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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This entire chapter is devoted to a rehearsal of the Decalogue by Moses himself on the eve of Israel’s entry into Canaan. The longest chapter in my Commentary on Exodus (Vol. II in the Pentateuch Series) is devoted to a detailed discussion of the famed “Ten Words,” and we shall not recapitulate that material here.

There are a few very minor differences in the two reports, of which Alexander said, “These differences are of little moment.”(F1) Scott listed the so-called “differences” between the two as follows: (1) hortatory additions; (2) more definite and emphatic statement; (3) raising of wife’s status; (4) humanitarian motive for observing sabbath; (5) additional incentive for honoring parents; and (6) the addition of “ox,” “ass,” “manservant,” and “woman servant,” to the list of Exodus 20:10.(F2) Several of these alleged differences disappear altogether upon a full understanding of the slight changes in terminology. No. 3, for example, hinges entirely upon the switching of the order of two words, “house” and “wife.” It is by no means mandatory to suppose that there was any change of meaning whatever in such a switch. The use of slightly different terminology was explained by Eerdmans thus:

“In repeating the Ten Commandments, Moses does not in all cases use the words as originally given (Exodus 20). But he refers to this authoritative form repeatedly in Deuteronomy 5:12; Deuteronomy 5:15-16 as familiar to speakers and hearers alike. Thus, Moses was not bound to verbal repetition in referring to the law as the basis of his exhortations.”(F3)

First, we shall take a look at the text of the chapter as it stands in our version. Quibblings about the author of Deuteronomy are out of order in a chapter like this. All of the forgers on earth working together could not produce a document like the Decalogue and palm it off on the human race as having come from the Great Lawgiver Moses. The convictions of the human race, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic throughout three millenniums are the only proof of Mosaic authorship that is needed.

Verses 1-33

“And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them. And Jehovah our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. Jehovah spake with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire (I stood between Jehovah and you at that time, to show you the word of Jehovah: for ye were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into the mount), saying, “I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I, Jehovah thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. “Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain: for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. “Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Jehovah thy God commanded thee. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. Honor thy father and thy mother, as Jehovah thy God commanded thee; that thy days may be long, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee. “Thou shalt not kill. “Neither shalt thou commit adultery. “Neither shalt thou steal. “Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor. “Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s wife; neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbors. “These words Jehovah spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them upon two tables of stone, and gave them unto me. And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; and ye said, Behold, Jehovah our God hath showed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth speak with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of Jehovah our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou near, and hear all that Jehovah our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that Jehovah our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it. “And Jehovah heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and Jehovah said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would hear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever! Go say to them, Return ye to your tents. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it. Ye shall observe to do therefore as Jehovah your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the way which Jehovah 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.”

Now we shall glance at some of the questions raised with regard to this remarkable chapter.

The remarkable homogeneity and unity of Deuteronomy in all of its parts frustrate criticism so effectively that some critics have even attempted to split the book on the basis of singular or plural pronouns, being unaware, apparently, that the Hebrew writers paid little or no regard to the number of pronouns. “They are used apparently at random”(F4) throughout whole sections of this book. This same frustration has also led to some very weak and worthless interpretations. We are happy indeed to find more and more scholars who are returning to the conviction that these (the books of the Pentateuch) are indeed the “Books of Moses.” “A growing number of present-day scholars affirm that it (the Pentateuch) is essentially Mosaic.”(F5)

One thing that is hastening a more general acceptance of the traditional view of the date and authorship of the O.T. is the type of arguments the critical scholars frequently make. Note the following:

“Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.” Deuteronomy 5:3.

Phillips exclaimed that, “This appears to contradict the earlier statement that the Horeb generation had died out (Deuteronomy 2:14).”(F6) Blair also noted this type of criticism (without endorsing it), the claim being that, “The writer does not know of, or has overlooked the generation lost in the wilderness.”(F7) This type of piddling criticism has come mighty close to discrediting Biblical criticism as currently practiced. This is exactly the kind of criticism that would be unworthy of a senior in high school, much less a Cambridge scholar! Wright interpreted Deuteronomy 5:3 as a statement that God did NOT make a covenant with the Horeb generation, and then stated dogmatically that, “The covenant actually was made with that generation, rather that the one standing before Moses.”(F8) He also affirmed that such a difference is taken (by some) to mean “different traditions and authorship between this passage and the one in Deuteronomy 2:14.”(F9)

