The Problem: Israel’s Disability

The Problem: Israel's Spiritual Disability

by Jason DeRouchie, Tom Kelby, and Jack Yaeger | A Month in Deuteronomy


JY: Welcome to Gear Talk, a podcast on biblical theology. Today is the second podcast in our month in Deuteronomy. The four podcasts in this series all have titles starting with the letter P. Last week, Jason and Tom talked about the Plea today, Jason and Tom talked about the Problem, Israel’s hard-heartedness. Key texts focused on today include Deuteronomy 9 and 29. We have an album cover designed to go along with this month in Deuteronomy, you can download a link in the podcast from the show notes.

Israel’s Hard-Heartedness vs. Our Hard-Heartedness

TK: Hey, Jason. Good to be back, back in Deuteronomy.

JD: Yes, back in Deuteronomy. Delighted to be here, Tom.

TK: So our last podcast you gave an outline and we’re going to be going through 4 P-words describing the book of Deuteronomy in our month in Deuteronomy. So we talked about the plea—love God, love neighbor, Deuteronomy 6:5, 10–19. People can go back and listen to that one. Today we’re not talking about that. What are we talking about today?

JD: Today, we’re moving beyond the plea to Israel’s problem, and the problem relates to their hard-heartedness, to their spiritual inability to actually do what God called them to do.

TK: So, Jason, before, before we go further, your talk—all of us listening, I would think here that we hear it in a way that we’d say. OK, you said Israel, but I’m thinking of myself and my hard-heartedness. I needed to come to Jesus. Are you wanting us to focus on ourselves or specifically on Israel at this point?

JD: Well, what we see from the story of Scripture is that what is true of Israel is true of every human without Christ. The majority of Israel, as we’re going to see today, is spiritually disabled. They have not experienced the regenerating work of the Spirit. They do not know what it means to actually have a transformed life where they can see God as beautiful and delight in him and turn from wickedness. Instead, those that were redeemed from Egypt, almost all of them are rebels at the core. Inside looking no different than the Egyptians or any of the other neighbors outside of Israel. The nation itself was prone to wander, and that’s exactly where we are when we are born. But it’s important first to recognize that the Old Covenant that we’re talking about renewed in the book of Deuteronomy was not given to us and therefore, first and foremost, what we’re reading about is of a different time and a different constitutional structure of reality, where God has entered in and chosen a people. And yet, in that choosing of them, he did not—in that gracious redemption, and in the gracious gift of his law, his revealed will—he did not graciously change most of their hearts. And the New Covenant is of a very different nature of grace. It has a similar structure in that we are redeemed by God before he ever calls us to follow, just like Israel was redeemed from Egypt before they ever arrived at Mount Sinai. That’s a similar structure. The pattern of grace is similar, but in the New Covenant, the entire makeup of the people is different. Our standing with God is different.

So it’s not a one-to-one correspondence that we’re talking about because our listeners, most of them are regenerated believers. Most of Moses’s audience were not. Most of Moses’s audience were not born-again. So what we need to do is think about Deuteronomy within the flow of the story of salvation. That starts with Genesis and Adam in the garden, commissioned by God to display his image, to live his way to eat from any tree except the tree pertaining to the knowledge of good and evil, and Adam fell and was then kicked out of his paradise. Then God raised up a new son, called Israel a corporate son that he birthed outside of the promised land gave them instruction and then placed them into the promised land. Deuteronomy is right on the cusp of that entrance into the promised land. But like Adam, failed to heed God’s word, Israel, as we’re going to see today, will fail to heed God’s word, and Moses knew it. And, therefore, like Adam was under a curse, kicked out of his paradise, Israel will enter into a covenantal curse and be kicked out of their paradise.

