Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.3. Hearken, O Israel!
1. Obedience demanded (Deuteronomy 4:1-8)
2. The covenant to be observed (Deuteronomy 4:9-14)
3. Take heed unto yourselves lest ye forget (Deuteronomy 4:15-24)
4. The warning (Deuteronomy 4:25-31)
5. Israel, the chosen nation (Deuteronomy 4:32-40)
“Now therefore hearken, O Israel” marks the beginning of the exhortation to keep the law of the Lord. First he had shown the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord and upon that Moses admonishes them to be true to Jehovah and to the covenant. The same order is followed in our great New Testament Epistles. What the Lord has done for us, His grace and faithfulness, always occupies the first place; this is followed by our responsibilities to walk worthy of the Lord. The first great discourse of Moses in its two main features, the retrospect of what Jehovah had done and Israel’s obligation to keep the law to enjoy the blessings of the covenant, is the key to the entire book.
They were to hearken and to do. Hearing and doing stand in the foreground of this section. The result of obedience is life and possession of the land. “That ye may live” does not mean the possession of eternal life, but a long earthly life in the promised land. See chapters 5:33; 6:2; 8:1; 11:21; 16:20; 25:15; 30:6, 16; 32:47. Nothing was to be added to the law and nothing to be taken from it. Alas! this warning has not been heeded. The elders with their traditions and commandments of men, added to the law and put the word of man above the Word of God, while later the Sadducees took away from the law and reduced the Word of God to the level of the word of man. The same is done today in ritualistic and rationalistic Christendom.
His voice had spoken to them; they had heard His words. They were privileged above all other nations. “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?” Therefore, they had great responsibility. Three times Moses told them to take heed (verses 9, 15 and 23). He warned them to beware of idolatry. They were to serve only Jehovah for He had brought them forth out of the iron furnace, to be unto Him a people of inheritance. He had delivered them and made them His own people, therefore, they were to obey Him. Solemnly Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day,1 that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto you go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.” Moses in speaking these words had the first prophetic glimpse of their coming history of idolatry, followed by national ruin. This vision widens and he beheld them scattered among the nations.
Verses 30 and 31 refer not only to past history, but they are yet to find a fulfilment in the latter days. It is the first prophetic note we hear in Deuteronomy from the lips of Moses. More fully he speaks of it towards the end of his farewell message to the people he loved so well.
Especially beautiful are the closing verses of this section (verses 33-40). What a display of what Jehovah had done for them, how He had revealed Himself and His power in their behalf! Therefore, He was entitled to a wholehearted obedience from His people. “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.” And what greater works He has made unto us His people, that great salvation in His blessed Son, our Lord! He has the right to claim our full obedience. May we consider constantly, who He is and what He has done for us and we shall yield to Him the obedience He looks for in His people.
Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;4. The Three Cities of Refuge
1. The cities set apart (Deuteronomy 4:41-42)
2. The cities named (Deuteronomy 4:43)
The first address being ended, an action of Moses takes place. To detect here the hand of an editor, who added these verses, as critics claim, cannot be sustained. The cities of refuge were mentioned in Numbers. Here the three on this side of Jordan are given. Then there were three more on the other side of which we read in chapter 19 and in the book of Joshua. As stated in our annotations in Numbers, the cities of refuge are typical of Christ, who is our shelter from the avenger. Scattered through the land for the gracious purpose of sheltering the slayer, they also bear a prophetic testimony. They speak of Israel’s hope.
“These cities of refuge, set at intervals through the land of Israel, are a garrison for it from God, which even still, in ruin, as the land is, watch over it, as ministers of unchanging grace, and prophets of now near-coming glory. This people of God, separated to Him in the wonderful way attested by their annals,--What, after all, has been their condition for many and long centuries of subjection to hostile races? They have been strangers and wanderers, Cain-like, and indestructible as Cain,--a nation surviving even in death, but as if to perpetuate only the memory of the doom under which they lie,--the doom of an awful fratricide. Such is, in fact, their conditions condition hopeless to most yet, though it may be now with a streak of gray dawn widening upon it. But these cities of refuge have all the time been watch-towers set to face eastward, ramparts round prostrate Zion, upon which the watchmen hold not their peace, and give Him no rest, till He establish it again,-- yea, till He make it a praise upon earth (Isaiah 62:6-7).
“They are His pledge, in view of what has in fact come to pass, that what He has foreseen cannot thwart His purposes, nor their sin His long-foreshown grace. Preach they may in sackcloth, but it is good tidings that they preach, of a place of security even for homicides,--for those for whom His plea shall yet avail, ‘They know not what they do.’“--F.W. Grant, Notes on Deuteronomy
The meaning of the three names are of equal interest. “Bezer” means “defence,” a fortified place. Such Christ is for all who trust in Him. In Him we have our shelter and blessing as well. “Ramoth” means “heights.” Our Lord occupies the exalted, the preeminent place and shelter in Him, we share His place as we read in the second chapter of Ephesians. “Golan” means “joy” or “their rejoicing.” Even so we have in Him, who is our refuge, our joy and He has His joy in us.
