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Part 1 of the commentary contained the first speech of Moses which proclaimed the recent history of Israel under the hand of Yahweh, demonstrating why they had reason to be grateful to Him, and finishing with a reminder of how gloriously and fearsomely the covenant had been given and an exhortation to keep the covenant requirements and remember Who had given them. From Deuteronomy 4:44 to Deuteronomy 29:1 this is followed by the central renewal of the covenant in Moses’ second speech, commencing with a renewed description of the giving of the covenant (Deuteronomy 5:0), followed by the basic principles lying behind the covenant (chapters 5-11), more detailed regulations (chapters 12-26), the requirement that the covenant be recorded in writing at Shechem (where Abraham first built an altar when entering the land and received his first theophany in the land) as confirmed by all the elders (Deuteronomy 27:1-8), the acknowledgement of it by the priesthood along with Moses as witnesses to it (Deuteronomy 27:9-10), and the applying to it of curses and blessings (chapters Deuteronomy 27:11 to Deuteronomy 29:1).
This section of the commentary will cover chapters 5-11, but these chapters must be seen as part of the greater whole to Deuteronomy 29:1, as incorporated in the whole book.
The Covenant Stipulations - the Basic Underlying Principles (chapters Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 11:32 ).
This introductory section begins the second section of the book which consists mainly of a proclamation of general basic principles related to the fulfilment of the covenant (chapters 5-11). This is then followed by a detailed review of the statutes and ordinances which have been spoken of previously, but with special reference to their applicability to the people and mainly ignoring priestly activity (chapters 12-26). It is ‘popular’ Law. In this second section Moses once again makes clear the demands that Yahweh is making on His people as a response to what He has done for them. But he will begin it by repeating, with minor alterations, the covenant made at Horeb, at Mount Sinai. Thus he declares that covenant in chapter 5 almost word for word, although slightly revised in order to bring out new emphases. This is then followed chapter by chapter by the requirements that Yahweh is laying on them as a response to His covenant love. In 6-11 he first deals with the basic principles involved, and then in chapters 12-26 moves on to the specific detailed requirements. This is a pattern typical of ancient treaty covenants.
Central to all the chapters are the ideas of how they must obey His commandment, His statutes and His ordinances that He might bless them in all they do (Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 5:31-33; Deuteronomy 6:1-3; Deuteronomy 6:6-8; Deuteronomy 6:17-18; Deuteronomy 6:24-25; Deuteronomy 7:11-12; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 10:13; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 11:8; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 11:27; Deuteronomy 11:32); of how the reason that they are being blessed is not for their own sakes, but because of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 9:27; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 11:9); of how they must remember Yahweh their God Who has mightily delivered them from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 6:21-23; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 9:26); of how He is bringing them into a good and prosperous land where they will enjoy great blessings (Deuteronomy 6:10-11; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 7:13-16; Deuteronomy 8:7-10; Deuteronomy 8:12-13; Deuteronomy 11:10-12; Deuteronomy 11:14-15), and of how they must then beware of turning to false gods and false religion once they enter the land, and must rather totally destroy them (Deuteronomy 5:8-9; Deuteronomy 6:14-15; Deuteronomy 7:4-5; Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 9:12; Deuteronomy 9:16; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 11:28).
These are the general emphases, but each chapter also has a particular emphasis.
· Deuteronomy 6:0 stresses their need to love Yahweh, their covenant Overlord, with all their beings (Deuteronomy 6:5), to fear Him (Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 6:24), and to teach their children His instruction, and warns them that when they are prospering in the land they must not forget what He has done for them. Their Overlord is calling His subjects to love and obedience.
· Deuteronomy 7:0 confirms Yahweh’s elective covenant love for them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:13) as His holy people, chosen and treasured (Deuteronomy 7:6), and promises them that because of that love He will bless them wonderfully, delivering the promised land into their hands. Here He reveals why they should love Him and respond to Him, because He has first loved them, and chosen them to be the recipients of His love with all its great benefits.
· Deuteronomy 8:0 reminds them of how they must remember and not forget the past (Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:5; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 8:18), especially how He has looked after them in the wilderness, with the promise that He is bringing them to a good and prosperous land, and that once He has done so they must beware of self-glorification. Here the details of His watch over them are laid out demonstrating the practicality of His love.
· Deuteronomy 9:0 exhorts them on this basis to go forward and cross the Jordan knowing that Yahweh goes before them, while reminding them that their success will not be because of their own righteousness, a fact which he then demonstrates from their past history, reminding them how right from the very beginning they had broken God’s covenant that He had made with them. Here He emphasises how gracious He has been to them even though they had not been fully faithful to His covenant. While they do not deserve His goodness, He is pouring it on them anyway.
· Deuteronomy 10:0 stresses that God then graciously renewed that covenant which they had broken so quickly, and goes on to describe the greatness and uniqueness of Yahweh their covenant God and Overlord. They must recognise how good He has been to His erring subjects and take note of the fullness of His glory, lest they again break His covenant with them.
· Deuteronomy 11:0 urges them to learn from the past and go forward on the basis of it, repeats the promises and warnings of the previous chapters, constrains them to remember His words, and bear them about with them and teach them to their children, and promises the good things to come, and the certainty of their possession of the land because Yahweh is with them. It finally concludes the section with the reminder of the blessings and cursings, which will be solemnly applied on Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, which are by the oaks of Moreh, that is, at Shechem, and says that which of these will come on them will depend on whether they faithfully respond to His covenant or not. This conclusion prepares the way for Deuteronomy 27:0, although meanwhile being first of all preceded by the detailed stipulations of chapters 12-26.
So throughout these chapters the covenant is constantly stressed, a covenant which is the result of His love for their fathers and for them and is their guarantee of the future as long as their response to it is full and complete.
Moses Emphasises That The Covenant Was Not Only Given To Their Fathers But Was Given Also Directly To Them Out Of The Midst of The Fire (Deuteronomy 5:1-5 ).