And then we show up in the story, some Jews, some Gentiles drawn into Jesus who is born without sin, without a direct connection to Adam. And yet, he is a new humanity, full flesh, full blown and truly human, but also truly God. And he is able to do and be what the first Adam could not do and be. He is able to withstand temptation that Israel was not able to withstand in the wilderness. Jesus in his wilderness experience says no, where Israel gave in, and therefore Jesus perfectly obeys, operating representing as the ultimate King of the Jews, representing Israel in every step, and representing humanity in every step. And, therefore, his perfect obedience is able to be applied to not only those who were in Moses, but those who were in Adam. That is, it’s able to solve the Jewish problem of failure to keep the Mosaic Covenant. But it’s also able to solve the human problem of not being able to fulfill the call of the original creation covenant. And so Jesus is the ultimate human, the last Adam. He’s the ultimate Israelite, the new Davidic king. Israel had been the hope of the world. God had said to Abraham that through them all the world would be blessed through Abraham and his offspring, all the world would be blessed. But ultimately, it’s not the offspring people that bring that blessing, it’s the offspring person.

But if Israel—I’m thinking about Romans 3:19—if Israel, under the law, was unable to keep the law, Paul says, every mouth in the world is stopped. Here’s his words, “We know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law.” This is the law covenant, the Mosaic Covenant. It’s speaking. And that’s what we looked at last week. What was it speaking? It was calling Israel to love God with all. And it was speaking to Israel in particular as a people redeemed by God, set apart for him, speaking to them. And, as it spoke, they were under it, obliged to keep it, and yet they fail. They had a benefit that none of the rest of the world had in knowing the revealed will of God. Think about that prayer that we started with last podcast, that prayer to any god. You had this sufferer who didn’t know what he had done wrong, but he was confident he had done wrong. He had offended some god. Israel didn’t have a problem of knowing whether or not they had offended God. God had given them a revealed will. Yet they fail. They fail to keep it, and if Israel, who had such benefit, could not align with God’s right standard, then all the world can shut their mouths and recognize that they are culpable. That’s what Paul says. If Israel failed, who had the law, then every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God. My understanding of that text is that all the world’s culpability, our inability to honor God, is proven by Israel’s failure. We didn’t, as Gentiles have the law. Israel had the law. Our hope was in them perfectly obeying the law. And in their failure, our destiny is set. If they who had the law were unable to keep the law, how much more culpable are all of us? And so we read Deuteronomy through this lens. Yet recognizing that Jesus comes as the ultimate Israelite and is able to do what Israel couldn’t do to secure the promises that Israel couldn’t enjoy. And we’re going to look at that here at the front end of this podcast. What Israel was promised, on the basis of a perfect obedience, and ultimately, as we’re going to see next week, it is that promise that Jesus, ultimately, brings, fulfilling the Old Covenant and securing what we now know of as the New Covenant for all who are in him the righteousness and the life that in the Old Covenant were contingent on perfect obedience. If you didn’t meet the condition, you couldn’t be declared righteous. If you didn’t meet the condition of perfect obedience, you could not be able to enjoy lasting life.

TK: The surprising thing here is it’s like Israel—if you just want to use language from business or something—is being hired for a job. But then being told you actually cannot successfully complete this job we hired you to do. That’s the problem we’re talking about today, right? They have no ability to do what they’ve been told to do.

JD: And the reality is, they’re glad in their state. It’s not that they want something, but they can’t have it. It’s that they actually don’t want it. It’s very similar to the command that God gives Pharaoh. Let my people go. And yet God also is going to declare, I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will not let my people go. The divine will is being shown at two levels in Pharaoh’s life and it’s being shown, as we’re going to see, at two levels in Israel’s existence. God has a purpose in the law, he says, love me with all. But he also has a purpose for the law in not creating a people who are able to keep it. The majority of Israel is not able to keep the law and it will bring such destruction and such condemnation to the nation that it will ultimately increase the sense of darkness in the world to the point that when the light comes, it will be shown all the brighter and the glory of Christ will be magnified as the ultimate fulfiller and perfectly obedient one where Israel failed, and where Adam failed. So that’s where we’re heading, Tom.