And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:II. THE EXPOSITION OF THE LAW, EXHORTATIONS AND WARNINGS, BLESSING AND CURSE
1. The Proclamation of the Decalogue
1. The introductory words (Deuteronomy 4:44-49)
2. The law proclaimed (Deuteronomy 5:1-21)
3. Moses, the mediator (Deuteronomy 5:22-33)
First a general announcement is given of the discourse on the law. The fact is emphasized, that it was set before them after they came forth out of Egypt. Then the victories over Sihon and Og are mentioned once more and that they now possessed their land. Why this repetition? It was to remind them of the goodness and faithfulness of Jehovah, whose law they were about to hear expounded. It was to be a helpful encouragement to them and stimulate their obedience, while it also was the pledge of greater victories and blessings to come. Jehovah would keep His promise.
All Israel is gathered about Moses. The aged servant, so soon to leave their midst, now solemnly begins to utter the main discourse, which composes this book. The first verse of the fifth chapter contains the four words, which are found so often in this book of moral responsibility and practical obedience. These words are “hear” (over thirty times); “learn” (seven times); “keep” (thirty-nine times); “do” (almost one hundred times). These are therefore characteristic words of this great book. They were to hear, and hearing to learn, and learning to keep, and keeping to do. And this is still Jehovah’s demand of us His people. All who have a spiritual nature love to have it so. What is more delightful and blessed, than to hear Him speak, to learn of Him, to keep His Word and to do what He tells us!
Jehovah had made a covenant with them, not with their fathers, the patriarchs. The law covenant was made 430 years after Abraham. Moses then speaks in their hearing the words of the Decalogue. The words differ somewhat from the twentieth chapter in Exodus, showing again that Deuteronomy is not a mechanical repetition of previous history. Higher criticism with its confused and confusing theories has made the best of this difference. Upon this difference critics claim that Moses could not have been the author of both. Says a critic: “Indeed he could not have written either in its present form, because that in Exodus is Jehovistic, and older than the record in Deuteronomy” (Dr. Davidson). Such an assertion simply shows the blindness of these men of supposed learning and scholarship. Anyone can see that the records in Exodus and Deuteronomy differ. We do not need scholarship for that. The mysterious person, whom the critics call “Deuteronomist” certainly possessed the record in Exodus and could have easily copied the exact words. But why is there a difference? Exodus gives the history; Deuteronomy does not repeat that history, but in restating the Decalogue, Moses makes such comments which are in perfect keeping with the object of Deuteronomy. If Deuteronomy claimed to be a literal repetition of the history recorded in Exodus and Numbers, then one might speak of discrepancy.
“Deuteronomy proves that we have here a grave and instructive reference to the commandments formally given in the second book of Moses. Such moral motives as are added are therefore as appropriate in Deuteronomy as they could not, ought not to, be in Exodus. The remembrance of their own estate as slaves in Egypt till delivered by Jehovah is most suitable in verse 15; but it is certain that this is an appeal to their hearts, not the ground stated by God in promulgating the fourth commandment. All is perfect in its own place, and the imputation of self contradiction as baseless as it is malicious and irreverent. But one must only expect this from men whose aim is to reduce the inspired writers to their own level, and who think that piety can co-exist with fraud, yea, with fraudulent falsehood about God.”
Moses left out purposely certain statements he uttered when the law was given through him in Exodus; and he added by way of comment other words in fullest keeping with the moral purpose of his message to the people. This is most evident in connection with the commandment to keep the Sabbath-day holy. In Exodus 20 we find the words “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it.” This reference to creation is omitted now by Moses, but he adds another spiritual motive to keep that day. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm; therefore, the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day” (verse 15). We see at once that the characteristic of Deuteronomy is maintained. The people are reminded of the faithfulness and goodness of Jehovah, His gracious dealing with them, and that is made the ground of their responsibility to obey His Word. See in connection with the Sabbath Exodus 31:12-17. It was a sign between Jehovah and Israel. We refer the reader to our remarks on the Sabbath in the analysis of Exodus.
Moses then confirms the record in Exodus. “And He wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.” They possessed them. Moses was also appointed as mediator, the type of Him, who is mediator between God and man, our Lord Jesus Christ. And He has done more than Moses did; He made atonement. The people had recognized their sinful distance from God as well as their merited condemnation (that which is the purpose of the law), and therefore had asked for the mediator. Note verse 29: Jehovah speaks, the One who searches the heart and knows what is in man. Absolute obedience is again demanded in the closing verses of this chapter.