BOTH PROSPERITY AND HARDSHIP CAN TEMPT GOD’S PEOPLE TO FORGET THE HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE OF REDEMPTION –
SO PROTECT FUTURE GENERATIONS WITH HISTORICAL INSTRUCTION
Daniel Block: While 6:4–5 embodies the central idea, in the rest of chapters 6–8 Moses’ concretizes his understanding of unreserved love for Yahweh with a series of tests of devotion that life in the Promised Land will present.
Peter Craigie: In the days ahead, the Lord was going to lead his people into the land that had been anticipated since the promise given to Abraham. There is here an explicit identification of that ancient promise to the patriarchs with the generation now present before Moses on the plains of Moab: the land which he promised to your fathers … to give to you. That the ancient promise was so close to being fulfilled gave cause not only for joy, but also for solemnity in view of the responsibility that the promise imposed.
Gerald Gerbrandt: After restating the foundational commandment in the Shema, Deuteronomy turns its attention to the land that Israel is about to enter, and to the danger of forgetting God in the land. Israel is about to receive a land with cities and vineyards ready for use. In the land, Israel will be tempted to forget God and God’s directions for them. In the Shema, Israel is charged to recite its words to the children; now the children ask, What is the meaning? The answer lies in the story, the story of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh, along with God’s gift of Torah.
Constable: In view of God’s grace to His people, believers should respond with love for God. We should express that love in obedience to His revealed will, and we should perpetuate the knowledge of God in the next generation.
David Guzik: This cycle would be repeated through the history of Israel, especially in the time of the Judges. God would bless an obedient Israel, and they would prosper; they would begin to set their heart on the blessings instead of the LORD who blessed them; God would allow chastisement to turn Israel’s focus back upon Him; Israel would repent and obey again, and God would again bless an obedient Israel and they would prosper.
I. (:10-19) PREPARATION FOR FACING FUTURE TEMPTATION
A. (:10-11) Delight in God’s Grace –
Description of the Rich Blessing of the Promised Land
1. (:10a) Fulfillment of the Covenant Promise to the Patriarchs
“Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you
into the land which He swore to your fathers,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: the people can never treat the land and what it provides for them as their own possession: it always remains a gift from God.
2. (:10b-11a) Facilitated by God’s Grace Rather than Israel’s Labors
“great and splendid cities which you did not build,”
“and houses full of all good things which you did not fill,”
c. Cisterns of Water
“and hewn cisterns which you did not dig,”
d. Vineyards and Olive Trees
“vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant,”
Patrick Miller: The rich blessing of God’s provision is articulated in the description of the land—large and fine cities, houses full of “everything good,” hewn cisterns, vineyards, and olive groves. God’s grace is expressed in the repeated emphasis on the fact that all of this is not the result of Israel’s arduous labors but is the gift of God.
Paul Barker: It all sounds like a holiday brochure! This is grace abounding for God does not give any land but gives a great land. All the work is done. When we remember that the supply of water in a land like Israel was always critical, we realize how great this promise is. Huge amounts of effort were needed to dig wells and underground cisterns, cut into rock, to preserve safe water. Today visitors to the Holy Land can still see the massive cisterns at Masada, the wells at Arad and the tunnels in Jerusalem which show how wonderful was the promise of ready-made cisterns. It is ready for living. Its abundance is indicated by the end of verse 11, “and when you have eaten your fill . . .” We can imagine the five star hotel!
3. (:11b) Fulfillment of Your Appetites
“and you shall eat and be satisfied,”
B. (:12-15) Deal with the Danger of Forgetting God = Tempted by Prosperity
1. (:12) Guard Yourself
“then watch yourself, lest you forget the LORD
who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Duane Christensen: The focus of attention here is on the realization that the material wealth the people are about to possess is a gift from God. The implicit warning is clear: the people are to guard against the danger of taking on the attitude of self-sufficiency that property so often brings.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Forgetting that the land and its blessings come as a gift is the first step away from fearing God and beginning to go after other gods. The very land that God gives them thus can become that which tempts them to forget God. Forgetting will result in the reversal of the gift, expressed as perishing from earth, or land.
Michael Grisanti: In the wake of the completed conquest of Canaan, Moses gives Israel a stern warning not to forget Yahweh, their Redeemer (6:12). The two titles Moses uses highlight the very reason God’s covenantal people should not forget him (i.e., live as though he does not exist). Their God is Yahweh, the ever-faithful, covenant-keeping God, and their Redeemer, the one who had just extricated them from bondage in Egypt and made them his chosen nation. There is absolutely no justification for God’s people then (and now) to conduct their lives like practical atheists.
