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At a Crossroads: Listen and Live

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

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Deuteronomy 4 -Week 3
Listen and Live

My growing-up years were long ago, but have vague recollections of my mother often saying to me in my early years, “Did you hear me?” What did she mean? Was she merely asking if sound waves from her mouth had reached my inner ear and transmitted to my brain? No! She wanted to know if I HEARD. If I really HEARD her. Was I paying attention? Did I listen? And ultimately, would I OBEY her?

How many of you remember such conversations? From Mom or Dad. From a teacher. A coach. They were giving you instruction—hopefully for your good. And they wanted to ensure you heard and would comply.

This is the message of God to his people in Deuteronomy. “Listen to me. Hear what I have promised to you. Obey me and you will live.” “Walk with me, and I will bring good to you and your children in the Promised Land.”

It’s a rather simple request. A straightforward command. As outsiders looking in, we think the obvious direction is to Listen to the Lord and live. Why wouldn’t you?

Sadly, Israel generally did a poor job in Listening. By and large, they failed. And it’s rather tempting for us to criticize them.

But this morning and in the rest of this series in Deuteronomy, we’re going to discover—if we’re humble—that we’re rather similar to Israel. Cultures and habits and practices may change, but our basic nature does not change. We will find it rather easy, I think, to relate to the message of Deuteronomy.

Scripture Reading

Deuteronomy 4:1–9 ESV “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. 4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.
5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me,that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 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? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—

Listen and Live

Let’s go through this a few verses at a time.

Vs. 1

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

LISTEN. The word here is used in Deuteronomy MANY times. He calls them to listen. To pay attention. To what? The statutes and rules from the Lord. What is fascinating to me is that the Hebrew word “LISTEN” is also frequently translated as “OBEY.” When Moses says, “Listen, Israel,” he means they should hear the Lord in such a way that they obey the Lord. Like my mother meant when I was young. “To hear is to obey.”

Why? Why does Moses call them to Listen, to Hear, to Obey?? That they may live. And that they make take possession of the land. This is beautiful. The Lord wants them to live! He wants to bring good. He wants to fulfill his covenant to them, a covenant—a CONTRACT, a PROMISE— of good. It’s a covenant of his presence, of land, of glory, of displaying his name to the world. It’s a covenant of an intimate relationship with them.

We may often think of obedience as negative. Oppressive. Restrictive. Surely we all are tempted to think this, aren’t we?? We are faced with a temptation to sin. To NOT listen. To disobey. And the temptation is so alluring. It seems SO GOOD. And God’s commands can sounds so restrictive. Even oppressive.

A few years ago, I borrowed a book from the library. A biography of Joseph Stalin. 80 years ago, he was the leader of the Soviet Union. I read two chapters, but then I quit reading. It was oppressive. People in the Soviet Union obeyed him, but it was largely because he was so evil. There was no loving inspiration. No mercy and kindness from him. There was only terror of DIS-obedience. He was a monster.

The Lord is not to be trifled with, but his great desire is to LOVE and bring GOOD to his people. His mercy is remarkable. The Lord says emphatically to Israel in Deuteronomy, “Obeying me and walking with me is LIFE itself. This is Life. This is Good.”
For us today, the gospel message is that core word we are to “Listen to and find life.”

1 John 5:12 ESV “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

From my story I shared two weeks ago, when I was a 19-year old sophomore at Iowa State, I was confronted with words like these from the NT. In a sense, I was confronted with, “Listen & Live…Hear….Really Hear….Obey the gospel of Jesus Christ….and you will LIVE. Life forever.” I fought that for several months, because it felt like that if I yielded, I would DIE. But once God brought me to my senses, it was so obvious the words of Christ were words of real life.

And in the 39 years since then, I keep finding over and over and over again, the words of Christ contain life. He still says, “Listen and live.” Walk with me and you will find life.

Likewise Moses pleads, “Listen to what I am teaching you. And live.”

