Deuteronomy 4:1-40

Moses comes to the end of his first sermon.  After giving the Israelites a history lesson on all that has happened since they left Egypt, he now begins to transition to his second address where he will remind them of the commands of the Law.  In this chapter he extols the nature and achievements of God and how obedience to His commands ensures longevity in the land.  It is important for the people to understand the distinctiveness of God and the unique relationship they have with Him before entering a land filled with pagan gods.  Before they enter the land they must understand the Law and before they understand the Law they must understand why God is worthy of obedience.

Moses begins with, “And now…”  He has just recounted their history to them and the mighty acts of God on their behalf.  He now begins this section with a transition that seems to say, “In light of all God has done…”  God has brought them safely to this place and proven His faithfulness over four decades – it is with that understanding that the people now listen to His commands.

Verse 1 is an example of the Deuteronomic Principle.  If the people obey God’s Law, they will prosper and live long in the land He is about to give to them.  Obedience is what guarantees longevity; not military might or prosperity or government.  If they obey, they stay, and if they do not, they do not.  This principle is stated many times in the book – hence the name.

The people are not to add to or take away from Moses’ words because his words represent the commandments of the Lord your God.  Moses does not command the people on his own – he speaks the words of God (similar to what Paul told the Galatians in 1:1).

In verses 3-4 he brings up a dark event that may have just happened in the last year.  Numbers 25 records the story of the people camping in the land of Moab and being seduced by Moabite women into immorality and idolatry.  The god they worshiped was Baal of Peor (or Baal-Peor).  Peor refers to the place where the god existed and was worshiped.  Note that Moses says their current location is in the valley opposite Beth-peor (3:29).  The event he reminds them of likely happened very close to where they are now and is very fresh in the people’s minds.  This happened to this generation – not to their parents.

The event happened because the king of Moab and the elders of Midian became worried about Israel going through their land and so called on a prophet named Balaam to come and curse the people.  Balaam came (Numbers 23-24) but was only able to bless Israel because God controlled his words.  Numbers 25 does not make this clear (see instead Num 31:8,16), but after Balaam was unsuccessful in cursing the people he came up with another plan to use the Moabite and Midianite women to seduce the Israelites and thus weaken them.  The plan worked as many Israelite men took the bait and engaged in immoral worship of Baal.  As a result God caused a plague that killed 24,000 people.  The plague was only stopped after a grandson of Aaron put a spear through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman (potentially a priestess of some kind – 25:15) who were actually engaged in an immoral act.

In verse 4 Moses reminds them that only those who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today.  He uses this as an illustration of the Deuteronomic Principle – obey and live or disobey and die.  So choose obedience and life.  Or as he will say in the key text of the book – choose life (30:15-20).

After telling them in verse 6 that they will effectively be a testimony to the nations around them if they obey the Lord’s commands, he asks a rhetorical question in verse 7.  “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?”  They live every day in the presence of God (His cloud and fire either over the tabernacle or leading them as they move) and they have Moses as a personal liaison.  God is never far from them and they have quick access to Him at all times.  No other nation has a relationship like this with their god.

In verse 8 he reminds them of another blessing – the Law itself.  He says, “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”  Moses does not see God’s commands as burdensome – he sees them as a blessing.  God has shown them His will – and obedience to that will brings blessing from God but also order and safety and lawfulness.  No other nation has laws as righteous as Israel’s – and for that the people should be thankful and proud.

Thought: How much more can the NT believer make these claims?  Moses tells the Israelites they should be thankful for how accessible God is for them – what about us?  We do not have to depend on Moses or on formal worship at the tabernacle to communicate with God.  We have His Spirit indwelling us and praying for us!  We have instant and continual access at any time under any circumstances! 

As to the Law – how often do we rejoice that God has given us His commands to obey?  Unlike Israel we are not bound by the Law but have it as a standard we desire to keep out of love for our Savior.  But do we see it as a blessing?  Can we echo Moses’ words?  God’s commands protect us from the sinful influences in the world that seek to destroy us.  They pave the way for a contented and fulfilled life.  They bless us in how they guide us.  God blesses us with His Law!

