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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Deuteronomy 5



Verse 3


‘The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.’

Deuteronomy 5:3

I. God’s Word is living, and always keeps pace with his people.—Many seem to have a notion that the Bible is out of date, old-fashioned, behind the times, and that the present generation needs something more advanced. The Bible, instead of being behind the times, is always in advance of them, and so far in advance on some lines that some of its statements are not always comprehended until the event of which it speaks is fulfilled. Although the book of Deuteronomy was written nearly fifteen hundred years before Christ, some of the prophecies it contains are being fulfilled to-day before our very eyes, and the fulfilment of others is yet in the future.

It will be observed that Moses, in this review of the Law, first rehearses, in brief, the general principles of the Law as contained in the Ten Commandments; and throughout the rest of the section he is not only reviewing more at length, but he is also making comments on the Law.

II. Originally the covenant was made with the fathers, even as the New Covenant was with Jesus, our Covenant Head. But it was also entered into personally by these very men at Sinai. Theirs, therefore, was the personal and individual responsibility. And how intensely personal the act of entrance into the New Covenant! If ever two were alone together it is the Prodigal and his Father in the supreme moment of their reconciliation. Then each is all to the other. They are face to face, heart to heart. It is all “I” and “Thou.” And as it begins, so it continues. This personal element, this aloneness with God Himself, abides and intensifies as our religion grows truer and stronger. There is very much that is called “religion” short of this; but the true salvation-point is not reached.


‘All Israel were summoned to hear the words of Moses, because no one was excepted from their range. And the end of hearing should always be learning, keeping, and doing (James 1:22-25).

‘“Not with our fathers” may mean not with the patriarchs, who had simply the covenant of circumcision; or it may mean that the covenant of Sinai was ratified not only with the generation which received it, but with all others represented in them.’

Verse 29


‘O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!’

Deuteronomy 5:29

The same merciful God who said, ‘I am a Father to Israel,’ has given us also the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ and may be well supposed to address every human being on the face of the earth in the affecting language of the text, ‘O that there were such an heart in thee, that thou wouldst fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with thee, and with thy children for ever!’ Let us, then, attentively consider this object, humanly speaking, of God’s earnest desire, and the rewards which are here said to be dispensed by Him upon all those who do their utmost to attain it. This view of the subject will at once present us with the whole duty of every created being, and the blessings which attend its performance.

I. The former of these is thus briefly expressed: ‘To fear God and to keep all His commandments always.’—Although it is not improbable that the fear of God thus mentioned bore some reference to the awe and alarm of the Israelites at the terrors of the Lord’s presence, as if it had been said, to fear God always, as they do at this moment; yet, ‘the fear of God’ is a common Scriptural expression for the duties consequent upon a just sense of the relation in which we stand to Him as our Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and future Judge. For this relation embraces two things. It regards the All-wise and All-powerful Maker of the universe as the exalted Being on whom we have to depend for every temporal and every spiritual good, and whose will it should be our greatest pleasure, as it is our surest interest and first of duties, to perform. And it next regards ourselves as the poor beings of a day, whose breath is in their nostrils, and the imagination of whose hearts is only evil continually, admitted by covenant (an act of undeserved grace and mercy) to be His children, the rescued and ransomed inheritors of a ‘kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world’; if they only do their utmost to make His revealed will the great law of their lives. It is this view of the relation in which we stand to God that renders the ‘fear of the Lord’ equivalent in meaning to the fullest obedience to His commandments. And it is in this sense it is used by David, Job, and Solomon. But in the present instance the meaning of the phrase is placed beyond all doubt by the words which accompany it, ‘that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always.’ We perceive then at once that these phrases, whatever may be thought of them singly, can in conjunction mean nothing less than a strictly religious life in conformity with the known will of God declared in our Bibles. I say strictly, because it may be remarked that the words admit of no exceptions or excuses or reservations. The terms are, ‘keep all My commandments always’; not, as too many flatter themselves they do, some or even many of God’s precepts, but all of His commandments, and on all occasions. The favourite and besetting sin is not excepted; and no season of temptation, no cases of example or enticement, or ‘following a multitude to do evil,’ have the shadow of a sanction.

II. Having, then, explained the duty which a merciful God (to use the same human mode of expression) so anxiously and earnestly requires from each of us, His creatures, His servants, who ‘have been bought with a price,’ let us now turn our meditations upon the powerful motive proposed by the same gracious Being for our ‘fearing Him, and keeping all His commandments always.’ This motive is expressed in the same short and summary way with the duty itself, and is this, ‘that it may be well with us and with our children for ever’; which means simply that the blessing of God may be upon us and upon our children for ever.

