Near the end of Deuteronomy, the book records a song sung by Moses to the Israelites just before they cross the Jordan River.
We never study the Song of Moses, but it’s a fascinating composition.
Moses refers to the Israelite people anthropomorphically, that is, as a single person: Israel (remember: God renamed Jacob as Israel).
(Deu 32:10-12 ESV) 10 “[God] found [Israel] in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, 12 the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.”
I just love that image, and I love that Moses, having just delivered chapter after chapter of statutes, returns to the most important thing: God’s love for Israel.
Of course, we Gentiles have now been grafted into Israel.
(Rom 11:17-18 ESV) 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the [Jewish] branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the [Jewish] root, but the [Jewish] root that supports you [Gentiles].
By being grafted in, we’re given the same blessings — the unmerited, unearned love of God, bestowed on Israel because of God’s relationship with Abraham.
(Gal 3:8-9 ESV) 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
(Gal 3:13-14 ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
We are elected because we’ve been added to God’s elect nation, not because of our superior righteousness (for we are “a stubborn people”) but because God has chosen us.
In fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, he re-formed the covenant community to include only those with faith in Jesus, and in so doing, he has re-defined “salvation,” “redemption,” and even the “land” or “inheritance.”
In the Law of Moses, God promised Israel his protection from earthly enemies (called “salvation”) and freedom from Egyptian slavery (called “redemption”) so that they could live on the land (Palestine) forever (called their “inheritance”).
(Exo 15:1-3 ESV) Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.”
(Psa 18:1-3 ESV) I love you, O LORD, my strength. 2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
(Exo 6:6-7 ESV) 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’
(2Sa 7:22-23 ESV) 22 Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?
(Deu 4:21 ESV) 21 Furthermore, the LORD was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
(Act 20:32 ESV) 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Modern Christians don’t speak much of our “inheritance,” although the word is found 34 times in the New Testament. But Jesus made this change: “inheritance” is no longer merely a reference to a nation living in Palestine. No, our inheritance will be the entirety of the new heavens and new earth.
(Heb 9:15 ESV) 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Here you see that “slavery” is redefined in Jesus to mean slavery to sin, more precisely, the requirement that we circumcise our own hearts so that we must try to obey God — to love him with all hearts — by our own power. We can’t do that, and so we sin.
The “new covenant” is a kainos covenant (rather than a neos covenant), that is, a renewed covenant, not a brand new replacement covenant. Jesus has fulfilled and brought the previous covenants to fruition. He has not repealed them; he’s completed certain elements and renewed other elements.
Moreover, while the Mosaic covenant was established — by the grace of God — to elect a nation to demonstrate the righteousness and holiness of God to the world, this purpose has now been accomplished by Jesus — who reveals God much more fully. And the coming of Jesus means that much of the Law of Moses has served its purpose. Thus elements of the Law are not so much repealed as accomplished or even (to use a lawyer word) moot.
For example, the laws regarding being clean/unclean, circumcision, Sabbaths, and feast days were designed to separate Israel ethnically from the surrounding peoples. Now that God has invited all nations into the Kingdom, there’s no need to command ethnic distinctiveness.
On the other hand, God’s grace and election (I know we in the Churches of Christ are uncomfortable talking about election, but it’s a biblical teaching, and we need to get over it) continue, and his promises to Abraham have been fulfilled by inviting all with faith into the Kingdom.
Is the Law opposed to grace? Well, the Law brought grace to Israel. It’s not the opposite of grace. However, Israel was elected and chosen by God before the Law was given.
One punishment for disobedience to the Law was a loss of the land and even loss of God’s redemption and salvation — the Jews could be placed in subjection to other nations and no longer under God’s protective hand. And this very thing happened.
But as God promised in Deuteronomy 30, even if the Jews forfeited God’s promises, God would be faithful to his covenant and would, at the right time, renew his salvation and redemption, give Israel an inheritance, and so all this by changing their hearts himself — by circumcising their hearts.
Later, in several passages, but especially in Ezekiel, God reveals that he’ll do this by pouring out the Holy Spirit, which he did at Pentecost — all as promised in the Mosaic covenant.
God doesn’t repeal his promises. Rather, he’s faithful to them, so faithful that he fulfills them — which he did through Jesus and the establishment of his Kingdom.