When reading the Old Testament, one of the most frequent questions people ask is “Why?”
Why does God judge so harshly?
Why does he command entire groups of people to be killed?
Why does he allow his own people to suffer and go into captivity?
These are all valid questions and similar to many we might ask today. To help answer these questions and before we completely leave Deuteronomy (though I realize you’ve probably already finished it in the yearly reading plan), it’s important to remember as you read the rest of the Old Testament a key teaching in the book and that is: the importance of God’s covenant with his people.
A covenant has two sides
It’s easy to forget that God’s covenants, his agreements with his people to care for and save them are not one-sided. God’s love, grace, and saving power are unconditional in that once you are one of his people, either his chosen nation or as a believer in Jesus today, you will always be his. However, as a child of God, he has certain expectations of what your behavior should be.
There are also consequences if your behavior does not follow this commands. This is the reality that answers many of the questions we have.
Following are some passages on God’s Covenant and it is important that you keep them in mind as you read the rest of the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 28-30 summarize the conditions of the covenant. Here are some representative passages:
Deut. 28: 1 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country .. . . . .
7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. . . . .
9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
And the key to all of these blessings is:
14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left,following other gods and serving them.
If, however Israel does not follow the terms of the covenant, God clearly spells out the consequences:
15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you. . . . .
36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.. . . .
45 All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, . . . . . 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Final challenge and summary of God’s expectations
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 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?” 13 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?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For theLord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
They had a choice, we have a choice
God is very clear in his expectations and he is very clear in his promised consequences. His people are to follow his commands, to live according to the laws he gave them. If they don’t there will be consequences: instead of blessing there will be escalating judgments culminating with invasion, conquest, and ultimately exile from the Promised Land.
God is never capricious or vindictive. When we realize how God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, gave them everything they needed for life, gave them his laws and guidelines for worship and then carefully spelled out exactly what they needed to do to continue to be blessed and the consequences if they didn’t, it’s a wonder God didn’t wipe them off the earth for their repeated disobedience.
When we realize the foundation of God’s clear instructions, instead of wondering why God judged when he did, we realize his incredible patience and love for hundreds of years as he sent prophet after prophet to remind them of their covenant with God and to call them to repentance.
As we read these stories in the months to come, we must always take time to look at our lives and remember that when we trusted Jesus as Savior, we are also committed to following him as Lord. Though we are not promised earthly blessings in the same way the Jews were promised these things, our actions still have consequences and if we are following our Lord as closely as we know how, even when difficult times come as the old hymn says, it can be “well with our souls.”