The Covenant with Israel on the Plains of Moab
Shortly after the terms of the Sinai Covenant are given to the people of Israel, the Israelites say, “Everything YHWH has said we will do” (Ex 24:3b), and “We will do everything YHWH has said; we will obey” (Ex 24:7b). The covenant is duly ratified in the traditional manner, with sacrifices and a sacred meal shared between the parties (Ex 24:5-6, 8, 11). However, not long after that, they break the covenant by worshipping a golden statue of an Egyptian god, the Apis Bull (known in the Miqra as the “Golden Calf”).
Because of this, God realises that there will have to be an appendix or set of provisos to this covenant. When they reach the plains of Moab, just before they cross over into Canaan to possess the land, God adds the following: “Look, this is the land I promised to your ancestors. I know that you are going to prostitute yourselves to other gods – you seem to have an incorrigible propensity towards doing that. And when you do, you will be exiled from the land. But if you turn away from those gods and come back to me, I will bring you back to this land.” This is essentially what the Covenant made on the plains of Moab is about: if Israel disregards Gods laws and worships other gods, God will exile them, but if Israel turns back to YHWH after they have been exiled, then Israel will be regathered into the land.
The Sinai covenant was made and mediated between God and Israel through Moses, and it was the people present who agreed to the terms. But the Covenant made at Moab was different. It was made with everyone, from the highest elder to the lowest woodcutter (Deut 29:10-11). It is also stressed that this covenant and all the others are incumbent, not only on those present, but also on those yet to be born ( Deut 29:14-15).
The text of the Covenant
These are the terms of the covenant YHWH commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant God had made with them at Horeb. Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:
“Your eyes have seen all that YHWH did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. But to this day YHWH has not given you a mind that understands, or eyes that see, or ears that hear.
During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am YHWH your God.
When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. All of you are standing today in the presence of YHWH your God – your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water.
You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with YHWH your God, a covenant YHWH is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of YHWH our God but also with those who are not here today.
You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from YHWH our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
When such a person hears the words of this oath, they invoke a blessing on themselves and therefore thinks, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.’ This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. YHWH will never be willing to forgive them; God’s wrath and zeal will burn against that person. All the curses written in this book will fall upon them, and YHWH will blot out that person’s name from under heaven.
YHWH will single that person out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which YHWH has afflicted it. The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulphur – nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which YHWH overthrew in fierce anger.
All the nations will ask: ‘Why has YHWH done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?’ And the answer will be: ‘It is because this people abandoned the covenant of YHWH, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshipped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore YHWH’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath YHWH uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.’
The secret things belong to YHWH our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever YHWH your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to YHWH your God and obey God with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then YHWH your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there YHWH your God will gather you and bring you back. God will bring you back to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. God will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.
YHWH your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. YHWH your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey YHWH and follow all God’s commands I am giving you today. Then YHWH your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. YHWH will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as God delighted in your ancestors, if you obey YHWH your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love YHWH your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and YHWH your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
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 YHWH your God, obey God’s voice, and hold fast to God. For YHWH is your life, and God will give you many years in the land God swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Deut 29:1 – 30:20)
If you fully obey YHWH your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, YHWH your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey YHWH your God:
- You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock – the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
- Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
- YHWH will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.
- YHWH will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. YHWH your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. YHWH will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of YHWH your God and walk in his ways.
- Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of YHWH, and they will fear you.
- YHWH will grant you abundant prosperity – in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground – in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
- YHWH will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
- YHWH will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of
- YHWH your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods or serving them. (Deut 28:1 – 14)
However, if you do not obey YHWH your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
- You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. YHWH will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking God.
- YHWH will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. YHWH will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish.
- The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. YHWH will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
- YHWH will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.
- Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. YHWH will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumours, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. YHWH will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.
- You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them.
- Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labour produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. The sights you see will drive you mad.
- YHWH will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
- YHWH will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where YHWH will drive you.
- You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off.
- You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity.
- Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.
- The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail.
- All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey YHWH your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. Because you did not serve YHWH your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies YHWH sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.
- YHWH will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land YHWH your God is giving you.
- Because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters YHWH your God has given you. Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities.
