After recounting events from Israel's history, Moses turns to the lessons he would like the new generation of Israelites to learn. We see the transition in Deuteronomy 4:1: "And now, O Israel,,,,,"
Daniel Block outlines Deuteronomy 4:1-40 this way:
- 4:1-8 The Grace of Torah
- 4:9-31 The Grace of Covenant
- 4:32-40 The Grace of Salvation
In verses 1-8, Moses asserts that the teaching he is giving them is authoritative and comes from God. As a result, they don't have the option of picking and choosing which things to follow. The admonition about not adding to or subtracting from it (v 2) is a standard statement in ancient covenant documents. (We see a parallel statement at the end of the Bible in Rev 22:18-19.)
Moses states that heeding this teaching will lead to abundant life in the Promised Land (v 1). Those who had ignored it at Baal Peor were no longer alive (vv 3-4). This teaching was also a key part of their mission to the nations. People observing their way of life would be drawn to God and his wisdom (vv 6-8).
One striking piece of evidence illustrating Moses' words in vv 6-8 comes from "Prayer to Every God," a document found at Nineveh. Here a man believes he must have offended the gods because bad things are happening to him. But he doesn't know which god he has offended, what he has done, or what he should do to appease whichever god he has offended. We see the writer's frustration at the silence of the gods.
This document helps illustrate the grace of Torah. Far from being a burden, God's revelation is a great gift, pointing the way to peace and abundant life. In general, the more detail in the revelation, the more grace.
In verses 9-14 Moses addressed the "grace of covenant past" At Mt Sinai the Israelites had enjoyed the great privilege of having God appear and speak to them. God revealed there the "ten words" that summarize his covenant with them. From that encounter Israel was to learn the lasting lesson of fearing God---not being frightened of him, but approaching him with reverent awe.
Verses 15-24 deal with the "grace of covenant present." The first principle of the Decalogue is exclusive loyalty to God, and Moses placed special emphasis on that one. Since God had created people in his image to have dominion over creation, it would make no sense for the Israelites to worship parts of the creation rather than the Creator. In particular, Israel should not transfer their loyalty to members of God's "heavenly host" that he had set up over the other nations of the world (v 19). Wanting the best for Israel, God passionately guarded the integrity of his marriage relationship with them (v 24).
In verses 25-31 Moses spoke as a prophet, setting the stage for the prophets who would come later. He foresaw that at some point in the future, the Israelites would break that first principle of the covenant and do "what is evil" (literally "the evil") by turning to other gods. Then they lose the land and go into exile. This development would not mean that the covenant was off, but rather that it was "on". The punishment of exile was the culmination of the covenant curses (Dt 28).
Judgment, however, would not be the last word, and this was also part of the covenant (vv 29-31). When the Israelites in exile turned to God in repentance, God would let himself be found by them. This is also because of "the covenant with your fathers." Here "the fathers" includes both the earlier patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Exodus generation, the parents of Moses' audience. (Lev 26:45 and Jer 34:13 are two examples where the phrase is used for the latter group). In Deuteronomy Moses does not make a sharp distinction between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Daniel Block observes that "in Deuteronomy the covenant with the fathers is one." He also explains that the Mosaic covenant was "the means by which the promise made withjn the Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled."
Moses' address comes to a stirring conclusion in verses 32-40. In verses 32-34 an 36-38, he gave a history lesson, pointing out the unprecedented events that they had witnessed as they experienced God's salvation. These events lead to an important theological conclusion on the uniqueness of the God of Israel (vv 35,39). The bottom line: Israel should remain loyal and obedient to God to prosper in the Promised Land.
In a sermon on Deuteronomy 4 at Church of the Messiah on March 4, 2023, Kyle Kettering pointed out that the word "love" appears in the book of Deuteronomy more than in any other book of the Bible except Psalms. God's love shines through as a main theme of Deuteronomy.
We also read in Scripture that God hates evil and calls upon us to do the same (Ps 97:10; 26:5; 31:6; 5:5-7; 11:5; Amos 5:15; Prov 8:13). But how can we hate evil without hating those who do it? Kyle concluded that the best place to start is to hate the evil that we see in ourselves.