Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentDEUTERONOMY 30
There is widespread misunderstanding of this chapter as an "exilic or post-exilic addition,"F1 but such a postulation is totally unacceptable. Wright admitted that, "No proof can be adduced that it could not have been written in the seventh as well as in the sixth century,"F2 and we must add that no proof can be adduced that this chapter was written at any time whatever after the death of Moses. Moreover, there is the most convincing evidence that the chapter is a true production of MOSES himself, which, allowing for some small uncertainty as to the exact date of the Exodus, was most surely about 1,400 B.C. First of all, in the whole post-exilic period and reaching all the way down to the time when John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Jordan, Israel had no prophet, that being a part of those long centuries of which Hosea said that Israel should "sit still for God" many days (Hosea 3:4), and during which there was "no prophet" (Psalms 74:9). Therefore, when Von Rad declared that this chapter contains, "simple affirmative propositions, clothed altogether in the style of prophetic predictions,F3 he removed the question of the date completely out of the entire inter-testamental period.
Yes, this chapter is pure PROPHECY, containing "not an exhortation and containing no admonitions."F4 "The whole chapter presupposes that the covenant relationship has been terminated, and that the curses laid down for its breach have fallen on disobedient Israel. Her land lies desolate, and her leading citizens have been carried into captivity."F5 Of course, this is the primary reason why critical scholars who reject any such thing as predictive prophecy because of "a priori" bias and unbelief go searching after the Babylonian captivity for the date of this chapter. We not only reject their false conclusions but also repudiate their whole evil mind-set which denies any such thing as predictive prophecy. Moses' prophecies regarding Israel in this very Book of Deuteronomy are being fulfilled this very day.
There is a double prophecy in this chapter:
(1) that of the rejection of Israel, the desolation of their land, and the scattering of Israel all over the world, but this would not signal the end of God's dispensations (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).
(2) The N.T. kingdom of Christ with its marvelous spiritual blessings would in time appear, and the truly penitent of all men, Jews and Gentiles alike, would be welcomed into the new institution (Deuteronomy 30:11-20). A careful study of the text itself removes all doubt of what this chapter actually is.
And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither Jehovah thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto Jehovah thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then Jehovah thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither Jehovah thy God hath scattered thee. If [any of] thine outcasts be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will Jehovah thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: and Jehovah thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
The opening lines here assume that Israel has broken the covenant, the land has been desolated, and the people have been scattered among the nations. There is simply no way that this means "the Babylonian captivity," although, to be sure, that episode, along with the ravaging of the Northern kingdom by Assyria, was part of the total picture of Israel's rejection. The reason that this cannot be limited to the Babylonian period is the mention of the scattering of Israel "among all the nations" (Deuteronomy 30:1), among "all the peoples (Deuteronomy 30:3), even "the uttermost parts of heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:4). None of this ever occurred until after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Also. God's promise to "turn thy captivity" (Deuteronomy 30:3) could not possibly refer to the return of a handful of Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity ended, except as a kind of symbol and token of what is really promised here.
Turn thy captivity
(Deuteronomy 30:3). The Septuagint (LXX) has, The Lord will heal thy sins as the meaning of this passage. The reference here, then, must refer to a much more extensive captivity than that in Babylon.F6 The Jews themselves do not consider this prophecy fulfilled by their return from Babylon.F7 The reasons why the Jews take this position are:
(1) not all of them returned after Babylonian exile;
(2) they had not, at that time, been scattered among all nations;
(3) they were not multiplied above their fathers (Deuteronomy 30:5);
(4) their hearts were not circumcised to love the Lord (Deuteronomy 30:6), etc.F8
Jamieson further stated that the Jews ardently look to this promise, believing that God will yet fulfil it by bringing them back from their exile among all nations and entering them again into Canaan.F9 For these and many other reasons we cannot believe that the turning of Israel's captivity refers to anything less than the spiritual blessings in the kingdom of the Son of God's love, even that of Jesus Christ our Lord.
In this connection, we should also remember that Jesus Christ announced himself as the fulfillment and executor of this promise, declaring that God had sent him (Christ):
To preach good tidings to the poor;
To proclaim release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
What did Jesus mean? That he would start a campaign to empty all the jails in Judaea? Certainly not! Jesus never got anybody out of jail, not even his cousin, John the Baptist. This is clearly a reference to the release of people from the bondage of sin, and that is exactly what the prophet Moses was speaking of in this verse. The parallelism here makes it certain that lines two and three, above mean the same thing.
The student should beware of false renditions of this Deut. 30:3 by the NIV. Moffatt, RSV, etc, which have, "God will restore your fortunes," the Good-News Bible which has "The Lord will have mercy on you," and a number of other corrupt translations which, in a passage such as this, do not pretend to translate the Word of God, but give us their words instead of God's.
