Part One - Idolatry Forbidden
Idolatry seems such a silly idea to most, we the intellectually enlightened who grasp that an infinite being certainly could not be contained in a block of wood or a pile of stone. How do we translate ancient scriptures about idolatry into our modern (or post modern)existence?
There are two things that stand out to me initially after a quick read of the text:
First, God was careful not to mislead the Israelites. Second, He promises hope even when they fail.
In verses 15 & 16 Moses reminds the wanderers that God did not reveal Himself to them at Mt. Horeb in a particular guise. Rather, he chose something without form or substance. Smoke and fire are what are referred to with the ascension of God to Mt. Sinai. (Ex. 19:18) And, as I think through the Old Testament, rare were the times that God took on any specific form as His representation. As I think, the one exception that appears clearly to me was the creation of the bronze serpent (there appears to be some arguement whether Nehushtan or the rod of Asclepius is the original symbol for medicine, btw, though I personally feel the legend of Asclepius' rod is because Nehushtan was already recognized as a healing symbol) Numbers 21. Interestingly, Hezekiah destroys the snake ( 2 kings 18:4) because the Israelites had been burning incess to it. The point is that God, through Moses, reminds the Israelites that He is not bound to a form nor has He chosen to represent Himself regularly through one form (the exception perhaps being a lamb.)
Furthermore, they are to watch themselves carefully that they do not slip into the habit of worshiping things instead of the creator. And Moses gets specific: not man, not animal, not bird and not even a heavenly body (perhaps specified because of the Egyptians religious preferences for the sun and moon, etc. especially since Moses then says "those [things] which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven" as though to remind them of others who worship the sun and stars as though they alone had ownership of their existence.
v. 20 - a direct reference to Israel's removal from Egypt; calling Egypt the iron furnace. (My NASB cross references this with 1 Ki 8:51 & Jer. 11:4)Why was Egypt referred to as an iron or iron-smelting furnace? (an interesting article here) I guess it is the idea of the 'refiner's fire' coming into play again.(Also interesting is that the article places iron smelting in the 8th century B.C. but Moses might have lived in the 1600's B.C. and it is likely that Thothmes I could have brought iron-smelting from Asia...but I digress...)
v 21-22 seems to be Moses revisiting AGAIN his frustration (maybe even anger) at the Israelites over him not being allowed into the promise land. Having thought through this before I will continue on.)
V 23 - a reiteration of warning.