Sermon preached on Deuteronomy 29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/07/2010 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“The Secret Things Belong to the LORD”
I’d like us primarily today to consider verse 29; that there are secret things that belong to the Lord, and there are revealed things that belong to us; for us and our children to live by. And yet before we dig into that verse, there’s another somewhat unrelated point that I’d like us to first briefly consider today. In this passage, we see God’s role for the children under the old covenant. I’d like to think first briefly about children under the old covenant as we see in this passage. Then we’ll get to think more fully through verse 29.
So let’s begin by thinking about children under the old covenant. What we see in this chapter is how the children were to be included as members in this covenant. In fact, that’s how all adults here ended up in this situation in the first place. They were children born into this covenant. God had made a covenant with their parents 40 years before at Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. We see that referenced in verse 1. Now, this next generation had grown up, and they were about to enter the Promised Land. However, they find themselves now being called to renew the covenant which they had been living under all these many years. That’s what verse 13 gets at too. In verse 13, God reminds this next generation that he had entered into covenant with their fathers, just like he entered into covenant with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each new generation born into the covenant community becomes members in it, and yet each are called to be renewed in that covenant themselves when they are old enough to really understand what it’s all about.
And so again, we see in this chapter what’s been going on in the book of Deuteronomy. The people are in Moab, just about to cross over into the Promised Land. Here God has been taking them through a covenant renewal ceremony. Now, this next generation was being called to profess their faith and allegiance to God as their covenant Lord. By the way, I see something akin here to how we call our children when they are old enough, to make their own public profession of faith; they grow up in the church as a member in the covenant community, and when they are able, we call them to make a formal public profession of faith. That’s like them being formally renewed and confirmed in the covenant.
But that’s certainly not the only way that this chapter shows that the children were part of this covenant here. There are several references in this chapter that the current children and the future children were a part of this covenant. Let’s look through these references. Verses 10-11 tells us who is to be a part of this covenant renewal ceremony. Notice it includes everyone, from the least to the greatest, including as it says in verse 11 the “little ones.” This word for little ones refers especially to the younger aged children. By extension, that’s why we have the little children in our worship services too. Not only is that the example we see in Scripture, but what goes on here involves them too. Look next at verses 14-15. It goes onto to say that God is not making this covenant just with them. Not just with all those mentioned in verse 13. Not just for the current adults and children. But verse 15 says it includes even those who are not there that day. This is referring to the future generations. All of Israel would be standing there that day, going through this covenant renewal ceremony. But this covenant renewal would be binding on the generations to come in Israel; i.e. the children born into the community.
Verses 16-28 looks to the future. These verses see the possibility of disobedience to the covenant. They see that individuals could later break the covenant, and that God would put upon them the covenant curses, even as an individual, i.e., verse 20. These verses also show that the nation as a whole could break the covenant, in which case the nation itself would find God’s curses. Curse that would result in exile from the Promised Land. In verse 22, you again see the perspective of the generation of children to come. Verse 22 sees that the future generation of children could be born into this situation and see Israel bearing God’s curses as a covenant community. They, obviously, would experience that curse along with their parents. They were a part of that covenant community; when it suffered as a whole, they too would be affected.
The children are again brought into view in the last verse of this chapter. There God reminds the people that his law has been revealed to them. They were to live out this law; but not just themselves; but their children too. Again, the children were born into this covenant. They were called to the obligations of the covenant. This of course, reminds us that the parents had an obligation to pass on God’s revelation to the next generation. They had to pass on God’s laws and the terms of the covenant.
