Keil and Delitzsch
But the laws which Moses taught were commandments of the Lord. Keeping and doing them were to be the wisdom and understanding of Israel in the eyes of the nations, who, when they heard all these laws, would say, “Certainly (רַק, only, no other than) a wise and understanding people is this great nation.” History has confirmed this. Not only did the wisdom of a Solomon astonish the queen of Sheba (1Ki_10:4.), but the divine truth which Israel possessed in the law of Moses attracted all the more earnest minds of the heathen world to seek the satisfaction of the inmost necessities of their heart and the salvation of their souls in Israel’s knowledge of God, when, after a short period of bloom, the inward self-dissolution of the heathen religions had set in; and at last, in Christianity, it has brought one heathen nation after another to the knowledge of the true God, and to eternal salvation, notwithstanding the fact that the divine truth was and still is regarded as folly by the proud philosophers and self-righteous Epicureans and Stoics of ancient and modern times.
Deu 4:5-6 Vers. 5, 6. The institutes of Moses were the commandments of Jehovah, and therefore obedience to them was imperative. By this was conditioned the enjoyment by Israel of the Promised Land; and this would be their wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations; to themselves it would be life, and to the nations it would convey an impression of their being the depositories of true wisdom and knowledge, so that they should be constrained to say, Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that is wise winneth souls”. (Pro_11:30) God”s statutes make wise the simple; (Psa_19:8 Psa_119:98, Psa_119:99) and they who are thus made wise attract the attention of others by the fame of their wisdom. Thus the Queen of Sheba heard in her distant country of the wisdom of Solomon, and came to him to commune with him of all that was in her heart; (1Ki_10:1, etc.) and many throughout the ages who were seeking after truth among the heathen, were drawn to Israel by seeing how with them was the true knowledge of God. Israel was thus exalted because God was nigh to them, ready to hear their cry and to give them what they needed; which none of the gods of the nations were or could be to their votaries; and because, in the Law which God had given them, they had such instruction and direction as no heathen nation possessed.
6.Keep therefore, and do them. In order that they may set themselves more cheerfully about the keeping of the Law, and may proceed more steadily in this endeavor, he reminds them that nothing is better or more desirable for themselves. For God is not duly honored, except with ready minds and volutary obedience, to which we are rather attracted by pleasure than forced by rigor and violence. Now, since all desire to excel, he says, that this is the chief excellence of Israel, that they have God for their Lawgiver and Master. If any object that what he says may be refuted by two arguments, namely, because the Law of God was unknown to heathen nations; and because the form of God’s worship prescribed in it, and the whole Jewish religion, was not only despised but hated by them; I reply, that other nations are not here absolutely stated to be the judges or arbitrators, but that the words must be thus understood, viz., that there will be no nation, if it should come to a right understanding, which will dare to compare itself, much less to prefer itself to you; for by the very comparison it will acknowledge to what a height of dignity God has raised you. Wherefore, although the doctrine of the Law should remain neglected, nay, detested, by almost all the world, still Moses with truth declares, that since God has deigned to deliver to the Jews a rule of life, a stage had been erected before other nations, whereon the nobility of that one people would be conspicuous. For it was unreasonable that the glory of God should be tarnished or extinguished by the ignorance of the blind. But we gather from this passage that we then are truly wise, when we depend on God’s words, and submit our feeling to His revelations. Where I have rendered the words, “Surely (certo) this people,” the Hebrew particle, רק, rak, is used, which is often applied in an exclusive sense, so that it would appropriately bear this meaning: “Only this people,” etc. Unquestionably, the eminent condition of the people, on account of their gracious privileges, is referred to.
