Explore the Bible

with W. Wayne VanHorn

Sunday, January 26


Deuteronomy 4:1-9

Listen (Deut. 4:1-5). In grade school, students were taught to “stop, look, and listen” before crossing a train track. Responsible teachers were helping these young ones by instilling sound principles of caution. In a similar way, Moses encouraged the Israelites to listen to the “statutes and ordinances” he was teaching them. Adherence to these God-given norms would result in life as they entered the promised land (v.1).

Moses cautioned the people saying, “You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it” (CSB; v.2). This injunction is similar to the one found in Revelation 22:18-19. God’s inspired Word through Moses was complete. To add to it or to take away from it was paramount to substituting man’s way of doing things for God’s statutes and ordinances.

The shameful incident at Baal of Peor is recorded in Numbers 25. Israelite men engaged in sacrifices to the false god Baal and even slept with some of their women. The Lord’s anger was assuaged when Phineas intervened to eliminate Zimri and Cozbi, a couple caught up in the shamefulness. In Deuteronomy, Moses referred to the incident to show in sharp relief the difference between those who worshiped idols and those who were true to Yahweh. Idolaters died; faithful people lived (vv. 3-4).

Moses imparted God’s Word to the  people, trusting them to faithfully follow it (v. 5). He taught them the statutes and judgments just as the LORD, his God, had commanded him.

Honor (Deut. 4:6-8). Since the 2016 presidential campaign, the idea of making our nation great again has been pervasive. Our president seeks reelection under the motto, “Keep America Great.” The idea of living in a great nation is as old as the Bible. Three times in Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Moses referred to Israel as a great nation (4:6,7,8). These verses help us understand the true source of greatness for any nation.

First, to be a great nation in God’s eyes, the people need to keep His statutes and ordinances and do them. God equates the “keeping and doing” to His people’s “wisdom and understanding.” Wisdom should be understood as the general acquaintance of the way, will, and word of God. Understanding is best understood as the specific application of wisdom.

Second, to be a great nation, the people must know that the Lord our God is near “whenever we call on Him” (CSB). No other nation could make that claim as is clear from Moses’ rhetorical question (v. 7).

Third, to be a great nation, people have to follow God’s law. No other nation had statutes and ordinances “as righteous” as the Torah Moses was giving to Israel. The idea of setting it before them referred primarily to his oral presentation, but would certainly cover the same laws written in a book (v. 8).

When God’s people obey His Word, they honor Him before other people. In turn those people see the magnificence of God as He provides for His people. Part of the Christian strategy of reaching the world is to be living examples of God’s grace in our lives.

Teach (Deut. 4:9). The word “teach” renders the literal Hebrew “cause them to know.” Moses had in view the children and grandchildren of the adults he was addressing. Knowing and doing God’s word was to be a multi-generational lifestyle. The old saying is appropriate, “The family that prays together, stays together.” We might add the family that attends Sunday School and worship together, grows together in the Lord.

Given the importance of this multi-generational lifestyle, Moses urged the people to “be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves” (CSB). Adults cannot lead their children and grandchildren to the Lord if they do not live for Him themselves. Those who do not live for the Lord today run the real risk of forgetting Him tomorrow.

When adults make a concerted effort to teach their children and grandchildren about the Lord, they reinforce their own awareness and experience with Him. In turn, the younger generations are primed to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:18).

VanHorn is dean of Christian Studies at Mississippi College, Clinton.