We noted in the first lesson of Deuteronomy that this book is Moses preaching a sermon to the people, explaining the law of the Lord. This book is teaching the people how to leave the wilderness and enter the promised land. The first chapter reminded the people what happened to their parents, the prior generation, why they fell in the wilderness and the lessons that were to be learned from that. Chapters 2-3 remind these people what they have seen in their lifetimes while in the wilderness. This recount of their history is a message of encouragement, with a call to action in chapter 4.
Lands Not Conquered (2:1-37)
Deuteronomy 2 describes three nations that God told Israel that they were not to conquer as they passed through: Edom, Moab, and Ammon. These lands were given to these particular nations and not to Israel. The key point that is found in the first 25 verses of chapter 2 is that God took care of them while they were in the wilderness. Look at verse 7.
For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing. (Deuteronomy 2:7 ESV)
God knew you were in the wilderness and watched over you. God went with you and made sure that you did not lack. This is the message to us as we live in the wilderness on the way to the promised land God has given to us. God will bless the work of your hands. He knows you are in the wilderness. He will be with you so that you do not lack. We see God give us that hope and promise in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-10. What God says he did was make the nations afraid of Israel so that they left them alone as they passed through (2:4, 25). Further, when King Sihon came out and attacked them, God gave them the victory (2:33). God says he did that because they were worthy of judgment and to teach Israel something important (2:30).
Notice the message in 2:36. “There was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands.” Now remember what their parents said when the spies looked at the land. They said that the cities were too great and fortified up to heaven (1:28). Moses says that the cities were not too high or great because God gave it into their hands. The point of chapter 2 is show the people that God is not only the God of Israel, but God of all the nations, giving the land to whomever he wills (2:5, 9, 12, 19). If God said that the land was theirs, then the land was theirs. If God said they would not have a particular land, then they would not have a particular land.
Lands Conquered (3:1-29)
Next, Moses reminds the people how God gave them completely victory over their enemies. In particular he recounts the total defeat of King Og and his fortified cities. There are some key descriptions that were intended to encourage Israel. Moses tells them that they took all of the cities from him (3:3-4) and those cities were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars (3:5). But God gave them victory even over such cities. Notice what else they were able to conquer in verse 11. King Og was a giant. What did the parents say was the reason that they could not conquer Canaan? Remember that they said that the inhabitants were giants and they would be defeated by them (cf. 1:28). Moses shows them that God was stronger than even giants. Moses has demolished any reasons for Israel to not trust God in the upcoming conquest. We see this point in verses 21-22.
And I commanded Joshua at that time, “Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:21–22 ESV)
This is what God would do to all the kings of Canaan. God will give the victory. Moses tells the people that he pleaded with the Lord to go over and see the promised land, but God refused (3:23-26). Moses will be able to see it from a mountain and Joshua will be the new leader to bring the people into the land (3:27-29). God answers no to Moses’ prayer. Moses’ message is to see the victory God gave in the past to you so that you will have faith and confidence in the future victory God will give. There is no obstacle too great for God. God cared for you every step of the way. Do not worry about what you see. Know you have a God who is greater than what you see. Now all of this wonderful information about the blessings of God are never supposed to terminate in knowledge alone. They were not to go back to their tents and simply be glad for what God had done in the past. What God has done in the past is supposed to inform their lives and change their lives in the present. This is the purpose of chapter 4.
Listen and Obey (4:1-10)
Therefore, Moses calls for Israel to hear the teachings, follow them for life, and to not add or subtract from them (4:1-2). Faith in God and what he has done and what he will do is shown in listening and obeying what God has said. Look at verses 5-6. Keeping God’s law shows wisdom and your obedience shows wisdom to the world. Moses says to be careful with God’s word so that you do them. Then the people needed to know that one of the ways they would be a light to the world and show the wisdom of God is through obedience. Notice it will cause the nations to confess, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
Moses then highlights two special blessings of having a relationship with God. First, in verse 7 that we have hope in prayer. “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7 ESV) Who else has a God so close to them that we can call upon him whenever we want? Have you thought about what a powerful blessing this is? We have a God we call on at any time! Listen and obey the Lord because you have a God who is near you and listens to you.
