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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 4:0


Moses Commands ObedienceConclusion to the First AddressMoses Urges Israel to be ObedientThe Apostasy at Beth-Peor contrasted with True Wisdom
Deuteronomy 4:1-8Deuteronomy 4:1-4Deuteronomy 4:1-4Deuteronomy 4:1-8
Deuteronomy 4:5-8Deuteronomy 4:5-6
Deuteronomy 4:7-10The Revelation at Horeb; Its Demands
Deuteronomy 4:9-14Deuteronomy 4:9-14 Deuteronomy 4:9-14
Beware of Idolatry Deuteronomy 4:11-14
Deuteronomy 4:15-24Deuteronomy 4:15-20Deuteronomy 4:15-24Deuteronomy 4:15-20
Of Punishment to Come and of Conversion
Deuteronomy 4:21-24 Deuteronomy 4:21-24
Deuteronomy 4:25-31Deuteronomy 4:25-31Deuteronomy 4:25-31Deuteronomy 4:25-28
Deuteronomy 4:29-31
The Glory of Having Been Chosen by God
Deuteronomy 4:32-40Deuteronomy 4:32-40Deuteronomy 4:32-40Deuteronomy 4:32-34
Deuteronomy 4:35-38
Deuteronomy 4:39-40
Cities of Refuge East of the JordanAn AppendixThe Cities of Refuge East of the JordanThe Cities of Refuge
Deuteronomy 4:41-43Deuteronomy 4:41-43Deuteronomy 4:41-43Deuteronomy 4:41-43
Introduction to God's LawMoses' Second Address (Deuteronomy 4:44-19;28)Introduction to the Giving of God's LawThe Second Discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 4:44-32)
Deuteronomy 4:44-49Deuteronomy 4:44-49Deuteronomy 4:44-49Deuteronomy 4:44-49

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following

the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:1-4 1”Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. 3Your eyes have seen what the LORD has done in the case of Baal-peor, for all the men who followed Baal-peor, the Lord your God has destroyed them from among you. 4But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you.”

Deuteronomy 4:1 “listen” This VERB (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used often in Deuteronomy (e.g., Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:3, Deuteronomy 6:4; Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 20:3; Deuteronomy 27:10; Deuteronomy 33:7). Its basic meaning is “to hear so as to do.” It focuses on action, not just hearing (cf. James 1:22-25). This chapter has several warnings, Deuteronomy 4:0:l, 2, 6, 9, 13, 14, 15, 19, 23, and 26 (cf. Micah 1:2; Micah 3:1; Micah 6:1).

“the statutes and the judgments” These include the collective revelations of God. It is all that God has revealed about Himself and His covenant requirements. It is similar in meaning to the word Torah (lit. “teachings,” i.e., Mosaic legislation).


“which I am teaching you” Moses served as YHWH's agent of deliverance and revelation (i.e., prophet, cf. Deuteronomy 3:14; Deuteronomy 4:1-17; Deuteronomy 18:15-18; Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

“to perform” The INFINITIVE (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) encourages the people to hear God's law and then obey it (cf. Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 30:8).

“so that they may go in and take possession of the land” Notice the conditional nature of God's covenant (e.g., Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 16:20; Deuteronomy 30:16, Deuteronomy 30:19). All of thee VERBS are Qal PERFECTS. The last VERB in Deuteronomy 4:1 (giving) is a Qal PARTICIPLE. God's gift depends on Israel's actions!

“the God of your fathers” This refers to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, cf. Deuteronomy 1:11, Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 4:31, Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 26:7; Deuteronomy 27:3). All of the covenants with the Patriarchs involved conditions (except Genesis 6-9 and Deuteronomy 15:12-21).

Deuteronomy 4:2 “you shall not add to the word. . .nor take away from it” This does not refer to scribes updating the text of the Law, but rather that you cannot add to the essence of the Law (cf. Deuteronomy 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Jeremiah 26:2). These bans on adding to or subtracting from are characteristic of ancient Near Eastern literature. There is a slight difference between the Ten Words as recorded in Exodus 20:0 and Deuteronomy 5:0.

