Up to this point in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses has been reviewing the history of what has happened to the Israelites. Now, he begins to review the Law which God gave them. But before he gets into the specific items of the Law, he's going to cover the importance of their general approach to the Law.
Moses was teaching them the Law so that they would listen to it, perform the commands in it, and live because of it. This is certainly my desire as I teach the Word - that it would be listened to and performed, because I know it leads to life.
Listening is not enough - the performance must take place as well. Jesus said,
Matt. 7:24-27 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it - great was its fall."
How important it is that we, as James said,
James 1:22 ...prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
In addition to listening and performing, Moses warned them to neither add to nor subtract from the Scriptures. We are warned time and again to preserve the purity of the Scriptures. Aw-GOOR wrote,
Prov. 30:6 Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.
If we mess with the Bible, we will be exposed as liars. But certainly there are many more reasons why we neither add to nor take away from the Scriptures. Moses tells us here that this was, "that you may keep the commandments." In other words, you can't keep the commandments of God if you don't keep the Word of God intact.
Moses reminds the Israelites that, after they'd defeated the two Amorite kingdoms of Og and Baw-SHAWN, they camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho (Num. 22:1). The Moabites' King Baw-LAWK tried to hire the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites, but God wouldn't let Balaam utter a curse against them. However, Balaam didn't want to lose the large payment he'd been promised, so he instructed the king how...
Rev. 2:14 ...to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.
King Baw-LAWK followed Balaam's plan: He put the young Moabite women close to the Israelite camp, and had them practice their immoral worship of their false gods.
Num. 25:1-3 While Israel remained at Shi-TEEM, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to BAH-al of Peh-ORE, and the LORD was angry against Israel.
The Israelites who committed this immoral idolatry were put to death. Moses reviews this fact, and that only by holding fast to the Lord were these folks around to hear his speech.
For a number of months now, I have been thinking through and seeking to understand people's quest for notoriety. So many people want to be known for something. The scientist who says, "I want to be known as a brilliant thinker." The musician who says, "I'm going for fame because of my amazing ability and talent." The farmer who says, "I am recognized by all as outstanding in my field."
But God told Israel what He wanted them to be famous for: Keeping and doing His commandments. This would show them to be incredibly wise and understanding in the sight of all the other nations.
The Israelites were also instructed to keep their souls diligently. The word "keep" means, "to guard, keep watch over, and observe." The soul is the inner self - the emotions of the heart and the thoughts of the mind.
They are the same two words used when Joshua told them,
Josh. 23:11 "So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the LORD your God.
They were being instructed to stand guard over their thoughts and emotions. Otherwise, they would forget all that God had done and their hearts would depart from God.
How could they stand guard over their inner selves? The proverb says,
Prov. 19:16 He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of conduct will die.
Again, it all comes down to being obedient to the Word of God.
They are also told to make known to their sons and grandsons all the things which the Lord had done and said. You see, it's not enough for us to know the Word - we must also pass it on to the next generation.
It would not be too many years before this commandment was neglected. When Joshua's generation died, the book of Judges tells us that
Judg. 2:10-15 ...there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
When we don't pass on the Lord's work and Word to the next generation, we are condemning them to a miserable existence - a life without God.
You'd think that the following generation would have been told what God had done. It was hardly a forgettable moment, after all. It was three months after Israel had left Egypt (Exod. 19:1) that they arrived at Mount Sinai (which is also known as Kho-RABE). Moses told them that the Lord would speak to them, but they had to be consecrated for two days.
Ex. 19:16-19 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.
Ex. 20:18-19 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die."
Moses is now saying, "Don't forget that day. And don't forget to tell about it to your kids."
Although the Israelites saw the cloud and lightning flashes, they did not see the form of God. The Lord did this on purpose. He didn't want them making statues of Him. Too bad so many in the church throughout the years have neglected His command. Icons are commonly worshipped in many Christian circles, even though it has been expressly forbidden by God.
Now, some have swung in the opposite direction. They say, "Art is evil. As soon as you paint a picture of a fish or make a sculpture of a bird, you are violating this clear command of the Lord." But read in context, it is obvious what the Lord is forbidding:
Ex. 20:3-5 "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..."
Notice that all throughout this command, God is saying, "No other gods." It's not a sin to create art. It is a sin to bow down to that art as a representation of any god, whether true or false.
In the same way, God forbade looking up at the moon and stars. Certainly, astronomy is not a sin. It is the worship of these celestial bodies that is forbidden.
Notice that as Moses warns Israel against apostasy, he says, "When," not, "If." In other words, Moses' warning to Israel is not theory, but prophecy.
I find this fascinating. God knew even before He brought them into the promised land, their apostasy would drive them out of it again. And yet, He still called them.
This is greatly encouraging to me. For, as many times as I've messed up, I'm always convinced that I've taken God completely by surprise. That now He regrets saving me, and certainly rues the day He called me into ministry.
But He isn't surprised, and knew all of my mistakes before calling me.
Is. 46:8-10 "Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'
God knew all of your future sin, yet it was His purpose and good pleasure to save you. Why? Because it demonstrates His amazing power, love, mercy, and grace. Read the next few verses:
Only God could do this. It was clearly neither chance or coincidence. No other people who worshipped any other god had this happen for them.
God is God, and His command is clear: guard your hearts, obey His command, know His Word.