“Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
Prior to Hammurabi, local leaders established the laws and rules of their community or district. Somewhere around 1750 BC., Hammurabi established a set of laws for the entire Babylonian kingdom, placing pillars inscribed with the set of laws at the most frequent entry points to inform travelers of the laws.
Based on Ussher’s Chronology, many scholars conclude that the Jewish law was in fact based on Hammurabi’s code rather than given by God, as it came many years before the projected date of the exodus. Using the timeframe indicated by the Bible itself, we find that the exodus took place near the same time he established the code, and given the difficulty in determining accurate dates, the exodus may well have preceded Hammurabi’s code by a few years. In any case at the time the law was given, they had not yet traveled far enough north and east to have seen the Stele it was inscribed on.
While similar to Hammurabi‘s code, the Mosaic Law was more detailed and addressed areas the code did not. God specifically said the observance of these laws would make them an example and model to the nations around them. We can look back through history and see that that was God’s plan all along, to draw other nations to himself.
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.
And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-14)
Forty years before, when God gave the law, every man there had been under twenty years of age, but many of them could remember seeing the fire come down on the mountain, hearing God speak and Moses bringing the tables of stone to them. Moses reminds them not to forget what they saw at the time, or that the laws they have been taught were given by God. They were not to forget that those laws were designed to enable them to be victorious and retain the land.
Hebrews 12:6-8 gives a similar warning to Christians. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Professed Christians who can remain in sin without experiencing God’s judgment are not really God’s children, but just pretenders.
“Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-20)
God had not allowed the people to see any of his form when he manifested himself to them because of the danger they would try to make some figure like it to worship. As Paul said in Acts 17:29, “…we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.” With a real idea of God’s appearance man would be tempted to make some sort of picture and begin to worship it instead of the God it represented, forgetting that it was God himself, not the picture that delivered them.
“Furthermore the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance: But I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan: but ye shall go over, and possess that good land.
Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee. For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:21-24)
Moses had failed to glorify God just one time, when he allowed his frustration with their complaining to cause him to take credit for what God would do. As a result of that one time he was not allowed to enter the promised land. They needed to understand how important it was that they obey God completely. Because he is a loving and forgiving God, betrayal is foreign to him, and he will not ignore it.
“When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.” (Deuteronomy 4:25-28)
Future generations would not have that same experience and would begin to view the stories as just stories. Eventually they would cease to follow the Lord’s commands. When that time came, Moses warned that God would certainly destroy the nation and scatter them among the other nations, where they would be outnumbered and absorbed into the other culture. Seven hundred years later Israel would be conquered and carried away to Babylon for that very reason.
We see the same tendency among second and third generation Christians today. Where their parents really knew the Lord‘s power, their children and grand children just see it a part of their family tradition. It requires concerted effort to prevent this, and many don’t expend the effort, assuming their children already know.
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31)
When they were destroyed and scattered, Moses also promised them that if they would turn back and obey God sincerely, God would honor his promises again because he is a merciful and loving God. While the sin might prevent his fulfilling his promises, it would not void them. As soon as the sin stopped, the promises would begin to take effect again.