The Pulpit Commentary

Deuteronomy 4:1-40 (Deuteronomy 4:1-40)

EXPOSITION

ADMONITIONS AND EXHORTATIONS . Moses, having presented to the people certain facts in their recent history which had in them a specially animating and encouraging tendency, proceeds to direct his discourse to the inculcation of duties and exhortations to obedience to the Divine enactments. This portion also of his address is of an introductory character as well as what precedes.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-8 (Deuteronomy 4:1-8)

Exhortation to the observance of the Law generally . The Law was to be kept as a complete whole; nothing was to be taken from it or added to it; it comprised the commandments of Jehovah, and therefore they were not only to do it as what Moses, their leader and lawgiver, had enjoined, bat to keep it as a sacred deposit, not to be altered or tampered with, and to observe it as what God their Sovereign had enacted for them. The dignity and worth of the Law are here asserted, and also its completeness as given by Moses. Any addition to it, no less than any subtraction from it, would mar its integrity and affect its perfection. Altered circumstances in process of time might, indeed, lead to the desuetude of some parts of the Mosaic enactments, and new institutions or laws might be required to meet a new condition of things, or even in that new condition to fence and sustain the primitive code; but that cede was to remain intact in the Statute-Book, and no alterations were to be made upon it that should affect its substance or nullify any of its principles. New laws and institutions appointed by God would, of course, have the same authority as those originally ordained by Moses; and such, it can hardly be doubted, were in point of fact under the Hebrew monarchy introduced by the prophets speaking in the name of God. The Law, nevertheless, was kept substantially entire. Even under the new dispensation, the Law has not been abolished. Christ, as he himself declared, came not to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them ( Matthew 5:17 ). The sin of the Pharisees, for which they were censured by our Lord, lay in this, that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men ( Matthew 15:9 ), and had "made the commandments of God of none effect by their traditions" ( Matthew 15:6 ).

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2 (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

Now therefore ; rather And now . With this Moses passes from referring to what God had done for Israel to admonish Israel as to what they had to do as the subjects of God and the recipients of his favor. They were to give heed to all the statutes and judgments which Moses, as the servant of God, had taught them, in order that they might do them. Statutes ( חֻקִּים ), the things prescribed or enacted by law, whether moral, ritual, or civil; judgments ( מִשְׁפָטִים ), rights , whether public or private, all that each could claim as his due, and all he was bound to render to God or to his fellow-men as their due. These two comprehend the whole Law as binding on Israel. On the doing of these by the people depended life ; these had been made known to them, not merely for their information, but specifically that they might do them, and thereby have life; not long life in the Promised Land alone, though this also is included ( Deuteronomy 4:40 ; Deuteronomy 5:33 ; Deuteronomy 6:2 , etc.), but that higher life, that life which man lives "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord" ( Deuteronomy 8:3 ; cf. Le Deuteronomy 18:5 ; Ezekiel 20:11 ; Matthew 4:4 ), that spiritual life which is in God's favor ( Psalms 30:5 ). Enjoying this life as the fruit of obedience, they should also possess as their inheritance the laud promised to their fathers.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-4 (Deuteronomy 4:1-4)

Life and prosperity dependent on obedience to God.

In this paragraph Moses indicates, by the word "therefore," the purpose he has had in the review in which he had been indulging. It was not for the mere rehearsal's sake that the varied incidents in Israel's career were thus recalled to memory, but to stimulate the people anew to obedience, by reminding them how strong was the reason for it, and how great would be the blessedness of it. It was then, as it is now, "godliness is profitable for all things;" and though that would be a low standard of virtue attained by a man who served God merely for what he could get by it, yet, on the other hand, if no good came of it , the reason for it would certainly be seriously affected in the influence it had on a man. There is a mean and selfish form of utilitarianism. But if, when a man contends for utility as the foundation of virtue, he means by utility "a tendency to promote the highest good, on the largest scale, for the longest period," there is nothing selfish or mean about the theory then , whether we accept it as sound philosophy or no. And it is certain that our Lord Jesus Christ meant considerations of profit to weigh with men (see Matthew 16:25 , Matthew 16:26 ). Observe—

