Deut. 4:1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.
Deut. 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
“hearken” = discern, obey, understand, witness
Moses is very bold to declare that he is speaking God’s word with God’s authority. He urges the people to pay attention to his instruction and live accordingly. Why? Their obedience will ensure God’s provision and empowerment as they go in to possess the land that God is giving them. This is another statement of God’s sovereignty over planet earth. He is the Creator, and He has the right to “give” it to whomsoever He pleases. The Hebrew for the word possess was quite far reaching; it stated, “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place)…to inherit…enjoy…succeed.” I thought it was quite interesting that it included the idea of enjoyment and success as part of ownership. God wants His children to enjoy His gifts and will empower them to succeed where He leads if they will but obey Him.
Moses is also very clear to state that men are not to add to or take away from the word of the Lord as given to them by Moses. I think this is a very significant admonition. It’s when men try to insert their own “wisdom” that God’s word gets corrupted. It also implies that God wants His word to be taught in whole—not in part, as so many “pastors” choose to do today.
Deut. 4:3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you.
Deut. 4:4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
Moses is quick to remind the people of the consequences of disobedience to God’s word in hopes of motivating them to remain obedient. This incident is related in Numbers 25. It relates how some of the people chose to consort with the women of Moab and participate in the worship of their false gods. The Lord instructed them to kill all those that had rebelled against Him, and 24,000 people died as a result of His judgment. Moses then emphasizes that those who remained faithful to YHWH were spared and were now looking forward to entering and possessing the Promised Land.
Deut. 4:5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
Deut. 4:6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Deut. 4:7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
Deut. 4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
Again, Moses emphasizes to the people that he is teaching them according to God’s command to him. God gave Moses a set of laws that defined right from wrong and established proper judgment against the breaking of that law. Moses declares that this will serve to distinguish the nation of Israel among the other nations on earth. When other nations become aware of their laws and their system of justice, it will serve to honor YHWH. It will distinguish the people of Israel as wise and understanding. It will testify to God’s desire to bless those who choose to serve Him in faith and obedience. Moses declares that there is no other nation on earth with laws and judgments as righteous as those in which he is instructing them.
Deut. 4:9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;
“heed” and “keep” are the same Hebrew word = to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. guard; generally, to protect, attend to, etc.
“diligent” = Prosecuted with careful attention and effort; careful; painstaking; not careless or negligent.
I thought this an especially interesting verse. Moses is encouraging the people to be diligent in protecting themselves from falling into sin by constantly remembering how they have seen God work on their behalf. It is so much in human nature to be totally involved in the “now.” We tend to have a short memory of past experience when confronted with the concerns and interests of the present. Moses is encouraging the people to teach their children and their grandchildren the blessings of obeying God and the consequences for disobedience based on their first-hand knowledge. To be diligent implies the necessity for continued teaching and consistent reminder of these life experiences.
This is a very important principle that should be embraced by all believers today. We need to do more than just teach our children the scripture; we need to teach them to recognize God’s provision in our/their lives. They also need to experience the consequences of sin along with the joy of forgiveness and restored fellowship. This type of teaching and learning from personal experience can go a long way toward helping us guard against having to suffer the consequences of sin by motivating us to avoid making the same mistakes others have made and/or repeating our own.
Deut. 4:10 Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.
Deut. 4:11 And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.
Deut. 4:12 And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.
Deut. 4:13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
“Horeb” = another name for Mt. Sinai
One of the primary events that Moses encourages the people to remember and teach their children about is the time that God descended on the mountain so the people could hear Him speak and be instilled with a healthy fear in awe and respect of Him. The mountain burned with fire toward the heaven and was surrounded by dark clouds. They heard God speak to them out of the fire even though they could not see Him. It was at Sinai that God instructed them concerning His commandments and established His conditional covenant with them. The law was pretty much summarized in the Ten Commandments that He wrote on two tables of stone. Those who did remember this event were under 20 years of age at that time. Oftentimes, that type of spectacular event will have a very significant impact on a young person. They had now grown into the senior generation about to enter the Promised Land, and it was important for them to try and make that memory live for their children and grandchildren.
I can’t help but make a connection with those in the nation of Israel today. A whole generation has succeeded those who experienced the horrors of the holocaust of World War II. Their parents came to Israel with a passion to possess their own nation, recognizing it as their God-given heritage. It seems that many Jews of this current generation are apathetic when it comes to safeguarding the nationhood that their fathers sacrificed so much to establish; and they certainly don’t seem to reflect a connection to the land based on their spiritual heritage.
Deut. 4:14 And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.
Deut. 4:15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:
Deut. 4:16 Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,
Deut. 4:17 The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air,
Deut. 4:18 The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:
Deut. 4:19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
Moses received instruction directly from the Lord and was then commissioned to teach the people as he had been taught. Moses explains that one reason they were not allowed to “see” YHWH was to keep them out of idol worship. The heathen nations all worshipped their gods in various forms as images/idols. The LORD was determined that His people would be distinct among the nations and that their worship of Him would be based on faith and not directed toward any man-made image or toward any object in His creation. The rest of creation was made for man’s benefit—not for man to worship.
