Deut. 30:11-14 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."
Moses begins the conclusion of his final sermon with this statement. The people could keep the law if they chose to. He had laid it out for them. It wasn't a mystery still in heaven, nor was the writing of it on the other side of the world, requiring a hero's quest to obtain it. It was very near, in their hearts and mouths. They knew it. They had heard it and Moses had written it down. They could keep it if they chose.
This might seem odd to us, as the New Testament writers seem to declare the impossibility of keeping the law: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20) and Peter, when discussing why the Gentile Christians didn't need to keep the law, said, "Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10) And, indeed, it was a difficult law to live under with daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices as well as feast days and cleanliness laws that reached into every part of one's life. (Did you know that there is an ordinance about what to do if a lizard happens to fall into one of your pots? And the requirement changes depending upon what material your pot is made from!) Moses wasn't discussing perfection under the law, the justification Paul mentions, but rather living by it, not turning from it, and offering the appropriate sacrifices for sin as needed. He declares that they can keep it.
Moses then emphasizes the choice, and its consequences:
Deut. 30:15,19 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live" In chapters 27&28, Moses had laid out the blessings and curses of the law. God had promised immense blessings to the people if they kept His covenant and equally huge punishments if they broke the covenant. Moses is making it clear that the choice of what happens belongs to the people. Keep the covenant you've made with God and receive life and good, don't keep it and receive death and evil. Moses implores the people, "choose life!" God echoes this 800 years later as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians approached. The people had broken the law and because God keeps all His promises the curses were due. Still, God implores His people to change:
Ezek. 18:31-32 "Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” and Ezek. 33:11 "Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" One can almost see tears streaming down God's face as He begs His people to repent. He doesn't want to destroy them, but He will because He always keeps His promises, even the unpleasant ones.
We, too, have a choice. We have a law to live by, but in comparison to Moses' law ours is called a "perfect law of liberty." (James 1:25). When Jesus described His requirements for His disciples, He said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:30) If Moses could confidently proclaim that the people could keep his law, what is my excuse?
We, too, face a choice laden with consequences. On the one hand, blessings beyond the wildest dreams of the Israelites: eternal life sharing in God's glory. On the other hand, curses heavier than theirs, too: eternal death, burning in a lake of fire. We can chose to believe in Jesus, living that belief, and receive eternal life (John 3:16) or we can chose to ignore the words of the scripture, and find our way to death (John 5:40).
After he finished the first Gospel sermon, Peter continued to exhort his listeners saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). I offer that same invitation today, imploring you with the words Moses used so long ago, "Choose Life!"
Heb. 3:7-8a "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts"