Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 4:1-43

You are here

Bible Commentary

Deuteronomy 4:1-43

Login or Create an Account

With a account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


Moses Exhorts Obedience 

Moses cautions Israel not to "add to" nor "take from" God's commandments (verse 2), but, rather, to "carefully observe" them and to "act" in accordance with them (verses 2, 14, 5-6). To know God's Word is not enough—indeed, it is quite useless unless one acts on it and does His will (see Matthew 5:19; Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25). If Israel does this, then they will be recognized by others as a great, wise, understanding, righteous and God-fearing nation (verses 6-8). But since such recognition could be a source of pride, Moses warns them to not forget God and His wonders (verses 9-10). He reminds them that God was the originator of this wise law—that He appeared to them on the mountain to proclaim His Ten Commandments (verse 10).

At that time, the people did not see a "form" of God (verse 12). He points this out to dissuade the people from crafting any images of Him. However, as a consequence of this statement, some believe that God is formless and shapeless. Yet this is emphatically false, as the fact that God does have form is clearly stated in Numbers 12:6-8. In fact, God created man in His image, in accordance with His likeness (Genesis 1:26), as Adam's son Seth was in the image and likeness of Adam (Genesis 5:3). Moreover, God revealed His glorified form to Moses (compare Exodus 33:18-23). Both the Father's and the Son's glorified appearance are described in the Bible (compare Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:13; Ezekiel 1:26-28; Revelation 1:12-16; Revelation 4:2-3; Revelation 5:1), clearly proving that God has form. Further, although the people as a whole did not see any form when God spoke to them from the mountain, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the 70 elders of Israel clearly did see a form shortly thereafter (Exodus 24:9-11). Nevertheless, in no encounter did anyone see the full glorified appearance of the Almighty. And not only can no image truly capture God's glory, but any image would limit Him in people's minds.

In Deuteronomy 4:13, we read that God "declared...His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone." Some have taken this passage to mean that the Old Covenant was the same as the Ten Commandments, and that when the Old Covenant was abolished, so were the Ten Commandments. This understanding, however, is not correct—since a covenant is a contract or an agreement, which is based on law but not identical to the law. For instance, we read in Exodus 24:8 that God made a covenant with Israel "according to all these words." The Revised English Bible renders this, "on the terms of this book." In Exodus 34:27, it is again explained that a covenant is made based on law, as we read, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made [or, better, I will make] a covenant with you and with Israel." Again, the Revised English Bible states that "the covenant I make with you and with Israel is on those terms." We have already seen that the Ten Commandments were in force long before Moses lived, so the Old Covenant did not bring them into existence—nor was it identical to them. What the Old Covenant did not bring into force could not be abolished when that covenant ended at the time of Christ's death. The reason that the Ten Commandments are especially emphasized in Deuteronomy 4:13 is that they are the heart and core of the law on which the Old Covenant was based (compare Deuteronomy 5:22)—but they are not all the law on which the covenant was based (compare Deuteronomy 4:14).

Moses begins to admonish the Israelites again not to make any carved images, in whatever form, to portray or picture God as an aid to worship (verses 15-18, 23-25). Further, he warns them not to worship anything else in place of the true God (verse 19). Earlier, in Exodus 32, God had condemned Israel for making a golden calf representing Him (Exodus 32:8). Rather than using physical pictures, portrayals or representations of God in our worship of Him, we are to worship God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24)—not with idolatrous images and practices adopted from false religions. Moses warns the Israelites that if they would not obey God's commandments, God would scatter them among the nations so that only few would survive (verses 26-27). The fulfillment of this prophecy lies ahead of us, as it was meant for the end time or the "latter days" (verse 30).

A hint of man's amazing destiny is given in verse 19, where it says that "the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven" are for "all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage." Thus, though mankind was only given dominion over the earth in Genesis 2, we are to ultimately inherit the entire universe. This is the same incredible message conveyed in Romans 8:16-25 and Hebrews 2:5-11.

Deuteronomy 4:29 is a wonderful comfort. It assures us that we will find God if we search for Him will all our heart and soul (compare Jeremiah 29:13). Indeed, God wants not just part of our affections but our entire being devoted to Him (compare Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 22:37).