Last week we studied the first portion of Moses’ sermon in Deuteronomy 4 and saw the great importance of being careful to obey the command of the Lord. Keeping the ways of the Lord gives us great wisdom and pleases the mighty Lord who gave Israel the law at Mount Sinai. Moses now uses his discussion of Lord’s display of power at Sinai to discuss the nature of the great God Israel serves. Though the world constantly focuses on what religion gives us, the Bible is commonly concerned with exposing who the Lord is. In this lack of passion for who the Lord is, we often turn him into a wishy-washy deity who has no definite character. We should not serve a God we do not know. Moses’ description of our great Lord in this text will help us understand with whom we have made a covenant. Deepening our understanding of the Lord should help us take our relationship with him more seriously than we have in the past.
A Jealous God (4:15-24)
The theological foundation behind having no image or representation of the Lord is that they did not see him when he came to them. The Lord revealed his power on the mountain, but they only heard his voice. They did not see his form. Therefore, they must never create any carved image – representation of the Lord or not. They must never carve any image of man or animal nor worship the celestial bodies. Verse 19 emphasizes the fact that the Lord is the creator. He is the one who disperses these created things to the people. As the Lord’s nation by covenant, Israel must be careful to not mock the Lord by worshipping his creation.
Verses 20-24 give three reasons why Israel must carefully remember to serve the Lord alone. First, in verse 20 Moses reminds them of the nature of their relationship with the Lord. This is not a relationship where Israel chose the Lord out of a selection of deities and Israel can decide to leave at any point. The Lord handpicked Israel from all the people in the world. Israel was enslaved to the most powerful nation in the world; yet, the Lord saved them from this “iron furnace.” The Israelites are described as the Lord’s inheritance. An important reminder that while the Lord is our God, he has redeemed us and we are his possession. Second, in verses 21-22 Moses reminds Israel for the third time in four chapters that he is not going to live and have an inheritance in the coming land. Moses serves as an example of how serious the Lord is when he promises punishment for not treating him as holy.
The third reason why Israel must remember to not worship any carved image is because the Lord is “a consuming fire, a jealous God.” The statement of the Lord’s jealousy was originally told Israel in Exodus 20 when the 10 commandments were given and Israel was commanded to not carve any images. The combination of the Lord being a consuming fire and a jealous God is a strong motivator to keep their fidelity to him. Breaking covenant with the Lord is the last thing they should consider doing with a God who is both powerful and jealous. They are in an exclusive relationship.
The Lord’s jealousy to have an exclusive relationship with us is a key characteristic of our relationship with the Lord that we must never forget. Just as the Lord could have left Israel alone in Egypt, the Lord could have left us enslaved to the sinful pleasures of this world. Instead, he had love and did the work to redeem us from slavery to protect us and to make us his own inheritance. As the Lord’s possession we must mark Moses’ words carefully. As our redeemer, protector, and Lord he demands that we keep an exclusive relationship with him. He does not accept partial devotion to him, and partial devotion to the world. He is to be the center of our lives and hearts.
If the Lord is a jealous God, this changes the way we treat our relationship with him. If we think the Lord does not care when our hearts are in love with what the world offers, his jealousy will be stirred up. If the Lord is not our passion, he is jealous for our hearts. Someone told the other day about how they were talking to a family who had been gone on Sundays for the past few weeks because of their son’s travelling baseball team. When the son was asked about baseball, the kid’s eyes completely lit up as he talked about how much he loved baseball. It didn’t matter that the family made sure they “worshipped somewhere” on Sunday before the game. The boy had already learned that baseball was the real passion, not the Lord. Love and passion for the Lord is not founded on whether or not we get dressed up on Sunday and “go to the right church.” The Bible fully emphasizes the worship and fellowship we have here as completely necessary. But, for one moment, subtract the worship and classes we participate in and consider how you spend your personal time. Are we individually inseparable from the Lord? Are we, like a good marriage, constantly seeking to spend time with him and serve him? Is he our passion? This is what the Lord demands of us. Is this the picture of our relationship with the Lord, or is he jealous for our hearts? We will return to the idea of the importance of the Lord’s jealousy in a moment.
