Hear God’s word to Israel through the prophet Moses:
12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require 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, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
In setting the stage for the book of Deuteronomy, this test was authored by Moses written to Israel in the last days of his life. Israel sits on the boarders of the Promised Land soon to begin the conquest of the land’s inhabitants. They will be led by Moses’ successor, Joshua. Before Moses’ final exhortations to the people of Israel, he recounts the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Law at Sinai, and Israel’s 40 years of wandering because of disobedience; reminding the new generation of Israelites of their history and need to renew their covenant with God. Deuteronomy must be interpreted as a covenant document, bearing in mind the relationship the covenant establishes between God and Israel. (I’ll pick this up in my 2nd point from the text.)
This word is good for us because we have much in common with Israel today. We are God’s people, delivered and loved by him. We are given instruction but are disobedient and need discipline too. We need reminding of God’s faithfulness today because we are in a battle that when left to ourselves we will fail. Today God’s Word is living and active. It is our sword used for battle. It is our covenant document, telling the story of Christ’s work of redemption for us. So, why remain a stubborn and uncircumcised people when the Lord has been and promises to be faithful? Let us be reminded that because the Lord our God is God of gods and Lord of lords, love and obey Him.
The first points I’ve gathered from the text comes from verses 12 and 13.
1. Know and do what the Lord requires.
Moses’ gives 5 requirements God asks of the people of Israel in these 2 verses.
a. to fear the Lord
b. to walk in all his ways
c. to love him
d. to serve the Lord
e. to keep the commandments and statues (referring to the Law)
I’ll speak briefly to each requirement, but fear needs the most attention. First, what does it mean to fear the Lord? When we hear the word “fear” we usually associate some negative emotion of experience with it. This is not the complete sense of the term “fear” in scripture. In this passage “fear” refers to an awe or particular reverence for the Lord. For an illustration, the best example of this kind of fear is displayed in the relationships of children to godly fathers. Fathers love their children, and because they do they train them in godliness. While training children, a godly father must discipline his children. Discipline is not comfortable for children or parents sometimes but is necessary to teach children consequences of sin. Children, then, should feel loved by their father but have a healthy fear of their father’s displeasure and discipline. The Lord is the father of Israel. More than that, He is the father of believers. This healthy, god-honoring fear should characterize our lives. So in your daily reading of scripture or prayer, do you exhibit a healthy fear of the Lord or are you inattentive and haphazard? This thought of fear has been very sobering to me, and I’ve recognized my lack of fear of the Lord. (When I come before the Lord to pray or meditate on the Word, I catch myself. Am I really exhibiting godly fear?) I pray that this word would change you as well.
Next, to walk in all his ways is purely a description of obedience. Much like keeping the Law, walk in all his ways gives us a portrait of purposeful action. This supports the “do” from my first exhortation “do what the Lord requires.” Again I ask if this is displayed in your life lived for Christ. To walk in all his ways does not allow us to be obedient in daily prayers but refuse to give generously; the all does not allow us to glorify God in worship on Sunday and gossip throughout the week; walking in all his ways really means all of them.
To serve the Lord, then, calls for submission. Like a bondservant or slave to a master. God requires humble submission. Do you serve by humbling yourself to share the gospel daily with your coworkers, with your children, with your parents, with your friends? A servant to the Lord, doesn’t get a day off, but should joyfully serve Christ each day.
To keep his commandments and statutes is simply, do what you are instructed; a basic rule for children in most every household. The Lord has given Israel the Law, and they are to keep it. The Lord has given us the scriptures, and we are to hold fast to their teaching by keeping what is commanded.
Purposely, I have saved the issue of love for the last of the 5 requirements from Moses. Not because it is the least important but because the whole of these requirements are built around it. Though all the requirements here are good and right, held together with a theme of allegiance to the Lord, we must remember to love the Lord was the Greatest Commandment preached in Deuteronomy 6:5. Israel is required to love him with all their heart, soul, and might, we, as God’s people, are told the same by Christ in Matthew 22:37. Christ adds that all the Law and the Prophets, in reference to the entire Old Testament, depend on this requirement: to love the Lord with everything you have.
Before moving on then I want to point out what I think to be a key phrase at the end of these two verses. Moses ends verse 13 with “for your good”. So then, we are to keep the Lord’s statutes because He requires it of us and because Christ teaches the same under the new covenant, but God has made it so that when we obey his statues it honors him and is good for us. It is good for us so that we do not incur the wrath of God but also we are made to delight in obeying him.
