[giving of] the Law”. This is the book of God’s renewal of his covenant with Israel after their wilderness wanderings (40 years) and before they enter the land promised to them.
Here are a few notes on the first four chapters of Deuteronomy.
History recounted (chapters 1–3). The first three chapters comprise a kind of journal of place names, lengths of time, and battles fought. This might not mean a lot to modern readers, but once again we should remember that, though the Bible is written FOR us, it was first written TO others. This is Israel’s history, a history of specific events and places that were to be recalled and recounted in future years. This is recorded so that God’s people — Israel and believers today — would be reminded that 1) God works in history and in geography, that is, in space and time. That these are not myths or fairy tales — God is the Lord of creation and history. And that 2) God is faithful to guide, deliver, and preserve his people in the way that he promises them in his covenant. God is true to his Word. Do you keep a journal or family record of God’s dealings with you?
The watching world. (Deut. 4:5-8) How believers live out their covenant relationship with God has an influence on the surrounding world. The Israelites were to be distinctive, even counter-cultural, in their obedience to God’s commands. There was an apologetic value in keeping the Law in the sight of the nations: “They will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples…” And the peoples would come to say, “what great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD…?” This is as true today as it was then. (See 1 Peter 2:12; 3:15-16.) Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
Words from the fire. (4:12-13) The Lord reiterates how important it was that they never saw “a form” of God. God’s covenant with them, and with us, is based upon his spoken word. “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. And he declared to you his covenant…” We relate to God based upon the biblical truths he has revealed, upon his gracious promises to us, and by his commands for our obedience.
Quick to fall away. (4:23-24) Even here, as the nation is preparing to come into a new land given to them, they will encounter warnings and reminders of their weakness and sin. Much of Israel’s history is a sad chronicle of the need for a covenant with God that is not based in any way upon human effort or merit. (See Jeremiah 31:31-34 about the new covenant to come.)
There is no other God. (4:35-39) There exists no god in heaven or on earth who is truly God, except the God of the Bible. “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. … 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.” This is a truth that will be repeated again and again throughout all the Scriptures. (See, for example, Isaiah chapters 40 to 46.)
Deuteronomy 4 summarized: “The Lord alone is God. He has revealed his will through his spoken Word. He has demonstrated his love. He calls people to himself. He delivers them from evil by his power. He alone is God.” The God of the Old Testament is the same God as in the New Testament.