- The most gentle and sensitive woman among you – so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot – will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For she intends to eat them secretly during the siege and in the distress that your enemy will inflict on you in your cities.
- If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name – YHWH your God – YHWH will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. God will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. YHWH will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed.
- You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey YHWH your God. Just as it pleased YHWH to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.
- Then YHWH will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods – gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot.
- There YHWH will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!” – because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.
- YHWH will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you. (Deut 28:15 – 68)
The terms of the Covenant
What Israel must do:
- Repent for worshipping other gods
- Return to YHWH, and worship YHWH alone
- Observe faithfully once more God’s commandments and laws
What God will do:
- Confirm Israel as God’s people
- Restore Israel’s fortunes
- Gather Israel from among the nations where they have been scattered and bring them back to the promised land
- Circumcise their hearts (i.e. turn Israel’s heart and mind only to YHWH)
- Put these commandments in the mouths and hearts of Israelites
- Israel will be honoured throughout the whole earth
- The land will proper and give abundant produce
- Israel’s enemies will be resoundingly defeated
- Israel will be the head, not the tail
Curses for gross breaches of the Covenant:
- Everything Israel endeavours will be cursed
- Crops will fail, and the rains will not come
- Israel will be plagued with disease, heat and drought
- Israel’s enemies will defeat her, and carry her off to be scattered among the nations
- Israel will begin to worship other gods, and become an object of ridicule among the nations
- Dread will fill their days and nights
This covenant is truly straightforward – no ambiguity: “what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ ”
Israel will go off and worship other gods – that is a foregone conclusion. But as long as the scattered House of Israel repents and returns to worship of YHWH, then God will bring back all the exiles.
In ancient times, when Jews went off and prostituted themselves to other gods, it was obvious that they had done so, and no one today disputes that they did. But what about today? In ancient times, some Jews went off and worshipped other names; are there Jews today who worship other names? In Ex 23:13 it says:
“Now, concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; do not invoke the names of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth.”
Nor are Jews permitted to prophesy in the names of other gods:
“But the prophet who speaks a word . . . . in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” (Deut 18:20)
Does this have implications for Jews who become Christians? Such Jews, who worship ‘Jesus’ as a god, are indeed worshipping and invoking another name, and have turned away from YHWH. So, in practical terms, what does that mean? Does it mean that, as long as there are Jews who stubbornly worship ‘Jesus’ as a god, Israel will not have peace in the land? It’s certainly one possible interpretation.
We think all Yahwists who acknowledge and worship YHWH alone, should be aware of these implications. We are not ones to dwell on harsh ideas such as these, but when Nazarenes, Messianics, Hebrew-Christians and Jews-for-Jesus claim they are following the true word of the bible, if only they were to read the terms of the Covenant made at Moab, they would realise they are doing nothing of the kind!
Another question needs to be addressed: what do we do about this? When you hear of Jews becoming Messianics or Jews-for-Jesus, what can be done?
We think that the only thing that can be done, is preventative education. Jewish children need to be made aware of the heart of their heritage, and the heart of what Yahwism is: “YHWH alone”. Too often modern Judaism ignores the very thing that could help them – rabbis complain that Jews are leaving the faith, but they are doing nothing to stress the very thing that was supposed to prevent this from happening.
A note on the “New” Covenant
Once you understand that covenants cannot be revoked or replaced, you realise that the above (“New” Covenant) is somewhat of a misnomer. The text of this “new” covenant is found at Jer 31:31-34
“The time is coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will renew my covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, ’though I was a husband to them,” declares YHWH. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares YHWH. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares YHWH. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
This “new” covenant is claimed by Christians, who are obviously not Jews. But just hold on a moment – the text clearly states that this is with ‘the house of Israel and the house of Judah’! What’s it got to do with Christians?!
If you look at Deut 30:6 (“YHWH your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love God with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”), and Deut 30:14 (“No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it”), you realise that this is not a new covenant at all, but a reiteration or reaffirmation of the covenant made at Moab. It is not a new covenant, but a renewed covenant. It’s not like the Sinai Covenant, which the Israelites broke by worshipping the Golden Calf. The “New” or renewed Covenant is in fact none other than a reiteration of the Covenant made on the plains of Moab.