Our English title for this book comes from a Greek word that means “second lawgiving.” It refers to the many recapitulations found in the book, including its second copy of the Ten Commandments. The Jewish title, “These are the words,” may be more appropriate because the emphasis of the book is the words delivered by Moses in the final days of his life.
Deuteronomy is especially important to believers because it was often quoted by our Lord and by New Testament writers. It is one of the Old Testament books most frequently alluded to in the New Testament. Twenty-one New Testament books refer to it directly, with a combined total of some eighty-three quotations.
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy more than any other Old Testament book. In His wilderness temptation, He answered all three of the Devil’s temptations with quotes from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13). Jesus found wisdom and strength in this book. These final exhortations of Moses can also provide us helps for our struggle against the subtle devices of Satan.
Deuteronomy may have played a key role in an important Old Testament revival. King Josiah began a restoration of the Temple when he was twenty-six years old, in the eighteenth year of his reign (621 B.C.). The temple, neglected for 75 years, had deteriorated. During the reconstruction, a scroll was discovered and brought to the king (2 K 22:10). The scroll was called the “book of the law” (2 K 22:8,11) and the “book of the covenant” (2 K 23:2,21). These titles correspond with statements Deuteronomy makes about itself (28:61; 29:1,9). Many believe this re-discovered scroll was the book of Deuteronomy.
This belief gains even more credibility from Josiah’s reaction to the scroll’s contents. The king was filled with consternation. He immediately initiated sweeping reforms (2 K 23), many of which correspond to requirements presented in Deuteronomy (e.g. the destruction of Canaanite objects of worship and every high place used for worship, the rooting out of Molech worship and the worship of the host of heaven, the putting away of every form of sorcery). May our study of Deuteronomy be for us a re-discovery of vital truths, and a springboard to genuine reforms.
This book is primarily the words of Moses, who is mentioned as an individual ninety-nine times in the New Testament. The greatest man of the Old Testament, his influence on Israel was inestimable. They owed their very existence to him. He well illustrated an old Jewish saying, “If the world did but know the worth of good men, they would hedge them about with pearls.”
Much of this book is reminiscence, but should not be viewed as redundant. Moses knew a vital truth about Israel’s spiritual life. “To experience God in their history was not sufficient for the people; they had to be constantly reminded of that experience in order to overcome their anxieties which tended to blot out the memory” (Craigie). We need our memories jogged repeatedly.
The land was before them. God had let them see what was theirs. Such a vision helps to prompt action by giving extra zeal to one’s commitment.
As the number of Israelites increased, Moses became overburdened and appointed judges to aid him. Growth caused problems (AC 6:1). It made the work increasingly difficult, but Moses prayed for even more growth (verse 11).
Moses remembered the “great and terrible wilderness.” Just pronouncing the words makes us uneasy. The barren and desolate terrain of this almost waterless limestone plateau has depressed travellers for centuries. The Sinai peninsula, covering over 40,000 square miles, is in the same climatic zone as the deserts of Libya, Egypt, and Arabia. Annual rainfall in Sinai rarely exceeds two inches. Some years, rain does not come at all.
Sinai is harsh, dreary, and foreboding. “Rugged mountain peaks seem as though they had been burnt with fire, and the earth is covered with a layer of stones and sharp black flints” (NBC).
The wilderness wandering was deeply etched in Moses’ memory. He could not forget it. It was one of those troubles whose shadow is as long as life itself. But even in that desolate place, God had blessed. Remembering past dangers should make us grateful for our deliverance.
It is sad God finds it necessary to encourage His people repeatedly to “possess” all He has promised them.
The people decided to send spies to search out the land. These men found the land very fruitful. The valley of Eshcol still has vineyards famous for the quality of their grapes.
Israel had no reason to distrust God. They had seen many visible proofs of God’s goodness. No room was left for unbelief, but the people refused to trust the Lord. This is still a problem among God’s people. Sad to say, God’s own people often do not believe His promises. We distrust His power and goodness.
Can men actually believe God hates them? Yes. Human nature is so depraved that whatever evil can be imagined can be done.
When fear overwhelms faith, enemies are bigger than we are. When faith overcomes fear, “David” is bigger than a “Goliath.”
Awe for YHWH should have cast out the fear of man. We need to stay in prayer till we are so afraid of offending God that we are not afraid of anything else.
This beautiful simile depicts a father carrying a young son who is too weak or too tired to walk. This emphasized the goodness of God and the weakness of the people. Without supernatural aid from a loving God, Israel would have been completely helpless. YHWH carried Israel with as much care and tenderness as a father who carries a newborn babe.
The redeemed Israelites were excluded from the Promised Land for the sin of unbelief. Nothing grieves YHWH more. Unbelief, a repudiation of His very character, implies He cannot be trusted.
