3.67 Deuteronomy -- God's Word and Human Resistance
The final theme of Deuteronomy that we will discuss is God's Word. This Word challenges man, judging him, forming his character.
a. The Word as a test.
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts (Deut 6:6).
The Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart,...to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut 8:2-3).
The latter verse was quoted by Jesus in the wilderness when He resisted the devil's temptation to turn stones into bread (Mat 4:4). God wanted to draw the Israelites' attention away from externals, and cause them to look to Him and depend on Him. This speaks of a relationship that is more than law, something more than mere conformity to an imposed demand. Israel knew legal servitude under Pharaoh in Egypt. But Israel's relation to God was based on a living word, where man's hearing was attuned to the Spirit. Man is to meditate upon the works and ways of God, and not merely agree to obey, but delight to obey. This expectation of God comes into conflict with the basic nature of the Israelites, and of us:
You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you (Deut 9:24).
b. The Word is near at hand
What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach....No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deut 30:11-14).
Despite the optimism of this verse, it is very clear that the precepts of Leviticus were far too difficult for the average man and woman to keep track of. It required a horde of full-time religious specialists to administer and interpret the religious system and to monitor the behavior of the people. Everything in life fell under the purview of the police-priests: daily work, weekly and yearly calendar, diseases, sex, agriculture, diet, bodily functions, family and marriage. And there was a correspondingly intricate system of penalties to deal with all the failures to measure up to God's standards. Clearly, this is an example of a disconnect between God's view of what was "difficult" and man's. As later history showed, the ordinary Israelite's verdict on the Law was that it was greatly "beyond his reach."
c. God's future solution
There is only a hint of the way out of the dilemma of man being unable and unwilling to fulfill God's demands.
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul....Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer (Deut 10:12, Deut 10:16) .
But if men were able to do Deut 10:12 ("walk in all his ways," etc.), they wouldn't need to do Deut 10:16 ("circumcise your hearts"). Verse 12 is a "meta-commandment" -- it includes all the requirements of God in one statement. The killer qualifier is "all." It stands there plain and stark, like Mt. Everest before a barefoot mountain-climber. Can any man ascend it?
Yet men are just as thwarted in attempting to "circumcise your hearts." This is the first mention of this term, a theme that was repeated in Jeremiah, and was central to Paul's message in the New Testament.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem (Jer 4:4).
No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code (Rom 2:28-29).
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation (Gal 6:15).
The command to "circumcise yourself" is synonymous with deep repentance. Auto-circumcision is a dangerous operation, physically and spiritually. A circumcised heart is the opposite of a hard heart, and both are a curious compound of human and divine construction. Though God hardened Pharaoh's heart (Ex 9:12), it was not done without Pharaoh's consent (Ex 8:15, Ex 8:32). The same can be said of circumcising the heart -- it is a joint operation. The issue seems to be that man has a tendency or inclination towards hardening or circumcising, but insufficient will. In this situation, God intervenes to supply what man is lacking:
...and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul...(Deut 30:2).
...the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deut 30:6) .
Note that God's intervention is subsequent to Israel's punishment and exile, and conditional on their repentance.
And so Deuteronomy maintains a forward-looking gaze, a vision that looks far into the future, beyond the settlement of the Promised Land, to apostasy, exile, repatriation, and a subsequent intervention of God.