Second, Moses says we have hope in God’s law in verse 8. “And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:8 ESV) Who thinks about God’s laws like this? God’s laws are an expression of his grace. His laws are better than anything else in life. This is what the psalmist said in Psalm 19 and 119. They are sweeter to us than honey when we understand how amazing it is that we have God’s laws. His laws show us who he is. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10) I want us to think about what this means. This means that if we change God’s laws to be more relevant to the world we are depriving the world of being attracted to God. God says that people will be attracted to him by his nearness and his laws, which we will exhibit in our obedience. If we change his laws, then we attract people to something other than the character of God. This is why we treasure God’s laws and do not add or subtract from them. These two things make us different: prayer and possessing God’s law. These may be the two things that we devalue and ridicule of God’s blessings the most. But Moses says these things are what make us his.
This is also why Moses says in verse 9 to watch yourself closely and keep God’s laws in your heart. God’s commands are given to help remember the covenant. Teach your children to know God and know his laws because his laws are glorious and beautiful. It is interesting that God does not say that he will show himself again to the next generation. Rather, the next generation and the children’s children were to remember and relive the past mighty acts of God through his word and through his laws. We will see the emphasis on teaching the children later in the book (chapter 6) and we will dwell more on that need when we come to that text.
Avoid Idolatry (4:11-28)
The rest of chapter 4 demands the avoidance of idolatry. In verses 11-14 Moses reminds the people that God came down on Mount Sinai. But they did not see any form. They only heard a voice. The voice declared the covenant, which is the 10 commandments. This is an important definition because we will not read about the 10 commandments much in scriptures. Rather we will read about the covenant God made at Sinai or at Horeb. This passage tells us that the covenant made at Sinai included the 10 commandments along with the other laws given in Exodus and Leviticus. They only heard a voice so that there would be no reason for idolatry (4:15-16). The warning continues through verse 19. We are not to worship the creation. This is the horror of idolatry. The creation is given by God and people turn around and worship it. This is exactly what Paul described in Romans 1:22-23. We must not worship what God has created. It is shocking today how this idolatry has infiltrated our culture. The creation is worshiped all the time today. Animals are worshiped. The earth is worshiped. The trees are worshiped. God warns that the promises will be lost if they turn to idolatry (4:25-26). God is a jealous God (4:24) and he does not share our hearts, our affections, or our desires. God wants us to desire him alone because he has cared for us in the wilderness. Notice that God gives a covenant so that we would not forget what he did. This is true for us today with our covenant through Christ. Our weekly memorial of the Lord’s Supper is given to us so that we will remember all that God has done and not turn to idolatry. The first message of Moses in the sermon his look at all that God has done. So do not turn away from him and turn to follow your idols.
Know Your God (4:29-40)
Moses rounds out this sermon by declaring that there is no one like God. Moses tells the people that they are going to fail at idolatry. All of us are going to fall short of the glory of God and accept idolatry. But look at what God offers.
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:29–31 ESV)
How beautiful what God says! You are going to mess up but if you search after him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. These are words are words of hope. The Lord is a merciful God. He will not leave you. He will not destroy you. He will not forget the covenant. We can return to the Lord because this is the character of God. In other words, God is faithful.
Further, there is no one like God because he has revealed himself (4:32-35). God let you hear his voice (4:36) and because he loves you, he chose you (4:37). Therefore, keep his commands and it will go well with you (4:40). God’s commands are intended for our good and are given so that it will go well with us. Obey and enjoy God’s blessings.
The road to success is by listening to what the Lord has commanded, putting his words in our hearts, and carefully observing all that he has said. But God does not want this to come from a begrudging requirement or obligation. God has described himself as the God who has come near by prayer and by his commands. God has provided for your life all the way up until today. Worship him and give your life to him and nothing else. Seek the Lord and you will find him. You will find a merciful God if you will come to him from the heart. His commands are for your good. Let us serve him and obey him.