Sermon: Hebrews 11:28


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Oh Lord God, who reveals Himself to his people, speak to us tonight though your word-preached as it is by an unworthy servant. Quiet our hearts, Lord God, that we might hear your Spirit speak. And would we act in faith and in obedience according to the example of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Now let’s read God’s word to us .

Hebrews 11:23-28
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. (‭Hebrews‬ ‭11‬:‭23-28‬ ESV)

Our focus tonight is on that last verse. Let’s read it again.

“By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”

Now before we discuss how this demonstrates exemplary faith, let’s remind ourselves of what the author of Hebrews is talking about.

But let me ask you, what is the Passover about? What do you know about it?

The nine plagues are all very Egyptian in nature.

It has been noted by commentators for quite some time that the ten plagues is something of a competition between YHWH, the god of Israel,and the main gods of Egypt.

Even before the plagues started, when Moses met with Pharaoh and his staff turned into a serpent and ate the serpents that the priests of Egypt  conjured up. Well the serpent was an important image in Egypt.  It represented protective spirits.  The Pharaohs wore jewelry with and were depicted in sculptures as having serpents on their crowns, and their belts.

So the fact that Moses’s serpent easily ate the serpent of Pharaoh’s priests is highly significant. This demonstration of YHWH’s superiority is at work in all of the plagues. One-by-one, God is showing himself to be more powerful than all the main gods of Egypt.

Another example is the 9th plague…Darkness. This is a direct refutation of Egypt’s most important god named Ra, the sun god.  Not only does YHWH block out the sun for the Egyptians, but he caused it to remain light where Israel lived.

And then the 10th plague is promised. And what was that?

The killing of every first born male offspring of “both man and beast.”

One of the major significances of this plague is that Pharaoh was considered a god, the son of Ra. The royal title of every Egyptian king of this period began with the words, “son of Ra.” This is not only very personal and terribly heartbreaking for Pharaoh, but is also a direct attack on the house of Egypt’s god incarnate. This is a supreme act of sovereignty on the part of YHWH. He is supreme. Pharaoh could do nothing to stop this from happening.

And this is issued for both Egypt and Israel, isn’t it?

But what means does God provide for protection?

Now there’s no end to what we could talk about here. We could talk about how Christ is our perfect Passover lamb, whose blood saves us from the destruction of hell. We could talk about how Christ’s blood opens the door to God’s redemption of worthless sinners just as God redeemed for Himself a race of worthless slaves from Egypt.

But the author of Hebrews does not discuss these issues here in our text, though he does elsewhere. What does he focus on? The fact that Moses kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood.

How is this an act of faith? What’s the obvious answer?

Yes, it required faith because Israel had to obey and trust that God would spare the lives of their children. They had to live by faith when God told them to do something strange.

This is really no different then the calling of the Christian. To live contrary to the world’s teaching and expectations.

The world says that you are a cosmic accident. And even worse, humankind is what’s wrong with this world. The world said that the beauty of life is in its infinitely small likelihood.  But God says that you are not an accident. He says that you are of infinite worth to Him because he made you, loves you, and sent His son to die for you.

The world says, “gender is a social construct..we now know that it is fluid.” But God tells us that gender is a blessing, that it’s a part of God’s design and His good purposes.

We know that what the world tells us is contrary to the values of God’s kingdom. And the world may be full of people living worldly lives devoid of God, and some of those people may even live lives that we are tempted to envy.

What are you going to believe, though? Who’s account of reality are you going to trust?

The author of Hebrews is concerned with this very issue.  Living by what is seen versus living by what is known to be true though faith.

This is not our home.

Christ will return for His church.

We will live with Him in his kingdom forever.

These are the things that matter because they are eternal.  We know this. We believe this.  The author of Hebrews wants us-he wants me and he wants you-to look at the example of these great men and women of faith and to imitate their faith. His point is that they lived their lives on the basis of what they knew to be true even when (and especially when) it didn’t match up with what they saw.

And this brings me to another way in which Moses’ keeping the Passover was an act of faith.

Turn with me to Exodus 12.

Let’s begin in verse 7:

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.

Now skip down to verse 21:

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. . . . You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Did you notice that the Passover is a memorial feast!?