Deuteronomy 4:3 “Baal-peor” This refers to the place where Israelites turned from following YHWH and went after the fertility gods of Moab (cf. Numbers 25:1-9).

Deuteronomy 4:4 “you who held fast to the LORD” The Hebrew word “hold,” “cleave” (BDB 180) is translated as a VERB in NASB. It is the opposite of “follow after” in Deuteronomy 4:3 (i.e., Ba'al). The VERB form of this word is used:

1. of cleaving to one's wife in Genesis 2:24

2. of Ruth clinging to Naomi in Ruth 1:14.

It denotes an attitude of loyalty or commitment. It is used in parallel with “love” in Genesis 34:3; 1 Kings 11:2; Proverbs 18:24 (see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 911).

Even in the election of God, humans had to respond appropriately. Even as God chose Israel to be His priestly nation (cf. Exodus 19:5-6), each individual had to choose God. This is a balance between God's sovereignty and human freewill. It is also the balance of corporality (“you” PLURAL) versus individual (“everyone of you”) response.

These is no VERB in Deuteronomy 4:4; the VERBAL idea is conveyed by two ADJECTIVES (BDB 180, 311).

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:5-8 5”See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6So keep and do them, for that 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.' 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Deuteronomy 4:5

NASB, NRSV“See” NKJV“surely” TEV------ NJB“look”

This is a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 906, KB 1157). It was a literary way of asserting that Moses had fulfilled his responsibility and now the people must respond appropriately.

Deuteronomy 4:6

NASB“So keep and do themNKJV“therefore be careful to observe themNRSV“You must observe them diligently” TEV“Obey them faithfully” NJB“Keep them, put them into practice”

There are two VERBS in this phrase:

1. “keep” (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal PERFECT), which means “keep,” “watch,” or “preserve.” This VERB is used often in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy, cf. Deuteronomy 2:4; Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 4:6, Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:15, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:40; many other places)

2. “do” (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal PERFECT) means “do” or “make.” The VERB is also used often in the OT (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 4:3, Deuteronomy 4:6, Deuteronomy 4:13, Deuteronomy 4:14, Deuteronomy 4:16, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:25).

Deuteronomy 4:6 “wisdom” This term (BDB 315) is used in Proverbs 1:2, Proverbs 1:7 and the ADJECTIVE in Deuteronomy 1:6. This wisdom is knowledge of God and His will. It is what humans seek because they are made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), and for fellowship with Him (cf. Deuteronomy 4:7-8).

“understanding” This term (BDB 108) is parallel to wisdom. Its goal is an informed, godly, happy life (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:28; Proverbs 2:1-22; Proverbs 3:13-18).

“Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” Did God choose Israel because He loved them more than any others? God loves all men equally (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God simply needed a place to begin. He chose Abraham and his seed to be a kingdom of priests to the world (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:4-6; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8). Theirs was an election for purpose rather than election because of special love. See Special Topic below.


Deuteronomy 4:7 “what great nation is there that has a god so near to it” This refers to God's personal presence (i.e., immanence) with Israel in the form of the Shekinah cloud (wilderness wandering period) and later the ark of the covenant (beyond Jordan and into the monarchial period).

“whenever we call on Him” This shows that the Jews had confidence that the God who made the world was the God who would respond to them when they prayed. He is both powerful and personal (e.g., Psalms 34:18; Psalms 145:18)! A God who acts, just opposite from the Canaanite idols!

Deuteronomy 4:8 “statutes and judgments. . .law” See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

“righteous” This is a metaphor from a river reed. God' righteousness is the standard or ruler by which we are measured. The law is based on the character of God. See Special Topic: Righteousness.

Verses 9-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:9-14 9”Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. 10Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, 'Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.' 11You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. 12Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form - only a voice. 13So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.”

Deuteronomy 4:9

NASB“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently” NKJV“Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself” NRSV“But take care and watch yourselves closely” TEV“Be on your guard! Make certain. . .” NJB“But take care, as you value your lives”

This phrase has two IMPERATIVES from the same root:

1. “give heed” - BDB 1036, KB 1581, Niphal IMPERATIVE, cf. Deuteronomy 4:15; Joshua 23:11; Jeremiah 17:21).

