Saturday, May 7, 2011

Deuteronomy 4 - God's Character and Our Response

LINK: Deuteronomy 4


BACKGROUND


In this chapter, Moses exhorted Israel to obey the Law and to resist idolatry. The purpose of the Law was so that:
  • The Israelites would have a good life if they obeyed. Their very lives depended on this obedience (4:1-4)!
  • The Israelites would be morally and spiritual unique among all the nations so that other nations would be drawn to the LORD (4:5-8). If they obeyed, they would be seen as wise and understanding, having a God who is near, and possessing righteous decrees and laws. This would be in stark contrast to other pagan nations and the relationship they had with their gods.
Throughout this chapter, you will see many command verbs:
  1. Give heed (be careful) (4:9)
  2. Keep your soul diligently (watch yourself closely) (4:9)
  3. Remember (4:10)
  4. Watch yourself carefully (4:15, 23)
He exhorted them to do all this so that they would not forget the covenant that God had made with them and fall into idolatry because God is a jealous God. This was a good kind of jealousy in which God was making an exclusive demand on Israel (and by extension, us) - they were to treat only the LORD as God. They were to know that the Lord is God alone (4:35, 39).

Even with these exhortations for obedience, Moses predicted Israel's fall and subsequent dispersion among the nations (4:27-28) and eventual seeking of Him (4:29-30). In spite of Israel's unfaithfulness, God would not abandon His covenant people because He is a covenant-keeping God! (More on that in the Reflection.)



This is the last chapter of the first section: What God Has Already Done. Let's review how Moses reminded the people of the character of their God, and what their response should be as a result. 


Characteristics of God


4:1-2: He speaks, and the Israelites were to hear with their whole being what God said to them and obey it. Listen/hear is a key word here and throughout the book of Deuteronomy being repeated 100 times! It is used 1050 times in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 6, we will read the traditional Jewish confession of faith called the Shema. This is the Hebrew word that means, "listen to, pay attention, obey, understand, hear critically, and examine" (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Like the Israelites, we are to listen also! Jesus said a lot about hearing in the Gospels. It is an interesting word study to do sometime!


4:3-4: God is holy, and we are to be holy too. He brought up Baal-peor (Numbers 25) again as a situation were the Israelites did not set themselves apart to their holy God but got involved in the unholiness of the pagan culture by having immoral relations with temple prostitutes. We are to be in fear of His holiness.


4:5-9: He is wise. Therefore, we are to learn from Him. They were to give heed and keep their souls diligently by keeping and doing the commandments God had set forth. Other nations would marvel, and they would have peace as a result. 


4:10-43: God is the only God. They were to worship only Him! The gods and goddesses of the people around them were nothing compared to the one true God. He reminded them of God's great power in their history. 


The second address of Moses begins at 4:44 and continues to 26:19. It contains the covenant obligations and stipulations of the vassals (Israel) to their great king (God). This chapter closes with the setting for this second address. 


REFLECTION

At first glance, Deuteronomy seems to only be a restatement of the law of Moses to the second generation of the people of Israel. Moses preached the Law to Israel to impress God's Word on their hearts and to urge them to renew the covenant that the people made at Sinai, that is, to make a fresh commitment to the Lord. The people needed to commit themselves without reservation to Him. If they did this, they would enter the Promised Land, conquer its inhabitants, and be blessed with prosperity and peace.

This book is more than a book restating the Law. It is a book about covenant. In the covenant, there was a promise of a land which the Lord swore to give to Israel's fathers and their descendants and a relationship that God was to have with His people. When we look more deeply, we see that the major motivation behind that covenant relationship that God made with His people was love.


For the LORD your God is a compassionate God;He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenantwith your fathers which He swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:31)
The root of the Hebrew word for compassion is rahamThis root refers to deep love (usually of a "superior" for an "inferior") rooted in some natural bond. Just last night, Laura P. commented in Bible Book Club that we do not really understand God's love because it is so beyond our human comprehension. It is a deep inward feeling we know as compassion or mercy. This root is frequently used of God. The word found in Deuteronomy 4:31 is also found in Psalm 103:13:

Just as God has compassion on his children,So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
This word usually connotates the strong bond that God has with His children. In addition, it communicates God's unconditional choice of His people as communicated to Moses in Exodus 33:19:

And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
Because of God's unmerited choice of Israel, He is committed in covenant love to His people. He would always be faithful to His Word. It is for this reason He brought Israel from the land of slavery. He was faithful to the promise He made to the patriarchs:

Because he loves (present tense in Hebrew) your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 38)

This is a key verse for this chapter and states a major motivating factor behind God's faithfulness to Israel: His love for Israel's fathers and His commitment to the covenant He made with them. God is a covenant-keeping God. God is a God of love and faithfulness.

APPLICATION


What is your gut-level core concept of God? From your perception, is He a God of love, compassion, and faithfulness? Seek Him on this. Set aside time in a quiet place today to hear God. Turn off your electronics that make noise and go to a place without any distractions. Listen to Him. What is He saying to you today?


Seek the LORD your God, 
and you will find Him 
if you search for Him 
with all your heart and all your soul. (4:29)

PRAYER

Lord, we want to seek You and know You more deeply than we have ever sought You or known You before. Help us to do this with our whole heart and soul. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.



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