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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 4

 

 

Introduction

A). The Preamble and Historical Prologue to the Covenant (chapters 1-4).

As we come to the commentary itself we should perhaps summarise what lies before us. Having declared in Whose Name Moses is acting, the first four chapters act as a historical prologue to the covenant and very much deal with Israel’s history and its current consequences, and lead up to his announcing the stipulations of the covenant as a command from Yahweh.

Having introduced Yahweh as their God and Overlord (Deuteronomy 1:3; Deuteronomy 1:6), Moses goes on to point out how He had offered the land to their fathers who died in the wilderness and how they had failed Him, even though He had given them every opportunity to succeed (Deuteronomy 1:6-46), so that they were a grim warning for the future. Yahweh had commanded that they enter the land and possess it (Deuteronomy 1:6-8), He had made them a numerous people (Deuteronomy 1:9-12), He had established them as a just and well governed nation (Deuteronomy 1:13-17), and given them clear instructions on what they should do and how they should behave (Deuteronomy 1:18). They had first entered the land through their scouts, through whom they had received its firstfruits. But on seeing the spectre of the enemy in the land they had forgotten what He could do and had turned back to unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:19-40). In that unbelief they had then in desperation again entered to take possession of the land (Deuteronomy 1:43). But this had resulted in them being driven from the land (Deuteronomy 1:44) to wander in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1), for they had lost their right to the land. For the land was Yahweh’s, and only those could possess it who did so through belief in Yahweh, and who were ready to respond to His covenant.

We can thus see in this first chapter a summary of the whole message of the book. That God was offering them the land, that He was making them a numerous and just people, that if they would enter they must enter in faith and obedience, and that if they turned away in unbelief they would be driven from the land, just as their fathers had been.

This description of what their fathers had done was therefore both an invitation and a warning. An invitation to re-enter the land, again with Yahweh’s approval, and a clear warning to the new generation, a warning which will be repeated in the heart of the book, to remember that this land was Yahweh’s. It was a pure land, a holy land, a land for those who believed, a land for those who were in covenant with Yahweh. It was a land which spued out its inhabitants if they disobeyed Yahweh (Leviticus 18:27-28; Leviticus 20:22), as it had spued out their fathers.

That was why those who now possessed it, the Canaanites/Amorites, were also to be driven out of it (Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 11:23) because of their idolatry and gross sin (compare Genesis 15:16). The land was such that it could only be dwelt in by those who walked in faith and obedience. And these his listeners must also recognise that when they themselves have entered the land, if they too are found to be in unbelief, and are disobedient to the covenant, they too will be driven out and wander among the nations (Deuteronomy 4:26-28; Deuteronomy 28:64-68). Instead of being like the stars for multitude they will be few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:62). For this is Yahweh’s land, a land which can only be permanently occupied by those who are in a loving covenant with Yahweh.

The idea of ‘the land’ is important in Deuteronomy. But it was not just because it was land, valuable as that might be, it was because it was Yahweh’s land. We could have said here, ‘Moses came to them preaching the land of God, for that was why he was sent’. For this was the land where Yahweh would reign. It would be where the kingly rule of God was to be established, and where righteous rulers were to establish justice, and where everyone was to prosper. That was the dream, even if the fulfilment was a little different simply because of their refusal to obey.

So even as they go forward to receive the promises the warning from their fathers hangs over their head that they must have faith in Yahweh, and that when they enter the land that faith must continue, and that if they turn to unbelief, they too will be cast out of the land.

The consequence of the failure of their fathers was that He had allowed that generation to pass away, wandering around aimlessly, cast out of the land and dying in the wilderness, before another attempt was made (Deuteronomy 1:34-35; Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 1:46 to Deuteronomy 2:1; Deuteronomy 2:14-16). It was as though the future history of Israel, which would witness a similar failure and expulsion, had been performed in microcosm. It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God.

We should note in all this how closely these thoughts pattern the purpose of the Book of Numbers which also seeks to prepare for entry into the land, stresses the judgment on the first generation, and encourages the new generation to go forward (see Commentary on Numbers).

But now the time had come for the second attempt (Deuteronomy 2:3). This involved going by Edom, Moab and Ammon, who were brother tribes to the east of Jordan, skirting their borders (Deuteronomy 2:4-23). These had had to be left alone (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19), for Israel must also recognise what land was not theirs. God did not want them to attack their related brother tribes, but to pay their way as they went by and remain at peace with them. For their land was not to be seen as available to Israel, but as belonging to these peoples because Yahweh had given it to them (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19). The land that was to belong to Israel still lay ahead. It is that land only that they have a right to take by conquest. That land alone is their inheritance, although extended by permission to parts of Transjordan when their kings proved belligerent and attacked Israel.

By this means it was made very clear that it is Yahweh Who apportions out the lands and Who gives what He will to whom He will, and that their own land, the chosen land, was specific and clearly delineated (compare Deuteronomy 32:8).

But let them now recognise that He had given them the land of Sihon, the Amorite (Deuteronomy 2:24) and of Og, king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:2-6), and had commenced the process by which all who heard of Israel would tremble, as He had promised so long before (Deuteronomy 2:25, compare Exodus 15:14-16). Thus they had totally defeated Sihon and possessed his land (Deuteronomy 2:24-36). And the same was also true of Og, king of Bashan, with his mighty cities. They had also overcome him and destroyed all his cities (Deuteronomy 3:1-7). And thus had the whole of that side of Jordan, from the borders of Moab in the south, northward to Gilead and Bashan, been delivered into their hands, being possessed by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:8-17), a firstfruit of what was to come.

It is difficult for us in reading this to gain the atmosphere of the moment. As they stood to hear his words in the plain of Moab no one was more aware than them of the truth of what he was saying. For they were present there, having themselves just been involved in it. They had just returned from fighting a powerful enemy. Great dangers had just been faced, successful battles had been fought with seemingly powerful armies, they had approached great cities with trepidation, but through Yahweh’s help they had brought them crashing down. The dead had been counted and were being mourned as heroes, for it was through their sacrifice in the Holy War they had been victorious. The land of Gilead and Bashan was theirs, and they had returned back to camp weary and triumphant. They had tasted the good taste of victory.

And now here they were gathered to hear Moses, to learn that Yahweh was now about to give them the land of the promises for them to possess, the land of Canaan itself. So he rallied the soldiery of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, calling on them to play their full part in the invasion of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:18-20), and encouraged and strengthened Joshua on whom the main responsibility for the invasion would fall (Deuteronomy 3:21-22; Deuteronomy 3:28). As one man they were to be ready, poised for the entry into Canaan over the River Jordan, although sadly he, Moses, would not be a part of it, having been forbidden by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).

Thus was it now necessary for them to listen to Yahweh’s covenant requirements and do them, so that they might ‘live’ and possess the land (Deuteronomy 4:1 compare Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 32:47). This was basic to all that lay ahead. They must remember that they had survived because of their obedience, while others had died in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:3-4), and that he had given them Yahweh’s statutes and commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 4:5-9) (as contained in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers). It was on the basis of their obedience to this covenant that their success was guaranteed (Deuteronomy 4:9), and to this end he reminds them again of the awesome experience at Sinai, and the way in which Yahweh had revealed Himself to them (Deuteronomy 4:10-14), and had declared His covenant requirements (Deuteronomy 4:14). And he warns in the light of this against foolish behaviour, and especially idolatry, once they are in the land (Deuteronomy 4:15-20). They must be faithful to their sovereign Lord and yield themselves to no other. Let them not forget that it was He Who had delivered them out of the fiery furnace of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20).

And they must remember how even he, Moses, was forbidden to enter the land because of his disobedience (Deuteronomy 4:21-22). Thus they must take to heart the lesson that the One Who is giving them the land can just as easily take it away from them again. It is ever theirs on probation. He has taken it from their fathers. He has taken it from Moses. He will take it from the Canaanites, driving them out because of their vile behaviour and idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:38). And He will give it to Israel. But let them be ever aware that He can just as easily take it from them too if they fail to respond in full obedience, and make images for themselves (Deuteronomy 4:23-25), driving them too out into exile among foreigners until they repent of their failure Deuteronomy 4:26-28.

But Moses could not leave it there, for he knew that in the end it was God’s purpose through Abraham’s descendants to establish blessing for the world. So he knew that such rejection could not be the end. Though men may fail God would not. So he declares that then if they repent He will restore them (Deuteronomy 4:29-31), for they are the people through whom His purposes must be worked out as promised to their forefathers.