The Structure of the Old Covenant

TK: All right, so where would you—your thesis you’re stating is that Israel has a spiritual disability and that I think I said it last week, I grew up in some ways just thinking they keep blowing it, they keep making mistakes. They should try harder. They should do better. But where would you go to prove that actually they do have this disability. So give me a couple of verses in Deuteronomy.

JD: I want to go there and I know that those verses are the first on our list, but before I even do that, I just want to draw attention to a structure in this book, building off of last week’s comments, the plea is clear: Love me with all. But to what end? And I just want to read a few verses that will set a context for us as we go to look at Israel’s problem. The first verse I want to look at is Deuteronomy 6:25. Deuteronomy 6:25—the commandment—singular—has been clear in this book. It’s the ultimate principle-command, love Yahweh, with all, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance. This is the command that fathers were to pass on to their children in this book. And then, Moses says, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to do all this commandment”—singular—“before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us” (Deut 6:25). Notice, Tom, that righteousness will be to us if, that is, the people that God entered into relationship with, the people that God redeemed from Egypt and met at Mount Sinai and carried through the wilderness these forty years are not a people who were righteous. Righteousness in the Old Covenant is the goal. Do all the commandment and then it will be regarded to you as righteousness. You’ll be counted as righteous if you keep all. That’s the structure of the Old Covenant.

TK: Can I just stop you right there, keeping all—the way you read Deuteronomy? Would that be the same way we would say maybe in a school or something, like, hey, I got a B, I did pretty good. Or is all keep it perfectly. So this text. What is it saying keep it perfectly. Or is it saying try your best and do pretty well.

JD: My understanding is that it’s saying keep it perfectly. But the all is pervasive. God will not lower his bar of perfection. He won’t allow a little bit of sin, a little bit of compromise. Instead, he commands for all.

TK: This is a—it’s a deeply troubling thing to hear that if you, I mean thinking if you’re one of the people standing there just saying, who can meet that standard.

JD: And I think that, for the Israelites, what they were supposed to feel was, God I can’t do it. So I need to go outside of this particular constitution, back to the book of Leviticus and recognize that there is a provision for the sinner. In God’s giving a sacrificial system, wherein a substitute animal could somehow some way stand in for a human who has offended the holy God. And I will put my faith in God’s provision of this substitute. The two conditions in Leviticus that had to be met—they needed to confess their sin and feel their guilt. Only with those two conditions met would the sacrifice of the substitute allow them to be made right with God once again. And then they’re back to the call of be holy as I am holy or, in this text, keep all the commandment. It’s the only way that a sinner could actually have any hope. But the challenge of Deuteronomy is that the constitution itself is given to a people who don’t have the desire to confess their sin, who don’t have the desire to feel their guilt. And so, this this law that is calling for good things is given to a hard-hearted people and, because of that. the law itself, the law covenant, is going to destroy Israel. And I want to look at the fact that Moses knows Israel’s hardness, and Moses himself knows what the results will be, even as he’s preaching, even as he’s laying out the guidelines for this covenant, he knows what the results will be. So on the one hand, there is this blessing of righteousness. It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to obey all the commandment.

A similar statement in Deuteronomy 8:1, “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do so, that you may live.” So, righteousness was the goal. Life was the goal. But both of them were contingent on Israel’s obedience. It’s summarized in a passage like Deuteronomy 30:15 and following, “See I have set before you today life and good death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, by keeping his commandments and his statutes, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But”—and this is the massive contrast—“if your hearts turn away and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, then I declare you today that you will surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and to possess” (Deut 30:15–18). So, you have two options, life and death, and it’s contingent on keeping doing. That’s the structure of the Old Covenant: Do this and you will live. Do this and you will live. And like Ezekiel, in his book, where he recalls Leviticus 18:5, which says, “Do this and you will live.” He recalls it three times and then he portrays Israel like a valley of—filled with dry bones. The Old Covenant, at the end of Israel’s history, ends in Israel’s death because they didn’t do. That was the structure of the Old Covenant. It resulted in death. It resulted in judgment. And as we’re going to see now, Moses himself recognized that’s exactly where the old covenant with would go. Moses recognized the Old Covenant would condemn Israel and that it would need to be replaced by a New Covenant that would produce righteousness.

