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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Deuteronomy 6

Introduction

CHAP. VI.

Moses informs them, that the end of the law is obedience and love; to which he strongly and elegantly exhorts them.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. Hear, therefore, O Israel, &c.— The Jews have a very particular regard for these, and the following words, to the 10th verse exclusively: they write them upon vellum, made of the skin of a pure animal; they carry them about them, and recite them every day; and they are one of the four passages whereof they make their phylacteries.

Verses 4-5

Ver. 4, 5. The Lord our God is one Lord, &c.— As polytheism was the great error of the world, the Jewish religion and laws were calculated to strike at the root of that epidemical evil. Therefore, the first and fundamental article of their creed is, that, as there is but one supreme God, Jehovah, the self-existent and everlasting; so he alone is to be the object of worship, in opposition to the many idols and false gods which were worshipped by the heathen nations. For this purpose, Le Clerc thinks the words ought to be rendered, Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone; which the original certainly will bear, though our version is more agreeable to it, and, as Houbigant has well shewn, more consistent with the genuine doctrines of Christianity. According to our version, Moses here asserts the unity of the Godhead, which indeed is implied in Le Clerc's: for, the reason why the Jews and all other nations are bound to worship Jehovah as their only God and Lord, is, because he alone is the true God, the sovereign of heaven and earth. Those who understand the word aleim to be plural, and expressive of the divine covenant with man, interpret this text, as inculcating not only the doctrine of the Unity; but of the Trinity also. "Jehovah our God, the ever-blessed Trinity in covenant with us, is one Jehovah, or self-existent Being." But, for a full discussion of this important text, which would lead us into too great a length, we refer to Dr. Waterland's fourth sermon at lady Moyer's Lectures. And as this text, with what follows, is quoted by our Lord, Mar 12:29 we shall defer any further observations, till we come to that place.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. Thou shalt bind then, for a sign The Lord is pleased to take every method most likely to preserve in the minds of the Israelites a conscientious regard to the precepts which he enjoined. He not only commands, that their children be early and diligently instructed in them, but that they should bind them for a sign upon their hands, &c. that is, that they should make them as familiar to them as if they were written upon their arms or foreheads, or upon the posts of their houses, or their gates, ver. 9. Possibly, some part of the command was designed to be understood literally; for it might have been of use to them, when they went in and out of their houses, to read such solemn words as those in the 4th and 5th verses. The Jews, however, have taken the whole literally; for hence they derived their superstitious practice of making their phylacteries, i.e. parchment inscribed with sections of the law, which they bound to the forehead and wrist. We call the practice superstitious, not only because they fancied some peculiar virtue, like a spell, in these phylacteries, or preservatives; but because it is evident to any unprejudiced person, that neither here, nor Exo 13:9 does Moses speak of tying parchments about their wrists, but of riveting the thing in their hearts; for it appears from Isa 49:16 to be a proverbial expression, importing that they should still retain a lively and grateful sense of the divine goodness, and render it as well known and familiar to every succeeding generation, as if they were a perpetual token upon their arms to put them in mind of it. There are similar phrases in all languages; thus Cicero says: Sit inscriptum in fronte uniuscujusque quid de republica sentiat; "Let every citizen have his sentiments of the commonwealth written upon his forehead." Orat. in Catil. I. Calmet, however, not without reason, infers from this passage, that it was customary for people, even in those times, to wear fillets, or the like ornaments, hanging down upon their foreheads. Those in future times, who were desirous to appear more than ordinarily religious, made, with an ostentatious hypocrisy, their phylacteries peculiarly broad. See Mat 23:5 and Calmet's Dictionary on the word phylacteries.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. Then beware lest thou forget the Lord It is well known, how prone men are in prosperity to forget their benefactors, but especially their supreme One, and their dependance upon him. See Proverbs 30:8-9. Hence it was proverbial among the Greeks, that "satiety begets insolence; and power, joined with ignorance, is the parent of madness." Moses had too long experienced the temper of his countrymen, not to be jealous of their falling into this extreme; therefore, he strongly warns them against the unhappy influence of ease and prosperity, when peacefully possessed of the promised land. See ch. Deuteronomy 8:11.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Thou shalt—swear by his name An oath is a solemn act of religious worship; so, to swear by any other name than that of the true God, is to recognize another god as the true one, and to fall into a polytheism. Hence it follows, that the words, thou shalt swear by his name, are synonymous with thou shalt profess the true religion; and, in divers passages of the Old Testament, the worshippers of the true God are especially characterised as those who swear by the name of the Lord. God himself, foretelling, by the mouth of Isaiah, the conversion of the Gentiles, does it in these words; unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear, chap. Isa 45:23 which St. Paul explains, every tongue shall confess to God. Romans 14:11. See also Isaiah 19:18; Isaiah 65:16. Jeremiah 4:1-2; Jeremiah 5:7. This appears to be the true meaning of the passage: many, however, understand it, that in taking an oath they were to swear only by Jehovah, and never by any of the gods of the Gentiles. See Joshua 23:7-8.

