THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK OF Deuteronomy has many detailed parallels with ancient covenants or treaties that regional powers made with their vassal states.
One of the components of such treaties was a kind of historical prolegomenon — a brief and selective recapitulation of the historical circumstances that had brought both parties to this point. That is the kind of thing one finds in Deuteronomy 1–3. As the covenant people of God make their second approach to the Promised Land, forty years after the Exodus itself (Deut. 1:3) and with an entire generation gone, Moses urgently impresses upon the assembly the nature of the covenant, the greatness of the rescue that was now their heritage, the sorry history of rebellion, and above all the sheer majesty and glory of the God with whom they are linked in this spectacularly generous covenantal relationship.
The three chapters of selective history prepare the way for Deuteronomy 4. Here the historical survey is largely over; now the primary lessons from that history are driven home. Always review and remember what God has done. God does not owe you this amazing salvation. Far from it: "Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength" (Deut. 4:37). But there are entailments. "You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other" (Deut. 4:35). "Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other" (Deut. 4:39). "Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deut. 4:23-24). In other words, they are to serve God; but he alone is God. Every generation of believers must reckon with this truth, or face God's wrath.
Of the many lessons that spring from this historical recital, one relatively minor point — painful to Moses and important for us — quietly emerges. Moses repeatedly reminds the people that he himself will not be permitted to enter the land. He is referring to the time he struck the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20; see also the meditation for May 9). But now he points out, truthfully, that his sin and punishment took place, he says, "because of you" (Deut. 1:37; Deut. 3:23-27; Deut. 4:21-22). Of course, Moses was responsible for his own action. But he would not have been tempted had the people been godly.
Their persistent unbelief and whining wore him down.
Meditate on a New Testament articulation of this principle: Hebrews 13:17.
Deut. 4; Psalms 86-87; Isaiah 32; Revelation 2