SynopsisIn the last chapter, Moses reiterated for the Israelites the 10 Commandments, that God had handed down from Mount Horeb. In this chapter, you could say that he’s trying to get them to focus on their priorities. (That is, put God first.) He starts by summing up the reason that they should have been given any laws/rules at all:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. (verses 1–3)
But the next verses are the ones that sum up this chapter—and are probably pretty familiar to you, since Jesus quoted them as the most important commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (verses 4–5). (The footnote for the first part of this indicates that it could also have been translated as “The LORD our God is one LORD,” or “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one,” or “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” In my mind, each of these translations boils down to the same thing, but with different shades of meaning.)
Moses tells the people that the laws and rules and regulations that he’s handing down to them are not just to be written down in the rulebooks, to be consulted when necessary; they’re to be written on the Israelites’ hearts. They are to teach the rules to their children; they are to be constantly thinking about them, and discussing them with each other. In verses 8–9 he even says, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Moses warns the Israelites that when God brings them into the land—“a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant”—they are to be careful not to forget Him. They were to fear the LORD, serving only Him; they were not to follow other gods, including the gods of the people around them. If they did, God—who would be among them, and is a jealous God—would let His anger burn against them, and He would destroy them from the face of the land.
Moses finishes the chapter by saying this:
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (verses 20–25)
ThoughtsWhen Moses tells the Israelites to tie the LORD’s commands on their hands and bind them to their foreheads, modern-day Christians usually assume that he was speaking metaphorically, but the Israelites did it literally; they created little boxes, called “philactories,” in which they would place verses of scripture, and they would then strap these philactories to their arms. I don’t know if this was in Moses’ and/or Joshua’s time, or if this was something that the Pharisees started doing hundreds of years later—in fact, a quick search on the web turned up very little information about philactories, so I’m going completely on memory.
The fact that God presents the Israelites with the book of Deuteronomy—an entire book devoted to pleading with the Israelites not to forget the LORD, and warning them as to what will happen if they do—should be considered one huge act of foreshadowing. In one sense, it seems sad; you read through some of these Old Testament books thinking to yourself “If only they had listened! If only they had obeyed! Imagine what the nation of Israel could have been like, if they’d followed God like they were supposed to!” But then, on the other hand, from a Christian perspective, it’s good that the world was created in the way that it was; that we aren’t able to obey God, or get to Him, but because of the death of His Son, He gives us the ability.
There are, of course, lessons for us, in this passage, as well. Moses is warning the Israelites not to forget God, once they have entered the Promised Land, and, specifically, once they “eat and are satisfied” (verse 11). This is something that hasn’t changed since the world was formed, and never will: It’s when everything is going well that we’re most likely to forget God, because we feel that we don’t need Him.