I. GOD 'S STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS ARE THE BEST MORAL AND SPIRITUAL FURNITURE WITH WHICH A PEOPLE CAN BE ENRICHED . The word "statutes" includes "the moral commandments and statutory covenant laws." "Judgments" are precepts enjoining what is due from men to man or to God. Sometimes we get the word "commandments," including both the former; at other times we have the word "testimonies; in which duty is looked at as that concerning which God bears testimony to man Now, men will rise or fall according as the moral nature is cultured or neglected. And it is because the Divine precepts constitute a directory for our highest selves, that they are so invaluable to us. Doubtless, to some extent, the Law of God is still graven in the hearts and consciences of men; and if men were perfect , the Law written on the heart would be clear enough. But as men neglect God's Law , they come to fail in discerning it. The characters written inwardly are more and more faint, and, lest it should cease from among men, our God has had his will graciously recorded in a Book, our constant standard of appeal, our unvarying directory of right!

II. THESE STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS ARE TO BE PRESERVED INTACT . "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it." The manifestation of the tendency of men to do one or the other, yea both, is one of the saddest chapters in human history (see Homily on Deuteronomy 12:32 ). (Cf. Jeremiah 26:2 ; Proverbs 30:6 ; Revelation 22:18 , Revelation 22:19 ; Matthew 5:19 ; Matthew 15:1-13 .) Skepticism violates God's Law by subtracting from it; superstition, by adding to it. Our appeal must ever be "to the Law and to the testimony," and the appeal will only be valid, nay, will only be possible, as both are preserved intact and kept free from the tampering of men.

III. THEY ARE TO BE PRESERVED IN THEIR ENTIRETY , IN ORDER THAT THEY MAY BE OBEYED IS THEIR ENTIRETY . Hearken, for to do them (see John 13:17 ; James 1:22 ). A mere reverence for the letter, without obedience to the spirit, is displeasing to God. Jesus Christ complained of this among the Jews ( John 5:38-40 ). A written law, honored as to its preservation, but yet neglected in life, is a silent witness against us ( John 5:45 ). Men may rest in having the oracles of God, and may cherish even up to the last, vain hopes of acceptance on the ground of privilege, but they will be undeceived ( Matthew 7:21-27 ). Obedience to the Law of God includes the two great duties of trust in a great salvation and loyalty to moral precepts. No man was allowed to trifle with the sacrificial code any more than with the ethical: both formed parts of the Law; both were to be observed with equal exactitude.

IV. OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW WOULD BE FOR ISRAEL 'S WEAL , AND WAS THE CONDITION OF THEIR CONTINUANCE IN THE LAND .

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Deuteronomy 4:1-13 (Deuteronomy 4:1-13)

The sacredness of the Divine Law.

Law, being the utterance of righteousness, is unalterable as righteousness itself, permanent amid all the mutations of human affairs. Its requirements are statutes, stable as the everlasting hills.

I. LAW IS THE VERITABLE VOICE OF GOD ; the manifestation of his thought; the mirror of his mind. "The Lord spake unto you." "Out of the midst of the fire" the flame of holiness and zeal—issues every command. If man's moral nature has an open ear, it may often detect the imperial voice of Heaven. 'Tis not to sight God reveals himself, but to the ear. His messengers are emphatically "a voice." "Faith comes by hearing."

II. LAW , IN ITS SPHERE , IS PERFECT . Over every work of his hands God pronounces the verdict "Very good;" and Law, being the instrument with which he works, is "holy, just, and good." For unrighteous man there may be something more precious than Law; but when restored to God, Law is his delight. In the domain of belief we cannot augment or diminish God's Law without self-injury. Perfection cannot be improved upon. In the sphere of practice, to halt short of the line of duty, or to go beyond the line, is alike an offence. Self-mutilation, or blemish, is the effect.

III. THE VERACITY OF LAW ATTESTED BY ACTUAL EXPERIENCE . Every honest minded man may discover whether or not the written Word embodies a Divine Law. If a genuine Law, its authority is ratified by an honest conscience; as sanctions, whether of commendation or curse, are witnessed by every clear-sighted eye. Every truthful man is a witness that God's laws (whether written in external nature, in man's constitution, or in Scripture) bring life to the obedient, death to the transgressor. Not a Law is revealed in the Scriptures, but it tends to righteousness, happiness, life!

