Deuteronomy 4
Clarke's Commentary
Exhortations to obedience, Deuteronomy 4:1. Nothing to be added to or taken from the testimonies of God, Deuteronomy 4:2. The people are exhorted to recollect how God had destroyed the ungodly among them, Deuteronomy 4:3; and preserved those who were faithful, Deuteronomy 4:4. The excellence of the Divine law, Deuteronomy 4:5, Deuteronomy 4:6. No nation in the world could boast of any such statutes, judgments, etc., Deuteronomy 4:7, Deuteronomy 4:8. They are exhorted to obedience by the wonderful manifestations of God in their behalf, Deuteronomy 4:9-13. Moses exhorts them to beware of idolatry, and to make no likeness of any thing in heaven or earth as an object of adoration, Deuteronomy 4:14-20. He informs them that he must die in that land as God had refused to let him go into the promised land, being angry with him on their account, Deuteronomy 4:21, Deuteronomy 4:22. Repeats his exhortation to obedience, Deuteronomy 4:23, Deuteronomy 4:24. Predicts the judgments of God against them, should they turn to idolatry, Deuteronomy 4:25-28. Promises of God's mercy to the penitent, Deuteronomy 4:29-31. The grand and unparalleled privileges of the Israelites, Deuteronomy 4:32-40. Moses severs three cities on the east side of Jordan for cities of refuge, Deuteronomy 4:41, Deuteronomy 4:42. Their names, Deuteronomy 4:43. When and where Moses gave these statutes and judgments to Israel, Deuteronomy 4:44-49.

Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.
Hearken - unto the statutes - Every thing that concerned the rites and ceremonies of religion; judgments - all that concerned matters of civil right and wrong.

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Ye shall not add - Any book, chapter, verse or word, which I have not spoken; nor give any comment that has any tendency to corrupt, weaken, or destroy any part of this revelation.

Neither shall ye diminish - Ye shall not only not take away any larger portion of this word, but ye shall not take one jot or tittle from the Law; it is that word of God that abideth for ever.

Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you.
But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Keep - and do them; for this is your wisdom - There was no mode of worship at this time on the face or the earth that was not wicked, obscene, puerile, foolish, or ridiculous, except that established by God himself among the Israelites. And every part of this, taken in its connection and reference, may be truly called a wise and reasonable service.

The nations - and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people - Almost all the nations in the earth showed that they had formed this opinion of the Jews, by borrowing from them the principal part of their civil code. Take away what Asia and Europe, whether ancient or modern, have borrowed from the Mosaic laws, and you leave little behind that can be called excellent.

For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons;
Only take heed to thyself - Be circumspect and watchful.

Keep thy soul diligently - Be mindful of thy eternal interests. Whatever becomes of the body, take care of the soul.

Lest thou forget - God does his work that they may be had in everlasting remembrance; and he that forgets them, forgets his own mercies. Besides, if a man forget the work of God on his soul, he loses that work.

Lest they depart from thy heart - It is not sufficient to lay up Divine things in the memory, they must be laid up in the heart. Thy word have I hidden in my heart, says David, that I might not sin against thee. The life of God in the soul of man can alone preserve the soul to life everlasting; and this grace must be retained all the days of our life. When Adam fell, his condition was not meliorated by the reflection that he had been once in paradise; nor does it avail Satan now that he was once an angel of light. Those who let the grace of God depart from their hearts, lose that grace; and those who lose the grace, fall from the grace; and as some have fallen and risen no more, so may others; therefore, take heed to thyself, etc. Were it impossible for men finally to fall from the grace of God, exhortations of this kind had never been given, because they would have been unnecessary, and God never does an unnecessary thing.

But teach them thy sons - If a man know the worth of his own soul, he will feel the importance of the salvation of the souls of his family. Those who neglect family religion, neglect personal religion; if more attention were paid to the former, even among those called religious people, we should soon have a better state of civil society. On family religion God lays much stress; and no head of a family can neglect it without endangering the final salvation of his own soul. See the note at the conclusion of Genesis 18:32 (note), Genesis 19:38 (note), and Deuteronomy 6:7 (note).

Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.
And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.
And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.
And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:
Ye saw no manner of similitude - Howsoever God chose to appear or manifest himself, he took care never to assume any describable form. He would have no image worship, because he is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth. These outward things tend to draw the mind out of itself, and diffuse it on sensible, if not sensual, objects; and thus spiritual worship is prevented, and the Holy Ghost grieved. Persons acting in this way can never know much of the religion of the heart.

Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,
The likeness of male or female - Such as Baal-peor and the Roman Priapus, Ashtaroth or Astarte, and the Greek and Roman Venus; after whom most nations of the world literally went a whoring.

The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air,
The likeness of any beast, etc. - Such as the Egyptian god Apis, who was worshipped under the form of a white bull; the ibis and hawk, among the fowls, had also Divine honors paid to them; serpents and the crocodile among reptiles; besides monkeys, dogs, cats, the scarabaeus, leeks, and onions! See this explained at large, Exodus 20:4 (note).

The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:
And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
When thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars - The worship of the heavenly bodies was the oldest species of idolatry. Those who had not the knowledge of the true God were led to consider the sun, moon, planets, and stars, as not only self-existing, but the authors of all the blessings possessed by mankind. The knowledge of a rational system of astronomy served to destroy this superstition; and very little of it remains now in the world, except among a few Christian and Mohammedan astrologers; those miserable sinners who endeavor, as much as possible, to revive the old idolatry, while vainly professing to believe in the true God! Nor is it to be doubted that God will proceed with them as he has done of old with the worshippers of the host of heaven. Sound philosophy is next in importance to sound divinity; and next to the study of the work of grace is that of the operations of God in nature; for these visible things make known his eternal power and Godhead.

But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.
Out of the iron furnace - From this mention of the word iron furnace there can be little doubt that the Israelites were employed in Egypt in the most laborious works of metallurgy. Digging, smelting, and forging of iron in so hot a climate must have been oppressive work indeed.

Furthermore the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance:
The Lord was angry with me - And if with me, so as to debar me from entering into the promised land, can you think to escape if guilty of greater provocations?

But I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan: but ye shall go over, and possess that good land.
Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
Thy God is a consuming fire - They had seen him on the mount as an unconsuming fire, while appearing to Moses, and giving the law; and they had seen him as a consuming fire in the case of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their company. They had, therefore, every good to expect from his approbation, and every evil to dread from his displeasure.

When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you - A most solemn method of adjuration, in use among all nations in the world. So Virgil, Aen., lib. xii., ver. 176, etc.

Tum pius Aeneas stricto sic ense precatur:

Esto nunc Sol testis et haec mihi terra vocanti -

Fontesque fluviosque voco, quaeque aetheris alti

Relllgio, et quae caeruleo sunt numina ponto, etc.

"Then the great Trojan prince unsheathed his sword,

And thus, with lifted hands, the gods adored:

Thou land for which I wage this war, and thou

Great source of day, be witness to my vow! -

Almighty king of heaven and queen of air,

Propitious now and reconciled by prayer, -

Ye springs, ye floods, ye various powers who lie

Beneath the deep, or tread the golden sky, -

Hear and Attest!"


God and man being called upon to bear testimony to the truth of what was spoken, that if there was any flaw or insincerity, it might be detected; and if any crime, it might not go unpunished. Such appeals to God, for such purposes, show at once both the origin and use of oaths. See the note on Deuteronomy 6:13.

And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you.
The Lord shall scatter you among the nations - This was amply verified in their different captivities and dispersions.

And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.
There ye shall serve gods - wood and stone - This was also true of the Israelites, not only in their captivities, but also in their own land. And it may now be literally the case with the ten tribes who were carried away captive by the Assyrians, and of whose residence no man at present knows any thing with certainty. That they still exist there can be no doubt; but they are now, most probably, so completely incorporated with the idolaters among whom they dwell, as to be no longer distinguish able: yet God can gather them.

But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord - God is longsuffering, and of tender mercy; and waits, ever ready, to receive a backsliding soul when it returns to him. Is not this promise left on record for the encouragement and salvation of lost Israel?

When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;
When thou art in tribulation in the latter days - Are not these the times spoken of? And is there not still hope for Israel? Could we see them become zealous for their own law and religious observances - could we see them humble themselves before the God of Jacob - could we see them conduct their public worship with any tolerable decency and decorum - could we see them zealous to avoid every moral evil, inquiring the road to Zion, with their faces thitherward; then might we hope that the redemption of Israel was at hand: but alas! there is not the most distant evidence of any thing of the kind, except in a very few solitary instances. They are, perhaps, in the present day, more lost to every sacred principle of their own institutions than they have ever been since their return from the Babylonish captivity. By whom shall Jacob arise? for in this sense he is small - deeply fallen, and greatly degraded.

(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
Did ever people hear the voice of God - It seems to have been a general belief that if God appeared to men, it was for the purpose of destroying them; and indeed most of the extraordinary manifestations of God were in the way of judgment; but here it was different; God did appear in a sovereign and extraordinary manner; but it was for the deliverance and support of the people.

