Renewing the Covenant
Open Your Bible
Deuteronomy 29:1-29, Psalm 79:8-9, 1 Corinthians 2:9-12
I competed in parliamentary debate in college, and I loved it. I loved learning how to build up and break down arguments, be pithy yet persuasive, and nothing felt as good as nailing a final argument and knowing exactly how the judges would vote (in my favor, I’d hope). In debate, there were six speeches; each side got an opening argument, a constructive argument in the middle, and a rebuttal. The same person gave both the opening and the rebuttal, the latter being the last word and the chance to tie up all loose ends. We often took our opponents’ arguments point by point, letting the judges know exactly what their vote would mean if they voted for them or for us.
In the last chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses makes his rebuttal. If the proposition before the Israelites was “follow the Lord and renew the covenant with him,” then Moses was using his last breaths to remind them why. “Here is what is at stake if you don’t,” Moses essentially proclaims in Deuteronomy 29. The next chapters illustrate the blessings of being God’s people, but chapters 28 and 29 show the destruction that awaits them if they turn away.
Chapter 29 has three movements. First, Moses gives them a historical review of the covenant and Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. Then Moses asks the assembly in verses 9–14 to enter into the covenant with their God by observing “the words of this covenant…that he may establish you today as his people and he may be your God as he promised you” (vv.9,13).
Lastly, Moses outlines in detail in verses 16–29 what will happen if they do not obey the covenant. He isn’t landing the plane yet, but he’s creating tension as he approaches the runway (which he’ll do in the next two chapters). The tension is this: follow God, and the riches of the covenant promises are yours. Don’t follow God, and the soil of the land of Israel will “be a burning waste of sulfur and salt, unsown, producing nothing, with no plant growing on it” (v.23).
As modern readers, we know what happens after they enter the promised land. The Israelites enter into a destructive cycle: turning away from the Lord, suffering greatly, then turning back to Him for healing and peace. This happens over and over again until God sends Jesus, who pays the price for their (and our) broken covenant once and for all.
I am so thankful this speech is in the Bible, that its words were passed down, written on papyrus, translated, and printed—making it all the way into my hands today. Because it is the story of my life too: the story of the promises of God, my own willful disobedience, and the true consequences of both my sin and His love.