Dear Radio Friends,
The words of Deuteronomy were the last words spoken by Moses to the nation of Israel before his death on Mt. Nebo. They were words of hope and encouragement—but also words of warning. This nation was soon to enter into a land flowing with milk and honey, that is, a rich and a fertile land, the desire of any nation. God was going to drive out before Israel the nations that then possessed the land—nations greater and mightier than the nation of Israel. In other words, God was going to give Israel the land of Canaan. She would move into houses she did not build, take over fields and flocks and herds she did nurture. The people of Israel would simply move in and take the place of all the nations that had once lived there. All this was the gift of Jehovah to her.
In this context Moses speaks the words of the passage we consider for the next couple of weeks: Deuteronomy 7:6-9. Let me read those verses a moment. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.”
In these verses Moses explains why God has given the children of Israel the land of Canaan for an inheritance. He points out God’s faithfulness and love for them. He points out the blessed truth of God’s covenant. Ah yes, God’s covenant. This is why God would give the nation of Israel the land of Canaan.
The truth of God’s covenant is dear to the heart of every believer. The words of our text were spoken to the nation of Israel many years ago and in a very different dispensation of God’s covenant. Nevertheless, we can take these words and apply them to ourselves as a church of Jesus Christ today too. God has chosen us together with all of His church today to be a special people unto Himself. He has established with us His covenant.
I have chosen this passage in particular because it describes for us clearly and simply what God’s covenant is. It is my hope, by means of an explanation of this passage here in Deuteronomy to demonstrate how the knowledge of the covenant is of utmost comfort and encouragement to God’s saints. The truth of the covenant is an underlying truth of Scripture that is the mainstay of believers throughout all ages. It is the golden thread that ties the Old and New Testaments together. It is the hope of God’s people in every new generation.
I. A Covenant People
The words God spoke to Israel in verse 6 are amazing and beautiful: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” I say these words are amazing because who would ever think that the almighty Creator of heaven and earth would say to men who are sinners, “You are holy unto me and a special people”? And these words are beautiful because they speak of a comforting truth regarding one’s relationship with God. The nation of Israel had complained throughout her traveling through the wilderness. God almost destroyed her for her sin at Mt. Sinai. He sent her back into the wilderness for her rebellion at Kadesh. Now she stood on the brink of the promised land and Moses tells the nation that they are a holy people whom God has chosen as a special people. Words of grace if I have ever heard any!
But God calls Israel a holy people. By the word “holy” is meant a people God has separated and consecrated to the service of His holy name; a people whom God has taken out of all the peoples of the earth—separating them unto Himself to honor and glorify Him; a people whom God has made pure and holy unto Himself. This means that, since God abhors all that is unclean, so also do the people whom He has separated unto Himself. Those whom God has made holy abhor the impurity and immorality of this world. Mind you, Moses does not command here that God’s people must strive to be holy. Moses states: you are a holy people unto Jehovah your God. By the work of God’s grace in your hearts you have come to detest the filth and impurity of the nations of this world. That is what separates you from them. You are my people made holy unto me. I have made you that way by my saving work in your hearts.
Likewise, Moses says, God has chosen you to be a special people unto Himself. He has chosen and saved you to separate you from the wicked world and make you His very own special people. What a privilege! Actually that term “special” means a “special treasure.” In fact, even more specifically it means “personal property.” God had called the nation of Israel from among all the heathen nations that surrounded them and made them into His own special treasure or peculiar property. All this Moses accentuates when he adds at the end of verse 6, “above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” You, Israel, are my treasure, and I find my pleasure in you! Look at all the people around you. I have not chosen them. They do not belong to me. You, Israel, belong to me. I have purchased you and made you into my own personal property. I, the most high God, have condescended to men of low degree and I have plucked you out of all the peoples of this world and have set my love upon you. I am your God and I have taken you to be my people.
Imagine being numbered among the families of Israel and hearing Moses speak those words to you! Amazing and wonderful! What great encouragement that had to be as they were soon to enter Canaan and fight against those nations that were larger and mightier than they were.
Then to hear Moses add, “Jehovah has set His love upon you!” Such unworthy wretches as we who murmured and complained against God—He loves us? No doubt, all those believers could do when hearing this was to shake their heads in wonderment.
