Moses moves on from the Shema and gives the Israelites a series of imperatives for after they enter and conquer the land. He does not address what they will do to settle the land but tells them what they must remember after the battles are done and they have taken possession. Once they no longer walk in the visible presence of God and no longer battle in His strength they will begin the process of day-to-day living in their new home. And at that point they will be tempted to forget all that God has done for them and to forget why they have what they have. Even with all the mighty acts they have witnessed, the Israelites will be tempted to forget God once the dust settles from the conquest. Moses seeks to warn them now so that does not happen later.
Moses prophesies to the people about their future. He says, “…when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers…to give you” – he presents their future conquest of the land as a certainty based on God’s promise. He goes on to say that they will inherit all kinds of wealth that was earned or built by other people. They will have great and splendid cities, houses full of all good things, hewn cisterns, vineyards and olive trees and they will eat and be satisfied. They will live prosperously without doing anything to earn the prosperity – all of it will be the fruit of others’ labors that God gives to them.
Even though everything they will have will come from God they will be tempted to forget why they have it and instead simply enjoy it. The enjoyment of their newfound wealth will cause them to assume it is supposed to be this way and they have what they have because they deserve it. They will look at what they own and be proud of themselves for owning it. Their short memories and pride will cause them to become so enamored with their comfort that how they got it will fade from memory.
Moses strongly warns them against this. He says, “Watch yourself, lest you forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” He tells them they must remind themselves of their redemption from Egypt. God saved them and gave them everything – without Yahweh they would still be in slavery. They must not forget the One who is the source of all their peace and freedom and prosperity. They cannot eat and be satisfied and assume prosperity is an end unto itself. They must eat and be satisfied in God and know that He provides all they have as a gift of His mercy and grace.
It is tempting to read this and categorize it as unique to the Israelites who themselves are in a historically unique situation. There is no precedent for what they are about to do. God is about to hand them an entire region and give them the wealth that exists in it. They will entirely displace and/or destroy the people in the land and vie with no one for its resources and produce. However, it pays to look further and notice the commonalities that any believer has with what Moses describes. No one has what he has simply because he earns it. Yes, we may build our own houses and dig our own wells and settle our own cities – unlike the Israelites. But who gave us the abilities and opportunities to do those things? How many of us would have what we have if we had been born in a third-world country or born into different families or with different skills and abilities?
If we accept the premise that God gives us what we have either directly or through our abilities and opportunities then it is easy to put ourselves in the same shoes as the post-conquest Israelites. We have no right to pat ourselves on the back for wealth we did not earn or accomplishments that are not our own. How wise is it to eat and be satisfied and forget that everything we have is because of God? Even more, how blind is it to forget our redemption which was not simply from slavery in Egypt but from slavery to sin and its attendant eternal destruction? When we ignore God we ignore the One who not only provides but who redeems us eternally.
[Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is a type of our redemption through Christ. The Exodus from Egypt is the most important event in the Old Testament – God refers to it repeatedly throughout the OT – and points to Christ’s death and resurrection. Whenever we read that Israel is to remember its deliverance we should note that the application to us is to remember our redemption.]
Moses’ words to the Israelites are in fact vitally applicable to us today. It is easy – and in some cases even easier than in Canaan – to become so infatuated with the comfort and prosperity that are ours only because of God that we forget why we have them. Paul’s questions in I Corinthians 4:7 are in regard to salvation but they are also applicable to us in light of Moses’ words here – “And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
The first imperative to not forget God evolves naturally into the second – “You shall fear only the Lord your God.” A people who could forget the source of their peace and prosperity could also be tempted to follow other gods. If they forget God they will fill the void with something else. Canaan is filled with idols – the main reason the Canaanites must be destroyed – and it will be tempting for the people to be drawn away. Becoming more enamored with the gifts than with the Giver leads to fearing other gods.
This command comes right out of the first verse of the Shema (4) – the Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Only Yahweh is worthy of their worship. And the warning in verse 15 is very similar to the warning associated with the first two commandments (5:9) – the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. This is the negative side of the covenant. If they do not follow the Law – and specifically if they do not worship God alone – God will take them out of the land or even destroy them. Nothing is more important than worshiping only God.
Again Moses could be speaking to western believers just as easily as the ancient Israelites. The temptation to other gods is just as strong today as it was on the border of the Promised Land. And since we have already established that we are just as prone as Israel to forget the Giver of all good gifts (Jas 1:17) it makes sense that we can also fall into worshiping false gods.
The false gods of today are of course different – and we typically are not tempted to literally bow down or sacrifice to small statues. However, our gods are perhaps more dangerous – and flow more naturally out a perspective that puts prosperity and comfort at a premium. We worship materialism, status, pleasure, accomplishment, etc. And just like the idolaters of old we fashion gods in our own image and effectively bow down to ourselves and our selfish interests.
