Deuteronomy contains the final words of Moses to the nation of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. In Moses’ final “sermon” to Israel, he brings up many stories from the wilderness wanderings in order to instruct this new generation of Israelites before they enter the land of Canaan. The previous generation of Israelites failed to put their faith in the Lord though they saw great signs of his power and faithfulness. Now Moses speaks to a new generation of Israelites who spent their childhood in the wilderness. Moses’ goal is to cause them to learn from their fathers’ mistakes so they will have success in the land the Lord will soon give them. In our text today, Moses emphasizes the importance of the law of the Lord that had already been poorly kept by this new generation.
Keep All of It (4:1-4)
Moses’ encouragement to Israel is to make sure they listen closely to the statutes and rules he commands them. They must remember to obey with exactness. This should not be confused with perfect law keeping. The entire reason the Mosaic sacrificial system was in place was to cover the sins of the people. Moses’ specific concern is seen in verse two. He does not want them to add to or take from the command of the Lord. Why is it so important that they keep the entire law in this way? Notice verse one. It is so they can continue to have life and take possession of the promised land. This is a theme throughout Deuteronomy. Though life and land are a gift, they must understand that these are blessings given to faithful covenant keepers.
Moses further emphasizes this through the example in verses 3-4. Though many in this new generation of Israelites may not have seen the Lord’s past displays of power, they would certainly remember the recent incident at Baal-peor. This is recorded in Numbers 25. The Lord had warned Israel in Exodus 34 to stay away from the Canaanite women and their gods. Numbers 25 tells how the people began to “whore” after Moabite women. The women drew Israelite men into idolatry and soon many in Israel began worshipping Baal. The Lord punished Israel with a plague they would never forget. The plague caused twenty-four thousand people to drop dead. I can imagine that for many in Israel it seemed unreasonable to not be able to intermarry among the Canaanites. After all, times had changed. It had been nearly 40 years since the law had been given. Maybe this command could be removed. God reinforced the importance of his original command through this plague and sent a strong message about the need to carefully listen to his words. God had warned them from the beginning to stay away from the Canaanite women. Their ignorance of the Lord’s warning resulted in their deaths.
Through the Lord’s swift punishment and Moses’ reminder here, we can see how serious the Lord is about his people obeying his commands. It teaches us about the type of heart God desires. As many have dubbed it, the Lord is not speaking of a perfect and emotionless obedience. Rather he is seeking a heart that so passionately desires to please the Lord that he or she is fully devoted to know and keep exactly what the Lord has commanded. The way the Lord sees it, those men who worshipped Baal were not careful to know the Lord’s ways because they did not love him.
The Lord still desires the same devotion to the exactness of the Lord’s ways that Moses calls for here. Moses warns the people so directly because of our frequent naivety when it comes to the Lord’s law. We are often fooled into thinking we are right in God’s sight when we do not really love to keep the entirety of his ways. Adding to or taking from God’s rules and statutes does not just happen by tearing pages out from the Bible, it happens when we follow our personal feelings and culture instead of God’s law. But how rarely we think this is a problem in our own lives! A heart that loves the law of the Lord disregards cultural wisdom, personal feelings, and difficulty. Hearts that love the Lord’s ways pursue the word day and night with humility to seek where they have added to or taken from his statutes. The knowledge that we will never have a perfect understanding of the Lord’s law should drive us to come to the fullest knowledge and obedience possible. Life is only granted to those who display this heart.
A Wise and Understanding People (4:5-8)
Moses now shows them the great opportunity they have been given by the Lord through obedience to his ways. If Israel will continue to keep his statutes while they live in the Promised Land, they will have exceedingly more wisdom and understanding than the nations around them. The world often looks at rules as something we keep to appease a higher authority. This limited view is especially foolish when it comes to God’s rules and statutes. Aligning our lives by his standards is the path to wisdom and keeps us from harmful decisions. This is no different than a parent who tells a child to not touch a hot iron. The rule isn’t there to appease Mom and Dad; it is meant to keep the child safe! It is the same with the law of the Lord.
