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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This great chapter treats the question of The First Commandment, i.e., that people should love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Significantly, it was to the Book of Deuteronomy that the Son of God Himself turned for the material with which he frustrated and defeated the prince of evil on the occasion of the Saviour’s temptation (Matthew 4). It was to this very chapter that Jesus turned for the word that confounded and defeated the sophistry of the Pharisees on the occasion of their captious question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:34). This is an appropriate place, therefore, to note how frequently Christ, the apostles, and the writers of the N.T. quoted directly from Deuteronomy.

As a matter of fact, the Cross-Reference Bible (ASV) has exactly 182 N.T. references to Deuteronomy listed in the marginal columns,(F1) and there are many others not included in these, among which are a number of the following 52 references listed because they are generally known:

Wresting judgment forbidden (Deuteronomy 1:16-17)John 7:24; James 2:1
Not to add to… or take from (Deuteronomy 4:2)Matthew 5:18; Revelation 22:18-19
Nearness to God (Deuteronomy 4:7)James 4:8
God a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3)Hebrews 12:29
Covenant with the fathers (Deuteronomy 5:3)Hebrews 8:9
The Sinai experience (Deuteronomy 5:12; Deuteronomy 4:22)Hebrews 12:18-21
Sabbath of the Lord (Deuteronomy 5:14)Hebrews 4:4 ff
Honor thy father and mother (Deuteronomy 5:16)Ephesians 6:2-3; Colossians 3:20
Decalogue Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:17-21)Rom. 13:8-10; 19:18-20
God is invisible (Deuteronomy 5:26)Hebrews 11:27
Moses receives the Law (Deuteronomy 5:31)Galatians 3:19
The Great Commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5)Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:28-34
*Fearing and serving God (Deuteronomy 6:13)Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:12
*Making a test of God forbidden (Deuteronomy 6:16)Luke 4:4; Matthew 4:7
God’s love (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)1 John 4:10
God keeps His covenants (Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 29:14)Luke 1:55; Hebrews 8:7-8; Hebrews 11:11
*Live not by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3)Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4
Israel’s frequent rebellions (Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 9:24)Acts 7:51
Eye for an eye (Deuteronomy 9:21)Matthew 5:38
Circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16)Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:11
Early and latter rains (Deut. 6:11:14)James 5:7
Belial (Deut. 6:13:13)2 Corinthians 6:15
Special people (Deuteronomy 14:2)1 Peter 2:9
The poor with you always (Deuteronomy 15:11)Matthew 26:11
Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:9)Acts 2:1
Proportionate giving (Deuteronomy 16:10)1 Corinthians 16:2
Laws regarding witnessing (Deuteronomy 17:6)Matthew 28:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1
Levites had no inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:1)1 Corinthians 9:13
The Prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15 ff)John 1:45; John 6:14; Acts 3:22
Body not left on tree overnight (Deuteronomy 21:6)John 19:31
Washing hands freed of guilt (Deuteronomy 21:6)Matthew 27:24
On being worthy of death (Deuteronomy 21:22)Acts 23:29; Acts 25:11; Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31
Curse upon the hanged person (Deuteronomy 21:23)Galatians 3:13
Not to yoke ox and ass together (Deuteronomy 22:10)2 Corinthians 6:14
Both adulterous partners to die (Deuteronomy 22:22)John 8:4
Laws on marriage (Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 25:5)Matthew 22:24; 1 Cor. 5:14
On plucking ears of grain (Deuteronomy 23:25)Matthew 12:11; Mark 2:23
On divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1)Matthew 19:3 ff; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Not to oppress strangers (Deuteronomy 24:14)James 5:4
Beaten with stripes (Deuteronomy 25:2-3)Matthew 10:17; Luke 12:48
Forty stripes (Deuteronomy 25:3)2 Corinthians 11:24
Muzzle not ox treading out grain (Deuteronomy 25:4)1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18
On Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5)Matthew 22:24
On doing all the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26)Galatians 3:10
Hardening of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:3-4)Romans 11:8; Acts 28:26 ff
Root of gall and wormwood (Deuteronomy 29:18)Hebrews 12:15
God’s Word is near you (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)Romans 10:6-8
Perverse and crooked generation (Deuteronomy 32:5)Matthew 17:17; Philippians 2:15; Acts 2:40
Vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:25)Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30
Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 32:32)Matthew 11:24
God’s vengeance on His enemies (Deuteronomy 32:43)Revelation 6:10

It is especially important that the quotations marked by an asterisk (*) were made by Jesus Christ himself in his temptation when he encountered and defeated the prince of evil. No thoughtful person can believe that Jesus’ sole reliance upon the Book of Deuteronomy in that dreadful hour could indicate anything other than the absolute dependability, authority, and integrity of the Book of Deuteronomy!

