The preterist John Watson, preacher for a Church of Christ, recently preached a sermon in which he said that the “heavens and earth” in Deuteronomy are not literal. After reading Deuteronomy 31:284 he says, “Is this ‘heaven’ the sky and ‘earth’ the dirt? No, it’s the law of Moses.” He continues insisting that this imagery is “not a one-time thing” and it’s “terminology used throughout the Old Testament.”

To back up the claim he adds, “I want to illustrate to you that this ‘heaven and earth’ is this law [the Old Law].” He turns back and reads from Deuteronomy 28:232 and confidently looks up to exclaim, “So this law was bronze and iron; this heaven and earth that governed them; this law of Moses was heaven and earth; it’s referred to that many, many times.” Let’s take a look…

How Scripture answers "Do the “heavens and earth” equal the Law? (Preterist John Watson)"

Simply reading these passages3,4 shows clearly that ‘heavens and earth’ are not equal to or in any way representing the Old Law. The “heavens and earth” are being called by Moses to be a witness to the covenant between God and His people. This is clear and consistent throughout Deuteronomy1,2,3,4,5. Moses is retelling the Law to a new generation of Israelites. The Old Law a legal contract between God and the people, and God wants witnesses to the binding agreement. All of these verses clearly show the witness role of what is a very literal “heavens and earth”.

Why were the heavens and earth called to be a witness? Because Moses would die4; he wouldn’t be around (but God’s creation would be). Joshua did something similar at his departure, except his witness was a literal stone8. And how does it play out? Long after Moses, the ‘heavens and earth’ are actually called on by God to testify in His adjudication of their failing to keep the Law6,7. Likewise, God uses the witness of a literal heavens and earth to confirm His plan for a new covenant9. Jesus, in turn, uses “heaven and earth” to testify to the permanence of all of God’s words10. Finally, Paul in his sermon does exactly the same11!

Preterist preacher John Watson boldly and willfully makes an assertion that Scripture doesn’t make in the passages he references3,4, nor is it ever made in Deuteronomy1,2,3,4,5. In fact, it’s never made anywhere in Scripture6,7,8,9,10,11. His teaching demonstrates the first step in the ‘Preterist’s Playbook’ – start with a belief and then force all Scripture to conform to it. And instead of a sincere attempt to reconcile his assertions to the passages presented here that clearly refute it, he’ll likely invoke ‘Step 3’ of that same playbook. In so doing, he unfortunately personifies Scripture’s definition of a false teacher.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you.

I [Moses] call upon heaven and earth to be a witness to the fact that you will soon perish from the land you are about to possess. You won’t live there long until you are utterly destroyed. By the hand of the Lord, you’ll be few in number and scattered among the Gentile nations.

Moses is retelling the Law given to him by God on Mt Sinai.  This is to a new generation of people after the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and just before entering the Promised Land.

Scripture-block application to this question

Moses calls on the heavens and earth to be witnesses to the eventual fact that they would not keep the Old Law and ultimately be driven out of the land and destroyed.

And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
The heavens that are over you shall be like bronze, and the earth beneath you like iron. God will make the rain of your land dust from heaven until you are destroyed.
Moses is re-telling the law of God to the people before entering the Promised Land.  Chapters 28 and 29 specifically and famously cover the “blessings and the cursings”.  “Famous” since the prophets would often quote portions of these chapters in their sermons in order to remind the people of what God had promised. Unfortunately, most of those references are from the “cursing” part since they generally failed to keep the Law.
Scripture-block application to this question

Moses likens the literal heavens to bronze and the literal earth to iron in order to make the point that their land would not be blessed with rain and food.

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, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
I [Moses] am calling on heaven and earth to be witnesses to the fact I have set before you a path of life or death, blessing(s) and curse(s). Choose life by obeying and holding fast to God in order that you and those after will live, enjoying length of days in the land that God promised to your forefathers.

Moses is re-telling the law of God to the people before entering the Promised Land. Here, he is giving this instruction of public reading to occur every seven years when they are together for the Feast of Booths.

Scripture-block application to this question

Moses repeats as he began1 with the call for heaven and earth to be witnesses to his words.

Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.
When everyone comes before God [to worship] at the place He will choose, you shall read this law for everyone to hear.  Assemble all people – men, women, children, and the foreigner – that they may hear and learn to obey God, being careful to do all the words of this law.
Moses concludes his re-telling the Old Law before the people enter into the Promised Land.
Scripture-block application to this question

Moses calls heaven and earth to witness his words because he wouldn’t be around to be a witness himself — he would die before they would “surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way.”

Then Moses spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly of Israel: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

Moses proclaimed his song to all of Israel which began by telling the heavens and earth to hear his words.

