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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?