What does that mean? It means that it is a feast to remember an event. Right? But for the first Passover, the event which Passover remembers hasn’t happened yet! So sure should they be of God’s redemption and deliverance that they. Celebrate a feast to remember that redemption before it’s even happened! That’s remarkable.  They are even given the outline for how to teach their children about the Passover.

This is a serious step of faith, am I right?

So sure should we be of our future redemption from this broken world that we live in light of it.

But I know that this is extremely difficult.

Just look at the apostles.  When they were celebrating the Passover with The Lord on the night he was betrayed, they were being obedient to the command in Exodus that we read for Israel to remember the Passover and the exodus. But Christ informs his apostles that he is giving them a new memorial feast. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you do so in remembrance of me.”

Just like Israel’s first Passover, that first Lord’s supper was a memorials feast remembering an event that had not yet happened.

And just as Moses and Israel’s has much to teach us, so does the apostles’ example.  For they struggled to understand and believe that what Christ was telling them was true. And yet, Christ remained faithful even though they fell away, even though they doubted him, even though Peter denied him.

And Christ is faithful to us as well even though we struggle to live faithfully. Even when we fall away, even when we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

This kind of living is incredibly difficult. This is why these particular men and women are singled out and offered to us as exemplars. They are meant to encourage us. To spur us on to live faithfully. They lived faithfully in the face of incredible trials.  With the help of God’s Spirit, we can too.

Let’s pray.

Oh Lord God, who loves us without measure, be with us now, we pray, as we go forth into a world, created by you, and yet hostile to you and to your will.  Send your spirit with us to guide us and conform us into the likeness of your son. We pray this with confidence knowing that it is in your will. Amen


Memory and Covenant:Deuteronomy’s Core in Light of its Frame


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In recent decades there have been a number of studies on the framing chapters of Deuteronomy noting the close lexical, rhetorical, theological, and syntactical similarities.  This paper seeks to contribute to this conversation through an investigation of a key difference between Deuteronomy 4 and 29. Specifically, I argue that there is a difference on the epistemological level, namely Israel’s ability to know YHWH as her God and respond appropriately to his acts in history. This difference, though, is not one of kind but one of degree and emphasis.

The argument proceeds in three parts. For heuristic reasons I begin by looking at the claim of 29:3 (Heb.) that personal, sensory experience does not always lead to understanding.  Seeing is not always believing. I then turn Deuteronomy 4 and look at its communal rhetoric which has the effect of transmitting to later generations the personal experiences of Israel’s ancestors at Horeb. Put differently, the account of Horeb in Deuteronomy 4 presents the logical reverse of what is seen in Deuteronomy 29 (i.e., not seeing is not always not understanding). Finally, I hint at ways these two epistemological claims might constructively shape the way we read Deuteronomy in its received form, specifically as it relates to Israel’s covenant making and covenant keeping.

To begin our discussion, let us turn to the well-known claim in Deut 29:3 (on your handout) that simply because Israel has collectively experienced an event does not mean that Israel will understand that event’s significance. Crucially, Deuteronomy assumes a causal separation between Israel’s faculties of sensory perception and her ability for understanding, that is, the ability to live in accordance with what has been perceived. Readers of the biblical text are undoubtedly familiar with the concept that is expressed here and taken up elsewhere in Scripture. The aphorism “Seeing isn’t believing” comes to mind.

According to the text, the surprising claim is that despite all he has done for Israel through the exodus (vv. 1–2), God has not opened Israel’s mind to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear עד היום הזה. There is no hint in the text either that God has closed Israel’s eyes and ears as an act of judgment or that God has kept them closed in order to reveal himself to others.  Instead the claim is stated as simply as it is shockingly: God has not given Israel the ability to understand the significance of what she has experienced. What is at stake is not that God had veiled these events from Israel’s view, but that she has not perceived them truly.  Far from being fatalistic, therefore, Deuteronomy communicates hope regarding Israel’s state of affairs that is predicated on understanding God’s actions in history as intended to teach Israel that YHWH is her God (v. 5). “Until this day” suggests the possibility of a new beginning.  So how might understanding be achieved? How might the epistemological blockage of Deut 29:3 be overcome?

We now turn to Deuteronomy’s opening frame—Chapter 4, especially the retelling of God’s revelation and giving of the law to Israel in vv. 9–13. As we do so, we must keep in mind that readers of the received form of Deuteronomy are confronted by the repeated claim that we are dealing in this book with a new generation. The old generation that departed from Egypt and entered into Covenant with YHWH at Horeb has died and its children have replaced it. Moses addresses a new generation that does not have in a personal way the experiences that it is purported to have.