Israel is Unrighteous, Stubborn, Rebellious, Unbelieving

TK: Maybe it’d be good right now, Jason, just to reflect for a moment on our album cover we have for our month in Deuteronomy. So the second image we have is of Moses talking and we see in the background the people worshipping around the golden calf. So, what were we going for when we asked Mark to draw that? And the people the people are not light, like all the people are dark in that picture.

JD: Right. On the one hand, we have Moses in the day of Deuteronomy, speaking to a people, most of whom are darkened, and in fact in that picture all of them are darkened. But then he has this speech bubble where he’s recalling the golden calf episode and that takes us to our first text. That clearly shows Israel’s hard-heartedness Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 9, speaking to his present audience, forty years removed from Mount Sinai. In the Golden Calf episode, he recalls the golden calf story of Israel’s idolatry at the mountain, and amazingly, he says that the people of his day, the new generation, are no different than the people of the Mount Sinai generation. And that’s why those in the speech bubble, that picture of the golden calf, they’re all dark, their hearts are dark, they’re disabled. And then the contemporary—Moses’s contemporaries in the Book of Deuteronomy, they too are still dark.

TK: You’re just like the people in that time.

JD: So I want to move in and I want to start reading in Deuteronomy 9:4. Moses says to this new generation of Israelites, who’ve now come out of the wilderness ready on the cusp of entering the land, he says, “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust out the Canaanites before you. It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess the land, whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out” (Deut 9:4). So the nations that are being pushed out of the land are wicked, and God has declared judgment on them. But Moses cautions them and says don’t think it’s because of your own righteousness. You’re not necessarily better than them. That’s where he starts. It’s not because of your righteousness. It’s because of their wickedness. Then he says in verse 6, and I’m going to read verses six and seven. “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoke the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord” (Deut 9:6–7). So he calls Israel to remember and, this is amazing, in Deuteronomy 6:25, “Righteousness will be to us if we are careful to obey all the commandment.” Now, he says in Deuteronomy 9, don’t think it’s because of your righteousness. It’s the exact same word as in Deuteronomy 6:25. And you’re saying you’re not reaching the goal. You have fallen short of the mark. Don’t think it’s because of your righteousness because you are a stubborn people. So what we learned so far and then is that Israel is unrighteous, Israel is stubborn, and then he says you have been rebellious against the Lord from the day you came out of Egypt to this place all the way until this place. So Israel is unrighteous, stubborn and rebellious.

And then at the end of the chapter, he says—he recalls the story of the golden calf, the forty days on the mountain and he came down and God’s displeasure was against the people. And then he jumps ahead and he gives a couple more stories of Israel’s failure. And he adds one more word, he says, “When the Lord sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled”—there’s that rebellion word again—“against the commandment of the Lord. And you did not believe” (Deut 9:23). So just think about these words that he’s used. The Israel of Moses’s Day is unrighteous, stubborn, rebellious, and unbelieving. That’s their qualities. They have been rebellious against the Lord, Moses says, “From the day that I knew you” (Deut 9:24). Don’t think it’s because of your righteousness. It’s because of the wickedness of the nations that God is kicking them out. Don’t think that it’s because of your righteousness for you or a stubborn people, and then he ends the chapter recalling the prayer that he made on Mount Sinai. And what’s amazing is he frames the chapter with the word wickedness, but at the beginning of the chapter, it’s the wickedness of the Canaanites and at the end of the chapter, he says, recalling the prayer that he made on Mount Sinai at the Golden Calf episode, “Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac and. Jacob do not regard the stubbornness of this people or their wickedness or their sin” (Deut 9:27). So, he uses the exact same word of Israel that he uses of the Canaanites wickedness.

TK: Everybody’s got a problem.

JD: Everybody’s got a problem. The Canaanites have a problem, but the same problem is bound up in the very heart of Israel. They’re unrighteous, they’re stubborn, they’re rebellious in their unbelief. And that is a problem.