Moses now repeats briefly what he has already said in his previous speech. We note here that this directly connects back to Deuteronomy 4:10-14, and that Moses wants them to see the covenant words as directly addressed to them.
a All Israel are called together (at the Tabernacle). Then Moses says, “Listen and take heed, O Israel, to the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your (your) ears this day, that you may learn them, and observe to do them (Deuteronomy 5:1).
b Yahweh our God made a covenant with us in Horeb (Deuteronomy 5:2).
c Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day (Deuteronomy 5:3).
b Yahweh spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 5:4).
a I stood between Yahweh and you at that time, to show you the word of Yahweh, for you were afraid because of the fire, and did not go up into the mount” (Deuteronomy 5:5).
Note that in ‘a’ that Moses is declaring to them the testimonies, statutes and ordinances of Yahweh, and in the parallel had done so at the Mount, acting as mediator between them and Yahweh, because they had been afraid of the Fire (Yahweh revealed in fire). In ‘b’ he reminds them that Yahweh had made a covenant with them in Horeb (Sinai) and in the parallel that Yahweh had done it speaking fact to face with them from the midst of the Fire. In ‘c’ he declares that the covenant was not to be seen as made with their fathers but as made with him and those who were listening to him.
‘ And Moses called to all Israel, and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your (your) ears this day, that you (ye) may learn them, and observe to do them.’
Moses calls ‘all Israel’ as a nation, but also as a plurality (ye), to hear his proclamation of Yahweh’s statutes and ordinances, so that they may learn them and observe them. This proclamation of the covenant was no doubt required on a regular basis at the different feasts, so that it would come as no surprise. We do not know exactly what was read out at the different feasts, but certainly there would be participation in cult activity and declarations of the Law as well as feasting. In fact Moses will later declare that every seven years the whole law was to be read out to the people at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:9-13 compare Joshua 8:34-35). This proclamation here thus simply follows precedent, and something like it would have been expected before the great move forward, and may well to some extent have previously occurred during their feasting.
“Observe to do them.” In New Testament terms they were to be like the wise man who built his house on a rock, depicting the fact that he not only heard God’s words through Jesus but did them (Matthew 7:24). They also were to hear Yahweh’s words and do them, for it is only those who do His word who are truly established on the Rock.
‘ Yahweh our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.’
He begins by reminding them of the covenant that Yahweh had made with them. He stresses that the covenant was made with all of them, not just with their fathers. It is personal to them. Indeed they are not to think of it as a covenant made with their fathers at all but as one that has been made with them, that is, ‘with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day’.
“Yahweh did not make this covenant with our fathers.” This is not to be seen as a denial that the covenant was made with their fathers. What he is indicating here in a forceful way is that the covenant was not only for their fathers. At this present time it was a covenant made with them. Of course, it had been made with their fathers, but they had failed to obtain its full benefit by refusing to enter the land at Yahweh’s command. Thus in the end there was a sense in which it had not been for them. They had not obtained its full benefit, and in the end had forfeited it. But now that covenant was being renewed with those who were currently listening to Moses and he was calling on them to make it effective. Their fathers had failed to respond to it, but now it was made to them too and open for their response. They must choose whether they will make it their own, and act on it. That is why he will now repeat it almost word for word.
This reflects the important principle that no man is in covenant because his father was. Each must in the end respond for himself. Each succeeding generation must opt to enter into the covenant.
It reminds us that God’s word comes to all of us, both as a church and as individuals, but that if we fail to respond to Him truly and fail to walk in His ways, then He will declare that it is not for us but for others. If we refuse His light shining on our lives in order to reveal what we are and bring us to His Lordship, we will be left in outer darkness (John 3:19-21).
‘ Yahweh spoke with you (ye) face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,’
Moses now encircles the words of the basic covenant itself with a reminder of the awe-inspiring background against which it was given, and what had been their response to it. He wants them to recognise the seriousness of what he is bringing to their thoughts.
He opens by reminding them of the circumstances of the giving of the covenant, of how Yahweh had spoken with them face to face out of the midst of the raging, savagely burning, resplendent and glorious Fire that had descended on the Mount, the Fire which had made its peak seem alight. Some of them who had been children then would remember it vividly. They could never have forgotten its glory. Others would have been retold the story again and again. The Fire had both laid bare His glory and warned them that He was a consuming fire so that they would take heed to what they heard (Deuteronomy 4:24).
“Spoken with them face to face.” Not strictly of course. They had not seen His face. But it had been a person to person encounter, for they had seen the Fire that signified His presence and personally heard His voice.
“Talked with you out of the midst of the Fire.” Compare Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 5:26; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4 where the same thought is emphasised. Moses clearly saw the voice at Mount Sinai as connected with the God of the burning bush where God ‘in a flame of fire’ (Exodus 3:2) spoke to him ‘out of the (burning) bush’ (Exodus 3:4). He wanted the people to be aware of the source of the commandments, statutes and ordinances, and continually stresses the Fire through which Yahweh revealed Himself (thirteen times in Deuteronomy 4-5).
‘ (I stood between Yahweh and you at that time, to show you the word of Yahweh, for you (ye) were afraid because of the fire, and did not go up into the mount), saying,’
And he reminds them of the fearsome nature of their own experience, and that in the end he alone had been able to go up into the Mount, standing as mediator between Yahweh and the people, and giving them the word of Yahweh. Indeed they had been so full of fear because of the Fire and the Voice, that they had not wanted to go up into the Mount, even though they had previously been able to wander in it freely. And once Yahweh took possession of it they had actually not been able to, for it was forbidden to them. It had become ‘holy’ ground.
“Saying.” And this was what Yahweh had said. He will now repeat the ‘ten words’ as given at Mount Sinai with slight changes to suit the present situation.
The Words of the Covenant of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 5:6-21 ).
Having provided the context he now expands on the basic covenant. At this point the pronouns change from plural to singular until Deuteronomy 5:22. This was so as to emphasise the personal application of what was said to each listener, and also to stress that it applied to the whole nation as one. Here we have a repetition of the giving of the covenant, and of the ten words which it contained, but with slight alterations in order to bring home certain emphases.
· Naming the covenant Overlord and what He has done for them.
“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 5:6).
· Presenting the covenant stipulations:
“You (thou) shall have no other gods ‘to my face’.” (And as He sees all things in heaven and earth all such are by this banned) (Deuteronomy 5:7).