With Moses’s imagined audience in mind, let’s take a look at our text. What begins in vv. 9–10a as an address of Moses to the wilderness generation transitions into a quoted speech of YHWH relating to the exodus generation. We are dealing here with embedded speech. Moses, speaking to the children of the exodus generation, quotes a past address of YHWH regarding their parent, the exodus generation. The rhetoric of vv. 9–13, however, conflates these two generations.

I’ve visualized this on your handout (with references to the first/exodus generation having a single underline and references to the second/wilderness generation having a double underline).

In God’s quoted speech he says to Moses, “Assemble the people (i.e., the exodus generation) for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children (i.e., the second generation) to do so.” The reference to the people is clearly a reference to the exodus generation. They are to assemble to the mountain, learn to fear the Lord, and teach their children also to fear the Lord. Moses then continues in v. 11 by relating the events of that day, “you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain.” Here the “you” refers not primarily to the exodus generation but instead to Moses’s audience on the plains of Moab, that is, the children of the exodus generation. With the use of this imbedded speech, then, Moses has turned the “their children” of v. 10 into the “you” of v. 11.

Moses then continues in vv. 12–13 with the affirmation that his audience heard the voice of YHWH from the midst of the fire and that they are the ones who entered into that covenant. Instead of speaking to his audience as the second generation who is inheriting the terms of the Sinai covenant which their parents accepted, Moses effectively speaks to his audience on the plains of Moab as if they have the experiences of their parents, as if they were the ones that stood at Horeb, as if they are the ones that saw all of the sights and sounds, and as if they were the ones that entered into the covenant with YHWH.

This rhetoric, therefore, compresses a later generation (and all later generations for that matter) into the covenant making experience of an earlier generation. The wilderness generation, despite the fact that they were not present at Horeb, are nonetheless obliged to be faithful to that covenant’s stipulations. This indicates that simply because this generation did not have personal experiences of Horeb does not mean that they cannot understand it (that is, respond in faithfulness to it). This is the reverse claim of Deut 29:3. In the case of Deuteronomy 4, “Not seeing is not not understanding.” Whereas the closing frame says that seeing does not guarantee understanding, the opening frame assumes that these experiences can be relived and that Israel can gain understanding. This assumption is formulated in sensory language that is out of place apart from a communal, transgenerational identity within the context of a covenant between Israel and her suzerain.

Now the conclusion: As we have seen, Deuteronomy 29 and 4, though in different ways, indicate that Israel’s relationship with YHWH depends on understanding YHWH’s works in history on her behalf as a covenant making God. Why is this and how is this related to the core of the book? My proposal is that the issues of epistemology and memory that are explored in the frame have a direct bearing both on Israel’s cultural understanding of her past and on the practice of covenant making.

By blurring the generational boundaries in Deuteronomy 4, the past is perpetually brought into the present. The past acts of YHWH on behalf of a past Israel become the perpetual acts of YHWH for all of Israel. This is possible precisely because of the causal separation between experience and understanding we explored in Deuteronomy 29. Understanding the acts of God and responding to the covenant faithfully does not require a personal experience of God’s actions just as personal experience of God’s acts does not guarantee understanding and proper responsiveness. Instead, this understanding comes through the compression of all generations into a near singularity: all of Israel was brought out of bondage; all of Israel stood at Horeb; all of Israel entered into the covenant together.  This helps us understand the language of the historical prologue such as, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Deut 5:6). Of course it was not this generation for whom this statement is accurate according to any modern historical criteria.  On the other hand, the rhetoric of Deuteronomy teaches us to understand the formative events of Israel’s history differently, in a way that places the burden of grateful, responsive obedience to Deuteronomy’s legal core upon every generation. “Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, we ourselves, who are all of us here alive today” (Deut 5:3). This affirmation, along with the covenant to which it refers becomes an enduring reality.

Review of Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism


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deuteronomy-and-the-meaning-of-monotheismNathan MacDonald. Deuteronomy and the Meaning of “Monotheism.” 2d ed. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 1. Edited by Bernd Janowski, Mark S. Smith, and Hermann Spieckermann. Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, 2012.

