LIFE IN THE LAND DEPENDS ON COVENANT FAITHFULNESS AS THE UNIQUENESS OF ISRAEL RESPONDS TO THE UNIQUENESS OF THEIR GOD
Daniel Block: In Chapter 4 Moses’ first address reaches its climax. Although the chapter exhibits numerous links with the preceding, it is obviously a literary sub-section in its own right.
(1) Verse 1 opens with (lit.) “and now” (weʿattâ), which signals a turning point in the address.
(2) For the first time Moses appeals to his specific audience to “hear.”
(3) This chapter displays a significant change in style—from basically historical reminiscences to explicitly hortatory proclamation.
(4) At the same time in this chapter Moses recalls several additional events—Yahweh’s judgment at Baal Peor, the revelation of the Torah and the establishment of the covenant at Horeb, and the exodus from Egypt—with each place symbolizing greater spiritual realities.
(5) The chapter is characterized by a perplexing alternation between singular and plural second person forms. This alternation serves a rhetorical/sermonic goal. When Moses views Israel as a collective, he uses the singular; when he uses the plural, he recognizes that ethics and faith must be applied individually. By shifting to a more obviously sermonic style, Moses seeks to recapture in his audience the effect that the original theophany at Horeb should have had on the previous generation—wholehearted devotion to Yahweh.
Eugene Merrill: the exhortation is not delivered in a vacuum but finds its orientation in the historical review. What has already transpired is gone forever, but the lessons of history must not be forgotten and, in fact, must serve as the springboard for future thought and action.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Moses’ teaching is directed at Israel, that people chosen by God for a special mission (cf. Gen 12:3). More than most books of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy emphasizes the uniqueness of Israel and the special relationship it has with God (cf. 4:4–8; 7:7–11; 33:26–29). Israel receives the teaching not because it only applies to Israel—God’s torah given to Israel reflects a righteousness that pertains to all peoples (4:4–8)—but because through Israel’s obedience to it other peoples may come to recognize its God.
(:1) OPENING CHALLENGE – LISTEN / LIVE / LOCATE
[Main outline points adapted from Daniel Block and Gerald Gerbrandt]
1. Listen to God’s Revealed Code of Laws
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The next phrase sets the tone for the whole chapter: Give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe. Exhortations of this sort govern the spirit and structure of the discourse. They function as key markers of the six main units (1–4, 5–8, 9–14, 15–22, 23–31, 32–39), as each unit begins with summoning Israel to specific action: Give heed (v. 1). See (v. 5). But take care and watch yourselves closely (vv. 9, 15). So be careful not to forget the covenant (v. 23). For ask now about former ages (v. 32). And finally, Keep his statutes and commandments (v. 40). . .
The book does distinguish between the Ten Commandments and this whole torah, but all is designated by the phrase statutes and ordinances, along with its parallel terms in the book.
2. Live According to Moses’ Teaching of God’s Commands
“which I am teaching you to perform, in order that you may live”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Since Moses is the teacher, Deuteronomy may be called teaching. A recent book on Deuteronomy suggests that the most helpful category within which to understand Deuteronomy is catechesis, “the process of education in faith from one generation to another based on a distillation of essential tradition” (Olson: 11). In Deuteronomy Moses the great teacher shares the essentials of Yahwism with the next generation just before he dies.
Paul Barker: This life which is held out and promised is not mere physical existence. In Deuteronomy life is always life “in the land,” that is in God’s place, and life lived under God’s care and rule. Life is quality relationship to God, full of blessings because of that relationship. True life, life to the full, always has God at its centre. That is the life which Deuteronomy anticipates. It is the same sort of life Jesus came to bring (e.g. John 10:10; 14:6; 17:3).
David Thompson: God’s word is not given for mystical contemplation or academic postulations; it is given for real life application in real life situations. . . These instructions are not for the purpose of bogging down God’s people with a bunch of unnecessary rules so they cannot enjoy life. It is just the opposite. These instructions are that which lay out teachings to help govern all areas of life so people may live a happy and successful life. This is a great formula for successes in any area of life–hear the word of God and obey it.
3. Locate in the Promised Land which God has Gifted to You to Conquest
“and go in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”
Daniel Block: By “teaching” (limmēd) the “decrees and laws,” Moses functions as a pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11), reiterating earlier revelation, applying that revelation specifically to life in the land, declaring the essence of covenant relationship, and highlighting the importance of a correct response to the revealed will of God.