A Merciful God (4:25-31)
Moses goes on to tell Israel what will happen if they do arouse the Lord’s jealousy in infidelity. They will be kicked off of their land and scattered among the nations. Verse 28 is Moses’ sad prediction that the people will continue to serve other gods in their time of exile. They will be of no help to Israel. The perspective this passage has been painting flips in verses 29-31. If Israel will turn and seek the Lord with their entire hearts, they will find the Lord. This reminds me of the beautiful imagery of Hosea. No matter how wicked and adulterous Israel has been, the Lord will take them back if they will repent and seek him whole-heartedly.
Why will the Lord take Israel back? Verse 31. The Lord is a merciful God and he will not forget the covenant he has made with Israel. It is interesting that this is expressed in covenantal terms. If Israel seeks after other gods they break the covenant. Typically this results in the other party being set free from the covenant. We understand this even in marriage today. Once adultery exists the terms of the covenant have been broken and the innocent spouse is set free from their obligations to the covenant. Our Lord proves his great mercy by making an even more gracious covenant than this. Though the Lord’s covenant with Israel stipulated punishment by exile for idolatry and removal of covenant blessings, this never meant he would completely forsake his people. The Lord promised in his covenant with them in Leviticus 26:40-45 that he would take them back when they sought him once again. Though the Lord knew his people would be unfaithful to him, he decided ahead of time to never forsake his people completely. This was a part of his promise to Abraham as well. Here Moses reminds Israel that the Lord will be faithful to that covenant because he is a merciful god.
But notice the specific wording of verse 30. Physical Israel never took advantage of this great mercy and sought the Lord with their whole hearts. Instead, the Lord speaks of a time in the “latter days” when his people would obey the Lord and give him their entire hearts and souls. This is common of Messianic prophecies when the Lord promised to show mercy to a restored Israel who would give their entire hearts to the Lord. We are the people called from our service of other gods by the Lord’s mercy to come experience an everlasting covenant. The Lord is showing us through his mercy that there should be nothing holding us back from a relationship with him. Consider Christ’s graciousness in his letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3. Ephesus had left their first love, Pergamum and Thyatira were involved in gross sexual immorality, and Sardis and Laodicea showed little excitement for the Lord’s work. Yet, in each situation the Lord gives them an opportunity to repent. Sometimes we think of the Lord as a being that cannot relate to our emotions. The Bible doesn’t talk the Lord as an emotionless God. His heart is grieved over our sinning. Showing us mercy and bringing us back into a relationship with him is not an emotionless act. He is taking back an unfaithful spouse. How much it must hurt to watch us love another god after he has shown us nothing but love. How merciful of him to take us back despite that pain. No matter what we have done in the past, he will not forget us. What a humbling thought.
The Lord: Jealous and Merciful
On the surface this presents a logical problem. In verse 24 Moses told the people that the Lord would punish the people for idolatry because he is a jealous God. Now Moses tells the people that the Lord will not forget his covenant with them because he is a merciful God. How is the Lord both jealous and merciful? Though this seems like a problem, the truth is that our God would not be as perfect and righteous as he is if he were not both jealous and merciful. The Lord’s jealousy and mercy towards us are founded in his infinite love for his people and work toward our greatest good.
How does the Lord’s jealousy and mercy benefit us? His jealousy is a consuming fire and punishment when we seek after other gods. His mercy is a healing for our soul when we return to him. Though we would initially say that only his mercy is in our best interest, I want to suggest that both are in our best interest. Hopefully we all theoretically understand that our greatest joy will only be found when we give the Lord our entire lives with no distractions or other gods to hinder us. His jealousy and mercy are important characteristics of our covenant with the Lord because they help us find an exclusive relationship with Him – our greatest joy. His jealousy and mercy encourage us to have a relationship with him alone. His mercy obviously accomplishes this. Who would not want to have a relationship with a God so loving as to take us back no matter how much we have made a mess of things? Furthermore, who wouldn’t want to stay with that merciful God and never leave him again because of that great love? The one person who wouldn’t stay with such a merciful God is the one who does not also understand the Lord’s jealousy.
Think about it from a marriage standpoint. A man offers marriage to a woman and of her own free will she accepts the offer. Though she has free will to do as she pleases, a loving man demands her absolute allegiance to him alone. He is jealous for her. The relationship is exclusive. The same goes for the woman. Both spouses know that if they decide to find fulfillment in anyone besides their spouse, it’s over. Why is the relationship so exclusive? It is the only way the marriage will work! This is the only way that the husband will be satisfied in the wife and the wife in her husband. Though our spouses are imperfect, if both spouses give themselves to each other alone in a godly marriage – they will find wonderful marital bliss. No matter who the spouse is. God has designed marriage to work like that. But if the husband is partially devoted to his wife and partially interested in other women, he will not be fully satisfied in his wife. It works the same with the husband. Suddenly, the marriage no longer works because the spouses are constantly comparing their spouse with other potential fantasy partners. This results in a miserable relationship! Men, imagine if we told our wives that we would be theirs alone for 364 days in a year, but asked them if for one day per year we could go meet up with an ex-girlfriend. How well is that going to go over? Would we say that this accomplishes an exclusive relationship? No! Both spouses essentially waste their time and hearts because they will never find complete fulfillment outside of their covenantal spouse.
It works the same with the Lord. The only way to have a covenant with the Lord is based on an exclusive relationship. Asking him to not be jealous while we pursue other pleasures for a short time is foolishness! The Lord knows that in him alone we will find our greatest joy and pleasure. If the Lord were not jealous for us to have an exclusive relationship with us, I can confidently say that he would not truly love us. How cruel would it be for the Lord to tell us we can have a half way devoted relationship with him! There may be many here who know what I am referring to. The Lord and the Bible are boring and miserable when we give ourselves partially to him and partially to the world. Every time we read the Bible or praise the Lord we wish we were with the delights we think we experience in the world. Instead of sacrificing to find every opportunity we can to worship the Lord and serve his people, we find every excuse we can to do the bare minimum. What a miserable way to serve the Lord! We will never find the wonderful joys found in an exclusive and entire heart and soul bearing relationship with the Lord. Instead, we will walk away thinking that serving the Lord is boring. Can we honestly picture ourselves personally saying the words of Psalm 16? , “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you… The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup… I have set the LORD always before me… In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Some would venture to say the Lord treats us with greater leniency in our covenant with Christ. This picture of our Lord being a consuming fire is Old Testament stuff, right? In Hebrews 12 there is a direct parallel to our passage in Deuteronomy 4. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses has used the picture of the Lord’s power at the giving of the covenant at Sinai. The whole mountain shook. The message: be careful to obey the words of this jealous and powerful God. Notice how the Hebrew writer parallels this in Hebrews 12:18-29.
Hebrews 12:18–29, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
The Hebrew writer’s message is simple. We have not come to a small shaking mountain; we have come to Mount Zion – the city of the living God. Israel fearfully trembled at the sight of the Lord descending on Mount Sinai. How much greater should our fear be as we approach Mount Zion in a covenant ratified with the blood of the Son of God. If we are a part of an even greater covenant, we must be careful to not refuse our Lord! Verses 25-29 emphasize that there was no escape for covenant breakers under the old law, how much more will that be so today. The mountain shook at Sinai, but the Lord will shake both the heavens and the earth so that everything will be destroyed except for the kingdom of God. It comes down to a simple conclusion. If we think we can continue to hide our idolatry away in a separate room and come here acting like the Lord is number one in our lives, we are fooling ourselves. The Lord knows if we have sought satisfaction in TV shows, hobbies, pornography, cars, clothes, and careers. But he also knows these things will never satisfy you. Our Lord calls us from a life of serving gods that cannot hear us nor respond to us. His mercy will refresh you. Hold on tightly to the kingdom that will not be destroyed. We don’t want to be holding onto the things that will be burned in that day. Our God is a consuming fire.