TK: Jumping forward, and we’re not going there in the podcast as far as a theme, but you’ve said it often in the Old Testament kind of a thought when they’re in the land a come and see mentality come and see the goodness of Yahweh. But if you imagine a hard-hearted, stiff-necked, rebellious, unbelieving people, there is nothing for the world to come and see. In the land, there would be nothing for them to see because this people will not bow to the living God.

JD: That’s right. It was through Israel’s obedience to the law that the nations would take notice and say, oh, what kind of a God you have that is so near to you and reveals himself in such amazing ways. Israel is going to fail in their witness to the nations because of their inability to keep the word of God. They’re wicked and they delight in it. It’s not that they want to keep the law. No, they are wicked. They are stubborn. That’s Moses’s language. They’ve been rebellious from the day that they came out of Egypt, all through the forty years. And now his new generation is just as hard hearted, just as reticent to keep God’s word. They’re unrighteous, they’re below the standard, and if life is dependent, contingent on them being obedient, all that can come according to the Old Covenant law is their death. And that’s exactly where Moses is going to go. In Deuteronomy 4 he had already anticipated it because he said, when, after they enter into the land, “When you father, children and children’s children and have grown old in the land and act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and witness against you today that you will utterly perish” (Deut 4:25–26). Now the ESV in Deuteronomy 4:25 adds an “if”—if you act corruptly. But that if is not in the Hebrew text at all. Instead, it’s as clear as can be that, as certain as it is that they will father children and children’s children, as certain as it is that they will grow old in the land, it’s as certain as it is that they will act corruptly and engage in idolatry, resulting in all of Israel perishing. It was certain; Moses knew it was coming.

This is reemphasized at the end of the book in Deuteronomy 31. Just listen, first I’m going to give you Yahweh’s perspective and then I’ll give you Moses’s perspective. Here’s what Yahweh says, “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers’”—Moses is about to die. Then this is God’s prediction—“‘This people will rise and whore after other foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them”—God will justly bring curse upon them—“and they will be devoured and many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’” (Deut 31:16–17). Moses recognized that the Old Covenant would result in Israel’s death and condemnation. Here’s Moses’s perspective at the end of chapter 31:27, “I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death?” There is not good prospects for the Old Covenant in Moses’s mind. It’s not just a matter of potential rebellion, these are direct predictions about what will happen and we find out in the book why it is we’ve talked about spiritual disability.

And I’ve used that language because that’s the imagery that God himself uses in Deuteronomy 29. Why is it that Israel is stubborn? Why is it that they are so recalcitrant and prone to wander, committed to their wickedness? Here is Moses: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt”—Israel has watched what God did “to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land. The great trials that your eyes saw the signs and those great wonders through the plagues.” But then it says this, “But to this day”—so he’s covering forty years. You saw what God did in Egypt and “To this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deut 29:2–4). Israel’s problem? They saw what God did, but they didn’t have spiritual sight to glory and stand in awe of His majesty. They heard Moses’s words at one level, but when he says hear, oh, Israel, Yahweh, our God, Yahweh is one, God did not give them a heart to know him and ears to hear him. They didn’t know deeply in their core that he was worthy of all their lives. They didn’t hear his call to their allegiance in a way that moved them to obey. They were spiritually disabled, and they would remain so until and unless God changed it. It would take a miracle, Tom. Because this is where Israel was and Moses and Yahweh already set forth at the front end that God’s purpose for the Old Covenant was that it would result in condemnation and death. Moses saw it. It would result in Israel’s entering into the land, engaging in idolatry, and then being cursed by being kicked out of the land, by experiencing exile. This is Israel’s ruin is the result of the Old Covenant, because the majority of them remained hard-hearted.

