The Inner Voice
Deut. 30:11-14 says,
11 For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
This is the primary feature of the New Covenant, which is the main topic of this speech. Under the New Covenant, God takes an oath to circumcise the hearts of the people—Israelites, foreigners, and all others—in order to cause them to be obedient to the law. Under the New Covenant, the commandments of God are His promises, because they reveal what God Himself intends to write in our hearts.
Hence, under the New Covenant, God essentially commands Himself—by means of an oath—to work within the hearts of all men to bring all things under the feet of Jesus Christ, so that God may be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:27, 28). Where man has failed to do this for himself—though he vows to do so with all good intentions—God will certainly succeed in fulfilling His oath.
The Indwelling Holy Spirit
When we come to the book of Acts, we discover the precise manner in which God will fulfill His vow. The Holy Spirit was sent to us in Acts 2:1-4 in order to put the words of God into our mouths. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God that indwells us, turning each of us into a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). From our innermost being, then, the oracles of God may be heard, as God speaks through us into the darkness of the world.
So Moses reveals that the “commandment” given to us by God Himself is His word, and it is “very near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” We need not send a prophet to heaven or “beyond the sea” (abyss) to receive this revelation on our behalf. The source of revelation lies within us, and to hear the voice of God is to hear that silent voice speaking constantly from our innermost being.
This is the provision of the New Covenant. On some level it was established and revealed by Moses in his climactic speech, but its main force was held in abeyance until later. Men have always had the ability to hear God’s voice from within, and hence the New Covenant has always been in force. However, it was not clearly understood except by the few in each generation.
Abraham is perhaps the prime example of the New Covenant manifestation, and we know he preceded Moses by a few centuries. All the biblical prophets heard the voice of God as well, and it was not necessary for them to be taken to heaven to receive revelation, nor to travel great distances to obtain it. The word was within them.
The Still, Small Voice
Elijah was given this very revelation after he fled from the wrath of Jezebel. He fled to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8, 9) and sat in the cave where Moses first received the revelation of the law. There God revealed to him the New Covenant principle that had been revealed also to Moses, for 1 Kings 19:11, 12 says,
11 So He said, “Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
In the days of Moses the Lord came down on the Mount in a fire and an earthquake (Exodus 19:18). Perhaps a great wind occurred as well, appearing as a tornado on the mount. God spoke to the people from the midst of the fire, but neither the fire nor the earthquake was the source of Moses’ revelation. Elijah too learned that the secret of revelation was that it came as a gentle breeze, or, as the NASB renders it, “a gentle blowing.”
The KJV renders it “a still small voice.” The Hebrew words are:
???????? (demama), “silence, stillness, calm (as with wind), a whisper”
?????? (dak), “small, fine, minute (like dust)”
???? (kole), “voice, sound, noise”
Perhaps Elijah went to Mount Horeb, thinking he had missed God somehow by listening to his inner revelation. Perhaps he thought that if he could but reach Horeb, God would speak again through fire, quakes, and wind, so that he could be sure that it was really God’s voice. But God revealed the real secret of hearing His revelation. While there may be big manifestations, in the end God speaks to His prophets in a silent, small voice that whispers the word like a gentle breeze.
God’s Audible Voice
God can speak audibly as well, for this is how He spoke to the nation of Israel itself when He spoke the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:36). But the desire of God is to train us to hear when He whispers, for only then is our hearing developed. In the course of hearing day by day, His law is written on our hearts, and we know His will without having to receive special revelation for daily tasks in life.
When God speaks audibly or forcefully, as in fire or earthquake, it is usually because a person lacks the ability to hear the inner voice or lacks the confidence to know that he has indeed heard God from within. So the voice comes from an external source, rather than internal.
This seems to be the main feature of the Old Covenant, since this was the pattern seen in the Exodus covenant. The people themselves received revelation audibly and externally as God spoke from the midst of the fire on the Mount. Likewise, Moses had to go up the Mount to receive the law, even though he actually received it by inner revelation.
Elijah thought that he had to travel afar as well, falling back into an Old Covenant pattern of fear and doubt. For this reason, he needed a fresh revelation of the New Covenant, and God showed him the difference. He learned that God was not necessarily in external manifestations, but was in the still small voice that had always guided him. In this way God validated the revelation that had brought him to Mount Carmel for the great showdown with Jezebel’s prophets.
The same revelation came to the Apostle Paul, who, like Elijah, went to Arabia for a time (Gal. 1:17) to learn about the New Covenant from God alone. I believe he went to “Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Gal. 4:25) and sat in the same cave where Moses and Elijah had received revelation. Like Elijah, Paul learned of the still small voice that would guide him throughout the rest of his life. We know that Paul learned this lesson, because he quotes Moses in Rom. 10:5-9,
5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
Paul distinguishes between the Old and New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, man’s righteousness is based upon his own vow to keep it. He receives life only if he succeeds in fulfilling his vow. But a man under the New Covenant receives righteousness by faith in the vow of God and what He has done in sending Jesus Christ. And so, when Paul quotes Scripture to support his revelation concerning this New Covenant, he quotes Moses—not from Exodus but from Deuteronomy.
In effect, Paul was saying that Deut. 30:11-14 is a New Covenant statement. And indeed, as we study the speeches of Moses, we find that this speech is a New Covenant revelation. It is distinct from the first covenant given earlier in Exodus 19 and 20, as Moses himself tells us in Deut. 29:1.
By his own revelation Paul interprets Moses’ words for us. “Who will ascend into heaven?” is interpreted to mean “that is, to bring Christ down.” Moses himself indicated that it means no one had to go to heaven to bring us the word. God Himself sent His only-begotten Son, who is the Word. Paul says that Christ Himself is that Word, agreeing with John 1:1-3 and 14. There is no conflict, then, between Moses and Paul. There is only additional truth that clarifies the words of Moses.
Likewise, when Moses writes, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Paul interprets this to mean, “that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.” Again, Christ is seen as the embodiment of the Word. No man was capable of raising Christ from the dead. No man could rescue Him by his own power. He was raised up by the Spirit of God. This same Spirit, which raised Christ from the dead, now indwells us, for Paul tells us in Rom. 8:11,
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
For this reason, the Word is near to us, even in our hearts. The same Spirit that was in Christ and which raised Him from the dead now indwells our own bodies, transforming us into living oracles of God. If Jesus Christ is the Word of God in the big picture, we ourselves are the words of God, for we are each a part of His body. And that same indwelling Spirit gives the promise of resurrection life to our mortal bodies.
It is Not Difficult
For this reason, Moses prophesies that the commandment (word) “is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” It would be impossible to attain, if we had to depend upon our own ability to fulfill the vow of the Old Covenant. But God has provided a New Covenant, by which He Himself vows to intervene and make it happen. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:24-27,
24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land [the “better country” that Abraham sought, Hebrews 11:16]. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
God revealed the New Covenant to Ezekiel, for this promise is not about the people making a vow with the intention of being obedient. It is about God’s vow to CAUSE them to be obedient to the law by putting His Spirit within them.
While God may bless them with physical land as a nation and houses for individuals, the only blessing that can fulfill the New Covenant is to inherit the glorified body, the heavenly “tabernacle” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2) which Abraham and all the prophets sought while they were aliens in the land of Canaan.