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Deuteronomy 4 – We’re not in Kansas anymore!

Moving to a new place is hard. The first week we moved to Texas from the UK, I inundated my Houston born-and-raised husband with a relentless number of questions. Because not only was everything different, but even the means to do those different things was different. In addition, for the first few weeks of life stateside, the stress of the move manifested in me losing my depth perception, which is a bit scary when you’re driving around a new city and don’t see the stop sign or intersection until the last second. (I’m happy to report it came back after a couple of months.) There was so much to take in that even everyday tasks were challenging. It was overwhelming as I tried to take in everything that was new with nothing around me that was familiar.

In this chapter of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are about to enter a new land, the place that God had promised a long time ago to their forefather Abraham. Before their time of slavery in Egypt, they had been nomads and wanderers. After the Exodus, they had been wanderers again, journeying through the Middle Eastern wilderness, following God and Moses’ leadership. Now, for the first time, they are about to enter a land to call their own. It is going to be a huge change! They will be able to lay down roots and build homes.

Read Deuteronomy 4:1-9
On the cusp of this event, Moses gives a sermon. In addition, this sermon is a call to obey the law that God is giving to them. Yes, change is coming. Yes, things will be different and new; life won’t be as it was. Yes, there may be some uncertainty and temptations to worship other gods. Yet Moses reminds them that God has given His law so that they might enter this land and faithfully keep their covenant with God in this new place. Moses has rehearsed and reminded them of the different ways in which God has shown His love for His people, how He’s provided and cared for the people through the wilderness and kept His covenantal promise (ch.1-3). The only fitting response to this is a reciprocal love for God that is shown in keeping God’s commands. (Notice the law is given for the success of those who are already God’s people, not so that they might become part of God’s people.)

What’s the result of this obedience? When God’s people respond faithfully and keep His commands and statutes, the result is that it will make the nation great (vv. 4-7). Not great in terms of military or economy, power or prestige, that’s a worldly kind of greatness, but great in terms of wisdom and discernment. Obedience to God’s commands witnesses to the world the just and fair ways of our God and results in God’s being near and providing for His people (vv. 7-8).

Read Deuteronomy 4:9-15
Simply telling people what do rarely gets results. Most people aren’t likely to follow instructions blindly. We’re not robots, after all, and times of change are hard. We easily are caught up in the immediate overload of our new surroundings and the effort required to adjust. However, when we remember the whys , we start to see things differently. When we call to mind the story, the bigger picture, our priorities are straightened out. We remember that the God who has provided for us, rescued us, saved us, is with us today. We remember that we are called to continue to trust in Him and respond in faithful love to His great love for us.

God wants us to be people who follow His commands for the right reasons. Moses doesn’t just say keep the laws diligently, although that’s part of it! He also instructs the people to remember what they’ve seen, (v. 9) to tell their children about what they’ve encountered, about how God has revealed Himself, and about how He has been faithful and provided. Remember the hilltop moment of encountering God’s revelation of Himself in a glorious and thunderous moment when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses? Unlike other gods, the God of Israel had no visible image or idols to keep around the house as a prompt and reminder of who God is. Yet telling the stories, remembering the things God has done and the salvation He has won keep Him close. This remembering isn’t nostalgia. It’s a remembering in order to motivate. It’s a remembering in order to remind Israelites of their primary relationship: a covenant of love between a chosen people and a glorious God–a covenant of love where responding in faithful obedience is the only right response and brings glory to Him as it shows the world the awesome and just God we worship.

Questions for Reflection
  1. What stories can you tell of seeing God’s faithfulness in your life? When have you seen Him act?
  2. “Remembering” isn’t just about bringing things to mind. It’s speaking them out; sharing them in community. Moses says to make known what we have seen of God to our children and grandchildren (v. 9). With whom could you participate in this kind of sharing and encouragement to point back to God’s faithfulness?
  3. Deuteronomy 4:3-4 functions as a bit of warning from Moses, recalling a time when some of the people of God rebelled (see Numbers 25:1-5). Why do you think Moses describes those who did not rebel as holding fast to God? Why is obeying God connected to sticking with Him?
  4. Deuteronomy 4:5-8 describes how through obedience, Israel will be a great nation and a witness of God’s justice. Today, the equivalent is not another nation, but the church (see Matthew 5:13-16). We are called to be a witness to the world through our obedience. Where are we doing well at that? Where have we fallen short?
  5. There’s a lot in our world that is different and changing and it will probably continue for a while. What are the challenges and opportunities that you/others face in following Jesus’ commands in the world today?
  6. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord of All. He is enthroned, in heaven, over all powers and principalities, (Ephesians 1:19-21, Colossians 1:15-20). How does this part of the Gospel story give us encouragement in times of change?

A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the great love You have shown in in rescuing us from slavery to sin and bringing us into Your heavenly kingdom. Thank You for the ways in which You have shown Your faithfulness to us over the years. Help us to remember what You have done for us and give us the courage we need to follow Jesus’ commands, especially in a season of so much change. May we as a church be a witness to those around us of Your wisdom and justice, through faithful obedience to Your Son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries