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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Deuteronomy 4

Verse 1

IV.

(1) Now therefore hearken.—The whole point of the exhortation in this chapter is the same which we find in Joshua’s address to the people (Joshua 24:0), that they should serve Jehovah. And the ground of the exhortation is His revelation of Himself in Horeb as their God.

The statutes . . . and the judgments.—Perhaps we should say “institutions and requirements” in modern language. For “judgments,” see Exodus 21-23.

That ye may live, and go in.Life is put before possession. The penalty of the broken law is death.

Verse 2

(2) Ye shall not add unto the word.The word, not “the words.” The word is the substance of the Law. The words in which it is expressed may be more or less. The law of Moses contains in it the germ of all revelation to the very end.

Verse 3

(3) Your eyes have seen.—Literally, your eyes are they that seei.e., you are witnesses of these things. The men who perished by the plague because of the iniquity of Beth peor—to the number of 24,000—seem to have been all members of the younger generation; for they had already passed the brook Zered. (See on Deuteronomy 2:13.)

Verse 5

(5) That ye should do so in the land.—It should never be forgotten that there is a special connection between the law of Moses and the land of Canaan. It cannot be kept in many of its precepts, except by a chosen people in a protected land.

Verse 6

(6) This is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations.—The laws of Jehovah in Israel, and the constant presence of Jehovah with Israel, would make an impression upon the world that it would not be easy to resist. For, he adds, “what nation is there so great, that hath God so nigh unto them?”

Verse 8

(8) What nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous?—These words direct our attention to the law of Moses, as distinctly in advance of the time when it was given.

Verse 9

(9) Only take heed to thyself.—The exhortation contained in the following verses lays special emphasis on one point—the worship of the invisible Jehovah without images. This more than anything else would tend to separate the religion of Israel from that of all other nations.

Teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.—A command which Israel evidently failed to obey. For a generation speedily rose up “which knew not Jehovah nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). It is worth while to observe that we cannot find any trace of a system of national education in Israel until many years later. When education is purely parental, it is likely to be neglected in many instances. It is not every parent who finds himself able to “teach his sons, and his sons’ sons.”

Verse 10

(10) The day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb.—The Church of Israel dated from Sinai, as the Church of Christ does from Pentecost. It is noticeable that the giving of the Law appears to have taken place about fifty days after the Passover in Egypt. Jewish writers associate the Feast of Pentecost with the memory of the event. A similar association, and a contrast between the first and last Pentecost, appears to have been present to St. Paul’s mind in 2 Corinthians 3:0. The law given at Sinai is the “ministration of death,” and is contrasted with the “ministration of the Spirit”—the letter that killeth with the Spirit that giveth life. (Comp. also Galatians 4:24-26, and Hebrews 12:18-24.) The word “specially” is not in the Hebrew of this verse.

The day . . . in Horeb is not only to be regarded as a special subject of instruction; it is the root of the whole matter.

Gather me the people together.—The Greek here is εκκλησίασον, which might be paraphrased according to New Testament language, “Form a Church of this people,” The “day of the assembly” alluded to in this and other passages (as Deuteronomy 10:4) may be similarly paraphrased as “the day of the Church.” It seems to be the source of the expression used by St. Stephen, “the Church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). Thus the analogy between Israel’s receiving the letter of the law at Sinai, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem is still further brought out.

Verse 11

(11) Darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.—The “blackness, and darkness, and tempest” of Hebrews 12:18.

Verse 13

(13) His covenant . . . ten commandments.—See on Deuteronomy 5:0.

He wrote them.—See on Deuteronomy 10:2.

Verse 15

(15) Ye saw no manner of similitude.—The worship of the invisible Jehovah is here specially insisted on. The difficulty of learning to worship one whom we cannot see is, happily, one which our education does not enable us to realise in its relation to Israel of old. All nations had their visible symbols of deity. Centuries afterwards the world described the followers of Christ as Atheists, because they had no visible God. It is especially recorded in praise of Moses that “he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).

Verse 16

(16) Lest ye corrupt . . . and make.—The connection between idolatry and corruption is twofold. First, it changes “the glory of the incorruptible God” into an image of His corruptible creatures. Secondly, it always ends in corrupting the idolater. Man was made to have dominion over the works of God’s hands. He cannot worship anything in creation, which he was not intended to rule. He can only fulfil his destiny when he strives after the Divine likeness, rising to that which is above him, instead of stooping to that which is below.

(17,18) Likeness of any beast . . . fowl . . .—There may be an allusion to the animal idolatry of Egypt here.

Verse 19

(19) The sun, and the moon, and the stars.—The purest worship of antiquity—that which we find among the Persians—hardly escaped this snare.

Which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations.—The heavenly bodies could never be regarded as special protectors of any one nation. But Jehovah was pledged to be the God of Israel. This appears to be the argument of Deuteronomy 4:19-20.