IV. DIVINE LAW ASSERTS ITS AUTHORITY OVER THE WHOLE MAN .

1. Over the intellect, for it demands attention, investigation, comparison, and discrimination.

2. Authority over the affections, for it demands reverence, esteem, choice, and love.

3. Authority over the moral faculty; for it demands assent, response, and loyalty.

4. Over the active powers, for it requires watchfulness, self-restraint, uninterrupted deference, and uncompromising service.

V. LAW IS THE PATHWAY TO TRUE EMINENCE . Every successful application of science to practical life is simply a treading of the pathway of law. So long as man finds the footprints of God's Law, he moves onward. There is no real progress in any department of human life, except along the line of God's Law. To find that , and to follow it, is success. This is equally true in the spiritual province. This is the quintessence of wisdom—the stepping-stone to eminence! What men—what nation—have ever reached to permanent greatness, save they who have trodden the path of Divine Law?

VI. LOYALTY TO GOD 'S LAW BRINGS US NEAR TO GOD . As when we follow up the footprints of a man rapidly enough, we at length come up with the man himself; so, as we pursue the pathway of Law, we come soon without the hallowed precincts of God's presence. We see the working of the heavenly machinery, the movements of God's thought and purpose. We move with it, and ever come nearer to the central light and love. It is a narrow path, and few they are who find it.

VII. A SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE IS SELF - PROPAGATING . Like plants in the garden, every righteous man bears seed after his own kind. Without formal teaching, the beauty of his life will be a living lesson—the fragrance of his deeds will be contagious. They who love God's Law will be zealous to teach God's Law, and to commend it to others. A fine trait in Abraham's character comes into view when God said, "I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household after him." Every man bequeaths to posterity a large legacy of blessing or of bane.

VIII. THE LAW OF GOD B DESTINED TO HAVE PERMANENCE IN HUMAN LIFE . There was high significance in the fact that the Decalogue was written, not in rays of light upon the sapphire firmament, nor in legible characters upon parchment, but on stone . The stone of Sinai is said to belong to one of the oldest formations—the granite period. The forms and modes of law may undergo change to meet the growing necessities of men; but the inner sense—the kernel—of every law still abides. "Heaven and earth may pass away," all material stricture may undergo radical change—but the words of God can undergo no change. What is true once is true always! What was right a myriad of ages since, retains all its authority today, and will be obligatory world without end. The sum and substance of moral law is writ by the finger of God, and graven on the solid rock!—D.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-28 (Deuteronomy 4:1-28)

The curse of idolatry.

Idolatry is the general bias of fallen humanity, the perversion of an innate principle, the misgrowth of the religious instinct. Men everywhere "feel after God, if haply they may find him." Absolute atheism cannot long endure anywhere. If men reject a personal Deity, they invent an inferior God, and practically worship that. The wildest atheist which the world has seen, must admit that there is some power or force in the world superior to himself. There is no resting-place for reason, short of a spiritual God.

I. IDOLATRY WAS THE PREVALENT DANGER OF THE PATRIARCHAL AGE . During the childhood of men, they are under the domination of the bodily senses. They demand a god whom they can see and handle and hear. The kindred of Abraham were addicted to idolatry. The wife of Jacob furtively abstracted the teraphim of her father, and held them in a measure of reverence. Even Moses yearned for a visible Deity. "I beseech thee, show me thy glory!" The absence of Moses from the camp for forty days sufficed for the people to relapse into idolatry. Throughout their history, every decline in relic, ions feeling showed itself in a fresh lapse towards idolatry.

II. IDOLATRY GROSSLY CORRUPTS ITS VOTARIES . The object which is at first selected to be a symbol of the Deity, soon detains on itself the homage of the worshipper, and becomes his Deity. Matter is at the antipodes from spirit. The laws and forces working in material nature may help us to understand the Divine Being, but matter itself never . Apart from a written revelation, we best rise to the knowledge of God through the contemplation of our own minds and consciences. The object of our worship molds us after itself. The worshipper of beasts becomes bestial. "They that make them become like unto them." This is God's law.

III. MATERIAL IMAGES DEGRADE THE GODHEAD . For God is a Spirit, and cannot be represented by material images. For matter can convey no impressions of omnipresence, or of eternity, or of moral qualities, or of emotions, affections, or joys! Representation by material images strips our God of all that is noblest in his nature, cf. all that is distinctive in the Godhead. It cloaks his perfections and eclipses his glory.

