Deuteronomy 1-4

Covenant Prologue: What God has Done


1. Summary

• Moses mediated Israel’s covenant renewal on the plains of Moab

• The Israelites were to look back with thankfulness on God’s gracious dealings with the previous generation.

2. Structure

-Historical Prologue (Deut.1:1-3:29)
-Call to Obedience (Deut.4:1-4:31)

I. Historical Prologue (1:1-3:29)

The introductory words connect the book with what precedes, and also identify the content of what follows as Mosaic.

A. General Analysis

-Covenant Preamble (Deut.1:1-5)
-Review of God’s Acts for Israel (Deut.1:6–3:29)
Travelling in wilderness (Deut.1:6-2:23)
Conquest of East Jordan (Deut.2:24-3:29)
Transition of leadership (Deut.3:21–29)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Introduction

The introduction focuses on Moses and the present situation of the people. There is a resemblance to the Suzerain-vassal preamble which identified the Suzerain. The significant difference here, though, is that Moses is not the Suzerain but the mediator of Israel’s covenant with God.
There is also a subtle reminder in verse 2 of the consequences of sin and rebellion by reminding the hearers that an 11 day journey from Kadesh Barnea to the Plain of Moab actually took 40 years.
Moses’ Message: God has appointed me to mediate the renewal of the covenant.

2. Theme of Blessing and Mercy

Text Blessing
Call to leave (Deut.1:6-9)
Establishment of leaders (Deut.1:9-18)
Events at Kadesh Barnea (Deut.1:19-46)
Wanderings (Deut.2:1-23)
Transjordanian Victories (Deut.2:24-3:20)
Joshua as leader (Deut.3:21-29)
God assured (Deut.1:7) and remembered covenant (Deut.1:8)
God multiplied (Deut.1:9-11) and secured justice (Deut.1:15-17)
Land was good (Deut.1:25); people did not trust God (Deut.1:32); God became angry (Deut.1:35,37), but he gave promises to audience (Deut.1:35-36, 39)
God forgave (Deut.2:2); God provided (Deut.2:7); God calls Israel to land again (Deut.2:16-18)
God gave victories over Sihon (Deut.2:24-25,31) and Og (Deut.3:2). Israel took great possessions (Deut.3:8-11) and God gave them the land (Deut.3:12-13)
Joshua is encouraged (Deut.3:21-22); God promises to Joshua (Deut.3:28-29)
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]  
This recital of history shows grace and blessing, followed by rebellion, followed by grace and blessing, etc. The aim of such a reminder of past events was to inspire thankfulness for God’s goodness to them and so encourage obedience to Him. This section of Deuteronomy again closely resembles the historical prologue of Suzerain/Vassal treaties. In them, the Suzerain would recount all His acts of benevolence to those he was covenanting with.

Moses reminds the people of what the Lord has done in bringing them out of Egypt. He recounts the mighty deeds of God. God is about to fulfill another of his promises by giving them their own land (Deut.1:8). The threefold blessing which God gave Abraham concerned the promise of land, the promise of numerous descendants and the promise of outstanding blessing (Gen. 12:1-3,7). During the years spent in Egypt, the years covered by the book of Exodus, the family of Abraham increased rapidly through his grandson Jacob. The promise of numerous descendants was moving towards realization. In Deuteronomy the Israelites are on the threshold of receiving the second part of the promise – their own land. The final aspect of the threefold promise is that in Abraham ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed’. That promise will await the coming of the Messiah with his worldwide blessing of salvation.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 157.[/footnote]

These chapters report a journey led by God, designed to put Israel in the new Eden from which, in response to continued obedience, blessing upon blessing may be expected. Everything on this journey, even what appears aimless wandering, is under the direction of God (2:1-3).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 58.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Israel is obliged to God because of what He has graciously done for them in the past.

3. God swore

The first speech begins with the departure from Horeb. The refusal of the first generation is all the more serious because the land was that which “the Lord sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them” (Deut.1:8). This covenant is referred to nearly thirty times in this solemn way, as sworn by the Lord.

So the promise of possession was secured by the immutable oath of the immutable Jehovah. But it was also, for every generation of Abraham’s descendants, conditioned on obedience. Dispossession or failure to possess was as certain to follow disobedience (Deut.2:14) as possession was to follow obedience (Deut.4:37-40).[footnote]O T Allis, God Spake by Moses (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing Co.,1951), 134.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: The Lord has sworn to give the Land to those who will swear loyalty to Him.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Parallel patterns

Both Romans and Ephesians list all that God has done for His people followed by practical exhortations (Eg. Romans 1-11/12-16)

II. Call to Obedience (4:1-4:43)

A. General Analysis

-Be faithful (Deut.4:1-2)
-Learn from the past (Deut.4:3-24)
-Be careful and hopeful about the future (Deut.4:25-31)
-Summary and exhortation (Deut.4:32-40)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Lessons from past events