These are the initial warnings of the covenant, preparing for the blessings and possible cursings ahead (Deuteronomy 27:15 to Deuteronomy 28:68), typical of the overlordship covenants (suzerainty treaties). The point is being continually emphasised that the land was Yahweh’s and could only belong to those who were true to the covenant

Let them then now consider. Was ever people like them? Had any ever had experiences like theirs? Was ever any god like their God in His greatness, Who had so wonderfully delivered them and was now about to give them possession of His land? (Deuteronomy 4:33-39). That is why they were to obey His commandments and laws (Deuteronomy 4:40). He was seeking to keep them steadfast to the end.

Chapters 1-4 thus contain all that is necessary for the establishment of a covenant. Preamble, declaration of what they owe to their Overlord, offer, requirement to obey His statutes and ordinances, and warning of what will follow if they do not, followed by an emphasis on the witness of heaven and earth to the covenant and on their own witness to the power and faithfulness of Yahweh. Yet it is also a preliminary introduction to a more detailed exposition of the covenant, for the requirements are not spelled out in detail.

For this will lead on into Deuteronomy 5, which is the commencement of ‘the renewal of the covenant’ speech (Deuteronomy 4:44 to Deuteronomy 29:1) in what is almost a re-enactment of what had taken place at Mount Sinai. In it Moses will bring the Sinai experience right into the present in all its vividness (Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 5:22-29). As he declares, ‘Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even all of us who are alive here this day’ (Deuteronomy 5:3). And then he brings what happened at Sinai before them as though it were something that had happened to them and as something in which they had taken part (as the eldest among them had as children), including the very declaration of the covenant words, slightly but deliberately altered to suit their situation (Deuteronomy 5:5-29). And he does it in such a way that it stresses that they are as much involved in the covenant of Sinai as their fathers had been (Deuteronomy 5:3; Deuteronomy 5:23-30). They must see what had happened there as having happened to them. And now therefore they must bind themselves in that covenant to do all that was commanded in it. For Yahweh has sent him with details of the requirements of that covenant which he is now about to pass on to them (Deuteronomy 5:31-33). And it is at this point that he begins to outline the requirements of the covenant, the covenant stipulations (chapter 6 onwards), which he will follow up with cursings and blessings (Deuteronomy 27:11 to Deuteronomy 28:68) and the sealing of the covenant.

Chapter 4. Moses Urges Them To Respond Fully To Yahweh’s Covenant And Remember With What Glory and Power It Came.

Having established the certainty of their successful entry into the land Moses now follows this up with a charge to fulfil all God’s requirements . And he does it in the light of what God has revealed Himself to be. This chapter up to verse 40 in fact makes the first four chapters into a mini-covenant for it follows the historical prologue of Deuteronomy 1-3 by summarising the stipulations of their Overlord (Deuteronomy 4:1-2), stresses how favoured they are because of His superiority and the superiority of the teaching that He has given them (Deuteronomy 4:7-8) and that He had appeared personally in order to urge these stipulations on them (Deuteronomy 4:10-15), and ends with warnings in line with the covenant pattern (Deuteronomy 4:25-28), and an appeal to witnesses (Deuteronomy 4:26). It thus forms a mini-covenant within the larger covenant.

This summarisation, which will later be expounded in more detail, confirms that we have here an actual address. It is similar to the modern preacher who, having dealt with an initial passage, summarises the principles that will follow which he will later deal with in more detail in the following sermons.

And it demonstrates how Moses constantly thought in covenant treaty terms. He saw things in terms of Who Yahweh is, what Yahweh had done for them, what He required of them in response and what the consequences of disobedience would be. His vision was filled with Yahweh Who was his all. He himself could not see how anyone could fail to respond to Him fully, although he knew from practical experience that they could.

The chapter expresses the plea that they will remember the glory and holiness of the One Who gave the laws, and Who will therefore call them to account. They are to remember that He is no pushover, but rather that He is a consuming fire. They must thus avoid all idolatry and all that provokes God to anger, otherwise they too will have to be turned from the land. And they must take heed to all that He has done for them, and respond from an obedient heart.

He finally reminds them of the sacredness of human life and God’s hatred of the unnecessary (and forbidden) shedding of blood by appointing three cities of refuge. The establishment of these cities was a demonstration of their permanent occupation of the land. They demonstrated that Israel were there for good. Perhaps by mentioning these cities of refuge at this time he also intended to remind them of the fact that they themselves had a continuing refuge, and that God was the One Who was their refuge also. For these cities were a like a lighthouse whose beams declared openly Yahweh’s protective care for the unfortunate.

We need to learn to apply the same covenant principles to our lives, by remembering Who Christ is, the Lord of all; what He has done for us, dying for us on the cross; what He requires of us, a response of full obedience; and what the consequences will be if we fail in our joyous duty toward Him, in coming under His disapproval, and losing the glory of what He would give us.


Verses 1-5

Chapter 4. Moses Urges Them To Respond Fully To Yahweh’s Covenant And Remember With What Glory and Power It Came.

Having established the certainty of their successful entry into the land Moses now follows this up with a charge to fulfil all God’s requirements . And he does it in the light of what God has revealed Himself to be. This chapter up to verse 40 in fact makes the first four chapters into a mini-covenant for it follows the historical prologue of Deuteronomy 1-3 by summarising the stipulations of their Overlord (Deuteronomy 4:1-2), stresses how favoured they are because of His superiority and the superiority of the teaching that He has given them (Deuteronomy 4:7-8) and that He had appeared personally in order to urge these stipulations on them (Deuteronomy 4:10-15), and ends with warnings in line with the covenant pattern (Deuteronomy 4:25-28), and an appeal to witnesses (Deuteronomy 4:26). It thus forms a mini-covenant within the larger covenant.

This summarisation, which will later be expounded in more detail, confirms that we have here an actual address. It is similar to the modern preacher who, having dealt with an initial passage, summarises the principles that will follow which he will later deal with in more detail in the following sermons.

And it demonstrates how Moses constantly thought in covenant treaty terms. He saw things in terms of Who Yahweh is, what Yahweh had done for them, what He required of them in response and what the consequences of disobedience would be. His vision was filled with Yahweh Who was his all. He himself could not see how anyone could fail to respond to Him fully, although he knew from practical experience that they could.

The chapter expresses the plea that they will remember the glory and holiness of the One Who gave the laws, and Who will therefore call them to account. They are to remember that He is no pushover, but rather that He is a consuming fire. They must thus avoid all idolatry and all that provokes God to anger, otherwise they too will have to be turned from the land. And they must take heed to all that He has done for them, and respond from an obedient heart.

He finally reminds them of the sacredness of human life and God’s hatred of the unnecessary (and forbidden) shedding of blood by appointing three cities of refuge. The establishment of these cities was a demonstration of their permanent occupation of the land. They demonstrated that Israel were there for good. Perhaps by mentioning these cities of refuge at this time he also intended to remind them of the fact that they themselves had a continuing refuge, and that God was the One Who was their refuge also. For these cities were a like a lighthouse whose beams declared openly Yahweh’s protective care for the unfortunate.

We need to learn to apply the same covenant principles to our lives, by remembering Who Christ is, the Lord of all; what He has done for us, dying for us on the cross; what He requires of us, a response of full obedience; and what the consequences will be if we fail in our joyous duty toward Him, in coming under His disapproval, and losing the glory of what He would give us.

Having Described All that Yahweh Has Done For Them Moses Now Urges A Full Response To All Yahweh’s Instruction (Deuteronomy 4:1-5).

One further preparation was now necessary before advancing into the land. While the nation were all together as one it was necessary for the covenant requirements to be affirmed and established lest having gained the land they lose it by disobedience and transgression. Thus in this chapter he urges the importance of obedience to Yahweh’s statutes and ordinances, and reminds them of the uniqueness of their Overlord and how they had seen Him and had received the covenant requirements directly from His mouth, and how He was the One Who had delivered them from the iron furnace of Egypt, and he warns what will happen to them if the requirements of the covenant are neglected, first from his own example as one excluded from the land because of sin, and then in terms of their too being driven out of the land as their fathers had been before them, and as the Canaanites would be as a result of their efforts. This will then be followed in a later speech (5 onwards) by a reminder of the wording of the covenant and an abbreviated but detailed outline of the covenant stipulations.

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a They are to listen to the statutes and judgments which Moses teaches them for them to do, so that they might live, and might go in and possess the land which Yahweh their God is giving them (Deuteronomy 4:1).

b They must not add to them or diminish them, but must keep the commandments of Yahweh their God which he gives them (Deuteronomy 4:2).

c For their eyes have seen all that Yahweh did because of Baal-peor (Deuteronomy 4:3 a).

c For Yahweh their God has destroyed from their midst all the men who followed Baal-peor (Deuteronomy 4:3 b).

b But they who clove to Yahweh their God are alive this day, every one of them (Deuteronomy 4:4).

a And he has taught them statutes and judgments even as Yahweh his God has commanded him, so that they may do them in the land which they are going in to possess (Deuteronomy 4:5).