So the point of this brief survey regarding the children here, is to point out that in the old covenant, the children were a part of it. They were members in the covenant community through being born into it. They, from birth, had an obligation to learn the ways of God’s covenant, and to live it out. Now, yes, if they got older and rejected the covenant, they’d be cut off from it. This passage makes it clear that individuals aren’t saved just by being a part of the community; they too need to hold fast to God; verses 19-20. But otherwise, they were born into it, and were to live in it, all their days. By application, we do the same in the new covenant. Never in the Bible has God taken away this privilege in the New Testament church – if anything with the gospel we see it widened to clearly extend entrance into this community to all, to whoever will turn in faith to Christ. And so we consider the children born to believers to be members, at least outwardly, in the new covenant. That’s why we baptize them into the church. That’s why we raise them up to know the Lord and his Word. All through their life, they’ll be taught the gospel, and God’s holy laws. They’ll be taught what it means to be a part of God’s covenant community. We hope one day they’ll make their own public profession of faith, and confirm themselves their membership in the church.
Well, let’s turn them to focus more specifically on verse 29 now. Verse 29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” This is such a profound verse, both for us, and for our children. Let’s start with some definitions here. Let’s define what’s a revealed thing, and what’s a secret thing.
In terms of revealed things, this gets at divine revelation. We know God has generally revealed himself through the creation. The creation is proof of a creator. Yet, we also have special revelation, that is, God’s Word. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, is God’s revelation to us. Both the gospel and the law, are God’s revelation to us. Here in verse 29, it’s the law that’s especially being emphasized as what God had revealed to them. We too have God’s law. For us, we especially have the light of the gospel so clearly revealed to us as well. They had it too back then, but with less clarity and light. In the law, we’re revealed God’s standard for righteous living. In the gospel, we’re revealed God’s plan to save his people, even when we fall short of keeping the law. The revealed things belong to us; they are God’s gift of knowledge to us.
And yet there are also secret things it says. These belong to God. That means they don’t belong to us. We don’t know them; we don’t have knowledge of these things. Part of this lies in the fact that God is God, and we are not. We can have true knowledge as those created in his image. We can truly know God and the things of God. And yet we are not God. There’s a limit to what a finite creature can understand compared to an infinite God. We can know things truly as God reveals them, but not in the same infinite way God can know things. Of course when it talks about secret things here, it’s especially making the point that there are things we could know, that we have not yet been told. God hasn’t chosen to reveal everything to us.
There are countless examples of things God hasn’t chosen to reveal to us. For example, the future. We don’t know most things about the future, though God has chosen to reveal some basic things to us about it. For example, we know Christ will come back, but we don’t know when that will be. Or take another example, why bad things happen in our life. Sometimes revelation tells us very clearly why certain things happen in our life. If we get caught stealing and thrown in jail by the police, we can think to Romans 13 and recognize that God has revealed to us that he has setup the civil magistrate to enforce justice. Other times, things happen in our lives that we just can’t understand. There may be revelation that tells us certain truths that comfort us in such circumstances, but doesn’t tell us the “why.” Why, that bad thing happened. In that situation, the reason of why something happened is a secret thing of God. Something he’s chosen to not reveal.
And so when you are talking about the secret things and the revealed things, there is a related theological category that’s helpful to think about. Theologians distinguish between God’s decretive will, and his preceptive will. His decretive will, is what he has decreed to happen from the foundations of the earth. His decretive will, for the most part, has been kept secret, except for those parts of that he’s revealed in the Scriptures. He might decree to permit some trial to come in your life, and the decree has been kept secret to us. He knows, but we don’t know, until it comes to pass. His preceptive will is his will as revealed in his laws and commands. It’s what we know that he specifically desires. Think through the distinction here. In his decretive will, he might allow us to commit some sin. And yet his preceptive will, would be that we not commit that sin. But you see, we ought not to live life guessing what God’s decretive will might be. We can’t live that way. No, we are to live according to God’s preceptive will. In other words, the application of verse 29 is that we can’t live life in light of the secret things of God. Those belong to God. We can’t guess them. We can only live life according to the revealed things. We can only live life in light of what God has told us about how to live.
