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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gaining Righteousness Through Grace - Deuteronomy 6

Deuteronomy 6

            This chapter is a sermon within the second sermon Moses spoke to the Israelites. Deuteronomy 6 is a sermon on the first commandment. The first commandment is the commandment upon which the other nine hinge. It places first value on God. Moses told the people then and us now the basic attitude toward the LORD Yahweh of the covenant is love and that it requires obedience from the faithful. When love is real from Yahweh’s followers, what occurs is obedience and reverence. From these come the desire to ensure their children and their children’s children learn about Yahweh – His greatness, covenant love, awe, and their obedience to His commandments.

            Before we begin to dig into this chapter, we need to understand definitions of a few words. Moses used the words might, shall, and should. We need to differentiate the meanings of these words to get the whole message from this text. The word “might” speaks of a possibility of something occurring or gives permission to a person to do something. It does not imply that an action will definitely occur. The word “should” is a conditional word. A person, if they do an action, will then encounter or receive something. The word “shall” is future tense and is a strong assertion, command, or an intention expected to happen. In addition to these three words, we must remember that when the Bible authors wrote the word LORD, they referred to Yahweh God. The Jews believed it was wrong to pronounce Yahweh or spell it so they used the word LORD instead. They often used YHWH when writing God’s name. The Israelites’ reverence was so high they felt they could not speak or write God’s name, YAHWEH, which He told them while they wandered in the wilderness.

            Several theological commentators express that the first three verses of chapter six are a continuation of chapter five. I and other commentators believe these three verses apply to chapter six as a prelude to what Moses said in this sermonette and after he reminded the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. Moses told them in these three verses what God permitted them to do and what they should do. (Remember, God’s commands are imperative, but He gave free will to humans when He created them so they could choose to do His will or not.) Moses began his sermon with the statement that the LORD commanded him to teach them His commandments, statutes, and judgments. (This is where it sounds familiar to chapter five.) In the next part of this sentence, Moses said he taught them that they “might do them in the land where you are going to possess it” and that their ancestors “might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes, commandments” all the days of their lives so their days would be prolonged (vs. 1-2). If the Israelites obeyed God’s commandments, statutes, and judgments, God promised they would possess the land, they and their ancestors would fear the LORD, and they would live long lives. God gave them permission and the possibility to follow Him. The Israelites had to choose to follow God or their own will. With following God, He promised the possession of a land as well as long life and gifts from the LORD. God does not mandate that we must follow Him. He gives each person who walks on earth freewill to choose to follow his or her own will or God's will. Moses’ use of the word “might” here expressed that idea. Again, in verse three, Moses said they “should listen and be careful to do it.” The Israelites were to enact God’s commandments and statutes. The Hebrew word for “listen” is shame and means to hear, listen to, and obey. The Hebrew word used as “do” in verse three is shamar, which we encountered in earlier chapters and means to hear, heed, and do. In the Hebrew language and culture, one cannot hear and disregard what the speaker says; obedience is required. Notice in verse three, Moses used the word “should.” That means God gave a condition within this sentence. If the Israelites listened and did what Moses taught them from Yahweh, then God would take care of them and they would “multiply greatly just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised in a land flowing with milk and honey.” These three verses then set the basis for what Moses taught them in the next twenty-two verses. Hearing and doing God’s commands grows love and reverence for God in them.

            Verse four is the thematic statement and basis of this chapter. It says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” The Hebrews/Jews use this statement in their prayers morning and night. It forms the foundation of the Shema, which includes Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13.This statement is the pivotal statement for Hebrews and Christians. In a world where people worshipped a myriad of gods, this statement of faith proclaims the LORD of the Hebrews is one God, not many. It stresses the unique oneness of God and is a call to sole allegiance to Him. Their response to His singleness and uniqueness was to be absolute love toward Him. When Moses used the word “hear,” he commanded them to listen, understand, and obey. “Hear” is a call to obedience, the first way to show their love of God. Earlier I said this statement was pivotal for the Jews. Throughout the Bible, the people of God repeated the faith proclamation, “The LORD is one!” Deuteronomy 4:35 & 39, John 10:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4 and Ephesians 4:6 each proclaim Yahweh is God and He is one. They say Yahweh is single without inconsistency. God makes known Himself and His will. People cannot escape noticing Him since He created everything that is, sustains it, and promises eternal life to those who follow Him through Jesus Christ. Yahweh deserves undivided attention. He alone is worthy of complete devotion, love, reverence, and obedience. He is one.

            From his thematic statement, Moses fleshed out how we love and reverence the LORD. What he said in verse five, Jesus expanded in His Sermon on the Mount. Moses taught the Israelites, “You shall love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Remember the word “shall” is a future tense strong assertion, command, or intention that God expected to happen. God expected the Hebrews to love Him with their whole being. The love spoken of in this verse is ahab, a love of one human for another and for God. This kind of love is the most a human can give to God, which He requires. The people of the time considered the heart as the seat of the person – their emotions, passions, reasoning, and being. The soul is the inner person and their might is the strength of their body. When Christ added love God with all a person’s mind during His Sermon on the Mount, He addressed a person’s attitudes. If a person does the right actions and looks like he or she is obeying, but still does not have love for God, then the person is not in a relationship with God. Hence, Jesus said, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). The Deuteronomic passage assumes obedience comes from love of God. Obedience is the most direct expression of love for God. Love is not primarily an emotion, but is devotion and obedience to God. Love is the most common response to God in the Bible. God expected Israel to have this love for Him. This love encompasses the whole life – heart, soul, and strength. This is total, absolute devotion and comes with fear, reverence, and worship. People must express this love with loyalty, service, and obedience to the demands of God’s law. Jesus expressed this sentiment in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments.” Deuteronomy 10:12 expresses the expectation of this love for God, too.