God’s attitude toward those who worship something other than Him has not changed since Israel’s time. There is still nothing more important than worshiping Him alone. And even though His warning to Israel is not strictly applicable to us – the worship of false gods does not necessarily cause Him to wipe us off the face of the earth – the ultimate judgment is actually worse. The one typified by the worship of false gods ultimately spends eternity with them.
Moses reminds the people of a dark time in their wilderness wanderings (actually a dark time in their parents’ wilderness wanderings). You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. This refers to an event that happened just weeks out of Egypt (Ex 17:1-7). The nation came to the area around Mount Sinai and found a desolate place with no water. Instead of faithfully trusting the God who brought 10 plagues to deliver them from Egypt and enabled them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, the people cried out and complained. They asked Moses, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [Interestingly, this appears to be the same place that 40 years later Moses strikes the rock instead of speaking to it and loses the privilege of leading Israel to the Promised Land as a result. If this is true, then it means the current generation of Israel effectively made the same mistake their parents did – Num 20:1-13.]
The key verse in the Exodus account is verse 7. There the people demanded of Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not?” They discounted all that He had done for them and forgot the past (and showed how ungrateful they were for it) and instead told Moses that God had to prove Himself again. “Yes we know we crossed the Red Sea and God has provided everything for us so far and we see His pillar of cloud leading us – BUT – what has He done for us lately?” It is worth reemphasizing that they asked this question while looking at God’s glory cloud that accompanied them.
Moses brings this up now to make sure the people know how grave this attitude was and so they NEVER repeat it. In Psalm 95 God tells us His own perspective – Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness; when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter into My rest (8-11).
Their testing caused God to loathe them for the rest of their lives. He hated them for their lack of faith – and for not trusting Him even though they had seen My work. He described them fully by saying, “They do not know My ways.” They did not know God and so did not trust Him. This happened again at Kadesh when they refused to enter Canaan – they did not truly know God and so did not trust that He could overcome the fierce Canaanites.
It is incredibly sobering that people who experienced what the Israelites experienced could still be classified as not knowing God. It is also sobering to read the amazing worship hymn they sang after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15:1-18) and know that THREE DAYS later they complained that things were better in Egypt (Ex 15:22-24). Those who know God obey Him and trust Him; those who do not obey and trust cannot claim to know Him (Matt 7:22-23).
We should not miss how emotionally God reacts to their testing. He HATES when people do not trust but instead put Him to the test. He loves to be depended upon and oftentimes puts His people into circumstances where they have no other choice (Ex 16:14-21, I Kings 17:8-16). To test Him is to question His faithfulness and sovereignty and love and to be ungrateful for His past provision – it is to take glory away from Him. God created the world to glorify Himself and does not react favorably to those who act against His purpose.
Thus the opposite of testing God is to trust Him. If the people had come to Massah and said, “The lack of water is a problem, but God has brought us this far and He can surely take care of us again just as He did at the Red Sea and in Egypt,” they would not have had any issues. But instead of trusting they tested Him – they acted as if they had no prior experience or knowledge that would apply to their current circumstance. Testing puts God in my hands and demands that He meet my expectations. Trusting puts me in God’s hands and asks that He mold me to meet His.
Ultimately, we trust what we know. When faced with crisis we must know God enough to trust Him – to know enough about His character and love to depend on Him. The more we know God the more we will trust even in the midst of the worst circumstances. If we would strive to understand God instead of seeking to understand our trials, we could better trust Him through times that make no sense.
We should also understand how much the Enemy wants us to doubt and lose faith. Satan’s second temptation of Jesus is to test God. He only tries three temptations and this is important enough to be included. Christ’s answer to Satan is telling – He quotes verse 16 (Matt 4:5-7). Jesus knows the Father and trusts in His provision and does not demand that He prove Himself.
Verse 18 gives a perfect summary of how we are to act in every circumstance. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord. This is how the child of God is to respond to the challenges of life. Regardless of what is around us or who is tempting us, if we do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord we will not test Him and will not miss a life of dependence on Him.
Knowing God and remembering what He has done are topics that flow into the final verses of this text. Moses tells the people that their children will someday ask why they follow all the unique statutes of God. He tells them to explain that the purpose of the testimonies and statutes is so they will not forget all God has done for them in bringing them out of Egypt and into the land of promise. It is crucial for the people to remember the past so they will trust God in the present and in the future.
These verses form a fitting conclusion to the messages of this text. The Israelites must remember their deliverance from Egypt so they do not forget God when they enjoy the prosperity of the land; so they do not worship other gods; and so they never test God again as they did at Massah. In the same way we must remember our redemption to guard against the same things. If we live continually on the gospel we will not forget God, we will not serve other gods, and we will not test Him in difficult times.