Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Exhortation to a Faithful Observance of the Law - Deuteronomy 4:1-40
With the word ועתּה, "and now," Moses passes from a contemplation of what the Lord had done for Israel, to an exhortation to keep the law of the Lord. The divine manifestations of grace laid Israel under the obligation to a conscientious observance of the law, that they might continue to enjoy the blessings of the covenant. The exhortation commences with the appeal, to hear and keep the commandments and rights of the Lord, without adding to them or taking from them; for not only were life and death suspended upon their observance, but it was in this that the wisdom and greatness of Israel before all the nations consisted (Deu 4:1-8). It then proceeds to a warning, not to forget the events at Horeb (Deu 4:9-14) and so fall into idolatry, the worship of images or idol deities (Deu 4:15-24); and it closes with a threat of dispersion among the heathen as the punishment of apostasy, and with a promise of restoration as the consequence of repentance and sincere conversion (Deu 4:25-31), and also with a reason for this threat and promise drawn from the history of the immediate past (Deu 4:32-34), for the purpose of fortifying the nation in its fidelity to its God, the sole author of its salvation (Deu 4:35-40).
The Israelites were to hearken to the laws and rights which Moses taught to do (that they were to do), that they might live and attain to the possession of the land which the Lord would give them. "Hearkening" involves laying to heart and observing. The words "statutes and judgments" (as in Lev 19:37) denote the whole of the law of the covenant in its two leading features. חקּים, statutes, includes the moral commandments and statutory covenant laws, for which חק and חקּה are mostly used in the earlier books; that is to say, all that the people were bound to observe; משׁפּטים, rights, all that was due to them, whether in relation to God or to their fellow-men (cf. Deu 26:17). Sometimes המּצוה, the commandment, is connected with it, either placed first in the singular, as a general comprehensive notion (Deu 5:28; Deu 6:1; Deu 7:11), or in the plural (Deu 8:11; Deu 11:1; Deu 30:16); or העדת, the testimonies, the commandments as a manifestation of the will of God (Deu 4:45, Deu 6:17, Deu 6:20). - Life itself depended upon the fulfilment or long life in the promised land (Exo 20:12), as Moses repeatedly impressed upon them (cf. Deu 4:40; Deu 5:30; Deu 6:2; Deu 8:1; Deu 11:21; Deu 16:20; Deu 25:15; Deu 30:6, Deu 30:15., Deu 32:47). ירשׁתּם, for ירשׁתּם (as in Deu 4:22, Jos 1:16; cf. Ges. 44, 2, Anm. 2).
The observance of the law, however, required that it should be kept as it was given, that nothing should be added to it or taken from it, but that men should submit to it as to the inviolable word of God. Not by omissions only, but by additions also, was the commandment weakened, and the word of God turned into ordinances of men, as Pharisaism sufficiently proved. This precept is repeated in Deu 13:1; it is then revived by the prophets (Jer 26:2; Pro 30:6), and enforced again at the close of the whole revelation (Rev 22:18-19). In the same sense Christ also said that He had not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil (Mat 5:17); and the old covenant was not abrogated, but only glorified and perfected, by the new.
The Israelites had just experienced how a faithful observance of the law gave life, in what the Lord had done on account of Baal-peor, when He destroyed those who worshipped this idol (Num 25:3, Num 25:9), whereas the faithful followers of the Lord still remained alive. בּ דּבק, to cleave to any one, to hold fast to him. This example was adduced by Moses, because the congregation had passed through all this only a very short time before; and the results of faithfulness towards the Lord on the one hand, and of the unfaithfulness of apostasy from Him on the other, had been made thoroughly apparent to it. "Your eyes the seeing," as in Deu 3:21.
But the laws which Moses taught were commandments of the Lord. Keeping and doing them were to be the wisdom and understanding of Israel in the eyes of the nations, who, when they heard all these laws, would say, "Certainly (רק, only, no other than) a wise and understanding people is this great nation." History has confirmed this. Not only did the wisdom of a Solomon astonish the queen of Sheba (Kg1 10:4.), but the divine truth which Israel possessed in the law of Moses attracted all the more earnest minds of the heathen world to seek the satisfaction of the inmost necessities of their heart and the salvation of their souls in Israel's knowledge of God, when, after a short period of bloom, the inward self-dissolution of the heathen religions had set in; and at last, in Christianity, it has brought one heathen nation after another to the knowledge of the true God, and to eternal salvation, notwithstanding the fact that the divine truth was and still is regarded as folly by the proud philosophers and self-righteous Epicureans and Stoics of ancient and modern times.
