Sabbath School commentary for discussion on November 6, 2021.
Editor’s note: This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide lesson covers chapter four of the book of Deuteronomy. Here is an excerpt from Tom Stone’s book In the Shadow of the Pyramids: A Reflective Commentary on the Narrative of Deuteronomy, appearing here courtesy of the author.
Reflections on Deuteronomy 4:1–40
“Do not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you …”
This is the central message of chapter 3. Do not fear who or what may lie ahead of you—God is Sovereign and Supreme over everything. He can, and will, give you the victory in the face of impossible odds. This is about a God who is a warrior God. A fearless God.
One of the messages from chapter 3 was to not fear, and yet, in chapter 4, there is something the Israelites were told to fear. Something they should be afraid of …
Their own brains.
Their ability to forget the very stories they had witnessed with their own eyes, and the subsequent potential they have to be led astray by other gods and other stories.
As such, God gave them very clear instructions: to heed and obey the commandments and statutes that he taught them to observe. According to Dt. 4 the commandments had two purposes:
1. To help the Israelites remember who God is,
2. To enable them to enter and occupy the promised land.
When they entered the land that God had made a covenant with Abraham to give them, it wasn’t just a free-for-all; they had a job to do. They had to be the great nation that would bless the entire world. To do that, there were instructions to follow. Commandments to live by on a daily basis. The promised land was supposed to be where God’s Kingdom reigned and evil was reversed, a place of heaven-on-earth. As such, the Israelites couldn’t just live as if all human pleasures and temptations were at their disposal like some of their neighboring nations; they had to live with purpose and direction. They were called to be an example to other nations, and God’s law would enable them to do that.
Does this sound familiar? Are we, as 21st-century Christians, free to exist within the promised land of “Great” Britain, the “United” States of America or wherever you live as consumers of all its pleasures and temptations, or are we called to live with a greater purpose, as part of a different story?
In the midst of all the instructions to heed and follow God’s commands from verses 1 to 14, God gave the Israelites another glimpse of the gospel—found in verse 7. Which other god, goddess, deity, power, angel, demon or force is as close and involved in the life of humans as Yahweh is? Which other god desires to be involved with the messiness of human life as much as Yahweh does? Which other god, after surveying the gods and goddesses of the ancient Mesopotamians, is as readily available to listen and care for his people when they call on him? Which other god has a long-term plan of global redemption in mind when he called them? Is there another god whose very nature and existence lies beyond the realms of time and space, but who chooses to limit his own freedom and live within those boundaries just to be with his people? Is there a god who loves as much as Yahweh does?
This is the good news story. This is it.
This is God’s story, God’s attempt to convince his own creation that he is who he says he is. Humanity was led astray by the lies of the Devil in Genesis 3—that God doesn’t care; that God is selfish and only wants to control us; that he is distant, cruel and a liar. The story God told through the Israelites, through the Prophets, through himself in the form of Jesus, through the disciples and apostles and now through Christians around the world, is his method of saying: I AM Love. Unconditional Love. Hesed. Agape. The God of the Bible is Love so big, so other-worldly, that he is willing to sacrifice his own freedom and exist within the limits of his creation just to be with us more. Just because he loves them. He is Love so big that he is willing to consecrate his own life to a promise he made to his own creation. He is Love so big that he is willing to see that covenant through, to the depths of his own creation’s suffering and evil, to redeem us and recapture our hearts. He is Love so big, he thought of you in those moments. “God is love.”
That’s the Bible story.
That God is so full of Love and Grace (in capitals because he owns them) that even when his own creation goes astray, he is willing to accept them back when they turn their hearts fully back to him. When his people forget, when they choose to follow their own “saviors,” when they make God mad by sticking two fingers up at everything God did for them, his Grace still prevails. His Love still yearns for them. His heart still aches for them to come back. His patience is still even to say:
From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
In other words: I miss you guys. Come back. We’ll sort it out.
It is worth pausing on the first sentence here. God will be there for them, if they search for him with all their heart and soul. With their character and identity. Not with their brains, books or busyness. But with their heart. The instruction that Jesus gives the disciples is the same: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. Unconditional Love requires true love in return. Real, genuine soul love. This is what God is after. This is what his great story is about.
The human heart is the central theme to the Bible; read any book and you will see it mentioned countless times. It is at the center of the sin that the Israelites were instructed against the most—and it’s here in chapter 4. Heart-led idolatry. Idolatry is the reason why the Israelites end up in captivity hundreds of years later; it’s the reason why the Shekinah Glory didn’t return to the second Temple of Jerusalem, and the real reason for Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.
So often we think of idolatry as worshipping wooden idols (which it was, at one point) and conclude that we are in the clear. But idolatry is more than that. It’s a matter of the human heart. A matter of your allegiance. In whose hands do you place your trust? Which god (or goddess) are you worshipping? Which god has taken your heart captive? Which god determines your actions and decisions? Is it the god of work? Money? Control? Sex? Materialism? Power? Revenge? Self-justification? Self-centeredness? Pride?
Or is it the God whose name and nature are both the same? The God who is who he says he is. The God who says, I AM, continually, eternally and forever, unconditional Love.
So, as a reflection on Deuteronomy 4, in the words of verse 40, will you:
- Acknowledge today, and take to heart, that the Lord is God in his space and in also yours?
- Allow God’s reign to exist in your life as a way of fulfilling the Lord’s Prayer and bringing heaven on earth?
- Strive to live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you to inherit for eternity?
Notes & References:
 Deut. 4:9–12
 Deut. 4:5–6
 Although there is much debate on the exact translation of the Hebrew tetragrammaton "YHWH," it is a derivative of the verb "to be," so to imply the phrase "I AM" from the Hebrew is biblical.
 Deut. 3:37
 Gen. 15
 1 Jn. 4:8
 Deut. 4:29–31
Tom Stone is Head of Religious Education at a secondary school in Reading, in the UK. He has a PGCE in RE from the University of Oxford and a BA in Theology from Newbold College. He lives in Reading with his wife, Rachel, and their 3 children, Penelope, LilyRose, and Abel. His book, from which this is an excerpt, In the Shadow of the Pyramids: A Reflective Commentary on the Narrative of Deuteronomy, was published by WestBow Press.
Image credit: WestBow Press
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