Vs. 2-4

2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor.
4 But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.

Moses reminds them of an incident just a short time before. At a place called Baal-Peor. Israel was not listening to the Lord. They were ignoring him. Many were being sexually immoral. They were beginning to worship the false gods of Moab. The Baal of Peor. They were like a spouse who says, “I’m going to seek another lover.” So the Lord brought judgment against those who were sinning, and 24,000 died of a plague.

But then in vs. 4, Moses acknowledges, “You all stayed true to the Lord, and so you are still alive.” So there’s a warning, “Don’t be like those who didn’t listen. Who disobeyed and rebelled.”

Then in vs. 6-8, Moses gives a glorious calling to be a nation on display to the world.
Vs. 6-8

6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
7 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?
8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Listen to…obey… the Lord. When you do, Israel, the nations around you will see and exalt the Lord. This is a glorious calling for the people of Israel. They will be on display to the world. They will make the name of the Lord famous.

Their distinctiveness was not ultimately in military might or wealth or good governmental practices. Ultimately, Israel was to be distinct because of this beautiful covenant relationship they had with the Creator.

This reminds us of our calling in the Church from the NT. The Church—the people of God, followers of Jesus—are on display to the world.
One of many examples:

John 13:34–35 ESV “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As we love one another— care for one another, honor one another, bear one another’s burdens—the world around us will notice. They will see something in us about Jesus.

As a new Christian in this church while I was in college, I often heard about passages like this in John. That God had a heart for the whole world to hear about Jesus, and to see Jesus in us. Now honestly, ONE command alone…like John 13 here….ought to be enough. But I wondered, “Is this an OVER-EMPHASIS?” A short time later, I did a Bible study on that very topic. And I was astounded to find over 50 passages from Genesis all the way to Revelation that show this.

God wants his people to be on display to the world, that the world might know him. Here in Deuteronomy, Moses tells Israel this was part of their mission.

Vs. 9-10

9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—
10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’

I want to point out the first phrase or so here: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently.” “Take care” means to guard your soul. “Watch over your heart.” Be CAREFUL with your soul. WHY? “….lest you forget….lest you forget” what the Lord has done for you.
I am going to come back to this later in more depth. This is very important. But for now, don’t forget this.

And not only do these people need to remember, he says, “Tell the next generation. Parents and grandparents, tell the next generation about the Lord.” The older generation has an obligation to pass on the great truths of God to the next generation. Even grandparents have that obligation. Moses says, “Tell your children’s children.” TELL THEM: How 40 years earlier, God delivered them from Egypt. Tell them of God’s great power. Tell them how merciful and caring the Lord is. TELL THEM: of the intimate covenant relationship the Lord desires to have with his people.

A BRIEF ASIDE: You grandparents out there, your greatest calling is NOT to spoil the grandkids. Your greatest calling is to pass on the Lord. To tell of the Lord’s greatness and his great deeds. To speak of his mercy and love shown at the Cross.

Vs. 13-15a

13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.
14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.
15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully…

Pause there. He repeats what he said in vs. 9: Watch over yourselves carefully. Watch out for your souls. The implication is this: You can neglect your heart.
You might not pay attention to the condition of your SOUL and your relationship with me in this Covenant. So don’t be negligent of your heart. Don’t forget what the Lord has done for you. Don’t ignore him.
Again, press PAUSE on that. We’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

Now he launches into warnings about having IDOLS. About worshiping anything but the One True God. (You might think this is irrelevant. We don’t have idols here. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
Vs. 15b-19
1

15 …Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire,
16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,
17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,
18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.
19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

God has designed us to be worshipers.
Every one of us worships something or someone.

We are made to worship our Creator. The maker of heaven and earth.
But if we don’t worship the Lord, we will worship something else. Idols and false gods.