Moses reminds the people of the solemn events at Baal Peor (Deut.4:4-9), Sinai (Deut.4:10-20), and Kadesh Barnea (Deut.4:21-24) with a view to calling the nation to obey God in the future. His historical survey in chapters 1-3 illustrated the benefits of keeping covenant as well as the pitfalls of disobedience. The nation succeeded by submitting to God’s will, but even an individual like Moses could fail through disobedience. These illustrations of obedience and disobedience prepare the reader for Chapter 4 where Moses turns from reviewing the past to exhort the nation about the present and future. The blessings of God’s care for Israel from Sinai to the Transjordan formed the basis for Moses’ call for obedience and loyalty to God.
Moses’ Message: Obey the Lord now because of what you have learned from His past dealings with the nation.

2. Threats and hope in the future (Deut.4:25-31)

For all this, Moses predicts a sad future course for Israel. There will be idolatry in future generations (Deut.4:25). This will be followed by exile from land (Deut.4:26-28). However hope of return is held out (Deut.4:29-31).
Moses’ Message: God’s gracious covenanting with Israel does not give a license to sin without consequence.

3. Summary and exhortation (Deut.4:32-40)

Moses here summarizes the previous verses. He recounts events surrounding creation, Sinai and the plagues (Deut.4:32-34), with the purpose of bringing Israel to know God as the only true God (Deut.4:35-38). On the basis of this he exhorts Israel to obey God for future blessing (Deut.4:39-40).
Moses’ Message: Be motivated to obey by all of God’s mighty acts from Creation up till now.

4. Uniqueness of God (Deut.4:39)

The uniqueness of God is one of the great burdens that Moses has. He says: “You people are special people. You’ve got a God unlike any other God, He is the true God.”

Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else (Deut.4:39).

Moses’ Message: A unique God demands a unique response.

5. The heart

The heart was one of the great concerns and burdens of Moses in Deuteronomy. He presented the demands of heart religion, the impossibility of heart religion, and the provision of heart religion

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons (Deut.4:9).

O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! (Deut.5:29; see also Deut.10:12,16; 32:2,6)

Deuteronomy contains the last addresses of Moses to the people, delivered in the plains of Moab. It is not to be regarded as merely a recapitulation of the three previous books, but rather, as Keil has so admirably stated, “a hortatory description, explanation, and enforcement of the most essential contents of the covenant revelation and covenant laws, with emphatic prominence given to the spiritual principle of the law and its fulfillment, and with a further development of the ecclesiastical, judicial, political, and civil organization, which was intended as a permanent foun-dation for the life and well-being of the people in the land of Canaan” (The Pentateuch, ET, Vol. III, p. 270).[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 77.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God requires more than outward obedience in response to His grace.

6. Remember

The key word in Deuteronomy is ‘remember’ (occurring fourteen times). In order to promote obedience, God calls upon the people to recollect the events and experiences of the past. This word invites the children of Israel to look over their shoulder. They are told that they must not forget that God has done great things for them. For example:
In the wilderness Moses called the people to remember:

• the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb Deut.4:9-10);
• the covenant of the LORD (Deut.4:23);
• their slavery in Egypt (Deut.5:15);
• their great deliverance (Deut.7:18);
• the providence of God in the wilderness (Deut.8:2-6);
• their rebellion and sin (Deut.9:7);
• the punishments inflicted by God (Deut.24:9);
• their history (Deut.32:7).[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 168.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Remembrance of God’s mighty acts will motivate and empower obedience.

7. The Second Commandment (ch.4)

Although Deuteronomy requires obedience to all the commands (Deut.4:1-8), there is a special emphasis on keeping the second commandment (Deut.4:9-31)

The emphasis on avoiding idols was necessitated by Israel’s placement in Moab before entering the Promised Land (Deut.4:44-49), where the Canaanite religion would entice….So chapter 4 deals with the essence of the Sinai covenant, which requires obedience, in opposition to what the heady attractions of Canaan will present.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 58.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Adding/Subtracting (Deut.4:2; Rev.22)

In the first and last part of God’s word this warning is given. We’re not to add to, or take from God’s word. It’s a complete and a whole revelation. It’s all that God wants his people to know. It’s all that’s needful for them.

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you (Deut.4:2).

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Rev.22:18,19).


2. The New Covenant

Moses called for heart religion (Deut.6:6; 30:6), but due to human weakness this was rare (Rom.8:3; Heb.8:13). In the New Covenant Jesus Christ powerfully changes human hearts.

III. The Message

Original Message: Israel should remember God’s past grace in order to promote future obedience
Present Message: The Church should remember God’s past grace in order to promote future obedience.