Listen. Remember. Teach. Do. These are the things that Moses says to the Israelites in our text tonight. In the book of Deuteronomy Yahweh is preparing Israel to enter the promised land. Moses delivers the word of Yahweh, but he speaks as one who is not going with them. As he says in our text, he will die without crossing over the Jordan. He speaks to Israelites who had wandered in the wilderness during the course of forty years. However, after the exodus Israel had refused to enter Canaan and God had declared that only those under the age of twenty would enter the land. Many of those whom he addressed had been very young when the exodus took place. Many of them had not even been born yet.
So in Deuteronomy Moses reviews what had happened in the past and sets before them again the content of the Torah that describes the life they are to live as Yahweh’s covenant people. And in our text he begins a series of sermon like addresses to the nation as he exhorts them about how they are to live as God’s people. He gives them catechesis that will guide their lives.
As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, the primary focus of the season of Lent is on repentance. However, as the season that led to baptism in the early Church, it has also been tied to catechesis – teaching the Christian faith. Historically, this has been a strong emphasis within the Lutheran church. So during our mid-week Lent services we are going to listen to the catechesis that Moses delivered to the people of Israel. Though we are no longer bound by the requirements of the Torah, this instruction given to Israel continues to teach us about living as God’s people.
Moses begins by saying, “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.” The people needed to listen carefully and pay attention to God’s Word because it offered the way of life. It described the life of faith for those who had been called by Yahweh.
The same urging goes out to us. We have the continual need to listen to the Lord’s word. Do we know what it says?: No and yes. No, we don’t know all that is there. The depths of God’s word can never be exhausted no matter how much you hear it. For starters, there is just so much there. And then our experiences prompt us to recognize ever new insights we had not noticed before in Scripture texts that we thought we knew well.
And yes, we know in general what it says. So why do we need to continue to hear it? We do because it is the means by which the Holy Spirit sustains faith. We do because the old Adam in us doesn’t want to hear it, and the Spirit of God uses that Word to repress him so that the new man in us wins in that daily struggle against the old Adam.
Second, Moses said that Israel needed to remember. He said that they needed to remember how God had punished them. Moses says at the beginning of our text, “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.” The Book of Numbers tells us: “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” Israelite men had fornicated with Moabite women. It is possible this included participation in sexual acts of pagan worship. The result had been God’s judgment and death.
In our text Moses further warns against making different kinds of images as idols. He says, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
Like Israel, we must remember that breaking God’s law brings judgment. Our text focuses our attention on the First Commandment, in which God tells us that we are to have no other gods. Our God is a jealous God. He will not share you with any other god. You are to fear, love and trust in him above all things. That’s all things. To put something before God is idolatry. It is sin and will bring God’s judgment.
But Moses also says that Israel must remember what Yahweh had done for them. In his opening statement he says that by listening to God’s Word they will live “and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” Yahweh was the God who by his grace had called Abraham. He had given his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had promised the land of Canaan as his gift. And in our text Moses tells Israel: “But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.” He had rescued them from slavery – he had redeemed them in the exodus and entered into covenant with them at Mt. Horeb.
We too must remember God’s grace – his Gospel. God promised Abraham that in his offspring all nations would be blessed. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the seed of Abraham through whom God redeemed us from sin by his crucifixion. Jesus was our Passover lamb. The shedding of his blood has caused God’s wrath to pass over us. In the Gospel God gives forgiveness to repentant sinners and has caused us to be born again to living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Third, Moses says in our text that Israel must teach their children. He urges, “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.” The Israelites were to teach their children what God had done – how he had rescued them in the exodus and taken them to be his people. They were to teach them God’s Word of the Torah. In chapter six Moses says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Like Israel, we also have the command to teach our children what God has done. We have the obligation in the vocation of parents to teach the Christian faith to our children. We have the responsibility as a congregation to assist parents in doing this. Make no mistake, God has charged you has parents to teach the Gospel to your children; to teach God’s Word and all that it says about a God pleasing life. You are also to teach them by what you do as you place Christ and his Means of Grace at the center of your life.
And finally, Moses says that they are do what he is telling them – they are to do what God’s Word says. We hear in our text: “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. 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.’”
Because of God’s saving work in Christ – because of the Gospel – we now seek to do those things that God’s Word says. In our day, walking in the way of the Lord may not bring statements of appreciation from the world. But in doing so we are pleasing to God, and we are living as God ordered life to be lived. We are doing things in God’s way, and this is always what is best for us. We are living in ways that share the love of Jesus Christ with others, because he first loved us.
Listen. Remember. Teach. Do. These four statements summarize what Moses said to the Israelites in our text. During this season of Lent this Word of God teaches us that the same things continue to direct our lives in Christ.