This is week two of our Deuteronomy study. The intro is here.
Before reading chapters 1-4, remember the audience is hearing this, the first of three speeches given over three days, just before Joshua takes them into the promised land. They hadn’t trusted God to fight their battles or lead them safely; so they wandered in the wilderness, circling endlessly, until the generation that rebelled passed away. Those listening to Moses were either younger than twenty at the time of the Exodus, or born sometime in the wilderness and too young to have seen the Exodus. They are hearing these words, which Moses wrote shortly after speaking them. As we listen in to chapters 1-4, remember this is the “prologue” of this book, spoken and written in the form of an Ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty. A treaty of this nature was always set up by the Sovereign towards his subjects, having these main parts: Preamble, Historical Prologue (events leading to the treaty) General Stipulations, Specific Stipulations, Divine Witness (other ANE call false gods or deities to witness), Blessings and Curses. Deuteronomy has: Preamble (1:1-5) Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49). General Stipulations, Specific Stipulations, Blessings and Curses, Witnesses (see 30:19, 31:19, 32:1-43).
After the Preamble, Moses gives a reminder of God’s fulfilling of a promise made in Genesis 22, that God has indeed numbered the children of Abraham as the stars in the sky. As a people entering the new land, in this renewed call to faithfulness, Moses begins with a reminder of God’s unfailing faithfulness to keep His promises.
Chapter one continues with the historical review of life after the Exodus, the giving of judges, and the call to do battle with the Ammorites knowing God will lead them into battle and fight for them. They saw the giants in the land (verse 21) and feared; they could not trust God to do what He said He would do. They grumbled (verse 26). Their grumbling cost them dearly, and God issued the consequences–He would not allow that generation to enter the promised land. This led to further grumbling and snatching at the desired goods without God’s blessing. They failed of course, and suffered much from running ahead of God. So now, as Moses reviews this history, they need to know there will be no spies, God seeks out the land, goes ahead of them, and is their Warrior. (see 30-33, and Exodus 15:4).
There must be trust, if they are to succeed as a new nation in this new land. They must take God at His word, remember His words, and keep them.
The historical review continues with remembering their (see verses 45-46) weeping as a spoiled child that continuously wants its way, and to have it easily please. Oh, that we would not grumble! Or weep so! God is not fooled, He knows the difference between our crocodile tears of disappointment and the godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
The backdrop to chapter 2-3 from Genesis 15:16 “Sin of the Ammorites is not yet complete” and “according to each one’s sins” see also Deut 9:4 and 18:12. God is punishing the sin of the nations that Israel drives out. This is not fickle, it is not heedless, it is not unwarranted. There is a purpose in all of God’s actions, and goodness and justice that sometimes, from our finite perspective, goes unrecognized.
Chapter four is certainly one that should be read slowly, several times through. To begin, a reminder that no one can alter God’s Word; no adding or tweaking “because the times have changed” or for any other reason. This caution is found again later in Deuteronomy, and in Revelation. Deists like Thomas Jefferson cut up the Scriptures, reducing the Bible to a few stories and proverbs; Hitler had people changing the Scriptures to prove Jesus was a German, and cutting out all “Jewish” influence. Our generation has those who think they are helping God when they attempt to tweak the definition of marriage, or love, or perhaps just pick a word that seems offensive (purity?) and cut it out of our vocabulary. NO! To be the people of God, we keep His words rather than alter His words.
4:3-4, imagine the hush that fell over the crowd, as these people listening to Moses imagined all their baal worshipping ancestors…fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles gone to death. But you standing here today–to you it has been given to know the One True God! What sweet mercy. I am just like them yet, God in His infinite mercy has brought me close?
4:7, what nation is there, with a God so near? With a God who hears prayer? NONE. Why? All false gods of other nations they encountered were distant, needed to be pacified, and were fickle, and envious, etc. Our God is NEAR, whenever we call. So near, He will lead us in battle. So near He will bring us out of bondage and into His glorious freedom. So near He will teach us, lead us, keep us, restore us and even forgive us.
4:9 tells us to “keep your soul”. HOW? Do not forget… What about God have you been forgetting, as you fret about life? What has He revealed, that you have not treasured in your heart? We keep our souls by remembering, recalling, meditating upon His truth, reminding one another.
A foreshadowing, pointing to our life in Christ:
Vs 20 We remember that we are chosen; God’s treasured possession; a people for His own possession. Go read Titus 2:11-14. Ahhh, the sweetness of God’s foreordained plans unfolding. That the children of Israel would become a new nation, and that we would become children of God by faith–rescued from the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of His Beloved Son, to be His brethren.
Verses 25-31 are prophetic, concerning the Babylonian captivity. A beautiful reminder that though some believe the “God of the Old Testament” to be one of wrath only, He is truly good and full of mercy and justice. His heart is for His people, He will do whatever it takes to show them love, and create a loving people. Discipline and restoration are part of His loving plan. Look at vs. 29 and the call to seek. This call is a major theme in Deuteronomy, and the rest of the OT, and into the NT. This specific verse is referenced in Jeremiah especially, as this prophecy refers to the Babylonian Captivity. It is similar to Leviticus 26:40-42; and quoted in 2 Chronicles 15:4; Nehemiah 1:9; Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 29:13, 14.
4:32-40 SLOWLY read this beautiful section. Meditate on it, reading and re-reading and thinking about all the words as you do.
4:39 Know and take it to heart.
HEART in Hebrew thought was not separate from mind. That was a later construct–we’ll cover that more in chapter 6. Suffice to say for now–heart was the seat of all logic, thoughts, plans, desires, knowledge. The Kidneys were the seat of affections, and soul refers to “all of your whole being” not some separate part of you, inseparable. Do not read our Western ideas into Scripture. Many pagan philosophers differentiated, and we tend to follow suit, but must not. Know it and keep it with your whole being, without trying to figure out what your mind must do and what your heart must do separately. The whole you needs to know the One True God, trusting His great love, listening to His call.
Overall the tone of this Prologue is fatherly. Moses truly cares for this people, obstinate though they be. He wants to take them into the Promised Land, though he cannot–for when called upon to be God’s mouthpiece, he did not treat God as holy (when striking the rock? Remember?). Yet he is speaking to set them up for their future, to give them the words to cling to as they start their new life.
What words do you need to keep, and treasure up, as you “keep your soul?”