Deuteronomy 4:1-2 “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.”
One reason to take God’s word seriously is that he takes it so seriously himself. The word for “decrees” in the Hebrew literally refers to something which has been carved or etched into something solid. That immediately makes us think of the ten commandments which were carved into stone. What was God telling us about how he felt about his commandments when he chiseled them into two sheets of rock? They could have been written on paper scrolls. But the Lord insisted that his 10 commandments be carved into stone. Then they could not fade, be erased, or be changed. We even use the phrase “set in stone” to refer to something that cannot be changed. God was serious about his word!
If there was still any doubt about that, look at the conditions he placed on following his commands. “Follow them so that you may live.” By “live” he is not referring to an enjoyable, successful life. By “live” he means the difference between life and death. God was giving his people a choice: “Follow my commands, and I will permit you to stay alive. Break them, and I will wipe you out and destroy you.” He is serious about his word!
Then he conditions their earthly happiness on keeping his commands. Follow them “so that you may go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” The last time Israel had a chance to take possession of this land had been 40 years earlier. They disobeyed God and refused to trust him. That led to wandering in the desert for forty years. Again, when God says, “Listen,” he wants to be taken seriously.
The Lord is no less serious about his commandments today. They are not suggestions. Choosing to break the commandments still invites his anger. It still forfeits eternal life. On top of this, those who insist on living in some sin are only adding to their own misery. God designed each of his commands to take care of us in some way. Breaking them may result in short term pleasure but almost always leads to long term pain.
Note that Moses warning forbids adding to God’s commands as well as subtracting. What new rules would we like to make because, quite frankly, we don’t trust our Christian brothers and sisters? What traditions do we have, fine customs in and of themselves, we would like to codify into law and use to bludgeon someone else’s conscience? Too often people who do so think they are taking God’s word seriously. But this is the spirit of the Pharisee. It replaces the true Lawgiver with ourselves. We need to heed Moses’ warning, “Don’t add or subtract.”
If we take this word seriously, then we will realize we can’t keep it perfectly. Then there is another word we dare not ignore or change. For Jesus’ sake the Lord does not condemn us. He does not immediately end our lives. For Jesus’ sake he forgives our sin. Knowing that he is also a loving and gracious God kindles our desire to take his commands seriously and put them into practice. People to whom God has revealed himself as Savior and Redeemer find the power to do his will.