· “You shall not make to yourself 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” (Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
· “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11).
· “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
· “Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
· “You shall not murder” (Deuteronomy 5:17).
· “Neither shall you commit adultery” (Deuteronomy 5:18).
· “Neither shall you steal” (Deuteronomy 5:19).
· “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour” (Deuteronomy 5:20).
· “Neither shall you covet” (anything of your neighbour’s) (Deuteronomy 5:21).
‘ Saying, “I am Yahweh your (thy) God, who brought you (thee) out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
First there is the declaration of the maker of the covenant, and the basis on which He can expect their response. This is not an agreement between two equal parties, but the declaration of an Overlord to His subjects because of what He has done for them in delivering them.
He declares that He is ‘Yahweh their God’, the One Who had ‘brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage’ (out of the position of being bondsmen in Egypt, which was the ‘house’ of Pharaoh). That He is their Great Deliverer. He reminds them that they had been an oppressed people, enslaved and restrained by Pharaoh, and that the requirements laid on them then had come from Pharaoh and from Egypt, binding them in a slave contract. And these restrictions had resulted in terrible bondage in ‘the slave house of Pharaoh’. But by His mighty acts He had delivered them and brought them out as free men to this very place (Deuteronomy 4:34). It is because of this therefore that He has the right to state to them His own requirements, His covenant requirements. They had been freed from subjection to Pharaoh and from Egypt, with its bondage, so that they might come within His covenant love, and enjoy the land He would give them, with its freedom.
Furthermore this experience of deliverance had been brought up to date in Deuteronomy 1-4. It had been confirmed by subsequent victories. Thus they could now not only rejoice in their deliverance from Egypt, but could rejoice in those further victories given, and in the part of the land that had already been given to them as an extra and as a kind of firstfruit. And now there they were on the verge of entering into the land under the kingly rule of God in freedom and liberty. But it still all rested on that first deliverance.
The first three commands that next follow are almost word for word as in Exodus 20:3-7, with minimal differences.
“ You (thou) shall have no other gods before me (or ‘in my presence’, literally ‘to (or on) my face’).”
The first requirement was that He was to be pre-eminent in their lives and worship. They were to have nothing to do with any other gods, and certainly none should be allowed in the Central Sanctuary. None must enter His presence, and they must remember in this regard that He ‘walked’ in the camp of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:14; Leviticus 26:12). Thus other gods were excluded from the whole camp, and indeed as He sees all things everywhere in heaven and earth all such are banned.
We must here bring to mind that the crowd before Him included people of many nations (Exodus 12:38). Thus He spoke to them in terms of their understanding. This is not an admission that there were other genuine gods, but a declaration that all representations of such must be excluded from His presence, because they have no standing before Him, and should have no significance for them. He stands alone there as their God, the unique and only Yahweh. Such gods should not therefore even enter their thoughts or words (which are also ‘before Him’, compare Deuteronomy 5:28-29).
They were to recognise that Yahweh was not just one God among many. In the account in Exodus little mention is made of the gods of Egypt (only in Exodus 12:12), or is made of the fact that Pharaoh was seen as a god. They are simply dismissed. The plagues had made nonsense of them. They had revealed that it was Yahweh alone Who controlled Egypt and all that happened to it, just as He controls all things. And his adversary Pharaoh (seen as a god by the Egyptians) was treated by Yahweh very much as a man. In the myths of the nations the gods were constantly at war with one another. But not so in the Bible. The gods did not fight with Yahweh. They were nonentities. They were simply a nuisance and had to be excised because men were deceived about them.
“ You shall not make to yourself 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,”
Further, they were not to fashion for themselves, for the purpose of worship or veneration, any engraved image. Such an image must not be fashioned, whether in the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Such were forbidden and if fashioned could result in their expulsion from the land (Deuteronomy 4:16-19; Deuteronomy 4:25-28).
The representation of gods in animal and bird forms was commonplace in Egypt, representations which linked the gods with creation as being a part of it. In Canaan the bull was extremely popular, as representing Baal, and to a lesser extent the horse. Female human figurines have also been discovered in Judah, representing fertility goddesses. It is interesting though that many figurines discovered in Judah had been purposely destroyed, presumably in the days of a reforming king. But such representations were not allowed to Israel. Any such representations were strictly forbidden.
In Romans 1:18 onwards Paul amplifies on this, pointing out how the worship of beastly forms resulted in beastly behaviour. For what man truly worships he becomes like. Many today would see themselves as released from this proviso. They consider that they worship no images. Instead they have replaced God by ‘society’, by political expression, by credos, by sex, by wealth, by music and by sport. It is not that God is more central to their lives than He was among the Canaanites. They are still idolaters, and equally blameworthy, even though the images be photographs or digital images or notes, instead of gold. And the world still languishes. Their minds are taken up with other than God, and the images that take up their minds are the equivalent of graven images for they have moulded them for themselves.
“ You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous (deeply concerned) God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing lovingkindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Nor were they to bow down to such images nor serve them. This was because Yahweh is a ‘jealous’ God, that is, He is a deeply concerned God, a God concerned that He should not be demeaned by even being associated with such gods by such acts of worship, a God concerned for truth and for the good of His people. So He and such gods are totally incompatible. They must make their choice. They must either worship Him or them, but they could not worship both, for that would be to lower Him to their level.
And He is a God Who will not permit the worship of any other than Himself because He is the Supreme Creator and Lord of all. This ‘jealousy’ has both a positive and a negative aspect. Positively He knows that it is only when He is central in our hearts that we are what we should be. He knows that our greatest hope of fulfilment lies in knowing Him fully, and that idolatry can only bestialise us. Thus modern idolatry is as harmful to us as the ancient idolatry was to people then. Negatively it is simply because none other are worthy of worship, and to worship them demeans His people.
It is telling us that Yahweh has the deepest concern for what is right at the heart of things, and is thus concerned lest His people worship and serve that which was not worthy of such worship and service. This is because he knows what it will do to them. He knows that it will bestialise them, and this is true whether it be representations of beasts, or distorted music, or overemphasised sport. It concentrates their mind on the flesh. For once they remove themselves from God’s influence it is not long before men and women bestialise everything, especially when what they worship is crude. So He is jealous (deeply concerned) for their right belief and for their right emphases and for their right recognition of His uniqueness, as He still is, because only by that can they escape being bestialised.
“Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me.” Thus He tells them (and us) that all should take note of how they behave in this regard, because what they do will affect succeeding generations. Let all recognise that His response reaches down through the generations. He does not do this by personal attack but because He has made the world in such a way that the inevitable consequence of a man’s choosing to sin is that his family become involved and are affected by it. So by copying him they bring themselves under the same judgment, and this tends to affect generation after generation. Indeed the ‘father’ might well still be alive when the third or fourth generation is born, with his pernicious influence as father of the family still affecting the whole. Thus his iniquity is visited on them and they suffer too.
Yet even though this is so, in the end it must be recognised that what they are is by their own choice. No men are forced to follow their fathers (Abraham had not), and there are no examples given in Scripture of righteous men directly suffering under God for the sins of their fathers, although righteous men did suffer because they were associated with unrighteous Israel simply by association. The lesson is that what we are not only affects us but also those who look up to us and associate with us, and that it can go very deep.
“And showing lovingkindness (covenant love) to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” On the other hand to those who love Him and respond to Him, delighting in and keeping His commandment, He declares that He shows lovingkindness and mercy on a constant and overwhelming scale. His delight is to bless His people. And this is offered to ‘thousands’, that is, to large and inexpressible numbers, a multitude which no man can number. For God is a God of lovingkindness.
“ You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
The idolatry previously mentioned was a desertion, but to take Yahweh’s name in vain is a positive attack. To take the name of Yahweh in vain means to use it lightly, or to use it for wrong purposes, either in a curse, or a false oath, or casually, or in contempt, or in magic. It is man’s attempt to bring God into trivial matters. Any of these things are blasphemy, and those who behave in such a way will not be found guiltless. For to insult or depreciate or misuse or be casual with His name is to positively insult and depreciate Him, and reveals how they view Him.
In the ancient world the name was seen as highly significant. It was seen as representing what the bearer of that name essentially was. Thus the name of a god revealed the essence of the god. Men felt that they could therefore take that name and utilise it in order to control the power of the god. This was probably what Balak wanted Balaam to do with ‘Yahweh’ (Numbers 22-24). But His people were not to do thus with Yahweh’s name. Such a use would be blasphemy. His Name must be revered and not trespassed on or slighted. To use it wrongly would be to be guilty before God. God is not such that an attempt can be made to control Him.
Even today we may do the same. We may use the name of Jesus in order to manipulate God to give us what we want. That is blasphemy. For prayer ‘in the name of Jesus’ should only be offered for what He wants and what will make us more useful in His service. To ask in His name should mean to want it for His sake, not for our own (compare Matthew 6:8-13). To use His name in order to obtain private and selfish benefits is to break this commandment in an insidious way.
“ Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you. Six days shall you labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God, in it you shall not do any work, you, nor you son, nor you daughter, nor your man-servant, nor your maid-servant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your foreigner who is within your gates, that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you.”
This is the first commandment in which we find Moses making clear and deliberate alterations. There are a number of them. ‘Observe’ is used instead of ‘remember’; ‘as Yahweh your God commanded you’ is added; special mention is made of the ox and the ass, instead of just the general ‘cattle’; and ‘that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you’ is tacked on. The first in some ways makes little difference, for to ‘remember’ means to ‘observe’. But perhaps there had been a laxity in keeping the sabbath so that Moses wished to stress that it must not only be perfunctorily remembered but fully observed. All present would notice the change from the usual pattern of words. ‘Observing’ (regarding and carrying out fully) what Yahweh commands is a theme of Deuteronomy. (Six times in Deuteronomy 4:0, five times in Deuteronomy 5:0, five times in Deuteronomy 6:0, four times in Deuteronomy 7:0 and so on).
“As Yahweh your God commanded you” refers back to Exodus 20:8 where the command was originally given, and also to Exodus 16:23; Exodus 16:25-26 where it was first instituted. See also Exodus 31:13-16; Exodus 35:2-3; Leviticus 19:3; Leviticus 19:30; Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 26:2. This added comment demonstrates that this repetition of the covenant is very much in speech form rather than being a solemn declaration of the covenant. It is given with the purpose of pressing home its requirements.
The non-mention of the wife (which occurs often when referring to family) was not because she was not important enough, but because the man and wife were seen as being one and acting together as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). What he did she did. ‘You’ (thou) included both. It was a testimony to the recognition of that principle. It was because to take a man’s wife was to destroy this unity that the punishment for it was death.
“Your ox and your ass.” With regard to the special mention of the ass it may be that some had argued that the ass was not included in ‘cattle’ and was thus not to share the sabbath rest. If that was so then that false idea was being put right. But whether that was so or not, the ox and ass were the hardest workers of the domestic animals, and are specifically mentioned with regard to the Sabbath in Exodus 23:12-13. Like the servants they most deserved rest, which was something all must have under the covenant.
“That your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you.” This final tacked item on may also suggest that some had been lax in allowing full rest to men-servants and maid-servants, possibly lightening but not totally suspending their duties. Moses thus stresses that they must have the same rest as everyone else, so that they too may be able to fully rest and focus their minds on God as everyone else did. They especially should enjoy this symbol of the liberty which God gave to man.
The purpose then of these changes was to counter attempts to evade the full impact of the requirements. Additional sub-clauses had been added on the basis of experience.
“Within your gates.” This does not necessarily require a reference to city gates. Moses stood in ‘the gate’ of the camp in Exodus 32:26. It refers merely to that which gives entrance into the recognised sphere of habitations, in this case tents. Those within your gates signifies ‘those who are living among you’. All in the camp, and later in cities and towns in the land, were to enjoy this rest. This even included foreigners who came among them, who must also observe the sabbath.
“Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you.” The sabbath, that is, every seventh day from the first giving of the manna (Exodus 16:0), was to be kept holy. It was to be treated as a day set apart to Yahweh on which all should rest, from the very highest to the very lowest, including ass and cattle. No work should be done (feeding, milking and watching over beasts would be allowed because these were necessary acts of mercy). It was a day on which men should not do their own will, or seek their own pleasure or speak their own words (Isaiah 58:13). All hearts and thoughts were to be set on Yahweh, and none must be excluded from the Sabbath rest.
The question of the Christian attitude to this cannot be fully dealt with here. Suffice to say that the point was that every seventh day was to be kept as holy to Yahweh (there was at that time no such thing as a ‘week’ and thus it was not the last day of the week). The fact that there are different time zones, which are decided by men and subject to change, brings out that it is the principle that matters not the particular day. Change the time zone and the ‘day of the week’ may change. Paul himself makes clear that what matters is not the keeping of a particular day, but the keeping of a day to the Lord, whether it be one day in seven or every day. We are not to judge one another on the matter. Each stands responsible to the Lord for what he does (Romans 14:5-6; Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:17 compare Mark 2:27-28). What does matter is that we bring God regularly, or always, into our use of time. Indeed the strict keeping of the sabbath was not feasible for many early Christians. They could not cease work. It was an injunction only possible for a free people with the freedom to choose. For New Testament Christian slaves it was replaced by ‘the rest of faith’ (Hebrews 4:0). That was the new sabbath which replaced the sabbath which they could not enjoy. It was by their faith in Christ that they found rest in a restless world. Yet they could still have days which they treated as specially devoted to God.
“ And you shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore Yahweh your God commands you to keep the sabbath day.”
The reference to the men-servants and maid-servants leads him on to stress why this is so. It is because they should remember that they too had been ‘servants’ in the land of Egypt until Yahweh delivered them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (compare Deuteronomy 4:34). They had known what it was to slave without respite. They had known what it was to have no rest. But they had been delivered from this servitude by the hand of Yahweh. And He had exerted Himself that they might have rest. They should therefore have greater respect for their servants and ensure that both they and their servants fully ‘observed’ the sabbath day, and that the servants had full rest on that day.
It will be noted that the reference to creation found in Exodus 20:11 is here omitted. This was presumably because Moses did not see it as necessary in this context when he was placing his emphasis on giving servants full rest. He was concentrating on the purpose in hand. All knew that it was a God-given pattern concerning a day blessed by God. But in mind here was that Israel were now entering into their rest, and it was right therefore that all should enjoy the sabbath rest for that reason. His concern here was that they should learn their lesson from their deliverance. That is why it is their own deliverance that he stresses as the factor to be taken into account and not creation. He is stressing experience over against theory because he feels it will have more impact.
This would suggest that the reference to creation was seen by him as a secondary subsection and not as the main clause in the covenant. It was after all not a requirement but an explanation. So he considered that to omit it did not lessen the covenant requirement. To have added it on here would in fact have lessened the strength of his argument and blurred his point, while his silence about it drew clear attention to both to it and to the alternative, for all would be waiting for the reference to creation and would be the more struck by its absence and by what he did say.
It should, however, be noted that this ‘addition’ is not strictly ‘new’ external material but is simply incorporating the idea contained in the initial verse of the covenant, that Yahweh had delivered them from bondage. He is not ‘adding’ to the covenant, He is repeating the very basis on which it was founded.
So to ‘observe the sabbath’ was not only in order to remember creation, but also to remember the deliverance. From now on the two went together. It had originally commemorated the giving of the manna (Exodus 16:0). It had then reminded men of the completeness of creation (Exodus 20:0). But now it included the deliverance. It celebrated God’s provision of both food, and life, and rest. For Christians every seventh day (which it is, whatever day it is celebrated on) commemorates the giving of the Bread of Life (John 6:35) Who feeds our hearts, and it commemorates our Great Deliverer Who through the cross and resurrection has brought about the greater salvation.
“ Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you, in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.”
Here he adds ‘as Yahweh your God commanded you’ and ‘that it may go well with you’. These are the kind of typical asides that might well be made in a speech in order to emphasise the point and in order to wish them well, for he knew that he would not be with them much longer. With the possession of the land now almost on them these promises gained greater meaning. And they were a warning hint that if they were to enjoy the land permanently it could only be by a permanent keeping of the covenant, and that this would partly result from honouring father and mother as they learned from them the instruction of Yahweh. Long life and spiritual and material prosperity in the land would depend on it.
In Israel all authority from the top downwards was placed in the father figure; the father of the clan, the father of the sub-clan, the father of the wider family, the father of the family unit. And in each case the wife was the mother of the clan/family. They ensured the smooth running of each unit, and the teaching of the covenant of Yahweh. Thus to honour them was to honour God. To go against them was to go against God. (Which is why this commandment comes within the first five words, the words with respect to behaviour towards God). To curse them was to undermine the whole of society and to despise the authority given by Yahweh (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9)
“ You shall not murder.”
The taking of another human life was ever forbidden by God, for men’s lives were sacred to Him and the life that was in them was His. He alone had the right to decide when a man’s life should cease. He alone had given man breath (Genesis 2:7), He alone had the right to take it away again. The only exceptions were genuine self-defence and when carrying out an execution in accordance with Yahweh’s laws, the former because there was no alternative and it was forced upon them, the latter because it was God’s determination. The holy war against Canaan came under the second heading. They were executing the Canaanites at Yahweh’s command. It should, however, be noted that the verb used here is never used of killing in warfare or of execution. It is only used of deliberate killing in day-to-day life, and also of accidental killing, but it is clearly not possible to legislate against the latter.
“ Neither shall you commit adultery.”
Notice the ‘neither’ (or ‘and not’ - waw with lo). The ‘and’ comes here and in the next three commandments but is absent in Exodus 20:0. It softens the stark statements of Exodus 20:0 and makes them explanatory, as might be expected when Moses is not making a declaration of the covenant, but is explaining it. He is not giving the injunctions one by one in their starkness, each a direct command to the heart from Yahweh, he is putting them together as a whole depicting the complete picture of God’s requirements. Next to killing a man, to take his wife in adultery was the worst thing that someone could do. Both these crimes carried the death penalty.
