For example, in Deuteronomy 4:10-12 Moses retells the impressive events at Sinai in Exodus 19:16-19 like the fire, the darkness and the sound of Yahweh’s voice, and he adds an observation that wasn’t stated in Exodus 19: “You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12). This is more than a simple historical observation; it is a lesson worthy of their undivided attention: “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16).
And Moses tells them that they have not only the present obligation of keeping this lesson but also the responsibility to keep and teach it in the future: “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26). If they keep the lesson of Exodus 19:16-19, they will recognize that Yahweh is incomparable, and they will enjoy the fulfillment of future blessings: “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. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40).
In the same way, they need to remember the Ten Commandments. They will remember not only the commands themselves repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 but also the attitude with which they received them historically: “Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die” (Deuteronomy 5:25-26). Yahweh approves of this attitude: “Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29) A lesson from the past, to stimulate obedience in the present, so that they are capable of receiving blessing in the future: “You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33).
The Israelites not only must agree with this way of understanding history; they must be able to reproduce it: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?” (Deuteronomy 6:20) The Israelites will answer by repeating their history with the same purpose of awakening their son’s present obedience so that he can experience the future fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises, too: “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand… And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day… (Deuteronomy 6:21-25)
As we also saw yesterday, this manner of narrating history should impact the Israelites’ souls not only for obedience but also for holy worship in recognition of Yahweh’s unique attributes: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7) “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:31). “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). That is to say, the narration of Israelite history proposes to encourage the believing soul to a living relationship with his incomparable God: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).