Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents an eight-part series of messages exploring the book of Deuteronomy. This week, Part 1: “The Word, The Worship, The Wonder”.
Part 1: “The Word, The Worship, The Wonder”
Our heavenly Father, we pray that you would open our hearts to receive your Word and that you would open your Word to strengthen our hearts.
We pray in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
We are going to begin a new series in the Book of Deuteronomy on these Sunday mornings – Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and today we are going to turn to chapter 4. These speeches which Moses gives that are recorded in Deuteronomy are not just calls to be heroic and courageous and to lift your game. If I could use a feeble illustration – these speeches are not just like instruction booklets for electrical instruments – these speeches are like the electrical cord for the electrical instruments. They bring God’s power because they bring God’s word as power. I suspect that today we will just ‘break the ice’ of the Book and it will take a number of weeks for us to really get the grips of the Book of Deuteronomy which God has given to us and is a very wonderful book.
Let me set the scene for the Book of Deuteronomy. We have had a little bit explained to us already. This is the 5th Book of the Old Testament. It’s the 5th Book of what is called “The Pentateuch” – the 5 Books of Moses. And it is recorded around 1300BC. It provides a blue print for God and his people – which affect the rest of the Bible and affect the rest of the Church. So some of the godly kings would read Deuteronomy and work out exactly how they should be leading the people.
If Josiah (some of you will know the name, Josiah) was cleaning the temple on one occasion and discovered a Book, it was quite possible it was the Book of Deuteronomy. Not only were the kings reading the Book of Deuteronomy but the prophets were speaking to God’s people and saying to them – this is what God has said and drawing their attention to Deuteronomy and other parts.
And Jesus himself quoted frequently from the Book of Deuteronomy most famously when he was being tempted by the devil and drew three quotes as a means of answering the devil and all 3 of them from the Book of Deuteronomy. And then I suppose to cap it off there is about 90 references to the Book of Deuteronomy in the New Testament.
Getting a Handle on Deuteronomy
If you want to get a handle on the Book because it is 34 chapters, this is one handle, is to see the Book in three speeches. There is a short one, there is a medium one and there is a long one.
But another way to get a handle on the Book of Deuteronomy is it as a treaty or as a contract between God and his people. And in those days the treaties were often marked by a little bit of Introduction and a recap of history and then would be some general rules about how the people were to behave and then there would be some specific rules about how they were to behave and then there would be some witnesses brought in who were actually watching or listening to the contract and then there would blessings and curses or encouragements or warnings if you were to heed the word or reject the word – Deuteronomy is a little bit like that.
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Some people think that Deuteronomy belongs later in Israel’s history but I draw your attention to the fact that Deuteronomy nowhere refers to the split of the kingdom. It nowhere refers to specific kings. It seems to be very much a time frame as Moses speaks to the people of God as they were about to enter into the land. And it speaks about entering the land, and it speaks about how to live in the land, and it speaks about how to prosper in the land. So it is definitely a “Moses” Book.
I want to summarise the first three chapters in a couple of sentences before we turn to chapter 4.
Chapter 1 basically begins with Moses reminding the people of why an 11 day journey from Mt Sinai to the promised land has ended up taking 40 years. And many of you here this morning will know why an 11 day journey ended up taking 40 years. And it’s because as they were about to enter the land and they sent in the two spies to investigate the land and then they brought back the report – the bulk of the Israelites complained and said – we are never going to make it, and we don’t trust God, and we are not ready to go in. And they actually said (this is the immaturity which rings true in my head and heart and maybe yours as well), “God hates us”, “we can’t trust him”. And Moses said to them “No – he will fight for you”.
But they don’t enter the promised land, and they wander for 40 years – and an 11 day trip takes 40 years.
Chapter 2 is a recap of their time in the wilderness, where Moses simply says to them that the Lord has looked after you. “Even as you have travelled in the wilderness, he has provided for you”. Food and drink and clothing and all you have needed.
