When Moses Preached the Gospel
by Tim Keller
The Old Testament purposefully has an unresolved narrative tension in it, and this very tension is the whole basis of the gospel. Narrative tension means you don’t know what’s going to happen and there are opposing forces at work. In other words, “Little Red Riding Hood took her grandmother some goodies” is not narrative. It’s just a report. “Little Red Riding Hood took her grandmother some goodies, but the Big Bad Wolf was waiting to eat her up” is a narrative, because we’ve got tension. We’re led to ask, “What’s going to happen?”
The narrative tension that drives the whole book of Deuteronomy is the same narrative tension that drives the whole narrative arc of the Bible, all the way up to the cross.
“But,” you reply, “I guess it doesn’t get resolved in Deuteronomy.” Yes and no. What is beautiful about the Bible is the wonderful foreshadowing we see throughout of how resolution is going to happen. And there is foreshadowing in Deuteronomy 30.
This chapter says much about the future, and although in one place it looks like Moses is speaking about the present, Paul explains in Romans 10 that Moses was talking about the future.
Moses says three things about the future in this chapter.
1. ‘You cannot be good.’
The first thing he says is we will all fail to live as we ought. This is one of the most important things about Deuteronomy 30. In fact, if you don’t keep this in mind, you’ll misread the last part of the chapter. Look at verse 1:
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations . . .
Moses says the Israelites will be dispersed. If you go back to Deuteronomy 28, the ultimate curse is exile and dispersion. So verse 1 is essentially saying, “You will fail. You will bring all the curses of the covenant down on you. The worst that God says will happen if you disobey the covenant will, in fact, happen.”
American readers of Deuteronomy know how our culture loves motivational speakers. We enjoy having others tell us what we can do and how we can live. In some ways, the whole book of Deuteronomy is like a motivational speech. It’s a wonderful ethical treatise. It’s a vision for integrity, justice, and human life at the highest. Moses is preaching the first sermon series in history, as some have described Deuteronomy, and he’s basically saying, “I want you to live like this”—much as a motivational speaker would today.
But how does Moses’s motivational speech end? After he tells the Israelites to live according to the ethical standards of chapters 1 to 29, he effectively concludes, “Let me point this out. You’re going to fail! You’re not going to do any of this stuff I’m talking about! You’re going to fail miserably! I am wasting my breath!”
You might say that’s not good motivational speaking, and you’d be right. But it’s great gospel preaching…
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