Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-6
“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. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
The children of Israel have concluded 40 years of the wilderness journey. They have come up the east bank of the Jordan River and are near Mount Nebo as Moses gives his final instructions to the people. Only two of the people who made the entire journey stand there — Joshua and Caleb. Most of the people are buried out there in the wilderness, or their bones are bleaching under the desert sun. The new generation is ready now to go into the Promised Land, but before they enter, Moses reviews the wilderness experiences and pleads with them to obey God who loves them. This church is 32 years old. I have been a Christian for 40 years; equivalent of the wilderness journey. We stayed in Amigo Terrace Hotel for 7 years. There was one time we had to have our service in my rented home in Barangay Cubay because the Amigo Hotel wouldn’t give us the time slot for Sunday. Then we moved to Quezon Street for the next almost 20 years. In the last 6 years we moved again into this Promised Land. There are people in Amigo Terrace Hotel that did not move with us to Quezon Street. And there are members from Quezon Street that did not move with us into this Promised Land. In the span of 32 years, we have seen quite a number of members that passed away; buried under earth. They did not get to see this Promised Land of ours. We are beginning to see a new generation that is ready now to do exploit in the Promised Land. And God comes in and gave his instruction.
Deuteronomy 4:1 says, ‘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.’
As children of God we are urged to obey the voice of the LORD our God. We never graduate from the school of obedience. In the NASB the word for ‘hearken’ is ‘listen’. The word ‘listen’ should be in bold and capital letter. It is like everything depends on it. It is used often in Deuteronomy. Its basic meaning is ‘to hear so as to do it.’ It focuses on action, not just hearing. There are different translations on the emphasis of this word ‘listen’.
The NASB says ‘So keep and do them’
The NKJV says ‘therefore be careful to observe them’
The TEV says ‘obey them faithfully’
The NJB says ‘keep them, put them into practice’.
As children of God, whether we read the Word of God, listen to it from a Preacher’s point of view, or even hear the voice of God in our spirit, we are to obey. We are to obey ‘the statutes and the judgments’. Statutes are permanent rules for conduct fixed by the reigning authority. Our reigning authority is God. Statutes are everything that concerns morals and the rites and ceremonies of religion. I remember when I become a Christian, I am taught in my spirit to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day. I go to church every Sunday. Even in the army when I am out on Sunday, I will go to church in the afternoon if I cannot attend my mother church in the morning. Immediately I wanted to take the step of Water Baptism. Once in a month I partake of the Holy Communion. I know that from that day onwards, I learn to live morally upright. I discard idolatry (actually I burned away my Buddhist manual and in replacement I worship God in spirit and in truth. When I have a girlfriend I am not to sleep with her until we are joined together in Holy Matrimony. I cannot have extra marital affairs. Judgments deal more with judicial decisions which serve as precedents for future guidance. Judgments are all matters of civil right and wrong. As to judgment, I know that it is not right to cheat people, tell lies. I know that it is not right to be cruel to the underprivileged. I know it is not right to take advantage of people. You don’t break civil law. Jan loves hedgehog. But it is illegal to import them. So Jan thought of going to Malaysia and put it in her bag and brings it in. I told her if she is caught she will lose her scholarship, her name will appear on newspaper. That is breaking the civil law. It is all that God has revealed about Himself to you and His Covenant requirements. Statutes and Judgments are quite similar to the word Torah which is the bible of the Jew. Likewise it refers to the bible for us as Christian. In short I learn to live according to the Bible. Besides the statutes and judgments there are also the collective revelations of God. It also includes those things ‘which I am teaching you’; that is present and future revelation. We are only accountable to what God has spoken to us. So here God encourages us to hear God’s law and obey it.
