David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Moses Reminds Israel of the Commandment and the Warning
A. The Commandment: The essence of Gods law.
1. (1-3) Remember the commandment before entering Canaan.
Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you; a land flowing with milk and honey.
a. Now this is the commandment: The Hebrew is emphatic here. Moses called attention to The Commandment. In the following verses, God reduced the law to one ruling principle - one commandment which encompassed all the commandments.
b. That your days may be prolonged . . . that it may be well with you: Israels fate rested on their obedience to this one great commandment. If they obeyed their commandment, their life would be long and filled with blessing. If they did not obey they could expect to be cursed by God.
2. (4-5) The great commandment: Love the Lord your God.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
a. Hear, O Israel: In Hebrew, these verses are known as the Shema (hear in Hebrew). It is the classic Hebrew confession of faith, describing who God is and what our duty is towards Him.
b. The Lord our God, the Lord is one! This is the essential truth about God. He is a person and not a vague pantheistic force. Being one, He cannot be represented by contradictory images. Since the Lord our God is one, He is not Baal, or Ashtoreth - He is the Lord God, and they are not.
i. In the mind of many Jewish people, this verse alone disqualified the New Testament teaching that Jesus is God, and the New Testament teaching of the Trinity - that there is one God, existing in three Persons. At some times and places, as Jewish synagogues said the Shema together, and when the word one (echad) was said, they loudly and strongly repeated that one word for several minutes, as if it were a rebuke to Christians who believed in the Trinity.
ii. Christians must come to a renewed understanding of the unity of God. They must appreciate the fact that the Lord is one, not three, as 1 Corinthians 8:6 says: yet for us there is one God. We worship one God, existing in three persons, not three separate gods.
iii. Yet, the statement the Lord is one certainly does not contradict the truth of the Trinity. In fact, it establishes that truth. The Hebrew word for one is echad, which speaks most literally of a compound unity, instead of using the Hebrew word yacheed, which speaks of an absolute unity or singularity (Genesis 22:2 and Psalm 25:16).
iv. The very first use of echad in the Bible is in Genesis 1:5: So the evening and the morning were the first day. Even here, we see a unity (one day) with the idea of plurality (made up of evening and morning). Genesis 2:24 uses echad in saying the two shall become one flesh. Again, the idea of a unity (one flesh), making a plurality (the two). In Exodus 26:6 and 11, the fifty gold clasps are used to hold the curtains together so the tent would be one (echad) - a unity (one) made up of a plurality (the many parts of the tabernacle). In Ezekiel 37:17 the Lord tells Ezekiel to join together two sticks (prophetically representing Ephraim and Judah) into one (echad), speaking again of a unity (one stick) made up of a plurality (the two sticks). There is no way that echad has the exclusive idea of an absolute singularity; the idea of One God in Three Persons fits just fine with the term echad.
c. The Lord our God: In addition, even the name of God in this line suggests the plurality of God. The Hebrew word is Elohim and grammatically, it is a plural word used as if it were singular - the verbs and pronouns used with it are generally in the plural.
i. Rabbi Simeon ben Joachi, commenting on the word Elohim: Come and see the mystery of the word Elohim; there are three degrees, and each degree by itself alone, and yet notwithstanding they are all one, and joined together in one, and are not divided from each other. Clarke adds: He must be strangely prejudiced indeed who cannot see that the doctrine of a Trinity, and of a Trinity in unity, is expressed in the above words.
ii. Leupold quoting Luther on Elohim: But we have clear testimony that Moses aimed to indicate the Trinity or the three persons in the one divine nature.
d. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might: Knowing who God is enables us to act towards Him rightly. We give Him His due.
i. God wants a complete love from us. This love is appropriate because He loved us completely: We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
ii. What God most wants from us is our love. We often think God demands a hundred other things from us - our money, our time, our effort, our will, our submission, and so forth - but what God really wants is our love. When we really love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind, then everything else is freely given to the Lord. If we give the Lord all the rest - money, time, effort, will, and so forth - without giving Him our love, it is all wasted - and perhaps, all is lost.
iii. Jesus called this the great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38); and He said the second commandment, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, was like this first, great commandment. When we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we will find it easy to love our neighbor as ourselves.
3. (6-9) The continual reminder of the Law.
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
a. These words which I command you today shall be in your heart: This great command must first be in our heart. Then it must be communicated to our children, the topic of our conversation, and should always be in front of us - as near as our hand or our forehead, as ever before us as our door posts and gates.
b. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand: By the time of Jesus the Jewish people based the practice of wearing phylacteries on this passage. Phylacteries are small boxes holding parchment with scriptures on them, held to the forehead or hand with leather straps.
i. Jesus condemned abuse of the wearing of phylacteries among the Pharisees; they would make their phylactery boxes large and ostentatious as a display of greater spirituality (Matthew 23:5).
ii. In the end times, there will be a Satanic imitation of this practice, when the number of the Antichrist will be applied to either the hand or forehead of all who will take it (Revelation 13:16).
c. You shall write them on the doorposts of your houses: This command leads to the Jewish practice of the mezuzah. This is a small container holding a passage of Scripture that is nailed to a doorpost.