Peter Craigie: The life of the Hebrews as a nation would depend on the law, not in a totally legalistic sense, but in that the law was the basis of the covenant, and in the covenant rested their close relationship to their God. (In contrast to so that you may live, see Moses’ words in 4:22, “I am about to die.”) For the immediate future, Moses was expounding the law, because only by obedience to the law would the Israelites take possession of the land after they had crossed the Jordan.
Michael Grisanti: In the ultimate sense, whether or not Israel remained in the Land of Promise was determined by fidelity to the covenant made between them and God. The key observation to make from this interdependence is that “life” in the truest sense was only to be enjoyed when an Israelite lived in conformity with God’s expectations. Living in the land God gave them provided Israel with an international platform to demonstrate his character to the surrounding nations.
(:2-8) PROLOGUE – THE UNIQUENESS OF ISRAEL
A. (:2-4) Israel’s Unique Privileges Heighten Her Responsibility
1. (:2) Responsible to Maintain the Integrity of God’s Revealed Law
“You 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.”
Peter Craigie: It was the law, the gift of God at Horeb, that could not be supplemented or reduced. This did not mean, however, that there could be no further revelation from God; the promise of a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15–18) pointed forward beyond the present situation.
Cf. Matt. 5:17-18
2. (:3-4) Responsible to Maintain Covenant Loyalty
a. (:3) Historical Example of Infidelity and Judgment
“Your 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.”
Duane Christensen: One of the great lessons we can learn from the experience of ancient Israel in the religious life is that memory serves to lead to the continuing experience of the presence and activity of God. It is forgetfulness that opens the door to tragic failure on the part of the community of faith.
Peter Craigie: Certain Israelites had indulged in sexual relationships with Moabite women; it is possible that this took place in the context of a religious ceremony in honor of the god Baal. The behavior was quite contrary to the law of the Israelites and as a result the offenders were executed. The penalty was harsh, but implicit in the offense was a denial of a basic tenet of the Hebrew faith.
b. (:4) Present Experience of Loyalty and Blessing
“But you who held fast to the LORD your God are alive today, every one of you.”
Donald Ackland: The word “cleave” is significant. In Genesis 2:24 it describes the marriage relationship. It belongs to Deuteronomy’s vocabulary of tenderness as describing man’s response to the good ness of God. (See 10:20; 11:22; 13:4).
B. (:5-8) Israel’s Unique Privileges Should Motivate Obedience
1. (:5-6) Resolve to Obey
a. (:5) Absorb the Teaching and Possess the Land
“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.”
b. (:6) Apply the Truth and Proclaim God’s Wisdom to the Nations
“So 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.’”
Eugene Merrill: These statutes (and those about to be promulgated, v. 8) would do more than merely provide guidelines for successful life in the land. By obeying them, God’s people would also display before the nations what it means to be the people of the Lord and to have him in their midst (vv. 6-7). In a clear linkage with wisdom thought, Moses argued that keeping and doing the commandments of the Lord is in itself a definition of wisdom and understanding. That is, the very essence of wisdom is conformity with the will of God. Even the pagan nations—by whom wisdom was prized and highly sought after—would see in Israel’s covenant provisions a wisdom of a higher order, one to be eagerly emulated. This, of course, was part of the attraction of Israel by which they were to become a means of blessing the whole earth (cf. 1 Kgs 10:4, 7, 23-24).
Michael Grisanti: Israel’s faithful observation of God’s lofty expectations will uniquely affect those nations (cf. Ex 19:1–6). They will recognize Israel’s “greatness” (mentioned three times) by seeing Israel as a wise and understanding people, having a God who is near, and having righteous laws. Respect for Israel implies respect for Yahweh, the one from whom Israel has received these laws.
David Thompson: By obeying the word of God, God’s people make a powerful, attractive statement to the world. When God’s people purpose to truly and accurately know and obey the word of God, they make a statement to the world that this is the best way to live life and the best way to blessings. Living life according to God’s word is the key to blessing.
2. (:7-8) Reminder of Israel’s Unique Privileges
a. (:7) Intimate Access to God’s Responsiveness
“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Israel is a great nation, a phrase used three times (vv. 6–8). But it is an unusual greatness. Just as today, the tendency then was to consider a nation great if it had immense size or massive military or economic power. But none of those apply to Israel (cf. 1:28; 4:38; 7:7). The grounds for Israel’s greatness are twofold:
(1) the nearness of its God (v. 7) and
(2) the justness of its torah (v. 8).