“Our fathers” in this verse (Deuteronomy 5:3) cannot possibly refer to the Horeb generation, because it was precisely that Horeb generation with whom God did indeed make the covenant. There is not a genuine scholar on earth who should be ignorant of such a fact. Even a scholar like Moffatt rendered “forefathers” here instead of “fathers,” indicating that the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were the ones with whom God did not make the covenant, but it was made with the generation that came up out of Egypt, of which the generation that Moses addressed here were the terminal heirs, many of them (all who were over 40 years of age and under 60) being eye-witnesses and participants in the covenant event at Horeb. The O.T. Scriptures make it inexcusable for a Christian scholar to apply “fathers” in this passage to anyone except the patriarchs. Jeremiah 31:32 flatly declares that the giving of the covenant, as to the time of it, must be associated with the generation that came up out of Egypt. What kind of perversity, therefore, is it when men will deliberately apply “fathers” here to the wrong generation in order to get a “contradiction?”

We are thankful indeed for the many who have properly understood this: “`Not with our fathers,’ i.e., the patriarchal fathers.”(F10) “Fathers sometimes means forefathers… The law given at Sinai had not been given to their progenitors - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”(F11) “In this verse our fathers refers to the patriarchs and stresses the distinction between the Abrahamic and the Horeb covenants.”(F12)

The Adventist position: Since the sabbath day existed from the creation and was kept by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all Israel throughout their history until the knowledge of it was lost during the period of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, the meaning of Deuteronomy 5:3 is as follows: “The covenant was indeed made with the patriarchal fathers, but not with them only, but also with us.”(F13) Such an explanation cannot hide the fact that it is a CONTRADICTION of what is stated here. Despite this, we note that many able scholars have been influenced by the Adventist position in regard to specific interpretations of Scripture. Even Adam Clarke, on this verse, explained it as meaning: “The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers (only), but with us (also)!”(F14)

Throughout this chapter certain slight variations in terminology may be noted, but as Cook said, “Moses here repeated the Decalogue with a certain measure of freedom and adaptation.”(F15) The variations have little or no significance.

Deuteronomy 5:6. “This verse corresponds to the historical prologue of a suzerainty treaty. It is a reminder that God is known above all in saving his people.”(F16) Such cursing and blessings as are mentioned in Deuteronomy 5:9-10 “were also normal in suzerainty treaties.(F17)

“No other gods” Deuteronomy 5:7. “There is here no thought of monotheism!”(F18) Such a flat contradiction of what the Bible plainly says indicates that the strategy of evil has not changed in the slightest particular since Satan said to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die!” Of course, if this passage, along with Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39, etc., does not teach monotheism, then no dependability whatever is to be placed in the science of language. Of course, it DOES teach monotheism: “no other gods apart from me… there is none else… there is none else.” In our long studies of the Word of God, we have become accustomed to this maneuver on the part of Bible critics. Wherever there is a plain statement that contradicts any of their theories, they make no attempt to answer it, except to write, “well it does not mean that!” Speaking of monotheism, Noah was a monotheist; so was Job; so was Jethro; and so was Melchizedek.

Deuteronomy 5:12. Regarding the sabbath day. The tendency of a great many writers to find here a “different reason,” that is, a “humanitarian reason” for observing the sabbath day is based on a misunderstanding of the reason given in Exodus, where the sabbath is mentioned for the very first time in Exodus 16:23. (See the full treatment of this in my commentary on Exodus, Vol. II in the Pentateuchal Series, pp. 223-225.)

Even Dummelow, a usually reliable scholar, stated that, “In Exodus the obligation to keep the sabbath day is made to rest on the fact of the divine creation of the world (in six days, with God’s resting on the seventh day).”(F19) Some variation of this opinion is given by numerous commentators. In this passage in Deuteronomy, however, the obligation seems to be humanitarian that, “thy man-servant and thy maid-servant” may also rest.

First, it should be noted that the creation of the world and God’s resting on the seventh day had nothing whatever to do with the Jewish Sabbath. The seventh day in Genesis was not even a day of the week, it was a day of creation, a far different thing; and according to Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 4:5; Hebrews 4:9; Hebrews 4:11, the seventh day is still going on and has not ended yet! Why then, the mention of that event in Exodus 20:11?:

“The mention of the Creation sabbath was not for the purpose of telling Israel why God was giving them a sabbath; but it was a way of pointing out that six days of full employment would enable the doing of all the work that was necessary! Such a thing stressed the likeness of God’s nature and man’s nature. Note that it is in connection with, “Six days shalt thou labor,” that this reference is given. (See Exodus, p. 278.)”