2. “keep” - BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal IMPERATIVE in the sense of “keep by doing” (cf. Deuteronomy 7:12).

Obedience is a life-and-death issue (cf. Deuteronomy 30:15-20)!

“so that you do not forget. . .they do not depart” See Deuteronomy 8:11-20.

“heart” In Hebrew psychology the emotions are centered in the bowels. The heart is the center of the intellect (especially memory) and personality. God is saying, “Do not forget the law!” See Special Topic: Heart.

“all the days of your life” A lifestyle commitment is required (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 16:3).

“make them known to your sons and your grandsons” This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 6:7, Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 31:13; Deuteronomy 32:46; and note Exodus 10:2; Exodus 12:26; Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14). If believers do not teach their children about God, they are failures as parents (biblically speaking)! Faith runs through families (cf. Deuteronomy 5:10; Deuteronomy 7:9)!

Deuteronomy 4:10Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb” The hearers were the children of the exodus generation. This specifically refers to Exodus 19-20. Remembering God's great acts of deliverance (i.e., exodus) is a recurrent theme (cf. Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 9:7, Deuteronomy 9:27; Deuteronomy 11:2; Deuteronomy 15:15; Deuteronomy 16:3, Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 24:9, Deuteronomy 24:18, Deuteronomy 24:22; Deuteronomy 25:17; Deuteronomy 32:7).

“so they may learn to fear Me” God acted as He did on Mt. Horeb so that they would hold Him in reverential awe (cf. Exodus 20:20; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Eccl. 12:15; Isaiah 11:2-3; Psalms 34:11).

Deuteronomy 4:11 “the mountain burned with fire” Fire is a symbol of God's presence (cf. Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 5:23; Deuteronomy 9:15; Hebrews 12:18). It may symbolize purity. See Special Topic below.


“darkness, cloud and thick gloom” YHWH's physical presence can be understood in two ways:

1. volcanic activity - Exodus 19:18; Psalms 68:7-8; Psalms 77:18; Psalms 97:2-5; Judges 5:4-5; 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 29:6; Jeremiah 10:10

2. storm - Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19; Psalms 68:8; Psalms 77:18; Judges 5:4; Isaiah 29:6; Nahum 1:3

Therefore, the deep darkness (cf. Deuteronomy 5:22; 2 Samuel 22:10; 1 Kings 8:12; 2 Chronicles 6:1) might be:

1. ash clouds

2. rain clouds

This covering was for Israel's protection (cf. Exodus 19:18). They thought that if humans looked upon God they would die (cf. Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 20:19; Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:22).

Deuteronomy 4:12 “but you saw no form” God has no physical form (cf. John 4:24). He allowed Moses to see His “afterglow” in Exodus 33:23. YHWH desires no physical representation because of fallen mankind's tendency toward idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 4:15-19).

Deuteronomy 4:13 “He declared to you His covenant” This VERB (BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil IMPERFECT), when used with God as the subject, denotes new revelation (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:11; Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 45:19; Amos 4:13).

The IMPERFECT tense implies that the “ten words” are not all of YHWH's revelation. Much of the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy are explanations of the implications of the Decalog. See Special Topic below.


“Ten commandments” Literally this means “ten words” (BDB 797 CONSTRUCT 182) and is known in Greek as the Decalogue. They are very brief, a summary of God's revelation (cf. Exodus 20:0; Deuteronomy 5:0).

“He wrote them” God Himself wrote (anthropomorphic, see Special Topic: God Described As Human [anthropomorphism]) the “ten words” (cf. Exodus 31:8; Exodus 32:15-16). Reflecting on the literalness of this statement does not affect the divine source of the commands!

“two tablets of stone” From recent archaeological discoveries and what we call the Suzerain Hittite Treaties (of the 2nd millennium B.C.), we know that Deuteronomy follows their outline and form. I think that the “two tablets” refers to two, exact copies of the Ten Commandments required by these treaty patterns (also a documenting of the past act of the major power making the treaty, i.e., Deuteronomy 1-4). This establishes the historicity of Deuteronomy. See introduction to the book, VII.