Daniel Block: The Israelites are uniquely privileged because their God is near to them and he answers their prayers. When other peoples pray to their gods, they remain both aloof and silent. Craftsmen may design them with big ears, but they do not hear (cf. 4:28; Ps. 115:4–8).
b. (:8) Incomparable Code of Laws Promoting Righteousness
“Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
Patrick Miller: The statutes and ordinances from the Lord through Moses are themselves righteous. What is probably being identified here is the social righteousness of these laws, their concern for the weak, the poor, and the slave. In that the law is humane, even with regard to treatment of the natural order, in that it seeks justice and impartiality in all cases, and in that it makes concern for the powerless and the disadvantaged the primary criterion of a just society, Israel’s law as set forth in Deuteronomy demonstrated indeed a higher righteousness.
I. (:9-14) THE GRACE OF COVENANT PAST: THE ORIGINS OF YAHWEH’S COVENANT WITH ISRAEL
A. (:9) Historical Experience of God’s Faithfulness
• Must Keep You Anchored and
• Must Inform Succeeding Generations
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”
Daniel Block: Verses 9–14 involve one long sentence governed by the twofold appeal to absolute vigilance in verse 9a, and a twofold warning (lit.), “lest you forget,” and (lit.) “lest they leave your minds.” The verb “forget” does not mean simply a loss of memory, but failure to take into account what the memory recalls—the special relationship Yahweh had established with his people.
Jack Deere: The solemn admonition to be careful (an admonition that occurs numerous times in Deut.) and to watch implies that the Israelites constantly faced the danger of falling into a sin which would have brought them to the brink of annihilation as a nation. That sin was idolatry (vv. 15-31).
Eugene Merrill: It was on the basis of what Israel saw and heard forty years earlier that Moses’ offer of covenant renewal could be made. Only as they remembered the past and the commitments they made could they expect to receive and abide by the covenant revelation and expectation that was about to be disclosed to them. Thus Moses urged that his people take utmost care (double use of mar, plus adv. m ra d) lest they forget what they had seen with the result that the whole episode and its meaning completely escaped their memory. And this must be an ongoing reflection, one that remains part and parcel of the experience of that generation and every one to follow. What is implied is that such an experience with the living God must be rooted and grounded in a historical event, an event that must be recalled and celebrated regularly and faithfully by all who participate in it and benefit from it. There is no room in Old Testament theology for existential encounters without historical and spatial points of reference.
B. (:10-13) Historical Revelation of the Fundamental Covenant Principles
1. (:10) Epic Experience at Horeb
“Remember 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.’”
2. (:11) Visual Experience of Seeing the Fire and Cloud of God’s Presence
“And you 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.”
Eugene Merrill: The apparently contradictory elements of fire and cloud symbolize respectively the epiphanic self-disclosure and self-obscurity of the God who simultaneously is immanent and transcendent.
3. (:12) Auditory Experience of Hearing God’ Voice
“Then 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.”
MacArthur: Israel was to remember that when God revealed Himself at Sinai, His presence came through His voice, i.e. the sound of His words. They did not see Him. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), which rules out any idolatrous representation of God in any physical form (vv. 16-18) or any worship of the created order (v. 19).
4. (:13) Declared and Recorded Revelation of the Covenant
“So 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.”
Daniel Block: Contrary to most translations and to pervasive popular usage, the Old Testament never refers to this document as the “Ten Commandments”; these are “ten words” (cf. 10:4; Ex. 34:28). Given the semantic range of the term debārîm, we should follow the early Greek translation and refer to this document as the Decalogue, that is, “the ten words/declarations,” or even “the ten principles of covenant relationship.” While the Old Testament never explains why there were ten words or explicitly numbers them, the number ten seems to have been selected to correspond to the fingers on our hands and to facilitate memorization.
Patrick Miller: The heart of the matter is the “ten words”, which are identified as the sum and substance of the covenant. These ten words are the basic stipulations that declare the response and responsibility of the people of God, Further, it is indicated here and becomes increasingly clear in succeeding chapters that there is a kind of foundational, primary word beneath all the other words. That foundational word is embodied in the prologue to the Decalogue, together with the first and second commandments. The prohibition against images is the focus of this section, but the prologue and first commandment, the prohibition of the worship of other gods, are here also.
Earl Kalland: The “two stone tablets” (v. 13) are two tablets rather than one tablet having two lists of commands inscribed on them. This coincides with the two copies of a suzerain-vassal treaty. Each participant was to have a copy (see Kline, Biblical Authority, pp. 189-24).