Feel the Weight of the Problem

TK: Thinking about that picture we have of Moses and he’s recalling the golden calf. You think it is quite a hopeless picture because you don’t see a solution anywhere in that picture there and it just makes you think, is there help coming from anywhere, because right now if God is not giving them a heart to obey, but the obedience is the requirement, we are stuck. That’s the picture. It makes me wonder, Jason, if you are preaching, teaching through this passage. How would you walk your people through this part? What would you recommend? I think sometimes, sometimes in in my teaching I almost like a relief valve in something like get too quick to the good news without focusing on this is the very real nature of the bad news. So how have you used this? What we’re talking about today in your preaching and teaching?

JD: I would say three things to try to help our people get it, and all of them would be from the perspective of the New Testament. I think you’re absolutely right to stress we don’t want to relieve our people too quickly because Israel’s problem is our problem, apart from Christ. Israel could not change their hearts. They had a heart problem. They didn’t—God hadn’t given them a heart to know. Indeed, he says to them in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and be no longer stubborn.” He commands them: you’ve got a heart problem, here’s the scalpel, go fix it. Cut off that calloused hard part, or the shell around your heart. And the reality is, if we try to do heart surgery on ourselves, we’ll kill ourselves. But Moses is—he hangs on in this book to the problem. He, from start to finish, makes the plea, but from start to finish he focuses on Israel’s problem. But as we’re going to see next week and the week after, he doesn’t leave them there. He anticipates a solution, but before we can even meditate on the solution, we must feel the weight of the problem. And so what I want to do is focus on three things that Paul says that simply reinforce what we already saw and what Paul says shows that what is true for Israel is true for all. Number one, the law is holy. Romans 2:20 is what I’m thinking of here first off. He says in the law we have the embodiment of knowledge and truth. So let’s not think that what Moses has called for is bad. No, in the very law is the embodiment of knowledge and truth. And in Romans 7:12 he also says this, “The law is holy. And the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” It is good to say love God with all, even though it’s the very means of our destruction. It is right and holy and good, this commandment. But while it is holy, the age of law—that is the age of the Law Covenant of the Mosaic Covenant—was not one characterized by faith. I think this is what Paul means in Galatians 3:12 when he says the law is not of faith. That is the age of the Law Covenant was not the age of faith. It was an age characterized by rebellion, an age, a law covenant that was built upon the principle, do this and live, rather than believe this and live. It was built on a principle that would destroy every human apart from Christ. Every mere human would be destroyed under such a structure. Do this and live. And Israel, rather than believing in God’s provision of a substitute, the majority of Israel failed to believe, and, therefore, they died.

TK: And that’s why in the album cover, we don’t see people like with a glow of light on them because the people are not wanting what Moses is saying at all.

JD: They’re not. In the first image, where Moses is lifting up the number one, we see two figures, there’s a woman and there’s a man, and maybe three figures and we know of Caleb and Joshua, who set themselves apart and therefore are even part of those to whom Moses is speaking in Deuteronomy. But most of the older men in the generation had failed to believe. Most of the audience was not remnant, but rebel. And Paul would have counted himself among that group when he says, in verse 10 of chapter 7 of Romans, the very commandment. It’s interesting, he uses the language of the singular commandment, just like Moses does in Deuteronomy 8:1, where he says, “The whole commandment that I’m commanding you today, you shall be certain to keep so that you may live.” The commandment is this singular summary of all that he’s calling for in Deuteronomy, which is synthesized in love God with all. Then Paul says in Romans 7:10, “The very commandment that promised life to me”—do this so that you may live—“the very commandment that promised life to me proved to be death to me.” That’s Paul’s commentary on Deuteronomy, Paul’s commentary on the law covenant. “The law that promised life proved death to me.” So, the law is holy, but the age of the law covenant was an age of faithlessness. Then, while the commandment promised life, it ultimately brought Israel and Paul’s death. And from that perspective, then, the last thing I would say regarding this to help us feel the weight—what this means is that God’s ultimate purpose for the law covenant was to multiply transgression, to condemn Israel, all in order to show them their need for Jesus. Just consider some texts here, Tom. Romans 3:20 “By works of the law, no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” What’s God’s purpose for the law? To awaken our knowledge of sin. Romans 5:20, he just says it straightforwardly, “Now the law came to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What was the purpose of the law covenant? To multiply transgression to increase the trespass. Here’s Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9, He simply calls the Mosaic law covenant—he says, “It bore a ministry of death.” 2 Corinthians 3:7.