I cannot overemphasis the word ‘listen’. It is repeated again in verse 4. It is equivalent to saying your whole life depends on it. As to our attitude towards the statutes and judgment, verse 4 tells us ‘you who held fast to the Lord.’ The Hebrew word ‘hold’ is ‘cleave’. It is the opposite of ‘follow after’. This verb is used:
That is our attitude towards the statutes and judgment. We are to cleave to the statues and judgments of God and not follow after the law of the land. As we enter the last days, the law of the land will contradict the Law of God. Anti Christ spirit will try to seek to change set times and the law. The phrase ‘Law of the Land’ is a legal term, equivalent to the Latin ‘lex terrae’, or ‘legem terrae’. It refers to all of the laws in force within a country or region. Many countries have already approved same sex marriage. Today it is a common law to sleep together before marriage. The bible calls that fornication. Adultery has become a common law of the land. In many countries it is illegal to witness and wins souls; for instance Singapore. In many countries it is illegal to have a small group of gathering of people. That contradicts God’s law which says ‘do not forget the assembly of yourself together.’ Heathen and communist nations and even America, have laws against the reading the Bible or having public prayer in school. Why do we have to smuggle bible to certain nations? Because it is illegal to read the bible. Abortion is totally anti-God but it is legal in many countries. Birth control is considered unnatural and forbidden in Bible times.
We are to cleave unto the Law of God. It denotes an attitude of loyalty or commitment. It is used in parallel with ‘love.’ Thus our obedience to the law and statues denotes an attitude of loyalty and commitment to God. It means we love God. Even as God chose Israel to be His priestly nation, each individual had to choose God. When we choose God, we are committed and loyal to his law. We show we love God by obeying His law. We just came back from a very successful mission trip to Cambodia. The team did a very good job and I am proud of them. But I am surprised that the Christians in Cambodia are totally different from the Christians in the Philippines. They consider themselves as Christian if they attended a church just once. They are just Christians by name. They have no conviction when it comes to the statutes and Judgments of God. We had to counsel a teacher whose wife is having a lesbian relationship. Pastor Lily managed to counsel that lesbian and she broke down and cry. She said she has never felt the presence of God like that. She cannot feel God in the church she is attending and she wants to go to another church. I have seen wife who has no qualm about having an extra marital affairs. She is saying ‘what is wrong with having another man in your life. I don’t like my husband and so I want to divorce him.’ They have no understanding or the fear of God. I have seen supposedly leaders of the church who cheated on the rent for personal consumption and has no conviction that what they are doing is cheating. You see their face and immediately you can tell they have no conviction and they don’t feel bad when they are cheating others. They don’t understand what submission to authority is. Please understand that God commands obedience.
We must comprehend the conditional nature of God’s covenant. God’s gift (blessing) depends on our actions. God promises to bring them into the Promised Land. Did all go into the Promised Land? No. Only two. Joshua and Caleb. The Christian life is one of obedience. A few words stand out in Deuteronomy.
The solemn admonition to be careful; an admonition that occurs numerous times in Deuteronomy. ‘Not forgetting’ is another emphasis in Deuteronomy. And to watch implies that the Israelites constantly faced the danger of falling into a sin which would have brought them to the brink of annihilation as a nation. That sin was idolatry. The nation could become idolatrous in two related ways. The depravity of the human mind is so great that the great deeds of God for His people (e.g., the Exodus and giving of the Law at Horeb) might slip from their hearts if they did not constantly remind themselves of God’s mighty works. Or second, through laziness or apathy parents might fail to teach them to their children and thus their children would become idolaters. Deuteronomy lays great stress not on the priests or other religious leaders, but on the parents as the ones responsible for their children’s spiritual education. Pastor Lily and I just had a SOZO session with Jan. We lead her to God and teach her so that she will not become an idolater. God trusts His great events of revelation, such as His giving the Law at Sinai, to faithful stewards who must never forget them and who must pass them on to their children.
Another word which is emphasized is the fear of God. Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” The experience at Horeb (Mount Sinai) was designed to produce a fear of God in the hearts of the people so that a covenant between them and the LORD could be possible. In the Old Testament the fear of God is more than awe or reverence though it includes both. Fearing God is becoming so acutely aware of His moral purity and omnipotence that one is genuinely afraid to disobey Him. Fearing God also includes responding to Him in worship, service, trust, obedience, and commitment. That day on Horeb God’s omnipotence was displayed in the fire . . . black clouds . . . deep darkness, and the voice of God that thundered from the heavens. His moral purity was displayed in His Ten Commandments, called His covenant. The people saw the fire, the black clouds and the deep darkness and they heard the voice and God and feared God.
From this experience the Israelites should have learned to fear God as a Person who is spiritual (you . . . saw no form; there was only a voice) and as a Person who is transcendent. This latter point was pressed home by the fact that He commanded the Israelites to follow His commandments, decrees, and laws (which Moses would teach them). The giving of the Law that day thus taught the nation that their God was a spiritual Person who could not be manipulated but instead imposed His moral will on them. They brought away no images of God from Horeb on that day; God gave only two stone tablets (probably each tablet was complete with all Ten Commandments, in keeping with ancient Near Eastern practice to have duplicates of such covenant documents). Thus in contrast with all the religions of the ancient Near East the Word of Israel’s God became the foundation of their religion.
