“Because Of,” Not “So That”

My friend Michael has been reading Deuteronomy, and made a great observation over lunch this week:

How could anybody read this and think they could earn God’s favor for themselves by keeping the Law?

He’s thinking of passages like this:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Deut 7:6-11, emphasis added)

Scripture always tells us to obey God because he loves us and has redeemed us, not so that we can earn his approval. When we read exactly what obedience to him requires, that becomes really good news, because we could never– would never– obey him sufficiently on our own.

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Comments

  1. I dunno, seems to me you could just as easily read the reverse understanding from this.

    Whom does God show steadfast love towards? “Those who keep His commandments”

    Why should we carefully keep His commandments? Because He “repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them.”

  2. But God showed steadfast love toward Israel before they ever started keeping commandments– that’s the whole point of what Moses is saying. His love for them is based on his own promise, not their performance.

    I reward my son for obedience and punish him for disobedience, but I loved him before he was born, and no disobedience will change that. I want him to obey, but he’s not earning my love when he does– he already has it.

    Read the rest of the OT and lemme know how good a job Israel does at keeping his commandments– but he doesn’t turn away from them. He disciplines them, but never revokes the covenant. That’s because, again, the covenant is based on his promise. Rewards and punishments within it, yes, but its ultimate fulfillment isn’t based on how great Israel is at obeying him.

  3. First, I’m just pointing out what the text in question says. The text says God shows steadfast love “to those who love Him and keep His commandments.” That’s a simple fact.

    Secondly, just reading Deuteronomy
    6:18 and 6:24 and 7:12 should make it clear that while God’s PREVIOUS blessing was based on the promise, Israel’s FUTURE providence relied upon keeping God’s word.

    Finally, I don’t know what Old Testament you are reading, but God did indeed visit wrath upon Israel because of their disobedience. Had He not done so, it would have made Him a liar [see Deuteronomy 28-33]. He eventually allows Israel to be enslaved and obliterated by the Assyrians, whom God gave them over to (Ezekiel 23:9) and divorces them (Jeremiah 3:8). Similarly, He rejected the people of Judah (Jeremiah 6:30) and gave them over to the Babylonians.

    Indeed, the people of Judah specifically thought they would be safe because they were “God’s people,” and they thought that would make it okay not to repent…that they did not have to do God’s will to remain in His favor…and they were very, very wrong. They found that out when the Babylonians enslaved them and destroyed the temple.

    It’s not an issue of “revoking” the covenant. The point is that the covenant itself stipulates that God’s showing of love toward Israel is based on their conduct.

    There is no “promise” in the Mosaic Covenant that God keeps in the face of Israel’s disobedience. The covenant of Abraham had a promise to it, and the covenant of David had a promise to it, but the Mosaic Covenant’s “promise” is that God would bless Israel if Israel kept the commandments given to it.

  4. David–
    Does your OT include Ezra and Nehemiah, where Israel is brought back from exile after God disciplined them by sending them to exile? And then does it continue on to the NT, where God finally, definitively delivers his people in Christ?

    You keep talking about consequences for obedience and disobedience. Those are there; I pointed it out. But the Mosaic Covenant is still a covenant of grace. That’s inherent in the very idea of sacrifice that the covenant is based on.

  5. Jake, you seem to have confused Israel with Judah [I specified them separately in my post.]

    Israel, the northern kingdom, was completely written off. The restoration in Nehemiah and Ezra was for Judah [by that time, there was no such thing of the other tribes of Israel due to intermixing and commingling in Assyria/Samaria.] The tribes that are sent back to Jerusalem are Judah, Benjamin, and Levi…exactly the tribes that formed Judah [which makes sense…where are they sent from? Babylon…who is in Babylon? the exiles from Judah.

    And the reason for this restoration is not the Mosaic Covenant, it is “for the sake of my servant David.” It is the Davidic Covenant (not the Mosaic one) being honored.

    Same thing with Christ. Christ is a response to the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with David, not the Mosaic covenant.

    And I go back to my already posted point: you said that the ‘Promise’ of the Mosaic covenant was kept regardless of Israel’s conduct. What “promise” is that?

    Remember what started this is the question as to the “reason the Israelites should obey God.” The claim was made that the covenant indicated that they should obey God “because God redeemed them.”

    I was pointing out that the covenant’s own writing gave a different reason: they should obey God to bear the fruits of the covenant (which are described in the covenant itself). That is the reason given in the Bible “Do whatever is proper and good before the Lord _so that_ it may go well with you and that you may enter and occupy the land He gave you.” [Deuteronomy 6:18] Similarly for Deuteronomy 6:24 and other passages I gave.

    They did not keep the commands, and so they did not get the covenant promise: it didn’t “go well for them” and they were exiled out of “the good land He gave their ancestors.”

    The promises of the _Mosaic_ Covenant was based on the people doing God’s will. It’s written in the covenant itself and history shows that they did not receive the promise because they did not do God’s will.

    Paul is very clear that Christ is an answer to the promise made _To Abraham_ and it is very important to his theology that it has nothing to do with the Law given to Moses: Galatians 3:17-18.

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