TK: Interesting it also says it came with glory though, so we can’t say that was a horrible thing.

JD: Right there is no question there is glory. That’s apparent in the Old Covenant law. But what Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 3 is compared to the glory of the New Covenant, which he says bears a ministry of righteousness, so it he contrasts—here’s his language, “If the ministry of death, carved in letters of stone, came with such glory, … will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory” (2 Cor 3:7–9). So it’s not that the old covenant wasn’t glorious. Oh, it showed us God. Through the Old Covenant, Israel encountered the holy God. But compared to the glory that we see in Jesus, and the glory that brings a ministry of righteousness, it’s as if the old covenant didn’t even bear glory. That’s the contrast. It’s amazing that God set up a system wherein he brought judgment on Israel.

It reminds me of Romans 9. Where God says this, “What if God”—Sorry, Paul says this, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and make known his power”—which he is worthy to do, which he is right to do, to let us see aspects of his character that would not be present were it not a world of sin. And it is right and good for all glorious God to manifest as much of his glory before the created as possible. And yet for us to see aspects of his character, it demanded that he make a world of sickness to be healed from, of sin to be pardoned in order that we might actually recognize his just right to punish sin and to forgive us from it. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power”—think about Israel now—“has endured with much patience, vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles” (Rom 9:22–24). What if God wanting us to see his glory, endured for centuries, objects of wrath in order that when the light would shine, we would stand in awe of his mercy. That’s the framework I think we read when God says the “Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it”—so righteousness was the goal of the Old Covenant, but the Gentiles didn’t pursue the Old Covenant in order to get righteous, yet they “have attained it, that is a righteousness that is out of faith, that is by faith” (Rom 9:30). By faith in Paul’s day, there’s Gentiles who are enjoying right standing with God, declared right with him. But there is an Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness that did not succeed in reaching that law. “Why?” Paul says, “Because they did not pursue it by faith but as if it were based on works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Rom 9:32).

He then says a little few verses later, “Being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:3–4). The end of the law—it’s goal, it’s terminus—is Christ. That’s where it was pointing all along to help the world recognize we can’t keep it. We can’t align with God’s standard. We need a savior. We need someone who can actually fulfill for us what we can’t fulfill on our own. That we would by faith enjoy right standing because we can’t enjoy that right, that declaration of righteousness by keeping all the commandment ourselves. But that’s exactly what Christ did. And we’re going to meditate on that more in the next two weeks regarding the promise. But what I want us to feel right now is that Israel was in darkness. They had a spiritual disability. Their problem was real and it would result in the destruction of the Old Covenant and God purposed that it would be so. There was still a remnant. But with respect to the majority, there was nothing built into the Old Covenant itself that could change their hearts. What the law was powerless to do, weakened as it was by the flesh, God would ultimately do through Jesus (Rom 8:3). But within the scope of the story of salvation, the Law Covenant, which dominates the Old Testament—that’s why we call it testament, Latin for covenant—the Old Covenant is the covenant that dominates the entire Old Testament storyline. And it’s a story of death and destruction. And if we struggle to work our way through the Old Testament, it’s likely because we’re feeling the weight of the death and destruction, we’re feeling, the weight of Israel’s stubbornness. And we’re feeling our deep-seated need for light.

TK: I think for a lot of us, when we’ve read, like when the Israelites cross the Jordan River and they encounter Jericho for instance. The first time we see those things, there’s a shock that Israel sins. Moses would not have been shocked because everything we just talked about, but a verse this all reminds me of is in the book of Hosea, Hosea 9:15, where Yahweh is talking about the sins of the people, and he says this, he says, “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there, I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.” And Gilgal was the first place where the Israelites encamped once they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. So that thought of right from the moment you got into the promised land—that was the moment, but using the language of Hosea there, I began to hate them. Wickedness marked Israel from the moment you came into the land, and Moses would have just said, yeah, that’s exactly what I said was going to happen. They are rebellious people with hard hearts.