If we have kept the Law what a blessing it would have been. Obedience is the only basis that He can bless us.
Deuteronomy 4:1 says, “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.’
So that we may live. Our very own life depends on obeying the law. God wants to preserve you. You are you alive because you cleave unto the lord. God gave the example at Baal Peor, where the Israelites who entered into spiritual and physical adultery with the Moabites women were either put to death by the sword or who died in a plague. 23,000 people died on that day. You know what I am trying to say. Many Christians who did not keep the statutes and judgments die physically in disease, sudden death and die spiritually. On the other hand all to hold fast to the LORD lived. The bible was very specific; every one of them live to this day. One of the purposes of the Law was to give the Israelites a full life as they obey the law. God says ‘so that you may live’. It implies a full life, a victorious life. We are reminded of Jesus’ word that says, ‘he comes that we might have life and have it more abundantly. A full enjoyment of life is based on enjoying God’s law.
This portion of scripture also seems to imply God promises long life for obedience. I have met people who had very irrational and abnormal fears of dying young. When you asked them, the usual answer is one of their parents die young. What does the Bible have to say about God wanting us to live long lives? For those of you who are not aware of these verses from Scripture, I think you will be pleasantly surprised to find that God does want many of His people living long lives down here on this earth – and that this is a particular blessing that He can grant to us if we meet certain conditions under the New Covenant. The blessing of long life is only for Jews and Christian. Nowhere in Scripture does God state that this type of blessing is for nonbelievers. Granted, many nonbelievers live to ripe old ages – but that is just because of good cause and effect operating within their lives. Good genes, healthy bodies, and good luck have all combined to give many nonbelievers long and healthy lives. However, just the opposite is also true. Many nonbelievers have died early, never having a chance to live to their 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. Some get lucky, some do not. But with Christians and the Jewish people, we are now looking at a whole different ballgame with a whole different set of rules that are now in play. We are both operating under a covenant. This is why each Christian should spend some good quality time studying the Old Testament – to find out what these blessings are and the conditions that must be met in order to be able to receive these kinds of blessings. And the blessing to be able to live a good long life in God is definitely one of those particular blessings! Another requirement that must be met in order to get this long life blessing is bestowed upon you is that you learn to seek God and obey His commandments and seek to walk in all of His ways.
Deuteronomy 4:6 says, ‘Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
Another purpose of the Law is revealed: to make Israel morally and spiritually unique among all the nations and thereby draw other nations to the LORD. In contrast with all other nations Israel was not to be distinguished by her natural resources, wealth, or military might, but by her moral skill and close relationship to God, both of which would come from her obeying her moral constitution. If Israel would obey the Law she would be the envy of all nations. They would see her as (a) being wise and understanding, (b) having a God who is near her, and (c) possessing righteous decrees and laws. You see, obedience to God would cause you to be admired as a great people among the Gentiles.
God not only wants to preserve you, He wants to prosper you. It seems that obedience to the law and statues has something to do with the possession of the land of Milk and Honey. The phrase, “land flowing with milk and honey,” is a technical phrase in both Ugaritic and Egyptian documents to denote Palestine; the Promised Land. The phrase ‘flowing with milk and honey’ is understood to be hyperbolically descriptive of the land’s richness; hence its current use to express the abundance of pure means of enjoyment. Cambridge dictionary definition of the ‘land of milk and honey’ is it is a country where living conditions are good and people have the opportunity to make a lot of money. For us ‘milk and honey originates’ in the Hebrew Bible in God’s description of the country lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river, namely Canaan. It is first described as a good and spacious land. It is a metaphor for all good things – God’s blessings; and that the Promised Land must have been a land of extraordinary fertility.
So we are commanded to obey the statutes and the judgments of God. We are no to add to it or to take away from it. We must not add to it thereby weakens its power as the Pharisees and later Christians legalists would do. Nor must we subtract anything from it to accommodate the willfulness or weakness of human nature. If God’s word does not need addition or subtraction, the implication is that it is fully sufficient for our time on earth.