7.For what nation is there so great? Moses now repeats in his own name what he had stated in the person of others, as if to shew by additional reasons, that not without cause would the Jews be celebrated in the whole world, because it would actually appear that none were equal to them. He mentions two points, first, because God would be ready to afford them help, as often as they call upon Him; secondly, because He had instructed them in perfect righteousness, beyond which nothing could be desired; for, when he says that God is “nigh unto them,” I refer it to the presence of His power, which had been abundantly manifested by many miracles. Justly does he deny that the Gentiles had ever experienced such aid from their gods, since their prayers and cries were offered to deaf and dead idols.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
what nation is there so great — Here he represents their privileges and their duty in such significant and comprehensive terms, as were peculiarly calculated to arrest their attention and engage their interest. The former, their national advantages, are described (Deu_4:7, Deu_4:8), and they were twofold: 1. God’s readiness to hear and aid them at all times; and 2. the excellence of that religion in which they were instructed, set forth in the “statutes and judgments so righteous” which the law of Moses contained. Their duty corresponding to these pre-eminent advantages as a people, was also twofold: 1. their own faithful obedience to that law; and 2. their obligation to imbue the minds of the young and rising generation with similar sentiments of reverence and respect for it.
Deu 4:7-8 Vers. 7, 8. Translate, For what great nation is there that hath gods that draft near to it, as Jehovah our God whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there that hath righteous statutes and ordinances like this whole Law which I am giving before you this day? (comp. Deu_33:29; Psa_34:17-20 Psa_145:18; 1Sa_14:36 1Ki_18:26-29, 1Ki_18:37; Jam_4:8) “True right has its roots in God; and with the obscuration of the knowledge of God, law and right, with their divinely established foundations, are also shaken and obscured” (cf. Rom_1:26-32) (Keil).
9.Only take heed to thyself The same particle, רק, rak, of which I have just spoken, is used here, and its meaning in this place is, as if Moses had said, that this only remained; unless it is preferred to translate it nevertheless. What follows means literally “Guard (custodi) thyself, and guard thy soul;” wherein Moses advances by degrees, reminding them that they needed no common heedfulness, but that they must beware with extreme vigilance and diligence lest they should fail through the want of them; for the slothfulness of the flesh must be spurred on by such instigations as these, and at the same time our weakness must be fortified, and we must take measures against our unsteadfastness; for nothing is more easy than that all our zeal should suddenly be forgotten, or should gradually grow cold. God had established the certainty of His law, as far as was necessary, for the grateful and attentive, yet not without reason does He desire the people to remember how great is the carelessness of men. Nor does he command those only to remember who were eye-witnesses, but also to hand down (what they had seen) to their sons and grandsons, that the memory of such remarkable things might be preserved.
Vers. 9-14. The possession of the oracles of God by Israel was a benefit to them only as these were kept in mind and reverently obeyed. Therefore they were to take heed and diligently beware of forgetting the circumstances under which the Law had been received at Horeb. God had then commanded the people to be gathered together, so that they stood before the Lord, were in his manifested presence, and were made to hear his voice speaking to them from amidst the fire and the clouds that covered the mount. They had thus actual evidence and guarantee that the Law they had received was Divine; and this they were to keep in mind as long as they lived, and to communicate to their children in all coming time, that so they might fear the Lord; for on this rested that covenant which God had made with Israel, and which they were to keep as the condition of their continuing to enjoy privilege and life.
Keep thy soul diligently; i.e. Be very careful to preserve thy life (cf. Job_2:6; Pro_13:3 Pro_16:17 Pro_19:16; in all which passages the same formula is used as here) The Hebrew (vpun) means primarily breath, then vital principle, natural life (anima), then soul life, the soul or mind (animus). The forgetting of the wonders they had seen would lead to their forgetting God, and so to their departing from him, and this would mar and ultimately destroy their life. (cf. Jos_23:11-16) The things which thine eyes have seen. (see Exo_19:10, etc.)
The religious education of children.
1. God”s way of handing down the fruits of present privilege.
2. God”s way of maintaining his witness in the world.
3. God”s way of extending his Church.
The natural law of the increase of population leads, where parents are faithful, to a constant increase in the number of the godly. J.O.
10.The day that thou stoodest. The word day might be taken in the accusative, as if in apposition. It is, at any rate, clear that he explains more fully what he had briefly alluded to before, for he summons the people as eye-witnesses, lest, perchance, they should object that they were not sure from whence Moses had derived what he professes to be enjoined him by God. For they were all well aware that he had undertaken nothing without the express command of God. Finally, he proves, from the end and object itself of the doctrine, that God was its author, since it tended to nothing else but that God should be purely served, and that His people might be obedient, than which nothing can be imagined more just and right.