Maxwell: Perils of Prosperity — Forgetting the Lord is the first peril to which prosperity leads us. It was at the height of David’s prosperity that he committed his greatest act of unfaithfulness (2 Sam. 11). Nothing dulls our sensitivity to God like independence. There is much truth in the thought that adversity has more benefits than prosperity. Adversity introduces a person to himself; prosperity intoxicates him. The story of the Prodigal Son is an excellent illustration of the effects of prosperity and adversity on a person. During his prosperity the son did not think of father and home; he was consumed with the pleasures of the flesh. When he lost all his wealth and friends, he “came to himself” and remembered what was important. Moses, knowing the perils of prosperity, warns the children of Israel not to forget God.
2. (:13-14) Fear God Alone
a. (:13) Stated Positively – Worship only the Lord your God
“You shall fear only the LORD your God;
and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name.”
Michael Grisanti: In other words, the only way for them to function as God’s servant-nation (cf. Ex 19:5–6; Dt 26:16–19) is to maintain a fervent commitment to their covenantal relationship with Yahweh. Yahweh has delivered them from the house of slaves (v.12) and now demands that they serve him instead (v.13). . .
Swearing by Yahweh’s name is an expression of loyalty to him and recognition of him as the supreme authority. A true worshiper of Yahweh is one who swore by his name (Ps 63:11; Isa 48:1; Jer 4:2; 5:2; 12:16). To swear by other gods will represent a betrayal of his authority (Jos 23:7; Jer 12:16). The corollary of serving Yahweh exclusively and wholeheartedly is the absolute refusal to worship any pagan gods (v.14). To “follow after” a ruler or a god implies wholehearted commitment of one’s entire life.
Eugene Merrill: But it was this very goodness of God that would lead to Israel’s sense of self-sufficiency, a feeling that all that had been done was by human hand. The inevitable result would be to forget him, the very one who not only would achieve such an unparalleled conquest but who had effected Israel’s redemption from bondage in the first place (v. 12). The only remedy for such memory lapse was renewed commitment to the covenant that lay at the heart of the Lord’s relationship to the nation Israel. Moses thus enjoined upon his people that they fear, serve, and swear by the Lord only (v. 13), commands that are permeated with covenant language (cf. Deut 10:12, 20; 31:12-13). Lingering doubt about the covenant focus here is dispelled in vv. 14-15, which recall unmistakably the first two commandments of the Decalogue (Deut 5:7-10). The “do not follow other gods” of v. 14 is clearly a rephrasing of the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me”—and the reference to the “jealous God” who judges and punishes covenant violation (v. 15) harks back to the second commandment that describes the Lord as such and speaks of his punishment of sin. To sin in such a way as to forget the source of Israel’s blessing was to invite the ultimate covenant curse, removal from the land (v. 15; cf. 28:63; Lev 26:43).
b. (:14) Stated Negatively – Don’t worship other gods
“You shall not follow other gods,
any of the gods of the peoples who surround you,”
3. (:15a) Don’t Provoke God to Jealousy
“for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God;”
4. (:15b) Don’t Stir Up God’s Anger
“otherwise the anger of the LORD your God
will be kindled against you,
and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.”
C. (:16) Deal with the Danger of Testing God = Tempted by Hardship
“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test,
as you tested Him at Massah.”
Jack Deere: This implies that at times the people would face hardship as they did at Massah (cf. Ex. 17:1-7) where they lacked water and thought they would die of thirst. Rather than trusting God in this trial they tested Hi by complaining and quarreling. In the future the Israelites were to remember this embarrassing incident.
Michael Grisanti: Moses warns Israel against questioning Yahweh’s ability to keep his promise to them. Rather than concerning themselves with his capacity to do what he said, the Israelites need to commit themselves to unreserved submission to his requirements. Their ability to enjoy continued existence in the Promised Land is at stake. Moses begins by alluding to Israel’s “rebellion” at Massah (this place name deriving from the verb nsh, “to test”; GK 5814), where they questioned whether God was really in their midst (as he had promised to be) and demanded that he demonstrate his presence to them (cf. Ex 17:7; Ps 95:8–9). “Testing” of this kind involves a question about the capacity of the one being tested (McConville, 144). Instead of demanding something of God, Moses exhorts God’s people to live in the light of the covenantal stipulations as a whole (“commands,” “stipulations,” and “decrees”; v.17).