Note how in ‘a’ he has given the statutes and judgments that they might live and possess the land, and in the parallel he has taught them the statutes and judgments so that they might do them when they possess the land. In ‘b’ they must keep the commandments whole and not diminish them, and in the parallel because they have remained faithful to Yahweh they have been kept as a whole (and not diminished). In ‘c’ they have seen what happened at Baal-peor and in the parallel they know that Yahweh has destroyed from their midst those who sinned with Baal-peor.

Deuteronomy 4:1

And now, O Israel, listen well to the statutes and to the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, is gives you.’

“And now.” This links back with all that has been said. Yahweh has done for them all that he has described, and has given them all the assurance that they could possibly want that He will give them the land. Now it is their responsibility to respond fully to Him and go in and possess the land which He is giving them because of His love for their fathers.

But Moses was aware that if they were live their lives to the full they would have to do more than possess the land. They would need to listen and respond to Yahweh’s statutes and ordinances, which Moses had taught them and would teach them, and to do them.

“Which I teach you.” His longer speech which will follow contains such statutes and ordinances. But we must also see here a reference back to teaching already given to which they can refer to in their minds, otherwise, with their not knowing what was coming, much of the impact of his words would be lost. He was continually giving them teaching and they were to heed it all.

And by following Yahweh’s statutes and ordinance they would ‘live’, in contrast with those who had not listened and had died in the wilderness and at Baal-peor, and they would not only live, but would live lives of fullness. The emphasis is on quality of life. Compare Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 16:20; Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:19. See Leviticus 18:5. Notice how often other blessings are added to the term ‘live’, such as it being well with them (Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 30:16), longevity of life (Deuteronomy 5:33), possession of the land (Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 16:20), God’s working in the heart (circumcision of the heart - Deuteronomy 30:6), and multiplicity of offspring (Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 30:16). Here the special added blessing is to possess the land under the care and watch of Yahweh, being under His heavenly rule. It was such a life of joy and satisfaction in God to which the writer of Ecclesiastes pointed (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).

Note how this emphasis on life contrasts with his own future. He was to die and not live. Thus he knew even more than most the value of life.

Deuteronomy 4:2

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you.’

Obedience would involve right discernment. They must neither add to God’s instruction, nor reduce it. What He had revealed they must do without altering it for only in that way would they fully keep the commandments of ‘Yahweh your God’.

This principle of not meddling with sacred texts was a common one among the ancients. Similar guidance was given to scribes in ancient Egypt. It was also included in treaty covenants. An overlord’s subjects were not permitted to alter his requirements.

Deuteronomy 4:3

Your eyes have seen what Yahweh did because of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, Yahweh your God has destroyed them from the midst of you.’

He makes them think back to what had been the result of Baal-peor when some of their number had been led astray by the Moabite women into idol worship with its accompanying sexual misbehaviour (see Numbers 25:1-3), eating food ‘provided’ by the god and bowing down to it, and indulging in its excesses. Baal-peor may have been Baal as associated with Peor, or a god known as ‘the Lord (baal) of Peor’. But it certainly shared the propensities of the Canaanite gods. They will remember that such people had been destroyed from the midst of them. Their Overlord had dealt with them severely for their breach of covenant.

Deuteronomy 4:4

But you who clung to Yahweh your God are alive every one of you this day.’

But those who had been loyal to the covenant and had chosen to cling to Yahweh rather than to Moabite women were still alive. For clinging to Yahweh brings life. And they were witnesses of this by the very fact that they were alive. The lesson should therefore come home to them. Idolatry leads to death, trusting in Yahweh leads to life.

Deuteronomy 4:5

Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as Yahweh my God commanded me, that you should do so in the midst of the land to which you go in to possess it.’

So let them take heed to what he has taught them at Yahweh’s bidding, for they had been given so that when they possessed the land they might ‘do them’. The possessing of the land and the doing of Yahweh’s was to go together. Indeed that was why their fathers had not possessed the land. That was why the Canaanites were being driven out of the land. It was because neither had been willing to do the will of God. By these words he incorporates into the covenant the statutes and ordinances that he has already taught them, as well as those that he will teach them. This confirms that some of these statutes are already well known and probably recorded, otherwise such a reference would be meaningless from a covenant point of view.


Verses 6-9

They Are Fortunate Among The Nations because of What They Have Received (Deuteronomy 4:6-9).

This may be analysed as follows:

a They are to keep (shamar) Yahweh’s statutes and judgments and do them for in doing so the nations will recognise that they are wise and understanding (Deuteronomy 4:6).

b For no other nation, however great, has a God so near to them as Yahweh is when they call on Him (Deuteronomy 4:7).

b No other nation has statutes and judgments so righteous as this Instruction (torah) that Yahweh has set before them at this time (Deuteronomy 4:8).

a They are to take heed to themselves (shamar and keep (shamar) themselves diligently in case they forget what they have seen and lest those things depart from their heart all the days of their lives, and are to make them known to their children and their children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Note that in ‘a’ they are to keep (shamar) His statutes and judgments and do them, and in the parallel are to keep (shamar) themselves with greatest care in case they forget them, and forget what they have seen, and so as to ensure that they make them known to their children and their children’s children. In ‘b’ no nation has a God like theirs Who is so near to them when they call on Him and in the parallel no nation has such righteous statutes and judgments as Yahweh has given them.

Deuteronomy 4:6

Keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

So they are to keep (shamar) Yahweh’s words and do them. Then will the peoples admire their wisdom and understanding. They will hear the statutes that they live by and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’. They will be full of admiration for their way of life, and their wondrous laws, and the benefits that would result as they revealed that they were a rejoicing people and greatly blessed.

This claim is quite remarkable. Every nation thought that its wisdom and its laws were superior to those of all others, as Hammurabi makes clear in his law code. But here it is pointed out that when it comes to the Instruction of Yahweh all else will be seen as secondary and will be conceded to be so by the nations.

This superiority was in fact actually recognised by many Greeks (and others) who would later become God-fearers because of the superiority of the Instruction (Torah). The same was true of the Christian world when it responded to Christ. Both were a declaration of the superiority of the teaching of Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 4:7

For what great nation is there, which has a god so near to them, as Yahweh our God is whenever we call on him?’

He now brings to their attention two of the ways in which Yahweh is superior to the so-called gods of the nations. Firstly because He is near to them and acts on their behalf. And secondly because He gives them such superior teaching.

He asks firstly, ‘What other nation has a responsive God like Yahweh, and One Who when called upon is so near?’ They only had to look at their past history in order to see that this was so. The nations would therefore recognise that Israel had in Yahweh their God what none other had, a God Who was near, a God Who truly heard when they called on Him, a God Who acted, a God Who was there, a God Who bound them to Himself. ‘Yahweh our God’. ‘Yahweh’ means, ‘the One Who will be whatever He wants to be’, ‘the One who is there’. And He would be seen to be their God. This would especially be so in the light of His great deliverance from Egypt in response to the cry of His people (Exodus 2:23; Exodus 3:7; Exodus 3:9), and many of their enemies would experience a similar thing personally as they fought against Israel.

The verse is not saying that Israel believed in the existence of other gods. It is rather making clear that the gods other nations believed in were far off and unreal. We equally today speak of the gods of other religions without believing in them. But the history of Moses demonstrates that he certainly believed and knew that there was only one God Who was totally irresistible and unique. And this will be demonstrated further when he declares that the true God has no form or shape. (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:15). The corollary is that those with form or shape are no gods, but are of the earth.

Deuteronomy 4:8

And what great nation is there, which has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law (torah), which I set before you this day?’

Furthermore what great nation had statutes and ordinances that were as righteous as those given to Israel? In spite of the great law codes of the ancients, none compared with the compassion and mercy, combined with the purity and righteousness, of those of Israel as revealed in God’s instruction (torah) through Moses. This was a direct challenge to the nations, and a claim for ‘the instruction of Yahweh’ that expressed its superlative content. It claimed that it was unique and unearthly, beyond the wisdom of even the greatest of men.

Deuteronomy 4:9 a

‘Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes saw, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.’

“Take heed to yourself (shamar), and keep (shamar) your soul diligently.” Paul put this, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (with greatest care)’ (Philippians 2:12) because of Who was at work within them (Deuteronomy 4:13). Thus Israel too must take careful heed to themselves and keep themselves diligently (compare Deuteronomy 4:6) and their attitudes and behaviour, and ensure that deep within them they remembered all that they had seen when God had revealed Himself at the Mount, lest His words at some stage in their lives slip away from them (compare Hebrews 2:1-4). They are by this to remember how serious a matter it is to do God’s will.

Deuteronomy 4:9 b

‘But make them known to your children and your children’s children.’