Specially the day. The word “specially,” introduced by the translators into the Authorized Version, is a needless interpolation. With this verse begins a new sentence, which is continued in ver. 11 on to the end of ver. 13. Render, On the day i.e. at the time, the is an adverbial accusative when ye stood before Jehovah your God in Horeb… when ye came near and stood, then Jehovah spake to you, etc.
Vers. 10-14. The revelation at Horeb.
I OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF GOD”S NATURE. “Ye saw no similitude” (ver. 12). A wonderful truth to be impressed on the minds of a people fresh from contact with the debasing idolatries of Egypt. A truth:
1. Difficult to grasp.
2. Elevating in its influence.
3. The apprehension of which is necessary for spiritual worship. (Joh_4:24)
II OF THE HOLINESS OF GOD”S CHARACTER. The lightnings that played about the mountain, the fire burning in the midst of it (ver. 11), the fiery law that was given, all bespoke the awful and terrible holiness of him whose voice was uttering words of dreadful import to transgressors.
III OF THE VERITIES OF GOD”S LAW. Then were spoken the ten commandments (vers. 10, 12) the sum and substance of moral duty the rule of life to believers the Law which condemns and slays transgressors. Christ is “the end of the Law of righteousness to every one that believeth,” and only in him can we escape from its condemning power. (Rom_8:1 Rom_10:4)
IV OF THE TERRORS OF GOD”S MAJESTY, God surrounded himself with these signs of his greatness, power, wrath, and holiness:
1. That we may reverence and fear him.
2. That we may be kept from presumption in our approaches to him.
3. That we may feel the awfulness of his Word. Recalling this scene, the Israelites should have been preserved from ever trifling with it. God”s Word should be handled and read with a deep feeling of reverence.
4. These terrors suggested that the Law, in itself considered, is not a saving, but a destroying power. The whole manifestation was overcast with threatening. J.O.
Vers. 15-20. As the people had seen no form or figure when God spake to them, so they were to beware for their very lives (cf. ver. 9) of acting corruptly by making any kind of image, whether of man or of beast, for the purpose of worshipping God as represented by it; they were also to beware of being so attracted by the splendor of the heavenly bodies as to be forcibly seduced to worship them and offer them religious service. They were not in this respect to imitate the heathen; for God, who had delivered them out of the furnace of Egyptian bondage, had taken them for himself to be his special possession; and therefore they were to take heed not to forget the covenant of Jehovah their God, nor to offend him by making any image or representation of him as the object of worship. Among the heathen, and especially in Egypt, images were the very pillar and support of religion; but in Israel, as God had revealed himself to them without form, it was as a spirit he was to be worshipped, and not under any outward representation.
Vers. 15-20. Warning against heathenish idolatry.
I THE ORIGIN OF HEATHEN IDOLATRY. The result of a “corruption” (Per. 16). Not a stage in the advance upwards from fetishism, etc.; but, as inquiries are tending more and more to show, the consequence:
1. Of a depravation of the idea of God.
2. Of a corruption of the worship of God.
3. Arising in turn from the substitution of the creature for God in the affections (cf. Rom_1:20-26)
II THE FORMS OF HEATHEN IDOLATRY.
1. Hero-worship (ver. 16).
2. Animal-worship (vers. 17, 18).
3. Nature-worship (ver. 19).
Greek idolatry furnishes conspicuous instances of the first; Egypt was notorious for the second, so Hinduism; while Parseeism, and the early Vedic worship illustrates the third (cf. Job_31:21)
III THE FRUITS OF HEATHEN IDOLATRY.
1. A degraded intellect.
2. Degraded affections.
3. Degraded morals. (Ro 1)
Therefore Israel must not “corrupt” themselves. J.O.
Vers. 15-24. The Divine jealousy of graven images.