            Moses taught that the Israelites were to love and worship only God and that the expression of this love was obedience. In verses six through nine, he gave practical ways to show love to God. These actions were to be part of their being, days, and ways – inside you, on you, on your home, and imparted to their families. In verse six, Moses commanded the Israelites that the words he taught that day “shall be” on their hearts – their soul, mind, will, and heart. When a person understands God’s expectations, then he or she can obey Him. Moses wanted the Israelites to understand God’s expectations exactly. God’s will and ways were not to be an afterthought, but the primary way the Israelites lived. In verses seven through nine, Moses commanded, “You shall teach, bind, and write them.” God expected them to live with the laws in their hearts, on their persons, and on their gates, and to teach them to the next generations. He expected the Laws to be part of their everyday lives. Moses commanded them, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (vs. 7). At every point of their lives with their families, the Israelites were to teach God’s commands and laws. We do that now, do we not? When we eat a meal, we teach our children to thank God for providing the meal. When we wake in the morning, we teach the children to thank God for another day and to make them obedient to His will and His promptings that day. At bedtime in the evening, we teach the children to thank God for keeping them safe during the day, for giving them food and other necessities, and to help other people. We talk with children about God’s ways as we walk through the day, too. Moses commanded the Hebrew people to do this with their children. Would they not want the children to know who did great things for them, who provided salvation for them, and who chose them to be His people? Of course, they would want to share such wondrous and great things. We all would want to share that good news.

            In verse eight, Moses commanded, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” By doing this, they had a visible reminder to think about God and follow His ways. The “sign” Moses spoke of was a distinguishing mark of remembrance for the Jews. Whether a person believes the binding/frontlet should be literal, as the Jews do with their band on their heads and arms, or figurative, keeping God foremost in your mind, the end should be the same. These actions are the same unless the Israelites wore the phylacteries just for show, as the Pharisees did. God is to be most important and foremost in peoples’ minds and hearts throughout each day. Moses added in verse nine, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” They were to do this to remind themselves as they entered and exited their homes of the importance of God and His laws. Literally doing this would remind a person of God every time he or she entered or left their home. God and His commands are to be foremost on their minds.

            Moses taught when they loved the LORD their God with all their being, they would possess the land that God promised to their fathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God was about to give the Israelites the Promised Land which He promised to their fathers. To possess it, they had to continue in their covenant with their Yahweh God. Their covenant with Yahweh was from Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. God blessed them by fulfilling His promised to their ancestors. Moses stated this in verses ten and eleven,

Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied… [NASB]

God is faithful to His promises and His covenants. Giving this generation of Israelites the Promised Land shows that. In verse twelve, though, Moses issued a warning, a conditional statement. He said, “Then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The word “watch” is the same word Moses used often, shamar, which means to keep, guard, observe, and obey. “Remember to do these things,” Moses said to the Israelites. He used another command in this conditional statement. Moses said, “Do not forget the LORD.” The word “forget” comes from the Hebrew word shakach, which means ignore, cease to care about, or forget. “Do not ignore and cease to care about the LORD. Remember, the LORD brought you out of slavery and gave you salvation,” Moses said. Faithfulness to God requires remembering the LORD brought them out of Egyptian slavery. God gave them salvation from Egypt. Faithfulness for us requires remembering the LORD brought us out of slavery to Satan and our own willfulness. God offers salvation from sin today through His Son, Jesus Christ. We must focus on the source of the blessing more than the blessing. The Israelites did not earn their possessions independent from God and neither do we. The ability to work is God-given. Only God gives salvation. Nothing we do can earn that. Only God gives blessings. We thank God by loving Him and acknowledging Him as the source of every thing we enjoy through praise and thanksgiving. We must set aside time every day to bring our sacrifice of praise and thanks to God.

            When a person loves the LORD, the natural response to that love is reverence, fear, and awe. The time set aside each day to bring sacrifices of praise and thanks to God is worship. By doing this, our reverence of God shows and we put God at the center of our lives. Obedience is the expression of love for God. Worship is also an expression of love for Him and a statement about our own smallness. Moses understood fear, reverence, and awe. He stood before God at the burning bush and on Mount Sinai. He recognized his own unworthiness. God recognized Moses’ servant heart and humility. He called Moses to serve Him and lead His chosen people to the Promised Land. Moses commanded the Israelites, “You shall fear only the LORD your God and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (vs. 13). Moses repeated this command in Deuteronomy 13:4 and Jesus, during His forty days in the wilderness, confronted Satan with this when he tempted Him (Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8). How does a person fear the LORD? Moses gave four ways in verses fourteen through eighteen with conditions in verses fifteen and eighteen for judgment for failure should the commands not be followed. Moses repeated the first commandment, the one upon which the other nine rest. He said, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (vs. 14). The word “follow” in Hebrew is halak, which means depart with or walk about with. The Israelites would be tempted to absorb the gods of the lands that they were about to take since it appeared those gods made the lands rich. God ensured they remembered His first and primary command. As incentive, as parents do with their children, Moses said, “…for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God, otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you and He will wipe you off the face of the earth” (vs. 15). The word “jealous” repeats four other times in the Old Testament, in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and always in relation to God. The word qanna, jealous, is the precursor for the word “zealous” later in the Bible. When qanna reflects God’s actions, it means the Lord will actively protect His possession - His people - because He is that jealous they remain His people. Moses stated if they did not continue to worship God, He would destroy them “off the face of the earth.” This may appear like God was irrational, but we need to remember His covenant with the Hebrews, to which they agreed, stipulated this. Yahweh’s will and presence were essential to the covenant. Moses reminded the Hebrews of this covenant their parents made with God and which they affirmed themselves in chapter five. Worship only God. God demands exclusive allegiance, absolute love.

            Moses stated a second way, in the negative manner that the Hebrews were to worship and fear God. Moses taught, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah” (vs. 16). First, you must remember what happened at Massah. Read Exodus 7. At Mount Sinai/Horeb, the Israelites quarreled with God seeking proof of His power and faithfulness. They quarreled with God about bringing them into the desert just to let them thirst and starve. The word “test” in Hebrew means to test, prove, or tempt. The name Massah means quarrel. People who fear the LORD do not ask for proofs. They live from what He provides. Moses exhorted the Hebrews to obey the commandments.

            The third way Moses said the Israelites were to worship and fear God is in verse seventeen. Moses said, “You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you.” Notice this command comes with a condition. The other side of the condition is in verse eighteen, which ties in with verse seventeen. Before we go there, though, let us understand verse seventeen better. The statement is conditional and Moses used the word “keep” (shamar), meaning to listen to and heed. The Israelites were to hear and obey the commandments, testimonies, and statutes of God. The Hebrew word for commandments is mitzvah, with which we may be familiar from the Jewish rite of passage bar mitzvah. The mitvah is God’s code of wisdom, the commandments of God to do something with a moral imperative. The word “testimonies” is edah. Edah are testimonies from God’s congregation about God. “Statutes” is choq, which means something prescribed as a task, limit, boundary, or law. Each of these, commandments, testimonies, and statutes, teach about God, His power, and His greatness. Moses told the Israelites to hear and obey these as a way to worship, reverence, and fear the LORD.

