Deuteronomy 4

The Word Made Fresh

1“Pay attention, Israel, to the rules and regulations I am giving you,” said Moses. “Make sure you abide by them, so that you will survive to enter the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2Don’t add to or take anything away from what I am telling you but follow these instructions closely because they come from the LORD your God. 3You were eyewitnesses to what the LORD your God did to the Baal of Peor and you saw how the LORD did away with those of you who followed Baal. 4You can see that those of you who were faithful to the LORD your God are still alive today.

5“Now I am going to teach you the rules you must follow when you settle the land you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must obey these rules to the letter. If you do, the people who live over there will see that you are wise. 7After all, what other nation can claim to have had a god so near to them as the LORD our God, who answers whenever we call? 8And what other nation has regulations and laws as fair as the rules I am giving you now?

9“But take care to remember all your life the things you have seen so that you can tell them to your children and grandchildren. 10You will tell them about the time you stood before God at Mt. Horeb. Tell them how the LORD instructed me to gather the people around so that they would hear the LORD’s words and would honor the LORD all their lives and teach their children the same. 11Tell them how you gathered at the foot of the mountain, and about the blaze that seemed to reach to heaven, and the dark cloud that covered the peak. 12That was when the LORD spoke to you out of the blazing fire. You couldn’t see anything, but you heard the voice. 13The LORD declared the treaty with you, and charged you to observe the ten commandments, and even wrote them on two stone tablets. 14The LORD ordered me then to teach you all the rules you are to live by when you enter the land you are about to cross over and occupy.

15“Since you did not see any solid object when the LORD spoke to you out of the blaze on Horeb, make sure you understand 16that you must never attempt to make idols of anything to worship, man or woman, 17or any animal that walks on the earth or bird that files in the air or creature that crawls on the ground or fish that swims in the waters. 19When you look up at the sky and see the sun, the moon, the stars, all the objects that appear in the heavens, do not be tempted to worship them, for those are the things the LORD your God has made for everyone on earth. 20But the LORD has taken you out of the hell-hole of Egypt and personally claimed you.

21“But the LORD was not happy with me because of you and has told me that I will not cross over the Jordan and set foot in the good land the LORD your God is giving to you. 22I am going to die on this side of the Jordan, but you are going to cross over and take possession of that good land. 23So, be careful never to forget the agreement the LORD your God made with you, and do not ever make for yourselves any idol of anything the LORD your God has forbidden you to make, 24because the LORD your God is a jealous God, and can be like an all-consuming fire.

25When you have children and grandchildren and become comfortable in the land, if you begin to be smug and think you can make idols for yourselves, you will be doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and will make the LORD angry. 26Heaven and earth are my witnesses when I tell you that you will utterly perish from that land across the Jordan, and your existence there will come to an end. 27The LORD will scatter you among the nations, and there won’t be many of you left there. 28You will serve other gods human hands have crafted, gods made of wood and stone, gods that cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29But wherever you are, if you search with all your heart and soul, you will still be able to find the LORD your God. 30In the future, after you have suffered all these things, you can still return to and obey the LORD your God, 31because the LORD your God is a merciful God who will not abandon or utterly destroy you, nor ever forget the agreement made with your ancestors.

32Ask from one end of the heavens to the other about the times long past, when God created human beings and put them on the earth, if anything like this has ever happened before or even been imagined. 33Has anybody else ever heard, as you have heard, the voice of a god speaking out of a blazing fire, and lived to tell about it? 34Has any god ever personally claimed a nation of people and taken them away from another nation with the use of incredible trials and signs and wonders and war, with an outstretched arm strong and mighty, and by sending terrifying signs of power and might as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt right before your eyes? 34You were allowed to see it so that you would believe that the LORD is God, and there is no other. 36You heard the LORD’s voice from heaven instructing you. You saw the great fire and heard the LORD’s voice coming out of it. 37The LORD loved your ancestors; that’s why you, their descendants, were chosen after them. The LORD personally brought you out of Egypt with great power, 38and has driven out nations bigger and stronger than you and has given their land to you to possess. 39So confess and proclaim today that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other god. 40Obey the LORD’s rules and regulations. I am laying them out for you today for your own good, and for the good of your children after you, so that you will be able to stay from now on in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

41Then Moses set three cities apart on the east side of the Jordan, 42“cities of refuge” to which a person who has unintentionally caused the death of another, there having been no conflict between them, can flee and be safe. 43They were: Bezer on the plateau in Reuben’s territory; Ramoth in Gilead in the area claimed by Gad; and Golan in Bashan which was settled by the tribe of Manasseh.

44There follows now the law that Moses handed the Israelites; 45the rules and commandments and laws that Moses gave them when they escaped Egypt 46and while they were still beyond the Jordan opposite Beth-Peor. This was the land that had belonged to king Sihon of the Amorites who had reigned at Heshbon until Moses and the Israelites took it from him. 47They occupied his land, and the land claimed by king Og of Bashan, the other king of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan; 48from Aroer on the banks of the creek bed of Arnon, as far as Mt. Sirion (i. e. Mt. Hermon), 49along with all the Arabah east of Jordan as far as the sea of Arabah at the foot of Mt. Pisgah.

Commentary

1-4: These verses are about the incident at Baal-Peor as described in Numbers 25.

5-8: Moses reminds the people that he is charged with teaching them the law that God has given them, the law which distinguishes them from all the people of the earth.

9-14: Most of the Israelites Moses now faces were not present at Mt. Horeb when the Ten Commandments were received – only those who were under the age of 20 were there; the rest having died during the subsequent years of sojourn in the wilderness. So, Moses takes them back 39 years to their encampment at Mt. Sinai (called Horeb in Deuteronomy) and reminds them that it was there that God gave them the Law.

15-20: He reminds them of the law that warns against making idols in the form of men, women, animals, birds, insects, or fish (because they have no idea what God looks like, he says), and against worshiping the sun, moon, and stars (because God created them and is therefore above them). Basically, this is a reminder of the first three of the Ten Commandments. God brought them out of Egypt to be God’s very own possession, he says.

21-24: Again, Moses tells them that he will not accompany them across the Jordan, but obliquely lays the blame on them for it.

25-31: He reminds them what will happen to them if they forget God’s laws. The description of the consequences closely matches what actually happens much later in Israel’s history, when they are conquered by the Babylonians and carried into exile. Moses says that God will allow that to happen as punishment for forsaking the law, but that God will nevertheless not abandon them completely.

32-40: These verses are a powerful affirmation of all that has gone before. Moses tells them that never before had no god ever acted on behalf of any nation the way the LORD God has acted on behalf of Israel. They are most blessed of all the peoples on earth. They have a special relationship with the LORD God and they should be careful to protect it.

41-43: After these warnings, Moses designates three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan, in Gilead – Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan (the same territory as the Golan Heights in modern Israel where so much conflict has occurred even in recent years). See Numbers 35:13-14 for the authorization to do this, although in that passage there are to be six cities in the Trans-Jordan area.

44-49: The chapter ends with a summary statement, which sets the stage for Moses to re-present the Law to the people.

Takeaway

Other peoples worship other gods – that is still true to this day. Those of us who belong to Christ know that there is but one God, the God who made all things, and who is the God who steadily and unflinchingly steered human history to a specific point where God could enter the human world as a human child. A lot has to happen to Israel before God is ready to do that.