This mighty and attractive force of the wisdom of Israel consisted in the fact, that in Jehovah they possessed a God who was at hand with His help when they called upon Him (cf. Deu 33:29; Psa 34:19; Psa 145:18; Kg1 2:7), as none of the gods of the other nations had ever been; and that in the law of God they possessed such statutes and rights as the heathen never had. True right has its roots in God; and with the obscuration of the knowledge of God, law and right, with their divinely established foundations, are also shaken and obscured (cf. Rom 1:26-32).
Israel was therefore not to forget the things which it had seen at Horeb with its own eyes.
"Only beware and take care of thyself." To "keep the soul," i.e., to take care of the soul as the seat of life, to defend one's life from danger and injury (Pro 13:3; Pro 19:16). "That thou do not forget את־הדּברים (the facts described in Ex 19-24), and that they do not depart from thy heart all the days of thy life," i.e., are not forgotten as long as thou livest, "and thou makest them known to thy children and thy children's children." These acts of God formed the foundation of the true religion, the real basis of the covenant legislation, and the firm guarantee of the objective truth and divinity of all the laws and ordinances which Moses gave to the people. And it was this which constituted the essential distinction between the religion of the Old Testament and all heathen religions, whose founders, it is true, professed to derive their doctrines and statutes from divine inspiration, but without giving any practical guarantee that their origin was truly divine.
In the words, "The day (היּום, adverbial accusative) "that thou stoodest before Jehovah thy God at Horeb," etc., Moses reminds the people of the leading features of those grand events: first of all of the fact that God directed him to gather the people together, that He might make known His words to them (Exo 19:9.), that they were to learn to fear Him all their life long, and to teach their children also (יראה, inf., like שׂנאה, Deu 1:27); and secondly (Deu 4:11), that they came near to the mountain which burned in fire (cf. Exo 19:17.). The expression, burning in fire "even to the heart of heaven," i.e., quite into the sky, is a rhetorical description of the awful majesty of the pillar of fire, in which the glory of the Lord appeared upon Sinai, intended to impress deeply upon the minds of the people the remembrance of this manifestation of God. And the expression, "darkness, clouds, and thick darkness," which is equivalent to the smoking of the great mountain (Exo 19:18), is employed with the same object. And lastly (Deu 4:12, Deu 4:13), he reminds them that the Lord spoke out of the midst of the fire, and adds this important remark, to prepare the way for what is to follow, "Ye heard the sound of the words, but ye did not see a shape," which not only agrees most fully with Ex 24, where it is stated that the sight of the glory of Jehovah upon the mountain appeared to the people as they stood at the foot of the mountain "like devouring fire" (Deu 4:17), and that even the elders who "saw God" upon the mountain at the conclusion of the covenant saw no form of God (Deu 4:11), but also with Exo 33:20, Exo 33:23, according to which no man can see the face (פּנים) of God. Even the similitude (Temunah) of Jehovah, which Moses saw when the Lord spoke to him mouth to mouth (Num 12:8), was not the form of the essential being of God which was visible to his bodily eyes, but simply a manifestation of the glory of God answering to his own intuition and perceptive faculty, which is not to be regarded as a form of God which was an adequate representation of the divine nature. The true God has no such form which is visible to the human eye.
The Israelites, therefore, could not see a form of God, but could only hear the voice of His words, when the Lord proclaimed His covenant to them, and gave utterance to the ten words, which He afterwards gave to Moses written upon two tables of stone (Exo 20:1-14 , and Exo 31:18, compared with Exo 24:12). On the "tables of stone," see at Exo 34:1.
When the Lord Himself had made known to the people in the ten words the covenant which He commanded them to do, He directed Moses to teach them laws and rights which they were to observe in Canaan, viz., the rights and statutes of the Sinaitic legislation, from Ex 21 onwards.
As the Israelites had seen no shape of God at Horeb, they were to beware for their souls' sake (for their lives) of acting corruptly, and making to themselves any kind of image of Jehovah their God, namely, as the context shows, to worship God in it. (On pesel, see at Exo 20:4.) The words which follow, viz., "a form of any kind of sculpture," and "a representation of male or female" (for tabnith, see at Exo 25:9), are in apposition to "graven image," and serve to explain and emphasize the prohibition.
They were also not to make an image of any kind of beast; a caution against imitating the animal worship of Egypt.