            As stated earlier, verse eighteen is a continuation of verse seventeen. Moses said, “You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers.” Doing what is right and good in the sight of the LORD requires following His commandments, testimonies, statutes, laws, and judgments. Moses stated each of these earlier in this chapter. God attached these requirements to a condition, which makes this a covenant. A covenant is a pledge for two or more parties to enact the terms of the agreement mutually. In verse eighteen it may appear God required these Israelites to be bound to the covenant promise He required of Abraham before He gave them the Promised Land. That is not so. Israel received her land from God per His promise to Abraham. God’s grace (unearned favor) gave them the land. The Israelites did nothing to earn it. Notice Moses used the word “possess” attached by a conjunction to the receipt of the Promised Land. The Israelites would possess the land by obedience to God’s covenant requirements. The word “possess” is yarash in Hebrew and means to inherit. The Israelites occupied the land, but they would only inherit it from one generation to the next by choosing God as their one sole God. This came from their own covenant with God from Mount Sinai. When they obey the Ten Commandments, and love and fear God, they worship and follow Him alone. This faith in God is what saves them and allows them to possess the land. They were inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham, but to remain God’s people, they must abide by their covenant with God by following the Ten Commandments and God’s statutes and judgments.

            As an expansion on the command in verse seven and a result of being in a covenant relationship with God so that His love overflows to their families, God commanded the Israelites through Moses to teach their children, as Moses stated in verses twenty through twenty-five. The Israelites were to teach their children about God’s testimonies, statutes, and judgments, which He commanded them to do (vs. 20). They were to teach their children about the LORD so they did not forget Him or His commandments. Added to this, the Israelites were to teach them of their salvation history with the LORD - how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, showed great signs and wonders, and how He brought them out to give them the land He promised to their fathers (vs. 21-23). They were to make sure to tell the stories so the next generations would benefit from the witness of those who had been there to see God’s mighty acts and experience firsthand His salvation. The Israelites were to attest to God’s continual presence and activity in their lives. They were to tell their descendents about God’s faithfulness to His promise with their fathers. God did not neglect them because He is faithful. Today we still have reliable witnesses to God’s greatest act of salvation – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – through the written witness of His disciples in the New Testament.

Because God is faithful, gracious, loving, and worthy of worship, the Hebrews followed these statutes as God commanded. Moses said in verse twenty-four, “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.” The Hebrew word for “observe” is asah, which means to obey. So, the Israelites were to obey and revere the LORD God. Moses reiterated the intent of the whole chapter in these words. Notice this verse comes with a condition should the Israelites not obey and fear the LORD. The purpose of the statutes was to help and to give commandments and limits of actions. The statutes were to teach the Israelites fear, reverence, and worship of God for their good always to provide for their preservation through the years. The Israelites were only righteous when they were obeying the requirements of the covenant they had with the LORD. Their obedience brought them into God’s presence to love and worship Him.

Verse twenty-five brings Moses’ conclusion of this sermon within a sermon. He said, “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.” A connection between obedience and righteousness exists. Obedience and fear are complimentary terms. People obey what they stand in awe of and respect. People obey God because of their love and fear/reverence of Him.

What does this mean for us today? As we obey the Law, we are led to Christ as the means for our justification (Galatians 3:19-24). Our justification, being made just, does not come from anything we do or have. Hence, works are not the basis of righteousness. Righteousness, rightness with God, only comes through faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God whose death took the penalty for the sins of every person. Our obedience to God is the way we express love for God and faith in Him. Works and rituals, even religious rituals, cannot make us righteous. However, they can be a central part of the faith life of a disciple of Christ, one who already believes in and follows Christ. If any one of us is not sure of his or her salvation, he or she can look at the foundation for salvation. Only God’s payment is sufficient to pay the full penalty for our sins, our willful walking away from God and His will and ways. Nothing a person does, can do, or has is enough to pay the death penalty for his or her sins. God is the Creator of the world. He is the one who provided the commandments for harmonious and peaceful interrelations among people and between themselves and Himself. So, for the judgment for sinning against God’s commands, He is the only one who can give the proper and sufficient offering to take the death penalty for sin. God’s provision for the death penalty was the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, who broke the power of death Satan held. Jesus gave victory over death for everone who trusts in and relies upon Him as their Savior. All anyone needs to receive salvation is faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son. No one needs to die eternally anymore because God’s grace and mercy gave redemption for everyone from the penalty of death they deserve due to their sin. Each person who believes in Jesus Christ can be in heaven with Him forevermore.

Three questions arise now –

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Do you need to accept the LORD’s gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ?

Do you need to remember and renew your covenant to the LORD?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fresh Commitment to God - Deuteronomy 4:44-5:33

Fresh Commitment to God

Deuteronomy 4:44-5:33

            Our lesson today begins the study of Moses’ second speech/sermon to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan River. Remember Deuteronomy is a book of revival, of calling people back to faithful relationship with and service to God. Remember, too, Moses gave three speeches to the Israelites before they took the Promised Land God gave them. This second speech focuses on the basics of covenant life. Covenant in Hebrew is the word berith and is a contract or agreement between two parties. The literal meaning of the word “covenant” is “to cut.” When two parties made a covenant in Old Testament times, they cut an animal in half and the two parties walked between the pieces. Sometimes the parties called Jehovah to witness the transaction such as in Genesis 31:50. For those instances, the covenant was called a “covenant of the Lord” (1 Samuel 20:8). People used the word berith referencing God’s revelation of Himself with a promise or favor such as the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants and now the Mosaic covenant. Today’s lesson reminds the hearers and readers of Deuteronomy of God’s covenant to the Israelites on Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. These commandments are the building blocks for harmonious and peaceful life among people in a new nation and in relationship with God. They give a framework for moral life full of peace and joy.

