Biblical Truth: God wants His people to obey Him and blesses those who diligently do so.
Make God’s Word your standard: Deuteronomy 4:1-2.
 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. [NASU]
To conclude the book’s main historical introduction, this new chapter contains a substantial address given by Moses to the waiting people. It expounds a number of themes which will be given increasing prominence in Moses’ preaching. Primarily, the leader’s message is about the character and achievements of God. Before the people enter the land it is of the greatest possible importance that they understand who God is, what He has said and what He can do. They need to think deeply about the uniqueness of their God before they invade a land littered with other gods. If they are to survive the hazards and perils of the days ahead it can only be by seeing God. The portrait of God given to Moses to share with the people before they began their march into the land was that of a generous Giver [1-12], sovereign Lord [13-28], merciful Deliverer [29-34] and incomparable Lover [35-43].
[1-2] Without the clear teaching of Scripture people imagine that, either by our religious observances or moral conduct, we must all make strenuous attempts to earn God’s favor. It was to guard against the same danger of such man-centered religion that Moses began this particular address to the people by focusing on what God first gave to His people and not on what they give to Him. His special relationship with them and favors towards them were not on the basis of what they had done. It was not because of their numerical strength [6:7] or moral goodness [9:4] that the Israelites had been marked out as God’s special people. But because God loved them, chose them and wanted to use them. For this reason Moses began by concentrating on two of God’s undeserved gifts to His children, the law and the land.
The law was designed to impart spiritual life. It was not intended as a tedious list of unwelcome prohibitions. God knows that if men and women are to enjoy life, certain rules will always be necessary. But the law as summarized in the Ten Commandments begins not with a list of prohibitions but with a declaration of God’s uniqueness and saving achievement: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt [5:6]. It begins not with what a person has to do or not do, but with what the Lord has done. He gave them life and wanted them to continue to enjoy life, and it was for this reason that He provided this unique word to instruct them and us in the way of life. Personally obligatory, this word is designed to inform, enlighten and stimulate the mind. Every part of it is of unique importance. It confronts its readers with serious responsibilities. Moses urges them and us to attend to its message, obey its injunctions, recognize its source, honor its authority and prove its value.
Throughout the centuries, some people have made the immense mistake of supplementing, mutilating, or ignoring the word of God. They sit in judgment on it instead of subjecting themselves to its judgment on them. This warning by Moses was certainly necessary. Such addition and subtraction even took place within the Hebrew religious tradition. During Christ’s ministry, the Pharisees added to the word of God hundreds of detailed prohibitions which were not contained in Scripture. In the same period, the Sadducees subtracted from the word the things they found unacceptable – anything about the supernatural, the doctrine of the resurrection, angels and spirits. The Pharisees were the first-century legalists, and the Sadducees the destructive rationalists of their day.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the dangers of adding to the word and taking away from it are perils confined to the past. Believers add to God’s word whenever they make compulsory rules about things on which Scripture is silent. There are forms of ‘Christian’ legalism which are not honoring to God. We also ‘take away’ from the word whenever we blatantly ignore or disobey what God is saying to us. This word of Moses warns God’s people about such dangers and clearly prohibits such addition, excision or manipulation. Morally crucial, this word guards us from sin and protects us from those harmful and destructive influences which would rob us of the happy life God intends us to enjoy.
Carefully guard your testimony: Deuteronomy 4:6-9.
 “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?  Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?  Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons. [NASU]
[6-8] Universally attractive, this word not only transforms our own lives but makes a profound impact on our unbelieving neighbors. Moses told his contemporaries that people of other nations hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ In several important passages [see Isaiah 42:4,12; 51:5; 66:19], the Old Testament anticipated the time when God’s community would be a missionary people. Here Moses says that God’s word will become His effective instrument in that missionary program by making His name known to Israel’s neighbors. It would serve to attract unbelieving people to spiritual realities because of its authoritative, compelling and effective teaching. Moreover, unbelievers would recognize that God does not instruct His people from an infinite distance but draws close to them when they pray to Him .
 Educationally significant, the law was to play a creative part in the developing life of the Hebrew nation. The message was to be received by the individual, treasured within families, and communicated to each successive generation. The education of children as well as the preservation of home and family life are specially important aspects of the teaching in this book [4:10; 6:7,20; 11:19; 31:13; 32:7].
Avoid idolatry at all costs: Deuteronomy 4:15-20.
 “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire,  so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,  the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.  And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today. [NASU]
God is not simply a benevolent donor. He has generously given law and land to the Israelites because, as the sovereign Lord of the whole earth, He has chosen them as His special people. At Sinai He entered into a covenant or agreement with them because He wanted them to share a holy partnership with Him. Deuteronomy makes it plain that God lovingly initiated the covenant-agreement by making His own distinctive treaty with His people. It had definite stipulations, tersely summarized in ten clear instructions which they were commanded to follow . God’s deliverance of the people, and the covenant which followed it, was an act of unmerited grace and did not begin with what was required of them but with what had been done for them; but it certainly had conditions. God declared that He had delivered them from the iron furnace  of Egyptian slavery and they were now His vassal people. He rightly insisted that they acknowledge His uniqueness as the only true God by promising not to offer themselves to other gods – one of this book’s most prominent themes. To become allied in this way to an alien power was to break the agreement and act corruptly ; it was to do evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger .
The warning of Moses, about breaking the covenant by worshipping other gods, was certainly necessary, and still is. Once the Israelite people were in the promised land, idols became a constant snare . Their prohibition, forcefully emphasized in this chapter, makes it clear that idols are totally inadequate, seriously misleading and strictly forbidden. They are inadequate because God is far too majestic and transcendent to be crudely represented by a statue. To do so is to minimize His greatness and glory. It is a blatant insult to His matchless deity and a blasphemous attempt to reduce Him to the narrow confines of the human imagination. Moreover, idols are misleading; they feed the mind with wrong ideas about God. God is sovereign. He rules over the whole world and acts where and when He wishes. Idols create the impression that, precisely located in a particular place or restricted to a measurable area, God can be controlled or manipulated. God is Creator, the Maker of the entire universe and everything within it. When people make representations of the things which God has generously made, they worship the creature rather than the Creator. God is love, eager to speak to His people and listen to their cry; idols are dumb and deaf. The most serious thing here about idols, however, is that they are forbidden . The people will experience the consuming fire  of God’s wrath if they deliberately disobey Him by turning to other gods. He is a jealous God  and will brook no rivals. The Israelites were the people for His own possession  which meant that they could not belong to anybody else.
Idols are still offensive to God. Idols are God-substitutes. They are not necessarily made of wood, stone or precious metal. Idols of that material kind were certainly in Moses’ mind when he spoke to the people, but they could scarcely have been uppermost in the mind of the apostle John when he closed his first letter with the dramatic warning: Little children, guard yourselves from idols [1 John 5:21]. Even in the first century, John may well have been thinking of less tangible forms of idolatry such as those prevalent in our own time. In today’s society personal idolatry might easily take the form of an unhelpful relationship, a damaging habit, a controlling passion, a sinister attraction, a materialistic preoccupation, a dominant idea. Anything is idolatrous if it comes between us and God.
Realize God blesses obedience: Deuteronomy 4:35-40.
 “To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.  Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.  Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power,  driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today.  Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.  So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” [NASU]
God acts in mercy because He loves in truth. He does not overlook our iniquities. He sits in judgment on them, knowing that, unchecked, they will ruin us. Sin is ruthlessly destructive. It damages the sinner, adversely affects others, and always grieves God. He speaks against it knowing that He alone can deal effectively with it. Therefore, Moses here presents the people with a portrait of God which meets the need of both penitent and restored sinners: God is incomparable [35-36,39] and God is love [37-38].
It is important first to establish that God’s love is unique. The Lord who loved their fathers is the only God: there is no other [35,39]. The gods their neighbors ignorantly worship and the useless idols which even God’s people come to serve are mere nothings. Moreover, God’s love is vocal. We are not left to guess at His nature and hope that we might be loved. He tells us about it . The word of love which God speaks to His people is both authentic and relevant; it has a heavenly origin and an earthly application. God speaks in a variety of different circumstances because He wants us to know how much He loves us. There are times, however, when no matter how supportive, words are not enough. Therefore, God’s love is visual. Quite naturally, the captive Hebrew slaves wanted to see God in action. They knew from the great patriarchal narratives that He could speak to His people and, through Moses, He had spoken to them. They longed, however, to see God at work in their own time, and they did. It was because He loved your fathers  that He brought them out of Egypt. In the exodus He manifested His presence and demonstrated His power. How could they possibly doubt His love when He had done so much for them? God’s gift of His commandments and His call for obedience proceed from His great love for His people. His love desires what is best for His children and His law sets forth the parameters from which God’s children can experience the best of His great blessings
Questions for Discussion:
1. Look around you. How do you see people adding to or taking away from the teaching of God’s Word? Look at your own life. Ask God to show you how, in your mind and in your actions, you are adding to or taking away from God’s Word.
2. How can we make effective use of God’s Word in our witnessing and evangelism? What role does our obedience (keep and do them) and faithfulness (do not forget … do not depart) to the Word play in our efforts to share the Gospel with others?
3. Idolatry today is so subtle. Yet it is extremely offensive to God and is tremendously harmful to our spiritual life. Too often, without even being aware of it, we have put something ahead of our devotion to God. What can we do to avoid this happening in our lives? How can we guard ourselves from idols [1 John 5:21]? What role does the Word and prayer play in this spiritual battle?
4. What is the relationship between God’s love for His children and His command to be obedient to His Word?
Deuteronomy, Eugene Merrill, NAC, Broadman.
The Message of Deuteronomy, Raymond Brown, Inter-Varsity.