They were not to allow themselves to be torn away (נדּח) to worship the stars of heaven, namely, by the seductive influence exerted upon the senses by the sight of the heavenly bodies as they shone in their glorious splendour. The reason for this prohibition is given in the relative clause, "which Jehovah thy God hath allotted to all nations under the whole heaven." The thought is not, "God has given the heathen the sun, moon, and stars for service, i.e., to serve them with their light," as Onkelos, the Rabbins, Jerome, and others, suppose, but He has allotted them to them for worship, i.e., permitted them to choose them as the objects of their worship, which is the view adopted by Justin Martyr, Clemens Alex., and others. According to the scriptural view, even the idolatry of the heathen existed by divine permission and arrangement. God gave up the heathen to idolatry and shameful lusts, because, although they knew Him from His works, they did not praise Him as God (Rom 1:21, Rom 1:24, Rom 1:26).
The Israelites were not to imitate the heathen in this respect, because Jehovah, who brought them out of the iron furnace of Egypt, had taken them (לקח) to Himself, i.e., had drawn them out or separated them from the rest of the nations, to be a people of inheritance. They were therefore not to seek God and pray to Him in any kind of creature, but to worship Him without image and form, in a manner corresponding to His own nature, which had been manifested in no form, and therefore could not be imitated. בּרזל כּוּר, an iron furnace, or furnace for smelting iron, is a significant figure descriptive of the terrible sufferings endured by Israel in Egypt. נחלה עם (a people of inheritance) is synonymous with סגלּה עם (a special people, Deu 7:6 : see at Exo 19:5, "a peculiar treasure"). "This day:" as in Deu 2:30.
The bringing of Israel out of Egypt reminds Moses of the end, viz., Canaan, and leads him to mention again how the Lord had refused him permission to enter into this good land; and to this he adds the renewed warning not to forget the covenant or make any image of God, since Jehovah, as a jealous God, would never tolerate this. The swearing attributed to God in Deu 4:21 is neither mentioned in Num 20 nor at the announcement of Moses' death in Num 27:12.; but it is not to be called in question on that account, as Knobel supposes. It is perfectly obvious from Deu 3:23. that all the details are not given in the historical account of the event referred to. כּל תּמוּנת פּסל, "image of a form of all that Jehovah has commanded," sc., not to be made (Deu 4:16-18). "A consuming fire" (Deu 4:24): this epithet is applied to God with special reference to the manifestation of His glory in burning fire (Exo 24:17). On the symbolical meaning of this mode of revelation, see at Exo 3:2. "A jealous God:" see at Exo 20:5.
To give emphasis to this warning, Moses holds up the future dispersion of the nation among the heathen as the punishment of apostasy from the Lord.
If the Israelites should beget children and children's children, and grow old in the land, and then should make images of God, and do that which was displeasing to God to provoke Him; in that case Moses called upon heaven and earth as witnesses against them, that they should be quickly destroyed out of the land. "Growing old in the land" involved forgetfulness of the former manifestations of grace on the part of the Lord, but not necessarily becoming voluptuous through the enjoyment of the riches of the land, although this might also lead to forgetfulness of God and the manifestations of His grace (cf. Deu 6:10., Deu 32:15). The apodosis commences with Deu 4:26. העיד, with בּ and the accusative, to take or summon as a witness against a person. Heaven and earth do not stand here for the rational beings dwelling in them, but are personified, represented as living, and capable of sensation and speech, and mentioned as witnesses who would raise up against Israel, not to proclaim its guilt, but to bear witness that God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had warned the people, and, as it is described in the parallel passage in Deu 30:19, had set before them the choice of life and death, and therefore was just in punishing them for their unfaithfulness (cf. Psa 50:6; Psa 51:6). "Prolong days," as in Exo 20:12.
Jehovah would scatter them among the nations, where they would perish through want and suffering, and only a few (מספּר מתי, Gen 34:30) would be left. "Whither" refers to the nations whose land is thought of (cf. Deu 12:29; Deu 30:3). For the thing intended, see Lev 26:33, Lev 26:36, Lev 26:38-39, and Deu 28:64., from which it is evident that the author had not "the fate of the nation in the time of the Assyrians in his mind" (Knobel), but rather all the dispersions which would come upon the rebellious nation in future times, even down to the dispersion under the Romans, which continues still; so that Moses contemplated the punishment in its fullest extent.
There among the heathen they would be obliged to serve gods that were the work of men's hands, gods of wood and stone, that could neither hear, nor eat, nor smell, i.e., possessed no senses, showed no sign of life. What Moses threatens here, follows from the eternal laws of the divine government. The more refined idolatry of image-worship leads to coarser and coarser forms, in which the whole nature of idol-worship is manifested in all its pitiableness. "When once the God of revelation is forsaken, the God of reason and imagination must also soon be given up and make way for still lower powers, that perfectly accord with the I exalted upon the throne, and in the time of pretended 'illumination' to atheism and materialism also" (Schultz).