            Moses, by this time, knew well how to be an effective speak to the Israelites. From Deuteronomy 4:44-49, Moses reminded the Israelites of their forty-year history with God since they left Egypt. Moses built his speech to the point of reminding them of the laws, statutes, and decrees of God, the one with whom the Israelites had a covenant since Mount Sinai, even since God’s promise to Abraham.

            From chapter five, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments and called the Israelites to remember them and renew their covenant with God. In verse 1, Moses’ summoning of them and saying, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully,” shows the corporate nature of the covenant. Moses did not say, “Hear elders and priests.” He did not give the Laws to the elders for them to pass to the people. Moses spoke to the Israelites and commanded them. In this passage, we must recognize the difference between the words “learn” and “observe.” Moses used both words. “Learn” involves your head to acquire knowledge. It is a mental assent. “Observe” requires putting into action what a person learned. These two aspects, learning and observing, are the two parts of the word shamar, “keep,” Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 4:2. This reminds me of the story of the two servants in Matthew 24:45-51 and Luke 12:41-46. When asked by the master to do a task, one servant said he would do it, but then did not. The other servant said he would not do the task, but then did it. Which one was faithful to the master? The one who gave physical action to what the master required. The first servant gave just lip service and mental assent.

            In verse two, Moses reminded the Israelites this covenant with God was not new, but made by God with them forty years before at Mount Sinai. He reminded them of it and recalled them to faithful service to God through the Ten Commandments. God’s covenants come through His grace. He does not need what humankind can offer, but because of His grace, His unmerited love, He created a covenant with them. To be in a covenant with God was/is a blessing for the Israelites of the Old Testament and Christians. Remember God created humankind to be in a relationship with Him. From Genesis through the New Testament, He made this known. Consider Paul’s writing in Ephesians 1:3-4 where he said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love. [NASB]

God’s covenant with the Israelites showed He had expectations of them. They pleased God when they lived faithfully according to the covenant He gave them at Mount Sinai. Living in a covenant relationship applies to people now because Jesus Christ completed the Mosaic covenant and brought in a new and final covenant with His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Humankind can enjoy life when each person is faithful to the covenant with God, following His Laws, statutes, and decrees. God knows how life should be lived. He created life. God wants us to have life abundant (John 10:10). For the Israelites of that time, keeping (the same word from Deuteronomy 4:2, shamar) - guarding, preserving, observing, giving heed, and retaining - His laws guaranteed each person would live in covenant with Him. Believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior guarantees eternal life with God in heaven. Keeping His laws now shows our love for Him and leads to harmonious and peaceful living with joy.

            In verse three, Moses reiterated that God “did not make this covenant with their fathers,” but with those who lived at that time, “those alive today.” God made a covenant with the living. The covenant is an ongoing and vital covenant, not a memory, but current and relevant, not obsolete, for the people alive then. People of any age can say God made this covenant with them because every person can relate to it. The trends and opinions of the day must be weighed against the truths of the Bible, God’s Word. Because God created the whole world, people included, His insights are exactly right and timeless. People of every generation should seek to understand and follow God’s laws.

            From verses four through six, Moses reminded the Israelites of meeting Yahweh God on the mountain. He reminded them of their fear to climb the mountain and be in the presence of God. (God commented on this in verse twenty-nine.) Moses recalled to the Israelites that Yahweh God said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God reminded them at Sinai about His greatness and might and His history with them. Moses made the point to the Israelites God was still great and mighty. Next, God gave the Israelites commands, the Ten Commandments, in order of importance – God first, family, neighbors.

            Verses seven through twenty-one contain these commandments. The first four commandments concern a person’s relationship with God – there shall be no other gods; no idols were to be made; the Lord’s name shall not be used in vain; and keep the Sabbath day holy. What is the significance of these in this day when businesses are open on Sundays, people around the world make and worship idols, people’s swearing is commonplace, and people consider God insignificant? Why is the first commandment of having no other gods before and besides Yahweh God important enough for God to command it? For that time, God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites. The people who inhabited the land before the Israelites worshipped many manmade gods. God reminded the Israelites that He alone is God and worthy to be worshipped by them. He is the only God, not one of many. God is real and demands complete loyalty. The first covenant is most important because when God’s authority as the only God is recognized then it makes the other nine commands more understandable and reasonable. From then to now, every person must decide who or what will guide his or her life. Some people choose Yahweh, others work, money, education, and/or themselves. God is the only God who created everything that is. He alone can bless and fulfill a life because He is the author of life. Commitment to God is the only way to live in covenant with Him.

            The second commandment mandates no idol or likeness be made of what is in heaven, on earth, or under the earth. In addition, idols shall not be worshipped or served because God is a jealous God. He casts His judgment on the person and their children up to the third and fourth generations. God revealed here the opposite side of judgment, too. He will show loving-kindness to thousands who love Him and keep His commandments. The word jealous is qanna in Hebrew. Old Testament Hebrew writers used this term just five times in the Bible to refer to God (Exodus 20:5 & 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9, & 6:15). From this word “jealous” comes the word “zealous,” which means an intense burning fire or fervor for something or someone. This especially represented God’s possession of His people Israel. It means God is intensely zealous about protecting His people. God was zealous to protect the Israelites from the influences of the nations He was giving them as the Promised Land. No manmade idol adequately represents who God is since He is not created, but the idols are made of things He created. This commandment set the Hebrew faith apart from every other religion, which had physical representations of their gods and goddesses. God said the Israelites and His later children were to worship Him, the Creator, not the created. Creation points to God and must not be worshipped.

            The third commandment stated that God’s name shall not be taken in “vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” “Vain” comes from the Hebrew word shav, which means emptiness, falsehood, worthlessness, and without purpose. The word “unpunished” can mean guiltless. The commandment can be restated this way – “You shall not use the Lord’s name as if it has no value. God will not hold the person guiltless who uses His name to make it unworthy or for falsehood.” God revealed His name to Moses as a sign of the special relationship He had with Israel. His name should not be used in disrespectful way. We are not to consider God’s name as worthless or use it in empty ways, such as swearing. Note: God moved from physical actions towards Him to verbal actions with this commandment. In all our ways – action, speaking, and thinking – we are to show signs that we are followers of God. The Shema speaks to this in Deuteronomy 6:5 when it says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Jesus included it as the great commandment and added another dimension of a person, the soul. Jesus said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37).

