When we began to study this book, I said that the book of Deuteronomy can be divided into two main parts: chapters 1 to 28 and chapter 29 to 34. The first part — chapters 1 to 28 — is chiefly about the past: reviewing the past forty years in the wilderness and the things the Lord revealed to his people and did for them. The second part — chapters 29 to 34 — is chiefly about the future, anticipating how they will enter the Promised Land and live in it.
And so far, we’ve seen in chapter 1 how the Lord reminded them of their rebellion when, 40 years previously, he brought them to the edge of the Promised Land, with the intention of bringing them into the land immediately. But instead of believing his promises, they rebelled against the Lord and refused to go up and take the land. The Lord was therefore angry with them and said that not one of that generation would enter the Promised Land, apart from Caleb and Joshua who believed the Lord. The rest would perish in the wilderness. And so they were destined to wander in the wilderness until that whole generation had died.
In chapters 2 and 3 we saw that 40 years had passed and it was now time for the new generation to enter the land. The Lord helped them to defeat Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan; and their land was assigned to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh as a foretaste of what the Lord would give to all of them. And in chapters 4 and 5, Moses reminded the people of the laws and commandments which the Lord had given to his people when they were at Mount Sinai and which they were still required to keep.
As I’ve said before, while these chapters contain lots of laws, lots of commandments, lots of rules and regulations, nevertheless it’s important that we remember at all times the priority of grace and of God’s kindness to his sinful people who deserve nothing from him, but condemnation. The Israelites did not deserve life in the Promised Land. They were not a greater and more powerful nation than the other nations. They were not more obedient or righteous or godly than the other nations. There was nothing particularly special or good about them, which caused God to choose them. And they did not earn the right to live in the Promised Land by their good deeds. No, they were sinners, just like everyone else. But the Lord was gracious to them, he was kind to them. He chose them — though they were a small nation and a sinful people — and he promised to give them the Promised Land. Life in the Promised Land was his gift to them which they did not deserve or merit. So, they did not earn the right to the Promised Land by keeping the law. The law was not the means to life in Canaan.
However, now that God had chosen them, and had delivered them from their bondage in Egypt, and had brought them through the wilderness to bring them into the Promised Land, now that God had graciously chosen them, he wanted them to obey him and to do his will. The law was not the means to life, but it was to be the rule for their life in the Promised Land. It showed them how they were to live as God’s people and how to live a life pleasing to the Lord who loved them and who had rescued them.
And the law of God is not the means to life for us either, because we too are sinners who sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed; and we deserve nothing from him, but condemnation. We deserve to be sent out of his presence to be punished forever, because of our failure to keep his law. However, the Lord is merciful and gracious and does not treat us as our sins deserve. For the sake of Christ, who died for sinners, he promises to forgive the sins of all those who trust in his Son and to give them the free gift of eternal life. Life in the Promised Land to come is his free gift to us which we did not and could not earn, but which we receive through faith in Christ the Saviour.
But having received God’s forgiveness, having been accepted as righteous in his sight for the sake of Christ, the righteous one, having received the hope of eternal life as a free gift, we turn to the law of the Lord to show us how to live as God’s people. The law is not the means to life, but it’s to be the rule for our life, to show us what to do and how to please the Lord who loved us and who set us free from condemnation by his Son.
The book of Deuteronomy contains lots of laws, things which we’re required to do. But we must not make the mistake that we’re to do these things in order to receive eternal life. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, no one will be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by observing the law. No, we’re justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith in Christ alone. But having been justified, having received forgiveness and the hope of eternal life, we turn to the law to show us how to live and how to live grateful lives of obedience to the one who saved us.
Having reminded ourselves of that once again, let’s turn to Deuteronomy 6 which can be divided into three main parts. There’s verses 1 to 9 which contain a warning not to forget the Lord. Then there’s verses 10 to 19 which contain the commandment to fear the Lord only. And then there’s verses 20 to 25 which contain the commandment to teach these things to our children.