We tend to think of idols as mere physical objects.
A young man here at Stonebrook, Matt Dickinson, just spent 5-6 months in Nepal in Asia. Nepal is filled with IDOLS. Here are a few photos Matt took of people worshiping idols.

To many of us, this may seem silly. We think, “I would never worship an idol. That’s stupid.” But Israel did. And sadly, we do, too. Oh, we might not have idols of stone or wood in a prominent place in our house or in some so-called sacred building. But we have idols of the heart.

The problem with idols is that these objects replace God in our hearts. We long for objects and prestige and fame and material things MORE than we long for the Lord. Moses said to Israel in chapter 6—and then Jesus repeats it for us—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you might.”

Why are we to make no idols?
This is a prominent theme even in the NT.
First, the Lord is transcendent.
He is beyond all comparison to any object we know of or can even imagine. So to worship an object as some representation of him is actually to diminish him and restrain him. Even the sun, this massive ball of fire so large that one million earths could fit inside it, is too small to represent the Lord.

Just after escaping Egypt through the Red Sea, Moses said this:

Exodus 15:11 NIV Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

Often in the mornings when I am praying, I pray this verse.

If you don’t understand the transcendence of God, and if the thought of idolatry doesn’t grieve you, your view of God is vastly too small. He is transcendent and beyond all comparison, and so to worship an idol is a capital crime. Plus, it’s simply ridiculous.

Second, the Lord loves us and wants us to have no other lovers.
He is a jealous God. In a covenant relationship like God has with his people, like a man and a woman have in marriage, to turn to another lover is a great crime. And it provokes jealousy and anger. We’ll see this next week in Chapter 5.

Third, we become like whatever we worship.
Speaking of idols that cannot speak or hear or see, the psalmist said,

Psalm 115:8 ESV “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

We become like whatever we worship.
• If we worship an idol that cannot see or hear, we become like that: blind and deaf.
• If we give ourselves over to immoral behavior, Romans 1 says that God will deliver us over to more of that.
• Muslims who worship an image of a powerful but impersonal God become like that, and their politics reflect it.
• Humanists who worship man give themselves over to every degrading desire the human heart concocts.
I love what author Don Carson said:
“By worshipping idols, human beings become speechless, blind, deaf, unfeeling, and crippled– but then these are precisely the afflictions that Jesus, in the Gospels, came to heal.”

Watch Over Your Souls

Now I want to go back to something from earlier.
Three times in this chapter Moses says the same thing:

Deuteronomy 4:9 ESV “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget…”
Deuteronomy 4:15 ESV “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully…”
Deuteronomy 4:23 ESV “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God…”

Three times! Take care. Watch over. Keep. Guard.
What are we to guard?? Our souls. Our hearts. Our minds.
WHY? Because we are apt to forget….forget the Lord. Forget what he has done for us.
And we will end up wandering from God, and we will give our hearts to something else. It happened so easily for Israel. Over and over and over again just in the 40 years since deliverance from Egypt. And it happens constantly in the next 1000 years of biblical history. And it can happen to us, too. We’re really not different from Israel.

What is Moses saying? He is saying, “Your soul needs watching over.”

We all know we should watch over our financial accounts. DO I have enough to pay bills? How much is this retirement account earning in dividends?
Parents watch over their children. Are they dressed warm enough? What videos are they watching?
We watch over our vehicles. Or we should. Does it need oil? Gas?

One of my daughters bought an old car. Her first one. She wasn’t living at home, so I told her multiple times, “Check the oil occasionally.” One day she stopped home, so I decided to check her oil for her. I put the dipstick in, pulled it out….there was no oil showing on the dipstick. I panicked and repeated the process. NO OIL on the dipstick. NONE. She had about ½ quart left in a 4-quart pan. I was sure she had ruined the engine. Replacing the engine would have cost more than the car was worth. Amazingly, the engine was still fine even a year or so later.
We know we must TAKE CARE of a car or our bank accounts.

