God had humored Moses and gone with Israel. Now it looked like a big mistake. After arriving to the land God had promised to give Abraham generations ago, nobody wants to go in! At the climax of the movie, the hero, finally able to fulfill destiny, turns back and says, “Nah” (Num 14).
Now, after the previous generation of ingrates has died off, God has once again brought the nation of Israel up to the border of the land he promised their ancestors. But this land, and the relationship with God, came with some warning labels. Before they cross the Jordan river, Moses divides the people into two groups who then scale two mountains that sit across from one another, forming a natural amphitheater. One recites all the good words, the blessings that will come if they follow God. The other group recites all the bad words, the curses that will come down on their heads should they forget God. From one side of the mountain echoed . . .
If anyone creates something wonderful that they then secretly treat as God; If anyone does not honor their parents; If anyone cheats others through self-made loopholes; If anyone mistreats or makes fun of the handicapped or helpless; If anyone deprives the immigrant, the refugee, the single mom, or the foster children justice; If anyone is sexually perverted, dishonoring their family or creation; If anyone secretly murders his fellow human; If anyone uses money as an excuse to kill people; Let them be cursed (Deut 27).
And then from other side of the valley, they heard:
If anyone listens to and follows Yahweh . . . You will be blessed in the city and in the country; You will be blessed by work, investments, and a family that produces and provides for you; Yahweh will disrupt the plans of your enemies; You will be known as unique and gifted people; You will make whatever you do better, and bless others with your wealth; If you listen to and follow Yahweh; If not, all these things will flip and become curses for you.
You will suffer all the plagues I inflicted on Egypt—to set you free—if you turn and become the oppressor. Instead of rescuing you, I will send a foreign, unfeeling army to besiege you. You will be scattered all around where you can worship whatever you want. But you will have no peace. (Duet 28).
Both groups rededicated themselves to Yahweh, signing themselves up for all the blessings and curses that would follow.
But immediately after the ceremony, God levels with Moses: not only is he going to die soon, but also God’s people are going to quickly turn away from him, and inherit all the curses they just said yes to. Even though they had just promised to live by what God said–blessings, curses, and all–they wouldn’t do it. They could do it, and Moses had urged them to choose life and remain loyal to the God that loved them (30:11-14). But their hearts would need to be circumcised, fundamentally changed, before they could truly love him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6). Until then, they would experience both, blessings and curses.
Moses already knew. He knew the character of the people and their children, whom he had led for so long. He knew the nature of his own twisted heart. They could not remain loyal for long. And so, instead of a song of celebration, Moses goes off to die after singing a song of doom over Israel.
From the outset, the nation was founded on this story.
Watch: Bible Project video on Deuteronomy
Listen: Deuteronomy 27-33