Deuteronomy 4-5: Law
March 16, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Two great chapters are before us which defy easy summary in a few words, and yet at the same time must be understood simply if we are to obey their basic thrust, which is, “do not forget.” Deuteronomy 4:9, “lest you forget,” underpins much of the instruction of chapter 4 against idolatry. They had seen God speak to them out of the fire; they are the people that God has rescued from Egypt. They must be very careful not to forget these things and go after gods of wood and stone, gods that are no gods at all in reality. They are to teach these things to their children and their grandchildren. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48), and these people had seen God perform miracles, and it was their responsibility to pass on the lessons they had learnt to subsequent generations.
They had also seen God discipline them for rebellion at Baal-peor (4:3; Num. 25:1-5), as well as other times, and it was imperative they would not forget that lesson, too. God had brought them out of the “iron furnace” of Egypt (4:20), and they were now in covenant with God, and if they abandoned God to go after idols, there would be consequences for them as well (4:23-28). Exile, they will “soon utterly perish from the land” (4:26), but even then if they search after God, he will restore them (4:29-31).
To guard themselves against such calamitous results, they were wise to think on the person of God who had been revealed to them. “Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of fire?” (4:33). Were there ever any other people for whom God rescued from Egypt? They were to think on these things and therefore keep the commandments of God.
Christian, was there ever any “god” who humbled himself, became obedient to death, and gave his life that your sins might be forgiven, that you might stand righteous before God? Think on the cross that you might live holy lives in obedience to this great God who saved you.
We move now to the famous Ten Commandments. Each of them could be a commentary in itself, and certainly the ten as a whole. A few quick remarks will help orientate the judicious reader.
First, note that the commandments are framed by grace. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (5:6). The commandments are a response to rescue, not a means to gain redemption in the first place. God did not go to his people in Egypt and say, “Here are some great laws I want you to keep, and if you keep them all, then I’ll rescue you.” No, he rescued them first, through the Passover of the Lamb, acknowledging their own sinfulness as well as that of the Egyptians, brought them to worship him at the congregation around the mountain, and only then did he give them the Ten Commandments. Following God’s law is a response to grace, and not a precursor to grace.
Second, each of these Ten Commandments is interpreted rightly by Jesus and by Paul, not therefore as legalistic external matters, but expressions of the orientation of the whole person. Two easy ways into that understanding in the text itself are by way of the first and last commandment. The first commandment immediately indicates that we are to talk about the worship of the whole person to the one true God: “You shall have no other gods before me” (5:7). This is the Ten Commandments in one word. He who breaks the first commandment breaks them all, and he who breaks all the other commandments breaks the first thereby. The other way to see immediately the heart expression, not legalism, of these Ten Commandments is by way of the last of the commandments. “You shall not covet” (5:21). If any word was about the internal desires of the heart, then this one is—and it undoes us, as it undid Paul.
Much more about these commandments has often been said and could be said again (note they are orientated around the two great summaries of the commandments that Jesus gave (Matt. 22:36-40): Love the Lord your God, being the first half of the commandments, and love your neighbor as yourself, being the second half of the commandments). But in themselves they drive us to ask for rescue, that we might then be brought to worship, and so empowered by God’s Spirit to begin to live and work to his praise and great glory.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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