Israel was preparing to finally enter The Promised Land after forty years. They were camped eleven days journey from crossing the Jordan. Moses was speaking to them to make them ready and encourage them. Verses 1-2 begin his second discourse.
And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
God’s promises are often connected to our obedience. Our obedience is learned through suffering, discipline and time in the wilderness. Israel began their trek, afraid to receive the promise of God. He turned them around and had them journey through the wilderness for forty years. They were not lost, they followed The LORD. He gave them the Law, they learned it and they learned to follow God. The Lord was clear, they were not to add to the Law nor take away from it. The Law as given in the Ten Commandments and as given to the Levites was perfect as it was. The Law revealed the Lord as He is, it gave them the way to worship Him as Him. Later Jeroboam would take away from Levitical Law and create an idolatrous worship. Later the Pharisees would add to it and so remove God from the Law. Because they added to it, they didn’t come to know The One True Living God and didn’t recognize Him when He walked among them.
If we add to or take away from God’s Word or Law we change it and it no longer reflects Him. It no longer becomes the Truth, the Way, and the Life it becomes an image of something else. The Pharisees added to the law in order to ensure they kept it. In doing so they removed the heart of God’s Word and when He came they committed blasphemy and crucified Him.
Jeroboam took away from God’s Word in order to keep Israel from going to Judah to worship. He created a religion that twisted the truth into an idolatry that led to Israel’s destruction instead of the life, He promises. Keeping God’s Word means obedience and it means remaining true to it. Not doing so has consequences. The Wilderness shows us, as it showed Israel the consequences of our choices. Verses 3-8 read,
Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. 4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
God is in His Word, His Law. Obedience to His Word reveals Him in us and to others. The world looks at God’s obedient children and stands in awe of God. They ask where our peace comes from, where our hope lies, and how we can respond to life the way we do. Who else can say their god answers, acts, and remains so close? Who else can say their god is always with them and will never forsake them? No one because there is no God like The LORD. He is not far off. He is not silent. He is not apathetic. He cares, He leads, and He is with us. But we must turn to Him, seek to know Him, follow, and listen. Verses 9-14 reads,
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.
Other religions claim that their gods speak to them, but which can claim that they spoke audibly out of fire to the entire nation at once? Which other people can assert that their gods wrote their law with their own hands onto stone tablets? None, because their gods cannot speak or act. I have experienced God speaking the same words to many people at the same time. I have been there when someone else spoke the words He told me or I spoke and confirmed what God spoke to them. He is like no other gods. He is real and even though invisible, He is tangible in His Word and deeds. He gives us faith which opens our blind eyes to see the invisible and eternal Kingdom of Heaven. He does not need us to give Him a form or define Him by assigning Him an image. We know who He is and no image can contain the wholeness of The Lord God Creator of Heaven and Earth and everything in it. Verses 15-24 say,
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.21 Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Trying to define The Lord by deciding what He looks like and who He is outside of His Word invites us into idolatry. How many people bow down to the crucifix, instead of the Risen Lord? How many people move from the statue of a dying god to statues of past believers? It is idolatry to worship those images. It is idolatry to make a statue of anything and put it on the altar as god. It is idolatry to put anything or anyone on the altar or place anything or anyone on the throne of your heart. God has shown us the consequences and if we fall into Israel’s pattern of idolatry or the world’s motif of idolatry we too will suffer the aftermath of disobedience. Suffering teaches obedience. Even God learned obedience through His suffering. As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and begged The Father to let Him not be crucified, when He suffered betrayal from His closest friends, when He stood trial an innocent man ready to die for our sin, He learned obedience and exercised it by laying down His life willingly. Hebrews 5:7-9 reads,
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
Moses warned Israel and prophesied what would happen as a result of their idolatry. He exhorted them not to fall into worship of images, false gods, and carvings made by human hands. He urged them to cling to God’s Word as if their lives depended on it in verses 25-31,
When you father children and children's children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
Israel would disobey and worship false gods and they would be scattered among the nations, a remnant of who they had once been and a shadow of who they were meant to be. But through that suffering they would once again turn to God in obedience. God made them a promise and He has not forgotten it. He made you a promise and He has not forgotten it. When you have learn obedience and can act on it in faith, He will let you take possession of what He has given you, The Kingdom of Heaven. He will let you become who you were created to be, the image of Christ.
For that to happen, you must worship the One True God as He is and not who you make Him to be. You must bow down to The Lord and the Lord alone, not a crucifix, a statue, a bank account, a man, or yourself. Nothing and no one can measure up to the perfect vastness of God. Verses 32-40 read,
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which 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 is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
It is the Lord who made you, called you, saved you and sanctified you. No created god on earth could do that. And though we deserve death for our sins, He gives us sanctuary. He told us what sin is so that we could be holy as He is holy. He gave us a way out of sin. He knows we are not yet perfect and so He gives us mercy. Sinners can seek refuge in the Lord and be saved from the death they deserve and have their part of God’s promise too. Verses 41-43 read,
Then Moses set apart three cities in the east beyond the Jordan, 42 that the manslayer might flee there, anyone who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without being at enmity with him in time past; he may flee to one of these cities and save his life: 43 Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland for the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.
If the people who had accidently killed without malice went to the cities of asylum they would be safe, but if they ventured beyond them, they were at the mercy of anyone seeking vengeance. Outside of God’s promise they could be killed for their crime, but within the walls of God’s protection they were secure. Don’t go looking for God’s salvation beyond the Kingdom of God. He is not there.
Believer, The Lord is your God. He alone is God, there is none like Him, none comparable to Him, and none other than Him. He is the Word, Perfect and True. He is Salvation. He is Righteousness. He is Obedience and Faith. You cannot find Him outside of the Truth. You cannot change Him into who you want Him to be. He will change you into who you are meant to be.