Eugene Merrill: To test God (not “tempt” as in AV and other older versions) is to make upon him demands or requirements that are inappropriate either to his nature and character or to the circumstances. Jesus quoted this text in responding to Satan’s overtures that he cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple (Matt 4:7; Luke 4:12). The point is not that God could not have rescued him but that such an act would trivialize the power of God and his care for those he loves. Moses reminded his own contemporaries of their violation of this principle, when on the way to Sinai from Egypt they had questioned whether or not God was with them (Exod 17:7). The evidence they demanded was a miraculous supply of water (Exod 17:2). Rather than trusting God to provide it in his own way, probably through natural springs and wells (cf. Exod 15:23-27), they insisted on a supernatural intervention, one designed not so much to provide physical nourishment as to satisfy spiritual curiosity. Though displeased with their carnality, God nevertheless allowed water to issue from a rock, a miracle that gave rise to the place name Massah (“testing”). They must never resort to such tactics in the land of promise, Moses warned.
Wiersbe: We tempt the Lord when we openly and unbelievingly question His ability or defy His authority by what we say or do. After He delivered Israel from Egypt, the Lord deliberately led them through difficulties so He could teach them to trust Him. The Lord tests our faith, not just in the great crises of life, but even more in the small unexpected events, such as a travel delay, an irritating interruption, a sudden sickness, or a lost wallet. The way we respond in these situations will indicate what’s in our hearts, because what life does to us depends on what life finds in us. If we love and trust the Lord, we’ll leave the matter with Him and do what He tells us; but if we question the Lord and rebel because we’re not getting our own way, then we’re in danger of tempting Him. One of the best protections against tempting the Lord is a grateful heart.
John Schultz: They had, several times, voiced feelings that the whole exodus, and the promise of entering Canaan had been a ploy to lead the nation to a deserted place where God could kill them without the presence of witnesses. They had attributed to God motives that were baser than those found in the darkest recesses of an evil human soul. “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” means: “Never doubt God’s goodness again.” God cannot be a mixture of good and evil, as human beings are. If He is good, He is perfectly good, because if He were not perfect, He would not be God. And if He is not perfectly good, He is perfectly evil, which would make Him like Satan.
D. (:17-19) Direct Subsequent Generations to Keep Obeying God
1. (:17-18a) Obedience Pleases the Lord
“You should diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you.
18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD,”
Eugene Merrill: Put succinctly, they must do what is right and good according to God’s standard. Right connotes the idea of measuring up to something that is straight—something construed as a norm of proper behavior. In context, this suggests adherence to the divine standard of Torah. If and when this is done, blessing inevitably follows. They would conquer and occupy the Land of Promise.
2. (:18b-19) Obedience Prospers the Nation
“that it may be well with you
and that you may go in and possess the good land
which the LORD swore to give your fathers,
19 by driving out all your enemies from before you,
as the LORD has spoken.”
Eugene Merrill: Failure to meet the conditions would result in judgment and even defeat and deportation, but it could never cancel out the eternal purposes of God for his chosen nation (cf. Lev 26:27-45; Jer 31:31-37; 32:36-40; Ezek 36:22-31; 37:1-14).
II. (:20-25) PROPAGATION OF COVENANT RESPONSIBILITY TO SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS
A. (:20-23) Testify to the Historical Rationale for Obedience
1. (:20) Capitalize on Teaching Moments with Your Children
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying,
‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean
which the LORD our God commanded you?’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: a question from a child instigates the teaching moment. Children naturally ask questions. Unusual expectations (the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances) inevitably raise questions. Israel’s daily life provided countless teaching opportunities. This was true when Israel was in the land, yet even more so during the exile, when Israel’s ways and customs distinguished it from its Babylonian neighbors. Such a context naturally raises the questions “Why are we different from everyone else? Why do we have to follow all these rules when others don’t?” Judaism formalized this approach by incorporating the questions of children into the ritual of its festivals.
Eugene Merrill: Moses’ reference to the covenant stipulations as a precondition to success in the land (v. 17) gives rise to his exhortation to the people to remember them in time to come and to transmit them to succeeding generations. . .