And they are not only to remember, but to ensure that their children also remember, and their children’s children also. It was as a result of such instructions that the Jews were famed as those who taught their children from their youngest days so that Gods truth was burned within them (compare Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:46; Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8; Exodus 13:14).

“Lest you forget.” Such forgetfulness could be avoided by constantly stirring each other to remembrance, especially at their great feasts. By reading and remembering His word, and considering it constantly, they would prevent themselves from falling into forgetfulness. How important it is for us to constantly read His word and thus ensure that we too do not forget.


Verses 10-14

They Are Ever To Remember The Great and Wondrous Experience of Horeb (Sinai) And Take Note Of His Statutes and Judgments (Deuteronomy 4:10-14).

Moses now stressed the importance of the Sinai/Horeb experience which they must ever stir to remembrance and keep before their eyes, so that they would remember Who and What God is. In the context of the covenant this was a reminder of the appearance of their Overlord to declare His rights over them, and of His greatness, which therefore made obedience to the covenant all the more important.

a Moses reminds them of the day when they stood before Yahweh in Horeb (Deuteronomy 4:10 a).

b When He had called them to assemble to His words so that they might fear Him all their days and teach their children (Deuteronomy 4:10 a).

c And they came near and stood below the mountain and it burned with heavenly fire, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11).

c And the voice of Yahweh spoke from the midst of the fire and they heard His words but saw no form. There was only a voice (Deuteronomy 4:12).

b And He declared to them His words which He commanded them to carry out, the ten words which were written on tables of stone (Deuteronomy 4:13).

a And Yahweh commanded him in that day to teach them statutes and judgments so that they may do them in the land when they went over to possess it (Deuteronomy 4:14).

Note that in ‘a’ he reminds them of ‘the day’ in which they stood before Yahweh in Horeb and in the parallel Yahweh commanded him ‘on that day’ to teach them His statutes and judgments. In ‘b’ He called them together to hear His words so that they might fear Him, and in the parallel He declares to them His words and commands them to carry them out. In ‘c’ they come to the mountain burning with fire but in darkness and cloud, and in the parallel they hear Him speak from the midst of the fire but they see no form, only hear a voice.

Deuteronomy 4:10

The day that you stood before Yahweh your God in Horeb, when Yahweh said to me, “Assemble me the people, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.” ’

For they must ever remember that unforgettable day when they stood before the Mount in Horeb and saw the dreadful flames that seemed to burn up the top of the mountain, and heard His voice like thunder speaking to them (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18; Exodus 24:17). For Yahweh had called on him to assemble the people so that they might hear His words expressed in such a way that they would never forget them, and might learn to have a godly fear of Him all through their lives. That had been His purpose, but men’s hearts were so hard that with many it did not succeed.

To ‘stand before Yahweh’ was a great privilege. But their joy was that they could also stand before Yahweh by choice in the courtyard of the tabernacle when they brought their offerings for it was His earthly Dwellingplace (Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 31:11-13), and when they gathered round the Tabernacle for worship, and although He would be hidden they would know that He was there in His Holy of Holies, even while He was riding the heavens and enthroned in the Heaven of Heavens (1 Kings 8:27). Compare Deuteronomy 19:17.

“That they may teach their children.” This connects back to Deuteronomy 4:9. While in sections the speech is a unit.

Deuteronomy 4:11

And you came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness.’

He reminds those who had been present that day of the awesomeness of it. They had fearfully approached the mountain, and had stood under it in awe, and they had been before Yahweh, and the mountain had burned with fire to the heart of heaven, with darkness, and cloud, and the intense blackness of night pervading it even during the day. See Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:21; 2 Samuel 22:10; 1 Kings 8:12; Psalms 18:9; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 97:2. This heavenly fire that revealed Yahweh is a theme of this whole section of the speech. See Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 4:36. As is not seeing His form (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:15).

We must try and picture the unforgettable scene. The multitude gathered below the mountain looking up in awe, the whole top of the mountain ablaze with fire, and yet the smoke and the cloud and the thick darkness, and the mighty voice that spoke from it with its terrible words. ‘Fire to the heart of heaven’ is a reminder that this was no earthly fire, it was fire from the centre of heaven itself, heavenly fire, glorious, dazzling, intense and unearthly. It spoke of His glory, His purity, his righteous judgment. And then the cloud and the darkness which spoke of His mystery, His unapproachableness (1 Timothy 6:16), declaring a glory so intense that it must be hidden in order to be revealed. If we remember what God is like, we too will be more careful how we approach Him. Through Christ we are welcomed, but we should ever remember Who He is.

Deuteronomy 4:12

And Yahweh spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the voice of words, but you saw no form, only heard a voice.’

He reminds them of how Yahweh spoke to them from the midst of the fire, but that while they heard His voice and His words they saw no form. They saw only the flaming fire, and the cloud and the darkness. There was no visible form. This should bring home the fact that Yahweh has no visible form. He is pure Spirit (John 4:24). Thus any attempt to represent Him by any image is to demean and degrade Him and make Him like ourselves and our world (see Deuteronomy 4:15-16). It is both misrepresentation and blasphemy.

God speaking from the midst of the fire is a theme prominent in Deuteronomy. Compare Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 5:26; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4 where the same thought is emphasised. Moses clearly saw the voice at Mount Sinai as connected with the God of the burning bush where God ‘in a flame of fire’ (Exodus 3:2) spoke to him ‘out of the (burning) bush’ (Exodus 3:4) at the same Mountain of God (Exodus 3:1).

Deuteronomy 4:13

And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even the ten words, and he wrote them on two tables of stone.’

And there Yahweh had declared to them His covenant, that He was Yahweh their God, that He had mightily delivered them, and that He had given to them His ten words, all of which He had then written on two tables of stone. This was the covenant by which they were bound, and to which they must respond, and the principles declared were principles required to be observed by all men and women of all ages. That which was written on stone was seen as having special authority and special significance. It was permanent and for ever.

The two tables of stone may have been duplicates with the idea that one was a reminder to Yahweh, and the other a reminder to the people. Duplicate copies of treaties would regularly be made, one kept by the overlord and lodged in a sanctuary, and one passed over to the subject nation to be lodged in their main sanctuary. The tabernacle was both Yahweh’s dwellingplace and Israel’s sanctuary. Or they may have contained five words each, one containing those relating to honouring Yahweh and His authority, and the other containing those relating to man’s behaviour towards man.

Deuteronomy 4:14

And Yahweh commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, that you might do them in the land to which you go over to possess it.’

And Yahweh had not only given them the ten words, but He had commanded Moses to teach them His many statutes and ordinances which He would reveal to Moses for him to pass on. These can be found in Exodus 20 onwards, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy 5 onwards. In the words of Hosea, ‘I write for him my law in ten thousand precepts’ (Hosea 8:12).

It is inconceivable that a man with Moses background would not ensure that the revelations he received were written down. All important covenant matters were committed to writing in order to indicate their solemnity, and we are elsewhere given examples of where this happened (Deuteronomy 31:9; Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2). God’s words in Deuteronomy 17:14 would hardly be seen as applying only to that incident. They rather drew attention to the need to record in writing all such experiences of God’s provision and protection. It was giving Moses the basis on which he should conduct his future activity. All the references simply draw attention to Moses’ habit of ensuring the writing down of the revelation Yahweh revealed and the wondrous things that he did for Israel. They do not limit it to those occurrences. And he passed this responsibility also onto Joshua, whom we have good reason to believe did much of the actual writing.


Verses 15-24

They Are To Remember That Yahweh Is Without Form, And Is A Consuming Fire, And Must Therefore Avoid Making Any Graven Image for Worship Purposes For That Would Be to Adulterate and Misrepresent Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:15-24).

a Take therefore good heed to yourselves; for you saw no manner of form on the day that Yahweh spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 4:15).

b Lest you corrupt yourselves, and make yourselves a graven image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, of any beast that is on the earth, of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, of anything that creeps on the ground, any fish that is in the water under the earth (Deuteronomy 4:16-18).

c Lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven (Deuteronomy 4:19).

d But Yahweh has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be to him a people of inheritance, as at this day (Deuteronomy 4:20).

c Furthermore Yahweh was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I should not go over the Jordan, and that I should not go in to that good land, which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance, but I must die in this land, I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over, and possess that good land (Deuteronomy 4:21-22).

b Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of Yahweh your God, which he made with you, and make yourselves a graven image in the form of anything which Yahweh your God has forbidden you (Deuteronomy 4:23).

a For Yahweh your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24).