Throughout the Bible, especially here, and in all of the minor prophets especially, the prophecies of the disasters that shall overwhelm disobedient Israel are usually ended by, or sometimes interspersed by, just such wonderful promises as are found here, and Christian scholars long ago discerned that all of those glorious promises of future glory for Israel pertain to the redemption that, through Christ, will, in time, be available to them (and also to the Gentiles and all people alike).
Look at the first verse where blessing is mentioned along with the curse. Keil properly explained this as an indication that, even in the times of the worst apostasy, "there would always be a holy seed."F10 When the real Israel of God, i.e., the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, is understood to be the ONLY Israel, it is clear enough why the anticipation of the New Covenant must be seen in such passages as this. It was the righteous remnant of Israel in the person of the holy prophets and apostles of the N.T. who constituted the personnel of the church of God, and to them and their followers alone must be ascribed all of the sacred promises of the entire Bible, made indeed to "Israel," but what Israel? Not the secular nation, but the HOLY REMNANT.
And Jehovah thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. And Jehovah thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, that persecuted thee. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of Jehovah, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. And Jehovah thy God will make thee plenteous in all the work of thy hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, for good: for Jehovah will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers; if thou shalt obey the voice of Jehovah thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law; if thou turn unto Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.
Circumcise thy heart
This is a far different thing from that which the Law commanded in the old dispensation. In Deut. 10:16, it is the Israelite himself who must do the circumcising as an act of obedience,F11 but in the new covenant, which is certainly in view here, God Himself will create a new heart within His followers. As stated in Ezek. 11:19, God would give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them, thus linking this blessing with the reception of the Holy Spirit, an unerring indication that the New Covenant is meant. The forgiveness of the transgressions of Israel, implied throughout the passage, is also another indication of the same thing. Only in the days of the New Covenant would God forgive sins (Jer. 31:31ff). Cook therefore made the correct conclusion on this: The `turning again of the captivity' will be when Israel is converted to Him in whom the Law was fulfilled, who died `not for that nation only,' but also, that He might `gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad' (John 11:51,52).F12
In this book of the law
By no stretch of imagination could this be limited to the Book of Deuteronomy, or to anything less than all five of the Books of Moses. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the great minds of the last millennium, mentioned the lost book of the Law that was discovered in the eighteenth year of King Josiah and declared unequivocally that the book there discovered was, The book of the Law now extant,F13 meaning the Torah, i.e., the so-called five Books of Moses. Critical enemies of the Bible now deny this, but they have no proof of their claims, and while their theories exhibit a great deal of skill and ingenuity, any careful study of them can discover no basis of credibility. This book of the law was in the process of compilation throughout the lifetime of Moses, and, upon his death, Joshua, carried on the work, recording the death of Moses and the subsequent entry into Canaan. It should be remembered that God put the spirit that was in Moses in Joshua also.
Sir Isaac also pointed out that the Law (called by him The Pentateuch) was in existence long before the third year of Jehoshaphat, that Israel therefore had it long before the captivity, and that even the Samaritans "had this same Pentateuch."F14
In this first section (Deuteronomy 30:1-10), we not only have a number of the most remarkable prophecies, most of which were never fulfilled until the beginning of the Christian era, but also some that are not even yet fulfilled, leaving such things as the final restoration of all Israel still far in the future, and all of this being most certainly true, how is it, as the critics claim, that some hypothetical "D" is the author of these great prophecies? Neither "D" nor any one else could have known such things as were revealed here unless he was miraculously inspired, and if he was inspired, it would have been impossible for him to have attributed his prophecies to Moses. As McGarvey wisely concluded:
"This prophecy, then, must have come from Moses; and it is in some respects the most wonderful prediction of the future ever uttered by a prophet of Israel. It antedates the predictions of the other prophets by some six or eight centuries, and it reaches farther down the stream of time than almost any other. It proves Moses to be the greatest prophet that ever lived until that Prophet like unto Moses appeared in the person of the Son of God."F15
Kline also pointed out that, "The renewal and restoration here foretold by Moses is that which was accomplished by Christ in the New Covenant."F16 The words of Moses here am not restricted to any particular time, except, in a general sense, to the "times of the regeneration"; "but they comprehend all times."F17 "Israel has never been hardened and rejected in all its members, although the mass of the nation lives under the curse until this very day."F18
That thou mayest live
(Deuteronomy 30:6) is an interesting clause, because, as Oberst observed, Unless people's hearts are truly given unto the Lord, they were not `living' at all, as far as God was concerned.F19
Scott commented on Deut. 30:8, that, "It does not refer to the Exile, but is used in a spiritual sense."F20
If thou shalt obey
(Deuteronomy 30:10). Keil called this, The renewed enforcement of the indispensable condition of salvation.F21 Of course, obedience is indeed the constant and invariable condition of salvation. People who read the glorious promises of the word of God, whether in the O.T. or in the N.T., without strict attention to those mountain-high IF's that dominate the sacred text throughout are simply not reading it at all.