This instruction is very clear. God does not want us reverencing objects of either His or our own creation. Why is it that there are many in the “church” that choose to do just that? Why do they establish rituals that take the focus off of God and place it on individuals and/or icons? This isn’t just an indictment of the Catholic church; this is a growing phenomenon in protestant churches that are aligning themselves with the “emergent church” movement. I just don’t understand why they insist on doing exactly what God has instructed we are not to do.
Deut. 4:20 But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.
Moses compares the Hebrews’ years of slavery in Egypt to living in an iron furnace, a place of intense pain and suffering. YHWH brought them out of Egypt for a specific purpose—to be His people, a people of His inheritance among all the peoples on planet earth. They were to serve as examples before the other nations of the blessing of serving their Creator in faith and obedience. His guidance of and provision for the people as they wandered through the wilderness those many years were proof of His power and authority. His public judgment of their sin testified to His righteousness in exercising that power and authority.
Deut. 4:21 Furthermore the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance:
Deut. 4:22 But I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan: but ye shall go over, and possess that good land.
For the third time in four chapters, Moses again brings up the fact that he will not be allowed to cross Jordan into the Promised Land and blames the LORD’s anger with him on the people. As stated previously, I certainly can identify with Moses’ thoughts; but I also know that we are each responsible for our own sin. Deliberate disobedience is a result of a personal decision regardless of the provocation. Because of Moses’ character as presented throughout scripture, I tend to believe that he is making a point to the people that no one is exempt from God’s righteous judgment. If He determined to judge Moses so severely, they should surely realize that He would judge all others who choose to break covenant or rebel against Him. That thought would lead right in to the following verses.
Deut. 4:23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
Deut. 4:24 For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
Moses again encourages the people to guard themselves against forgetting their covenant with YHWH and falling into disobedience by making idols to use in their worship. Their covenant is recorded in Exodus 19.
Exodus 19:5-8 “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.”
The second of the Ten Commandments instructs against this very practice.
Exodus 20:4-5 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God….”
God is very clear in scripture that He is jealous of His possessions; He does not intend to share His glory with anyone or anything else. Isaiah shares the same truth concerning God’s relationship with Israel.
Isaiah 48:9-11 “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.”
Deut. 4:25 When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger:
Deut. 4:26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.
Deut. 4:27 And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you.
Deut. 4:28 And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.
Moses’ message becomes one of prophecy in this section. He speaks of future generations who, after living in the land for so long, will choose to disobey God’s command regarding the worship of idols. Their actions will anger God. When that happens, they will eventually experience God’s judgment. They will be taken captives by heathen nations and scattered among all the nations on earth. After having experienced the growth resulting from God’s blessing, they will become few compared to other nations. If they choose to worship false gods, God will judge them by sending them to live among the nations that serve these false gods. Point is made that these gods will be man-made, lifeless and powerless. What a sad choice for a people to make—to turn from serving Almighty God, their Creator, to serve impotent idols!
I think most of us in the “church” today don’t realize how often our actions show that same foolish thinking. We are so focused on worldly success and material gain, that we are essentially serving idols as well. Everything we do and aspire to as a child of God should be from the standpoint of wanting to honor God in the process—not feeding the flesh. Sometimes the Lord will choose to reward us with material/physical things in the process of serving Him, but sometimes He does not. He will always, however, reward us with heavenly eternal treasure for making the choices that glorify Him.
Why does he call heaven and earth to witness? Because they will endure to the time that this prophecy comes true.
Deut. 4:29 But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
Even as Moses prophesies such a bleak future, he tempers the prophecy with a promise from YHWH. If at any time during their exile from Israel they choose to seek YHWH with all their heart and being, they will find Him. He is faithful; He is ever ready to forgive and receive the sincerely repentant sinner.
Deut. 4:30 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;
Deut. 4:31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.
The first word in verse 30 stands out—“When.” God knows the end from the beginning, and He is speaking prophetically through His servant Moses.
Isaiah 46:9-10 “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure….”
The wording implies that the people of Israel will turn back to faith and obedience in God in “the latter days,” the end times (from the Hebrew). The CJB supports this understanding: “In your distress, when all these things have come upon you, in the acharit-hayamim, you will return to ADONAI your God and listen to what he says….”
YHWH is consistently characterized in scripture by His mercy and the fact that He keeps His word.
Exodus 34:6 “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth….”
1Chronicles 16:34 “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”
Isaiah 55:7 “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Ephesians 2:4 “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us….”
Judges. 2:1 “And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.”
1Kings 8:23 “And he said, LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart….”
Hebrews 13:20 “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant….”
Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”
Psalm 119:89 “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.”
John 17:17 “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that was unconditional.
