Deuteronomy Chapter Four
People who work in radio (especially talk-back radio) claim that it’s more personal than television because it requires careful listening not just careless watching. Married men like me know how often we can be hearing our wife speaking but not really listening to what she is saying – often to our own loss. The people who Moses is speaking to had seen great things as children (like the parting of the Red Sea) – now they are going to have to listen to great things.
So, in this long and pregnant Chapter 4, Moses turns from the past to the present and the need to ‘listen up’. In fact, listening will be so important for Israel that even though the land is something God is “giving” them, they will need to listen well in order to “take” it too (4:1).
God’s people are not just to inwardly receive the Word but are to outwardly live it before the nations “for this will show your wisdom… to the nations who will hear… and say… this great nation is a wise and understanding people “ (4:6). In other words, the Lord is deeply interested in the witness of His people by giving the Word to the world. The church has a vital mission and if it loses enthusiasm to communicate the news of Jesus, it will soon start turning its energy in on itself – with disastrous effects.
The bulk of this important chapter has to do with idolatry and idolatry is largely prevented by the Word of God. When the people stood at Mount Sinai, they heard God’s voice but did not see Him (4:12). There are reasons for this – He is Spirit (John 4:24), He is Holy (Exodus 33:20) and He wants to guard His people from idolatry. A vision of God would leave the people at the mercy of their memories or their creativity. The easiest thing for our sinful selves is to recreate God (whether as a pushover or a monster) which dishonours Him and destroys us.
So, there are many warnings in 4:15-31 not to fall into idolatry but to keep listening to what God has truly said about Himself. The Word is the brilliant gift of God to keep us from insulting Him or destroying ourselves. Just recently I’ve felt myself more sinful than faithful – sinking into a lukewarm faith and feeling the power of sin very keenly – and much of the reason can be traced to my small attention to God’s liberating Word and much attention to non-liberating things.
If you want some wonderful incentives to return to God wholeheartedly see the assurance in 4:31 “He will not abandon or destroy you”, face the facts in 4:35 “beside Him there is no other”, or see His desire to save in 4:41-43 in the cities Moses set aside for people to “flee” to if they had blood on their hands. These ‘safe places’ are a great preview of the Person of Jesus – to whom the guilty can run and find pardon and peace. You can’t read this whole chapter without hearing the heart of God for people to be safe.
When the writer of Hebrews calls us to “hear [the Lord’s] voice” (4:7), he also calls us to “approach God’s throne” where our High Priest Jesus Christ has perfect sympathy (because He is unhardened by sin) and perfect supplies (of mercy and grace). Trust what He says.
Heavenly Father, please give to us that humility and maturity to take in your Word, to live by it when everything seems to speak against it and to be those people who you delight in as we delight in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.