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Moses Reminds the People of the Law-Giving.
v. 1. Now, therefore, hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments which I teach you, they were to heed carefully both the moral precepts which fixed their covenant relation toward Jehovah and the special obligations which rested upon them with regard to both God and men, for to do them, that ye may live, namely, in the enjoyment of a long and happy life, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you.
v. 2. Ye shall not add unto the Word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, for in either case the force of the commandment would be weakened and the Word of God changed into the precepts of men, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I command you. This does not merely mean keeping the wording intact and handing it down unchanged to posterity, but observing and doing what they enjoined. Cf Matthew 5:7.
v. 3. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did because of Baal-peor, when the Midianites succeeded in introducing whoredom and idolatry into the ranks of Israel, Numbers 25; for all the men that followed Baal-peor, the Lord, thy God, hath destroyed them from among you.
v. 4. But ye that did cleave unto the Lord, your God, are alive, every one of you, this day. The reward of faithfulness and the punishment of unfaithfulness were thus plainly before their eyes.
v. 5. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord, my God, commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
v. 6. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, a matter of ordinary sound common sense, which shall hear all these statutes, the precepts as they governed the covenant relations of Israel, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. It is an Old Testament form of the New Testament injunction that believers should let their light shine before men, Matthew 5:16, These facts cause Moses to exclaim in a fervent, ecstatic appeal.
v. 7. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, in whose midst God has revealed Himself in so open and definite a manner, as the Lord, our God, is in all things that we call upon Him for? Israel was the only nation with which Jehovah had entered into such a covenant relation, which was sure at all times of His almighty assistance, Psalms 34:19; Psalms 145:18.
v. 8. And what nation is there so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Law which I set before you this day? All true righteousness of life has its roots in God, and the more the knowledge of the true God is darkened, the more is the foundation of all true law and order shaken to its very depths.
v. 9. Only take heed to thyself and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, the miracles and the many evidences of God's presence during the years of the wilderness journey, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life, that is, for so much as one minute; but teach them thy sons, thy children, and thy sons' sons, thy grandchildren, the command thus including three points: to remember, to observe, and to transmit in its integrity;
v. 10. specially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord, thy God, in Horeb, when the Law was given from Mount Sinai, when the Lord said unto me, Gather Me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.
v. 11. And ye came near and stood under the mountain, at its foot; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, so that the fire and the smoke rose up into the sky as far as the eye could reach, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness, for the happenings on the mountain were screened from the eyes of the people by a heavy screen of dark clouds.
v. 12. And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire; ye heard the voice, the sound, of the words, but saw no similitude, no form of God; only ye heard a voice. God did not manifest Himself in any outline or shape which was visible to human eyes.
v. 13. And he declared unto you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, even ten commandments, Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 34:28; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone. The covenant consisted essentially in this, that the doing on the part of the people corresponded to the command on the part of the Lord. As the memory of God's goodness and of the covenant was to induce Israel to be faithful to Him, so we Christians should ever keep His kindness and His mercy before our eyes as a spur to a life of sanctification.
Warning Against Idolatry
v. 14. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it, namely, the precepts contained in the legislation beginning with Exodus 21.
v. 15. Take ye, therefore, good heed unto yourselves, every one was to watch carefully over his soul; for ye saw no manner of similitude, no form or outline which could be used as the basis for a picture, on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire;
v. 16. lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, either carved or hewn, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,
v. 17. the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air,
v. 18. the likeness of anything that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth, any statue or picture whatever which might be used for purposes of gross idolatry;
v. 19. and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even. all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, Romans 1:25, and serve them, which the Lord, thy God, hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. God's original purpose was that the heavenly bodies should serve mankind, Genesis 1:17-18. Since the heathen, however, carried away by the lure of the unknown, by the enticement of the light bodies, had given them divine honor, the Lord had permitted them to remain in their foolishness, as a punishment for turning from Him.
v. 20. But the Lord hath taken you and brought you forth out of their on furnace, a significant picture of the most severe misery and oppression, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day, Exodus 19:5.
v. 21. Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, Numbers 20:12, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee for an inheritance;
v. 22. but I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan; but ye shall go over and possess that good land. The wistful tone which Moses employs shows how deeply he was affected by the Lord's ruling that excluded him from the Land of Promise.
v. 23. Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord, your God, which he made with you, and make you, a graven image or the likeness of anything which the Lord, thy God, hath forbidden thee.
v. 24. For the Lord, thy God, is a consuming fire, even a jealous God, whose righteous anger devours the children of disobedience. We should remember at all times that God will not be mocked, but that He resents every attack upon His holiness and righteousness and will punish all willful transgressors.