This volume is close to home for me as it is the second edition of the published version of a 2001 dissertation completed under the supervision of my own supervisor Walter Moberly.

The fact that this volume has seen a second edition so soon after the first publication in 2002 is not only an uncommon occurrence for a book of this kind but is a testimony to its overall favorable acceptance by readers. Indeed, this book is not only theologically engaging and biblically attentive, it is also eminently readable.

The book itself is comprised of two prefaces, an introduction, six chapter, and finally a conclusion. The subject of the volume is that of “monotheism,” especially as it relates to key texts in Deuteronomy. MacDonald’s conclusion is that in the book of Deuteronomy, God’s election of Israel over and against other nations finds its counterpart in Israel’s election of YHWH as their one God over and against other gods.

Working toward this conclusion MacDonald discusses several texts within Deuteronomy, but none more than Deut 6:4, which he translates, “Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one.” Arguably there is no verse in the Bible that is used more often to support monotheism. However, before this verse is ever addressed, MacDonald begins with a discussion in chapter 1 on the use and definition of “monotheism.” In this chapter MacDonald demonstrates clearly that the word “monotheism” has a long and colored history, one that is rooted in rationalism. The word “monotheism” was and still is most often used in the negative. In other words, “monotheism” rather than “paganism/polytheism,” or “monotheism” rather than “atheism.” In other words, the word “monotheism” often reflects a rationalistic understanding of religion that pits Christianity’s one God against paganism’s multiple gods and atheism’s rejection of a god.

None of this is to say that these are unhelpful or unimportant distinctions. What MacDonald aims to do, rather, is to test the waters of Deuteronomy to determine whether the biblical text itself reflects this self-same understanding of “monotheism.”

In the end, MacDonald’s evaluation of the relevant biblical texts concludes that Moses in the book of Deuteronomy is more concerned with exhorting Israel to choose to follow YHWH rather than the gods of the other nations. In other words, Deuteronomy is not a text which argues for “monotheism” in the rationalistic sense of the word (i.e., one god vs. many or no gods). Instead, MacDonald posits that Deuteronomy is a text which encourages Israel to love the One God who led them out of bondage and who is now calling them to live faithfully. In other words, as far as Israel is concerned they are to live life as if there are no other gods. In the same way that a husband might tell his wife that she is his “one and only,” Israel is to say to YHWH, “you are my one and only.”

This understanding of “monotheism” understands that there are many other objects (false gods) that are vying for our affection and can draw us away from our devotion to YHWH. This view of “monotheism” also creates a fascinating parallel with the doctrine of election. In the same way that Israel is God’s elect nation, YHWH is Israel’s elect God. In fact, the election of Israel over and against the other nations is a fundamental theme in the book of Deuteronomy (esp. ch. 7). It should not surprise us then that Moses would encourage Israel to elect YHWH as their one true love over and against all other gods.

In the end, this is a fascinating work that represents an important step forward in theology. This book argues convincingly that Deuteronomy is not a book for arguing for the existence of one god rather than many gods but is instead a book which encourages Israel to choose YHWH as its one true God and to live obediently toward this God. These statements must be tempered however by the recognition that this does not in any way undermine the Christian conviction in the singularity of YHWH as the one true and living God; in fact, in most cases, the rationalistic use of the term “monotheism” is still useful today. MacDonald’s work, however, reminds us that there are many false gods that seek to draw us away from our devotion to YHWH, and we must be “monotheistic” in the added sense that we are to be devoted to One God.


Sermon:Psalm 13


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David Appointeth a Band of Singers and Music to Praise the Lord

“David Appointeth a Band of Singers and Music to Praise the Lord” Woodcut by Hans Holbein (c. 1497-1543)

The year is 1812, and William Carey, the founder of modern Protestant missions has been in India for nearly 20 years. It took him seven years before he baptized his first Indian convert to Christianity. It took him as long to learn Bengali and translate the New Testament. Along the way he had written grammars and dictionaries so that others could learn Bengali as well and in order to assist in the translation of the Bible.

Life had already been tough for him and his family, though. He had been sick repeatedly. He had a son die at the age of 5. His wife suffered with mental illness and had even attempted to take William’s life.