The reason for God’s giving Israel the sabbath is indeed found in Exodus, and it is not any different from the reason here. See Exodus 20:10-12. Thus, the humanitarian aspect of the Deuteronomic account is merely one of those slight variations.

The entire Seventh Day Adventist system of religion hinges squarely upon the mistaken notion that the sabbath day has been, from the creation, an institution binding upon all men, a proposition which we enthusiastically reject. The Adventist view of Scripture, however, has colored many interpretations; perhaps discolored is a better word. (See under Deuteronomy 5:3, above.)

“Thou shalt not kill” Deuteronomy 5:17. The same God who gave this injunction also said, of the murderer, “Thou shalt surely slay him.” Many misunderstandings have resulted from a failure to note this. There are two Hebrew words: [~ratsach], meaning “to commit murder,” and [~harag], meaning “to put to death.” It is [~ratsach] that is forbidden here. Nothing in the O.T. casts any question upon the legality and necessity of capital punishment as inflicted by lawful authority. The same is true of the N.T.

Deuteronomy 5:18. On stealing. Several scholars insist that, “The primary prohibition of this commandment is against man-stealing (kidnapping).”(F20) Phillips also supported this view with a full half-page explanation.(F21) So what? “Thou shalt not steal” most certainly includes the meaning that, “thou shalt not steal men,” as well as a prohibition against every other form of stealing that the ingenuity men has been able to invent. (See my commentary on Exodus (Exodus 20) for an extensive list of “the various ways of stealing.”)

“Thou shalt not covet” Deuteronomy 5:21. This, of course, is a spiritual commandment, dealing with an inward subjective attitude on the part of men. Paul himself commented on this in Romans 7:7-16. Kline commented on this passage thus:

“Another notable variation in the Deuteronomic Decalogue is the reversal of the order of “wife” and “house” in the 10th commandment, and the addition of “his field”. The latter is added because Israel was about to enter upon a settled existence in the land.”(F22)

Cook noted that the addition of “field” here “seems very natural in one who was speaking with the partition of Canaan amongst his hearers directly in view.”(F23)

We found no basis whatever for making a big change out of the reversal of the two terms wife and house. Some have supposed that this represented some kind of a big victory for women; but it seems to us that no such thing is indicated. Such a conclusion puts too much pressure upon the mere order of words. Besides, if “house” is understood in the sense of household it would include wife. Both words are used in both accounts; so where is any problem?


Strange as it may seem to some, the Decalogue was the law that God gave Israel; and it has application to men today only to the extent that some of its provisions are brought over into the N.T. Church; but the authority of such laws today derives not from Moses, but from Jesus Christ. This is plain enough in secular matters. Many of the laws of Texas today are similar, and in some cases identical, with Spanish law or Mexican law, when those authorities were supreme in the state. However none of the laws of Texas today, regardless of their origin, derive their authority from Spain or Mexico, but from the U.S.A.

How many of the commandments of the Decalogue have been brought over into Christianity? As far as we are able to determine, all of them except the Fourth Commandment. There is no N.T. commandment to remember, or keep, the sabbath day. In fact, Paul indicated dogmatically that it had been taken out of the way and “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14-16).

However, a word of caution should be in order. Even of the specific commandments such as “Do not commit adultery; do not steal, do not kill, etc.,” Jesus Christ has expanded these to include antecedent motives and intentions as well as overt actions. Oberst has formulated a comparison of these commandments, distinguishing between their old meaning and their true meaning as explained by Christ:(F24)

1. No other gods before me“There is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4) (See also 1 Corinthians 8:6.)
2. No graven image.“Guard yourselves from idols… neither be ye idolaters” (1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 10:14; Romans 1:21-23; Colossians 3:5).
3. Nor take God’s name in vain.“Swear not at all” (Matthew 5:34; Matthew 5:37; Matthew 12:36).
4. Remember the sabbath day.“The disciples came together on `the first day of the week’“ (Acts 20:7).
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.“Honor thy father and thy mother”. (Ephesians 6:2; 1 Timothy 5:4).
6. Thou shalt not kill.“Thou shalt not kill” (Romans 13:9). Expanded by Jesus in Matthew 5:22; 1 John 3:15.
7. Nor commit adultery.“Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Romans 13:9). Expanded by Jesus to include antecedent motives and the prior lust that lead to adultery (Matthew 5:28).
8. Nor steal. “Thou shalt not steal” (Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28).
9. Nor bear false witness.“Speak ye truth each one with his neighbor.” “Lie not one to another.” (Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9).
10. Nor covet.“Put to death covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). “Godliness with contentment is great gain … having food and covering we shall be there-with content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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