From thence Israel would come to itself again in the time of deepest misery, like the prodigal son in the gospel (Luk 15:17), would seek the Lord its God, and would also find Him if it sought with all its heart and soul (cf. Deu 6:5; Deu 10:12).
"In tribulation to thee (in thy trouble), all these things (the threatened punishments and sufferings) will befall thee; at the end of the days (see at Gen 49:1) thou wilt turn to Jehovah thy God, and hearken to His voice." With this comprehensive thought Moses brings his picture of the future to a close. (On the subject-matter, vid., Lev 26:39-40.) Returning to the Lord and hearkening to His voice presuppose that the Lord will be found by those who earnestly seek Him; "for (Deu 4:31) He is a merciful God, who does not let His people go, nor destroy them, and who does not forget the covenant with the fathers" (cf. Lev 26:42 and Lev 26:45). הרפּה, to let loose, to withdraw the hand from a person (Jos 10:6).
But in order to accomplish something more than merely preserving the people from apostasy by the threat of punishment, namely, to secure a more faithful attachment and continued obedience to His commands by awakening the feeling of cordial love, Moses reminds them again of the glorious miracles of divine grace performed in connection with the election and deliverance of Israel, such as had never been heard of from the beginning of the world; and with this strong practical proof of the love of the true God, he brings his first address to a close. This closing thought in Deu 4:32 is connected by כּי (for) with the leading idea in Deu 4:31. "Jehovah thy God is a merciful God," to show that the sole ground for the election and redemption of Israel was the compassion of God towards the human race. "For ask now of the days that are past, from the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of the heaven unto the other, whether so great a thing has ever happened, or anything of the kind has been heard of:" i.e., the history of all times since the creation of man, and of all places under the whole heaven, can relate no such events as those which have happened to Israel, viz., at Sinai (Deu 4:33; cf. Deu 4:12). From this awfully glorious manifestation of God, Moses goes back in Deu 4:34 to the miracles with which God effected the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. "Or has a god attempted (made the attempt) to come and take to himself people from people (i.e., to fetch the people of Israel out of the midst of the Egyptian nation), with temptations (the events in Egypt by which Pharaoh's relation to the Lord was put to the test; cf. Deu 6:22 and Deu 7:18-19), with signs and wonders (the Egyptian plagues, see Exo 7:3), and with conflict (at the Red Sea: Exo 14:14; Exo 15:3), and with a strong hand and outstretched arm (see Exo 6:6), and with great terrors?" In the three points mentioned last, all the acts of God in Egypt are comprehended, according to both cause and effect. They were revelations of the omnipotence of the Lord, and produced great terrors (cf. Exo 12:30-36).
Israel was made to see all this, that it might know that Jehovah was God (האלהים, the God, to whom the name of elohim rightfully belonged), and there was none else beside Him (cf. Deu 4:39, Deu 32:39; Isa 45:5-6).
But the Lord had spoken to Israel chiefly down from heaven (cf. Exo 20:19 ), and that out of the great fire, in which He had come down upon Sinai, to chastise it. יסּר does not mean "to instruct the people with regard to His truth and sovereignty," as Schultz thinks, but "to take them under holy discipline" (Knobel), to inspire them with a salutary fear of the holiness of His ways and of His judgments by the awful phenomena which accompanied His descent, and shadowed forth the sublime and holy majesty of His nature.