Therefore, love the Lord and do what he requires for His glory and our good.
Moving along in the text, Moses exalts the God of Israel, proclaiming His dominion over heaven and heaven of heavens along with the earth and all that is in it. Verse 14 affirms the sovereignty of God over the cosmos, over all creation. It is all His. And He only set his heart in love for the fathers of Israel. The fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, did not merit any affection from God. It was the Lord’s decision to call Abram in Genesis 12. It was the Lord who promised Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in their old age and blessed him above his brother Ishmael. And it was the Lord our God who in Genesis 25 said to Rebekah that the older shall serve the younger, Esau would serve Jacob. Moses is exclaiming to Israel that their God chose them above all people as their fathers’ offspring.
What then should be the response to this awesome truth? Moses commands in verse 16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” So, Israel is the chosen people of the God of the universe; he has set his affection on them, yet they are stubborn.
How often do you and I share in the same attitude? So, I charge you as my 2nd exhortation,
2. Circumcise your heart.
But, what does this mean? We have to take a moment to search out the implications.
The practice of circumcision, as we are reminded, was a decree from God. In Genesis 17:9-14 the Lord speaks to Abraham about the covenant sign of circumcision. Every male of Abraham’s offspring shall be circumcised as a sign of the promise of God to Abraham to multiply his descendants, give them the Promised Land, and bless all nations through his line. All of Israel knew the significance of physical circumcision being equated to a mark of God’s people. Now, as Moses preaches the renewal of the covenant, the sign of the people is not outward, but an inward change of heart and attitude toward God; one of love for and obedience to the Lord. The writers of the New Testament pick up this inward circumcision to help us understand the truth in the new covenant in Christ. In Acts, chapter 7, Stephen tells the Sanhedrin while he is full of the Spirit, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” Here an uncircumcised heart resists God’s Spirit. In Romans 2: 25-29, Paul argues that physical circumcision is useless to the lawbreaker; that it is not outward and physical circumcision that makes one a Jew, but the circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit. This produces a life of obedience. Then in Colossians 2, Paul writes that we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands. This is not physical circumcision but the circumcision of Christ that puts off the sins of the flesh.
So you and I, as God’s chosen people, are to circumcise our hearts and be no longer stubborn, but listen to the Spirit and put off sin. Walk in obedience to the Lord under the new covenant circumcision of Christ. It is an inward change to soft-heartedness to the Lord. But how do you and I change our own hearts? Later in Deuteronomy 30:6 even Moses writes that the Lord will circumcise our hearts to love him. Yes, this is the Lord’s work, but it does not mean that we don’t have any responsibility in it. To soften our hearts we must read the Word and pray. When we know the Word, we know more and more of God. A heart that knows the Lord is a heart that listens to the Spirit and the Spirit will never contradict the Word. Therefore, meditate on the Bible and pray to God to remove your stubbornness that quenches the Spirit within you.
For these reasons, circumcise your heart because the Lord has chosen us in Christ and we must respond.
Continuing in the text to verse 17, Moses again exalts our God as the basis for our response. A pattern we should notice when reading. Understanding the character of the Lord requires some response by his people. The Lord is God of gods and Lord of lords meaning he is the supreme God and absolute Lord. He is God in the most complete sense and absolutely sovereign. He has revealed Himself to Israel in His great, mighty, and awesome acts. We remember the God of the Exodus from Egypt; his mighty hand controlling Pharaoh’s heart, his discipline of the Egyptians through the plagues, his defeat of Pharaoh’s army with the waters of the Red Sea. This God is not partial to any and takes no bribe from men, but He is just in His judgment.
The Lord executes justice for the orphan and widow and He loves the sojourner, or stranger, by providing food and clothing. Just as the Lord has loved and cared for the fathers of Israel, so now we see His impartiality in His love and care for those of smallest stature among the people. A sojourner in the land did not have the same national or religious rights as an Israelite, but the Lord provided food and clothing just as He did for his chosen people. Moses says therefore that the Israelites must love the stranger because they were also strangers in the land of Egypt. They were ill-treated in their last days as slaves to Pharaoh and know what it is to be unloved and disrespected.
So my third point derived from the text is that we are to...