After exclaiming about the blessing of the Law Moses warns the people.  He tells them to give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently.  He does not want them to forget what they have seen – as their parents did when they refused to enter the land – but to remember and teach their children and grandchildren.  [Israel is commanded repeatedly throughout the OT to remember and teach.  Remember all that God has done and teach the next generation about it.  Remember and teach, remember and teach.  There is no reason to think this does not apply to us as well.  We must remember how He saved us and how He has worked in our lives and we must teach our children about His mighty acts of redemption and His sovereign guidance.  Remember and teach, remember and teach.]

In verses 10-14 Moses does something interesting.  He tells them the story of what happened when God gave them the Law at Sinai but tells it as if these people were there.  The people he speaks to now were at best teenagers when the events at Sinai took place and in many cases were not alive.  As he has done at other times in his sermon Moses does not seem to acknowledge this at all.  Perhaps this is because they know the stories so well or because the oldest of them actually do remember it. 

Moses recounts for them how [they] heard the Law from God’s mouth at the foot of Sinai.  They heard God’s voice out of the fire but did not see His form.  God wanted them to hear His voice so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.  God personally spoke the Ten Commandments and then commanded Moses to teach the Israelites so they would perform the Law when they entered the land.

Moses tells them based on their experience at Sinai to stay away from idols.  No image can capture God and so no image must be made of Him.  They did not see a form at Sinai and so it is blasphemous to God to make one for Him. 

At the end of verse 19 Moses warns them not to worship the host of heaven because the moon and stars have been allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  Conversely, Israel is a people for His own possession (20) and was taken out of the iron furnace of Egypt.  They must not worship what is available for all people when they are set apart as the chosen people of God.  Israel cheapens its status before God when it worships what is available to all nations instead of the God that makes Himself available only to them.

God is available to them unlike He is to any other people.  God has given them a Law that is more righteous than what any other nation has.  God has set them apart as His own possession.  How then can they worship what is available to any other nation and ignore what is priceless and set apart only for them?  How foolish is it to choose creation when they are the only people with direct access to the Creator?  And how much more foolish are we when we make idols out of the comforts and rewards of this world instead of exalting in the gospel which allows us direct entry into the presence of God?  How can we choose creation over our Savior?

In verses 21 and 22 Moses again brings up his status (it apparently and understandably is never far from his mind).  He reminds them for the third time in this sermon that he cannot go into the land because God was angry with him on account of the people.  Here he seems to make the point that if God is willing to keep him out of the land because of disobedience then the people must take their commitment to the Law seriously – So watch yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God.  God absolutely will not allow them to stay in the land if they are disobedient – and Moses is proof.

Note that this is the third admonition to watch or keep.  In verse 9 he says, “Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently.”  In verse 15 – “So watch yourselves carefully.”  In verse 23 – “So watch yourselves.”  Moses does not want them to become lackadaisical about their commitment to obedience.  He knows their propensity to forget and to disobey – he has seen it too many times over the last forty years.  And nothing has changed over the last 3500 years – we are all prone to wander and over time forget the seriousness of our responsibility to obey.  The believer must continually and diligently watch his soul just like the Israelites of Moses’ day.  Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Pet 1:13, 5:8) 

He ends this section with a strong warning – For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (24).  Worse than an iron furnace is a consuming fire.  Things were bad in Egypt but not nearly as bad as they could get for the people if they turn to other gods.  God WILL NOT share His glory or His worship.  If they choose to worship idols they must know that God will not leave them unpunished or in the land.

Moses begins this section with the word when.  He says even with all the warnings they will eventually forget God and act corruptly and provoke God to anger.  As a result they will perish quickly from the land and be utterly destroyed.  He does not mean the nation will cease to exist as much as the people will lose everything they have and be forced to leave the land.

In verses 27-28 he describes what will happen to them as punishment.  They will be scattered among the peoples and will serve gods made of wood and stone.  They will be few in number and the gods they serve will not see nor hear nor eat nor smell.

Once they are scattered to the pagan nations, however, they will seek the Lord.  They will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice.  He tells them they will find God if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul (similar to Jer 29:13 – And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart – in both cases the context is repentance and restoration).