Verses 1 to 9
According to verse 1, these are the commands, decrees and laws which the Lord our God directed Moses to teach the people to observe in the land that they’ll soon possess. So, there you have once again the priority of grace: God was giving them the land; it was his free gift to them. And once they came into the land, they were to obey him.
Moses wanted the people to fear the Lord. Do you see that in verse 2? That current generation of Israelites were to fear him. Their children were to fear him. Their children’s children were to fear him. Future generations were to fear the Lord. Fearing the Lord means regarding him with reverence and yielding your life to him. And according to verse 2, the way they were to demonstrate their fear for the Lord was by keeping his decrees and commands. If students have no respect for their teachers, they ignore what they say. When the teacher asks them to quieten down, they just keep talking. But if they have proper respect for their teachers, they listen to them and do what they say. And God’s people are to have proper respect for the Lord, which means we’re to listen to him and obey him.
And from time to time, the Lord promised his people rewards to encourage them; and there were threats to warn them. And here, there’s the promise of long life in the Promised Land for those who fear the Lord and obey him. The same promise was attached to the fifth commandment, commanding children to obey their parents. ‘Honour your father and your mother’, the Lord said, ‘so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.’ And there are further promises in verse 4: be careful to obey the Lord, so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey. The Promised Land of Canaan was a good land. It was a land full of good things, a land like the Garden of Eden. The Lord was giving it to them as a gift. And here, to encourage their obedience, he promised that it would go well for them in the Promised Land, if they were careful to obey him. This was a promise to encourage their obedience.
But, of course, we all know what happened, don’t we? The Israelites did not obey the Lord. They disobeyed him again and again and again. They forgot the Lord and worshipped idols. And so, the Lord sent them out of the Promised Land, out of that Eden-like land, and he scattered them among the nations. If they had remained obedient, they would have lived long in the land, which the Lord gave them. But because they were disobedient to him, they lost the land.
Our church’s Confession of Faith explains for us that the threats contained in God’s law show us what our sins deserve and what afflictions we may expect in this life when we disobey God’s law. The words ‘in this life’ are important, because whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will never be eternally condemned; believers need not fear eternal punishments, because Christ has saved them from God’s eternal wrath. However, the Lord may still send afflictions on us in this life. But if he does, he doesn’t do so as an angry judge who wants to punish us. No, he does it as a loving father, who wants to discipline and train his children so that they will become more obedient to him. He’s not punishing us; he’s disciplining us for our good. Furthermore, our Confession of Faith teaches us that the promises contained in the law show us what blessings we can expect to receive from the Lord. We can never deserve or merit these blessings; but instead, we receive them from our loving heavenly Father as his gracious reward. So, that’s how we’re to understand the promises and threats in this passage. And it’s how we’re to understand how the Lord deals with us today.
And then we come in verses 4 to 9 to what’s known as the shema, which is the Hebrew word for ‘listen’ and which is the first word of this confession of faith. Orthodox Jews still recite these words every morning and evening; and it’s said that they wish to die with these words on their lips. So, here there’s confession of faith:
Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Whereas the other nations believed in many gods, the Israelites believed in one God only, the Lord, who made all things in heaven and on earth, and who is to be worshipped by all. And so, this ancient confession of faith makes clear their belief that there is only one God. And since there’s only one God, we’re duty-bound to love him only and not to divide our love and devotion among many gods. So, we’re to love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. We’re not to love him with only part of our heart and soul and strength and love other gods with the remainder of our heart and soul and strength. No, since there’s only one God, we’re not to divide our love and devotion. We’re to love him alone. And we’re to love him by obeying him.
So, in verse 6, Moses instructed the people to have his commandments on their heart, which means they were to think about them and meditate on them and let these commandments fill their thoughts and imagination. And they were to teach them to their children, passing on the faith to future generations. They were to talk about the law of the Lord when they’re sitting at home and when they’re walking along the road, and when they lie down to sleep and when they get up in the morning. In other words, all through the day, in every activity, they’re to think about and talk about the law of the Lord. To prevent them from forgetting, they were to tie God’s laws on their hands and forehead and they were to attach them to the door-frame of their home. Probably Moses intended this metaphorically to mean they were to give their attention to God’s law. However, orthodox Jews take these words literally and wear miniature scrolls on their head and hands and they attach them to their doorposts. People tell me that the manse used to be owned by a Jewish family; and a little box containing a miniature scroll was on the doorframe. While many Jews took these words literally, Moses really wanted God’s people to remember God’s law and to think about it and to talk about it and to do it.