One thing that we see in Scripture is that there have been some things that God had originally kept secret, but has now revealed. There are certain mysteries that the Bible presents that are now revealed mysteries. Certainly, the Trinity and the Incarnation are such mysteries. We didn’t at first know about these things, but God eventually in his Word revealed them to us. We’d have no way to know about them, apart from divine revelation. Another mystery that’s been revealed in Scripture is that the Gentiles have now been brought the gospel and included among God’s people through faith in Christ. Ephesians 3 talks about that as a mystery which has been revealed. And yet the greatest mystery that’s been revealed is the overall saving work of Jesus Christ. I think of 1 Peter 1:10-13. It talks about how in the past the prophets foretold the saving work of Christ. It says that it was revealed to the prophets that this was looking forward to the future. It says the prophets searched out diligently to understand these prophecies, yet much it of course remained a mystery until Christ came. But now Christ has came, and those mysteries have been clearly revealed. The mystery of the saving work of Christ in the gospel is no longer a mystery. It’s not a secret thing; it’s a revealed thing! And yet, even though it’s been revealed, we know that many people do not believe it. For many, when the gospel is proclaimed, it falls on deaf ears. For many, when they read the gospel, it comes to blind eyes. Many don’t understand the gospel and thus refuse to believe it.
Interestingly, in verse 4 of this chapter, we see that the Israelites at that time had something not yet revealed to them. Moses says that the LORD had not yet given them a heart to perceive or eyes to see and ears to hear. Moses said this in the context of how they had see God’s miraculous provisions in their life. They had seen the all miracles done in Egypt to bring about the Exodus, verses 2-3. They had seen God miraculously provide for them in the wilderness wandering; their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out, verse 5. God had gave them victory over two evil kings, Sihon and Og, verse 7. And yet even though they had seen all this, there was a sense in which Moses could say that God hadn’t given them eyes yet to truly see and understand this. Verse 4 isn’t explained here, but the sense is that there’s some aspect of what God was ultimately doing here that they hadn’t fully grasped. They can recognize the historical facts of God’s provision. But they didn’t fully appreciate God’s saving work in their life, and what all this represented. Some greater plan and purpose of God in all this was yet a “secret thing,” at least to them. Whether God would one day make this clear to them, we’re not told.
And yet the prophet Isaiah picks up this same language of verse 4. Jesus in turn picks up the similar language of Isaiah. Jesus uses that language to describe why some people believe in the gospel, and why some don’t. In Matthew 13:11, Jesus tells the disciples that to them it has been given for them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then says that others have not been granted this knowledge. Jesus was revealing to the disciples things that removed their spiritual blindness. Others, Jesus left in their spiritual blindness.
This is an interesting thing to think about. There can be things that are generally revealed in Scripture, without God having personally revealed it to you. John’s gospel ends telling us that he wrote his book so that whoever reads it might believe in Jesus and be saved. This revelation exists. It doesn’t technically belong anymore to the “secret things” of God, but to the “revealed things” of God. Any yet many are in spiritual darkness nonetheless. For many, God has not personally revealed himself to them. He’s not yet given them a heart to perceive and eyes to perceive and ears to here. For us who have heard this gospel, and have understood it and believe it, we thank God that he has revealed to us our need for Christ.
But if we are those who have received this wonderful revelation of the gospel, let us live in light of it. What does it look like to live in light of this wonderful gospel that’s been revealed? Well, simply put, it’s to live a life of faith and repentance. That’s the gospel call. Believe in Jesus. Turn from your sins by the power of God’s grace at work in your life. Find eternal life in Christ. Live under the ordinances of his wonderful covenant. Follow Him.
Of course, this means that we also pass this on to our children. As verse 29 tells us, and frankly this whole chapter, we’re to pass on the revealed things of God to the next generation. And in the light of the gospel, we know that this promise is not only for our children, but for all who are afar off, Acts 2:39. Therefore we not only share this gospel to our children. We also share it with others outside of this community. We give the gospel to the nations. As we pass this faith on to our children and others, we should do it prayerfully as well. We pray that God would use us as the means for him to personally reveal himself to others. That he might use us as the instrument for which he calls others to himself; that we might be used by him as he grants spiritual eyesight and spiritual hearing to those with whom we share Christ.