Chapter 3 is the plan to now enter the promised land – however Moses is not going to enter the promised land. And he has to say to the people ‘I am not going in’ – he actually says ‘it’s your fault’ but of course we know that it’s partly his fault and both are true. Joshua says Moses is going to lead you in. There is a very touching moment in the chapter where he pleads with the Lord to be allowed to go in to the promised land and he said ‘the Lord passed over my prayer’ – so he says ‘you are going to pass over the river and go in to the promised land but I am not because the Lord has passed over my prayer – he has not listened to my prayer’.
Now of course Moses has his mind and his heart not on the dirt of the promised land. You know from Hebrews that he has his mind and heart on the goal of heaven and that’s why he is not ultimately disappointed to miss out on the dirt of the promised land and you and I must remember that the goal of God’s plan is not the promised land of the Middle East. If the people of the Middle East had the perspective of Moses that the dirt of the Middle East is not the goal but the goal is glory, there would be a lot less tension in the Middle East. And Moses as we know is safe and well as he meets with Jesus and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, so he has not perished at all.
Deuteronomy Chapter 4
Well let’s turn to chapter 4, and would it surprise you if I said I have three points and they all begin with the Letter “W”? It would not. Here are my three points:
I want to look at the first 14 verses very quickly under the heading of The Word is Vital. And then we are going to look at the middle section which talks about how The Worship is to be fixed on God. Then the third section of chapter 4 is The Great Wonder of God’s Plans for his People.
The Word, The Worship, The Wonder.
The Word of God is Vital
Moses says ‘here now Israel – the decrees and laws I am about to teach you follow them so that you may live and may take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you.
Now I want to remind you that Moses is speaking to a bunch of people who were not present at Mt Sinai. In other words, 40 years ago where God spoke to them and said ‘we are going into the land’ those people have basically died out in the wilderness. Moses is actually speaking to generation No.2. I don’t know if Moses would be speaking to anybody over the age of 50 or 60 except Joshua and Caleb and himself. That first generation have died in the wilderness so he is speaking to young Israel and he is not speaking at Mt Sinai anymore – he is speaking in a place called Moab as they are ready to cross the River and go into the promised land.
But you will notice that he speaks to them as if they are Israel. It would be like me borrowing a speech from World War II which had been addressed by a General to his troops as they are about to take a particular piece of land and I repeat the speech to the troops of today.
And so Moses says to God’s people – listen very carefully because I want you to take God’s word seriously – and he says it as if they are the original people of God. He says in verse 2 “Don’t add or subtract to the Law – don’t pick and choose what you like – don’t fiddle with the Word of God”. “When you did compromise at a place called Baal Peor, when you were disobedient the Lord punished you – so don’t do that again” – wakey, wakey!
So we have to ask ourselves the question as Moses speaks to the people like this – is the land a certainty or is it an uncertainty? Is it a gift which God is going to give them or is it a trophy which they are going to win?
Now the answer is that the land is a gift. God is going to carry them in but they must go in as believers – they are not to go in as unbelievers. Just as if somebody was explaining the Gospel of Christ today and they said ‘you know forgiveness is a gift but you need to receive it by believing, by saying ‘yes’. So Moses speaks to the people here on the edge of the promised land.
He wants them to go in and take the land and he wants them to act faithfully because (verses 6-8) God has a global plan for the nations around. He wants them to go in keeping the Word of God so that the nations around will see the sort of God they belong to. This is a tremendously wonderful thing that God is interested in the nations – he wants them to observe what happens when God’s people live God’s way and the nations around say “that’s got to be the way to go”.
And of course a great deal of blessing of God for the people of Israel was outward – Good crops, good flocks and prosperity. Well Peter says the same thing to Christians in 1 Peter chapter 2. He says ‘you and I should live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you and the pagans do accuse us, they may see your good deeds and give glory to your heavenly Father.
Well of course unbelievers are not going to see what goes on in this building. Some may come and visit and see patient and kind people – that will be a help. But a lot of our living out of God’s Word is going to be as we scatter and go back into our normal streets, and our normal units and our normal homes and our normal places of work.