Genesis 12:1-3 “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Genesis 17:1-8 “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
He made subsequent covenants with the people that were conditional, but those covenants were in addition to and not in place of that original covenant with their fathers. Though their descendants would spend many years suffering judgment in consequence of breaking covenant, God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is firm. When they return to Him in faith and repentance out of a period of great tribulation (v30), He will then make a new covenant with Israel and will empower them with His Spirit so that they never break covenant with Him again.
Ezek. 36:23-28 And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Jer. 31:31-33 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Deut. 4:32 For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
Deut. 4:33 Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
Deut. 4:34 Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
In these verses Moses impresses upon the people the significance of their unique position in relationship to God. He asks questions to make them think about it. Since creation, has any other people ever heard God speak to them from the midst of the fire and lived to tell about it? Has any other nation ever been delivered from captivity by their “god” so miraculously? The obvious answer to both questions—No! They were unique among the nations, and their God was the one and only true God.
Moses makes a point of listing the methods God used in delivering the people from Egypt.
Some of these terms seem redundant. Maybe the difference in signs and wonders could be understood in comparing the plague of locusts and the turning of water into blood, respectively. Based on my other studies of scripture, I think the difference in a “mighty hand” and a “stretched out arm” would be in reference to the possession of power and authority to act and actually using that power and authority in judgment.
Deut. 4:35 Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.
Deut. 4:36 Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.
Deut. 4:37 And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;
Deut. 4:38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.
These verses indicate that one of the reasons God employed a process was to lay a foundation of experience that would help the people to grow in their faith in preparation for facing the seemingly impossible battles ahead of them as they took possession of the Promised Land. He was giving them an obvious display of His power and authority to the point of having the forces of nature respond to His command. His actions were proof positive that “the LORD He is God; there is none else beside Him.” He then followed such a miraculous deliverance with the privilege of hearing Him speak to them out of the fire at Mt. Sinai.
Moses then makes the point that their position of privilege was a distinction given them because of YHWH’s love for their fathers. Their deliverance from Egypt and their enablement to conquer nations far greater than they in taking possession of the Promised Land was predicated on His love for their fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I remember this truth really jumping out at me in my study of Ezekiel. The last chapters of the book were very difficult for me, but there were some beautiful nuggets of blessing there as well. The sons of Zadok will occupy positions of honor in service in the millennial temple based on the actions of their distant forefathers. The comments from my journal for Ezekiel 40 apply here.
These kinds of verses always “wow” me. God is completely knowledgeable of our ancestry. After all these thousands of years, the sons of Zadok are going to be blessed due to the faithfulness of their ancient ancestors. This certainly gives one pause regarding how our actions are impacting our own children and grandchildren. Are we benefiting them or hindering them regarding their future service for the Lord?
As I was reading through this again, the thought occurred to me that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that my blessings are a privilege granted me in honor of the faithful service of one or more of my ancestors.
Deut. 4:39 Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.
Based on all that God has done on their behalf, Moses is saying that the people of Israel should know (clearly understand; be convinced of the truth of) without a doubt that YHWH is “God in heaven above, and upon earth beneath: THERE IS NONE ELSE.”
Deut. 4:40 Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.
Any person who truly recognizes God for Who He Is should be highly motivated to keep his instructions and commandments. They should clearly understand that obedience results in blessing and disobedience in judgment. Again, reference is made to the fact that our actions impact the lives of our children. Life is a gift to be treasured, and longevity of life on earth has a direct connection to obedience to God.
Even as I wrote those words, there was a cry from my heart that they aren’t always true. I think the answer again comes from God’s perspective. If, in His wisdom and purpose, He chooses to allow the life of a man or woman of faith to end prematurely, we can be sure that they will only experience greater blessing as a result. Maybe the connection is to eternal life in a new heaven and new earth.
In reading through this section again, it could be a specific reference to the people retaining possession of the Promised Land as long as they were obedient to God.
Deut. 4:41 Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;
Deut. 4:42 That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live:
Deut. 4:43 Namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, of the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, of the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, of the Manassites.
At this point, Moses gets back to the important task of establishing cities of refuge for those who will be living east of Jordan. These cities were explained in Numbers 35 as belonging to the Levites and were to be strategically located throughout the nation. They were to serve as a safeguard against unjust vigilante justice.
Deut. 4:44 And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:
Deut. 4:45 These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which Moses spake unto the children of Israel, after they came forth out of Egypt,
Deut. 4:46 On this side Jordan, in the valley over against Bethpeor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, whom Moses and the children of Israel smote, after they were come forth out of Egypt:
Deut. 4:47 And they possessed his land, and the land of Og king of Bashan, two kings of the Amorites, which were on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;
Deut. 4:48 From Aroer, which is by the bank of the river Arnon, even unto mount Sion, which is Hermon,
Deut. 4:49 And all the plain on this side Jordan eastward, even unto the sea of the plain, under the springs of Pisgah.
This chapter ends a summary of the history of God’s relationship with the people and introduces the section in which Moses is going to give them one final complete teaching of God’s law. All the congregation but Moses, Joshua and Caleb were under 20 when the law was first given, and Moses did not want them to even attempt to enter the land without thoroughly understanding God’s commands and the importance of obedience to those commands.