            The final commandment related to a person’s relationship with God is the fourth commandment. God said, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy as the Lord your God commanded you” (vs. 12). God gave two reasons why He commanded this in verses fourteen and fifteen – so you may rest and so you can remember and worship God. Over the centuries a question emerged of which day is the Sabbath day. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath coincided with the Day of Atonement, the day they went to the temple, which for the Jews was a Saturday. Because of this, the Sabbath meant Saturday. No direct command in the Bible changed the Sabbath day observance to Sunday. Some Christians insist on observing the Sabbath on Saturday still. The New Testament gives six reasons why most Christians keep the Sabbath on Sunday. God raised Jesus on the first day of the week, Sunday. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, fifty days after the Sabbath of Passover week, which was the first day of the week, Sunday (Acts 2:1). Sunday was the day of worship and observance of the Lord’s Supper for the Troas church (Acts 20:7). Paul instructed the Corinthian Christians to bring their offerings on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). John received a vision from God “on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). Christians began to gather for worship on Sundays after Jesus’ ministry on earth. Whether we agree or not on which day is the Sabbath, the main point is why worshippers gather – to keep the day holy. That means to set it apart and keep it consecrated for God. We set it apart for Bible study and worship of Him and it gives us a day of rest from our labors.

            The remaining six commandments relate to relationships between people. The first one, commandment five, sets the stage for the other five commandments. God said in verse sixteen, “Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.” A couple of definitions are necessary first. “Honor” means to respect and fulfill an obligation or keep an agreement. Honor is an inner disposition with an outward action. The phrase “go well” in this verse means good, pleasing, glad, and joyful. This commandment is the primary level for every relationship. When a child learns to respect his or her parents, he or she learns to respect other people, too. In the Jewish Torah, God requires parents to teach their children of Yahweh in their waking, laying down, walking, and sitting (Deuteronomy 4:9-10, 6:7, 11:19) In Proverbs 22:6, the writer said to “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not soon depart from it. The parent’s primary duty is to teach their children to live in a covenant relationship with God. The first step for the child is to learn to honor his or her parents. Children show their respect for their parents by obeying them during their formative years and by taking care of their aging parents in their adult years.

            The sixth commandment begins the commands that deal with a person’s relationship with other people. God said, “You shall not murder” (vs. 17). This part of the covenant speaks of valuing life, denoting the sanctity of human life. We should cherish life as God does. In the creation story, the pinnacle of creation was God’s creation of human life. When He created human life, He said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus, in Matthew 5:21-22, added to this commandment anger and hatred as sources of murder. This verse commands people not to steal human life.

            In the seventh commandment (vs. 18), God said, “You shall not commit adultery.” This part of the covenant with God concerns the value of marriage. Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God. The Hebrew word for adultery is nawaf, which means idolatrous worship of another person’s body. This type of worship can occur, Jesus said, just by looking at and lusting for another person’s body. By lusting, the person commits adultery (Matthew 5:28). Adultery begins with lust and leads to selfishly using another person. Because God instituted marriage, He values marriage and created this most important human-to-human covenant. Not following this commandment means a person is stealing another person’s covenanted and sacred marriage vows and rights by taking their spouse.

            The eighth command mandated by God for His children says, “You shall not steal” (vs. 19). Stealing is a violation of another person’s property as adultery is a violation of another person’s spouse. Stealing shows the person’s dissatisfaction with life and his or her belief that having more will make him or her happy. This can steal a person’s contentment and happiness as well as ruin his or her life. The person puts a greater value on things than on relationships with God and people.

            God mandated in the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (vs. 20). “False witness” is lying about a person. The person’s public reputation is harmed. To live peacefully in the world, society needs to know each member is honest, has integrity. Giving false witness about someone is stealing the person’s reputation. We must tell the truth in every situation.

            With the tenth commandment, God moved from actions to attitudes, which Jesus focused on during His ministry. In verse twenty-one, God commanded, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” This command addresses people’s desires. Jesus addressed desires in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. When people are in a right relationship with God, they have a meaningful and fulfilling life. God gives His children everything needed and He promises not to leave or forsake them. Desiring things creates barriers to worshipping God alone. Things become our idols.

            The final twelve verses of Deuteronomy 5 tell of Moses interceding for the Israelites and God’s response to the Israelites. In verse twenty-two, God spoke to the Israelites from the fire, cloud, and thick gloom with a great voice. The Israelites recognized God’s greatness and glory and feared Him. They recognized that they should not be in the presence of God. The Israelites said, “Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, then we will die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived” (vs. 25-26)? They recognized God’s magnificence and were in awe and fear of Him because they recognized their own sinfulness. The Israelites did not want to die so chose Moses to represent them before God. The earlier generation of Israelites from the exodus heard God’s condemnation when they refused to enter the Promised Land and they died. This generation of Israelites recognized God and feared Him. The realized their littleness and sinfulness. In humility, the Israelites chose not to see God’s face. They recognized God’s chosen leader, Moses, asking him to be their intermediary with God.

            God applauded the Israelites. He spoke of their future rebellion against Him. In verse twenty-eight, the people pleased God with their understanding of whom He is and their awe and worship of Him. Moses said, “The LORD said to me, 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. The Lord also knew they would rebel’.” God said in verse twenty-nine, “Oh that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” God mourned because of what He knew the Israelites would do in their future. They would not keep His covenant and commandments. The Israelites would turn away from God.

            God commanded Moses to tell the Israelites to return to their tents as they desired and as is fitting in recognizing God’s greatness and sacredness (vs. 30). He said, though, Moses must stand before Him and learn His statutes and judgments. God gave Moses the task of teaching His statutes and judgments to the Israelites so they can “observe” them and “walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land, which you will possess” (vs. 33). The Israelites and everyone who is in a covenant relationship with God are to observe the commandments and walk in the way of the Lord. God gave this dual command, "observe" and "walk in the way of the Lord." It leads us back to the word shamar, keep, from chapter four. God’s command is for the whole person – head, heart, hands, and mouth.

            This study is the just the beginning of Moses’ second speech. He continued this sermon through chapter twenty-nine verse one. Since the whole of Deuteronomy is about remembering God and renewing a commitment to Him, Moses’ teaching on God’s commandments draws our attention back to our relationship with God, with our family, and with other people. The question we should pose ourselves is when did we last renew our commitment to God to obey His commandments, statutes, and judgments? The judges and prophets of the Old Testament cried out to the Israelites over their history to return to God. Sometimes they returned and other times they did not. We may question how the Israelites could turn their backs on God when God was obviously there with them. Yet we need to look back at our history and consider this same thing. Remember your past when you felt God in your life - His strength and provision clear. Now, look at your current relationship with Christ. Are you as close to God now as you were at the time you remembered? We each slip and wander away from God. God knew that would happen when He gave us the gift of free will. God knew the Israelites hearts and knows our hearts. In giving humankind free will, He knew we would turn our backs on Him and walk our own ways. That is why He prepared a way for us to return to Him when He created the universe. God’s love is so deep, that He prepared a way for us to return to Him from before the time of creation. He prepared the way through the human birth of His divine Son, Jesus Christ, and through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. By His death, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. No more sin sacrifices are required.

God sent prophets to call the wandering Israelites back to Him and tell them He made a way for them to return to Him. Isaiah said in chapter forty,

Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’ [NASB]

Zechariah, Malachi, Jeremiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (in his gospel and in Revelation) called the people of their time and continue to call us today to return to God. God’s commands are relevant today. They are not obsolete. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Mosaic covenant. We no longer need sin sacrifices to remove our sins so we can be in the presence of God if we are Christians. Jesus’ sacrifice was the one sufficient sacrifice for everyone who believes in Him.

            How long has it been since you renewed your commitment to God? Have you accepted God’s gift of love and mercy? Have you accepted His sacrifice for the penalty of your sins? God knew when He gave us the gift of free will we would walk away from Him. God prepared a way for us to return to Him before He created the world. That shows how much God loves you and me. Will you return to Him, accept His love and forgiveness, and walk with Him? This is a renewed commitment to God. If you are not already a Christian, will you accept God’s love gift through Jesus Christ?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Omnipotent, Covenant, One True God - Deuteronomy 4:1-43

          When we finish our reading of Deuteronomy 3, we find the Israelites encamped in the valley of Beth-Peor below Mount Nebo, where Moses overlooked the Promised Land. With the beginning of chapter four, we read God’s commands through Moses to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. This chapter leads us to ask two questions – 1) Why did Moses remind the Israelites of who God is and what He did in their earlier years with Him? 2) Why did he remind them of the laws and judgments of God?

            Moses began with an injunction to Israel. He told them to listen to the statues and judgments that he taught them so they may live, go in, and take possession of the Promised Land (vs. 1). Moses told the Israelites God’s statues must have nothing added to it or taken away from it so they could keep the commandments of God (vs. 2). Why were these injunctions so important that Moses began his speech with them? First, we must remember from chapters two and three what God did to the Amorites, the people who did not follow Him. God annihilated the Amorites. Why? The Amorites chose not to worship the one true God, but instead bowed in worship to their manmade gods and idols. God did not want the Israelites tricked or seduced into worshipping the god of the Amorites, Baal-peor. God gave a three-fold promise to the Israelites for performing the statutes (choq – laws and decrees) and judgments. They would live, go in, and take possession of the land God showed them. The Israelites saw firsthand how God dealt with pagan worshippers. He annihilated them. The Israelites wanted to live, so they chose to follow God’s statutes and judgments. The Israelites wanted to enter the Promised Land, too, but not as just residents. They wanted to claim as a possession the land God promised to their ancestor Abraham. So since they wanted to live, go in, and posses the land, God required they obey His statutes and judgments. The other injunction Moses gave the Israelites was they were not to add to the word God commanded nor take away from it. This command continues to today. We are not to add to or take away from God’s Word. Do we believe this or do we misinterpret God’s Word in a way that is usable and agreeable to secular twenty-first century people?

            Moses reminded them what happened to the people who followed Baal-peor, which means “lord of the gap” in Hebrew. The people of Beth Peor followed this god. Moses recalled to the Israelites that God destroyed the Amorites. He added, in verse four, “But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.” Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s power in their recent history. How often do we need to recall how God acted within our lives so we can be encouraged, comforted, or strengthened?

            Moses declared to them that he taught the statues and judgments of the Lord just as God commanded him, so they could possess the land. He told them to do them (statutes and judgments) because these were for their wisdom and understanding. Moses said the people of every nation would see the Israelites live by God’s statutes and judgments and call them wise and understanding (vs. 5-6). He told them other people and nations would recognize that their Yahweh God is real, because of His nearness to them – God is close enough to them that He listens to and cares for them – and because their laws and judgments are righteous. Moses taught the Israelites the Ten Commandments and everything God told him. The Hebrew word used for “law” in verse eight is towrah, which means instruction or teachings. This is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Old Testament, Torah, what we call the Pentateuch. Yahweh God is righteous. He gave righteous laws and judgments. God’s character provides the definition of the word “righteous.” Because God is righteous, He is just, the other side of the coin. His justness requires justice and judgment rendered on people rebelling against His statues and decrees. God’s righteous laws and judgments contain more wisdom than any nation’s laws and judgments because He instituted them. How often do people watch true believers in Jesus Christ and acknowledge they are wise and must follow a wise God? How often does this make the watching person seek Yahweh God? I can think of two people in the Bible who turned to God because of a life testimony of Him – Rahab and Ruth. Both these women observed the power and wisdom of God in the lives of the Israelites and they observed their God, Yahweh, was the one true God. Do people watch us as we live and see us following God’s righteous laws? Do they then wonder about our God?