Verses 16-19

Ver. 16-19. Ye shall not tempt the Lord, &c.— He had warned them, ver. 12 against the sin of ingratitude, and forgetfulness of God, to which they might be tempted by prosperity: here he cautions them against the vice that they were liable to from the other extreme, adversity; namely, distrust of Providence, and murmuring against God, which is justly termed a tempting of God; for it is calling his goodness and veracity in question. In the first words of the eighteenth verse, we have the true definition of good works, and one which should be the only rule of our conduct; namely, the will of God, and not the caprices and decisions of our own will.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Moses is solicitous to approve his own fidelity to the Israelites, and to inculcate in them every command that he has received from the Lord; and he charges them to transmit them to their children's children, seeing that on their religious observance of them their well-being both in time and eternity depended. And he begins with the fear of God, for filial fear is the strongest preservative from falling. Note; (1.) Parents have an awful charge, and great will be their guilt if they neglect it. (2.) To walk in the fear of God is the way to please him. (3.) They who walk in his fear need fear nothing else; for God will take care, and abundantly provide for them.

2nd, To know the true God is everlasting life; because we cannot know him without loving, nor love without desire and delight to please him. Therefore, 1. Moses teaches them what God is. One in essence, in opposition to the gods many and lords many of the heathen; the self-existent, eternal, omnipotent Jehovah, beside whom there is and can be no other. Happy the man that has him for his God. 2. He urges the duty they owe him, to love him with all their heart: this is the first and great commandment, and it contains all the rest; for then we cannot but delight in what he commands, and trust on what he promises; and most deserving he is of our warmest affection, since in himself so transcendently excellent, and to us so amazingly kind: well may he challenge our heart, our whole heart; in sincerity, that knows no reserve; with supreme affection, which admits no rival; with ardency stronger than death, and with permanence equal to the days of eternity. Lord! shed abroad such love in our hearts. 3. The means prescribed to maintain and increase this love in their hearts: they are to store up God's words in their mind and memory, to instruct their children in them, by frequently inculcating the commandments upon them; and to make them the matter of constant daily converse for their mutual edification. Note; (1.) God's word should be read with seriousness every day. (2.) Our hearts should be employed in meditation thereon, that we may inwardly digest it for our souls' food. (3.) We should take delight to make it the subject of our discourse; not to dispute on what is abstruse, but to build up each other in love and obedience to what is evident and clear. (4.) Especial care should we take, early to acquaint our children and servants with the invaluable knowledge which alone is able to make them wise unto salvation. 4. Such attention to God's commands would preserve them from forgetting God in a day of prosperity. They were going into a land of plenty, and sadly apt is the heart to be debauched by ease and affluence. Note; No state so dangerous to the soul, none calls for greater fear and trembling, than when the world smiles, abundance surrounds us, and every earthly blessing tempts the idolatrous heart to take up its rest below. 5. The fear of God must be before their eyes, and his service their happy freedom. No mention of idol gods must come into their mouths; but when they swear, it must be an appeal to the true, and only heart-searching God. As their great danger ever lay from their idolatrous neighbours, they must carefully avoid going after their gods; for that would infallibly bring down upon them the wrath of God to consume them. Note; (1.) An oath is an appeal to God, and it must be made in his name: it is the height of profaneness to swear by any other. (2.) A jealous fear over ourselves is the way to avoid provoking a jealous God.

Verses 20-24

Ver. 20-24. And when thy son asketh thee, &c.— What Moses says in this place principally concerns the observation of the solemnities established to keep up a perpetual memory of God's mercies towards the Israelites, particularly the observation of the sabbath, and the passover. Compare Exodus 13:14. In the following verses, Moses offers three motives to obedience, which the Jews ought never to forget. 1. The happy liberty which God had procured for them, with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm. 2. The rich country which he gave them. 3. The assurance that they should share in his favour, by the observance of his laws; and, in the opinion of the Jews, this last (ver. 24.) comprehended the hope of eternal good things, as Grotius has remarked.

Verse 25

Ver. 25. It shall be our righteousness Houbigant renders this, for a just reward shall not be wanting to us, if, &c. that is, says he, the promised reward mentioned in the foregoing verse. The word צדק zedek is often so used, as well as the Chaldee וזכותא uzekutha, which the Latin interpreter well renders praemium, reward: the LXX and Vulgate render it, and it shall be mercy, or, he will be merciful to us, if, &c. Our version, however, may well be justified.

REFLECTIONS.—Repeated warnings are needful. 1. He charges them in no exigence to distrust God's power or love; assuring them, that diligent obedience would be crowned with infallible success against all their enemies. Whilst we trust God, and follow on in the way of duty, his promise secures our safety and happiness. 2. They, must seize every opportunity to instruct their children, that their religion, and the deep remembrance of God's dealings with them, may be transmitted to their latest posterity. Hearing so often the law read and taught, and seeing so many rites and ceremonies performed, their children would be naturally inquisitive into the meaning of them; then they must seize the good opportunity to inform them of their former deplorable estate in Egypt, the great deliverances wrought for them, and the favours bestowed on them in these institutions, in the perfect observance of which they might attain righteousness and life. Note; (1.) It should be highly pleasing to parents to hear their children's inquiries about the things of God. It is their duty to inform them, even when they are averse from instruction; and how much more so, when teachable and desirous to learn. (2.) Righteousness and life eternal are inseparable: not indeed to be obtained by a sinner through obedience to the law, but by him who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/deuteronomy-6.html. 1801-1803.