Note that in ‘a’ Yahweh spoke without form out of the midst of the fire, and in the parallel Yahweh is a devouring fire. In ‘b’ They are not to corrupt themselves by making a grave image of any earthly creature, and in the parallel they are not to forget the covenant by making a graven image in the form of anything forbidden. In ‘c’ they are not to lift their eyes to the heavens to worship anything in the heavens, for those things have been allotted to all the peoples under heaven, they are common, while in the parallel the true heavenly One is angry with Moses so that he is excluded from the holy land that Yahweh is giving as an inheritance, the one place on earth that is holy and is exclusive to His people. Central in ‘d’ is that Yahweh has delivered His people from the iron furnace, from Egypt (a lesser fire even though painful) to be the people of His inheritance, in order that they might inherit that holy land from which Moses is excluded. For such people to seek to heavenly bodies which are common to man would be to degrade themselves utterly.

Deuteronomy 4:15-18

Take therefore good heed to yourselves; for you saw no manner of form on the day that Yahweh spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire. Lest you corrupt yourselves, and make yourselves a graven image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth,’

They were especially then to remember that when they had seen Him they had seen no manner of form. All they had seen was glorious, unearthly fire; ethereal, mysterious, indescribable, untouchable, here, there, and everywhere on the mountain. To try to represent Him in any earthly form or art would be to misrepresent Him and to degrade Him. Thus they were to beware that they made no attempt to make any image of Him, of whatever likeness, however symbolic, not of anything in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth, or in the sea. To do so would be to commit a crime so heinous that it was deserving of instant death (Deuteronomy 27:15; compare Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Deuteronomy 5:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:2-4; Leviticus 26:30). Let them then remember that when they saw Yahweh they saw no manner of form.

These verses reflect a knowledge of the traditions behind Genesis 1, and are a reminder thereby that all these things of which men make images are but God’s creations, and thus not worthy of worship. To represent God in an image is thus to debase Him and limit Him to what is earthly, reducing His transcendence.

Many gods and goddesses and semi-deities throughout the Ancient Near East were represented as beasts and birds of various kinds, and many as serpents and later we learn of creeping things connected with some forms of religion (e.g. Ezekiel 8:10). For men and women were seeking to affect the world and what was in it by their attention to such deities. They saw them as very much a part, even if a mysterious part, of the world scene.

Deuteronomy 4:19

And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.’

Nor when they lifted up their eyes to heaven and saw the majestic lights in the heavens were they to be drawn to worship them. They must remember that those lights are not holy but are for the common use of all men. They were but the sun, moon and stars that He had created, the stars almost as an afterthought (Genesis 1:16). They were not to serve them or to worship them. They were rather to see that they have been created by Yahweh and allotted by Him for every man’s benefit throughout the whole world. Religiously speaking there was nothing special about the heavenly bodies. But in contrast Yahweh’s people are a holy people to Yahweh their God Who has chosen them to be a special people to himself, above all people who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6). They must therefore only seek to Yahweh. The sun god and the moon god (Job 31:26-27) were worshipped in different parts of the ancient world from time immemorial, and the stars provided a multiplicity of gods. But His people were to worship only the true God.

“The host of heaven.” This is a phrase simply indicating the multitude of lights in the heavens which were like a great army (compare Deuteronomy 17:3; Genesis 2:1; Psalms 33:6; Isaiah 34:4) or the multiplicity of angels. One look at the heavens on a dark night would give this impression. Later Assyria would more specifically worship ‘the host of heaven’ (2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 21:5) but the phrase is one naturally arising from glancing at the night skies and cannot be limited to that (compare Deuteronomy 17:3; 1 Kings 22:19). Contrast in Deuteronomy 17:3 ‘any of the host of heaven’ where individual star deities are in mind. The heavenly bodies were worshipped by men as far back as written records go and even before, for they are found pictured in stone. In the early Biblical period interest in the heavens outside Israel was religious and astrological, not astronomical. Thus this simple and accurate description cannot be used as a dating technique, simply through a coincidence of expression. The thought behind it goes back into the mists of time.

“Which Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” This may refer to the fact that the sun, moon and stars have been made available freely to all men, and are but common and universal instruments of Yahweh, or it may be pointing out how different Israel are from all other nations. To man in his rebellion and darkness (as illustrated at Babel - Genesis 11:1-9) Yahweh has ‘allotted’ these trivialities for them to play at worship with. They receive what they are deserving of. But to Israel He has given Himself to be worshipped within His Tabernacle in true worship in His holy land. The nations have gods which are no gods, Israel have the living God.

The sun was worshipped in Egypt as Ra or Atum and in Canaan as Shemesh (compare Beth-shemesh - the house of ‘Shemesh’). In Mesopotamia the Sumerian moon god/goddess Nanna, called Sin by the Akkadians, was especially worshipped at Ur, and at Haran in Syria and is often represented by an image of the crescent moon. Terah, Abraham’s father, was probably a moon worshipper (compare Joshua 24:2). It is mentioned as yrh at Ugarit. The ‘stars’ were widely worshipped in a variety of ways, especially Venus. Astral deities were invoked as witnesses in Hittite treaty documents. All in 2nd millennium BC.

The mention of the heavenly bodies is a reminder that treating something natural as an image was as bad as actually making an image. God is not revealed through things of this creation. He is above and beyond creation.

Deuteronomy 4:20

But Yahweh has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be to him a people of inheritance, as at this day.’

They were especially to remember also that Yahweh had brought them out of an iron furnace, out of Egypt (compare 1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4). There they had been subjected to the heat of man’s cruelty. Just as men put their silver and gold into an iron furnace in order to produce a graven image, so has Yahweh put them into a furnace in order that He might produce a purified and holy people. And they had survived and had been refined and delivered. And His purpose in this was in order to make them His inheritance, to make them a treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). That is why they were now here at this particular point in time, and why nothing that came out of earthly fires could be acceptable to them.

“Furnace.” A pot or crucible for melting metals. It was often used as a picture of trial and testing and refining (compare Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 48:10; Ezekiel 22:18; Ezekiel 22:20; Ezekiel 22:22). ‘Iron’ stresses its intensity. It may have referred to what it was made of, or the fact that it was used for shaping iron. While iron coming from meteorites had been known almost from the beginning (Genesis 4:22), the discovery of how it could be obtained from iron ore and utilised, made by the Hittites in the 2nd millennium BC, began a revolution in warfare and tool making. They exported iron among other places to Egypt. It may also be that iron reflects the military strength of Egypt, and the furnace the terrible heat under which day by day they had been subjected to intolerable burdens (compare Exodus 9:8).

Deuteronomy 4:21-22

Furthermore Yahweh was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I should not go over the Jordan, and that I should not go in to that good land, which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance, but I must die in this land, I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over, and possess that good land.’

Let them learn a lesson from him. Because he had sinned grievously at Meribah he was excluded from the land. He could not enter the ‘good land’. He must die the other side of Jordan. Why? Because the land was holy, it was Yahweh’s exclusive land, and nothing unworthy could enter it. If anything symbolised what the land of Canaan was to mean it was this. It was a land for the righteous, a land under Yahweh’s rule. Even a disobedient Moses was thus excluded. Their own right there comes through atonement on the one hand and obedient submission on the other. Thus if they do not righteously observe His covenant they too will be expelled. The righteousness and purity of this holy and exclusive land (Exodus 15:13; Isaiah 57:13; Ezekiel 20:40; Joel 2:1; Zechariah 2:12) in which the God-produced exclusive people are to dwell (Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:9; Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 20:26) and where they are to worship only Yahweh in the land in which He has His unique earthly Dwellingplace is in direct contrast with the heavenly bodies, which appear to men to be glorious but are in fact common instruments of man and freely available.

“Yahweh was angry with me for your sakes.” It was they who had incited Moses and Aaron to the exasperation that drove them to do what they did. But Yahweh is never depicted as angry with Moses because of the failure of the people. He knew them too well. Nor did He punish Moses for their sins. Indeed many of them had already died in the wilderness. Yahweh’s anger was solely because he had failed. He had been given great privilege and great responsibility and he had let Yahweh down. Thus another had had to be raised up in his place. Moses had become too vulnerable in his old age to cope with the problems that would have to be faced. He had for a moment behaved in the same way as all people under heaven do.

But in the context of the whole of sacred history the exclusion of Moses brings out the final unimportance of the land. Had that been of final importance Moses would hardly have been excluded. If anything demands the doctrine of the resurrection it is this exclusion. Otherwise it is inexplicable. If anyone had been loyal to Yahweh’s covenant it was Moses. The only explanation had to be that God had a greater land waiting for Moses, one not of this world. Like Abraham he looked for a continuing city that was to come (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16), although it may not have been apparent then. In the end that is our inheritance too.

