Trust and Obey: The Message of Deuteronomy

As a young Christian one of the first hymns I learned was Trust and Obey. Perhaps you know the words of the chorus: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. The words present both a challenge (to trust and obey) and a reward (to be happy).

I have recently been reading the book of Deuteronomy for my personal devotions and the words of the book have brought to mind the words of this hymn several times.  I think many people view the message of Deuteronomy as the Lord saying: Do what I say or suffer the consequences. There is justification for this view. In chapter five the Ten Commandments are reiterated and chapter 28 lists the disastrous consequences for disobedience. The Lord is spoken of as a jealous God and a consuming fire (4:24). So the issues of blessing and judgment are certainly there.

However, they are not the whole story. What first brought to mind the “Trust” of the hymn was the emphasis in Deuteronomy on the heart. The word “heart” is used almost 50 times in the book. These “heart” verses include ideas such as: seeking (and finding) the Lord with all your heart (4:29); taking to your heart that the Lord is God (4:39); having a heart that fears the Lord (5:29); loving the Lord with all your heart (6:5); and many others. In other words, the emphasis of these”heart” verses is on our relationship with the Lord. To focus only on blessing and judgment based on what we do is to overlook the covenant relationship – a relationship of love and loyalty – which underlies all that we do. So it is not just that we are judged because we do “bad” things but when we do them we are breaking covenant. The call of these “heart” verses is to developing and growing in our relationship with the Lord. Relationship is the foundation of obedience. It is learning to trust the Lord.

This trust relationship, though the foundation of all else, is not all there is. While the word “heart” is used many times in Deuteronomy, words like “do,” “keep,” and “observe” are used over 175 times. This is what brought to mind the “Obey” of the hymn. However, what is often missed in the first five or six chapters of the book is the reason attached to these words. Over and over again the commands of God are followed by words such as these: that it may go well with you and your children after you (4:40; 5:16, 29, 33; 6:3, 18). These words are a fitting summary: So the Lord commanded us to observe these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival (6:24). The intention behind the commands of God was never to try to “catch” people who were disobedient and pour out judgment upon them. The commands were given by the Lord to His people because it was obedience to those commands that would make life go well for them. So while the Lord is spoken of as a jealous God and a consuming fire, He is also spoken of as a compassionate God (4:31), as one who shows lovingkindess (grace) to thousands of generations (5:10), as one who has set His love upon His people (7:7).  There are consequences for disobedience but if life is viewed as a minefield, the commands of God show us where the mines are so that our lives are not blown apart. They are for our good and our survival.

Perhaps it has been a long time since you have sung or read the words to the hymn Trust and Obey. They can be found here:      Though the words are simple they are powerful reminders of some important and fundamental truths. You might even want to read, or reread, the book of Deuteronomy. Look for references to the heart and to obedience.  Then trust and obey.


About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
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