Then in 1812, after two decades of work (ultimately after a half of his life in India had elapsed), a fire broke out in the mission’s printing press. All of Carey’s work was destroyed. His original dictionaries and grammars burned without a trace and without any duplicates. Hand-written original Bible translations went up in smoke. Perhaps worst of all, Carey’s custom made, one-of-a-kind printing type had all melted.

What would you do?

How do you respond to hard times and suffering? Continue reading

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 6)


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“Forsaken” Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 10 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).

What about Jesus?

But what about the Christian? Admittedly I have spoken here mostly about Israel and Israel’s election as God’s people and Israel’s responsiveness in love to God.

But what does this have to do with the church?

Additionally, how has Christ changed things?

Well as you may already recognize, what we have learned about the nature of history and our response to it is in many ways identical in the New Covenant Era.

For example. Just like Moses’s audience who were not actually at Sinai, we were not at Calvary, nor have we ever seen Jesus.

But what does Jesus tell his apostles in John 20:29

“Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John 20:29)

The apostles saw the Lord and they saw the risen Lord. They believed on the basis of what their eyes saw. But we do not yet have that joy. But one day we will.

No, our response to Christ is on the basis of what He did for us. Based upon the testimony that the apostles have given and is written for us.

And yet, there is also a sense in which, through their testimony, and through worship, prayer, and meditation, we can ascend that hill called Calvary.

We can take that journey with Christ. We can take up our crosses alongside Him.

For our life is hidden with Christ.

“Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John 20:29)

Like the Israelite, who’s cultural identity places him with those who stood at Sinai, our identity is united with Christ Himself.

For we have been…

  • Crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • Buried with Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12)
  • Raised with Christ (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:5–6; Colossians 3:1)
  • We live in Christ (Galatians 2:20)
  • Seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:4–6)

You see beloved, the past does far more than instruct us on what has happened in days gone by.

It tells us who we are.

You see, when our children and grand-children ask us why we do what we do, why we live the way we live, why we work hard, or confess our sins to one another, or visit friends in need, the answer does not come from within ourselves. It is not because we are nice people or because it is just the polite thing to do, or because it is our habit to live in such a way.

The answer comes from outside of us. The answer is that Christ has done amazing, remarkable (and I mean things worth talking about, things worth meditating upon) for His people. We then invite our children, grand-children, family, friends, everyone to become a part of His people. We invite them to identify with those who are recipients of and respondents to the great mercy of God.

You see, the past, not only tells us who we are, but it is the basis of our response in faith to the Lord.

What has the Lord done for us?

Not only has he come to live as an example for us, but he supremely came to reconcile us to God on the cross and secure our eternal security on Easter Sunday.

I dare say, that this is not new knowledge.

But let us not forget. Let us make it fresh in our minds. Let us go to Calvary and see Him there.

Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 5)


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“The Song of Moses” Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 2 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).


What is the result of all of this? What conclusion is to be drawn from these claims and from this theologically oriented interpretation of history?

Moses tells us in vv. 39-40, which in the Hebrew is the conclusion.

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.”

What is the proper response to the knowledge that the Lord is the Lord over all: that He has assigned the created order to the nations, but has chosen Israel out of all the nations to be his special inheritance?

What is the proper response to the knowledge that the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt?

What is the proper response to the fact that the Lord has made a covenant with each and every generation of Israel?

What is the proper response to the recognition that the way one treats the Lord’s commands is a reflection of the way one treats the Lord himself?

The proper response is 1) right thinking and 2) loving obedience.

1) First, note the strong theological statement in v. 39.

“So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”

The statement is remarkable, among other reasons, because Moses makes this a conclusion of God’s revelation to Israel through history and through his sovereignty over the nations.

The similar statement in v. 35 confirms this: Why did the Lord bring Israel out of Egypt with great signs and wonders? So that He might make Himself known to Israel.

This we know, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, that God has revealed Himself in a general way to the whole world both through His creation and through His actions. But is this enough? NO.

2) For second, we note in v. 40 that Israel is to respond to what it has seen and experience with obedience. Israel has been selected from all the nations to receive the revelation of the Lord.

And yet it is all too easy here to fall into the trap of commanding obedience for the sake of blessing or out of fear of reprisal. We should instead, here, understand obedience as the proper response to the Lord because it shows a receptivity to God’s love and grace and a responsiveness of love.

For to obey God is an act of love.

What is the reason for obedience in this chapter of Deut?

It is not blessing.

It is not out of obligation.