And this Word was to be taught to the children (verse 9) because the children and the grandchildren were also to take seriously the Word of God because God was interested in the witness to the next Generation of the nations around. Of course he wanted his people to be well and he wanted their welfare but he especially wants their witness to the nations around.
And now we come to chapter 4 verse 10 and a very unusual verse – have a look at it. Moses says “Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (or Sinai) when he gave you the 10 Commandments”. But they didn’t stand before the Lord at Mt Sinai – their parents did and their grandparents did. Why does Moses look at this group of people on the verse of the promised land and say to them – I want you to remember that you stood there and you stood at the mountain and you didn’t see God but you heard his voice. Why did he say that when they didn’t?
And the reason is because God treats his people in the present with the Word of God coming to us today in great freshness and great power. God is always the contemporary of his people. God always sees us as his people and he speaks to us with a living and active word which is today.
So the voice which God spoke at Mt Sinai is the same voice which is coming to them on the edge of the promised land. And if God is your God this morning, the message which he has spoken in the past – he speaks to you in the present. That’s why the Bible keeps on saying –
“Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts, because the Word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”
So this is a very wonderful thing. What God says to his people on a day to day basis is ‘take seriously the Word today’ – take seriously the Word today. It’s a very liberating thing, you see. God gives us one day at a time to serve him and God seeks to bless us one day at a time. And the devil of course seeks to ruin one day at a time – so if the devil can ruin today, that’s what he will do but the Lord seeks to bless us one day at a time.
- We can’t solve the past, we have to take hold of the mercy of God.
- We can’t solve the future, we have to take hold of the grace of God’s Word.
And we must take hold of God’s Word today – that’s how God addresses his people.
He addresses them as a new group as if they are the group speaking to them his word to take seriously – that’s the Word.
Our Worship Fixed On God
Now the second section which we have not read this morning is verses 15-31 and this is what I have called The Worship which is to be fixed on God. Let me quickly say when I talk about worship, I am not talking about singing and praise. We have squashed the word “worship” in to an hour on a Sunday and then we further squash the word “worship” into some songs but when God talks about “worship” he means the way in which you devote your life – of which part of that is coming for an hour and part of that is singing.
But the worship of God is the one we devote ourselves to. I don’t know if you know but this past week we had the birthday (the 90th birthday) of television. Its 90 years since John Logie Baird first publicly demonstrated television. And I wonder if you have ever had the experience of sitting in the room where your television is, and the television is on. but the sound is down and you are doing something else. And then you suddenly look at the screen because something is happening but you can’t interpret it with your eyes, and so you lurch for the remote and you quickly turn the volume up. because you want to work out what’s going on the screen. You want what’s on the screen to be explained or interpreted.
Now the pictures of course are the most hypnotic part of television. But if you had to have a choice between owning a television which had no sound or owning a radio which has no pictures – which would you choose?
Some people would choose the television – you know just to watch sport I guess. But actually the radio would be the most useful because it’s the ear that brings understanding – the eye is often misleading.
In this section of Deuteronomy chapter 4, Moses says ‘when you stood at Mt Sinai – that is you (your ancestors) you didn’t see God, you heard his voice giving you the 10 Commandments. Now why didn’t they see God at Mt Sinai? Why do we believe in God who is invisible but speaks? Well part of the reason is because he has revealed himself. He has revealed himself in history. He has revealed himself in creation and he has revealed himself in person.
Part of the reason we by necessity believe in a God who is invisible is because the Bible tells us he is Spirit and therefore we don’t have options about how to re-make him. He put on flesh and came into this world in the person of Jesus. Part of the reason that God is invisible is because his majesty is terrifying and if we were to see him in his splendour and glory, the Bible says we wouldn’t survive. And part of the reason why we believe in the invisible speaking God is because we ourselves are very destructive in the way we create idols.