The great temptation of Israel was to idolatry. Images were worshipped by all those nations among whom they came, and they were in constant danger of conforming to the sinful practice. Hence this warning and statement about the Divine jealousy. Let us observe
I THAT JEALOUSY PRESUPPOSES LOVE. Love must be strong as death, else jealousy will not be cruel as the grave; nor will its coals prove coals of fire, having a most vehement flame. (Son_8:6) The God who proves so jealous is he whose essence is love. If God did not love men so much, he would not be so jealous when they turn away from him. He knows that, as a wife cannot be happy separated from her loving husband, no more can the human spirit be, away from him. Israel then and we now have to deal with a God of love.
II GOD IS JEALOUS WHEN MEN GIVE HIM VISIBILITY. Idolatry is trying to help worship through the aid of the senses. The image is not regarded as the god, but his likeness. Man embodies his ideas of God in outward forms. But imagination is not creative; it combines in new relations what has already been given to it. Hence idolatry has never done more than place the creatures, whether beast, or bird, or fish, or reptile, or the heavenly bodies, in new relations to the invisible Divinity. God resents this visibility as degradation. He knows that man becomes degraded by such associations. Hence his deserved wrath against idolatry.
III IF GOD BE NOT OUR KINDLING FLAME, HE WILL IN JEALOUSY BE OUR CONSUMING FIRE. It is at the torch of the Divine that the human soul becomes enkindled. The flaming fires of Pentecost sublimate the soul and fit it for primeval powers. It is this warning, elevating influence that is love”s natural action. But when rebellious man turns the grace of God into lasciviousness; when love is ignored instead of returned, and the soul seeks in the things of sense what God only cad give, then love begins to burn as jealousy with a vehement, consuming flame.
IV IT BECOMES US CONSEQUENTLY TO WORSHIP GOD IN THE SPIRIT. We must keep upon the serene heights of faith, and not fall into the degradation of superstition. We are made for better things than weakly to associate in our minds the invisible and eternal God with the creatures of sense. Let us give faith proper scope, and the worship of God will prove both possible and delightful. But the worship of God through images makes stocks and stones of men. “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them”. (Psa_115:8) May our worship raise us and not degrade us! Superstition degrades, but worship of the invisible God in the Spirit elevates and ennobles our souls. R.M.E.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image — The things are here specified of which God prohibited any image or representation to be made for the purposes of worship; and, from the variety of details entered into, an idea may be formed of the extensive prevalence of idolatry in that age. In whatever way idolatry originated, whether from an intention to worship the true God through those things which seemed to afford the strongest evidences of His power, or whether a divine principle was supposed to reside in the things themselves, there was scarcely an element or object of nature but was deified. This was particularly the case with the Canaanites and Egyptians, against whose superstitious practices the caution, no doubt, was chiefly directed. The former worshipped Baal and Astarte, the latter Osiris and Isis, under the figure of a male and a female. It was in Egypt that animal-worship most prevailed, for the natives of that country deified among beasts the ox, the heifer, the sheep, and the goat, the dog, the cat, and the ape; among birds, the ibis, the hawk, and the crane; among reptiles, the crocodile, the frog, and the beetle; among fishes, all the fish of the Nile; some of these, as Osiris and Isis, were worshipped over all Egypt, the others only in particular provinces. In addition they embraced the Zabian superstition, the adoration of the Egyptians, in common with that of many other people, extending to the whole starry host. The very circumstantial details here given of the Canaanitish and Egyptian idolatry were owing to the past and prospective familiarity of the Israelites with it in all these forms.