It is not out of fear.

All of these are present within this chapter, no doubt.

But no, the overwhelming reason for obedience according to this chapter is that obedience is the proper response to what God has already done for Israel. What has he done?

The Lord has made His commandments and Himself known to Israel.

1) He is offering to have a relationship with Israel. How remarkable it was when the Lord revealed His name to Moses. This is His essence and identity. He then at Sinai descended upon the Mountain to make himself known to the entire nation. Then on top of that, he entered into the Tabernacle so that he might even dwell among his people.

2) He also gave Israel a collection of laws and statutes by which they should live and worship him. We saw in vv. 1-8 that there is a connection between how someone treats the Lord and how someone treats his commandments are related.

The Lord is offering Israel Himself and His laws.

Take it or leave it.

If Israel takes it, there is blessing in store. If Israel leaves it, there are curses in store. The good life, the blessed life, the full life is to be found in responding to God’s actions by choosing to be in relationship with Him and choosing to obey his commands.


Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 4)


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Hear, O Israel

“Hear, O Israel” by Charles Horne and Julius Bewer, The Bible and Its Story, Volume 2 (New York, NY: Francis R. Niglutsch, 1910).


What do I mean by this title?

Well, let’s take a look at what Moses says in vv. 15–38

His statements can be summed up in vv. 15–16

15 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,…”

Isn’t that amazing! Listen, when God gives the second commandment that forbids idols, he does so on the grounds that he is a jealous God. God never says, “you shall not make idols because I am a spirit and have no form which can be copied.”

We take this for granted, but this is something that Moses interprets from the historical event. That is not something that should be missed or passed over quickly. In fact this entire section of Moses’s speech is filled with theologically oriented interpretations of the events at Sinai.

In vv. 19–20 Moses does it again.

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.”

Did you catch that?

  1. First he says that the hosts of heaven have been given to the nations as an inheritance for their worship.
  2. Then he says that Israel had been given to the Lord as His inheritance.

This shows us the vital importance of interpreting the past through the lens of God’s revelation, in the light of God’s character, on the basis of his word.

In this case, Moses tells Israel, “You should not be surprised when other nations worship the created order, but that is not who you are. The Lord rescued you from the furnace of trials that was your life in Egypt. He brought you out and your identity is the people of God. You belong to him. Your devotion belongs to him.”

Moses does the same in vv. 32–38

He calls upon Israel to consider the past, “Has any other people heard the voice of God and lived?” “Has any other god brought his people out of slavery?”

The answer of course is “no.”

But why does he ask?

Because he wants to teach Israel how to interpret the past theologically. He wants Israel to learn to ask important questions about the nature of the past and their part in it.

He wants the nation to learn to think about what God has done for them and how to respond correctly. Which is our last point.


Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 3)


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Mount Sinai

Mt. Sinai


There are two features that interest us here.

1) First, Not seeing is not not believing (vv. 9–14)

In order to understand the power of Moses’s message to Israel in Deut 4, it is important to recognize one important thing: As depicted by the text, the vast majority of Moses’s audience here was not alive when Israel stood at the foot of the mountain. 

We know this, don’t we? We know this because we remember the importance of that rebellion at Kadesh Barnea when Israel, incited by the bad report from 10 of the spies, rebelled against the Lord and refused to enter the good land that God was giving to them.

You remember how the Lord said in Numbers 14 that not one of that generation from 20 years old and upward who grumbled against Him would be allowed to enter into the land. You remember how Israel suddenly had a change of heart, (didn’t they?), and tried to enter the land. But they were rebuffed. They were defeated and were forced to wander through the wilderness until that generation was dead.

And this fact is also essential to the book of Deuteronomy as well. For in Deut 1, Moses reminds the nation of this event with these words from God:

“Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers…”

To make this point even more clear, he notes in 2:14 that,

“the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea, until we crossed over the brook Zered, was thirty-eight years; until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. 15 “Moreover the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from within the camp, until they all perished.”

Why am I telling you this?

Why is this important?

Well let’s have a look at how Moses speaks to Israel? Let me read it again!

“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.”

Moses take this generation that is made up of people that were not there or were too young to understand these events and he places them in the shoes of their parents.

He says that these are events that they saw with their eyes.

They saw the smoke and the fire and the dark darkness

He says that they heard the voice of God speaking with them.