But the point that needs emphasizing here is that all these words were not strange to the ears of people of Israel. These words were those of the covenant that God established with His people in Abraham. That they are is evident from verse 9 of our text, where Moses speaks of God’s covenant. You see, God’s covenant is that intimate relationship of love and fellowship God establishes with His elect people in Christ. It is that relationship of friendship by which God binds unto Himself in His love and favor a chosen people and becomes their God and they His people. This is the covenant God established with Abraham.
Now, some believe that the word “covenant” means agreement or pact. As a result, they will define the idea of God’s covenant in terms of an agreement into which God enters with man. Since there are two parties to an agreement, with mutual conditions that each must fulfill, they have no problem saying that God’s covenant with man is conditional. God will be the God of that man only if he believes or obeys Him. If that man fails to meet the conditions of the agreement, then God will no longer be His God. The covenant is thus conditioned on man and is breakable.
The first error that is made with this view is to say the Hebrew term for covenant means agreement or pact. It does not mean that. The word covenant literally means to cut. It is from this that the idea of a covenant as an agreement is inferred. It was the custom in Old Testament times when entering into a solemn covenant or agreement to cut several animals in half and then for the two parties entering into covenant to walk with each other through those divided parts. Although we are not going to enter into the account of Genesis 15, we find that God did this with Abraham—except that God alone and not Abraham passed through those divided parts.
But there is another way in which the word “to cut” was used in Scripture and in Old Testament times. It refers to sitting down and eating with another. The idea then would be the cutting of bread or other items such as meats while eating. The Hebrews in the Old Testament were accustomed to feasting or supping together when entering into a covenant. This is evident from the marriage feast or a feast between dignitaries representing various nations. In fact, the Bible makes reference to such a banquet in Genesis 3:52-54, where Jacob and Laban entered into an agreement with each other and then sat down and ate together. Supping together was considered an intimate part of a covenant of friendship and fellowship. One cannot help but take note of how God after giving His law in Mt. Sinai supped with, i.e., ate together with the 70 elders. Other such examples can be cited, including the beautiful truth that our Lord’s Supper points to our sharing together in covenant communion with our God today.
God’s covenant, then, is in essence the warm and personal relationship of fellowship that God shares with His people in Christ. It is not some cold agreement or pact with all its requirements. Such also is the way Moses speaks of it here in Deuteronomy: “You are a holy people unto Jehovah your God: Jehovah your God has chosen you to be a special treasure unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” This warm relationship of fellowship with God is not an abstract definition of God’s covenant. It is personal and so much needed in the life of God’s people.
God’s fellowship speaks to us of His love first of all. The fellowship we share with God in His covenant is a fellowship of faith. We have come to know God in an intimate way. God has not simply given us a head full of facts about Himself that we can defend and argue. We know God! We know Him with the intimate knowledge of love, just as a husband loves his wife or a parent his or her children. We know them well and we seek to know them more because we find ourselves drawn to them. The same is true of God. We love Him and are drawn to Him. Our lives center in Him because He is the object of our longing and desires. God loves His people with that same love. So much does He love them that He gave the very Son of His love to death for them. Likewise, we in faith have learned to trust in this God. Our confidence in life and in death is bound to God. He is our help and our shield in times of need. When we are hurting or rejected, then God is there to take us up. He holds us close to Him and shields us from the cares and burdens of life. God is our everything, and we have come to depend on Him for our all. That is the fellowship we share with the ever blessed God.
And more: we are become the objects of God’s sole favor and blessing. Why is it that we reject the error of common grace? Because only one who belongs to God’s covenant is the object of God’s favor! God may send good things upon the reprobate man. In fact, the wicked man within the church even shares with God’s elect many of the same outward blessings of God’s covenant. But never is such a person the object of God’s love and grace. God cannot love everyone. He does not love everyone. He loves those who belong to His covenant. God does not show His favor toward those who stand outside of His covenant. The blessings of God rest upon those whom He has made into His very own children and who therefore belong to His family and household. God never smiles upon the wicked or desires their good. He desires the good of those with whom He has entered into that intimate bond of fellowship and favor. These share in all the blessings of salvation. These blessings God bestows on them in His love. To these, all things come as a blessing—even, mind you, when God sends burdens and cares. He loves us and will uphold us when these cares befall us. What a wonderful thing to share in God’s covenant—to share in His fellowship and favor.
