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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.”