IV. IDOLATRY ANNULLED THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL . That gracious compact required upon the part of the Israelites the honest recognition and worship of the One Jehovah. Unfaithfulness on this vital point invalidated the entire covenant; God had pledged himself specially to be their God, on condition that they were his loyal people. All the resources of God's kingdom were pledged to Israel in that covenant. It was an act of mercy that God should bind himself in any form to his creatures, and this superabundant grace ought to have held their homage by closest and tenderest ties. His part of the covenant, God had conspicuously observed in the release of his people from the "iron furnace." Was not every sign and wonder wrought in Egypt a fresh seal upon the heavenly bond? This covenant, between a gracious God and undeserving men, idolatry destroyed.

V. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS DESIGNED AS A REGULATIVE FORCE . There are limitations to our knowledge of God imposed by our constitution, and further limitations imposed by our sin. These latter can be removed at once by the redemptive power of Christ; and the first named shall gradually be relaxed in the resurrection state. Fire does not represent God, except so far as it consumes , and this illustration is meant to check our presumption; 'tis not for the satisfaction of a curious intellect, but to restrain a wayward life. Knowledge of God, which is honestly reduced to practice, becomes larger and clearer knowledge. "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord."

VI. INIQUITY BECOMES ITS OWN PUNISHMENT . Throughout the Scriptures this doctrine is taught, that sin ripens and culminates in punishment. The penalty threatened upon the idolatry of the Jews was this , that they should be driven into a heathen land, and be compelled to serve the senseless blocks of wood and stone. The punishment of avarice is this , that the sensibilities become as hard as gold. The penalty of drunkenness is this , that the morbid appetite grows into an uncontrollable passion! The voice of doom says, " He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."

VII. PRESENT PUNISHMENTS ARE THE TYPE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENTS . The penalty to be imposed on the Jews for disloyalty, was banishment from Canaan—defeat, scattering, death. So the final penalties revealed for reprobate men are exclusion from the heavenly Canaan; banishment to the darkness they have preferred; utter destruction. Each man "goes to his own place."

VIII. SUFFERING FOR OTHERS , A PATHWAY TO HUMAN HEARTS . In connection with these fatherly counsels, Moses again reminds the people of his privation on account of their sins. The blame of his exclusion from Canaan he attributes to them. He who aforetime had prayed that, for the sake of Israel, his own name might be blotted out of God's book, now submits to this chastisement for the people's good. But Moses would not throw away the advantage which this fact might bring. In his desire for the people's good, he converts it into a persuasive argument, by which to confirm their loyalty to God. As if, should every other appeal fail, this appeal to their sensibility might succeed. It is as if he had said, "Remember what I am called to endure for you! Let your requital be unswerving obedience to my God." Here he serves as a feeble type of Jesus.—D.

HOMILIES BY J. ORR

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2 (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

Acceptable obedience.

I. ITS BASIS —the Divine command. "Statutes and judgments." Action originating in self-will, however correct in moral form, is not obedience. It is God's command which is the rule and starting-point. Recognition of his authority is essential. Kant distinguishes religion from morality thus'' Religion is the doing of all duties as if they were Divine commandments." The objective rule is found in the inspired Scriptures.

II. ITS CHARACTER . It must be:

1. Entire , not partial. Having respect to all that God reveals.

2. Honest , neither altering, mutilating, adding to, nor subtracting from (cf. Matthew 5:19 ; Matthew 15:6 , Matthew 15:9 ).

3. Persevering .

III. ITS REWARD . "Life," possession of blessings. This reward not legal, but of grace through Christ, as on the legal basis no one can attain to it ( Romans 3:20 ). But though, as sinful, we cannot have life through obedience, we still have it in obedience. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" ( Matthew 7:21 ; Romans 2:7 ).—J.O.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (Deuteronomy 4:1-14)

Obedience the secret of success.

Moses here reminds Israel of the privilege it possesses as a nation in having the oracles of God committed unto it ( Romans 3:2 ). He urges obedience upon them as the one purpose for which they are to be introduced into the Promised Land. National prosperity depends upon this. And here we have to notice—

I. DISOBEDIENCE HAS ALREADY PROVED FATAL . He recalls the terrible experience in connection with Dual-peer—how the people in large numbers became lewd idolaters with the Israelites ( Numbers 25:1-18 .), and how fierce anger from the Lord visited the people. In Canaan they shall be exposed to similar temptations, but the chastisement at Baal-peor must not be lost upon them. Past judgments are to secure more complete obedience.