Deuteronomy 4:14 “you might perform them” It is not enough to know God's will for your life, but to do it (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 4:5, Deuteronomy 4:6; Luke 6:46; James 2:14-20).

Verses 15-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:15-20 15”So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, 16so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. 19And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.

Deuteronomy 4:15

NASB“So watch yourselves carefully” NKJV“Take careful heed to yourselves” NRSV“take care and watch yourselves closely” TEV“For your own good, then, make certain” NJB“be very careful what you do”

The VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Niphal PERFECT) is used in Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 4:6, Deuteronomy 4:9(twice),15,23,40. Israel's actions were conditionally connected to YHWH's covenant. They were to strenuously avoid idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 5:8-10).

Deuteronomy 4:16 “act corruptly and make a graven image” This is a reference to the golden calf (cf. Exodus 32:0) related to YHWH's incorporality. The Israelites were not to represent YHWH by anything physical (cf. Deuteronomy 4:16-18, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 5:8; Exodus 20:4).

“the likeness of male or female” Mankind's tendency has been to make God like a man or woman. If we put God in a human form, we have put Him into a form which we can manage.

Deuteronomy 4:17 “likeness of any animal” This may refer to (1) other nations' use of animals to represent their gods and goddesses or (2) characteristics of animals to describe God.

Deuteronomy 4:18 “creeps on the ground” This possibly refers to the Egyptian Scarab beetle which was holy to them.

Deuteronomy 4:19 “the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven” The ancients, as well as the moderns (horoscope), felt that the stars represented forces or powers that control the lives of humans. The worship of astral bodies seems to have started in Babylon (Genesis 1:0 may represent a reaction to this type of idolatry, as Exodus 20:0 represents a reaction to Egyptian idolatry). Israel is to vigorously reject this kind of idolatry!

“those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples” The VERB (BDB 323, KB 322, Qal PERFECT) means “to divide,” but in the sense of allotment or apportionment. This could imply that God encouraged astral worship, but I think instead it is another way to show YHWH's sovereignty over all the earth (cf. Deuteronomy 29:26; Deuteronomy 32:8). Idolatry was never God's plan or will for mankind.

Deuteronomy 4:20 “the iron furnace” A furnace takes unusable ore, heats it and makes it usable metal. This is an analogy of what God did to Israel in Egypt (cf. 1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4 and the same metaphor in Isaiah 48:10).

“to be a people for His own possession” This was a special title for YHWH's covenant people (e.g., Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18; Titus 2:14; and 1 Peter 2:9). They have a divine inheritance (YHWH and land) because YHWH had chosen them even before creation (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8-9; Psalms 33:6-12; Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 51:19) to represent Himself to the world.

Verses 21-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:21-24 21”Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22For I will die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan, but you shall cross and take possession of this good land. 23So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. 24For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”

Deuteronomy 4:21 “the LORD was angry with me on your account” Moses was reminding the people of God's punishment to him because of his disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26; Numbers 20:7-13). If they disobey, they will be punished also!

Deuteronomy 4:23 “So watch yourselves” The VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Niphal IMPERATIVE) is repeated often in this chapter. There are covenant benefits, but also covenant consequences (cf. Deuteronomy 4:25; chapters 27-29).

“that you do not forget the covenant” The VERB (BDB 1013, KB 1489,Qal PERFECT) is also found several times in this chapter (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:31) and also in Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:11, Deuteronomy 8:14, Deuteronomy 8:19[twice]; Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 24:19[twice]; Deuteronomy 25:19; and Deuteronomy 30:13; Deuteronomy 31:21; Deuteronomy 32:18. This is a major recurrent theme!

