big…)
To a certain degree, however, this is a purely theoretical discussion. More practically, we have to come to terms with the fact that we cannot save ourselves from our sin, and that we need Christ to save us.