Only Caleb, Joshua, and little ones were allowed to enter the land. Caleb (v. 36) wholly followed YHWH, or literally, “completely filled himself after YHWH.” His dedication to YHWH was absolute. Joshua (v. 38) must be encouraged, or literally, “made strong.” Encouraging words are a source of strength.
Israel made a foolish and fruitless attempt to get God’s sentence reversed when it was too late. This is characteristic of men! When the Judgment is completed, there will be many, many standing outside the door seeking reversal of their sentence.
Rather than patiently endure the chastening of the Lord, they decided to take matters into their own hands. The men put on their weapons of war, but were routed because they left God behind. “Without the presence of their God, they were as naked men on the battlefield” (Craigie).
They returned and wept, but YHWH hearkened not to their voice, for they had not hearkened to His. Their weeping was in vain, as is the weeping of Hell.
After wandering in the wilderness forty years, Israel heard God’s command to march northward, the direction of Canaan. God contended with Israel long, but not forever. He chastised them for murmuring and unbelief, but never forgot or forsook them.
This delay proved to be a blessing. It humbled the nation, and made them more willing to trust and follow God. They were transformed from a rebellious mob into an obedient nation. The rabble was now regimented. Sometimes God postpones blessings in order to prepare us for them.
Israel was forbidden to take as much as one square foot from Edom. “Even wicked men have a right to their worldly possessions, and must not be wronged. God gives and preserves outward blessings to wicked men” (Henry). All men deserve equal protection under the law. Discrimination based on religious preference is disallowed in cases of justice.
Buying water seems strange to us, but it is valuable in the Middle East. Water there has always been scarce and in heavy demand. Professor George Adam Smith often experienced trouble getting water in the Middle East, even when he offered to buy it.
The Israelites were not to beg, as if YHWH had not provided sufficiently for them. They were well cared for, and were to bargain accordingly. They were not to feign poverty, something we are all tempted to do when it will spare our pocketbooks. Israelites were to be beholden to God, not to Edomites. Also, liberality to Edom would reflect God’s generosity to Israel.
Time verifies a testimony. Moses could now say with proof what he could only say with hope forty years ago. The Christian life withstands the test of time. Believers can all look back on their lives and say, “God has been good.” Look forward in faith; look behind in experience.
We Christians have not been all we should have been through our wilderness wandering here on earth, but the blame is squarely upon us, not our religion. Our salvation has given us peace and purpose. The faith we hold has made our lives better. Believers know “after prayer their hands are stronger, their eyes keener of vision, their hearts tenderer in all sympathy” (Parker).
Life with Jesus is the only life worth living. We are pilgrims in a wilderness here, but “wilderness” and “God-forsaken” are not necessarily synonymous. Even in the most distressing portions of this wilderness life, God is with us. Yea, even through the last cold stream He will still be our companion.
Moab tried to ruin Israel (NB 22:6), but Israel must return good for evil.
The Moabites dwelt in a land once inhabited by giants. The Moabites called these giants Emim, which means frightful, or terrible, ones.
The Edomites dwelt in a land once inhabited by the Horim, which means cave-dwellers. Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient cave-dwellers as far north as Gezer, which is near the Mediterranean Sea and due west of Jericho. As late as 300 years after Christ, people were still dwelling in caves in Edom.
You can sense the heaviness of Moses’ heart as he recalls having to watch a whole generation die. It was difficult to live in a morgue. This situation was made worse by the realization they all fell in dishonor–not a single hero in this dying army. They had all been court-martialled for unbelief.
Israel must not vex Ammon. In verse nineteen, as in verses five and nine, God uses an explanatory phrase beginning with the word “because.” This is remarkable, for it is infinite God who is speaking. He who had the right to command without explanation nevertheless stooped to tell Israel “why” they are not to exploit Edom, Moab, and Ammon.
Maybe parents could learn a lesson here. When telling children “what” to do, explain “why.” If no logical reason can be produced, maybe the deed should not be done.
The Ammonites also dispossessed a clan of giants, which were called Zamzummim, the roaring ones. Moses encouraged the Israelites by telling them it was YHWH who supplanted these giants. If the Lord did this for the children of Lot, Moses was confident He would also do it for the children of Abraham.
God had also aided the Edomites in their conquests. YHWH, Lord of Earth, deals with all nations. He is active in all lands everywhere. There is no “one and only” nation in the eyes of God. If a “chosen” nation begins to backslide, YHWH can easily raise up another righteous land elsewhere. He deals with all countries, using and blessing the obedient while punishing and contending with the rebellious.
The Avim were ancient dwellers of southwestern Palestine. They were dispossessed by the Caphtorim, an early name for the Philistines. These invaders came from Caphtor, generally believed to be Crete.
The nation obeyed God and thereby forfeited the land and wealth of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. But no man is ever a loser because of God. The Lord recompensed them by giving them the land of wicked King Sihon.