The relationship between a man and his wife was sealed by God (Genesis 2:24). It was as such a unique and binding covenant relationship which was essentially intended to be unbreakable. To break it was to seriously interfere in God’s covenant working. To God all covenants are binding (Psalms 15:4), and this one more than all. It was thus uniquely an especially serious breach of God’s covenant. It is equally serious today. Once committed it excluded both parties involved from God’s covenant. That is why they were to be cut off from Israel. They were to be put to death. Yet that mercy could be obtained comes out in the example of David. But the seriousness of it came out in what followed. Deaths were still required (2 Samuel 12:10-14). David died in his son, and others of his sons suffered violent death.
“ Neither shall you steal.”
Stealing covered all aspects of dishonesty, including kidnapping for which the penalty was death (see Deuteronomy 24:7), stealing a man’s reputation, and stealing his property. Next to a man’s life, and his wife, his property and his name were the most important things in a man’s estimation, and in God’s, for they had been given to him by God. It was thus an offence against God. To steal them broke the covenant relationship. There were various penalties laid out for dishonesty and stealing. It depended on the nature of the offence. And they all required compensation.
(There could have been added to this commandment, ‘not a man’s son, nor his daughter, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his’. It covered all aspects of life and property. Today we may not be able to steal a man’s cattle, but we can still by manipulation steal his job or position or reputation or possessions).
“ Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour.”
The main concern here was the maintenance of justice. To bear false witness in a court was to subvert justice, and thus to render the court unable to fulfil its function under Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 19:15-21). To bear false witness was thus to attempt to prevent Yahweh from carrying out justice. It was to subvert God’s purpose. All must therefore contribute towards maintaining true justice in every way. A man who was shown to have borne false witness had to bear the consequences that fell, or would have fallen, on the person he bore false witness about (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).
But in principle it includes the spreading of any ‘false witness’ against someone else, and warns us to be careful in what we say about others. Compare ‘you shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people’ (Leviticus 19:16).
“ Neither shall you covet your neighbour’s wife; neither shall you desire your neighbour’s house, his field, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
The final command is that they were not even to consider such things in their minds. The previous four commandments were widely held in many law codes and systems. In one way or another they were basic to life everywhere, although not always with such intensity. And punishment for them was made clear. But coveting is a thought process. And man could not judge and punish thought processes. Only God could do that.
Yet coveting is at the root of much sin for coveting leads to doing, and the point here is that God can even judge the thought processes before the outward sin itself is committed. Man may not be aware of them, but God is. Wrong thought processes are thus a breach of the covenant. They break essential unity with one’s neighbour. And Yahweh will know. That is why Jesus could stress that to think was to do (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). Indeed coveting is the most important of all things to avoid for from it come all the other sins and it takes the heart away from God. It is a form of idolatry, for it means putting what we covet higher than God (Colossians 3:5). If we can avoid coveting we will mainly avoid sin.
This commandment thus lifts the covenant above the level of social law. It brings out that in the end it is something directly between man and God. It is personal.
Note that as compared with Exodus 20:17 Moses here changes the order and puts ‘wife’ before ‘house’, and separates her from the remainder, putting emphasis on her. This fits better with the order above, the forbidding of adultery before the stealing of property. At this stage perhaps, in the close proximity of the camp, there had been too much adultery so that Moses was concerned to emphasise the necessity not to covet other men’s wives. Or it may indicate Moses’ deep awareness of the value and importance of his wife.
He also here included ‘field’. Those in the two and a half tribes who were already settling in would now have fields that could be coveted. So all these changes express Moses’ current concerns. But he would not have made the changes if he had been baldly ‘declaring the covenant’. He felt able to do so because they were part of his speech, so that he could put in the emphases that he wanted. He was wanting to directly sway the people. We may consider that it was only Moses who in those times could have dared to make such alterations to a sacred text.
The Context of the Giving of the Covenant and The People’s Fear (Deuteronomy 5:22-28 ).
Having repeated the covenant he now sought to emphasise again the circumstances under which it was given. The twofold repetition of this before and after the basic covenant itself demonstrates how concerned he was to ensure that they recognised the solemnity of the covenant. See also Deuteronomy 4:10-24; Deuteronomy 4:33.
(Except when clearly used in words to Moses, when ‘thou, thee’ is used, which may be another reason for the change to ‘ye’, so as to bring out the distinction, all the verbs in this section are ‘ye, your’).
a Yahweh’s words were spoken to all the assembly in the Mount out of the midst of the Fire, of the Cloud, and of the thick darkness with a great voice, after which He added no more (Deuteronomy 5:22 a).
b He wrote them on two tables of stone and had given them to Moses (Deuteronomy 5:22 b).
c When the people heard the Voice out of the midst of the darkness while the Mount burned with Fire, their heads and their elders approached Moses (Deuteronomy 5:23).
d They declared that Yahweh had shown them His glory and His greatness, and that they had heard His Voice out of the midst of the Fire, and that they had seen this day that God speaks with a man, and yet he continues to live (Deuteronomy 5:24).
d But now they were afraid that they would die and that this great Fire would consume them, and that if they heard the Voice of Yahweh their God any more, they would die (Deuteronomy 5:25).
c For who, they asked, of all living flesh had heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the Fire, as they had, and lived? (Deuteronomy 5:26).
b So they asked Moses to go near and hear all that Yahweh their God would say, and then speak it to them and they would hear it and do it (Deuteronomy 5:27).
a Yahweh had heard the voice of their words, and said to Moses, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people who have spoken to you. They have said well all that they have spoken” (Deuteronomy 5:28).
Note that in ‘a’ He had spoken out of the Fire, Cloud and thick darkness with a great Voice and had ceased, and in the parallel He had heard His people’s voice (requesting no more) and responded to it favourably. In ‘b’ He had given His Instruction direct to Moses on two tablets of stone, and in the parallel this was in accordance with the request of the people that in future He alone would receive God’s Instruction. In ‘c’ the head and elders had approached Moses when they heard the Voice from the darkness and the Fire, and in the parallel they asked who of all living flesh had heard such things and lived. In ‘d’ they emphasised they still lived in spite of the greatness and glory and awesomeness of what they had seen, but in the parallel feared greatly that if it continued they would die.
‘ These words Yahweh spoke to all your (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 on two tablets of stone, and gave them to me.’
He draws attention to the fact, firstly that the words had been spoken to the whole assembly (Exodus 20:22), and no one had been omitted. Secondly that they had come from the Fire and Cloud and thick darkness that was on the Mount. They were from the very presence of God, the God of glory, in consuming power and mystery. Thirdly that they had come with a great voice, a voice that had directly spoken to them, and terrified them. Fourthly that nothing was added to the commandments. They stood there stark in all their brevity, and yet it was a brevity that in principle covered all men’s sins and responses. (Alternately the thought may be that He added no more to the people, the remainder coming through Moses). And fifthly they were recorded on stone by the hand of God so as to seal their permanence and importance, and handed over by the covenant Lord to His people through Moses His mediator. The fivefold description emphasises the covenant connection.
“Fire and cloud and thick darkness.” God had recently constantly revealed Himself to Israel in fire and cloud, in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Deuteronomy 1:33; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 14:24; Exodus 40:38; Numbers 10:34; Numbers 14:14). Now this experience was deepened. While they regularly used fire they knew also that it was mysterious and dangerous. It was not easily controlled. It lightened darkness, it shone gloriously, it could be awesome. It was here and then it was gone, no one knew where. It could destroy forests and cities. In intensity it was something to fear. It was a reminder of what God is like. The thick darkness emphasised His mystery and unapproachability.
‘ And it came about, when you (ye) heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you (ye) came near to me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders,’
He stresses the Fire again and that they had heard the voice from within the thick darkness even while they saw the surrounding fire, and had been deeply stirred. But they had not seen Yahweh in His essence. Nor could they. To experience Him in His full essence would have been to die. Yet even the voice had been terrible enough, and they had immediately tried to distance themselves from it.
He reminds them of the effect that this had had on their fathers, and on some of them as children. And how at what they had seen and heard they had been filled with fear and awe, so that they had approached Moses, through all their heads of tribes and their elders, pleading that they wanted no more of it.
‘ And you said, “Behold, Yahweh our God has shown 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 speaks with man, and he lives.”
They had been so moved that they had then spoken to him with awe of how Yahweh their covenant God had revealed to them His glory and His greatness in the Fire. Of course, they had in fact only seen the outskirts of His ways, but to them that had been moving enough, for what they had seen and heard had terrified them. And they had spoken in hushed tones of the voice that had spoken to them. They felt that they had done the impossible, heard the voice of God and lived. In a strange way they appreciated the fact. But it was not something that they wished to experience again. God had never come that close to them before and they thought of it in terms that no man could see God and live, for that was how they felt. To them it was not an experience that they wanted repeating.
Such experiences are the lot of very few. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had experienced the awe of the revelation of God Himself as manifested in theophanies. Moses had experienced them. Now they had experienced them. No wonder they were subdued. But in all these cases none had truly seen God. Such a beatific vision would have destroyed whoever saw it. Even Moses, after pleading to see God in His glory, was only permitted to see the tail end of His glory (Exodus 33:23).
“ Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of Yahweh our God any more, then we shall die.”
Yet limited though their experience had been they had not wanted it repeating. They had felt as though they had almost died. If it happened again they feared that they would die. That terrible Fire that they had seen would surely devour them. The awful voice of God would surely cause them to wither and be annihilated. They could not even bear the thought of it.
“ For who is there of all flesh, who has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?”
They had spoken with awe. They did not know of anyone who had ever had the kind of experience that they had had, God speaking to them out of the midst of the Fire, and had lived. It had shaken them to the core. And yet they recognised that it had made them special. Of course, Moses had experienced exactly that at the burning bush. But then he was Moses. They were speaking of ordinary men.
“Speaking out of the midst of the Fire.” Compare especially Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 5:4.
“ You go near, and hear all that Yahweh our God shall say, and you speak to us all that Yahweh our God shall say to you, and we will hear it, and do it.”
But the end result was that they had begged Moses to stand in for them, to be their mediator, to go in their place. Would he not approach Yahweh their God, and hear all that He had to say, and then pass on Yahweh’s covenant words to them? They were ready to obey, but let him be to them the voice of God. How like people to want the spiritual benefit without having to undergo the experience. They did not mind if Moses had to bear it, it was just that they could not bear it themselves. But it does demonstrate how they saw Moses as unique in his relationship to God. They were not being deliberately disobedient. They assured him that whatever he told them ‘we will hear it and we will do it’. But they did not covet too close a relationship with God for themselves.
“Yahweh our God.” Note the repetition of ‘Yahweh our God’ four times in Deuteronomy 5:24-27. This was the name especially associated with the covenant. This term always designates Yahweh in His uniqueness and distinctiveness, the God of special occasions. Compare Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:10 etc., where it is used only in solemn declarations to Pharaoh. As the covenant title it occurs nineteen times in the first six chapters of Deuteronomy, in the foundations of the covenant, and then not until Deuteronomy 29:15; Deuteronomy 29:8; Deuteronomy 29:29 in Moses’ great covenant speech. It thus stresses His mightiness as their covenant God. Compare its use in Joshua (only in Joshua 18:8; Joshua 22:19; Joshua 22:29; Joshua 24:17; Joshua 24:24) in solemn declarations when the covenant is being emphasised, and its only use in Judges in Judges 11:24; and in 1 Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:8 where the same applies. Compare also 1 Kings 8:57; 1 Kings 8:59; 1 Kings 8:61. These are all the uses in the Pentateuch and the former prophets (the historical writings up to Kings), save that it is exceptionally used outside of speech in 1 Kings 8:65, but that simply stresses the same significance, for there the covenant emphasis is central and it is actually in the nature of a declaration. It is thus used for a distinct purpose. Jeremiah later uses it more generally.
‘ And Yahweh heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me, and Yahweh said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They have well said all that they have spoken.” ’
He reminds them that Yahweh had heard their plea. ‘And Yahweh heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me.’ It was necessarily so, for Yahweh was the all-seeing and the all-hearing. Nothing was hidden from Him. Note the contrast with Deuteronomy 4:12. There they had heard the voice of His words. Here it is He Who hears the voice of their words. There is full reciprocation within the covenant. They hear and so He hears.
