In Num. 20:12 God told Moses and Aaron that they would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because they had failed to treat Him as holy when they brought forth water from the rock at Meribah. Aaron died in the wilderness shortly thereafter, but Moses continued to lead Israel until they were encamped on the east side of the Jordan across from Jericho. Before he died, Moses prepared a book in which he reminded Israel of all the things God had done for them to bring them to that place, and of everything He expected of them as His people. We call this book Deuteronomy.
In the early chapters of this book, Moses recounted the events that had taken place at Mt. Sinai, when God gave His law to Israel. He reminded them of how frightened they had been when they heard God’s voice from the mountain and saw the smoke and fire that enveloped the mountain to signify His presence there. At that time the people begged Moses to speak with God and then relay His message to them. They promised that they would do whatever God told them to do.
In Deut. 5:28, 29 Moses related God’s response to this request. He said, “The Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!'”
We see in v. 29 God’s greatest desire for Israel. He wanted them to fear Him and to keep all His commandments so He could bless them abundantly in the land that He was giving them. It is important for us to understand that to fear God in this context means to revere Him and to respect Him in all that they did. They were already terrified of Him, as evidenced by their reaction to His presence on Sinai. That kind of fear, however, has no lasting effect. God wanted them to have a heart that always esteemed Him higher than anything or anyone else. The proof of their esteem for God would be their obedience to His commands.
God’s statement in v. 29 underscores a fundamental truth about human beings. Our hearts are what dictate our thoughts and actions. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught this same truth in Mt. 15:18-20, where He said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” If we have a heart that does not fear God, we will be disobedient to His will. This was the basis of the Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees in Mt. 15:8, 9. He said they honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were far away from Him.
The fact that our Lord taught the same truth that His Father expressed to Moses and Israel tells us that God has not changed His desire for His people. He still wishes for people who will have such a heart that they will fear Him and keep all His commandments. Knowing this, and knowing that this is the basis upon which God showers His abundant blessings on us, should motivate us to cultivate our hearts so they are exactly what God wants them to be. Of course we can only cultivate such a heart by devoting ourselves to God’s word and by surrendering our will to His. Oh that each of us would have such a heart!