Verses 21-23

(21-23) The Lord was angry with me for your sakes . . . I must die in this land . . . but ye shall go over . . . Take heed unto yourselves.—The argument appears to be this: “I cannot go with you to warn you; therefore take the more heed when you are alone.” The same line of thought appears in St. Paul’s last appeal to Timothy: “Fulfil thy ministry; for I am now ready to be offered” (2 Timothy 4:6).

Verse 24

(24) The Lord thy God is a consuming fire.—The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes use of this in Deuteronomy 12:29, to enforce the lessons not of Sinai, but of Pentecost, and of the voice of “Him that speaketh from heavenby the Spirit whom He has sent.

Verse 25

(25) Shall have remained long.—Literally, shall slumber—a very suggestive expression. Prosperity often sends true religion to sleep, and brings conventional, or fashionable, religion in its stead.

Verse 27

(27) And the Lord shall scatter you.—Our familiarity with this fact in history must not blind us to its force when uttered as a prophecy. The fact that the Jews were taken captive for idolatry, and dispersed for the rejection of JESUS, is a remarkable proof that the real reason why they were brought into Canaan, and kept there, was to be witnesses for Jehovah.

Verse 28

(28) And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands.—That is, “you shall be in bondage to them,” being ruled by their worshippers. And so Rashi explains it. Captivity was the means of eradicating idolatry from Israel rather than encouraging it. But the cause of a people and its idols is so constantly identified in the Old Testament, that those who are in bondage to a nation may naturally be described as in bondage to its gods. The gods were even held to be sharers in the captivity of the nation. It is said of Bel and Nebo, in Isaiah 46:2, “They could not deliver . . . but themselves are gone into captivity”

(29, 30, 31) Comp. Deuteronomy 30:1-5 for a more explicit promise and prophecy of the same thing, and see Note on that passage.

Verse 32

(32) For ask now . . . whether there hath been any such thing.-The same argument is afterwards employed by St. Paul (Romans 11:29) for the restoration of Israel: “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” i.e., irrevocable. He did not go and take Him a nation out of the midst of another nation in order to abandon them at last. He never did so much in the way of personal and visible interposition for any people; and He will not forsake the work of His own hands. Moses had proved the truth of what he says here in many scenes of sin and peril averted by his own intercession. (See especially Numbers 14:11-21, and comp. 1 Samuel 12:22.)

Verse 37

(37) Because he loved thy fathers.—The reasons for God’s choice of Israel are frequently stated in this book; and they are always stated in such a way as to enforce the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and to show the Israelites that their own merit was in no way the ground of God’s choice.

Verse 39

(39) Know therefore . . . and consider.—“Consider,” i.e., reckon (the word for “impute” and “account” in St. Paul’s argument to the Romans). Do not indulge any polytheistic notions regarding the Deity. “To us there is but One God.” If every nation has its separate deity, how is it that Jehovah controls them all? His various dealings with Egyptians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Amorites, as well as with Israelites and Canaanites, mark Him as Lord of all. “There is none else.” There are no more gods; if you desire to leave Him behind, there is no one else to serve. Compare Isaiah 44:8 : “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no Rock. I know not any.”

Verses 41-43

THE APPOINTMENT OF THREE CITIES OF REFUGE.

(41) Then Moses severed.—The word “then” appears to be a note of time. It would seem that the appointment of the three cities of refuge on the eastern side of Jordan actually followed this discourse.

On this side Jordan.—Heb., b’ ’êber hay-yardên. The expression is here defined by the words that follow, “toward the sun-rising,” and it need not, therefore, be taken to fix the writer’s point of view. By itself, the expression would naturally mean, on the other side of Jordan.

(43) Bezer is as yet unidentified.

Ramoth in Gilead, though famous in the history of Israel as the scene of Ahab’s death and of the anointing of Jehu (1 Kings 21:0 and 2 Kings 9:0), is also as yet unknown.

Golan has given a name to the district of Gaulonitis. But it is as yet also unknown. We may hope that when the survey of Eastern Palestine is concluded, these ancient sites will be recovered.

Verses 44-49

SECOND DISCOURSE.

(44-49) These words form an introduction to the second discourse, which occupies the larger portion of the book—from Deuteronomy 5:1 to the end of Deuteronomy 26:0. There is no real break between. The present introduction differs from what we find in Deuteronomy 1:1. There is no intimation that this portion of Deuteronomy was a repetition of what had been delivered between Sinai and Kadesh-barnea. What follows is said to have been spoken in the land of Sihon and Og, after the conquest by Israel.

(46) On this side Jordan.—Literally, on the other side. The same expression in Deuteronomy 4:47 is defined by the addition, “toward the sun-rising.”

The whole passage (Deuteronomy 4:44-49) may be editorial, and added by Joshua in Canaan. But there is no necessity for this view.

(48) Mount Sion.—See Note on Deuteronomy 3:9.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/deuteronomy-4.html. 1905.