Introduction: Are there hard lessons in the Bible? Are we sometimes challenged to see Jesus in the “God of the Old Testament?” The answer is “yes.” We have a hard lesson this week. But, instead of averting our eyes, we need to study the hard lessons to find what God has to teach us. Let’s jump into our study of Deuteronomy 4 and learn more!

  1.         Subtracting.

  1.         Read Deuteronomy 4:2. In a previous lesson we looked at what it meant to add to God’s word. We will do that again later in this study. Let’s look at subtracting from God’s word. What do you think it means “to take from [God’s commands]? (Telling people that God’s commands do not matter.)

  1.         Read Deuteronomy 4:3. Where does God direct the minds of the people for an illustration of this “taking from” God’s commands? (Something that happened at Baal-peor.)

  1.         Baal-peor.

  1.         Read Numbers 22:1-3. What is the reaction of the Moabites to God’s people approaching Canaan? (They are “overcome with fear.”  They are concerned that Israel will destroy them.)

  1.         Read Numbers 22:4-6. What plan does the King of Moab hatch to defend his nation? (He decides to engage in spiritual warfare against God’s people. Traditional war, he decides, will be a disaster for the Moabites and the Midianites.)

  1.         King Balak of the Moabites offers the prophet Balaam money to curse Israel. Let’s see how that works out. Read Numbers 23:23-26. What does Balaam end up doing? (Blessing God’s people. He says Israel will devour its prey and drink the blood of the slain.)

  1.         What desperate request does King Balak make in reaction to this blessing? (He goes from asking that they be cursed, to asking Balaam to at least refrain from blessing them.)

  1.         We have skipped much of this background, but the summary is that three times Balaam blessed Israel when he was supposed to curse it. With this background, read Numbers 25:1-2. What new strategy has Moab found to attack Israel? (Perhaps it is not so new – this is a different kind of spiritual attack.)

  1.         Will Satan continue to find new ways to try to attack us?

  1.         Read Numbers 25:3. What commandments have God’s people broken? (The first and second (against worshiping other gods), and the seventh (against committing adultery).)

  1.         How does God react to this “subtracting” from His commandments? (He is angry.)

  1.         Why do you think He is angry? Is it about being insulted? Or, is He angry because His people are doing foolish things that will deprive them of the blessing that He has given them?

  1.         Read Numbers 25:4-5. How are the leaders of Israel handled? (Both leaders and followers who have “yoked themselves” to Baal are killed. The leaders are publicly displayed as examples of wrong doing.)

  1.         Read Numbers 25:6. How are most of the people reacting to this? (They are weeping.)

  1.         How does this weeping contrast with the fellow who brings a Midianite woman “to his family?” (The contrast is severe. Most of God’s people are crying about this. This one guy is boldly continuing in his sin – he doesn’t care if the rest of the people see him.)

  1.         Read Numbers 25:7-9. What does this suggest authorized religious leaders should do about open sin in the congregation? (Take bold action against it.)

  1.         Let’s talk about this “hard” story. How vulnerable were God’s people to traditional military attacks? (They were invulnerable.)

  1.         Was Satan able to steal their blessings without their consent? (No! Balaam could only bless them.)

  1.         What strategy did Satan have to use to defeat them? (He had to convince God’s people to reject God’s commands. He had to convince God’s people to harm themselves.)

  1.         What lesson is there in this story for modern Christians? (Satan cannot directly defeat those who are blessed by God. Instead, Satan must get us to consent to having our blessings taken away. We must consent to being harmed.)

  1.         Have you ever heard someone say that Satan is attacking them? What is the proper response to that? (Satan can only hurt us if we stray from God’s path.)

  1.         What about the story of Job? He never strayed from God’s path before he was attacked by Satan? (Read Job 2:3-6. This shows us that my statement that we “can only be hurt” if we stray is not correct. We can only be harmed by our own decisions and the express permission of God.)

  1.         Hold Fast

  1.         Read Deuteronomy 4:4. This text immediately follows the reference to the Baal-peor story. What lesson does God ask us to take from that story? (God does not say, “don’t make Me angry.” Instead, God points to the blessing of being alive. The Moabites intended to kill them.)

  1.         Read Deuteronomy 4:5-6. How will people react to you if you obey God? (They will call you “a wise and understanding people.”)

  1.         Would you like that?

  1.         Is that what people call you now?

  1.         Vain Worship

  1.         Read Matthew 15:8-9. We turn now to “adding” to what God commands. What does God call the problem of substituting “the commandments of men” for God’s commandments? (Worshiping in vain.)

  1.         What does worshiping in vain mean? (It means it does you no good.)


  1.         Read Matthew 15:10-11. Do you know anyone who fails to understand this?

  1.         Read Matthew 15:12. How will some people respond to what Jesus said about the true nature of defilement? (They are offended.)

  1.         Read Matthew 15:13-14. These false teachers are offended. How should we react to them? (We should leave them alone. Just ignore them.)

  1.         Read Romans 14:1-4. Is the teaching of Romans consistent with what Jesus said in Matthew 15? (We need discernment here. Romans 14 is a discussion of debatable rules (“opinions”). Jesus points out that those adding to God’s commandments can do real harm.)

  1.         Read Matthew 15:15-20. The specific issue is eating without first washing your hands. Jesus’ illustration of his pint to Peter goes far beyond hand washing. How far would you say that Jesus illustration goes?                        

  1.         Would it apply to anything that you ate? (I think the critical issue for us is to distinguish between good ideas and God’s commands. You should label your “good ideas” as just that and not claim they are required by God. If I disagree, I should just ignore your claims for your good ideas.)

  1.         Look again at Matthew 15:19-20. Is your church more focused on “good ideas” or these serious sins?

  1.         How about you? Where is your focus? (Jesus says in Matthew 15:14 that if our focus is wrong, we are “blind guides” who will cause others to fall into a pit – the same pit we are in.)

  1.         Friend, if you want the blessing God has promised, you need to follow His commandments. We need to stay out of the danger zone of disobedience. At the same time, we need to be careful to draw a clear line between God’s commandments and the good ideas humans come up with to avoid violating God’s commands. Will you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be serious about following the path of blessings?

  1.         Next week: Law and Grace.