It is crucial with the passing of time that descendants of people who have participated in or witnessed events that have been fundamental to their origin and that explain their unique destiny should be continually reminded of those events lest they lose their sense of history and meaning. This is all the more true of ancient Israel, for no other people had been called to such a significant mission, one that enveloped within it the very salvation of humankind. Israel must therefore recall its history and pass along its facts and value to generations yet to come. The way this was to be done was through the recitation of God’s saving deeds in the past, a “sacred narrative” underlying the more formal and legal embodiment in the covenant texts.
Jack Deere: Near the beginning of this chapter, Moses stressed the need of parents to love Him with their total being. Now as the chapter closes Moses indicated that one aspect of loving (and thus obeying) God is to pass that same love for Him on to their children.
2. (:21-23) Connect the Experience of Past Redemption to Present Prosperity
a. (:21a) Past Bondage
“then you shall say to your son,
‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt;’”
b. (:21b-22) Process of Redemption Demonstrated God’s Awesome Power
“and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand.
Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household;”
c. (:23) Present Prosperity
“and He brought us out from there in order to bring us in,
to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.”
Peter Pett: Here once again we have repeated the important theological lessons on which the covenant was based. It is a partial covenant in brief.
• Firstly they were bound to Pharaoh, and under his rule and in bondage, enslaved and enchained, and in his kingdom.
• Then they were delivered with a mighty hand, the hand of Yahweh, Who had come against Egypt with signs and wonders and stricken it. Yahweh as their redeemer brought them out of Egypt.
• This was then followed by Him bringing them to the good land promised to their fathers, and establishing them there. Yahweh as their sovereign was constant, faithful and gracious, revealing further His mighty power, and bringing them into the Promised Land.
• And then finally He established Himself as their Lord so that they might obey His laws. Yahweh became their righteous ruler and sovereign, and they under His kingly rule, free and unchained, were in His kingdom.
Peter Craigie: Outline vv. 21-24
1. The previous situation: vassals of the Egyptian pharaoh (v 21)
The Revelation of God in History
2. The experience of God: the deliverance of the exodus (v 21)
3. The judgment of God: God’s dealing with Egypt (v 22)
4. The purpose of God: to grant his people the promised land (v 23)
The Revelation of the Word of God
5. The word of God: the giving of the law (v 24)
6. The conditions given: obedience and reverence (v 24)
Gerald Gerbrandt: It is too simple to distinguish the two parts of the answer as revelation in history and revelation of word, or as salvation and response, although such a distinction contains some truth. The story shaping the child is the story of salvation; but for Israel, salvation includes both deliverance and direction for life.
B. (:24-25) Teach Obedience as the Privileged Response of Redemption
1. (:24) Purpose of God’s Commands = Our Good
“So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes,
to fear the LORD our God for our good always
and for our survival, as it is today.”
2. (:25) Performance of God’s Commands = Righteousness for Us
“And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe
all this commandment before the LORD our God,
just as He commanded us.”
Meredith Kline: This verse does not present a works principle of salvation. The stress falls on the function of law as disclosing the standard of conduct which is righteous in God’s sight, a love for which is prerequisite to beatitude but not the meritorious ground of such a state.
Patrick Miller: So Deuteronomy as a book of instruction is concerned about instruction—its necessity, its processes, its aims, and its results. It is concerned about learning (4:10b) and teaching (4:9–10). What the people learn from Moses and the Lord is to be passed on to the children so that each new generation shall be prepared to stand before God and “fear the LORD your God.” The fear of the Lord is clearly the aim of educating the next generation in Israel, as several passages indicate explicitly. “Fear of the LORD” catches up all that is meant by loving the Lord and not having or serving other gods, other objects of one’s ultimate allegiance. Reverence, obedience, total commitment are the ingredients of the fear of the Lord. In 6:13 the positive form of the first commandment is “You shall fear the LORD your God.” To this end, all education among the people of God is set.
Eugene Merrill: Then in strongly evangelical terms Moses equated faithful compliance with the covenant to righteousness (v. 25). The word used here is ṣĕdāqâ, the very one applied to Abraham as a result of his having believed in the Lord (Gen 15:6). Later Judaism wrongly concluded that covenant keeping was the basis for righteousness rather than an expression of faithful devotion. But true covenant keeping in the final analysis is a matter of faith, not merely of works and ritual. Thus the central feature of the covenant stipulations is their providing a vehicle by which genuine saving faith might be displayed (cf. Deut 24:13; Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 4:1–5; Gal 3:6–7).