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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 6

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


2. Exhortation to love Yahweh ch. 6

John Walton suggested that chapters 6-26 expand the Decalogue with the intent of addressing the spirit of the law. [Note: John H. Walton, "Deuteronomy: An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law," Grace Theological Journal 8:2 (Fall 1987):213-25.] He believed the structure of the book supports his contention that the writer chose exemplary cases. Moses intended to clarify the attitudes implied by the Ten Commandments rather than only giving specific commands on a variety of subjects. This writer identified four major issues that he believed the Decalogue addresses and around which chapters 6 through 26 seem organized. He saw the structure of this section as follows.

Major issuesGodwardManward
AUTHORITYCommandment 1
(expounded in chs. 6-11)
Commandment 5
(expounded in Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22)
DIGNITYCommandment 2
(expounded in ch. 12)
Commandments 6, 7 & 8
(expounded in chs. 19-21; Deuteronomy 22:1 to Deuteronomy 23:14; and Deuteronomy 23:15 to Deuteronomy 24:7 respectively)
COMMITMENTCommandment 3
(expounded in Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:21)
Commandment 9
(expounded in Deuteronomy 24:8-16)
(expounded in Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17)
Commandment 10
(expounded in Deuteronomy 24:19 to Deuteronomy 26:15)

Walton’s basic thesis appears sound, but some of his conclusions seem questionable to me.

"Before the principles, that is, the general stipulations, of the covenant are spelled out, Moses devotes a great deal of attention to describing their nature and how they are to be applied and transmitted. Thus once more the strictly ’legal’ or technical parts of the document are set within a hortatory framework as part of a major Mosaic address." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 160.]

Verses 1-3

Exhortation to observe the principles 6:1-3

These verses announce the commandments that follow and give the reason for obeying them: God’s blessing. God’s blessing would come in the form of long life, peace and prosperity, and numerous descendants. The "fear" of God (Deuteronomy 6:2; cf. Deuteronomy 5:29, 35 (Deuteronomy 6:2); et al.) is the respect that comes from an appreciation of His character.

"It is a fear that produces not obeisance but obedience, not worry but worship (Deuteronomy 6:13)." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 439.]

"Israel’s continued enjoyment of a habitation in God’s land, like Adam’s continued enjoyment of the original paradise, depended on continued fidelity to the Lord." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 163.]

Verses 4-5

The essence of the principles 6:4-5

Here the actual exposition of the Decalogue begins with an explanation and implications of the first commandment. Moses presented Yahweh as the one true God who requires complete devotion.

"With this chapter we come to the pivot around which everything else in Deuteronomy revolves-the Shema or Great Commandment, as it has also come to be known (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). . . . In turn, the statutes and ordinances explicate in specific and concrete ways the meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 for the life of Israel. That is why Jesus can later say that all the law and the prophets hang on this commandment (Matthew 22:40)." [Note: Miller, p. 97.]

The idea in Deuteronomy 6:4 is not just that Yahweh is the only God, but that He is also one unified person.

"It is possible to understand Deuteronomy 6:4 in several ways, but the two most popular renderings of the final clause are: (1) ’The LORD our God, the LORD is one’ (so NIV) or (2) ’The LORD our God is one LORD.’ The former stresses the uniqueness or exclusivity of Yahweh as Israel’s God and so may be paraphrased ’Yahweh our God is the one and only Yahweh’ or the like. This takes the noun ’ehad (’one’) in the sense of ’unique’ or ’solitary,’ a meaning that is certainly well attested. The latter translation focuses on the unity or wholeness of the Lord. This is not in opposition to the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity but rather functions here as a witness to the self-consistency of Yahweh who is not ambivalent and who has a single purpose or objective for creation and history. The ideas clearly overlap to provide an unmistakable basis for monotheistic faith. Yahweh is indeed a unity, but beyond that he is the only God. For this reason the exhortation of Deuteronomy 6:5 has practical significance." [Note: Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p. 24. J. Gerald Janzen, "On the Most Important Word in the Shema (Deuteronomy VI 4-5)," Vetus Testamentum 37:3 (July 1987):280-300, believed the second of these meanings was the proper one.]