Deuteronomy 4:24 “jealous” YHWH is described in this verse in two ways:

1. “a consuming fire” (BDB 77 and BDB 37, KB 46, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, cf. Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3; Hebrews 12:29) which denotes”

a. YHWH is the covenant-making God of Sinai

b. He is the God of judgment if the covenant is violated

2. “a jealous God” (BDB 888 and 42, cf. Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 6:15; Joshua 24:19) which denotes His personal, loving commitment to Israel, which is analogous to a marriage covenant (cf. Hosea 1-3). The covenant broken results in rejection (e.g., Joshua 24:19; Nahum 1:2). The word has a wide semantic field:

a. passion - Proverbs 6:34; Song of Song of Solomon 8:6

b. anger - Proverbs 14:30; Proverbs 27:4

c. jealousy - Genesis 26:14; Numbers 5:11-22; Ezekiel 31:9

d. competition - Ecclesiastes 4:4

e. devotion - Numbers 11:29

(list from NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 938)


Verses 25-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:25-31 25”When you become the father of children and children's children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD your God so as to provoke Him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. 28There you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. 29But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. 31For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.”

Deuteronomy 4:25 “have remained long in the land” This was not so much an individual promise of longevity, but a corporate promise to societies where parents teach the children about God and the children honor the parents. Stable families form stable societies (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 4:40 and Deuteronomy 5:16, Deuteronomy 5:33).

“act corruptly” The VERB (BDB 1007, KB 1469, Hiphil PERFECT) means “to spoil” or “to ruin” and, by metaphorical extension, came to refer to covenant violations (i.e., idolatry, cf. Deuteronomy 4:16, Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 9:0; Deuteronomy 12:0; Deuteronomy 31:29).

so as to provoke Him to anger” This phrase is a Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 494, e.g., 32:21; 1 Kings 15:30; 1 Kings 16:13). Again, anthropomorphic language describes YHWH's reaction to human sin! See Special Topic: God Described As Human (anthropomorphism).

Deuteronomy 4:26 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today” This was part of the Suzerain Hittite Treaties (need for powerful spiritual witnesses, cf. Intro. to Book, VII). These are the two most permanent things in physical creation. They are often called on by God to act as witnesses. It also reflects the Israeli legal system's need for two witnesses in a court case (cf. Exodus 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). The phrase is used often in connection with the ratification of the covenant with YHWH (cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28).

“you will surely perish quickly from the land” See Deut. 27-29, but notice the theological balance of Deuteronomy 4:31. Unaided, fallen mankind has no hope of covenant obedience! (Cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-36).

Deuteronomy 4:27 “scatter you among the peoples” This seems to predict the exile of the covenant people by Assyria (722 B.C.) and Babylon (605, 597, 586, 582 B.C.), which is predicted in Deuteronomy 4:4 and 29:28.

“left few in number” This is a part of the consequences involved in breaking the covenant. It is opposite to the covenant blessing promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:5.

Deuteronomy 4:28 “you will serve gods, the work of man's hands” The VERB “serve” (BDB 712, KB 773, Qal PERFECT) is used in the sense of worship or performance of cultic tasks:

1. positively of YHWH - Exodus 3:12; Exodus 4:23; Deuteronomy 6:13; 1 Samuel 7:3

2. negatively of other gods - Exodus 23:33; Deuteronomy 4:19, Deuteronomy 4:28; Joshua 23:7; Judges 2:10, Judges 2:19; Judges 10:6, Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 22:10; 1 Kings 16:31; 2 Kings 17:12

This Hebrew root becomes an honorific title of YHWH's servant:

1. the Patriarchs - Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 9:27

2. Caleb - Numbers 14:24

3. Moses - Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7; Deuteronomy 34:5; 1 Kings 8:53

4. Joshua - Joshua 24:29

5. David - 1 Samuel 23:10; 1 Samuel 25:39

6. Isaiah - Isaiah 20:3

7. Messiah - Isaiah 53:0; Zechariah 3:8

8. Nebuchadnezzar - Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10

9. Cyrus - Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1

10. the nation of Israel - Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4

The references in Deuteronomy 4:26, Deuteronomy 4:27, Deuteronomy 4:28 show the conditional nature of God's promise (i.e., Deuteronomy 4:26, YHWH takes them out of the land; Deuteronomy 4:27, YHWH scatters them to other countries; Deuteronomy 4:28, they see idolatry firsthand) and the folly of idolatry!