Brothers and sisters, as we finish out our message for today, I’d like to offer a final practical application of verse 29 to us. This is a place where I think we falter far too commonly. We want to live by the secret things of God, and so we speculate. We speculate on the secret things of God, instead of focusing on the revealed things of God. We get consumed with what we don’t know, but want to know, and spend far too much energy on that, instead of thinking through what we do know. Verse 29 says to live life by the revealed things. They belong to us! Not the secret things!
Let me give an example. If we have some bad thing happen to us in our life, we are often so consumed with the “why.” Why did God let this happen? What is God trying to telling me to do in this? We end up speculating. We can look at a situation and say, because God let this happen, it must be God telling you some specific message. In our speculation we can come to some conclusion of what God must be telling us. But how do you know that? If God’s Word makes that connection for us, then we can know that. But often we just end up speculating about a secret thing. That’s even reflected in our prayer life. We end up spending a large portion of our prayers asking God to tell us why. We are demanding God to reveal to us one of his secret things.
Instead, we should put our primary focus on the revealed things. What does God’s word say about our situation? Think about this both specifically and generally. There might be passages that specifically address your circumstance. There might be passages that more generally address you overall situation. Meditate on those passages as they relate to your situation. Pray about those passages. Pray that God will help you to understand how those revealed truths guide you in your particular circumstance. In other words, let your prayers and your actions be dictated by the clear, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Do this, instead of acting based on your subjective, fallible, speculation on what God may or may not be trying to tell you.
I see this all the time, for example, whenever people reach a roadblock in their plans. They had planned to do something. They start to move forward on their plans, and then some obstacle happens. People sometimes will come to me and then tell me that they are no longer pursuing their plans because of that obstacle. Now often that’s quite wise; some obstacles can cause us to rethink our plans, and realize we’re not the right fit, or it’s not the right time. Nothing wrong with that sort of assessment. But often the rationale that someone gives me is that they believe the obstacle was God’s personal sign to them that they weren’t to pursue that. Well, that sounds nice; it even sounds spiritual; like you are being sensitive to hear God’s specific direction for your life. But where in Scripture are we told that God will direct us in that way? You see, that person is just speculating. They are speculating on a secret thing belonging to God. If God hasn’t specifically told you in his Word that this is the reason why this obstacle has come upon you, then you can’t know that. Yes, it is possible that God has put that obstacle in your way to keep you from going down a wrong position. That’s quite possible. But how do you know that God also isn’t just putting that obstacle in your way to teach you the fruit of perseverance? That’s also quite possible. On the surface, God might be doing either of those things. As long as your plans are based purely on speculation on unrevealed things, you are on dangerous ground. Why? Because of verse 29. God has given us revelation by which to live our life. Let us live in light of the clear Word of God.
What usually makes that difficult is because we want more. We want God to break into our life and tell us exactly how to act in each situation. When we read God’s Word, we know it doesn’t specifically address each choice in our life. We want more. We want God to give us more specifics to our life. But do you see how that’s wanting the secret things of God? But God hasn’t given those details to us.
And yet what God has given to us is sufficient. We aren’t left without enough. His Word and his Spirit working through his Word is enough to direct us. Yes, that will require faith. Yes, it will require meditation. Meditating on God’s Word, praying about God’s Word, thinking through its ramifications. You’ll have to make some tough decisions. But trust God’s Word. It is powerful and sufficient to train us and guide us and correct us in all life’s circumstances. That’s what 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us. Believe it. Trust it.
Of course, what this should cause us all to do, is to realize we don’t know the revealed things well enough. If we are to live our whole lives based on it, we should really know his Word, backwards and forwards. How common our prayers are to God asking for more specific direction, more new revelation about our situation, when we haven’t even read the entire Bible yet? Don’t ask for more until you’ve fully taken in what God has already given you! Let us take in the fullness of God’s revelation. It’s what belongs to us. It’s God’s gift for us as Christians. It’s for us and for our children and for all who are far off, that we would receive the promised salvation by faith, and live our life for Christ more and more. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.