Note the model for restoration.  They will return to the Lord (repent) and listen to His voice (obey).  They will search for God with all of their heart – they will sincerely want to be restored and to obey.  God does not resist the one who sincerely repents and willingly obeys His voice.  Remember that a mark of the false repentance of the Israelites at Kadesh was that they refused to obey God’s warning not to invade the land (1:43).  True repentance includes obedience and a sincere desire to restore fellowship with God.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Ps 51:17).

Moses tells them God will in fact hear their voice and restore them to the land when they repent (note the difference between verse 31 and 1:45 – this is the difference in God’s reaction to true repentance versus false repentance).  For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them (31).  God will restore them because of His nature.  Along with being a consuming fire He is compassionate and faithful.  Though He will punish them, He will not destroy them and will not fail to live up to the covenant He made with them and with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He cannot fail to love and He cannot be unfaithful.  The Israelites serve a merciful and faithful God.

Thought: It is amazing to consider what this passage tells us about God.  He actually TELLS them how things will go WHEN they disobey His commands.  He effectively says to them, “You will disobey, I will punish you, you will repent, and I will restore you.  You will sin because that is who you are and I will mercifully restore you because that is who I am.”  God is so merciful that He knows we will completely forget Him and sin and yet He still promises to forgive and restore.  How great is our God that He is faithful to us even KNOWING we will forsake Him?  How great is our God that He tells us how ungrateful and short-sighted and selfish we will be and yet also tells us that when we come to our senses and repent He will be there to forgive and restore?  He loves us even though He knows us.

Notice something else about this section of Moses’ words.  Verses 29 and 30 do not happen without judgment.  If the people are not in distress they likely do not seek God.  In this life there is typically mercy in judgment.  God disciplines those He loves because without that discipline people continue in their sin.  Verse 30 says, “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you…you will return to the Lord your God.”  Judgment is an act of mercy when it turns us back to God.

In this paragraph Moses summarizes his words by pointing out what they have in God.  God redeemed them from Egypt by His mighty acts – as no other god has done in world history.  God spoke to them out of the fire and let them hear His voice – as no other nation ever has.  And God will bring them into the Promised Land and drive out all the nations before them – showing He is more powerful than any god of the Canaanites.

Note verse 34.  Remember that the delivery from Egypt is the Old Testament version of redemption.  It is the most important event in Israel’s pre-messianic history.  Moses wants the people to understand and wonder at what God did.  What other god has ever delivered His people out of a nation with such mighty acts?  The same is even truer for us today.  What other god has redeemed His people by choosing to die for their sins?  If the Israelites are to remember and marvel at God’s acts in Egypt, how much more should we continually live on the gospel and marvel at our redemption?

Moses’ ending is much like his beginning (4:1) – in light of all God has done and in light of who He is the Israelites must keep His statutes and His commandments.  God has redeemed them and led them and shown them His mighty works.  Know therefore today, and take it to heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other (39 – this verse cannot be taken out of context – it is as true today as it was when Moses spoke it and applies to all situations).  Based on this the response of the people must be obedience.

Consider: Obedience is always a response.  We do not obey because we are good people and we do not obey to earn our salvation.  We obey as a response to our redemption.  Obedience is an act of love in return for the love shown us by our Father.  Israel was to obey because of its delivery from Egypt and its safety in the wilderness and its triumph in the land.  We are to obey because we appreciate the gospel and have some grasp of God’s love that sent His Son to die in our place.

He ends the section with the Deuteronomic Principle just as he began.  The people must obey that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time (40).

God is worthy of obedience and blesses it. This means something different to us than it did to the Israelites – this is often only true for us in eternity – but the principle is ultimately the same. 

God is accessible and His Law is righteous.  These are blessings for the people of God that we must not take for granted.

God alone is worthy of worship.  God will not share His worship or glory with any other and He is a consuming fire toward those who practice idolatry (whether it is a literal idol or simply making a god out of comfort and worldliness).

God knows us AND loves us.  We serve an amazing God who promises to discipline us and mercifully restore us WHEN we sin.  He knows we will sin and He also knows He will forgive. 

God redeemed us and we respond to Him with obedience.  Obedience is ultimately a response to redemption.  Israel obeyed because of the Passover and we obey because of the gospel.

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