“And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:8
Deuteronomy contains Moses’s final speeches to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. Moses has been leading the people for the last forty years. Moses was the leader when God led the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage to freedom. Moses was the leader when Israel reached Sinai and God gave them the Ten Commandments and the Law. And Moses was the leader during the forty years of wondering. The forty years of punishment for failing to trust in the God who rescued them from slavery to safely plant them in the land. So as Moses prepares to depart from the people that he has led over the past forty years, it is no surprise that he has much to tell them.
Near the beginning of the book, in chapter 4, Moses makes some interesting remarks. He begins chapter 4 with a familiar encouragement to remember the laws and stipulations that Moses is reminding them of today. Remember the law and live up to the stipulations so that you will live long in the land and so that you might have life. Following the law was specifically tied to life and prosperity in the land. (This is especially evident in the covenant blessings and curses that Moses will speak of later.) Moses then reminds them of one of their great mistakes when they failed to follow the law. Remember what happened at the Baal of Peor. Remember how the people engaged in unhealthy relationships with foreigners. Remember how their hearts were led to idolatry. Remember how God punished them for their disobedience. They suffered and died because they failed to follow the law and instead went after other gods and made their own rules. They died in the wilderness because of their disobedience so don’t make the same mistake. Instead, hear the words and stipulations I tell you and keep them so that you may live long in the land.
Moses finishes off these first eight verses with two interesting statements. “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? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (4:7-8) Somehow these statements seem slightly interesting. The first statement makes complete sense. What other nation is as blessed as Israel that the Lord God is so close to them. Truly, it is a blessing to have God so close; watching over them, protecting them, providing for them. No one would ever deny that this is a great blessing. However, the next statement is a direct parallel; what other great nation is there that has a righteous law like you do. Just as it is a blessing to be near God it is also a blessing to have the law. Very rarely would anyone ever consider living under the law of Israel as a blessing. Having to follow all of the rules and stipulations seems so difficult. And yet, Moses declares it a blessing. Living under the Law, living out the Law is a blessing.
But why is this? Two reasons. First of all, the law is righteous. Living the way of God leads to a righteous lifestyle. Providing for the poor and needy, not taking advantage of the weak, honoring others; all of these are major aspects of the law. This is a righteous way to live. Most nations will not provide for the foreigner or the alien but God does because God is righteous. God’s way is a righteous way to live.
Secondly, real life is found in the law. Moses says repeatedly follow the law so that you have life. Following the law is not overbearing, it is life-giving. Following God is not oppressive (rules to follow and burdens to bear) but is actually freeing because it leads to real life. Living God’s ethic, while demanding, actually gives one real life; helps one experience great blessings. The Law is a blessing because it actually is the best way to live. Following God demands all one has; but it’s in losing life, in dying, that one learns to live. It seems strange but being a slave to God actually makes one free to live and fulfill all that was intended of them.