3. Love and care for the needy.
As God’s character has been revealed to us through this word, we see His desire to care for the weak or lesser of the community. He creates special laws in Leviticus 19 for their just treatment. His love has been extended to us as well, as we were orphans adopted as sons in Christ; we were gentile strangers but have been brought near, and we are required to love the way God loves. James, as one example, carries this requirement into the New Testament at the end of his first chapter exhorting the people to visit the orphan and widow. This work looks different in every community but here in Jackson, TN our members can serve in numerous organizations and non-profits that were established to serve the struggling in our community. Some of these organizations like RIFA, Area Relief Ministries, Birth Choice Pregnancy Center, and particularly the CARE Center are closely knit to several members already. We can provide meals for needy, indirectly help with their bills, donate clothing, or seek loving opportunities to share the gospel. To love the orphan, however, you may have to take serious steps to becoming a foster parent through organizations like Youth Villages or adopting a child into your family. Such organizations offer mentoring programs for troubled youth as well. In Tennessee alone, 9,186 children are reported victims of child abuse or neglect. This abuse or neglect happens every 57 minutes. Foster care serves 6,723 children from age 0 to 17 years with only 1,001 adopted yearly to new families. That is 5,722 children in Tennessee that need permanent homes. On top of that 69,950 grandparents are now raising their grandchildren. (Children’s Defense Fund, Jan. 2011) These needs are tremendous in our community, state, and nation.
To show the love of our Lord, the church must seek to love the needy of our community.
Coming now to the last point of the text from verse 20...
4. Devote yourself fully to the Lord
Fearing and serving the Lord are repeated here from the five exhortations in verses 12-13. Again they are woven throughout Moses’ discourse and originate from love for God causing us to honor Him and submit to His work. Verse 20 continues with holding fast to God and swearing by His name. The verb used here for hold fast is the same verb used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the relationship of a husband cleaving to his wife. The text urges that we pursue a very close, faithful, and intimate relationship to the Lord. In another place in Job 19:20, the verb describes the sticking of skin to bones. God’s people are to hold fast to him like flesh on bones; a bond that causes great pain when it is separated.
Even more, we are to swear by his name. In context Israel is to make an oath or commitment solely to God in obedience and love; to devote themselves to the Lord fully. A believer’s wedding is a great picture that uses both these verbs appropriately. The groom and his bride stand before the Lord and witnesses to make a covenant between one another. Their oath, taken in God’s name, is a promise of faithfulness and fastness. Today, nothing keeps us from the same devotion to the Lord, but our own pride. Our own stiff necks if you will. But in our devotion, as verse 21 reads, He is our praise, and he is our God. He is the only worthy object. He alone is our God and in Him is our only boast. Because the Lord our God is worthy, devote yourself completely to Him.
And as we love and obey God by devoting ourselves fully in the circumcising of our hearts, we can rest on His faithfulness to us because of what scripture has taught. Looking at the final verse of chapter 10, Moses recounts the faithfulness of the Lord to the promise covenant with Abraham. Genesis 46:27 tells us that the house of Jacob numbered only seventy persons when they began in the land of Egypt, but now God has made them as numerous as the stars of heaven. This is the fulfillment of one part of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. For us, we can see Christ as another part of the promise fulfilled and trust in God’s faithfulness.
Earlier in Genesis 12:3 and again in Genesis 22:18, the Lord promises that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Paul, when writing his epistle to the Galatians, records in chapter 3:7-9 that the gospel had been preached to Abraham knowing that the Gentiles would be justified by faith. Christ is from the seed of Abraham. He blesses the nations through bringing salvation.
Brothers and sisters, we are Gentiles. And God through the promise of Abraham has preached to us the hope of the gospel of Christ. We have been adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ alone. You must believe that Christ, as the Son of God, was born on earth by a virgin; that he lived a perfect life completely fulfilling the Law with no sin. In submission to the will of the Father, He then drank the cup of God’s wrath poured out for sin on the cross. He died and was raised on the third day that death may be defeated indefinitely. And now, after Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father, He has sent the helper, the Holy Spirit to dwell within those who believe. Only those who have faith in Christ as their only hope of salvation are free from the wrath of God.
Therefore, if you have not believed and you are not trusting in Christ’s work alone as your hope from God’s punishment, I am telling you the truth, you must be made right with God. Without repenting from your sin and believing in Christ, you are in rebel against God. His is your enemy and his wrath hangs steadily over you. Please call upon Him for reconciliation. If you feel the Spirit drawing you, speak with someone after the service because you need Jesus.
For those who have believed and are gathered here to hear the Word, hold fast to Christ as your hope; for your hearts have been circumcised. No longer should you be stubborn but keep the commands of the Lord because a circumcised heart is changed by the gospel regularly. A truly circumcised heart will overflow with devotion to God.