Over the past couple of chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses has been relaying God's blessings for obeying His Law, as well as the curses for disobeying it, curses which included exile. Flavoring the text around the curses are words implying that the Israelites' disobedience to the Law was a foregone conclusion, but the story does not end with a litany of punishments...
The Return To Truth
Deuteronomy 30 contains in terms of implications for and refutations of Christianity is earth shattering. At least it is to those willing to see the truth. We have got a lot of material to cover, so let us begin with the end in mind, and take a moment to review a few Christian positions.
Jesus never once spoke against obeying God's Law. He spoke against following customs of the Pharisees which were not contained in God's Law, but he taught that those who disobeyed God's Law, even the least important laws, and who taught others to do the same would be called “least” in Heaven (Matthew 5:19). Jesus also taught to be prudent in application of the Law, such as to allow healings on the Sabbath (such as Matthew 12:9-14).
Yet after Jesus left the scene, debate raged on about whether or not to obey the Law at all and whether or not circumcision was necessary (Acts 15:1-31, Romans 2:17-29, 1 Corinthians 7:19). Ultimately, the non-law-abidance side won out. In an ironic twist and in direct conflict with Jesus' words, Paul proclaims a freedom from the Law through Jesus in Galatians 5:1-6.
Related to this paradigm shift is a peculiar interpretation of a prophecy in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews 8:7-13 contains a quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34. This prophesy speaks of a new covenant which would be between God and the Israelites. Hebrews 8:13 concludes that:
“By calling this covenant “new,” [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” NIVAs the book continues, Hebrews 10:15-18 quotes one line from the same prophecy as part of an argument for ending sacrifices. Hebrews 10:16 regurgitates Jeremiah 31:33:
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds...” NIVThis verse is used as additional fodder in the fight against following God's Law as it is in the Torah. Most Christian theologians, such as Gill (ref. Hebrews 8:10 commentary), argue that by “my laws,” God is not referring to God's Law, but rather either basic moral codes or the doctrine of grace. They see the “new” part of the covenant as bearing God's desired laws internally instead of needing to consult a written code.
Another Christian mantra is that it was impossible to be righteous by obeying God's Law, and tied to that the thought that obeying God's Law could not grant you life (Galatians 2:21, Galatians 3:11, Galatians 3:21).
One final Christian philosophy to bear in mind: It was impossible to keep God's Law in full, thereby necessitating the forgiveness through Jesus. While not explicitly claimed anywhere, this school of thought is somewhat supported by passages like Romans 7:14-25.
OK, now that we have covered Christianity, let us get back to the truth. ;-)
In the previous chapter's list of curses, the Israelites were to experience exile as punishment for not obeying God's Law. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 is the next phase; promising that when the Israelites are in exile, if they again turn to God by obeying His Law, God will bring them back to the land of Israel. At that time, God will circumcise their hearts, and their descendants' hearts to make them love and obey God (Deuteronomy 30:6), and explicitly they will follow God's entire Law again (Deuteronomy 30:8).
Let me repeat for clarity: a circumcised heart is a metaphor for a personal commitment and desire to love God and obey His Laws.
In the rest of the chapter, Deuteronomy 30:11-20 is a plea for the Israelites to love and obey God. Contrary to the Christian opinion, God believes that obeying His Law is “not too difficult” (Deuteronomy 30:11). Why? In Deuteronomy 30:14 God says:
“No, [God's Law] is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” NIVIf something is “in your mouth” in this sense, that means you are thinking and speaking about it; essentially the same as the phrase from Jeremiah 31:33 about the laws being written on their minds.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 closes out the chapter with a plea for the Israelites to choose (temporal) life, not eternal:
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” NIVThe Israelites were very impressed with God's Law, and considered life-giving righteousness could be granted by obeying it. This righteousness is often explicitly claimed, such as in Psalm 37:30-31.
Fast forward now to Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet during the final decades of the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land; before and during the first Israelite exile from their homeland. At that time, the Israelites on average had strayed far from God's Law. They kept the basic mechanics in place, such as circumcision and Temple sacrifices, but other portions of the Law were ignored for corrupt personal gain or pleasure.
In Jeremiah 4:4, he warns that the Israelites had better circumcise their hearts, or else they will face God's wrath (including exile). In Jeremiah 9:25-26, he claims that God will punish those who are not circumcised in the heart.
When you get to Jeremiah 31, the punishment has happened. The Israelites are in exile. Jeremiah is prophesying the very same return from exile as what is contained in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. So Jeremiah 31:31-34 should be viewed in that context. This “new” covenant may better be interpreted as a renewed covenant. Having God's laws in their hearts and minds is a return to the status which the Israelites had when they were making the covenant with God on the precipice of entering the Promised Land.
There is nothing new in Jeremiah's covenant, except for maybe one thing: a claim which is made in the preceding verse of Jeremiah 31:30:
“Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. ” NIVThis verse is in there because God had developed a reputation of being slack on His Holy condemnation. Generations would go by before the sins from the fathers or grandfathers were punished by God. Here, God is committing to dispensation of timely judgement, so that a man's progeny would not suffer for his own dirty deeds, but rather that man himself would get the punishment.
Now let us summarize what we have learned here: God considers loving Him and obeying His Law critically important for a righteous and lasting life – not life in the eternal sense, but instead having a blessed temporal existence. God's old covenant with the Israelites did not become outdated and did not disappear, but rather got renewed. Having God's laws in hearts and minds referred to His actual entire Law, not some derivative moral code of that Law. According to God, it is not a difficult task to obey God's Law.
Oh, and Christianity is wrong on so many levels that it is no wonder that they had trouble converting the majority of the Jews.