And God’s people today must love the Lord and seek to obey him. We mustn’t think that obedience was only for the Jews at that time, and it’s not for us today. Like us, they were under grace, because God had been gracious to them and had delivered them from their bondage in Egypt and he was giving them life in the Promised Land as a free gift. God was gracious to them; and he was calling on them to show their gratitude and their love by obeying him. And God has been gracious to us, rescuing us from our bondage to sin and Satan and death. He’s giving us eternal life as a free gift. And how do we demonstrate our gratitude to him for his grace to us? We demonstrate it by loving him and by obeying him.
Verses 10 to 19
And God’s grace is emphasised in the following verses. Look at verses 10 to 12 where Moses speaks of the time when God will bring the people into the land which he promised Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give to them. So, they didn’t earn or merit the land, but received it because of God’s promise. Furthermore, the land contained great and flourishing cities which they did not build; and houses filled with good things which they did not provide; and wells which they did not dig; and vineyards and olive groves which they did not plant. In other words, the Lord was providing them with all that they needed. Instead of giving them an empty, barren land, which they would have to work on and toil over for years and years before it was fruitful, they were moving into a ready-made paradise. It recalls the Garden of Eden in the beginning, which the Lord planted and prepared before Adam was placed there. In the same way, before the Israelites were placed in the Promised Land, the Lord had planted and prepared it for them. This is all evidence of God’s grace, his kindness to his people. They didn’t work for the land, but God gave it to them; and when he gave it to them, it was ready for them.
However, when you come into this land, flowing with milk and honey, be careful — Moses warns them — that you don’t forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt and gave you this land. Be careful lest you forget him. Isn’t that interesting? When everything is going well for us, when we have all that we need, when we’re prosperous and successful and life is good, that’s when we’re tempted to forget the Lord. When we face troubles and trials, we’re crying to the Lord for help. When we’re faced with illness, we’re pleading with him for healing. When we’re struggling to pay our bills, we’re asking him to provide for us. When we’re in trouble, we cling to the Lord. But when everything is going well, how easy it is for us to stop praying and to forget the Lord. When we have everything we need, we forget that we need him. Moses knew this was a danger, and so he warned the Israelites — and he’s warning us — not to forget the Lord our God.
And in verses 13 to 19 he warned the Israelites about idolatry. Instead of worshipping other gods — the false gods and idols which their pagan neighbours served — they’re to fear the Lord and serve him only. Because God is a jealous God, and will not put up with any rivals, his anger will burn against his people if they become unfaithful to him and go after other gods. And they mustn’t test him as they did before at this place called Massah. Do you remember what happened at Massah? We read about it in Exodus 17. After the Lord brought them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, they began to complain and to quarrel with Moses because they had no water to drink. And at that time, they tested the Lord in the sense that they tested his ability to help them in order to decide whether or not they ought to trust and obey him in the future. And, of course, that was a very wicked thing to do, because who did they think they were that they could test Almighty God? Who did they think they were, that they could sit in judgment over him? And in any case, hadn’t God demonstrated his faithfulness and his power many times before when he delivered them from their slavery and brought them through the Red Sea. Who did they think they were to put Almighty God to the test? Well, says Moses now, don’t put the Lord to the test again. Instead of sitting in judgment over God, humble yourself before him and serve him. Keep his commands. Keep his stipulations. Keep his decrees. Do what is right and good in his sight, so that it might go well with you.
And right at the end of this section, there’s another reminder of God’s grace, because the land they’re going in to possess has been given to them. They did not earn or merit it, but God had promised to give it to them as a gift.