B. The danger of disobedience.
1. (10-12) The danger of leaving God in times of prosperity.
So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant; when you have eaten and are full; then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
a. To give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build: God planned to bring Israel into an abundant, prepared land. In this abundant blessing God had for Israel, there was an inherent danger: That they would forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
b. Lest you forget the Lord: This cycle would be repeated through the history of Israel, especially in the time of the Judges. God would bless an obedient Israel, and they would prosper; they would begin to set their heart on the blessings instead of the Lord who blessed them; God would allow chastisement to turn Israels focus back upon Him; Israel would repent and obey again, and God would again bless and obedient Israel and they would prosper.
i. We usually fail to appreciate the danger of success and prosperity; we agree there is a theoretical danger in those things, but rarely think it applies to us.
ii. It is just a lot easier to forget the Lord your brought you out . . . from the house of bondage when there are no circumstances forcing you to remember Him.
2. (13-19) How to avoid apostasy in times of prosperity: honoring the Lord in everything we do.
You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth. You shall not tempt the Lord your God as you tempted Him in Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land of which the Lord swore to your fathers, to cast out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken.
a. You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him: When we do this, the idea is not of a shrinking fear from an angry God. Instead, the idea of fear is more in the concept of an awe-filled respect, an inner repulsion at the idea of offending such a great, loving God who has done so much for us.
i. This is the passage of Scripture Jesus quoted back to Satan when tempted by Satan to avoid the cross and win back the world, if He would only bow down and worship Satan. Jesus rightly replies, based on the truth You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him that it was only right to fear, and worship, and serve God - and it was wrong to bow down to Satan, no matter what might be given Him in return (Matthew 4:8-10).
b. And shall take oaths in His name: although the concept of the oath in Gods name can certainly be abused (as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:33-37), there certainly is a permissible use of oaths by those who follow God - since God Himself uses oaths (Hebrews 6:13). Here, Israel is being told you are to swear an oath only in the name of the Lord, not in the name of any other god.
c. You shall not tempt the Lord your God as you tempted Him at Massah: In Exodus 17:1-7, Israel tempted the Lord by doubting His love and concern for them. This was tempting or testing God regarding His love for Israel, something that is not only high-handed against the Lord (because we have no right to administer a test to the Almighty) but also disregarding His previous, and constant demonstrations of love and care for Israel (by demanding that God prove His love for them now by giving them what they want).
i. Anytime we deny Gods love for us, or demand He do something for us, we are testing Him as if He must answer to our standards, and tempting Him to judge us.
ii. This is the passage of Scripture which Jesus quoted back to Satan in the wilderness, when tempted to make God the Father prove His love for the Son by spectacularly protecting Jesus if He should jump off the pinnacle of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus knew it was wrong to demand this sort of proof from His Father, since every day was proof of God the Fathers love for the Son!
d. And you shall do what is right . . . that it may be well with you: This theme is constantly repeated. Under the Old Covenant, Israels blessing was based on their obedience. When they obeyed they would be blessed; when they disobeyed they would be cursed.
i. This is not the source of blessing in the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, we are blessed by faith in Jesus, since He fulfills the law in our place (Romans 8:3-4). The watchwords for blessing under the Old Covenant were earning and deserving; under the New Covenant, blessing comes by believing and receiving.
ii. The New Covenant system works because when we receive the New Covenant, God sends with it an inner transformation, where the law of God and the desire to do His will is now written on our hearts. Through the New Covenant, God makes us safe for His grace by this inner transformation.
iii. Under the New Covenant there is no judgment from God for our disobedience, because all the judgment we deserved was put upon Jesus at the cross. However, there may be correction from the hand of a loving God the Father (not in the sense of making us pay for our sin, but in the sense of training us not to continue in sin), and there are the natural consequences of our disobedience, which God has not promised to shield us from.
iv. Christians who fear the freedom of a New Covenant relationship with God must ask this question: did Israel come to great obedience to God through the Old Covenant? Does the system of earning and deserving blessing make us truly more godly than the system of believing and receiving? Or does it leave us either in total desperation (where one can then look to Jesus), or in total pride in our own works before God (as were the religious leaders of Jesus day who had a significant hand in crucifying Him)?
3. (20-25) How to avoid apostasy in times of prosperity: Teach your children to understand and honor the Lord.
When your son asks you in time to come, saying, What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you? then you shall say to your son: We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.
a. When your son asks you in time to come: Often, the apostasy which comes from prosperity afflicts the next generation more than the present. They grow up expecting such prosperity and blessing, without understanding the repentance and walk with God which led to the prosperity.
b. Then you shall say to your son: Therefore, it was essential for Israel to teach and warn their children, so that the blessings given to one generation would not become a curse to the next generation.
i. Key to the teaching was the simple recounting of Israels testimony - how God saved them from the bondage of Egypt. Parents need to relate to their children how they came to a personal relationship with Jesus, so the children understand that they must come to the same relationship.
c. It will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments: If one will obtain true righteousness through the law, it is simple (though not easy): observe all the commandments. But if you are lacking in observing any commandment, then you need the atonement of a Perfect Sacrifice - Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
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