“I must die in this land.” However good and fertile ‘this land’ Transjordan might be it was not the good land. Canaan alone was that, for it was chosen by Yahweh as His inheritance. It was chosen for His people. Unlike Mesopotamia and Egypt it was not watered by irrigation and great rivers, but by God Himself, by the rain from heaven (Deuteronomy 12:11; Leviticus 25:4-5; Ezekiel 34:26-27). And it was a land over which Yahweh exercised care (Deuteronomy 11:12; compare Leviticus 26:34; Leviticus 26:43 concerning when it was not treated properly) and that could be emptied of its inhabitants and become totally devoted to Yahweh, a Heaven on earth. It was a holy land (Deuteronomy 7:6). That was the inheritance that He was giving them.

Deuteronomy 4:23

Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of Yahweh your God, which he made with you, and make yourselves a graven image in the form of anything which Yahweh your God has forbidden you.’

Thus they must beware of forgetting the covenant of Yahweh their God, made by Him on His own initiative as the Sovereign Lord out of His pure goodness and grace. They must not turn their eyes from Him as the One revealed through fire and cloud with no shape or form, and make graven images in any earthly form or shape, something strictly forbidden by Him. They must ever bare in mind the example of Moses, and learn from it.

Deuteronomy 4:24

For Yahweh your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.’

For deep into their memory from what they saw on the Mount (Deuteronomy 4:15) should go the fact that Yahweh is a devouring fire and One Who is ‘jealous’, that is, will permit no rivals or alternatives. Nor would He countenance anyone who usurped His authority, as Moses and Aaron had done at Meribah. He demands total loyalty. And it is this idea of the devouring fire that now turns Moses’ thoughts to warnings of what will follow failure.


Verses 25-29

What Their Fate Will Be If They Turn Away From Him To Graven Images (Deuteronomy 4:25-29).

This fate had already been portrayed by what had happened to their fathers who were driven from the land (Deuteronomy 1:44-45). It was being portrayed by what would happen to Moses who was to be excluded from the land. It will be brought home by what should happen to the Canaanites as they are driven out and scattered. For the land can only receive and hold the good. Thus if they fail and become corrupt they too can only expect to be cast out. Obedience is an essential part of the covenant. We should note that in the end the idea was not the keeping of a list of regulations, it was a response of personal obedience to Yahweh Who had revealed His grace towards them, of which the other was only a consequence. If they failed in that they too would have to be cast out.

For the land was not being given to them as their prerogative. It was being lent to them by Yahweh. It was only for the righteous. Thus if they failed in righteousness there would be no place for them in it. On the other hand if they return and seek Him with all their hearts they will find Him.

We may analyse this passage in the word of Moses as follows:

a When you beget children, and children’s children, and you have been long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves (Deuteronomy 4:25 a),

b And make a graven image in the form of anything, and shall do that which is evil in the sight of Yahweh your God, to provoke him to anger (Deuteronomy 4:25 b).

c I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from off the land to which you go over the Jordan to possess it. You will not prolong your days on it, but will be utterly destroyed (Deuteronomy 4:26).

c And Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, to which Yahweh shall lead you away (Deuteronomy 4:27).

b And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell (Deuteronomy 4:28).

a But if you seek Yahweh you will find Him if you seek Him with heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29)

In ‘a’ we have the picture of a people who corrupt themselves because they have been ‘long in the land’, and in the parallel the promise that if they genuinely return and seek Yahweh they will find Him. In ‘b’ they do evil in the sight of Yahweh and provoke Him to anger by making as graven image in any form, and in the parallel we have the consequence, they will indeed worship such useless gods, but it will be outside the land (‘there’). In ‘c’ Yahweh calls heaven and earth to witness what He will do with such people, He will destroy them, and in the parallel the consequence of that destruction will be their scattering and being left few in number (compare Deuteronomy 28:62 and contrast Deuteronomy 1:10-11; Deuteronomy 10:22) and short of days (contrast Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 6:2).

Deuteronomy 4:25

When you beget children, and children’s children, and you have been long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image in the form of anything, and shall do that which is evil in the sight of Yahweh your God, to provoke him to anger,’

No one was more aware than Yahweh of the propensities of the people. He had seen it all before. So He seeks to prevent failure by the intensest of warnings. What He described was not a prophecy before the event, it was just the necessary and inevitable consequence of covenant failure, something which Moses was himself experiencing in his own way. (Knowing their history and the tendencies of man most of us could have prophesied that in time Israel would fail. It was hardly therefore a secret to God).

So He warns them of the danger of turning to false gods in the future, especially as manifested in the making of graven images. It may not happen immediately, but He is warning future generations, ‘your children, and your children’s children’. Note the sense of the continuity of Israel. The activity of their children’s children will be their action too. If any of them make a graven image or do what is evil in the sight of Yahweh then they must recognise what the consequences will be. They will provoke Him to anger and face the consequences.

Deuteronomy 4:26

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from off the land to which you go over the Jordan to possess it. You will not prolong your days on it, but will be utterly destroyed.’

And judgment would be certain. No more solemn witness could have been called for, for heaven and earth includes all that is in them. Moses was calling on the whole of creation to bear witness, just as in parallel treaties the gods were invoked as witnesses. And what were they to witness? They were to witness God’s declaration of the consequences for those who so sinned. That such would soon utterly perish from the land. Rather than prolonging their days on the land they would be utterly destroyed. This was already intended to be the Canaanite’s fate. It had been the fate of their own fathers. In one sense it was Moses’ fate (he had a harsh lesson in front of his very eyes). If they were unfaithful to the covenant it would also be theirs. The land would not hold those who were unfaithful.

That this was delayed when the inevitable happened and they deserted Yahweh was not because of any failure on God’s part, but because He displayed with them the longsuffering that He had displayed with the Canaanites.

It is noteworthy that certain political decrees discovered among the Canaanite literature at Ugarit also called on heaven and earth as witnesses. Heaven and earth were regularly seen as important witnesses.

Deuteronomy 4:27

And Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, to which Yahweh shall lead you away.’

The result of rebellion would be that they would be scattered among the nations (compare Deuteronomy 28:64; Leviticus 26:33), as those who rebelled against God at Babel were so scattered (Genesis 11:8), and as the Canaanites before Israel in the land were to be driven out and thus scattered (Exodus 23:28-31). And they would be decimated so that they were few in number. Few in number is the opposite state to being as the stars of heaven for multitude (Deuteronomy 1:10; Deuteronomy 10:22). Compare here Deuteronomy 28:62. This would be their punishment. It was the inevitable consequence for peoples driven from their own countries in all directions. Disease, the sword and starvation would follow inevitably for many as they became refugees wherever they were, seeking a place to rest. There is no thought here of the Exile. The thought is rather of the practical effect of being driven out of the land, seeking refuge in many countries.

Deuteronomy 4:28

And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.’

And in those countries they would be reduced to serving gods which were the work of men’s hands, gods who could, he points out sardonically, neither see, hear, eat nor smell. In the beginning this would have been their own choice, for they would have turned to graven images, which was why they would face this suffering in the first place, but now it would also be thrust on them, for they would have no Central Sanctuary and they were outside Yahweh’s land, and it may even be forced on them by the country of their exile. The point is that they would have lost all the blessings of the covenant.

It should be noted that rather than being an indication that this was written ‘after the event’ this is simply a typical treaty clause concerning the consequences of disobedience to a treaty covenant. What they had done to others would be done to them.

Deuteronomy 4:29

But from there you will seek Yahweh your God, and you will find him, when you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.’

Once they were scattered they would undoubtedly at some stage turn to seek Yahweh their God, and then they would find Him (for He would be graciously waiting), but only when they sought Him with all their heart and with all their soul. Note that there is here no promise of return to the land, only a promise of return to Yahweh, for that is the most important thing.


Verses 30-40

Their Return Is Certain Because Of The Graciousness and Uniqueness of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:30-40).

When they find themselves in tribulation and these things come on them in the latter days, they will return to Yahweh their God and listen to His voice. Here Yahweh’s sovereign purpose for Israel comes out. They were to be God’s means of blessing to the world, therefore until they had been so He would not allow them finally to cease, but would ensure that they returned to Him.

And this is evidenced by the fact of the greatness and mercifulness of God as evidenced by what He has already done to them and for them. The result will be that they will keep His statutes and commandments in the land and will enjoy wellbeing and live long in His everlasting kingdom.

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a When they are in tribulation in the latter days and all these things have come on them, they will return to Yahweh their God and listen to His voice (Deuteronomy 4:30).

b For He is a merciful God and will not fail or destroy them or forget the covenant He has made with their fathers (Deuteronomy 4:31).

c For they may ask of ancient days whether since the day that God created man on the earth, or alternately they may ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any such thing as this great thing has been heard (Deuteronomy 4:32).

d That God spoke to men out of the midst of the fire and they lived? (Deuteronomy 4:33).

e Or has God delivered any other nation by signs and wonders and mighty power as He did them from Egypt? (Deuteronomy 4:34).

c It was shown to them so that they might know that Yahweh is God and there is none beside Him (Deuteronomy 4:35).

d From heaven He made them hear His voice, on earth He made them see His great fire, and they heard His words from the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 4:36).

e For because He loved their fathers He chose their seed after them and brought them out of Egypt with great power, to drive out great nations from before them and bring them into the land of His inheritance as at this day (Deuteronomy 4:37-38).

b They are therefore to know Yahweh is God in both heaven and earth, there is no other (Deuteronomy 4:39).

a And they will keep statutes and His commandments that it may go well with them, so that they might prolong their days on the God-given land for ever (Deuteronomy 4:40).

We may note here that in ‘a’ their certain final return to God is promised, and in the parallel it is to lead on to them keeping His statutes and His commandments and having wellbeing and long life for ever in the land. In ‘b’ they are told that He is a merciful God and will not fail or destroy them or forget the covenant He has made with their fathers, and in the parallel they are therefore to know Yahweh is God in both heaven and earth, there is no other. In ‘c’, ‘d’ and ‘e’ we find what is really one continuous idea. They are to ask earth and heaven whether such a thing has been heard, that God spoke to men from the midst of fire and they lived, or that God delivered any other nation by signs and wonders and great power. And the parallel says that it was so that they might know that Yahweh is God and there is none beside Him, and that He did speak to them from the midst of fire and that He did remarkably deliver them from Egypt.

For such a threefold continuous series in the midst of a chiasmus compare Numbers 22-23 where such a situation occurs twice (see our commentary on Numbers).

Deuteronomy 4:30

When you are in tribulation, and all these things are come on you, in the latter days you will return to Yahweh your God, and listen to his voice,’

For what would bring them to seek Yahweh would be the unbearable tribulation that they would face. ‘All these things’ refers to their perishing from the land and being scattered and resorting to the worship of gods who could not respond (Deuteronomy 4:27-28). Thus in ‘the latter days’, that is the final days of this period of chastisement, they would return to Yahweh their God and listen to His voice, as previously they had closed their ears to Him.

This return was necessary for the fulfilment of God’s purposes. For from the returned people He would raise up His chosen One and through Him and them bring blessing to the world.

Deuteronomy 4:31

For Yahweh your God is a merciful God. He will not fail you, nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which he swore to them.’

And all this would happen because ‘Yahweh your God is a merciful God’. It was because of His mercy that He would not fail in His activities towards them, nor would He destroy them utterly, nor would He forget the covenant He had sworn to with their fathers. Thus in His mercy He would carry through His purposes.

The promises to their forefathers had burned themselves deeply into Moses’ soul. It had made him aware that whatever they did Yahweh would not allow it to thwart His purposes. He would chastise Israel until at last His purposes succeeded. But He would never forget His mercy in the end.

Deuteronomy 4:32

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and from the one end of heaven to the other, whether there has been any such thing as this great thing is, or has been heard like it?’

By a series of questions He now brings home to them why their Overlord has a right to expect their obedience. The first question is concerning the ‘days that are past’ from creation onwards, and concerning events happening from one end of heaven to the other. Can anyone, he asks, name any time or place where such a great thing has happened elsewhere as has happened to Israel? Can anyone say where such a thing has even been heard of?

Deuteronomy 4:33

Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?’

For example, Have any people ever heard God speaking from the midst of fire and lived? For that is what Israel have heard, and they have still lived.

Deuteronomy 4:34

Or has God made the attempt to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, in accordance with all that Yahweh your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?’

The next question is, For what other nation since the beginning of creation or anywhere else in the world has God made the attempt to go and take them from the midst of another nation by trials, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and by great terrors, in the way that Yahweh has by what He had done for Israel in Egypt?

Note the expanded sevenfold explanation. God had used trials in order to spur His people on, signs with which to convince them, and even more to convince Pharaoh; wonders in order to bring home His supreme power; war because Pharaoh understood nothing else and had finally to be convinced by the destruction of his troops; by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm, because Yahweh had personally extended His own powerful action on their behalf; and by great terrors because Pharaoh and his people had proved so obstinate that in the end they needed the terrors of continual darkness and then of the night of the firstborn in order to be convinced. He had acted in a divinely perfect way.

Deuteronomy 4:35

To you it was shown, that you might know that Yahweh, he is God, there is none else besides him.’

But it had been shown to them so that they might know that Yahweh truly was the only God, and there is none other. If nothing else could convince them, this should have done. The so-called gods of Egypt, even Pharaoh himself, had proved powerless. They were as nothings before Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 4:36

Out of heaven he made you to hear his voice, that he might instruct you, and on earth he made you to see his great fire. And you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.’

And he goes on to answer his own questions. Yahweh had made them hear His great voice from heaven, so that they might be instructed, and He had made them see His great unearthly fire on earth. And it was out of the midst of that great fire that they had heard His words. Thus they must recognise that their experience in Horeb as they gathered round Mount Sinai was unique, and a powerful revelation of Yahweh their God which they must ever carry with them.

Deuteronomy 4:37

And because he loved your fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought you out with his presence, with his great power, out of Egypt,’

And he also had brought His people out of Egypt with His presence (manifested) and His great power. And why did He do it for them? The answer is because he loved their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That was why He had chosen them as the seed of their fathers, and brought them out of Egypt by His presence and with His great power.

And why had He done this? It was because their forefathers were loved. Although previously revealed in many ways (it was inherent, for example, in God’s description of Israel as His firstborn - Exodus 4:22), this is the first reference in Scripture to God’s love for His own. The patriarchs, we are told, were beloved by God. The principles of elective love by God (see Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 23:5; Deuteronomy 33:3; Deuteronomy 33:12) and responsive love by His people (see Deuteronomy 5:10; Deuteronomy 6:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:20) are central to the message of Deuteronomy. And it is also made clear that because of that He loves His people (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 10:15 (by implication); Deuteronomy 23:5; Deuteronomy 33:3; Deuteronomy 33:12). The whole of their deliverance, and of the mercies shown to them, since were manifestations of that love.

Deuteronomy 4:38

To drive out nations from before you greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as at this day.’

And that was why He would drive out from before them nations greater and mightier than themselves, in order to bring them into the land and give it to them for an inheritance as He was about to do at this time.

So all was as a result of His covenant love for Abraham and his sons, and his descendants. That was why even their sins would not finally change His purposes. Rather if necessary He would use tribulation and suffering in order to fulfil His purposes. But His love would not fail. And it was through that love that He would finally save a multitude of Jews through the ministry of His Son, so that they became the foundation of His work throughout the world in bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

Deuteronomy 4:39

Know therefore this day, and lay it to your heart, that Yahweh, he is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. There is none besides.’

Thus considering all this they should now on this very day know and lay to heart Whom and What it reveals Yahweh to be. It reveals Him as the God of heaven and earth, beside Whom there is no other. It reveals that He is the great Overlord of heaven and earth with Whom none can compare. We have here a clear statement of monotheism.

Deuteronomy 4:40

And you shall keep his statutes, and his commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land, which Yahweh your God gives you, for ever.’

Knowing this then they must keep His statutes and His commandments which they have received from Moses, and which he, Moses, now commands them, in order that it might go well with them and with their children after them, and so that they may prolong their days in the land which Yahweh their God has given them into the distant future.

And here he finishes his words at this time, leaving them to ponder on what he has said. But the situation has been made clear. The great God, Yahweh, has amazingly revealed Himself and has delivered them and has determined to give them this land because of His promises to their forefathers, and because they have responded to His covenant, and while they continue to respond to that covenant and obey His commandments and statutes all will go well. But if they turn to sin and idolatry, then this land will no longer hold them, for it is God’s holy land and is not available in the long term for the use of such sinners. They will be turned out from it until they can return to it again purified and restored. But that that restoration would happen was also sure. Because it would be the result of His faithful promises made to their forefathers.

If what had happened to Israel was wonderful, how much more wonderful is what has happened to those who are His. What other peoples have had the Son of God die for them, so that for His sake they are blessed? And we can therefore have the confidence that He will do good to us far beyond our deserving, as we respond in love and obedience to Him. And in view of this, if we do not trust Him and obey Him how can we possibly speak of knowing Him?


Verses 41-43

The Establishment of the First Cities of Refuge (Deuteronomy 4:41-43).

The establishing of these cities of refuge was a deliberate act which was a declaration of Moses’ certainty that they were now here in this land to stay. Their purpose was permanent and an official seal that they were in the land permanently. It was a reminder also that there was now law in the land (compare Deuteronomy 1:15-17), for it was a reminder of the penalty for taking blood, and of God’s mercy to be shown to those who only did so accidentally. So it puts the seal on his words and caps them with a physical seal that can be seen by all. In those cities of refuge the kingly rule of God has already begun. If in the future they were ever in doubt they would be able to look at these cities of refuge and be reminded of Moses’ words at the time that they were selected and appointed, and recognise with gratitude that God has given them refuge too, refuge in the promised land.

