The Scriptorium

The Tragedy of God's Covenant

It's not what God planned for His people. It's what they chose. Deuteronomy 29

The Covenant Renewed: Deuteronomy 29 (7)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 79.10, 11
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let there be known among the nations in our sight
The avenging of the blood of Your servants which has been shed.
Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You;
According to the greatness of Your power
Preserve those who are appointed to die…

Psalm 79.10, 11
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Why should the nations mock and say, “Where now is their God?”
Let there be known among them harsh vengeance for our blood!
Hear, Lord, our groans and sighing; preserve us by Your pow’r.
For we are fairly dying each day and hour by hour.

Review Deuteronomy 29; meditate on Deuteronomy 29.24-28

1. What is the tragedy of God’s covenant?

2. How could that tragedy have been avoided?


The people of Israel were right on the brink of conquering the land of Canaan. Hopes were high, I’m sure. Over and over Moses, speaking in the Name of the Lord, promised them abundant blessings, great increase, favor and dominion over their enemies, and the peace and bounty of the Lord. No doubt the minds of the people were dizzy with the prospects.

But the sad reality, the ultimately tragic reality of God’s covenant, was that this people did not have “a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear” the whole of what God promised them (v. 4). They heard the promise of blessing, and they could see that promise coming to pass with their mind’s eye. And that is what captured their hearts – the blessings, the bounty, and boon. They were already making an idol of things, even as God was speaking to them. They could not perceive that He was their great reward, and that the material blessings of the promised land were mere tokens of His greatness, Presence, and favor.

God was creating them as a people unto Himself. He would be their God, and that should be enough for them all. But it was not then, and never would be for the vast majority of God’s Old Testament people. Even as He called them to enter His covenant, He told them where their lack of a heart for Him would lead – idolatry, devastation, and captivity. We might ask, Then why did no one cry out, “Lord, give us a heart for you!”? The simple answer is, they were blessing-blind. They gave lip service to being God’s people, but what they really desired was God’s blessings.

Things haven’t changed all that much. We are God’s covenant people today, because of the work Jesus has done to forgive, cleanse, and save us. Is it our greatest delight to see Jesus? Do we hunger and thirst to be righteous like Jesus? Is coming before our God and heavenly Father the high point of our day, the place we long always to be, the arena in which we know our greatest experience of beauty, majesty, wonder, truth, and delight?

Or have we settled merely for the blessings of God as the best part of knowing Him? If so, if we do not cherish and cling to and delight in and serve God Himself above all other things, then we are practicing idolatry and headed for a covenant tragedy of our own.

It’s no secret what God threatens to those who put things ahead of Him. He has clearly revealed it to us. Do we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to desire God above all else?

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“…that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3.13). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6.23). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2.8). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jms. 1.17). Clearly, every good gift that we enjoy – all the blessings of God – are just that: good gifts. He has not given them as gods (Deut. 29.26). God does not tempt anyone to sin (Jms. 1.13). He has no desire to write a tragedy instead of a covenant. Therefore, we are supposed to be smart enough to realize that God has not tempted us to follow these gifts as idols. They are just things He has given to bless us. It is our gross error to accept, then worship them (v. 26). When we do, we completely misconstrue God’s generosity and kindness; and in the process, we arouse His anger, wrath, and indignation (v. 28). When we know the difference between a gift and an idol, we will have “eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to desire God above all else.”

1. How can we know if the things we enjoy are becoming more important to us than God Himself?

2. How can we grow in love for God, so that we do not mistake His gifts for idols?

3. What else can we do to keep from drifting into idolatry – loving and desiring things more than God?

It is no new thing for God to bring desolating judgments on a people near to him in profession. He never does this without good reason. It concerns us to seek for the reason, that we may give glory to God, and take warning to ourselves. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Deuteronomy 29.22-28

O God, we Your covenant people seem to be so far from Your blessing and favor! Help me today to…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 79.1-9
Pray that God will revive His Church and renew us in His covenant, so that we may bear powerful witness to the world about Jesus.

Psalm 79.1-9
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
O God the nations all Your inheritance have spoiled!

Your City have they ruined, Your temple they have soiled!
Your servants’ bodies all to the birds of heav’n are thrown;
the flesh of all Your faithful the jaws of beasts now own.

The blood of faithful servants like water flows around;
and none are there Your saints to commit into the ground.
Our neighbors mock and scorn us: How long, O Lord, how long?
How long will You be angry and scorn our mournful song?

Pour out, O Lord, Your wrath on all who deny Your Name;
who trust You not nor seek You, bring down to deepest shame!
For they have with great rancor Your precious saints devoured;
lay waste their habitation at this late dreadful hour.

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by going to today’s column at the website. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore