Saturday Dec 12, 2020

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

     The main point of this pericope is that Israel was to listen to God’s statutes and judgments, obey them, and teach them to their children and grandchildren so the covenant people could take possession of the land and live prosperous lives. This section marks a literary turning point from historical review to giving instruction for living, drawing from Israel’s historical failings up to this point. Moses now focuses of the statutes and judgments so that they would “live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deut 4:1b). Statutes likely refers to written laws, and judgments to case laws. Israel was not to modify these statues and judgments in any way (Deut 4:2). Moses recalled to their memory a recent event in which some of the second-generation Israelites had already been disobedient at Baal-peor and worshipped idols (Deut 4:3; cf. Num 25:1-9), and God judged them for their rebellion (Deut 4:4). In contrast, Israel was to learn and keep God’s statutes and judgements which God transmitted through Moses so the people would possess the land of Canaan and not forfeit it as their parents had done (Deut 4:5). Israel will show their wisdom and understanding when they keep and follow God’s laws, which others will see and acknowledge (Deut 4:6). Speaking rhetorically, Moses asks if any nation has a god who is as near to its people as Yahweh was to Israel, who answers when they call (Deut 4:7). Or if there was a nation with statutes and judgments as wise as those transmitted from Yahweh through Moses (Deut 4:8)? The implied answer is no! Moses then warns them, saying, “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Deut 4:9a). Israel had an obligation in the relationship which was not to forget what they had seen and learned. The word forget translates the Hebrew verb שָׁכַח shakach, and is used by Moses to refer to the danger that one invites to oneself when God’s commands are ignored (Deut 8:11); a danger that is most likely to occur when His people become prosperous (Deut 8:12-14), and turn to idolatry (Deut 8:19). Not only was Israel to preserve and obey God’s commands, but they were to model and teach them to their children (Deut 4:9b). Though Israel’s priests had a special responsibility to teach God’s Word, the parents were called to teach it to their children (cf. Deut 6:6-7; 20-25; 11:19). Passing on God’s Word was very important, for Israel was always only one generation away from forfeiting God’s blessings if they failed to obey and transmit God’s Word to the next generation. Moses reminds his audience that they had personally witnessed God’s presence and heard His voice at Mount Sinai (Deut 4:10-11), and it was at that place where “He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone” (Deut 4:13). The Ten Commandments refer to the objective laws that reflect God’s moral character, and what He expected from His people if they were to walk with Him and know His blessings. Moses informed them, “The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut 4:14). Success and blessing for Israel meant learning and living God’s Word. Of course, this assumes positive volition on the part of His people and the transmission of His laws from one generation to the next through the institution of the family.

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