These verses may be analysed as follows:

· Moses set apart three cities in Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising (Deuteronomy 4:41).

· That the manslayer might flee to them, who kills his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in time past (Deuteronomy 4:42 a).

· And that fleeing to one of these cities he might live (Deuteronomy 4:42 b).

· “Namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, for the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites (Deuteronomy 4:43).

Note that in ‘a” the three cities are to be set apart and in the parallel they are carefully named. And in ‘b’ they are for the innocent manslayer to flee to, and in the parallel those who are innocent and flee to them will live.

Deuteronomy 4:41-42

Then Moses set apart three cities in Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising, that the manslayer might flee to them, who kills his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in time past, and that fleeing to one of these cities he might live,’

These three cities were established in ‘Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising’, that part of Beyond Jordan which was east of Jordan, that is in Transjordan in the territory of the two and a half settled tribes.

Their need arose because of the law of blood vengeance. That law stated that when a man was killed his family must avenge his death on the one who had done it. Thus if they slew the killer right was seen as on their side. The cities of refuge provided a place to which men could go who had killed accidentally, or who were innocent but could not prove it in time. Once they were there they were safe from the avengers of blood. But their cases had then to be examined thoroughly, and if it was decided that they had actually killed the dead person deliberately they would be turned out of the city of refuge so that the avengers of blood could exact their punishment.

Deuteronomy 4:43

Namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, for the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites.’

The names of the cities were given. They were evidence that Israel was now safely settled in at least a part of the land.

Bezer was mentioned on the Moabite stone of King Mesha, but is not specifically identifiable. Ramoth may well be Tell Ramith between the Rivers Yarmuk and Jabbok. Golan is not identifiable with any certainty.

Deuteronomy 4:44

And this is the instruction (torah) which Moses set before the children of Israel.’

With these words the first section is completed. This is clearly a colophon (document identifier) as is partly evidenced by it standing alone, although we could parallel it with Deuteronomy 1:1.

Conclusion Part 1.

The first mini-covenant within the overall total covenant is now completed by the end of Moses’ first speech. The basis has been laid down for what is to come. The preamble and historical background to the covenant has been laid out.

We may summarise the historical background briefly as follows:

1). Yahweh had built up and established Israel as a nation preparatory to them entering the land, but they had failed to obey Him and were thus expelled from the land (Deuteronomy 1:6-46).

2). But He had forgiven the offence of Israel and had then, once the generation that had sinned had died, led the next generation through Edom, Moab and Ammon where they were able to witness nations to whom Yahweh had given their own land and who had been able to defeat the equivalent of the Anakim while possessing it (Deuteronomy 2:1-23), proof of what Yahweh could do.

3). He had then defeated the Amorites under Sihon and Og, handing their land and all their possessions over to Israel (Deuteronomy 2:24 to Deuteronomy 3:17). Again proof of what Yahweh could do.

Thus the two bugbears which had resulted in the original defeat, the Anakim and the Amorites were already demonstrated to be defeatable, and there was here both warning and guarantee of success. This then resulted in the command to the soldiers of the two and a half tribes which had settled on the eastern side of the Jordan to go forward with their brothers to claim the whole land (Deuteronomy 3:18-20), and the command to Joshua to go forward without fear, along with the confirmation of Moses’ exclusion from the land for disobedience (Deuteronomy 3:21-29).

At this point they were reminded of the great revelation that they had received at Mount Sinai in Horeb and exhorted, with warnings, to obedience to His commandments (Deuteronomy 4:1-40), for it was on their response to His covenant that all would depend. Yahweh could not bless a disobedient people.

Then He gave them an earnest of what was to be by the setting up of three cities of refuge, the visible seal of their establishment in that part of the land, and the guarantee of what was to be in the future when the second set of cities of refuge would be set up (Deuteronomy 4:41-43).

Thus was all now prepared for the presentation of the great covenant in chapters Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1.


Verses 45-49

Chapter Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 5:33 The Major Covenant Requirements And The Giving of The Covenant .

After a brief introduction in which they are reminded of how Yahweh has delivered them from Egypt and given them victory over the Amorites (Deuteronomy 4:45-49), Moses calls on Israel to ensure that they take heed to the words of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 5:1), recognising that they are a covenant directly spoken by Yahweh to them (Deuteronomy 5:2-4) ‘out of the midst of the fire’ (compare Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 5:26). Then having reminded them of the awesome conditions under which they were given (Deuteronomy 5:4), he proceeds to spell out the detailed terms of the basic covenant (Deuteronomy 5:5-21), following it up with further reminders of the serious nature of it as revealed in the way in which it was given (Deuteronomy 5:22) and reminding them expecially how they had pleaded not to have to deal with Yahweh directly because of the dreadful nature of their experience (Deuteronomy 5:23-27). This is then capped by explaining Yahweh’s response to their plea (Deuteronomy 5:28-33).

Introduction (Deuteronomy 4:45-49).

This initial introduction in Deuteronomy 4:45-49 may well indicate the beginning of a new tablet, providing an explanation of what is on it. It can be compared with Deuteronomy 1:1-5. It also sets the scene for what is to follow, reminding the reader that Israel were now in possession of the extensive lands of two Amorite kings which were their permanent possession.

The introduction may be analysed as follows:

· A declaration that Moses is about to present the testimonies and statutes and judgments (ordinances) which he spoke to the children of Israel ‘when they came out of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 4:45).

· That this was in Beyond Jordan (eastward) in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites whom Moses and his people had smitten ‘when they came out of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 4:46).

· For they had taken his (Sihon’s) land in possession together with the land of Og, king of Bashan, who were the two kings of the Amorites in Beyond Jordan Eastward (Deuteronomy 4:47).

· This land extended from Aroer on the edge of the valley of Arnon (the southern border, and northern border of Moab) even to Mount Hermon (in the north) including all the Arabah (the Jordan rift valley) in Beyond Jordan eastward, down to the sea of Arabah below the slopes of The Pisgah (the Dead Sea) (Deuteronomy 4:48).

Deuteronomy 4:45-46

These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which Moses spoke to the children of Israel, when they came forth out of Egypt, in Beyond Jordan, in the valley over against Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, whom Moses and the children of Israel smote, when they came forth out of Egypt.’

These words (Deuteronomy 4:44-49) may have been written by Joshua as an introduction to Moses’ words from here to Deuteronomy 29:1, although Moses could easily have written them himself. They tell us that these chapters will give the instruction (torah) of Moses, the testimonies (declarations), statutes (written laws/fixed laws) and ordinances (judgments and covenant requirements) that he now expounds in the valley of Baal-peor. Note that the very Baal-peor that had been so disastrous to Israel (Numbers 25:1-5), was now to be a source of great blessing, a blessing which we can even participate in today by a study of this book. The incident of Baal-peor had been dealt with, punished, cleansed and removed, and Yahweh is beginning with them again.

The wider context is Israel’s being delivered out of Egypt by Yahweh’s power and their defeat of the two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og. It is against this background of His activity on their behalf that Yahweh claims their allegiance.

“These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments.” Compare Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 11:32; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 26:16; Deuteronomy 30:16. They are a continuation of the statutes and judgments that Moses has already been teaching them (Deuteronomy 4:14), specifically said to have been taught at the time of the first giving of the covenant. Compare also Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:8.

Deuteronomy 4:47-49

And they took his land in possession, and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were in Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising, from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, even to mount Sion (the same is Hermon), and all the Arabah in Beyond Jordan eastward, even to the sea of the Arabah, under the slopes of the Pisgah.’

The significance of the taking of the land of the Amorites cannot be overemphasised. It was the Amorites who had driven their fathers out of Canaan (Deuteronomy 1:44), and now they themselves had put the Amorites to flight. And what was more they had taken possession of their land and possessions, and the large dimensions of that possession are clearly stated. They stretched from Mount Hermon in the north, to Aroer on the banks of the Arnon to the south, and included the Arabah, the Jordan rift valley on its eastern banks, from the sea of Chinnereth down to the Dead Sea (the Salt Sea) under the slopes of the Pisgah. Compare Deuteronomy 3:17. The previous reverse had been more than compensated for. All this land was east of Jordan.

The deliverance from Egypt together with the taking of these lands was to be seen as proof positive that soon Canaan would be theirs. Yahweh, the great Deliverer from Egypt and conqueror of the Amorite kings, was fighting for them in a holy war, a war which was to fulfil His judgment on the Canaanites/Amorites, and would establish a righteous theocracy in the land. But they had to notice the righteous bit!

We have a reminder here that often when we have faced a defeat in our lives, once we are restored God graciously causes us to face the same enemy again so that we might prove the victor.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-4.html. 2013.

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