II. GOD 'S NEARNESS TO THEM SHOULD PROVE A HALLOWING PRIVILEGE . How gracious is God to dwell among them, always near at hand to be inquired of, a most serviceable King! He dwelt in their midst as a Pilgrim with his people. Upon his accessibility and wisdom they could always calculate. This distinguished Israel from the other nations. Such a privilege should of itself hallow them, and make them to abide under his shadow. Equally near is God still to all of us who seek him.

III. HIS LAW IS WISER THAN ALL MAN 'S DEVELOPED LEGISLATION . The surrounding nations had their laws and customs, but the superiority of the Mosaic code was admitted by all acquainted with it. It was an immense moral advance for Israel, as great an advance as in that rude age they could take in. Similarly, the morality of the gospel is ahead of all jurisprudence. Indeed, enlightened legislation and reform tend towards the scriptural ideal. God is wiser than man, and the Bible better than all acts of parliament.

IV. THE LAW WAS GIVEN AS A RULE OF LIFE FOR A COVENANT PEOPLE . They were redeemed from bondage, and then received the Law at Sinai to guide their redeemed lives. Obedience should be a matter of gratitude for deliverance , and would prove the secret of success. It is so still. "Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." But as grateful and saved people, we feel that we are "under the Law to Christ" ( 1 Corinthians 9:21 ). And this grateful obedience proves the secret of comfort and success. It is the meat of life to do the wilt of him who hath sent us, and to finish his work ( John 4:34 ). Palestine becomes "paradise regained" to the grateful and obedient souls. We find a Promised Land where God's precepts are gratefully observed by redeemed souls. It is the attitude within, rather than the circumstances without, which constitutes life a blessed country and an antepast of heaven.—R.M.E.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (Deuteronomy 4:1-14)

Obedience the secret of success.

Moses here reminds Israel of the privilege it possesses as a nation in having the oracles of God committed unto it ( Romans 3:2 ). He urges obedience upon them as the one purpose for which they are to be introduced into the Promised Land. National prosperity depends upon this. And here we have to notice—

I. DISOBEDIENCE HAS ALREADY PROVED FATAL . He recalls the terrible experience in connection with Dual-peer—how the people in large numbers became lewd idolaters with the Israelites ( Numbers 25:1-18 .), and how fierce anger from the Lord visited the people. In Canaan they shall be exposed to similar temptations, but the chastisement at Baal-peor must not be lost upon them. Past judgments are to secure more complete obedience.

II. GOD 'S NEARNESS TO THEM SHOULD PROVE A HALLOWING PRIVILEGE . How gracious is God to dwell among them, always near at hand to be inquired of, a most serviceable King! He dwelt in their midst as a Pilgrim with his people. Upon his accessibility and wisdom they could always calculate. This distinguished Israel from the other nations. Such a privilege should of itself hallow them, and make them to abide under his shadow. Equally near is God still to all of us who seek him.

III. HIS LAW IS WISER THAN ALL MAN 'S DEVELOPED LEGISLATION . The surrounding nations had their laws and customs, but the superiority of the Mosaic code was admitted by all acquainted with it. It was an immense moral advance for Israel, as great an advance as in that rude age they could take in. Similarly, the morality of the gospel is ahead of all jurisprudence. Indeed, enlightened legislation and reform tend towards the scriptural ideal. God is wiser than man, and the Bible better than all acts of parliament.

IV. THE LAW WAS GIVEN AS A RULE OF LIFE FOR A COVENANT PEOPLE . They were redeemed from bondage, and then received the Law at Sinai to guide their redeemed lives. Obedience should be a matter of gratitude for deliverance , and would prove the secret of success. It is so still. "Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." But as grateful and saved people, we feel that we are "under the Law to Christ" ( 1 Corinthians 9:21 ). And this grateful obedience proves the secret of comfort and success. It is the meat of life to do the wilt of him who hath sent us, and to finish his work ( John 4:34 ). Palestine becomes "paradise regained" to the grateful and obedient souls. We find a Promised Land where God's precepts are gratefully observed by redeemed souls. It is the attitude within, rather than the circumstances without, which constitutes life a blessed country and an antepast of heaven.—R.M.E.

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