            From verses nine to twenty, Moses recalled to the Israelites what God did for them, as the seed of Abraham. He began with four commands – 1) Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently; 2) Do not forget the things which your eyes have seen; 3) Do not let what you have seen depart from your heart; and 4) Make these actions of God known to your children and grandchildren (vs. 9). Let us look at the first command. The English word “keep” in this verse comes from the Hebrew word shamar, which means to guard, preserve, observe, and give heed. This means a person should not just remember a law or actions of God, but he or she should cherish and guard it while acting upon it. Shamar is an active verb. It requires more than head knowledge. Shamar requires interaction with your whole being – mind, heart, and strength. In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses taught the Israelites to “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” In Deuteronomy 6:7, Moses told them to teach God’s statutes and judgments diligently to their children and talk of them when they sit in their houses, walk, lie asleep, and arise. Shamar or “keep” began this teaching to the Israelites. The Israelites were to guard the statutes and judgments of God to make sure other teachings did not corrupt them. They were to enact them as a way of life because they were the people of God, in a covenant relationship with Him. Moses taught them this command about keeping their souls diligently and explained how to do it. Shamar keeping, then, meant not forgetting the laws (mind), not allowing them to depart from their hearts, and teaching them to their descendents. God wanted the Israelites to remember everything they observed, what Moses taught, and pass them to their descendents. The Lord called them to listen to His words, fear (reverence and awe) Him all their lives, and teach His words to their children (vs. 10). How often do we today guard, cherish, and act upon God’s statutes instead of being enticed away from them?

            Moses recalled for them their middle-distant history (forty years before) with Yahweh God – God’s speaking to them from the fire on Mt. Horeb/Mt. Sinai. Moses reminded them that they viewed no form of God in the fire. The Israelites witnessed no image, but they heard a voice. They heard “the sound of words, but observed no form,” according to verses eleven and twelve. The voice on Mt. Horeb from the heavens declared God’s covenant, which He commanded them to do (13). Covenant is bariyth in Hebrew and means pledge, alliance, and agreement. The part of the covenant that required their participation was following and enacting the Ten Commandments. God’s side of the covenant was to give the Promised Land and to take care of them. The Israelites’ side of the covenant/pledge was to worship Yahweh God and to teach and live out the statutes and judgments of God. God commanded they follow the Ten Commandments. He did not ask it, but as sovereign God, commanded it. As an addition for Moses, the Lord commanded Moses to teach His statutes and judgments to the Israelites at the same time He commanded them to follow His laws. Moses had the added command from God in the covenant to teach God’s statutes and judgments to the Israelites. Moses taught them to live the laws and judgments of God in the Promised Land. He then reiterated who they followed, not an image or idol of something on the earth, in the water, in the air, or in the heavens. The Israelites were not to act corruptly by worshipping and idol. The word “corruptly” comes from the Hebrew shachath, which means to be marred, spoiled, perverted, go to ruin, or decay. God commanded them through Moses not to corrupt or pervert their worship of Him with images made by their hands from their minds. That would lead to the decay of their worship. Moses told them not to worship or serve other gods with the images from on, above, or under earth because God allotted them to everyone under heaven. He created them for everyone. Instead, worship God the Creator because remember God came not to them from an image they saw but as a great voice overheard from the fire on the mountain. Remember, Moses said, the Lord took and “brought you from the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession” (vs. 20). Moses called Egypt the “iron furnace.” The door they opened during the famine four hundred years before to enter Egypt and get food became a heavy iron door of captivity. It became as strong as the door of hell and as hot, but God brought them out of Egypt. Moses told them to remember their long and middle distant history with God – His love, sovereignty, and power. God did not forget his promise to Abraham. He chose Abraham and his seed and brought the seed of Abraham out of their slavery in Egypt because of His promise. The Lord does not forget nor fail to fulfill His promises. Have we ever failed and forgotten God walking in our own way?

            Moses told them God’s anger at and judgment of himself was because of the Israelites (vs. 21). God swore Moses and Aaron would not enter the Promised Land in Numbers 20:12. Moses took the glory due to God when he struck his staff to a rock and produced clean water for the wandering Israelites. God told him to touch the rock. Because Moses recognized firsthand God’s judgment from his personal disobedience, he was a living example of God’s judgment before them. So Moses said, “Watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you and make for yourselves a graven image (idol) in the form of any thing against which the Lord your God has commanded you” (vs. 23). Moses told them what to do – keep, guard, and take heed the covenant of God – and do not make an idol to worship and serve. Moses made himself an example before them. He had the example God gave, too. He said, “For the Lord you God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (vs. 24). The Israelites saw the fire at the time they listened to God’s voice. They understood the connection between God and fire. They realized fire consumes that with which it comes into contact. The Bible book writers used this phrase often when referring to God in both the Old Testament and New Testament (Exodus 24:17, Deuteronomy 9:3, Isaiah 30:27 and 33:14, Hebrews 12:29). Deuteronomy 9:3 speaks of the effects of a consuming fire as subduing and destroying His enemies. So, because God is a jealous God, His consuming fire metes judgment on those who do not follow His Laws - those who rebel against Him and turn away from Him. From this then, Moses taught what judgment God promised to bring on the Israelites if they forgot His covenant. He said,

When you become the father of children and children’s children, have remained long in the land, act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. [Deuteronomy 4:25-26]

“Heaven and earth are witnesses,” Moses said, “that God and I told you not to do these things against His Laws.” Moses taught the Laws and judgments of God to the Israelites. They recognized what God promised for their disobedience. Moses repeated this judgment to the Israelites a couple times in Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy 7:4 and 8:19-20. He described what “perishing” meant in verse twenty-six. Perishing means not living long, being utterly destroyed, being scattered among all peoples by the Lord, and being “left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you” (vs. 27). The word “scatter” comes from the Hebrew word puwts, meaning disperse or spread abroad. As people of the twenty-first century, we look back in history and see God scattered the Israelites when the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom in 732 BC and the Babylonians captured the southern kingdom in 582 BC. Very few Israelites remained in the southern kingdom after their captivity began. While in captivity, the Israelites worshipped gods of their captors as demanded, gods made by human hands. Today, we are part of the dispersed believers of Jesus Christ in the world. Do we steadily and faithfully follow God each day or do we allow the world’s influence to dictate what we worship?

            From captivity of the Israelites, though, God promised they could find if they searched for Him with all their heart and soul. Even in the midst of judgment, God wanted His people to return to Him and made a way for their return. He gave them hope. God’s requiring the heart, soul, and might of His children occurs throughout history. This lesson occurs in Deuteronomy 6:5 and 10:12, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27, and Matthew 22:37. After their capture, the Israelites, prompted by their judges and prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah (29:11-14), recalled Moses’ teaching and called out to the Lord. One Chronicles 15:4 is an example. God knew His people would call to Him. He knew they would return to Him and listen to His voice (Jeremiah 23:20, Hosea 3:5, Hebrews 1:2). God made a way for them to return to Him. He still makes this same way for people to return to Him now. Have we forgotten God and gone our own ways? God wants us to call to Him and promises He will be found by us.