Moses tells the people in verse 6 that this wisdom given them by the Lord will cause them to stand out greatly. Rightly so, as verses 7-8 point out. What the Lord is doing with Israel is no small thing. What nation has ever had a god so close to his people as the Lord is to Israel? The Lord handpicked Israel in his graciousness. The Lord answers when they call. The Lord was so concerned about his peoples’ success that he came down on Mount Sinai to give them a law more perfect and righteous than any manmade system of morality and justice. Other nations create and choose their gods. Other gods don’t answer. Other gods have to be appeased with great sacrifices to prevent great wrath. What the Lord does with Israel is different and marvelous.
Not only was this something great for Israel to appreciate, this is something for Christians to appreciate as well. The Lord’s treatment of Israel is mirrored in our relationship with Christ. We are also a chosen and holy nation (cf. Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 2:9). The Lord has continued his theme of closeness to his people by sending his Son. Think about that. The Son of God came to Earth. The Son of God took his time to notice us and teach us how we ought to live. He gave his life for us. He listens when we pray. Nothing makes us deserving of such intimate and loving treatment. As Moses says here, what people has ever existed that has a god this close? What nation has a god that cares so much about them as to give them such a righteous law and actually care about their wellbeing? The gods of the ancient times didn’t come close. The various things man worships today do not come close. Our Lord sustains us. The gods of today have to be sustained by us. Money runs out. Technology breaks. TV shows get cancelled. Our Lord pursues us and seeks our life. The things we worship today do not care about us. They suck our resources, time, and energy dry until we are completely empty. Our Lord answers prayer. Has money or possessions ever delivered in your darkest hours? What a magnificent Lord we have who desires to be so close to us and give us life! His rules and statutes are not cumbersome – life is found in them. When we keep his statutes we experience a taste of the Creator’s wisdom.
Moses says in verse 6 that the other nations will notice this wisdom. This is the Lord’s way of exposing to the world the truthfulness of verses 7-8. When the Lord’s closeness and righteous law better our lives, others will seek out the Lord as well. How else can the world know about the Lord’s great wisdom and understanding except by seeing it exhibited through his people? 1 Kings 10 tells us how the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom Solomon had through the Lord. The text tells her that she was so awestruck with his wisdom that she was breathless and overwhelmed. Notice 1 Kings 10:6–9, “And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.””This passage is truly exciting. The fact that a woman who had never known the Lord came to know him because of the wisdom he gave Solomon should inspire us. We can cause the same reaction today. We can cause others who do not truly know the Lord to glorify the Lord because of the great wisdom he gives us. If we truly see that people are full of foolishness, one of the best ways we can instigate change is by passionately pursuing the Lord’s law and wisdom in our own hearts and the decisions we make. What a great opportunity we have!
Don’t Forget (4:9-14)
Romans 2 is a reminder of how greatly Israel ended up wrecking this opportunity. Romans 2:23–24, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.””Though Solomon’s wisdom was cause for praising the Lord, he was an outlier in Israel. As opposed to causing the nations to praise the Lord, Israel’s hypocrisy and wickedness caused the nations to blaspheme him. Though Moses just finished reminding Israel of their great opportunity for wisdom, the beginning of verse 6 says this opportunity only exists when they keep the Lord’s statutes. Notice how verses 9-14 stand as a grave warning to Israel of the danger of forgetting to carefully obey the Lord.
The Lord knew that once Israel inherited the land of Canaan it would be easy for them to grow slack in keeping the Lord’s commands. In order to counteract this, Moses tells them to remember the day the Lord spoke to Israel on Mount Sinai. Fire, lighting, thunder, and dark clouds swirled around the mountain as the ground beneath their feet quaked. The Lord thunderously declared the 10 commandments to the Israel and Israel cowered in fear. Why do this? Verses 9-10 tell us that this foundational event should be seared in their memories forever to remind them of their need to fear the Lord. These statutes weren’t Moses’ 10 suggestions. This wasn’t just another wannabe god. The God they are making a covenant with is the Lord and he is real. This was mean to “put the fear of God in them.” This event stands as a foundation for Moses’ exhortations in verses 9-10. Since we worship the same God, these encouragements to successful obedience are applicable to us as well.
