Sermon on Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-8
Text: Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”
“Listen carefully. I don’t want to tell you again.” Perhaps you’ve heard or even used words like these yourself. You want to make sure that the person you are talking to is paying attention and going to follow the instructions you are giving. You are telling them something important and they need to pay attention if they are going to get it right. Moses, in essence, is saying the same thing in the opening verse of our text. He says, “Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” We, too, this morning want to take heed of these words. HEED THE WORD OF THE LORD! First of all, we are commanded to 1. Guard It Carefully. Secondly, we are commanded to 2. Observe It Carefully.
Moses spoke the words of Deuteronomy to the nation of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land. The entire book is basically a retelling of the law that God gave on Mount Sinai. As a matter of fact, that is, basically, the meaning of the word “Deuteronomy.” The reason for this retelling is twofold. First of all, these were the children of those who died in the desert during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness because of their sin of complaining against God. This generation needed to hear firsthand what God’s law was.
The second reason is found in verse one when Moses said, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” Moses tells the people that, if they want the Lord’s blessing on their conquest of the land, they were to follow God’s law. They were not only to hear the law with their ears. They were to take it to heart, to believe what God said to them and follow his will. God had promised to bless those who followed his commands.
As they followed the laws, they were to keep all of it. They were to pay attention to all the words of God. This point is shown to us as Moses said in verse two, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” The people of Israel were not to add to God’s law and they were not to subtract from it. Literally they were not to enhance God’s law and they were not to shave it or trim it. They were to observe all of it.
As the centuries went on, however, the nation of Israel did enhance God’s law and they trimmed off the parts they didn’t like. As we heard in our Gospel lesson this morning, the religious leaders had added many regulations that the people had to fulfill, far and above what God had commanded. Yet, at the same time, if there was a law they didn’t like, they either ignored it or added laws to get around that regulation. But, as Moses said here, they were not to add to God’s law nor were they to subtract from it.
That same admonition is told to us today, as well. We are not to add to God’s law or his Word nor are we to subtract from it. We might be tempted to think that this applies only to other church bodies or other people. The Mormon church might come to mind as ones who have added to God’s Word with their Book of Mormon. We might think of those conferences of supposed learned theologians who picked apart the Bible and said that this or that couldn’t have happened as it was written.
Obviously the command to neither add nor subtract from it is generally being ignored by these church bodies, as well as others. But, we also want to be careful that we are not enhancing God’s Word. We find something that we feel is lacking in Scripture, so we feel the need to enhance things. We can’t understand how something could have happened or why something happened, so we find ourselves speculating on events in the Bible. Where the Bible doesn’t give us all of the details, we try to add what we think happened. Enhancing God’s Word is also done when a person is convinced that something is sinful which God’s Word has failed to condemn. If God’s Word hasn’t called something a sin, we dare not enhance God’s Word by adding things.
The same is also true of subtracting from God’s Word. We find something in Scripture that offends our reason or emotions, so we want to trim off the ragged edges. As we study God’s Word, there are going to be things that rub us the wrong way, especially when it is speaking about sins that we are guilty of. We may want to trim it away or ignore it. There will be things that don’t make sense to us logically so we may be tempted to try and explain it away.
However, God shows us that he wants us to keep his Word intact. We are not to add to it, enhance it, nor are we to subtract from it, trimming away the offending parts. This command is echoed in the closing verses of Revelation when Jesus said, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” (Revelation 22:18-19) God wants us to listen to all of his Word. God wants us to guard it carefully lest anything is added to it or is subtracted from it. We praise our God for giving us his pure Word and we pray that God would give us the strength and the ability to hold onto it.
But, as we guard the words of the LORD carefully, we are not to treat it like something that is locked away for safety and is only looked at on special occasions, the way that we stare at something valuable in a safe or a deposit box. We are not only to guard it carefully. We are also to observe it faithfully.
This is exactly what Moses said to the nation of Israel in verse six of our text: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” Here the Lord insists that, if his people remain faithful to his Word, they will elicit admiration from their unbelieving neighbors. Following God’s commands faithfully will bring about blessings, especially as these heathen nations see their close relationship with God. No other nation had God so closely connected with their lives as the Israelites did. As the nation of Israel followed his ways, their neighbors would see how God blessed them.
So also we want to take care to observe all of our Lord’s words faithfully, for in doing so there is great blessing. Of course, the greatest blessing is found in the way of salvation. As we take note of our lives we see how many times we have failed to follow God’s law. For example, think about our use of God’s Word. Do we always faithfully and gladly hear God’s Word or are there times when we’d rather be doing something else? Do we faithfully take time to read and study God’s Word or do other things push it to the side? If the answer is “Yes” to either of these questions, then we have broken God’s law and, as such, deserve to be punished for all eternity in hell.
But, it is in God’s Word, and only in God’s Word, that we find out about what God has done for us. In his love for us lost sinners, he sent his Son into the world to be our Rescuer, our Savior. He kept all of God’s law, including the Third Commandment, perfectly. This he did in our place. He further showed his love for us by suffering and dying on the cross to pay for our sins. He also rose again, showing that our salvation is complete. All of this was done purely out of his love. Now in God’s sight we stand holy and perfect. This is what God has done for us.
Now we view God’s commands differently. Rather than seeing them as something we must do, we see God’s law as a privilege. This is a way that God has given to us to show our love and thankfulness to him. What a privilege to be able to serve the almighty God. What a joy to say “Thank you” to our Father who loved us so much that he saved us from an eternity in hell. From a heart filled with joy, we faithfully observe all that God teaches us.
This will have the effect that Moses spoke of in verse six. As we serve our God in an unbelieving world, even those who are against Christian doctrine will have to admit that there is something to the Christian life. As we exhibit the Christian virtues of kindness and forgiveness, people will notice. As we show patience under trials, hope in suffering, people will notice. It is even possible that they might be attracted and want to learn more. God may be using this as an opportunity to reach out to that person and bring them to faith. What a great blessing it would be if God were to use you in telling another about their Savior. Out of thankfulness for all that God has done for us, we want to observe all of God’s Word faithfully.
“God’s Word is our great heritage” is a favorite hymn for many of us. It reminds us that our God has handed his Word to us from generation to generation and for that we want to thank him. We pray that we will guard this precious treasure carefully, that each of us would see its value. We also pray that we would observe it faithfully, that we would pay attention to what it says. We also pray that we might continue to pass on this precious treasure, for it is only here that faith and salvation may be found. Paul says in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ..” This is our great heritage. Listen to it. Grow from it. Pass it on. Amen.
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