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Deuteronomy--Moses' first speech, Final

Jul 12, 2012

In Deut. 4:32 and 33 Moses asks,

(32) Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? (33) Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?

It is plain that this was a one-time event. God spoke audibly to the whole nation of Israel. Normally, divine communication is more subtle, as He speaks from within our hearts. But He understood that most of the people were dull of hearing. To be sure that everyone heard His voice, so that they were all without excuse, He had to speak audibly.

It was also believed in those days that God remained aloof from men, and if anyone came into direct contact with Him, they would die. The holiness of God was seen in contrast to the sinfulness of men. God was thought to be distant and impersonal, needing no man and desiring no man's fellowship, but expecting obedient servants. Certainly, the idea that we might transcend servanthood and become the Sons of God was incomprehensible to them.

This mindset ought to have been greatly eroded when God came down upon the mount to speak audibly and directly to every man, woman, and child--great or small--to relate personally with each one as if they were important to Him. Years later, He came again in the Person of Jesus Christ, so that they might know the character of God and see His glory.

(34) Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (35) To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.

This was unique in history, but God did this in order to establish the divine plan with His "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). Each major event was commemorated yearly by a feast day, because the sequence of such festivals revealed the plan of salvation from our justification by the blood of the Passover Lamb, to our sanctification through hearing His voice at Pentecost, and finally to our glorification through the feast of Tabernacles.

(36) Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline [yasar] you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. (37) Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, (38) driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance as it is today.

Hearing God's voice is not only meant to guide us in our daily walk, but also to discipline us to follow the path of our calling so that we may arrive at our destiny. The Hebrew word yasar means to chastise, discipline, instruct, or admonish.


Hearing and obedience are the same Hebrew word as well (shema). The purpose of hearing is not merely to have a personal conversation with God, but to bring about obedience through discipline. If we do not obey His voice, we may be instructed by a corrective interview. God can raise up many agents on earth to make us uncomfortable and provide such instruction.

Moses made the connection between God's voice and the "great fire." The "fiery law" (Deut. 33:2) is the voice of God that brings discipline and instruction in order to bring about obedience. The judgments of the law, then, define the "fire" in terms of its discipline and correction. This "fire" is designed to burn "the flesh," that is, our fleshly tendencies and desires, but it is rooted in the love of God, as Moses says.

God's "fiery law" was given to Israel "because He loved your fathers," Moses says. This hints at the concept of the Fatherhood of God, which men barely understood in those days. The Israelites were God's children, and their Heavenly Father was providing them with much needed instruction, correction, and discipline in order to bring them to their destiny in Christ.

(39) Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other. (40) So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.

Because there is only one God, we are told to be obedient to Him by obeying Him. No other lawgiver has the right to contradict a law of God and then expect obedience from men. Men and governments have sorely tested this command over the millennia, but this is the first and foremost principle of a Christian believer.

So ended Moses' first speech to the Israelites. The rest of Deuteronomy 4 was a supplemental comment, probably written later by Ezra when he compiled the Old Testament canon into its present form.

(41) Then Moses set apart three cities across the Jordan to the east, (42) that a manslayer might flee there, who unintentionally slew his neighbor without having enmity toward him in time past; and by fleeing to one of these cities, he might live; (43) Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.

These were the cities of refuge established east of the Jordan river, among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. These cities were places where those guilty of involuntary manslaughter could live under protection of law until their liability ended with the death of the high priest (Num. 35:25). A full account of this law is found in Numbers 35, where we learn that three cities of refuge were to be established on each side of the Jordan River (Num. 35:14).

Ezra concludes by telling us that this "Second Law" called Deuteronomy was given "across the Jordan," while Moses was yet alive. Obviously, it was written from the perspective of one who lived west of the Jordan River in the land of Canaan.

(44) Now this is the law which Moses set before the sons of Israel; (45) these are the testimonies and the statues and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, when they came out of Egypt, (46) across the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon, whom Moses and the sons of Israel defeated when they came out of Egypt. (47) And they took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were across the Jordan to the east, (48) from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, even as far as Mount Sion (that is, Hermon), (49) with all the Arabah across the Jordan to the east, even as far as the sea of the Arabah at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah.

This is the final part of a series titled "Moses' First Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.

Moses' First Speech

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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones

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