All this He did from love to the fathers of Israel (the patriarchs): "and indeed because He loved thy fathers, He chose his seed (the seed of Abraham, the first of the patriarchs) after him, and brought thee (Israel) out of Egypt by His face with great power, to drive out...and to bring thee, to give thee their land...so that thou mightest know and take to heart...and keep His laws," etc. With regard to the construction of these verses, the clause כּי ותחת (and because) in Deu 4:37 is not to be regarded as dependent upon what precedes, as Schultz supposes; nor are Deu 4:37 and Deu 4:38 to be taken as the protasis, and Deu 4:39, Deu 4:40 as the apodosis (as Knobel maintains). Both forms of construction are forced and unnatural. The verses form an independent thought; and the most important point, which was to bind Israel to faithfulness towards Jehovah, is given as the sum and substance of the whole address, and placed as a protasis at the head of the period. The only thing that admits of dispute, is whether the apodosis commences with ויּבחר ("He chose," Deu 4:37), or only with ויּוצאך ("brought thee out"). Either is possible; and it makes no difference, so far as the main thought is concerned, whether we regard the choice of Israel, or simply the deliverance from Egypt, in which that choice was carried into practical effect, as the consequence of the love of Jehovah to the patriarchs. - The copula ו before תהת is specially emphatic, "and truly," and indicates that the sum and substance of the whole discourse is about to follow, or the one thought in which the whole appeal culminates. It was the love of God to the fathers, not the righteousness of Israel (Deu 9:5), which lay at the foundation of the election of their posterity to be the nation of Jehovah's possession, and also of all the miracles of grace which were performed in connection with their deliverance out of Egypt. Moses returns to this thought again at Deu 10:15, for the purpose of impressing it upon the minds of the people as the one motive which laid them under the strongest obligation to circumcise the foreskin of their heart, and walk in the fear and love of the Lord their God (Deu 10:12.). - The singular suffixes in זרעו (his seed) and אחריו after him) refer to Abraham, whom Moses had especially in his mind when speaking of "thy fathers," because he was pre-eminently the lover of God (Isa 41:8; Ch2 20:7), and also the beloved or friend of God (Jam 2:23; cf. Gen 18:17.). "By His face" points back to Exo 33:14. The face of Jehovah was Jehovah in His personal presence, in His won person, who brought Israel out of Egypt, to root out great and mighty nations before it, and give it their land for an inheritance. "As this day" (clearly shows), viz., by the destruction of Sihon and Og, which gave to the Israelites a practical pledge that the Canaanites in like manner would be rooted out before them. The expression "as this day" does not imply, therefore, that the Canaanites were already rooted out from their land.
By this the Israelites were to know and lay it to heart, that Jehovah alone was God in heaven and on earth, and were to keep His commandments, in order that (אשׁר) it might be well with them and their descendants, and they might have long life in Canaan. כּל־היּמים, "all time," for all the future (cf. Exo 20:12).
Selection of Three Cities of Refuge for Unintentional Manslayers on the East of the Jordan. - The account of this appointment of the cities of refuge in the conquered land on the east of the Jordan is inserted between the first and second addresses of Moses, in all probability for no other reason than because Moses set apart the cities at that time according to the command of God in Num 35:6, Num 35:14, not only to give the land on that side its full consecration, and thoroughly confirm the possession of the two Amoritish kingdoms on the other side of the Jordan, but also to give the people in this punctual observance of the duty devolving upon it an example for their imitation in the conscientious observance of the commandments of the Lord, which he was now about to lay before the nation. The assertion that this section neither stood after Num, nor really belongs there, has a little foundation as the statement that its contents are at variance with the precepts in Deut 19. "Toward the sunrising" is introduced as a more precise definition; היּרדּן עבר, like מזרחה in Num 32:19 and Num 34:15. On the contents of Deu 4:42, comp. Num 35:15. The three towns that were set apart were Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan. "Bezer in the steppe, (namely) in the land of the level" (The Amoritish table-land: Deu 3:10). The situation of this Levitical town and city of refuge, which is only mentioned again in Jos 20:8; Jos 21:36, and Ch1 6:63, has not yet been discovered. Bezer was probably the same as Bosor (1 Macc. 5:36), and is possibly to be seen in the Berza mentioned by Robinson (Pal. App. p. 170). Ramoth in Gilead, i.e., Ramoth-Mizpeh (comp. Jos 20:8 with Jos 13:26), was situated, according to the Onom., fifteen Roman miles, or six hours, to the west of Philadelphia (Rabbath-Ammon); probably, therefore, on the site of the modern Salt, which is six hours' journey from Ammn (cf. v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 265, 266). - Golan, in Bashan, according to Eusebius (s. v. Gaulon or Golan), was still a very large village in Batanaea even in his day, from which the district generally received the name of Gaulonitis or Joan; but it has not yet been discovered again.
Announcement of the Discourse upon the Law. - First of all, in Deu 4:44, we have the general notice in the form of a heading: "This is the Thorah which Moses set before the children of Israel;" and then, in Deu 4:45, Deu 4:46, a fuller description of the Thorah according to its leading features, "testimonies, statutes, and rights" (see at Deu 4:1), together with a notice of the place and time at which Moses delivered this address. "On their coming out of Egypt," i.e., not "after they had come out," but during the march, before they had reached the goal of their journeyings, viz., (Deu 4:46) when they were still on the other side of the Jordan. "In the valley," as in Deu 3:29. "In the land of Sihon," and therefore already upon ground which the Lord had given them for a possession. The importance of this possession as the first-fruit and pledge of the fulfilment of the further promises of God, led Moses to mention again, though briefly, the defeat of the two kings of the Amorites, together with the conquest of their land, just as he had done before in Deu 2:32-36 and 3:1-17. On Deu 4:48, cf. Deu 3:9, Deu 3:12-17. Sion, for Hermon (see at Deu 3:9).