John Schultz: This teaches us an important lesson regarding the importance of the written word. It is a known fact that orally transmitted stories tend to change, sometimes beyond recognition. An old Chinese proverb says: “the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.” We need the written word in order to correct our course through life; it is our compass and direction finder. It corrects and supersedes even our spiritual experiences. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus emphasizes, among other points, the importance of the written Word of God. At one point the rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house. He says:
“ ‘I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
C. (:14) Historical Commission to Teach Covenant Faithfulness
“And the 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.”
II. (:15-24) THE GRACE OF COVENANT PRESENT: THE ESSENCE OF YAHWEH’S COVENANT WITH ISRAEL
A. (:15-19) Avoid Idolatry
1. (:15-18) The Covenant Relationship Must Not Attempt to Contain or Limit God (No Graven Images)
“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, lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.”
Peter Craigie: We may not be tempted to represent God in wood or stone, but like the Israelites we are constantly tempted to think that we can contain and limit God. The representation of God in wood or stone, even though it is acknowledged as only representative and not divine per se, is in effect a human attempt to contain and limit God. To contain or limit God, whether in material form or in theological proposition, is to fail to be aware of his transcendence and infinitude.
Michael Grisanti: He employs four relatively synonymous terms that are part of idolatry: idol, image, shape, form. Most idolatrous religions do not technically regard the image or pattern as the god itself, rather, as a representation of the god. But in almost every case the image or pattern takes on divine qualities in the minds of its worshipers. In other words, the idol replaces the god it supposedly represents. Israel must not replace God with any human creation. The other danger of idolatry is that the worshiper ends up repudiating the true God.
2. (:19) The Covenant Relationship Must Not Worship the Creation
“And beware, lest you 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.”
B. (:20) Appreciate Redemption
“But 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.”
C. (:21-24) Appropriate the Promised Land
1. (:21-22a) Blessing Withheld from Moses
“Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. 22 For I shall die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan,”
Eugene Merrill: His mention of the land reminded Moses once more that his intemperate act of smiting the rock on behalf of his people had disqualified him from entering it (v. 21). This is the third time in Deuteronomy that he made this point (cf. 1:37; 3:26), and each time it is in connection with the “good land” they were about to possess. It is most understandable that his reflection on the good land would trigger an automatic reaction of sorrow and regret that he would be unable to enjoy its benefits firsthand. Instead, he must die in the Transjordan while his countrymen passed over the river to their reward on the other side (v. 22).
Michael Grisanti: The fact that Israel is Yahweh’s special possession (inheritance) leads to the need for that special people to have a land of its own. Not only is the land Israel’s inheritance, but Israel is Yahweh’s inheritance. Moses mentions once again his exclusion from the landed inheritance as a reminder to God’s people that they too can fail to enjoy this inheritance if they commit covenantal treachery (McConville, 109).
2. (:22) Blessing Realized by Present Generation
“but you shall cross and take possession of this good land.
3. (:23) Beware Not to Fall into Idolatry
“So watch yourselves, lest you 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.”
4. (:24) Beware of Offending God’s Jealousy
“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
Eugene Merrill: Perhaps the clearest explanation of the connection between idolatry and God as jealous is found in Deut 6:15, where disloyalty to the only God brings forth a holy wrath that destroys the sinner from off the earth. He himself becomes a consuming fire that accomplishes that task (cf. Lev 10:2; Num 16:35).
Peter Craigie: The language is stern, but it is closely related to the theme of the love of God in Deuteronomy. The covenant relationship was one of love, initiated in the covenant of God and demanding a response of love from the Israelites (see 6:5). To construct images would be to indicate that the first love of the Israelites had been forgotten, and to this the response of the Lord would be jealousy. Jealousy, however, does not represent a change in God, but is, as it were, the reverse of the coin of love; it was the people who were prone to change and forgetfulness, and from outside the relationship of love, God was indeed awesome like a consuming fire.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Two themes, or aspects of God’s character, are presented in dialogue with each other. On the one hand, there is Yahweh, the jealous God who is like a devouring fire. On the other hand, there is Yahweh, the merciful God who does not forget the covenant he swore to Israel’s ancestors. The passage begins by putting all weight on the first quality but by the end the emphasis has shifted, and the jealous God has been superseded by the merciful God. The language and images emphasize this exchange and contribute to the blended picture.