(a) In the Christian dispensation of acceptance and adoption by God, the believer is mercifully promised pardon for sin upon repentance and faith in the great Mediator of the covenant into which he has been admitted.

(b) Another blessing is this: all his prayers are heard. Every petition that he makes at the throne of mercy is received and answered, either by its performance, or (if divine wisdom foresees that it may in kind or in degree prove injurious to him) by the grant of that portion of it, or of something else, which may be truly beneficial and more expedient.

(c) But it is well with the man that fears God in another respect. He is blest with sound judgment and the best of knowledge upon the great concern of life. He is made ‘wise unto salvation.’ ‘He that is spiritual judgeth all things.’ He discerns clearly the real value of things, and can distinguish accurately between good and evil. ‘The Lord layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous.’

(d) The last blessing of the truly religious man which I shall now mention is this, that it will be ‘well with him’ hereafter. His present trust and confidence in God and His promises, his full and zealous obedience to all His commandments always, will be repaid at length by an eternity of bliss.

—Rev. A. B. Evans.


‘The character of the book might be summed up in one sentence—

“Deuteronomy is one long, varied plea for hearty obedience to God, in based on the two grand motives of love and fear.”

This plea for obedience is long, and Moses varies it in every way, shape, and manner. He pleads, not only for obedience, but for hearty obedience, and bases the plea on their love for God and fear of Him. God has given to Moses to see far down the ages. He has lifted the veil which hides the future from these mortal eyes, and everything is clear to Moses for hundreds of years to come. He sees stretching out to the right the path of obedience, and to the left the path of disobedience. He sees what will be the consequences to the nation if they take the path of obedience—a future so glorious that words can scarcely depict it; and he also sees what will be the consequences to the nation if they take the path of disobedience—a future so dark and dreadful that he can scarcely paint it in words.’

Verse 33


‘Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.’

Deuteronomy 5:33

I. One of these clauses is commonly said to enjoin a duty, the other to promise the blessings which those might confidently look for who performed it. This is not a satisfactory definition. Moses teaches his countrymen that God has conferred upon them the highest, prize which man can conceive, freely and without any merit on their part. Was the knowledge of the living and unseen God nothing in itself, but only valuable in virtue of some results that were to come of it? Moses tells his countrymen that it was everything. To hold it fast was to be a nation; to lose it was to sink back into that condition out of which they had been raised.

II. Is there no duty then assigned in the text?—Certainly when it is said, ‘Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you,’ it must be meant that there is something required on the part of the creature as well as something bestowed by the Creator. We cannot understand what is required unless we understand what is bestowed. If we believe that a way has been made for us, and that we have been put in that way, we can apprehend the force of the precept to walk in it, we can feel what is meant by transgression and revolt.

III. It is here signified in very simple, clear language that a people in a right, orderly, godly state shall be a well-doing people, a people with all the signs and tokens of strength, growth, triumph, a people marked for permanence and indefinite expansion.

IV. It cannot be true that the blessings of adversity were unknown to the Jews, were reserved for a later period. The more strong their feeling was that God had chosen their nation and made a covenant with it, the greater was their struggle with their individual selfishness, their desire of great things for themselves, the more need had they of God’s fires to purify them. No men could be more taught than the Jewish seers were that punishments are necessary for individuals and nations, and that ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’

V. It is a perilous and an almost fatal notion that Christian men have less to do with the present than the Jews had, that their minds and their religion are to be projected into a region after death, because there only the Divine Presence is dwelling. The alternative is between a faith which shall belong to men as men, which shall concern all their ordinary pursuits, toils, relations—the alternative is between such a faith and absolute atheism.

Rev. F. D. Maurice.


(1) ‘Man needs a mediator. Conscious of the evil of his heart and life, he dares not face the All Holy. But there is a Mediator, a Daysman; not a servant, however noble and faithful, but the Son, who can lay a hand upon each. He has gone near, and has heard all that the Father has to say, and has spoken it to us; but, oh, how eagerly He yearns that there were such a heart in us that we would keep those commandments always, then indeed it would be well with us. We should live in the power of life eternal. We should possess the land of rest and plenty. We should prolong our days as the days of heaven upon earth.’

(2) ‘The actual entrance into the New Covenant is not effected, unless there has been this personal meeting, this heart to heart contract between the sinner and his Saviour. This is necessary to that vital union to Him on which all Christian life depends. What does the hearer know of this experimentally?’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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