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Warning to be obedient (4:1-43)
The reason Moses outlined Israel’s history was to show on the one hand that God’s promises did not fail, and on the other that his judgment on disobedience was certain. In view of this, the people were to keep all God’s laws and commandments without altering them to suit themselves. If they modelled their national life in Canaan on these laws, they would benefit themselves and be an example to others (4:1-8).
In order that Israel might not forget his laws, God had written them down and commanded Moses to teach them. Moses now passed this command on to the new generation by instructing the people to teach these same laws to their children, and to make sure that the children passed them on to future generations. These laws represented Israel’s obligations under the covenant. Moses reminded the people also of the holiness of God and of the reverence that sinful people must exercise when approaching him (9-14).
Since they had not seen any form of God, the people could not make an image of him. Neither were they to use natural objects such as the sun, moon or stars as visible substitutes for him. To worship any of these things would be idolatry and would break one of the basic laws of the covenant (15-24). Such idolatry would bring national disaster, but God would be faithful to his covenant and save those who were sorry for their sin and returned to him (25-31).
Not only was Yahweh the invisible God, he was the only God. He chose Israel as his people and saved them by his miraculous power, not because of anything they had done but solely because of his love for them. Moses therefore urged the people to love him in return. This would guarantee a long and satisfying occupancy of the land that they were about to enter (32-40).
Moses then established three cities of refuge in the area already settled east of Jordan. Three more cities would later be established west of Jordan, after the conquest of Canaan (41-43; see notes on Numbers 35:9-34).
4:44-11:32 BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF THE COVENANT
In the address just concluded, Moses outlined God’s dealings with Israel in the past, and on the basis of this urged Israel to be obedient in the future. He now called a second meeting, this time to ‘renew’ the covenant, not in the ceremonial sense but in the practical sense. That is, he reawakened the people to their responsibilities under the covenant. He recalled the events when the covenant was made at Sinai (4:44-5:5), he repeated the basic covenant commandments, which were the principles by which the nation was to live (5:6-11:32), and he gave detailed applications of those principles as they affected the daily lives and religious exercises of the people (12:1-26:19).
According to ancient custom, when covenants were renewed, adjustments could be made to bring the laws up to date. On this occasion Moses made frequent adjustments and explanations in view of the new way of life that the Israelites were about to enter. They were no longer a vast crowd of travellers moving through the wilderness, but were about to become a nation of permanent settlers in an agriculturally prosperous country.
These amendments to Israel’s laws did not mean that the religion given to them at Sinai was in any way changed. The principles remained the same, but their application was adjusted to suit the different conditions of Canaan.
Ten commandments (4:44-5:33)
The renewal of the covenant began in the style of ancient covenant documents by naming the two parties to the covenant and outlining the relation between them. It also stated the location and time of Moses’ announcement. Many of the people gathered there were youths when the covenant was made at Sinai, and could recall the terrifying events of that time (4:44-5:5).
Moses then repeated the ten commandments that Israel had promised to keep as their part of the covenant. These commandments were the basis of all Israel’s subsequent laws (6-22; see notes on Exodus 20:1-17). Ten short commandments were enough to convince the people that they were sinners who could not remain in the presence of a holy God and live. They therefore asked Moses to receive God’s instructions on their behalf, and promised that they would do all that God said (23-33).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11