Yellow Balloons Devotional Series: Advent

Deuteronomy 4:32-35

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.

Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).

The introduction to Deuteronomy includes an explanation on how the book reflects the pattern of the suzerain-vassal treaty, particularly the Hittite treaty of the second millennium BC. In this type of covenant, the suzerain, or superior (such as a king) provides the stipulations to the vassal who is the subject. In Deuteronomy, the suzerain is the true God (Yahweh) and the vassal is Israel. Chapter four contains the various features found in a suzerain-vassal treaty, thereby confirming the nature of Deuteronomy as a covenant document.

In Deuteronomy 4 the Suzerain (Ruler) God is mentioned many times, references are made to some historical acts, and stipulations regarding the covenant are outlined. Moreover, the vassal is exhorted to obey the covenant stipulations in order to receive blessings. Failure to do so results in curses. Finally, witnesses such as “heavens and earth” are mentioned, and the need to transfer the covenantal information to the next generation is stated. Thus, as this chapter concludes the first of the three speeches (or discourses) of Moses, it summarizes several points that will be discussed throughout the rest of the book.

Although Deuteronomy 4 is part of the first discourse, it differs from the previous chapters in at least two ways. Whereas chapters 1-3 offered a historical review describing how Israel reached the boundary of the Promised Land, chapter 4 sets forth the various precepts that must be obeyed by Israel (the vassal) in order to receive the blessing while dwelling in the land.
Whereas the historical narrative instructed the Israelites on how to follow military instructions to conquer Canaan, this chapter teaches them to obey permanent laws of God in order to remain in Canaan and be blessed. Essentially, Deuteronomy 4 teaches the people that whether they submit to God’s covenantal laws will determine the consequences they experience. Thus, this chapter serves as a bridge between the historical prologue of chapters 1-3 and the exposition of the law which starts in 5:1.

Moses recounts God’s powerful acts at the Exodus and at Mount Horeb to show that God is unique among the gods.

Having demonstrated the nature of the true God (vv. 15-24) and His compassionate heart for His children (vv. 25-31), Moses turned his attention to demonstrate the uniqueness of God. He began by asking the Israelites to take a close look at history to see if Yahweh could be compared to anyone else. Three rhetorical questions capture the essence of the message. (A rhetorical question is a question that one asks to make a point rather than to get an answer).

The first question, “Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it?” necessitates a “no” answer. What Yahweh has done to rescue His people from the Egyptians and to lead them to the Promised Land by the way of the wilderness is incomparable (Exodus 14-15). This has never been done before.

The second question is, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” The obvious answer is that nobody has ever heard God’s voice from the midst of the fire at all. If other people groups were to hear God’s voice, they would not survive because the revelation was not for them. Such a manifestation would have been too wonderful or too dangerous for them to endure. Those who could hear God’s voice and survive were only those who were in a covenant relationship with Him (Deuteronomy 5:26).

The third question is, “Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” The answer here is that no god has ever tried to do such a wonderful act. While other nations worshipped other so-called gods, they were simply deceiving themselves because those gods were powerless. They could not do anything for those who worshipped them. Instead, those gods were dependent upon their followers for their existence and survival because they were made of wood and stone, the “work of man’s hands”(v. 28). The reason God redeemed the Israelites and dealt with them in such wonderful ways was so that they might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. As such, the LORD alone deserves glory and honor.

Biblical Text:

32 Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? 33 Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? 34 Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as 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, He is God; there is no other besides Him.