9. Remember Sinai

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 9:  Remember Sinai

(Focus: Deut 4:10-20)

Deut 4:10-12 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 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.

Moses has just made a preliminary call to obedience, to obey the laws that God has given them, to learn those laws, take them in, understand them, keep them, and hang on to them, never forgetting them. This is what this book is all about. But now he goes on to reinforce that call with a reminder as to how all these laws came about. They were not just a good idea that Moses had; they originated with God.

He calls them to think back to that encounter at Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb): Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb.” (v.10a) That is what this is all about – working out the fruits of that encounter! He continues, “when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (v.10b) God had spoken and called them together with Him.

So, he says, “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 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, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (v.11-14) That’s what happened – do you remember it? You saw it all and you heard it all – this is part of your memory – it happened forty years ago, but you were there so you know it is true!

Now look, he continues, “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (v.15-19) Now this is very important. God did not show Himself to you in any form that you could see; you just heard Him. Stop and think – this IS important (you may not realise how important!) – you must never try and make any representation of Him and worship that, for (implied) whatever you make can never represent Him, it will only make Him smaller in your understanding and you mustn’t do that – He is the all-powerful Creator of all things.

I have come to believe that mostly we just do not understand the significance of the call to refrain from idolatry. All the nations of this area had images of their gods but they were lesser deities in their thinking, superstitious expressions of their fear of the world. These deities, images, idols, call them what you will, needed to be appeased or satisfied and the ways that the peoples of the world did that were often horrific, even sacrificing their own children. That is what superstition leads you into!  This was so far from the truth – that there is only one God, the almighty God of Creation who is all-loving and who does not need appeasing. Israel must never fall into the error of their neighbours for they have had the unique experience of encountering The Living God at Sinai and they must never forget that.

Indeed, they must never forget the bigger picture: “But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.” (v.20) They were a people who had been slaves and God had come and miraculously delivered them from that slavery in Egypt and was taking them to give them an inheritance of a new land to be lived in under His guidance and that means under His laws. Laws are simply rules for living in a harmonious and peaceful society. That is what God has in store for this people. First of all they have to take the land from the pagan Canaanites and their idols, and we are going to see reminder after reminder not to get entangled in that idolatry.

It is absolutely vital to their future welfare. If they turn to idols it means they will be turning away from God and if they turn away from God they will not be able to receive His wisdom or His guidance or His help and provision. They will be moving into a life of isolation whereby they will have to rely on their own wisdom and their own strength – and they don’t have enough of either to survive in a world that will be out to get them! They need to cling on to the memory of Sinai and of their experience of the Lord and cling on to Him for their future wellbeing. The same is true for us today!

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