1. They heard his voice speaking with them in a distinct, articulate manner.

2. They saw the fire, the symbol of his presence, the appearances of which demonstrated it to be supernatural.

3. Notwithstanding God appeared so terrible, yet no person was destroyed, for he came, not to destroy, but to save.

Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
From the midst of another nation - This was a most extraordinary thing, that a whole people, consisting of upwards of 600,000 effective men, besides women and children, should, without striking a blow, be brought out of the midst of a very powerful nation, to the political welfare of which their services were so essential; that they should be brought out in so open and public a manner; that the sea itself should be supernaturally divided to afford this mighty host a passage; and that, in a desert utterly unfriendly to human life, they should be sustained for forty years. These were such instances of the almighty power and goodness of God as never could be forgotten.

In this verse Moses enumerates seven different means used by the Almighty in effecting Israel's deliverance.

1. Temptations, מסת massoth, from נשה nasah, to try or prove; the miracles which God wrought to try the faith and prove the obedience of the children of Israel.

2. Signs, אתת othoth, from אתה athah, to come near; such signs as God gave them of his continual presence and especial providence, particularly the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, keeping near to them night and day, and always directing their journeys, showing them when and where to pitch their tents, etc., etc.

3. Wonders, מופתים mophethim, from יפת yaphath, to persuade; persuasive facts and events, says Parkhurst, whether strictly miraculous, and exceeding the powers of nature, as Exodus 7:9; Exodus 11:9, Exodus 11:10; or not, as Isaiah 20:3; Ezekiel 12:6, Ezekiel 12:11. It probably means typical representations: in this signification the word is used, Zechariah 3:8. Joshua, the high priest, and his companions were אנשי מופת anshey mopheth, typical men, raised up by God as types of Christ, and proofs that God would bring his servant The Branch. All the dealings of God with this people, and even the people themselves, were types - present significators of distant facts and future occurrences.

4. War, מלחמה milchamah, hostile engagements; such as those with the Amalekites, the Amorites, and the Bashanites, in which the hand of God was seen rather than the hand of man.

5. A Mighty Hand, יד חזקה yad chazakah; one that is strong to deal its blows, irresistible in its operations, and grasps its enemies hard, so that they cannot escape, and protects its friends so powerfully that they cannot be injured. Neither stratagem nor policy was used in this business, but the openly displayed power of God.

6. A Stretched-Out Arm, זרוע נטויה ,mrA zeroa netuyah; a series of almighty operations, following each other in quick astonishing succession. Let it be noted that in the Scriptures,

1. The finger of God denotes any manifestation of the Divine power, where effects are produced beyond the power of art or nature.

2. The hand of God signifies the same power, but put forth in a more signal manner.

3. The arm of God, the Divine omnipotence manifested in the most stupendous miracles.

4. The arm of God stretched out, this same omnipotence exerted in a continuation of stupendous miracles, both in the way of judgment and mercy. In this latter sense it appears to be taken in the text: the judgments were poured out on the Egyptians; the mercies wrought in favor of the Israelites.

7. Great Terrors, מוראים גדלים moraim gedolim; such terror, dismay, and consternation as were produced by the ten plagues, to which probably the inspired penman here alludes: or, as the Septuagint has it, εν ὁραμασιν μεγαλοις, with great or portentous sights; such as that when God looked out of the cloud upon the Egyptians, and their chariot wheels were taken off, Exodus 14:24, Exodus 14:25. More awful displays of God's judgments, power, and might, were never witnessed by man.

Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.
Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.
And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;
To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.
Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.
Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.
Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;
Then Moses severed three cities - See the law relative to the cities of refuge explained, Numbers 35:11 (note), etc.

That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live:
Namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, of the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, of the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, of the Manassites.
Bezer in the wilderness - As the cities of refuge are generally understood to be types of the salvation provided by Christ for sinners; so their names have been thought to express some attribute of the Redeemer of mankind. See them explained Joshua 20:7-8 (note).

I Suppose the last nine verses of this chapter to have been added by either Joshua or Ezra.

And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:
These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which Moses spake unto the children of Israel, after they came forth out of Egypt,
On this side Jordan, in the valley over against Bethpeor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, whom Moses and the children of Israel smote, after they were come forth out of Egypt:
And they possessed his land, and the land of Og king of Bashan, two kings of the Amorites, which were on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;
From Aroer, which is by the bank of the river Arnon, even unto mount Sion, which is Hermon,
And all the plain on this side Jordan eastward, even unto the sea of the plain, under the springs of Pisgah.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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