Moses’ Encouragements and Warnings About God
The review of Israel’s history serves as the background for the practical exhortation contained in chapter 4. The fourth chapter begins with a “therefore” kind of transition. Because of the goodness of God on behalf of His people (reviewed in chapters 1-3), Moses challenged them to respond with gratitude, devotion, and a determination to obey God’s word (4:1). Their success in the Promised Land was directly dependant on their obedience to God’s word (4:1). God gave His word that people might obey it and live full and meaningful lives (4:1). The people were warned to not add or take away from God’s word (4:2). Moses recalled an incident recorded in Numbers 25:1-5 in which many people were led astray and committed acts contrary to God’s word (4:3-4). These suffered swift judgment, serving as a warning to any individuals brazen enough to commit similar transgressions in violation of God’s commandments. As stated in the brief introduction on page 1 of these notes, the book of Deuteronomy is a commentary on Proverbs 13:13 – “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.”
Practical Consideration: God’s instructions cannot be ignored with impunity. Moses made clear in his message to the people the importance of obeying the commandments of God. He also spelled out the dangers of disobeying God’s Word. He emphasized that it is not possible to ignore God’s instructions and be exempted from punishment or penalty. Proverbs 13:13 reminds us, “Whoever despises the Word [of God] brings destruction upon himself, but he who (reverently) fears and respects the commandment [of God] shall be rewarded” (Amplified Bible).
Moses exhorted the people to obey God’s word (4:6). Their obedience to God’s word would make them distinctive in the eyes of other nations (4:7) not favored with the possession of such a supreme word (4:8). Moses also exhorted the people to “give heed … lest you forget” the mighty acts of God on their behalf and to share the accounts of those acts with their sons and grandsons (4:9). Deuteronomy repeatedly stresses the responsibility of parents to teach their children the great truths of God’s word, works, ways, and deeds. Moses also recounted the awesome events surrounding the giving of God’s law (4:10-12) and the establishment of the covenant (4:13). He exhorted the people to remember those events (4:10) to the end that they would obey God’s commandments and worship Him alone.
Practical Consideration: Parents are the first youth ministers. Moses charged parents with the responsibility of teaching God’s Word and recounting the acts of God to their children and to their children’s children. Failure to do so would result in a generation insensible to God and ignorant of His commandments. Parents still have the primary responsibility to instruct their children in God’s Word and in spiritual matters. The task cannot be left solely to Sunday School teachers and youth ministers at the corner church. Only as parents (and the local church) fulfill their responsibility will youth be equipped to meet the challenges of life in a manner pleasing to God.
Moses reminded the people of the importance of obeying God’s word (4:14) and warned them against making and worshiping idols (4:15-18) and/or worshiping celestial bodies/nature (4:19). They were to be completely devoted to the Lord. Verse 19b suggests that while other peoples looked to the heavens for evidence of a greater being, their relation to God was based on His deliverance of them from “the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today” (4:20).
After reminding the people of the fact that he would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (4:21-22), Moses again warned them to be careful lest they violate the contractual agreement made with God at Horeb by making and worshiping idols (4:23), a particularly loathsome thing to God (4:24). Regarding the matter of idolatry, commentator Donald F. Ackland notes, “It is, on the part of those who know better, the betrayal of life’s most sacred relationship, the relationship of a person to his God.”
Moses prophetically spelled out the consequences of forsaking God for the worship of idols 4:25-26). E. Stanley Jones said, “Anything less than God will let you down.” Interestingly, Moses declared that the punishment would fit the crime. Idol worshipers would be carried into exile where they would have their fill of idolatry (4:27-28). Yet, even in exile, God would continue to mercifully give the people the opportunity to repent (4:29-31).
Practical Consideration: God alone is worthy of our worship. Moses’ message included stern warnings against involvement in idolatry, a particularly loathsome thing in God’s sight. One cannot read Moses’ prophetic account of the consequences of embracing idolatry without thinking of the fall of both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. God alone is worthy of our deepest devotion and our highest praise. He alone is worthy of our worship.
These verses are the conclusion to Moses’ first message to the people. Moses challenged the people to compare their unique history with that of other nations (4:32-34). Verses 32-34 forms an answer to the question posed in verse 7, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?” They were privileged to witness great wonders (4:33-34, 36) to the end that they “might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him” (4:35). Verses 37-38 form the basis for the exhortation to faithfully follow the Lord (4:39). The phrase “that it may go well with you” (4:40) occurs eight times in Deuteronomy. It emphasizes the motive for obedience. Their life, well-being, and security in the Promised Land was directly dependent on their loyalty to God (4:40).
Moses’ Appointments of Cities of Refuge
The background of these verses is found in Numbers 35:9-15. These verses briefly address the provision made for refuge for those who unintentionally kill another. They were established to insure that such individuals would find asylum until they could stand trial (Numbers 35:12 and Joshua 20:9). The cities of Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan were located east of the Jordan. Joshua later established Kedesh, Shechem, and Kiriath-arba (Joshua 20:7) as cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan (Joshua 20).
The Geographical Setting for Giving the Law
These verses form an introduction to Moses’ second message to Israel prior to their entry into the Promised Land. Note the similarities between this introduction and that contained in 1:3-5. The time and place of Moses’ second message (which begins in 5:1 and ends in 26:19) are set forth in this second introduction. The people were no longer at the foot of Sinai, they were now on the slopes of Pisgah (4:49). They stood on the brink of entry into the Promised Land having already tasted the first fruits of victory in battle (4:46-47). The “law which Moses set before the sons of Israel” (4:44) is described as consisting of “the testimonies and the statutes and the ordinances” (4:45). Their success and happiness in the Promised Land would be directly dependant of their observance of God’s law.