One other very important consideration was stressed by Harrison. "The book of this Law," meaning the whole Pentateuch, was mentioned in Deut. 30:10, and, in the same verse, this obedience to this Law is stated to be the equivalent of "obeying the voice of Jehovah thy God," `Whereby attesting to its inspiration and authority; we can therefore speak of this book (the Pentateuch in particular, indeed the whole Bible) as The Word of God!"F22
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
The apostle Paul utilized these words in the famed quotation of Rom. 10:6-8, where it reads:
"But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus: Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down): or Who shall descend into the abyss (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what saith it? The word is high thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of truth, which we preach" (Romans 10:6-8).
Most commentators declare that Paul was here quoting a passage from this chapter, but strict attention to it reveals that, despite his appeal to the O.T. in referring to this passage, he did not "quote it." Paul was writing Scripture in that passage, not quoting Scripture. As John Locke said, "It is an ill rule for interpreting Paul to tie up his use of any text he brings out of the O.T., to that which is taken to be the meaning there."F23 Nevertheless, the thrust of both passages is exactly the same. Whether in the O.T. or in the N.T., God's word and will for Adam's rebellious race is nothing so complicated and intricate that people need any special help to know what it is. "He who runs may read." It is not lack of information regarding God's will, but the lack of will to do it that plagues humanity now as it did in the days of Moses. As Dummelow expressed it, "All that is essential in revelation is plain; it is within the compass of human understanding and will?"F24
Of these two chapters (Deut. 29--30), Phillips noted that, "They are based on the suzerainty-treaty form, exhibiting: (1) the historical prologue (Deuteronomy 29:2-8); (2) statement of general principles (Deuteronomy 29:9); (3) blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 30:16-18); and (4) the call to witnesses (Deuteronomy 30:19).F25
Paul's reference to the "righteousness which is of faith," is more accurately understood as "the righteousness that is of the Christian faith." As in so many passages throughout the N.T., "faith" in passages like this is objective, not subjective. (See our extensive discussions of this in Rom. 3 in the N.T. series.) Note the following on the nature of the gospel:
It is something that is evident. It can be talked about. It never requires an effort on man's part to fetch it from some distant place and set it actually before his eyes. In this respect Jehovah has done all that is necessary; he has placed it on Israel's lips, and in its heart. See Jer. 31:33.F26
The citation by Von Rad of the passage in Jer. 31:31ff indicates that he applied these words also to the New Covenant, which is correct. Von Rad also mentioned that, "We can recognize clearly the fundamental features of the ceremonial elements of the covenant formula."F27 These characteristics are hallmarks of the 15th century B.C., and NOT of either exilic or post-exilic times.
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that thou mayest live and multiply, and that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
This is the grand conclusion that brings the whole procedure of the re-ratification of the covenant to its dramatic and formal terminal. "In conclusion, Moses sums up the contents of the whole of his preaching on the law in the words, "Life and good, and death and evil."F28 Of the very highest importance was the command "to love" Jehovah in Deut. 30:20. Scott referred to this little paragraph as "the peroration"F29 to all of Moses' preceding lectures.
He is thy life, and the length of thy days
(Deuteronomy 30:20). Alexander rendered this: For this is thy life; to love the Lord is really to live the true, the higher life.F30 Adam and Eve died the day they ate the fruit; they ceased not to exist, but died out of fellowship with God. People die when they are separated from God as really as the branch broken from the tree. Sin is the mother of death (James 1:15). It brings it forth because it separates the soul from him who is the Fountain of life.F31 It was of this that Paul spoke when he declared that, She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth (1 Timothy 5:6).
Footnotes for Deuteronomy 30
1: G. Ernest Wright, The Interpreter's Bible, Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), p. 508.
2: Ibid., p. 509.
3: Gerhard Von Rad, Deuteronomy (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), p. 183.
5: Anthony Phillips, Deuteronomy (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1973), p. 198.
6: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Deuteronomy (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 816.
7: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 139.
10: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 451.
11: Peter E. Cousins, The New Layman's Bible Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 306.
12: F. C. Cook, Barnes' Notes, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 329.
13: Sir Isaac Newton, Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (London: J. Darby and T. Browne in Bartholomew Close, MDCCXXXIII), p. 2.
14: Ibid., p. 3.
15: J. W. McGarvey, Authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy (Montgomery: Alabama Christian School of Religion), p. 209.
16: Meredith G. Kline, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Deuteronomy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 196.
17: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 453.
19: Bruce Oberst, Deuteronomy (Joplin: College Press, 1968), p. 351.
20: D. R. Scott, Abingdon Bible Commentary, Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), p. 340. This is undoubtedly correct.
21: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 454.
22: R. K. Harrison, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 226.
23: John Locke, Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul (Boston: 1832), p. 348.
24: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 136.
25: Anthony Phillips, op. cit., p. 199.
26: Gerhard Von Rad, op. cit., p. 184.
27: Ibid., p. 185.
28: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 454.
29: D. R. Scott, op. cit., p. 340.
30: W. L. Alexander, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 464.
31: R. M. Edgar, The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 478.