The consequences Moses is talking about are far more weighty than a car engine. He is talking about their SOULS. Will they watch over their souls?

The destructive outcome—if they failed to watch over their souls— was to forget the Lord. They would forget. They wouldn’t pass on the truths about God to their children and grandchildren. They would quit on their end of this covenant relationship they had with God Almighty. They would, like in marriage, be adulterers to their God. They would turn to IDOLS. They would miss out on real life. On the goodness of God.

Is this relevant only to Israel in 1400 B.C.? NO. It’s quite clear in the NT that the very same truths are written for us. We are to watch over our souls diligently.

Hebrews 2:1 ESV “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

Pay close attention to the core truths of our faith. Every one of us needs to hear and re-hear and re-hear the foundational truths of the faith. We never graduate from needing to hear about God and what he has done through his Son.

Look at what Peter said:

2 Peter 1:12–13 ESV “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder…”

Reminders. Remember. It’s not very glamorous, is it? Most of us like something NEW. Something we have never heard before. We are to remember like that. That’s why Jesus commanded us to break bread. He said to eat of the bread and drink of the cup…WHY…to REMEMBER me. To not FORGET.

In my 39 years as a follower of Jesus, I have been to 2000 church services. 2000. Do you think every time I hear something I have never heard before. NO! In fact, most of the time, I’m hearing something for the 100th time. Maybe stated in a fresh or new way. Maybe not. I can be tempted to think, “Yeah, I’ve heard that. Let’s MOVE ON to something new and exciting.” And I can be tempted as a teacher to want you to say, “I’ve never heard that before.” But to hear the same truths again is PRECISELY what I need.

Same thing with my Bible reading. In the past 25 years, I have read through almost the entire Bible every year. So over the years, I have read every single verse in the Bible MULTIPLE TIMES. I no longer encounter something I haven’t heard before.

Is that bad? No, it’s beautiful!! The essential part of that is, however, do I really believe it? Have I truly absorbed it? Have I forgotten some of it?
“Take care, lest you forget,” Moses said.
“Pay much closer attention to what we have heard,” Hebrews says.
“Stir you up by way of reminder,” Peter says.

We unveiled a new document at our Members meeting on Wednesday evening. And you will see this more in the future. This document simply outlines how we pastors are working together with all of you to walk with Jesus. It’s nothing fancy. In fact, there is really nothing new here at all.
Here’s an excerpt:
• Daily Bible reading and prayer
• Sunday morning.
• Life Group
If you want a vibrant, growing, fruitful, productive Christian life, such things as these are not options. They are NECESSITIES. They help us together…to remember. To watch over our souls with diligence. And I want to emphasize, “WITH DILIGENCE.”
This means entering into such activities with PRAYER. With faith. With expectation. With a heart ready to engage God. Showing up early. Staying late.

That’s why our Theme for this year is “RENEWAL.” It’s very, very tempting to think, “Yeah, I’ve done that. I’m bored with that. That doesn’t work that well for me. I’ve failed at that too many times.”
In this theme of RENEWAL, what we are asking is this: “Will I go to the Lord in prayer every single day, and say, “Lord, in this, will you work in my heart? Will you captivate the souls of my friends here?”
As Moses commands Israel to “Watch over their souls with Diligence,” so are we in Christ to “Watch over our souls. To pay careful attention lest we drift away.”

Applying Israel’s Story to Us
Matt shared this last week:

Romans 15:4 ESV “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

As we go through Deuteronomy, first look to see what the Lord said and did to Israel. Then second, consider how that applies to us today. God has not changed. The nature of man has not changed.
God’s covenant with Israel is different than our covenant, the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. But the Lord remains true. He doesn’t change.
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.
Israel’s calling from God to Listen and Live is a reminder of our calling in Christ. Real life is in Christ. It will never, ever be found OUTSIDE of Christ, no matter how enticing it is. Real Life is in Christ.

Hebrews 2:1 ESV “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”