JD: Yes, I think of Deuteronomy 32 that anticipates Israel’s entire story, and God says, “The Rock, his work is perfect”—talking about himself—“for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, and without iniquity, just and upright is he. They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation” (Deut 32:4–5). The entire audience of Moses was one that was crooked and twisted. That was the majority and ultimately, they would be declared not my people. In the New Testament, Peter is going to talk in Acts 2 in his sermon to the Jews of his day, saying you’re still like them. “With many other words, he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’” (Acts 2:20). That’s drawing directly on Deuteronomy 32.

TK: He’s saying, even though you’ve come into the land once left by exile and you are technically back in the land, you are still a group of rebels. Nothing has changed.

JD: That’s right. In contrast, Paul says in Philippians 2, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”—think about Israel in the wilderness—“that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:14). Paul there uses the language of Deuteronomy 32 and contrasts the Israel of Moses’s day with the church. We’re no longer a crooked and twisted generation. We are the children of God, but we’re living amidst such a people, crooked and twisted. God had not given them a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear. And if he did not act, if he did not overcome their resistance, they could not change, they would not change. To this day, he says, God hasn’t given you a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear. That language of to this day, he recalls that language—Paul does. So, for Moses, it was forty years, for Paul, it was centuries. But these are his words in 2 Corinthians 3:14, the Jews’ minds were hard, “For to this day, when they read the old covenant, the same veil remains unlifted because only through Christ is it taken away.” To this day, in Deuteronomy 29, becomes to this day all the way into the New Testament period.

The same language comes in Romans 11. “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking,” Paul says, “The elect obtained it” (Rom 11:7). The Ruths and the Hannahs, the Josias and Haggais, they obtained it. But the rest were hardened. “As it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear down to this very day” (Rom 11:8). That’s Deuteronomy 29:4, aligned with the judgment of God from Isaiah 29:10. God hadn’t given them spiritual ability. Indeed, because of their willful disobedience, he would even judge them by greater hardness. And it would show the need for Jesus. It was designed to show that the end of the law, where it’s all going in the story of redemption—if you follow the storyline of the Old Testament, you will end up at Christ. He is the light that overcomes the darkness. He alone is the savior who can enter in and redeem those who are so broken and so needy. And Israel becomes a picture. Israel’s neediness is merely a picture of the world’s neediness. And that’s where all of us fit, in need of a savior. Israel’s problem and the failure of the Old Covenant is a picture of all of humanity’s problem in Adam and a failure of the creation covenant. Yet as we’re going to see next week, just as God promised Genesis 3:15 that an offspring of the woman would rise to crush the serpent, so he promises in Deuteronomy, a prophet like and greater than Moses, a New Covenant mediating prophet, to whom people would listen. They won’t listen to Moses. They don’t have ears to hear. But in his day, this New Covenant prophet, they will hear and they will listen. And the word will be near them in their heart and in their mouth. That’s next week, though, we’ll come back to more of Deuteronomy. Thinking through the plea through the problem now to the promise, Yahweh’s promise of a heart change, and of a savior.

TK: I again encourage you to download the PDF of the album cover, we have that in our show notes, but you will see next week that this promise—you’re going to see a depiction of it, and we’ll talk about that next week. But the people there in, in that depiction, they are light, and so that something, something has changed in this people. We’ll talk about that next week.

JD: Awesome. Look forward to it, Tom.

TK: All right, blessings.

JY: Thank you for joining us for Gear Talk for our month in Deuteronomy. Next week we cover the promise made. God promises to do what Israel can’t in circumcising their hearts and empowering love for the sake of their lives. Again, go to our show notes and download the link to a PDF of our album cover for our month in Deuteronomy. For more resources, visit To stay up to date on new Hands to the Plow resources follow us on Instagram \@HandstothePlowMinistries and make sure to check out our YouTube page for more content.