They heard the very words of God speaking the words of the covenant.

Deuteronomy is very special in this presentation of Israel actually hearing the voice of God. Exodus presents it as a conversation between God and Moses, but Deuteronomy makes this event appeal to the imagination of Israel by putting Israel there.

Moses take this generation that is made up of people that were not there or were too young to understand these events and he places them in the shoes of their parents.

In Deut 5:3–7, Moses says that,

“The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Did you catch that?

Moses says that it was actually not with the fathers that God made this covenant, but with this generation that was standing on the banks of the Jordan. He also puts this generation at the Mountain where they, not their fathers, hear the Lord say, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Of course, it was not this generation that was slaves in Egypt, but their parents.

In other words, what is taking place is that Moses is speaking to a nation with a collective identity. What God does for one generation, he does for all generations. God’s covenant people have a collective identity.

He says, in ch. 29: “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”

This means that no future generation can say that this covenant does not require their obedience because they weren’t there. Instead, the Lord makes this covenant with every generation. Every generation can essentially say that they were there. That they saw the fire and smoke. That they heard the voice of the Lord and that they entered into the covenant with the Lord.

2) Second, the past is worth teaching!

The second thing that I want us to see in vv. 9-14 is the twice repeated command to teach children. In the first case, it is a command to teach the children about the events at Sinai. In the second case, it is a command to teach the children to fear the Lord, that is, to respect and trust him.

Why are these commands so important?

Why is it so important to remember what happened?

Because so much of our faith and obedience is based 0n responding to what God has done for us.

When God is loving and gracious to his covenant people, it is not so as to put us in His debt, but because he seeks to establish a relationship with us. The Lord is kind and gracious. He acts out of love towards those with whom he desires to be in a relationship. We his people respond out of gratitude in a loving response.

History works in this way: each generation of Israelites can tell their children, “This is what God did for us. We were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out and made a covenant with us, and that includes you son.”

Each generation of Israelite can say, “The Lord has been gracious to me, therefore I will be faithful to Him.”

But there is more to learn from Moses’s discussion of the past, which we will take up next time.


Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 2)


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Moses Rehearseth

“Moses Rehearseth the Story of Israel’s Passage through the Wilderness” Woodcut by Hans Holbein (c. 1497-1543)

First, LET US RECOGNIZE THE COMMAND: Treat God and his Commands with Reverence (vv. 1–8)

The main point in this portion of the text is that there is a connection between how someone treats God’s commandments and how someone treats God Himself.

Let’s take a look at the text. In vv. 1 and 2 we have the explicit command to listen to the statutes and the ordinances and to obey them.

1And 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. 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.”

But more than that, Israel is commanded not to add to them or take away from them. God has given them all that they require to live in the land that He is giving to them.

Then we have vv. 3 and 4.

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. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.”

We all remember what happened there don’t we.

Numbers 25 tells us what happened. While Israel was camped at a place called Shittim, Israel was enticed by the Moabites to “yoke” themselves with Baal. At the end of the day 24,000 Israelites were dead who had “yoked” themselves to Baal.

We then learn in Deut 3:29 that Israel is currently standing “in the valley opposite the House of Peor.” In other words, they are still standing in the vicinity of where this mass idolatry took place.

Imagine it: Moses can literally point to the place where this event took place and say, “Yours are the eyes that saw what the Lord did there to those who followed after Baal, how he destroyed them.”

“But you” he says, “who held fast to the Lord are alive today.”

“They followed after Baal and are dead. But you held fast to the Lord and are alive.”

Why does Moses remind Israel right now of Baal Peor?

Well notice that it comes right after the command to keep the laws and right before a promise that these laws and these statutes are the nation’s wisdom in the sight of the nations.

This creates a parallel between how Israel treats the Lord’s commands and how Israel treats the Lord himself. In other words adding to or taking away from the words of the Lord is like following after Baal, whereas preserving and obeying the words of the Lord is like holding fast to the Lord.

In the end, the former leads ultimately to death.

The latter leads to life.

But more than merely physical life, God promises Israel life to the fullest. He offers them a blessed life, the good life.

He promises them that despite their small size and wealth, they will be the envy of all the nations. Why?

  1. Because Israel will be a wise and discerning nation
  2. And because Israel has a God that is near and who hears when Israel calls upon Him.

And there are those two elements once again: God’s laws and God Himself. You see, God is not just giving Israel a body of laws. No, He is also offering Himself. He is offering to be near to His people.

God is not some far off creator who set the world into motion and stood back to watch. Nor is he some authoritarian dictator who gives laws and enjoys watching his people fail so that he can punish them.

No, He is a God who is close. He is near to His people. He offers Himself. He gives Himself. He gives law and instruction, but they are part and parcel to His self-revelation and self-giving.

You see, God is not just giving Israel a body of laws. No, He is also offering Himself. He is offering to be near to His people.

He is offering Israel a life that is governed by a relationship with Him through adherence to His laws. This is the good life. Not just life, but blessedness. Of all the other possibilities, of all the other nations, Israel is elect and blessed with righteous and just laws and with a God who is near.

What a remarkable blessing this is. Other nations could never be sure that their God could hear them or wanted to act. But Israel knows that their God is near. Israel knows that their God hears. Israel knows that their God can and does act in history. But we must first understand the nature of history.


Sermon: The Past is Key to the Present: Deut 4:1–40 (Part 1)


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How do we pass on our faith to the next generations?

Ok…I realize that I am the youngster in the room, but let me be honest with you. As soon as my wife Beth and I started having children, I could not escape this one nagging question: How can I pass on this faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” to my sons? That consuming question is why I am studying the Book of Deuteronomy for my PhD. That question is why I am studying our passage today for my PhD. I was desperate to know what the Bible has to tell us about how we can participate as parents in the work of God to make Himself known to the world and to redeem sinners for His glory.

ANE family

ANE Family

At the same time, however, we know from Scripture that God is sovereign in salvation. And yet, God has chosen to use us. God has equipped and commissioned His church to make disciples. For when Jesus told his disciple, “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I am commanding you,” he prefaced this with, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” and he concluded it with “I am with you always.” He has commanded us and equipped us to participate in His work of redemption and reconciliation.

So what does this all have to do with our text this evening? Well, quite a bit actually. Let’s begin by establishing some important context for our text.


Setting the Scene

As you know, Deuteronomy is a series of speeches to the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan River on the Plains of Moab. Moses does not know exactly when he will die, but he does know that he will not be crossing over the Jordan with Israel. He knows that he will die in the wilderness without entering the land to which he has led the nation.

For this reason, many interpreters have called Deuteronomy a series of sermons. Moses is preoccupied with the question with which I have been preoccupied: How can I help pass on this faith to the next generation?

For Moses, he knows that the stakes are extremely high. Moses has been with the nation from the beginning. He has led Israel to Mount Sinai, he received the laws and communicated them to the nation. He oversaw the building of the Tabernacle where God descended and dwelt among his people. He interceded for the nation when God wanted to wipe it out and start over. He led them through the wilderness for nearly 40 years. And now they are on the edge of the Promised Land.

Moses addresses the nation for the purpose of changing their hearts. He calls upon the nation to choose YHWH. He calls upon Israel to respond to the Lord’s loving acts toward Israel by living obediently out of a grateful heart.

Moses knows the hearts of the people. He knows that they are stiff necked (9:6). He knows that they do not have a heart to know, or ears to hear, or eyes to see (29:4). He knows that they will not walk in the ways of the Lord forever. He knows that Israel will turn to idols and be punished by the Lord.

So what does Moses do about it?

Moses addresses the nation for the purpose of changing their hearts. He calls upon the nation to choose YHWH. He calls upon Israel to respond to the Lord’s loving acts toward Israel by living obediently out of a grateful heart.

You see, the entire book of Deuteronomy is built on the understanding that the past matters, that the past should influence the present. This is evident all over the book of Deuteronomy, but it can be easily seen in 10:12-16 where Moses follows a discussion of what happened at Sinai with these words:

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

You see, the past matters. God’s love for us in the past matters to the present. We love God because he first loved us do we not?

This is the theme for our message this evening. And although much more could be said about Deuteronomy 4, our focus tonight is Moses as a teacher and what he can show us about how to think about the past well, and by extension, how we can teach others to think about the past. What can we learn from the past and how? Additionally how should we respond to the past?

We will proceed with the following headings:

1) The Command (vv. 1–8)

2) The Nature of the Past (vv. 9–14)

3) Interpreting the Past (15–38)

4) Responding to the Past (39–40)