This affirmation made inappropriate both polytheism (the belief in many gods) and henotheism (the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods).

"Yahweh was to be the sole object of Israel’s worship, allegiance, and affection." [Note: Thompson, p. 121.]

"Deuteronomy more than any other Old Testament book concerns itself not only with the obligation to worship and the rules for doing so, but also with the subjective aspect of worship-with the feelings of the worshipper and the spirit in which he or she worships." [Note: Whybray, p. 99.]

"The heart (leb) is, in Old Testament anthropology, the seat of the intellect, equivalent to the mind or rational part of humankind. The ’soul’ (better, ’being’ or ’essential person’ in line with the commonly accepted understanding of nepes) refers to the invisible part of the individual, the person qua [as being] person including the will and sensibilities. The strength (me’od) is, of course, the physical side with all its functions and capacities." [Note: Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p. 25.]

There is no word in Hebrew for "mind" or "brain."

"The demand [in Deuteronomy 6:5] ’with all the heart’ excludes all halfheartedness, all division of the heart in its love. The heart is mentioned first, as the seat of the emotions generally and of love in particular; then follows the soul (nephesh) as the centre of personality in man, to depict the love as pervading the entire self-consciousness; and to this is added, ’with all the strength,’ sc. [that is to say] of body and soul. Loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and strength is placed at the head, as the spiritual principles from which the observance of the commandments was to flow (see also chap. xi. 1, xxx. 6)." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:323.]

"First and foremost of all that was essential for the Israelite was an unreserved, wholehearted commitment, expressed in love for God." [Note: Schultz, p. 40.]

The only individual in the Old Testament of whom it was said that he turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might was King Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). Jesus Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 as the greatest of all God’s commandments (Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:28-30; cf. Luke 10:27).

"The verse does not invite analysis into ideas of intellectual, emotional, and physical parts. The words behind heart, soul, and strength basically relate to what a person is or how a person directs himself toward another person. It is, therefore, not inaccurate for the NT writers to quote (or translate) the Hebrew words, which are often synonymous, by differing Greek words, which are also often synonymous, since the words taken together mean to say that the people are to love God with their whole selves." [Note: Kalland, pp. 64-65. See Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 165-66, for further explanation of the variations that exist in the Gospel references to this verse compared with the Hebrew text here.]

The statement begun here (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41) became Israel’s basic confession of faith. This is the "Shema" (lit. "Hear," from the first word). Pious Jews recite it twice daily even today. [Note: Isidore Epstein, Judaism, pp. 162-63.]

"If the Ten Words are the heart of the stipulations as a whole, the principle of the Words is encapsulated in the so-called Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), which defines who the Sovereign is and reduces the obligation to Him to one of exclusive love and obedience." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," p. 78. Cf. E. W. Nicholson, Deuteronomy and Tradition, p. 46.]

"The Shema’ should not be taken out of context and interpreted as a great monotheistic confession. Moses had made that point in Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39: ’For Yahweh (alone) is God; there is none beside(s) him.’ Nor is the issue in the broader context the nature of God in general or his integrity in particular-though the nature and integrity of his people is a very important concern. This is a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment in response to the question, ’Who is the God of Israel?’ The language of the Shema’ is ’sloganesque’ rather than prosaic: ’Yahweh our God! Yahweh alone!’ or ’Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone!’ This was to be the distinguishing mark of the Israelite people; they are those (and only those) who claim Yahweh alone as their God." [Note: Daniel I. Block, "How Many Is God? An Investigation into the Meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4-5," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:2 (June 2004):211.]

Verses 6-9

Exhortation to teach the principles 6:6-9

This section contains instructions for remembering and teaching these great truths to the following generations.

"In the psychology of the Old Testament the heart is not the center of emotional life and response but the seat of the intellect or rational side of humankind. To ’be upon the heart’ is to be in one’s constant, conscious reflection." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 167.]

"The reason for this emphasis on the children is clear. Deuteronomy is always aimed at the next generation. It takes the present (next) generation back to the past and brings the past afresh into the present. The children are now the ones before whom all the choices are laid, and some day their children will be there and the divine instruction will confront them (e.g., Deuteronomy 30:2). Can they learn afresh what it means to love the Lord wholeheartedly?" [Note: Miller, p. 107.]

Note the emphasis in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 on the importance of parents diligently using opportunities, as they arise daily, to equip their children to live dependently on God.

God gave the command in figurative language. The point is that the Israelites were to meditate on these words without ceasing. The fact that they sought to fulfill this command literally with Scripture holders on their bodies (Heb. tefillin; Gr. phulakterion, phylacteries) and on their doorframes (Heb. mezuzot, mezuzahs) was commendable. The Lord Jesus later condemned their pride in these physical objects and their reliance on them to produce godliness (Matthew 23:5), not their use of them.

Observant Jews still often mount little holders on the frames of their front doors into which they place a small parchment scroll. Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and the name Shaddai appear on these papers as a sign and reminder of their faith. In addition, sometimes Jews place the Decalogue and or Exodus 13:1-16 and or Numbers 10:35-36 in these holders. They call the scroll and its holder a mezuzah (lit. doorpost).

The fact that God commanded the Israelites to "write" (Deuteronomy 6:9) reveals that literacy was widespread in Israel.

"Ancient Hebrew written documents, recovered by archaeology, demonstrate both that there were readers and writers in ancient Israel, and that they were by no means rare. Few places would have been without someone who could write, and few Israelites could have been unaware of writing." [Note: Alan R. Millard, "The Question of Israelite Literacy," Bible Review 3:3 (Fall 1987):31.]

Israel’s king was to write his own copy of the Torah, but at this time most kings in the ancient Near East were virtually illiterate. [Note: Sailhamer, p. 454.] Thus there seems to have been a higher level of literacy in Israel compared to her neighbor nations.

Verses 10-19

Exhortation to give Yahweh exclusive recognition, worship, and obedience 6:10-19

"The constant corollary of the demand for loyalty in ancient suzerainty treaties was the prohibition of allegiance to any and all other lords." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 164.]

Prosperity (Deuteronomy 6:10-15) and adversity (Deuteronomy 6:16-19) would test the Israelites’ devotion to Yahweh. The Israelites were not to destroy many towns but only to kill their inhabitants, a rare policy in the history of warfare. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 171.] Their obedience to the command to preserve most towns has resulted in an absence of archaeological evidence for the conquest of the land. Both abundance and want tempt one to forget God (cf. Proverbs 30:8-9; Philippians 4:11-13). At Massah (Deuteronomy 6:16) the Israelites complained about their lack of water (Exodus 17:1-7).

Verses 20-25

Exhortation to remember the past 6:20-25

God explained more fully here the teaching of children that He had hinted at previously (Deuteronomy 6:7). We can learn from these verses how to maintain and transmit a realistic consciousness of the true God from one generation to the next. This whole chapter deals with the first commandment in the Decalogue.

"Later Judaism wrongly concluded that covenant keeping was the basis for righteousness rather than an expression of faithful devotion. But true covenant keeping in the final analysis is a matter of faith, not merely of works and ritual. Thus the central feature of the covenant stipulations is their providing a vehicle by which genuine saving faith might be displayed (cf. Deuteronomy 24:13; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Romans 4:1-5; Galatians 3:6-7)." [Note: Ibid., p. 175.]

In view of God’s grace to His people, believers should respond with love for God. We should express that love in obedience to His revealed will, and we should perpetuate the knowledge of God in the next generation.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-6.html. 2012.
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