Deuteronomy 4:29 “you will seek the LORD” The VERB (BDB 134, KB 152, Piel PERFECT) means “to seek” as in to restore the covenantal relationship with YHWH, broken by disobedience. The repentance demands total commitment (i.e., “with all of your heart and all of your soul,” cf. Deuteronomy 26:16; Deuteronomy 30:2, Deuteronomy 30:10).

God's forgiveness is always available upon true repentance (cf. Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Deuteronomy 30:1-3, Deuteronomy 30:10). True repentance is not lip service, but complete faith. Repentance is a lifestyle change, not an emotion. We see examples of shallow, short-lived repentance in Hosea 6:1-3 and Jeremiah 3:21-25.

If they seek Him, they will find Him (cf. Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 29:13). YHWH is not hard to find. He just expects His people to reflect His character! See Special Topic: Repentance in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 4:30 Moses predicts Israel's rebellion, as does Joshua (cf. Joshua 24:19-28). The fall has spiritually damaged mankind's ability to obey God (cf. Romans 1-3; Galatians 3:0).

Notice that although Deuteronomy 4:26 seems to imply an immediate judgment, Deuteronomy 4:27 implies the Assyrian (722 B.C.) and Babylonian (605, 597, 586, 582 B.C.) exiles and Deuteronomy 4:30 speaks of an end-time setting (“in the latter days”). Israel must be covenantally related to YHWH. She can do this by covenant obedience (which Romans 1-3 and Galatians 3:0 say is impossible) or she can do it by new covenant faith/repentance in Jesus. All believers pray for an end-time revival among Jewish people (possibly Zechariah 12:10 or Romans 11:0).

Deuteronomy 4:31 “the LORD your God is a compassionate God” For the names of deity (El, YHWH, Elohim) see the Special Topic at Deuteronomy 1:3.

The ADJECTIVE “compassionate” (BDB 933) means “merciful” or “compassionate.” It is one of several characteristics used to describe Israel's God. See Special Topic following.


“He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers” There are three negated VERBS:

1. fail - BDB 951, KB 1276, Hiphil IMPERFECT (literally “let the hands fall”), which means abandon or forsake (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5; Joshua 10:6; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Hebrews 13:5)

2. destroy - BDB 1007, KB 1469, Hiphil IMPERFECT, which means “ruin,” “spoil,” and “destroy” (cf. Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 10:10; Jeremiah 30:11)

3. forget - BDB 1013, KB 1489, Qal IMPERFECT (cf. Lev. 20:45, see Special Topic: Covenant Promises to the Patriarchs.

The difficult theological issue is how to take seriously God's promises in this verse in relation to the previous covenant demands. The inability of Israel to keep the covenant is documented in their history and in Paul's writings (cf. Romans 2-3; Galatians 3:0). The need for a “new covenant,” based not on human performance but divine will and action is God's answer (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38). God never changes, but neither does Israel! God's demand for a righteous people cannot be met in human effort or will! We need a new heart and a new spirit!

You must decide! Is the OT to be viewed through the NT or is the NT to be viewed through the OT? Is the focus on Israel or the world? Is the issue faith or race? If there is a “parenthesis” in God's eternal plan of redemption, it is not the church (i.e., dispensationalism), but Israel!

SPECIAL TOPIC: Why OT Covenant Promises seem Different from NT Covenant Promises

Verses 32-40

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:32-40 32”Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? 33Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? 34Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 36Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. 37Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. 39Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. 40So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

Deuteronomy 4:32 “ask” The VERB (BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal IMPERATIVE) means inquire of God about the uniqueness of Israel's relationship to deity (cf. Deuteronomy 4:32-40).

“since the day that God created man on earth” This refers to Genesis 1-2; also see Psalms 104:0.

Deuteronomy 4:34 “by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” These are anthropomorphic idioms (see Special Topic: Hand) used to describe YHWH's power of deliverance on behalf of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 6:21; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 11:2; Deuteronomy 26:8). In some texts the phrase is shortened to “mighty hand” (cf. Deuteronomy 3:24; Deuteronomy 6:21; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26; Joshua 4:24) or “outstretched arm” (cf. Deuteronomy 9:29; Exodus 6:6). This idiomatic terminology has a specific parallel in Egyptian texts related to the “king” (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 92).