The Appeal Supported by a Reference to God's Kindness
v. 25. When thou shalt beget children and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, literally, become old in the land, which would include the forgetting of the former acts of God's mercy, and shall corrupt yourselves, the first zealous love for Jehovah having grown cold, and make a graven image, or the likeness of anything, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord, thy God, to provoke Him to anger,
v. 26. I call heaven and earth, as living, sensible creatures, to witness against you this day that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. The witness summoned by Moses would be able to testify to the fact that the Lord had given His people the choice of life and death, Deuteronomy 30:19, and therefore was fully justified in punishing unfaithfulness.
v. 27. And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you, Leviticus 26:33. All the judgments of the Lord upon His disobedient people are here included, down to the time of the Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.
v. 28. And there, in the captivity and in the final dispersal among the nations, ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell, Psalms 115:4-5; Psalms 135:15-16; Isaiah 44:9; Isaiah 46:7. Having rejected Jehovah, they would find themselves condemned by Him in being given up to the foolishness of their idolatrous hearts.
v. 29. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord, thy God, turning back to Him in true repentance, thou shalt find Him, if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. Cf Luke 15:17. The promise that the children of Israel should find Jehovah is a wonderful and comforting Gospel-message: for it assures them that His kindness, grace, and mercy will be poured out upon the truly repentant sinners once more.
v. 30. When thou art in tribulation, misery, oppression, and all these things are come upon thee, find thee, strike thee, even in the latter days, in the far-distant future, if thou turn to the Lord, thy God, and shalt be obedient unto His voice,
v. 31. (for the Lord, thy God, is a merciful God,) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them. The covenant of God's faithfulness and mercy would not be broken on His side.
v. 32. For ask now of the days that are past, search the records of the world's history from the beginning, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, as far as the world extends, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it.
v. 33. Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? All of which goes to show that the Lord had singled out Israel for unusual manifestations of His kindness.
v. 34. Or hath God assayed (essayed) to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, as He did in leading Israel out of the midst of the Egyptians, by temptations, by which the position of Pharaoh over against the Lord was tried out, by signs and by wonders, the great plagues of Egypt, and by war, when the Egyptians were about to attack the children of Israel at the Red Sea, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm, Exodus 13:3; Exodus 6:6, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord, your God, did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
v. 35. Unto thee, before every other nation on the earth, it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord, He is God; there is none else beside Him. He is the one exclusive, the one true God.
v. 36. Out of heaven he made thee to hear His voice, Exodus 19:9-19, that He might instruct thee; and upon earth He showed thee His great fire, in the burning of Mount Sinai; and thou heardest His words out of the midst of the fire. The purpose of this instruction was to impart a wholesome fear of the sanctity of Jehovah to the hearts of the people.
v. 37. And because He loved thy fathers, from Abraham down, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in His sight with His mighty power out of Egypt, Exodus 13:3-14;
v. 38. to drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an in heritance, as it is this day, for the conquest of the country east of the Jordan was a guarantee of the conquest of the entire country.
v. 39. Know, therefore, this day, and consider it in thine heart, contemplate the lessons of all these happenings most carefully, that the Lord, he is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else, there is only one true God; He is unity.
v. 40. Thou shalt keep, therefore, His statutes and His commandments which I command thee this day, both those pertaining to them, concerning them, as men, and those having reference to them as the covenant people, that it may go well with thee, since they would have Jehovah on their side, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee, forever; for a long and happy life, accompanied by the goodness of the Lord, is a blessing. We Christians also know the precepts of the Lord's holy will and should live in accordance with them. If we are always mindful of the fact that God has redeemed us from the kingdom of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, we shall also be ready to serve Him in true obedience, to do according to His commandments.
Conclusion of the First Address
v. 41. Then Moses severed, set apart, three cities on this side Jordan toward the sun-rising, in the territory of the two and one half tribes,
v. 42. that the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbor unawares, without premeditation and intention, and hated him not in times past, and that, fleeing unto one of these cities, he might live, Deuteronomy 19:4-13; Numbers 35:9-34;
v. 43. namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, in the steppes, of the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, of the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, from which this region afterwards received the name Gaulanitis, of the Manassites.
v. 44. And this is the Law which Moses set before the children of Israel;
v. 45. these are the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments which Moses spake unto the children of Israel after they came forth out of Egypt,
v. 46. on this side 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, Numbers 21:24, after they were, come forth out of Egypt;
v. 47. and they possessed his land and the land of Og, king of Bashan, two kings of the Amorites, which were on this side Jordan toward the sun-rising;
v. 48. from Aroer, which is by the bank of the river Arnon, even unto Mount Sion, which is Hermon,
v. 49. and all the plain on this side Jordan eastward, even unto the Sea of the Plain, the Dead Sea, under the springs of Pisgah, near the mouth of the Arnon. This detailed description of time and place serves as an introduction to the great exposition of the Law which follows in the next part of the Book of Deuteronomy.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent