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Mount Sinai

Mt. Sinai

Second, WE NEED TO LEARN THE NATURE OF THE PAST

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.

 

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