III. (:25-31) THE GRACE OF COVENANT FUTURE: THE PERMANENCE OF THE COVENANT
A. (:25) Future Covenant Breaking
“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,”
B. (:26-28) Future Land Banishment
1. (:26) Slaughter
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed.”
2. (:27) Scattering
“And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the LORD shall drive you.”
Peter Craigie: If the Israelites were scattered among the Canaanites, they would have no option but to serve gods, the fabrication of human hands. This principle is at the core of the covenant promise and the necessity of the conquest. The religion of the Israelites was so closely bound by the nature of the covenant to the people as a whole that it was inconceivable to think of somehow maintaining a purely individual faith in the land. The whole of Canaanite society, even that which would nowadays be called secular, was permeated by the belief structure and world view of the Canaanites. Simply to live among the Canaanites would involve concessions on the part of individual Israelites. The covenant promise anticipated a state, a theocracy, but the fulfilment of that vision depended on the unity of the people, by which alone such a state could be brought into being.
3. (:28) Servitude
“And there you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands,
wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.”
Daniel Block: Moses’ last threat drips with irony and poetic justice as he promises the people exactly what their insatiable lust demanded. Exposing the folly of idolatry, Moses observes sarcastically how roles have reversed.
(1) Instead of the creature worshiping the Creator, the creator worships creature: idols are the work of human hands.
(2) Idolatry directly contradicts Yahweh’s self-revelation (vv. 12, 15): lifeless and physical material replaces what is formless but living and spiritual.
(3) These images have organs of perception and communication, but they are blind, deaf, and dumb.
C. (:29-31) Faithfulness of God Persists When You Repent
1. (:29) Seeking and Finding God
“But 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.”
2. (:30) Returning to God and Obeying Him
“When 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.”
Eugene Merrill: “To return” translates the Hebrew verb ûb, which means “to repent” in situations like the one described here. Together with “obey” the idea is one of repudiation of the idolatry and other sins that brought about the dispersion and a total acceptance of the claims of sovereignty of the God against whom they had rebelled. Not to be overlooked here is the absence of any conditionality. The text is clear that it is not a matter of if Israel returns and obeys but when. Repentance is obviously a matter of free will, but the biblical witness is unanimous that the impetus to repent is something God himself will plant within his people in order to encourage and enable them to return to him and to the land (cf. Lev 26:40-45; Deut 30:1-10; Jer 31:27-34; Ezek 36:22-31).
3. (:31) 3 Evidences of God’s Enduring Compassion
“For 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.”
Peter Craigie: His compassion lay in his continuing readiness to receive his people back to himself, despite the fact that a breach of the covenant dissolved, in a legal sense, the commitment of God to his people. The positive note contrasts sharply the different characters of the two “partners” in the covenant. The Israelites were prone to be forgetful of the covenant and their experience of God; forgetfulness led to acts of disobedience, such as idolatry, contrary to the stipulations of the covenant. In contrast, God will not forget the covenant of your fathers, which he swore to them by oath.
(:32-39) EPILOGUE – UNIQUENESS OF ISRAEL’S GOD
Daniel Block: On the basis of style and content this paragraph divides into five parts:
A The History Lesson Part I (vv. 32–34)
B The Theology Lesson Part I (v. 35)
A´ The History Lesson Part II (vv. 36–38)
B´ The Theology Lesson Part II (v. 39)
C The Practical Lesson (v. 40)
Three dominant imperatives trace the logic of the passage: “ask” (v. 32); “acknowledge [know]” (v. 39); “keep” (v. 40). With keen homiletical sense, Moses challenges his hearers to reflect on the historical facts (vv. 32–34), to draw the right theological conclusions from those facts (vv. 35–39), and to order their lives according to the theology that derives from those facts (v. 40).
A. (:32-35) Investigation of God’s Uniqueness
1. (:32a) Historical and Universal Investigation of God’s Uniqueness
“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.”
2. (:32b-34) 4 Rhetorical Questions Investigating God’s Uniqueness
a. (:32b) What Have You Seen?
“Has anything been done like this great thing,”
b. (:32c) What Have You Heart?
“or has anything been heard like it?”
c. (:33) What Have You Experienced? Revelation from Mt. Horeb
“Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?”
d. (:34) Uniqueness of the Exodus Event – Redemption from Egypt
“Or 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?”