The chapter of “Moses’ Song” that he wrote and sang to the people (31:30) just after he has recorded all of God’s law (31:24) and just before his death. He extols the faithfulness of God (vs 4) and goes on to tell the story of the nation of Israel:

  • Personifies them as “Jacob” (vss 9-14) and how God cared for them.
  • Personifies them as “Jeshurun” (vss 15-18) and how they rebelled against God by “growing fat.”
  • Foretells the inevitable response by God for their disobedience (vss 19-42). Interestingly, vs 20 shifts to God’s words (no longer in the third person) and is a scathing rebuke that foretells their disobedience.
Scripture-block application to this question

Moses addresses his song to the “heavens and earth” since they were called on to be witnesses to this agreement/covenant.

Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice! The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah

There is no mistaking God’s coming in judgement with fire before Him and the raging storm. He summons the heavens and earth so that He can judge His people. He gathers the ones that were faithful through sacrificial covenant. The heavens testify to God’s righteous keeping of the Law as He is judge Himself.

A song of Aspah declaring the pre-eminence and sovereignty of God and His creation.

Scripture-block application to this question

God calls on the heavens and earth as witnesses in His judgment of the people’s disobedience. It is a courtroom scene, opening with the heavens testifying to God’s righteousness.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

God goes on to give actual testimony, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you.” (vs 7) In the end, He gives the guilty verdict, These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” (vs 21)

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.
Isaiah, the son of Amos, saw a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It was during the days of King Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He begins by calling on the heavens and earth to listen to God’s testimony that His children, who He raised, rebelled against Him.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, is addressing the people of Judah around the time 700BC.  Israel, the northern tribes, had just been fully taken away/captive by the Assyrians – the pre-eminent nation of that period, but the Babylonians would soon rise to take all of Judah captive.
Scripture-block application to this question

Isaiah the prophet opens with words from God calling on the heavens and earth to be a witness to the people’s rebellion.

And Joshua said to all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God. So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
Joshua told the people that the stone would be a witness to their commitment to keeping the Old Law because it had heard everything that was said. It was a witness in case they would lie about their obedience. After that, Joshua dismissed everyone to their own inheritance.
Joshua’s final words to the people following the detailed accounting of the distribution to the land to each of the twelve tribes.  After affirming God’s promises, he warns the people that they must not “transgress the covenant of the Lord your God.” (23:16)
Scripture-block application to this question

Before his death, Joseph calls on a memorial stone to be a witness to peoples’ continued keeping (or not keeping) the Old Law.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

The people had just committed to keeping the Old Law not once (vs 16), but twice (vs 24) after being challenged by Joshua. They further commit to themselves being witnesses to their oath, explaining why Joshua says, “lest you deal falsely with your God.”

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order departs
from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.

God created and controls all of the natural (e.g. “fixed”) order of the heavens and earth. It will continue its orderly operation just as surely as He will raise a nation from the remnant of Israel.

Jeremiah’s book of prophecy as the people of Judah (the northern tribes of Israel already long lost to Assyrian captivity) are faced with Babylonian captivity.  Jeremiah’s main message (from God) is that they should not resist and they will be there for seventy years.  However, for this specific question the context around this passage is critical and actually begins back in chapter 30.  It’s there where several references to these “last days” are referenced by the prophet:

  • “For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” (30:3)
  • “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (30:8-9)
  • “The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this. At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.” (30:24-31:1)
  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. 28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord.” (31:27-28)
  • In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (31:29-30)
  • “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown anymore forever.” (31:38-40)
Scripture-block application to this question

God uses the very literal sense of “heavens and earth” and their surety of their “fixed order” to confirm (e.g. witness) His intent to bring about His plan for a new covenant.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

In this section of Jeremiah (chapters 30-34), God is repeatedly emphasizing through Jeremiah the fact that “days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (vs 31)

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
The Law and Prophets were until John [the Baptist], but since him the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces their way into it. This good news (e.g the gospel) along with the Law and the Prophets are all God’s word (collectively “the Law”) and none of it will pass away before the heavens and earth.

During the public ministry of Christ when he is sharing various truths and parables. Here Jesus makes points about the dangers of riches and the sin of divorce – two everlasting and Covenant-transcending truths – to make the point about the everlasting nature of God’s eternal word.

This is stated by Jesus elsewhere, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11-15)

Scripture-block application to this question

Jesus uses the “heaven and earth” (literally) as a testimony to the permanence of God’s word. He contrasts and marks the transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant, but His bigger point (and main point here) is to stress God’s moral law (vs 17 “the Law”) and His word generally is everlasting. In other words, His creation will cease before any of His Word would become void.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

This is in the midst of two everlasting moral truths pertaining to God’s moral law – a haughty and puffed-up spirit (vs 15 and the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” that follows) and the marriage covenant between one man and one woman (vs 18). Both of these are principles that supersede and are constants to both Old Covenant and New.

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

Why are you men doing these things? We are men just like you who are bringing you good news — that you should repent (turn toward God). He lives and made everything in the heavens, earth, and sea. While previously He left nations to their own devices, even then He provided a witness for Himself through the natural order of rain and harvest and its bounty.

Paul, with Barnabas, is completing his first missionary journey throughout the region of Galatia (covering chapters 13-14).

Scripture-block application to this question

Paul uses the heaven, earth, and sea literally and collectively to bear witness to his statement about “a living God”.

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