Deuteronomy 29:29 is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing verses in the Bible. Before I explain why, let’s take a look at the context of the verse.
Deuteronomy 28 (the theme continues into chapter 29) is well known as Moses’ sermon on blessings and curses – God would greatly bless them if they obeyed His Law, but curses were prophesied for when they failed. This was prophetic, because God knew that they would fail, that the Law was unattainable, and that another (and only) way to please Him would have to be made known. God had a plan hidden in His mind, one that would be prophesied about and prepared for carefully, for the mystery to be revealed at precisely the right time. In His all-encompassing wisdom, God chose the right place and time to show His purpose: the answer to our deepest hurts, the cure for our greatest need, a future home for our most powerful longings. The answer to our sorrow and loneliness, our sins and shame, and our desperate need to be unconditionally loved and accepted, were all satisfied in the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
It is of this great coming that Moses alludes to in Deuteronomy 29:29, unknowingly at the time:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (ESV)
Moses knew the Law, it was his duty to teach it and instruct others to follow it. They did not know that it would prove to be impossible to follow, for otherwise a wiser man may have shouted: “Moses, have our God take this Law from us, for we cannot bear it!” But this was yet unknown, just as experience often proves to be man’s best teacher. They were to endure the Law, for it would lead them to long for mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Paul, in Galatians, thoroughly explains the purpose of the Law and how it points to Grace. Many have tried to see Grace and Law as two ways of attaining the same purpose: becoming right with God. The Law was impossible to follow and no one could say they were without sin, therefore salvation could not be attained thus. Grace did the impossible, for with God all things are made possible (e.g. Matthew 19:26). The Law could not save, it was not made to do so. Instead God created the Law to show His standard of perfection to the world, to show all mankind as wretched sinners, and to point to Grace to come through Christ.
This was the mystery that Moses did not know was coming, for it was among the “secret things” that then belonged to God, but was made known to all mankind in the Incarnation. The Gospel is about this great mystery being made known, that salvation is at hand for all who believe, and that God’s Son has taken the wrath from us by bearing our sin and guilt on the cross. This is Grace, this is the Good News.
The nativity mystery “conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary”, means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus , his “climbing down of God” is: Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us. (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline)
The mystery of the Incarnation is now made known to the world, even if it is still hard to comprehend and understand. It now “belongs to us and our children forever”, for we are responsible to act on what we know. The Old Testament Jews were not responsible to call on Jesus to be saved, for they were limited to obey God with what they know. They were to repent and ask God to give them a place forever with Him, as did Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and so many others. Today the Good News is so much clearer and is available to all, so that many more may hear of Christ’s work and be saved. The Incarnation was God’s greatest gift to mankind, for it lead to the cross, the place where we could be made right with God by the perfect Son of God who fulfilled the Law in our place and died that we might be reconciled to God.
God sends his Son – here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created here on earth. The Incarnation, the words and acts of Jesus, his death on the cross, all are indispensable parts of that image. But it is not the same image as Adam bore in the primal glory of paradise. Rather, it is the image of one who enters a world of sin and death, who takes upon himself all the sorrows of humanity, who meekly bears God’s wrath and judgment against sinners, and obeys his will with unswerving devotion in suffering and death, the Man born to poverty, the friend of publicans and sinners, the Man of sorrows, rejected of man and forsaken of God. Here is God made man, here is man in the new image of God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
After reading Deuteronomy 29 in my devotions this morning, I wrote this in my journal:
What God has revealed to us we are obligated to do, the other rests in the “secret things” of God. It has now been revealed that Grace has overtaken the Law and the blessings [now ours through Christ’s death] have overcome the curses [of Deuteronomy 28 and 29]. Now the Spirit guides us and we long to obey our Father out of love for Him, while our soul cries-out for the next world, our true and eternal home. Take us now, Christ!