II. A Divine Choosing
But, you may say, wait a minute! We are explaining words spoken to the nation of Israel prior to their entrance into the land of Canaan. At the same time, we seem to be addressing the church of today as if these words spoken then are being spoken to you and me today. Should we not simply speak of God’ covenant with the nation of Israel? We make quite a jump by taking what was spoken to Israel and act as if God is speaking to you and me today. Good observation. We may not make that jump unless, of course, God’s Word allows us to do so. The question comes down to this: whom is God addressing here? I know. Moses obviously is addressing the people of Israel. They needed to hear these words of encouragement before facing their mighty foes in Canaan. But there is something Moses states in these words that reveals that God’s Word here has a broader application. In verse 6 we read: “the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself.” We read of this “choosing” in verse 7 too. God’s choice of the nation of Israel as His people was not random. God chose Israel and set His love on this nation because He had chosen Abraham as His own. The nation of Israel was born out of the twelve sons of Israel or Jacob. Jacob was born out of Isaac. Isaac was born out of Abraham. With Abraham and his generations God established His covenant.
But let’s go back in history before Abraham. God chose to establish His covenant with Noah too. God promised Noah that He would gather His people out of the seed of Noah’s son, Shem. Abraham was born out of Shem. God already chose Israel in Noah. Prior to the great Flood a particular line from Adam to Noah was also chosen by God. This means since the very beginning of time God chose a certain people unto Himself and dwelt with them in His love. Israel belonged to that line of people. We learn in Acts 15:18, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” This is true because God’s divine choosing of a people unto Himself is set in eternity. This choosing is God’s sovereign decree of election. In eternity in His eternal counsel or plan for all things God chose or elected the nation of Israel to be a holy nation and a special treasure or a personal property for Himself. Predestination, therefore, governs God’s covenant. God elects those with whom He will establish His covenant. God chose to dwell in love and favor with the nation of Israel. It’s true that not every person in Israel was the object of the love and favor of God’s covenant. But these elect were found only within Israel, the nation whom God called from the ends of the earth. The point is: God determined before time began who would be a partaker of His great love and favor and fellowship. God sovereignly chooses or elects those who belong to His covenant.
Now, that indeed makes these words of Moses applicable to the church today. Why? Because the church today was chosen together with Israel in eternity according to God’s decree of predestination. Ephesians 1:4: “According as he hath chosen us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” The church today was elected together with the church of long ago. The nation of Israel was chosen in Christ and so is the church today. The covenant that was established of old with God’s elect in the Old Testament is established with God’s elect in the New. Not with every person in the church institute, of course. Yet, God’s elect people are found only within the sphere of the church institute.
The point is: today too God has sovereignly chosen a people unto Himself. What God spoke to His people then, therefore, is exactly what He speaks to you and me and the church of Jesus Christ today. We can say this on the basis of the testimony of Scripture. In Romans 4 we learn that Abraham is the father of all believers—all those who share in like faith with Abraham. Likewise, Paul makes the point in Galatians 3 that the blessings of the covenant that God established with Abraham now fall upon the New Testament church that shares in the faith of Abraham.
You see, in faith Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looked for their righteousness in the blood of the Messiah who was to come. Many in the nation of Israel looked forward in the same faith to the coming Messiah. Today too we look back in that faith to the Christ who has come to shed His blood to make us righteous before God. The saints of old did this and we do this today because we know that God’s covenant is entirely wrapped up in Jesus Christ. Without Christ, God’s covenant with His people would not exist. Paul states it in Galatians 3:29: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
That means, then, that everything spoken to Abraham’s seed we can apply to ourselves as the people of God’s covenant today. We, fellow believers, are a holy people unto Jehovah! The Lord has chosen us and His church to be a special treasure unto Himself out of all the peoples of this world! God has set His love upon us. What comfort and encouragement these words give to us. We bask in the favor and fellowship of God.