19.And lest thou lift up thine eyes. Moses proceeds further, lest the Jews should imagine any divinity in the sun, and moon, and stars; nor does he only recall them from the error with which many were imbued, thinking that these were so many gods; but also anticipates another superstition, lest, being ravished by the brightness of the stars, they should conceive them to be images of God. And to this the expression, to “be driven,” refers. For since God represents His glory in the heavenly host, so also Satan, under this pretext, confuses and stupefies men’s minds by a wily artifice, in order that they may worship God in these luminaries, and thus stumble at the very threshold. Therefore, that the Israelites may the better acknowledge how absurd it is to seek for God in earthly things, or in the elements of the world, or in corruptible matter, he expressly declares that they must not even lean on heavenly creatures; since God’s majesty is superior to the sun, and moon, and all the stars. Besides, he reproves the absurdity of transferring the worship of God to the stars, which, by God’s appointment, are to minister to us; for when he says that “God hath divided them unto all nations,” it implies subjection; as if he had said that the sun was our minister, and the moon, together with all the stars, our handmaid. Still, by the word “divided,” God’s admirable providence is fitly commended in respect to their varied position, and course, and different offices; for the sun does not enlighten and warm all lands at the same moment; and, again, it now retires from us, and now approaches us more closely; the moon has her circuits; the stars rise and set as the heaven revolves. I pass over the slower movement of the planets; but, according to the aspect of the stars, one climate is moister, another drier; one feels more heat, another more cold. This variety is aptly called by Moses “dividing ” Yet it aggravates the sin of superstition, if the Jews give themselves to the service of the stars, which minister also to heathen nations; for what can be more unworthy than for the children of God to worship the sun, which is the servant of all the world? whence again it follows, that in proportion to the dignity and excellence of the creatures themselves, so is the ingratitude of men towards God all the more base, if they adorn with His worship as with spoils, those creatures which He has appointed to minister to their advantage. The silly notion in which some of the Rabbins delight themselves, is unworthy of mention, viz., that God has divided the stars to the Gentiles, since they are subject to their influences, from which by special privilege the Jews are free; as if the condition of the human race had not been the same from the beginning. But the reason which I have adduced plainly shews, that they depart most widely from the meaning of Moses, and therefore pervert his intention; viz., that the creatures which are destined for our use, are by no means to be worshipped as God.
Keil and Delitzsch
They were not to allow themselves to be torn away (נִדַּח) to worship the stars of heaven, namely, by the seductive influence exerted upon the senses by the sight of the heavenly bodies as they shone in their glorious splendour. The reason for this prohibition is given in the relative clause, “which Jehovah thy God hath allotted to all nations under the whole heaven.” The thought is not, “God has given the heathen the sun, moon, and stars for service, i.e., to serve them with their light,” as Onkelos, the Rabbins, Jerome, and others, suppose, but He has allotted them to them for worship, i.e., permitted them to choose them as the objects of their worship, which is the view adopted by Justin Martyr, Clemens Alex., and others. According to the scriptural view, even the idolatry of the heathen existed by divine permission and arrangement. God gave up the heathen to idolatry and shameful lusts, because, although they knew Him from His works, they did not praise Him as God (Rom_1:21, Rom_1:24, Rom_1:26).
39.Know therefore this day. He again inculcates what we have lately spoken of, that the glory of the one true God was proved by the miracles, but he does so by way of exhortation. For he desires them carefully and attentively to consider what God had shewn them, because in so plain a matter there would be no excuse for error or ignorance. He therefore infers from what had gone before, that the people must beware of shutting their eyes against the clear revelation of God’s power, and therefore urges them to keep it in memory, because man’s ingratitude is but too prone to forgetfulness. He afterwards reminds them wherefore God would be known, viz., that they might keep His Law and obey His statutes. The sum is, that they would be inexcusable if they did not obediently receive the Law, which they knew to have come from God; for they must needs be worse than stupid if the majesty of God, known and understood by so many proofs, did not awaken them to reverence. And lest they should undervalue the doctrine as proceeding from a mortal man, he expressly confesses, indeed, that he is the minister, and yet that he had set before them nothing which he had not received from God.
Deu 4:39 Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, etc.; literally, bring back into thy heart. “Because we cannot lay hold of spiritual things in thought instantly in a moment, God commands to make them to revert, i.e. again and again to recall them to the mind” (Bechai, fol. 194 b).
Deu 4:40 Upon the earth, rather upon the land (hmda) the Lord thy God giveth thee forever. The comma after “thee” in the Authorized Version should be deleted. “The sum of this whole exhortation is
(1) to acknowledge and lay to heart that God is the alone God of the universe, in heaven and on earth; hence
(2) to be obedient to his laws; and so
(3) to have, as a recompense, a happy continuance in the beloved land” (Herxheimer). The conclusion of the exhortation reverts to its beginning.