            Questions come to mind. Why did God listen and allow the Israelites to return to Him? Why will He listen and allow His children to return to Him? Moses told them, “For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them” (vs. 31). God’s covenant relationship with the Israelites and His later children does not end. Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfilled the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant. It created a new covenant, too, the Messianic covenant, which will never end. God’s character never changes and did not change with the new covenant through Jesus Christ. As Moses said, “God is a compassionate God.” Moses described this compassion of God. He said God does not fail His people. God’s compassion repeats throughout the Bible in Deuteronomy 31:6 and 8, Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20, and Hebrew 13:5. Moses added that God’s compassion means He will not destroy His people, those who choose to follow Him. Jeremiah added that God would destroy the nations where the Israelites were scattered, but He would not destroy them completely. Added to this, God does not forget His covenant with His people (Leviticus 26:45). Have we experienced God’s compassion? Have we walked away from Him and need to turn toward Him? God keeps His covenant with us.

            Moses wanted the Israelites to remember God, His person and His actions, from the past and recognize His power. In verse thirty-two, Moses reminded them God created man on earth. No one and nothing has ever done things like these. God was there in the distant past, at creation – Remember. Moses reminded them God spoke to the Israelites from the fire, they heeded it, and they survived. God was there in their recent past, at the creation of the Ten Commandments – Remember. Moses reminded them God took a people from within a nation and made them a nation for Himself with signs, wonders, and great terrors. God was in their middle distant past, at their exodus – Remember. This God is the One true God, the One who created, spoke from a consuming fire, and took them from captivity within a nation by great wonders. He alone is worthy of worship. God chose the Israelites to show His might as the One true God; there is no other (vs. 35). He let them hear His voice. God let them see His great fire and hear His words from the midst of the fire (vs. 36). He let them because He wanted them to realize Yahweh God in the only true God. No other god exists. God showed Himself to them.

 Why did God speak to them and show them His fire? Moses explained,

Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendents after them. He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. (Emphasis is mine. [Deut. 4:37-38])

God wanted them to experience life fully, the way He intended when He created it. He showed them how to do that through His Ten Commandments and judgments. God does not intend the Ten Commandments unduly to constrict human experience, but to bring human experience back into right focus – relationship with and love for God and other humans. To acquire the Promised Land, the Israelites defeated greater and mightier nations. God empowered them to defeat and take the land. Israel had no military advantage. Their military men died in the earlier generation except Joshua and Caleb. God gave them the victory. The peoples’ faith in God’s power and purposes was the key to the victory. Moses ensured they recognized that. When last did we give God the glory for an outcome in our lives? Or, did we take the glory for ourselves?

            Near the end of this teaching, Moses commanded them to “know therefore today, and take it to your heart that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other” (vs. 39). This is the key verse to which Moses aimed when he began his speech to the Israelites. Let us look at this verse closer. The word “know” in Hebrew is yada’, which means to recognize, acknowledge, confess, and act upon this knowledge with your life. It involves your whole being – mind, heart, soul, and strength. If you know something, but do not act on it, you are not a true believer and disciple of that teaching or person. To be a believer and disciple requires enacting the teaching whether the teacher is from a university, is a religious leader, or are your parents. “God is the One true God,” Moses said. To be a true follower of Yahweh, one of His people, the commands/laws and judgments must be evident in the life of the person who claims to be a follower. Yada’/know means just that. In case the Israelites and later believers did not understand, Moses stated later, “Take it to your heart.” Followers, children/people of God, follow these truths with their whole selves. Added to this, Moses explicitly stated the truth, “The Lord, He is God in heaven and on earth; there is no other.” Joshua 2:11 said, “God is sovereign over all creation.” He was not and is not one of many gods. He is the only God. God demonstrated His existence and power in historical acts and in each of the Israelites lives. He did not come from their imaginations. Moses taught, “You shall keep His statues (laws and decrees) and His commandments which I am giving you today, that is may go well with you and with your children after you and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time” (vs. 40). God demands total allegiance because He cares for the well-being of people. Moses spoke of that concern in this passage. If God’s people know, acknowledge, and take to heart God’s teaching, then it may go well with them and their children after them. When they are faithful to God, He will bless them. Blessings cannot come when people are far from God in their hearts and lives. Are we true followers of Jesus Christ? Are we in a close daily relationship with Him?

            God chose to love the ancestor of Israel, the man Abraham. He acted to bring the people, the seed of Abraham, out of slavery. Before, God chose Abraham to be a man of God. While in Egypt, Abraham’s seed multiplied and grew to be a people of God. They were the beneficiaries of the promise God made to Abraham and God’s decision to love and call a people to Himself. He demonstrated His love and power to them and through them showed Himself to other people. God demonstrated His love and power to every people by His love and grace through Jesus Christ. God chose to create a covenant with people throughout time. He wanted to do it, but did not have to do it. God wants us to be a part of what He is doing. He wants us to follow Him and become His children. Moses taught the Israelites and teaches us to remember God, what He did in their lives and in our lives. With memories of how God led in the past, His action, we are encouraged, comforted, and strengthened to walk with Him in His purposes in our lives today.

            We come to a point in this study where we ask questions. Does God still work in the world today? Do you recall God’s power and presence in your life in the past so that you gain strengthen to walk with Him now? Sometimes God asks us to step out in faith, believe Him, and do something that makes us fearful. When we remember the past where God intervened in our lives, it gives us courage, boldness, and strength to keep walking with Him in His plans now and in the future. While we step out in God’s strength, we must remember God’s commands and judgments. These keep us from turning our backs on God and walking into trickery and deceit. Moses did this before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. He reminded them who God is and what His commandments and judgments are. God does not fail. He is always faithful. God’s plans will prevail in the long term. His judgments will occur when His people are disobedient.

Are you following the One true God?

Are you obedient to God’s commands?

Maybe you need to remember how God was active on your behalf in the past to encourage you to take the next step for Him. God honors commitments. He judges the disobedient, too. If you walk closely with Him, He will pour blessings into your life.

As Moses said, “Know today and take it to heart that the Lord He is God in heaven and earth; there is no other.”