October 6, 2019, Deuteronomy 4:1 – 14

This week we are invited to hear Moses address the Hebrew people with a call to keep in mind the “statutes and ordinances.” First, let’s read this passage and pay attention to how many times he charges the Hebrew people to keep in mind the commandments, how many times he tells them to “head,” “to take care,” “observe.”

Deuteronomy 4:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. You have seen for yourselves what the Lord did with regard to the Baal of Peor—how the Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, while those of you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.

See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children— how you once stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so”; you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain while the mountain was blazing up to the very heavens, shrouded in dark clouds. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. And the Lord charged me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy.

[In the next to last sentence in the passage where the translators have “ten commandments,” it is literally “ten words.”]

“And the Lord charged me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe…”

I have heard it said that a good way to teach to tell your students what you are going to tell them, to tell them, and to tell them what you told them.

It seems to me that Moses goes beyond this threefold structure.


Is it the sense of obligation he feels, the call he senses that he is responsible to God to put the commandments before the people so they have the same understanding of its importance that he does?

Is it that he has already seen how easy it is for the people to fail to hold tight to the commandments and keep them?

We often think of the “law” of the Hebrew Scripture as the “Ten Commandments.” Later Rabbis saw in Scripture 613 commands given by God. Still later, teachers saw a need to add more commands so the people would not come close to breaking the commands. Sometimes we hear the teachers wanted to build a “hedge around the law.” This hedge or fence was to keep the people from coming even close to breaking the commands.

A question or two was even put to Rabbi Jesus about which commands to keep and their importance.

As you spend time with this passage, take time to ask what are the “commands” you know to be important enough in your life that you try to keep. Where do those important commands come from? Maybe from Scripture, maybe from culture, maybe from the home place, maybe from the workplace? Where? What makes them important to you?

We’ll talk later.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

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