Verses 1-3

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances, which Jehovah your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it; that thou mightest fear Jehovah thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as Jehovah the God of thy fathers, hath promised unto thee, in a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Deuteronomy 5 presented the Decalogue; “Deuteronomy 6 is a dissertation on the first and great commandment.”(F2) “The words statutes and ordinances in Deuteronomy 6:1 are explanatory of and in apposition to commandment.”(F3) What we have in this chapter is “actually turning the thought in the first two commandments of the Decalogue from negative to positive form.”(F4)

“Milk and honey” This remarkable description of the land of Canaan has puzzled scholars for many years, but it has been discovered recently that this was a stock expression used throughout the Middle East in the literary patterns of Egypt and the Ugaritic texts.(F5) The significance of this is that the expression is a trademark of the 14th and 15th centuries B.C., making this expression wherever it occurs (and this is frequently) an effective denial that Deuteronomy originated in any other times than those of Moses.

Verses 4-9

“Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah; and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

“Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” Some scholars make a big thing out of the three alternate renditions of this passage suggested in the ASV, namely:

Jehovah our God, Jehovah is one.

Jehovah is our God, Jehovah is one.

Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone.

“Whichever one is correct, the idea of one God (monotheism) is obviously in this phrase. There is, was, and always will be only one true God. See Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; and 1 Corinthians 8:4.”(F6) Keil also stated dogmatically that, “This clause not merely precludes polytheism, but also syncretism which reduces the one absolute God to a national deity.”(F7) This passage condemns and denies every form of theism and deism and all philosophical deductions regarding God which tend to reduce Him to a mere abstraction. “Jehovah, although the absolute One, is not an abstract notion, but He is the absolutely living God, as He made Himself known in His deeds to Israel for the purpose of bringing salvation to the whole world.(F8) We reject Scott’s statement as being too weak. He says that this passage “is almost, if not quite, a declaration of monotheism.”(F9) There is nothing almost or not quite about this; it is an adequate and all-sufficient declaration. The critics are merely disappointed that the monotheism of Moses is not stated in the stereotyped language they expected. Mark’s rendition of this is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29). “The Lord is one” is equivalent in every way to “One is the Lord,” or “there is one Lord,” and nobody has any difficulty understanding that in the Bible such expressions as “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc” (Ephesians 4:4) are merely another way of saying “There is only one Lord, only one faith, and only one baptism.” How strange it is that the critics who have no difficulty at all in translating `by faith’ as `by faith only’ should have any difficulty doing the same thing here, especially since it is justified here.

Von Rad attempted to split this chapter on the basis of parts of it being written with plural pronouns and parts with singular pronouns,(F10) but as Cousins pointed out, “Singular and plural pronouns (thou and you) are used apparently at random in this very section, Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Deuteronomy 6:13-14; Deuteronomy 6:16-17.”(F11) This recent scholar also pointed out that, “K. A. Kitchen shows that such a variation (in pronouns) is not an uncommon feature of semitic style.”(F12) Like many another false crutch of the critics, this one also should be laid to rest.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God… etc.” Here is the reason why this is the first and great commandment. Love lasts longer even than faith. Faith shall at last end in sight, but love “never faileth.” Faith, even full and abundant faith, may exist without obedience, as proved by John 12:42-43, but, as Christ said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Right here is where one finds out what holy religion is all about. The mighty Creator of all things desires the love of his children, and here is the explanation of many of the mysteries of religion. Love cannot be coerced, forced, or compelled. Love must be the result of choice and freedom of the will, hence, the Garden of Eden and the serpent. God, while giving His children freedom to act as they will, nevertheless desires their loving adoration. As Blair put it:

“What God basically wants of the people of Israel is their wholehearted love and loyalty and their obedience to the terms of the Covenant relationship which love and loyalty will inspire… Here is the very earliest use of the term “love” to characterize man’s proper attitude toward God.”(F13)

There is another reason why this is the Great Commandment. It is the one upon which all other obligations depend. If God is not loved and honored as the supreme authority, no other authority can claim any allegiance whatever from people. All other laws of God derive from this one. It is wrong to kill, only because all persons are created in God’s image, making murder a crime against GOD! It is true of all the others. Thus, this is indeed the Great Commandment. “The N.T. itself requires no more than this total surrender of man’s being to his maker.”(F14) “But the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5).

“With all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength” One is struck by the fact that in Jesus’ quotation of this in Mark 12:28 ff, the words `with all thy mind’ are added to what is here. “This is not an addition of something not already present in the original… In a world filled with the knowledge of Greek psychology it made quite clear what the original involved, so that there could be no misunderstanding.”(F15) Also, Jesus’ words made it plain that the Scriptural `heart’ is in fact `the mind.’ “Why think ye evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4) was the question which Jesus hurled at the Pharisees.

“These verses (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) are called `The Shema’ from the Hebrew word, `Hear,’ that begins the passage and are regarded as the essence of Hebrew religion. They are always quoted in every synagogue service, and are repeated twice daily by the orthodox.(F16) These words are the opening sentence in Jewish services.(F17) These verses, linked with Deuteronomy 6:6-9, constituted the holy texts used for phylacteries and medusas.(F18) The total texts included: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Exo. 11:13-20.”(F19)

Deuteronomy 6:8-9. From the earliest days, the Jews understood these verses as literal requirements. The “frontlets between the eyes,” the binding of the commandments upon their hands, and their putting them on the door-posts and their gates, led to three kinds of devices by which these instructions were honored: One was the [~tsitsith], or fringe at the four corners of the outer garment; the others were the [~tephillin] and the [~mezuzah]. The [~tephillin] were two small boxes about one cubic inch in size, containing the Scriptures (given in the above quotation). Dummelow tells us that there were four Scriptural passages inside these small containers: Exodus 13:1-10 and Exo. 11:13, also Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.(F20) The devices called by Dummelow the [~tephillin] are referred to as “phylacteries” by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:5, but that is the only appearance of that word in the Bible.(F21)

The [~mezuzah] (or medusah) were similar containers and were placed upon every right-hand door-post in Jewish houses. They were also for “door-posts” and for “your gates.” “The sign was to be on the door-post of the house, representing the family unit, and upon the `gates,’ representing the community or village.”(F22) “The pious Jew touches the [~mezuzah] on each occasion of passing, or kisses his finger and says Psalms 121:8 in Hebrew, `Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and forevermore.’“(F23)

Of course, it is almost universally agreed today that the Jews were mistaken in literalizing these instructions which were no doubt merely metaphorical commandments meaning that the Jew should keep all these instructions in mind and heart always. However, it is easier to criticize the Jews than it is to do the real thing intended here, namely, to REMEMBER to do and to teach the word of God continually.

Regarding teaching the children, Deuteronomy 6:7, lays upon every parent the obligation to instruct his children in the way of the Lord. Here is exactly where our generation has failed so shamefully. Instead of the Word of God, we have substituted human opinion to the effect that every child should NOT be influenced by his parents, but that he should be left free to make up his own mind! There was never a more monstrous error ever advocated among human beings. If continued, this course of conduct on the part of Christians will eventually deliver the whole world into the power of Satan!

What fools are those parents who imagine that by neglecting the religious instruction of their offspring they are “leaving them free to make up their own minds!” What they are doing is leaving the Devil free access to bring every evil pressure upon the children to destroy their souls. Parents do not leave their children free to take any kind of poison or drugs in order to allow them to “make up their own minds,” do they? Maybe some do, and perhaps that is why we have countless drug-ruined children all over America. We agree with Adam Clarke, “No head of a family can neglect the instruction of his children without endangering the final salvation of his own soul.”(F24)

“We feel compelled here to include the stern words of Oberst: The criminal notion that children ought not to be taught religion for fear of biasing their minds is in flat opposition to the command of God. Parents who neglect this duty are highly criminal. If their own children perish through neglect, which is likely, what a dreadful account must the parents give in the great day! Parents, hear what the Lord saith unto you: `Ye must diligently teach your children.’ `Bring them up in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4).”(F25)

Verses 10-15

“And it shall be, when Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee, great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, and houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and cisterns hewn out, which thou hewedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not, and thou shalt eat and be full; then beware lest thou forget Jehovah, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear Jehovah thy God; and him shalt thou serve, and shalt sware by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for Jehovah thy God in the midst of thee is a jealous God; lest the anger of Jehovah thy God be kindled against thee, and he destroy thee from off the face of the earth.

The great thrust of this passage is, “Beware, lest thou forget Jehovah.” This warning is repeated several times in Deuteronomy, but it was never seriously heeded by the chosen people. (For a sermon on the subject of “Forgetting God,” see Volume 2, pp. 211-213 of the Minor Prophets in my series of commentaries.)

“And shalt swear by his name” This commandment was not contradicted by Jesus who indeed said, “Swear not at all,” because Jesus in that passage was NOT speaking of taking an oath in court. This, of course, is disputed by some, and, in our country, a Christian may elect to say, “I affirm,” instead of “I swear,” and no Christian should hesitate to take advantage of such a choice. “The command to `Swear by his Name,’ is not inconsistent with the Lord’s injunction, `Swear not at all’ (Matthew 5:34). Moses refers to legal swearing, and our Lord refers to swearing in common circumstances.”(F26) It appears here that Moses was not encouraging swearing, but ruling that when an oath was required that it should not be in any other name than that of the Lord.

“And destroy thee from the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:15). This cannot be an idle word in this great book. It applies not merely to Israel alone but to the entirety of Adam’s race. The continued rebellion of Adam (in the sense of all his posterity) will finally end in the great holocaust that shall usher in the final judgment. (See extensive comment on this in Zephaniah under Zephaniah 1:3 (Minor Prophets Vol. 3, pp. 131-132.)). Moses did not mention here all of Adam’s race, but Zephaniah 1:3 makes it certain that the warning reaches to the very last one of Adam’s earthly posterity. The great sorrow is that mankind, in the general sense, seems just as stubbornly set upon a course of rebellion against God as is secular Israel itself. The end of this will come when “God will wipe this Adam off the face of the earth.”

Verses 16-19

“Ye shall not tempt Jehovah your God, as ye tempted him at Massah. Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of Jehovah your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee. And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of Jehovah; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers to thrust out all thine enemies from before thee, as Jehovah hath spoken.”

“Ye shall not tempt Jehovah your God” This, of course, is one of the passages from Deuteronomy that Jesus used in vanquishing the Devil on the occasion of the Temptation (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). Eerdman’s explanation of this passage is as follows:

“To tempt God is to put him to a test, or to try to make him act in a certain way to prove his goodness and power. Thus in Massah, when the people needed water, they cried out in unbelief, saying, `Is the Lord among us or not?’ (Exodus 17:7).”(F27)

Jesus’ use of this text in his contest with Satan further reveals that what is forbidden is any presumptive reliance upon the providence of God. Satan suggested that if Jesus jumped off the pinnacle of the temple that God would not allow him to be injured, but Christ’s answer shows that any presumption on the part of any person who might deliberately enter into danger would be sinful. In case Christ had accidentally fallen from the pinnacle of the temple, of course, God would have rescued him, but for the Son of God to have deliberately jumped from that eminence would have been sinfully presumptuous. Dummelow thought it was remarkable that our Lord not only took all of his answers from the Scriptures during the temptation, “But they all came from the same portion of Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 6:13, and Deuteronomy 10:20.”(F28)

The balance of this chapter reverts to the problem of teaching the children of the oncoming generation.

Verses 20-25

“When thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, what mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which Jehovah our God hath commanded you? then shalt thou say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt: and Jehovah brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and Jehovah showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his house, before our eyes; and he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers. And Jehovah commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Jehovah our God, for good always, that he might preserve us alive, as at this day. And it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before Jehovah our God, as he hath commanded us.”

“The salvation history of Israel and her law are thus intimately connected. The latter is the response to the former, for its observance insures that God’s grace shown in the deliverance from Egypt will continue to be exercised in Israel’s favor.”(F29) Some scholars have tried to find the formulation in this paragraph of an “ancient creed,” but Phillips dismissed such a thought thus: “This passage is not to be understood as a formal creed, but rather as a simple explanation as to how Israel acquired possession of the land of Canaan.”(F30) We might add that there has never been any other reasonable explanation of the phenomenon called Israel and the Promised Land! Only the facts related in the Five Books of Moses can explain the phenomenon visible this very day in the matter of secular Israel’s passionate and emotional certainty of their right to Palestine, a conviction that they hold quite unreasonably, especially in view of their rejection of Christ, but nevertheless a reality, a reality that can be explained only by the truth of these five books of Moses.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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