God was faithful and good to them. Therefore he called on them to be faithful to him and to love and serve him always. And God has been faithful and good to you, because he sent his Son to deliver you from sin and Satan and death and to give you everlasting life in the Promised Land to come. He has been good to you, forgiving your sins and pardoning your iniquity. He’s filled your life with good things: with material goods and with spiritual blessings. The Lord has been good to you. And he calls on you to love and serve him and to walk in his ways.
Verses 20 to 25
And in the final part of today’s passage, the Lord calls on his people to teach these things to our children. So, in verse 20, Moses anticipates the time when children will asks their parents what do all these laws and commandments mean. What are they for and why do we keep them? When your children ask you that, this is what you’re to tell them. Tell them we were once slaves. Tell them that the Lord rescued us. Tell them that the Lord destroyed our enemies. Tell them the Lord was bringing us into this wonderful land. And the Lord who did all that for us now commands us to obey all his decrees and to fear him, so that it might go well for us. And parents are to teach their children that if we’re careful to obey all this law, that will be our righteousness.
Now, that’s a puzzling expression, because the Bible makes clear that righteousness is by faith. No-one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping the law, but only through faith in Christ. We have to be clear about that. However, there’s a difference — isn’t there? — between being right and doing what’s right; being righteous in God’s sight and doing what’s right in God’s sight. So, we become right with God only through faith. But believers do what is right in God’s sight by obeying him. And so, Moses commanded parents to teach their children that there’s a right way to live: and the right way to live as God’s people is to obey his decrees and to keep his commandments.
And Christian parents today are to pass on the faith to their children. Christian parents today are to make clear to their children that we’re born under slavery to sin and Satan and death. But God sent his Son to deliver us from our sin and misery and to destroy sin and Satan and death. And whoever believes in the Lord Jesus will be brought into the Promised Land to come to live with the Lord forever. Tell them that and then tell them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Tell them to believe; and tell them to be careful to walk in his ways and to do what’s right. That’s what Christian parents are to teach their children.
I’ve already mentioned that the Promised Land of Canaan was like the Garden of Eden. So, think about the Garden of Eden, which God prepared for Adam and Eve. It had everything they needed. But instead of obeying the command of the Lord, Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord and ate the forbidden fruit. As a result, they were sent out of the Garden.
Now, according to Deuteronomy 6, the Lord had prepared for the Israelites the land of Canaan. It had everything they needed: cities, homes, wells, vineyards and olive groves. It flowed with milk and honey. It was a paradise. And just as the Lord placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, so he was going to place the Israelites in the Promised Land. But they too will disobey the Lord. And as a result of their disobedience, they too were sent out of the land in the days of the exile.
Now think about the Lord Jesus. Think about his words to his disciples in John 14, where he explained that he was leaving them to go to his Father’s house. And he explained that the reason he was going there was to prepare a place for them. He was going to get everything ready. So, just as God got everything ready for Adam and Eve, and just as he got everything ready for the Israelites, so he’s getting everything ready for you. But what he’s getting ready for you is not an earthly paradise, but a heavenly paradise. He’s preparing for you a place in his Father’s heavenly house. And when the time comes, the Lord Jesus will come again so that you and all of his people will be with him forever and forever in that heavenly paradise, that Promised Land to come.
Just as Adam and Eve and the Israelites did not earn or merit life in the garden and the Promised Land, you cannot earn or merit eternal life. It’s God’s gift to all who trust in his Son, because Christ his Son died to pay for your sins and to wash away your guilt and to bring you at last to God.
And eternal life is God’s presence is precisely that. It’s eternal. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden. The Israelites had to leave the land of Canaan. But you will never have to leave the Promised Land to come, because God is giving you eternal life in his presence.
And from his heavenly throne, the Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit from heaven to you and to all who believe. He sends from heaven the Holy Spirit to enable you to live a heavenly life now. In heaven, everyone will love the Lord with all their heart and soul and strength. In heaven, no one will forget the Lord. In heaven, everyone will know the Lord. And Christ sends you his Spirit to help you live like that more and more, so that more and more you’re able to do his will here on earth as it’s done in heaven. So, look to the Lord for the help of his Spirit to love the Lord and to walk in his ways, for this is God’s will for you.