It is of interest to us to create new forms of God – to kind of squash God into the God we want him to be. And so we see in chapter 4 verse 16 that we prefer (we almost lean to idolatry) and when we invent some kind of reduced God, what we have got is an idol (not the real God) because we want to contain him or we want to control him.
And I think you will have to agree with me that wherever people set up their stone or their wood idols that those stone or wooden idols (and we see them in our foolish Western world on verandas and in home all over the city) those idols are very co-operative. They don’t challenge, they don’t change us and they don’t threaten us.
The same with the icons of Christianity – you can stick one up on your wall – it becomes a portable and domesticated good-luck charm. This is the danger, you see, that we are in danger of creating an idol and that’s why we need the Word of God to give us a proper view of God because when we create idols, there are two great dangers.
Idols Dishonour God and Imprison Us
Firstly, we dishonour God – we insult him – we say to him ‘I don’t care what you say about yourself, this is what I think’. And we all know those people who say ‘I like to think of God as………. And then they invent something’
But we need to do is to be listening to the Word of God so that we worship the true and living God.
Secondly, the other danger of creating an idol is that it diminishes us. In fact it really destroys us. We kind of shrivel to the puniness of what we worship. For example think of what you long for – just think of the thing you actually long for. Think of the thing that you really lust for. If you get it, if you could get it – it would shrivel you and it would reduce you to a fraction of yourself. It wouldn’t expand you but it would contract you. It wouldn’t free you but it would imprison you.
And so Moses says on the verge of the promised land “Be very careful that when you get into the promised land you keep listening to the Word of God because if you turn your mind to the idols of the nations around you, and you begin to worship the idols of the nations around you, not only will you dishonour God but you will shrivel yourself.
And he says in chapter 4 verse 20 “Because God took you to be His”. That’s a very very great privilege. So how do we avoid idolatry? We avoid idolatry because we are very creative in idolatry by listening to the Word of God. This is where God interprets himself to us.
The ear takes in the Word of God
The eye is very misleading
And if you know those people who indulge themselves in idolatry you know that what I am talking about is true. The process is that they turn to some kind of small god or some non-god and in the end everything begins to shrivel.
So in chapter 4 verse 21 Moses says “I am not going in with you to the promised land, you are going to cross in, I am not crossing in, you need to be very careful because (verse 26) if you turn to an idol, you will be removed from the land”. And in verse 28 “You will be scattered and you will end up worshipping an idol, either because you are being forced to or because you want to”.
This raises another question of whether the security of the people of God as they move into the promised land is built on the mercy of God or the performance of the people. Sometimes as you read Deuteronomy you almost get the impression that they are walking on a knife-edge. But of course they are dependent on the mercy of God. He is going to look after them. He is going to provide for them. He is going to even bring spokesmen who will teach them the Word of God and if you look at verse 29 you will see a very lovely verse. He says “if you are removed and if you then seek him, you will find him”.
Now the secular kings – they had no place in their scheme for repenting and returning and being restored. If you failed, you were finished. But God says (verse 29) that if you return to him he will forgive you.
I wonder whether 4:29 is a very important verse for somebody here this morning because you have been walking for a very long time in remorse. Something has gone wrong and you just keep walking in remorse and some people walk too long in remorse. And they fail to take hold of the mercy of God.
4:29 says “if you seek the Lord your God you will find him. If you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul”, verse 31 “For the Lord your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon or destroy you”.
He has got all the answers and therefore keep listening to his Word and keep worshipping him as he reveals himself to be.
The Wonder of God’s Plans and Purposes
The third and last point this morning is The Wonder of God’s Plans and Purposes – this is the last section from verses 32-49. There is a great wonder in the plans and purposes and the people of God. And the great wonder is this –
No other religion has had a message of grace like the message that we have received. Even when we get to chapter 5 and he goes through the Commandments – the first thing he says is “I have saved you”. The great wonder of belonging to Jesus Christ is that the message of Jesus Christ is utterly unique in the world.
- It’s ladder down – it’s not ladder up!
- It’s grace not works.
- It’s “he has done it” not that we have to do it.