Deuteronomy 4:35 “that you might know” The miracles of Deuteronomy 4:34 were for the purpose of establishing Israel's faith (cf. Exodus 7:5, Exodus 7:17; Exodus 10:2; Exodus 31:13). For “know” (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) see Special Topic following.


“the LORD, He is God” See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

“no other besides Him” There is no other spirit or god in YHWH's category (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 6:4; Deuteronomy 32:39). See full note at Deuteronomy 6:4.

Deuteronomy 4:36 “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice” This verse is referring to YHWH's physical manifestation of His presence on Mt. Horeb/Sinai, recorded in Exodus 19:0.

Deuteronomy 4:37 “Because He loved your fathers” This refers to God's choice of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the Patriarchs of Genesis 12-50, cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15).

“He chose” Election (i.e., choose” BDB 103, KB 119, Qal IMPERFECT) in the OT is for service (e.g., Cyrus, Isaiah 44:24-7), not salvation as in the NT.

“He personally brought you from Egypt” The term “personally” (BDB 815) is literally “face,” which denotes God's personal presence (cf. Deuteronomy 5:4; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:14-15; Isaiah 63:9, “the angel of His presence”). This is also the root behind “face to face” (cf. Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10 and same thought in “mouth to mouth” of Numbers 12:8).

YHWH truly is the God who is with us (i.e., Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8, Isaiah 8:10). Sin breaks the intimacy and YHWH turns His face away (cf. Deuteronomy 31:17; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:3, Leviticus 20:6; Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 18:17; Ezekiel 7:22; Ezekiel 39:23, Ezekiel 39:24, Ezekiel 39:29).

Deuteronomy 4:38

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“nations greater and mightier” TEV, REB“nations greater and more powerful” NJB“nations greater and more populous”

These nations can be seen (Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 11:23; Joshua 23:9) as”

1. more numerous in population (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7)

2. inhabitants physically greater (giants) in size (cf. Numbers 13:22, Numbers 13:28, Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 1:28)

“as it is today” This seems to be a sign of a later editor's statement, but it can refer to the kingdoms of Sihon and Og on the eastern side of Jordan. See note at Deuteronomy 3:14.

Deuteronomy 4:39 This is another strong statement of monotheism. See note at Deuteronomy 6:4.

Deuteronomy 4:40 “statutes. . .commandments” See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

“that you may live long on the land” The VERB is literally “prolong” (BDB 73, KB 88, Hiphil IMPERFECT, cf. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 4:26, Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16, Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 22:7; Deuteronomy 25:15; Deuteronomy 30:18; Deuteronomy 32:47). Notice the conditional element!

“which the LORD your God is giving you for all time” The VERB (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) must be interpreted in light of the meaning of “for all time.” See Special Topic below.


Verses 41-43

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:41-43 41Then Moses set apart three cities across the Jordan to the east, 42that a manslayer might flee there, who unintentionally slew his neighbor without having enmity toward him in time past; and by fleeing to one of these cities he might live: 43Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.

Deuteronomy 4:41 “three cities across the Jordan to the east” These cities are called “cities of refuge” (cf. Numbers 35:0; Deuteronomy 19:0; Joshua 20:0). There were six of them, three for each side of the Jordan. They were all Levitical cities (cf. Joshua 21:0), where the Levites, who had not land inheritance, lived. They were part of the “eye for eye” justice system of Israel. If someone accidently killed a covenant partner then that family had the legal right to kill him (i.e., the blood avenger of Numbers 35:12; Deuteronomy 19:6, Deuteronomy 19:12; Joshua 20:3, Joshua 20:5, Joshua 20:9). If the one who accidentally killed another fled to one of these special cities, there was a trial by the elders; if he was found not to be a premeditated murderer, then he could live in the city safely (until the death of the High Priest). Then he could return to his home safely (in a legal sense).

Notice “across Jordan” is here qualified so as to refer to the eastern bank.

