Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 9. Deuteronomy (1)
Deut 6:3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.
There are two verses here in Deut 6 that go together and are of such significance that we will have to take them one at a time in order to reflect adequately on each of them, Our verse above is the first of the two, but really to catch it’s full import we need to see it in the light of the two preceding verses: “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” (Deut 6:1,2) These two verses lay the foundation. Here on the Plains of Moab, before Israel cross the Jordan to enter the Land, and before Moses goes up on Mount Nebo to die, he reminds the people that God had given them, back at Sinai forty years previously, ‘the Law’ – commands (orders), decrees, (verdicts) and laws (rules & regulations).
Although given back then they are now to be followed in the new land they are about to enter so that (and here’s the thing to note) when they obey all of this ‘Law’ given by the Lord to Moses, there will be three ‘spin-offs’ seen in verses 2 & 3. First we will note them and then consider them more generally.
First, if they obey all of this ‘Law’ they will live long lives (v.2), i.e. they will do nothing to cause God to terminate their lives early and the way they live will produce health and wellbeing that will bring about long life.
Second, (now in v.3) it may go well with them. Now this sounds such a general thing that we could pass it by without noticing, but when you study the subsequent history of Israel from the time they entered the Land until the time of the Exile, you can see plenty of times when it clearly didn’t go well, and there was either internal upheaval or attack from outside. Almost invariably (but not entirely) such times were linked with poor behaviour by the king and/or his people, i.e. they were disregarding God and His laws. Now we might suggest that such things come about quite naturally when the nation disregarded God and His laws, then they were left purely working out their self-centred, godless lives which so often produced internal turmoil (assassinations, revolts etc.)
However, there is cause to believe that, observing these things so many times in the life of Israel (whether that meant the single nation or Judah and Israel after the division after Solomon), these things were not so much accidental coincidences but the specific outworking of God lifting off His hand of protection and restraint AND not bringing His blessing to bear on the life of the nation, when they were disobeying Him. There are illustrations (David, Solomon in the early part of his reign, and a small number of the kings of Judah after the division) of times when the Lord and His Law were put first and in those times there was peace and harmony, both within the Land and in respect of its neighbours. But the emphasis at this point of time, here in Deuteronomy, is that obedience will bring blessing – it will go well with them.
The third outworking will be that they will increase greatly in the Land. Now again we may assume that such thing will be automatic but failure to follow the Law will mean that God will lift off His hand of protection and restraint so that things occur that could reduce their numbers, e.g. plagues internally, invading armies externally.
We do take for granted, I believe, what I have now referred to twice, God’s hand of protection and restraint. It is clear from observing Biblical history that both things are very real and when removed they make the nation vulnerable. When the Lord does lift off His hand of protection and restraint, it is always for disciplinary purposes, to bring about correction and change, i.e. to draw Israel back into relationship of blessing with the Lord.
But I suspect we also take for granted or ignore the reality of God’s ‘blessing’. When God blesses something He decrees good for it, i.e. good WILL follow. We see these in Deut 28:2-14, instances of where the Lord will bring about good, and they all follow obedience. Those are followed by so-called ‘curses’, God’s decrees of bad that WILL follow disobedience. Again we emphasise these are always for disciplinary purposes to bring Israel to their senses and back to the Lord, and the book of Judges is full of such examples of this working out in practice.
Now a final general comment. I have suggested that verses 2 and 3 are highlight verses, verses that stand out as beacons, and the reason I have done that is that they reveal the overall plans and purposes of God – to bless His people Israel by giving them the Law to follow. When they do that, life will be good. It will go well for them, they will multiply in numbers and they will live long lives. That is His intent for this community of people, and in as far as they are to be an example to the rest of the world, they are to demonstrate God’s intent for the whole world.
Ezekiel prophesied how this would be after the Exile, with overtones that suggest that will be how it will be for His people worldwide after the Messiah has come: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek 11:19,20) The new people of God, born again of the Spirit of God, have pliable obedient hearts.
Jeremiah explained it further: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer 31:33) The new, born-again child of God does not have to constantly refer to the ‘rules’ for the very indwelling Spirit of God lives in total harmony with the will of God and as we flow with Him, so will we live in total harmony with God. If we are uncertain, we may turn to the teaching of the New Testament, but otherwise we rely on His leading, and it is ALWAYS to bring us into a place of blessing. Isn’t that wonderful! Hallelujah!