Donald Ackland: The doctrine of election is woven deeply into the fabric of Deuteronomy.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The rhetorical questions zero in on the two primary pieces of evidence for the affirmation: an experience of revelation (Mount Horeb, v. 33) and an experience of redemption (exodus and the gift of land, v. 34). The rest of the passage refers back to these events (vv. 36, 37, 38). Israel heard God’s voice at the mountain and yet lived (cf. vv. 9–14). Israel has been taken by its God from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power (v. 34). The piling up of images and terms emphasizes the greatness and power of God in delivering a people. Although each term or phrase is used of God’s work of redemption in other parts of Deuteronomy and the Old Testament, this is an unusual concentration of exodus images.
3. (:35) Intent of the Investigation of God’s Uniqueness
“To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.”
Daniel Block: The God of Israel is sui generis—in a class all his own.
Peter Craigie: The knowledge of God for the Israelites sprang from God’s revelation of himself in word and in deed. Thus right from the beginning, the Bible presupposes the existence of the living God. The question “Does God exist?”—though a legitimate question per se—was nevertheless an irrelevant question in the light of a knowledge of God, of which the source was revelation and in which the conviction was provided by experience. Thus, for the Israelites, the two primary sources of the knowledge of God were Sinai and the Exodus, which together formed the framework of their belief. These two themes, both presupposing the activity of God in history, are a paradigm for the Christian faith. The incarnation, providing a new and intimate knowledge of the presence of God in human history, is the prerequisite for the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Christ. Thus for the Christian, while the Exodus and Sinai remain important, it is of the death and resurrection that it can be said, in the words of Moses’ address: you were shown this in order to know that the Lord, he is God. There is none of her apart from him—the faith of Israel was monotheistic; that is to say, it was a faith in which the existence of one God was affirmed and the reality of all other gods was denied. This did not mean, of course, that the Israelites were unaware that there were believed, by others, to be many gods, and the viewpoint of Deuteronomy toward other gods, in the faith of other nations, was remarkably tolerant (see v. 19). But a major thrust of the whole book was to warn Israel against the dangers of serving other gods. The reason was that though there were many gods in the religions of Israel’s neighbors, only the Lord was a true and living God. And the proof of the reality of the Lord their God lay not in any philosophical argument, but in the acts and words of God in history, principally in the Exodus and at Sinai.
B. (:36-38) Demonstration of God’s Uniqueness
1. (:36) Personally Experiencing — Hearing and Seeing
“Out 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.”
2. (:37-38) Personally Benefiting
“Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38 driving 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.”
C. (:39) Assurance of God’s Uniqueness
“Know 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.”
Eugene Merrill: Yahweh, God of Israel, is the omnipresent and only God, the sovereign one who has redeemed his people and who now was about to reveal a magnificent covenant arrangement that would, in its keeping, guarantee them long and prosperous life in the land they were about to enter.
Michael Grisanti: Based on all the marvelous things the Lord has done for them already, God’s children are exhorted to acknowledge his utter uniqueness and obey his commands with the result that this generation and all future generations will experience God’s abundant blessings. Moses challenges his fellow Israelites to “take to heart” or internalize the fact that Yahweh is the universal sovereign (“in heaven above and on the earth below”) and the only sovereign (“there is no other”). In the light of that theological reality, they should gladly obey his commands. Moses affirms that Israel’s genuine obedience to God’s commands will occasion long tenure in the land (and continued enjoyment of covenantal blessings).
(:40) CLOSING CHALLENGE – OBEY / PROSPER / PERSEVERE
“So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments
which I am giving you today,”
Patrick Miller: Moses’ call to obedience is a laying out for the people of the conditions and requirements for making it across the border. Obedience to the instruction of God is both the implication of their past history with God and the necessity for their future life with God.
“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.”
Daniel Block: A single practical fact drives the final verse: awareness of the history of Yahweh’s actions on Israel’s behalf and knowledge of his status as supreme over all must inspire behavior in line with the will of this gracious God. Moses appeals to his people to obey the will of Yahweh for their own good and for the good of their descendants. If they will keep alive the memory of Yahweh’s gracious actions, if their theology remains pure, and if their response is right, God’s mission for them will be fulfilled. The land has indeed been promised them as an eternal possession, but enjoyment of the promise is conditional. Each generation must commit itself anew to being the people of God in God’s land for God’s glory.
Michael Grisanti: vv. 1, 40 — These verses form an inclusio that encompasses the entire section, thus drawing attention to the section’s key theme: wholeheartedly obeying Yahweh’s commands.