- It’s the most wonderful message in the universe.
And the other thing that’s wonderful which we read in these verses 33 & 34 is that there is no other God who has chosen a people for himself. And when God chose a people for himself, when he chose Israel he did something miraculous.
I don’t know if you know this but no nation survives without a homeland for a generation or two. But the people of God have survived generation after generation after generation because he has kept them and he has been faithful to them and of course The Messiah has come from them.
I was reminded this week of an illustration of Francis Schaffer. Some of you will remember Francis Schaffer – his books are still precious. He said that for centuries the world looked on the universe as if it were a two-storey house. God in the top floor, and the world and the creation in the ground floor. God ruling the heavens and ruling the earth, and a staircase from the top floor to the ground floor. And the staircase is Jesus – that He comes down to us in order that we might rise into his fellowship.
But Schaffer says that once the enlightenment came and the human race decided that we don’t like the top floor and we don’t believe in the staircase, we just like a ground floor and Schaffer says the consequences is that it’s very difficult to run the ground floor. And what looked to be a great freedom of saying ‘no’ to the top floor and ‘no’ to the stair case is actually become an oppressive thing.
And you see if you look at verse 39 that God is the God who runs the top floor and the ground floor. That’s the way the world works. He really does run the top floor and the ground floor. He’s the God of heaven and he’s the God of earth.
And what he is teaching his people is that we must take seriously his Word, be devoted to him and experience the wonder of his purposes.
And we who are post-Jesus, post-incarnation, post-crucifixion, post-Easter – we have an even more wonderful experience because we have experience the Word become flesh. And we have experienced the one who really deserves our worship because he has lived perfectly, died sacrificially and risen triumphantly. And we also are full of wonder that the God of the universe could take on flesh and provide mercy for sinful people like me and you to enter into fellowship with him and one day cross over into glory. We get bored with this because we hear this so often.
The Saving Power of Christ
When Alexander Solzhenitsyn was in one of the concentration camps and he was about to give up because he was being treated so badly, he was leaning on his shovel and he resolved in his mind that he was going to fall over and just have them hack him to death. And one of his fellow prisoners could see that he was at the very end and with his foot in the dust he just drew a cross in the dust – And then quickly rubbed it out with his foot. That was just what Solzhenitsyn needed to remember and recover the wonder and the God who he worshipped and the Word made flesh.
No wonder chapter 4 of Deuteronomy finishes with a brief reference to the Cities of Refuge because that’s where the guilty could go and find safety. And at the very end a reminder that God has been rescuing them and he will rescue them. The God who has – will.
Now how does the New Testament take up this Deuteronomy chapter 4? The New Testament takes up this chapter by basically saying to us ‘keep being a good listener to the Word of God’. Keep listening because God has now spoken to us by his Son.
The clearest message of truth and love, the clearest message of forgiveness, the clearest message of adoption, the clearest message of glory has been given to us in Jesus. So keep listening.
He is not asking too much of you. He is just asking that you would keep listening to the Word of God.
So picture Israel – there at Sinai – they are listening to the Word of God and they say “we can’t believe this” and they wander for 40 years. And then they gather again at Moab on the edge of the promised land and God speaks to them again and they listen and they go in.
Today God speaks to us and he says to us ‘listen well to the Word and beware of idols because you will produce them if you don’t listen to the Word’ and value what he has won for us.
Deuteronomy says this:
What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven so that you have to say who will ascend into heaven to get it. It is not beyond the sea so that you have to ask who will cross the sea to get it. No the Word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
And I set before you today Life and Prosperity – Death and Destruction.
I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his commands, decrees and laws and you will live.
And the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
Our Father we thank you for being so gracious, for bringing a word of grace into the world, for bringing into the world your Son and for bringing to us a message of forgiveness, adoption and glory.
We pray that you would help us to have good attentive ears, a humble and responsive heart and we ask that today you would help us to live for you and each day that you would give fresh mercies for fresh faithfulness.
This we pray – in Jesus’ Name – Amen.