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently…”
Just because the Lord cared for Israel so lovingly was not an excuse to not be careful to watch their souls with all diligence. We have great reason to rejoice because of the mercy and grace given us by the Lord, but that mercy is not a license for carelessness (cf. Rom. 6:1-2). Careful attention to the Lord’s statutes is scoffed at today. “Why are you so picky?” “It’s all about rules to you.” May we never forget that we are saved by the mercy and grace of our Lord. We must also never forget that we are saved by faith and not by works. But grace, mercy, and faith have never been symptoms of carelessness in the eyes of the Lord. Later in the passage Moses reminds Israel how the Lord is not allowing him to enter the land of Canaan. Even Moses had a time when he did not keep his soul diligently before the Lord. How much more are we susceptible to this danger! We must remember that we are involved in a very serious fight to keep our hearts pure. Now is not the time to let our guard down. We must be alert and cognizant of the condition of our souls. We must diligently be watching and praying about our obedience.
The Lord came down in fire and thunder on Mount Sinai in order to teach the people a basic principle about their covenant. Israel’s relationship with the Lord was founded on this scene of fear. We should greatly emphasize love and passion for our Lord and his ways. But how greatly we need to be reminded of who our Lord is. Thunder and lighting and fire are a speck of his power. We must fear him. We must not lose our respect for his power. The moment we forget to fear our great Lord is the moment we will forget the power he holds and the severe consequences for dishonoring him in our bodies.
“All the days they live on the Earth…”
Slackness in diligence and fear can also cause us to forget that the battle for our souls lasts our entire lives. Just because we have served the Lord for 20, 50, or 70 years does not mean that the continuation of growth is over. Learning to fear the Lord all the days we are on the Earth reminds us that there is no time where we should not be watching our souls diligently. Whether we are in the dawn of youth, the busyness of midlife, or struggling down our final stretch – we must continually be learning and growing in the fear of the Lord. If we think that our growth and knowledge and obedience has hit a plateau just because we reach 50 years of age, Moses begs to differ! The longer we live on the Earth, the more opportunity we have to learn. Notice Psalms 1:1–3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”A man who delights in meditating on the law of the Lord in his youth will certainly not stop simply because he ages. We are in a life long trajectory for growth.
“And that they may teach their children so.”
The key to all of this is they not only practice these things themselves, but that they teach their children to do so as well. They were to continue to tell the story of the day the Lord met them on Sinai in flashes of lightning and thunder. There were to continue to teach them the fear of the Lord. This is the biggest thing missing from children today. Fear. Fear was the foundation of Israel’s relationship with the Lord, so Moses tells them to continue to spread that fear through their children. The reason why children are unafraid to rebelliously speak and act as they desire is because they have no fear. They do not fear their parents and they do not fear the Almighty. Certainly we must teach our children of the grace and mercy of the Lord, but if they have nothing to fear – what does grace and mercy save them from? It is impossible to appreciate the Lord’s love and mercy without fear. People do not naturally fear the Lord. Fear is taught. It is taught in Bible stories like what happened at Sinai and Baal-peor. It is taught through a loving rod of correction. If the fear of God is not taught to our children, then the fear of the Lord will stop. We will fail as Israel did. We will have grown men like Gideon who have no understanding of the Lord’s power.
Jesus’ words serve as an appropriate conclusion. John 14:15,“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”True love for our Lord listens to the grave warning given by Moses: be careful! We must watch our souls with all diligence our entire lives. Though culture may tell us to talk, dress, and conduct ourselves one way, hearts that truly love the Lord seek to change culture with his ways. We must not allow culture to overcome his word in our hearts as it did with Israel! If we will take care to remember the fear of the Lord our entire lives, we will be further reminded of the importance of not growing slack. The command of the Lord is not a burdensome law to keep. His ways are full of life. When his statutes teach us his wisdom, it provides the opportunity for others to see and hear of the Lord’s wisdom. How merciful is our Lord to always grant forgiveness to those who are repentant. May we learn a greater passion for the statutes of our Lord.