At 120 years old, Moses, the great leader, was nearing the end of his amazing life. His story can be divided into three 40-year periods: leading a life of privilege as a part of Egypt’s royal family; leading sheep in Midian as a fugitive shepherd; and leading God’s people out of Egypt and to the threshold of the Promised Land.
In a place called Moab, the old shepherd gathered the flock of Israel to reaffirm God’s covenant with them. God had initiated the covenant with Abraham (about 700 years before), formalized it at Mt. Sinai (40 years before), and now, through Moses, renewed it with the ones who would actually claim the long-held promise. The covenant had basically two parts: God’s part was to love Israel and to bless them, making them the great nation through whom all other nations could know Him; Israel’s part was to faithfully love and obey God, which would keep them in the flow of His amazing blessings and protection (both physically and spiritually).
Moses began, as he often did, with a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people — faithfulness they took for granted and didn’t appreciate (v.4). (I am sure that often describes me, too.) Based on God’s perfect record of faithfulness, Israel was to faithfully keep their part of the covenant by obeying God’s commandments.
The “deal-breaker” of the covenant, the one thing this generation of Israelites could do that would completely disqualify them from participating in the benefits of the covenant, was to worship the idols of the native Canaanite nations. God would not tolerate that at all. It wasn’t just the physical act of bowing down at the altar of a stone idol, it was the hearts of His people that concerned Him: would they faithfully love the God who had saved them or would they “abandon the covenant” (v.25)?
In order to emphasize the Lord’s seriousness about this “deal-breaker,” Moses stated it in crystal-clear terms. If any Israelite broke the covenant by worshiping idols, they would choke on this “bitter fruit” of judgment (v.18): God would refuse to forgive them (v.20), they would be singled out to receive the full measure of curses (v.21), and they would be “swept away” by God’s holy anger (v.19). In a clever form of expression, God wrote the epitaph of such people in advance (v.25-28).
We don’t (and can’t, and won’t) know everything about the ways of the Lord, the “secret things” which we have no capacity to understand (v.29). But we do know what He has revealed to us: His love, His holiness, His commands. And we can respond to that. Let’s do what we know to do today…let’s put God’s Word into practice!