Deuteronomy 4:42 “unintentionally” The negated term (BDB 395) refers to the death of a fellow Israelite accidentally, without premeditation or prejudice. We would call it manslaughter.

The lack of evil motive is the key element. It becomes the theological heart of the sacrificial system. Any sin committed intentionally had no sacrifice available (cf. Exodus 21:12-14; Leviticus 4:2, Leviticus 4:22, Leviticus 4:27; Leviticus 5:15-18; Leviticus 22:14; Numbers 15:27, Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12-13; Joshua 20:1-6). Even the national sacrifice by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0) did not cover premeditated sin (cf. Ps: 51:14-17)! Are you not glad we are under the NT sacrifice of Jesus?!

At this point I would like to add a quote from NIDOTTE, vol. 2, discussing the concept of:

“'Unintentionally' or 'inadvertently' (Leviticus 4:2) is both strategic and problematic (cf. Deuteronomy 4:13, Deuteronomy 4:22, Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 5:15, Deuteronomy 5:18; Deuteronomy 22:14; Numbers 15:22, Numbers 15:24-29). Because of it some scholars have concluded that the sin offering only treated inadvertent sin, that is, sins that were committed by mistake or sins which were done not knowing that the particular act was sinful (see Melgrom, 1991, 228-29). However, the word 'unintentionally' means basically 'in error' (the vb. means to commit an error, go astray). Although it can also mean that the error was unintentional or inadvertent (see e.g. Numbers 35:11, Numbers 35:15, Numbers 35:22-23; Josh 20:39), this is not necessarily the case (see 1 Samuel 26:21; Ecclesiastes 5:6)” (p. 94).

Verses 44-49

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 4:44-49 44 Now this is the law which Moses set before the sons of Israel; 45these are the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, when they came out from Egypt, 46across the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon, whom Moses and the sons of Israel defeated when they came out from Egypt. 47They took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were across the Jordan to the east, 48from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, even as far as Mount Sion (that is, Hermon), 49with all the Arabah across the Jordan to the east, even as far as the sea of the Arabah, at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah.

Deuteronomy 4:44-45 “Law. . .testimonies. . .statutes. . .ordinances” See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

Deuteronomy 4:45 “these are the testimonies” These are the words the psalmist used to describe the Torah, or the Law of God. The word “Torah” means “teachings” of God. The Law was not given as a burden meant to break man. The oral traditions which grew up around the Law made it a great burden. The OT is nothing more than the loving, self-revelation of God in the midst of human ignorance. The OT Law points up the seriousness of sin, the frailty of mankind, and the need for a savior, but it was given in love (cf. Psalms 19:7-9).

“which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel when they came out from Egypt” Moses is going over the Ten Commandments for the second time here. But the people who were hearing them this time were only children the first time they were given in Exodus 20:0 at Mt. Sinai. He is retelling it. Moses is doing for the children of Israel what he expects the father to do in his own home. Every generation has to tell the new generation about the will of God for their lives.

Deuteronomy 4:46-49 These verses are an historical summary of these two victories. The reason that God allowed two victories on the east side of Jordan is analogous to the concept of first fruits. The first fruits in Judaism are a little bit of the harvest to prove that God is faithful and that the whole harvest is going to come. The defeat of the two Amorite kings on the east side of the Jordan said to Israel, “I love you. I promised to give you the land. You know that I mean it. Trust and obey me and I'll give you the rest.”

This is another brief summary statement of the experience of Israel at the end of the wilderness wandering period in Moab.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Was OT faith basically a law to keep or a relationship with God?

2. Why does the Bible stress parents teaching their own children about God?

3. Why does God forbid man to make a physical representation of Him?

4. How was Israel God's special treasure? And why?

5. List the two prerequisites for a healthy lasting society.

6. List the three consequences for breaking the covenant.

7. Does this passage teach monotheism or henotheism?

8. Why did God choose Israel?

9. What was the purpose of the “eye for eye” revenge?

10. Did the sacrificial system adequately deal with man's sin? Why or why not?

11. How is Christ's sacrifice superior?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-4.html. 2021.
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