Yahweh had heard their words. He wanted them to know that the words and thoughts of all men were known to Him. For all things are open to Him with Whom we have to do. And He had approved of what they had requested. He had known full well how little they could bear His presence. Thus He had indicated to Moses that the request met with His approval. He knew that otherwise it might all be too much for them. This was the pattern for the future. God would speak with men through His word passed on through the prophets and Apostles.
Jesus warned us that God hears our words too. ‘For every idle word that a man shall speak, he will give account thereof in the day of judgment’ (Matthew 12:36-37).
Yahweh’s Additional Response (Deuteronomy 5:29-31 ).
In His response Yahweh declares His longing that what His people had said might be true, and allows them to return to their tents, but commands that Moses will remain before Him in order to receive His commandment, that is, His statutes and ordinances in order to teach them to them so that they would do them once they had entered the land which Yahweh was giving them as a possession.
a Yahweh longs that the people might have such a heart as to fear Him and always keep His commandments so that it might be well with them and with their children for ever (Deuteronomy 5:29).
b He tells them to return to their tents (Deuteronomy 5:30).
a But Moses is to stand by Yahweh so that He might speak to Him all the commandment that He would give, the statutes and the ordinance which Moses was to teach to the people so that they might do them in the land that He was giving them to possess (Deuteronomy 5:31).
“ Oh that there were such a 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!”
But at the same time He had yearned that their hearts might have been such that they had not requested it, or at least such that they had continued to hear Him and obey Him. If only their hearts had been such that they would fear Him like Moses did, and keep His commandments permanently, and might thus find that all was well with them and with their children for ever. That was His longing for them. He only wished them well. For He knew that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding (Psalms 111:10 with Job 28:28).
This heart cry reveals that Yahweh was not deceived about this people. Even as He gave His word through Moses He knew what would finally result. Even their behaviour here had revealed the seeds of movement away from God and His covenant. The whole of the Old Testament history is contained within these words. They had found that knowing God was uncomfortable. But God never desires the death of the wicked. He longs that they might turn from their wickedness and live (Ezekiel 33:11). And He therefore longs that people may hear Him and fear Him. We do no good to ourselves when we seek to hide from God.
God cries out in the same way today. He looks at us and says the same, and speaks to us through His word. But He knows what we are, and that therefore we will constantly be totally dependent on His mercy. Yet He longs for those who will be fully taken up with Him, and seek Him more earnestly so as to enter into the deeper things of God.
“ Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.”
So He tells Moses that the people are free to return to their tents (compare Deuteronomy 16:7). How sad this was. It was not because they had obtained victory that they returned to them, but because they did not want to have to face up to God as He really was. From now on they would be making do with second hand experience. And the saddest thing was that they were satisfied with it. It was really the beginning of the end for Israel’s hopes of fulfilling God’s purposes through Abraham. It was only through the coming of a greater than Moses that such hope would be restored, when One came Who spoke continually with God face to face, and in Himself revealed the face of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). And if we would know God we must not be afraid to face Him.
Yet the returning to their tents also indicated that they must take Yahweh’s instruction into their home lives as in Deuteronomy 16:7. The way was open to lives of obedience. We must not overlook the fact that God was giving them the opportunity that they had sought.
“ But as for you (thee), you stand here by me, and I will speak to you all the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which you (thou) shall teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.”
The stark contrast between Moses and the people (including initially Aaron) comes out here. This returning to his tent was not for Moses. He could not return to his tent. (How he must have wished sometimes that he could). He must face what his people were unwilling to face. He must constantly ‘face God and live’, as he had at the bush (Exodus 3:0). He must ‘stand by’ Yahweh and hear Him as He spoke to him ‘all the commandment, and the statutes and the ordinances’. Then he must teach them to the people so that they may fulfil them in the land to which they were going so that they might continue to possess it. See Deuteronomy 6:1 which introduces those ‘commandments, statutes and judgments’. This reminds us that the way of Moses was a costly way. It was not easy to be the messenger of God.
Here we learn quite plainly how God intended to teach Moses all that was required of his people. Here was the promise of one large ‘commandment’, of statutes (recorded requirements) and ordinances (judgments), of legislation and instruction, which he would have to pass on as God’s revelation to them. And such revelations from a god were always written down among ancient peoples, just as Moses would ensure that they were written down, sometimes by his own hand, and sometimes by his scribe. Exodus 17:14 would certainly have formed a precedent as Exodus 24:4 reveals. Moses did not need nudging twice on such matters.
Final Comment (Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ).
Having fully described what had happened at Sinai/Horeb Moses now adds his own final comments. They are to observe and do what Yahweh has commanded without any diversions from it, and they are to walk in the way in which Yahweh has commanded them to live so that it might be well with them and they might have long life in the land which they will shortly possess (and some already possess).
· They were to observe to do what Yahweh their God had commanded them. They were not to turn aside to the right hand or to the left (Deuteronomy 5:32).
· They were to walk in all the way which Yahweh their God had commanded them, so that they might live, and that it might be well with them, and so that they may prolong their days in the land which they will possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).
‘ You (ye) shall observe to do therefore as Yahweh your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.’
Moses now speaks again to all the people as a group (ye). They are to observe all that Yahweh their God has commanded them. They must turn neither to the right nor to the left in the way of disobedience, but must walk straight forward in the way of obedience without deviation.
Thus they had to have singleness of eye (Matthew 6:22; Luke 11:34), singleness of heart (Acts 2:46; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22), and singleness of purpose. Those whose eyes are fixed firmly on Christ, and whose hearts are fully taken up with Him, will thereby find the way made easier.
‘ You shall walk in all the way which Yahweh your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.’
For this was the only way in which they could ensure that they would live and not die. And by it they would ensure not only that they lived, but that they lived so that it would be well with them and so that they would have long lives in the land which they would possess. All depended on hearing and responding to the covenant. That would ensure long life in the land which was only for the righteous. The idea of the ‘walk’ is common in Scripture. It indicated step by step progress forward and revealed that they truly had life.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26