Avoid what God forbids, though it may seem for the present a loss. Obedience is the pathway to God’s best. When following the Lord, you will never give up anything worth keeping.
Parents should follow the Lord’s example. When they must command their children to abstain from some worldly pleasure, offer compensation. Do something special for them.
Instead of using only swords, God will work also through fear. He will touch sensitive inner spots and make men quake.
Fear is an awesome weapon and often does more damage to us than reality does. Imagination usually outruns realism. “We have suffered more from the things we thought were going to happen than we ever suffered from the things which really did occur” (Parker).
Sihon rejected overtures for peace, and was defeated by Israel.
The whole disposition of God toward His people is revealed here in microcosm. God has begun to give; His people are to begin to possess. He is the Giver; we are the receivers.
The amazing thing about Moses’ reminiscences is the prominence he gave to God. The elder statesman realized God had been the Director, Controller, and Arranger at every turn.
We should all become more and more conscious of God’s leadership as we age. Alas! We do not always grow wiser as we grow older. Experience can be a good teacher, but we often tend to be slow learners.
Faith overcame the enemy. At Kadesh-Barnea the former generation rebelled, saying, “The cities are great and walled up to heaven” (DT 1:28). This new generation moved in faith and discovered “not one city too high (KJV, strong) for us.”
Og did not learn a lesson from the ruin of Sihon. Those who persist in their defiance of Heaven, and are not awakened by the judgments of God upon others, will come to a catastrophic end. Wise men learn from their own mistakes; wiser men learn also from the mistakes of others.
Og joined the ranks of those who were opposed to God’s nation, Israel. It seems remarkable that good causes and good men should meet constant opposition, but such a state is the overwhelming verdict of history.
These Israelites were on a divinely appointed journey with divine leadership, yet met obstacles and opposition at every turn. Anyone who plans to do good must be ready to fight a battle. The devil opposes such resolution and puts before us snares, antagonisms, battles, and cruel assaults. The next verse reveals the key to victory. . . .
When YHWH enters the picture, victory is assured. The issue is not decided by might or power, but by God’s Spirit (ZC 4:6).
The enemy is defeated by our Friend. The fight would be too severe for us alone, but once the Lord of hosts enters the fray, the enemy crumbles before Him as stubble before fire.
Og was utterly destroyed. Opposition to God always means defeat and loss. No man can fight God and be successful long. “The way of transgressors is hard” (PR 13:15).
Og was the last of his clan of giants. His bedstead was made of iron and measured 13.5 feet by 6 feet. Some hint at his weight is seen in the material; wood was too weak to bear him. Some hint at his height is seen in the bed’s size; ordinary beds were too small. God defeats giants as easily as he deals with grasshoppers. Even giants are “unmighty” before the Almighty.
All that remained of Og was a bedstead–an appropriately biting and sarcastic commentary on the life he lived. “His bedstead will be remembered when he himself is forgotten; he will be spoken of in the bulk and not in the quality; he will be measured like a log; he will be forgotten like an evil dream” (Parker). “The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot” (PR 10:7).
The lands of Sihon and Og were divided among Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
The 2 1/2 tribes received Transjordan upon the condition they would help in the conquest of Canaan. A child of God must not be selfish. One’s own personal interest must not be preferred over the welfare of others. We are not islands or hermits, but members one of another. The righteous man cannot rejoice in his own comforts unless others are also cared for.
Moses used the defeats of Sihon and Og to encourage Joshua. Moses elicited courage for the future by recalling experiences of the past. You can trust God for all your tomorrows because He has been trustworthy in all your yesterdays.
Moses had seen two overwhelming victories, and wished to see more in the Promised Land itself. The venerable leader wanted to enter Canaan. This was a normal desire. Canaan was his true homeland, though he had never set foot on it. For 120 years he had been a man without a native soil. One step on the land would have given Moses a feeling of “home.”
Moses wanted it desperately, maybe too desperately. Setting foot on the land had obviously become a consuming passion to him. Moses might have shifted his eyes from the Lord of the promise to the promise of the Lord. Maybe God had to deny the request to remind Moses what really mattered.
The Lord Himself is to be our desire and focus. Do not lose sight of the Blesser in the blessings. Concentrate on the Giver, not the gift. Remember the old Irish hymn:
Be thou my vision, O lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art:
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, or man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.
Do not let your desire for God be over-ridden by anything else, including church attendance, Bible reading, desire for revival, love of family, etc. Believers are characteristically active; sometimes we neglect the meditative aspect of our religion.
The Lord refused Moses’ request. With transparent honesty, Moses recounted the most painful spot in his memory. It was not something he enjoyed recalling.
“Let it suffice thee” means substantially the same thing as “My grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9). God told Moses to be content, and with the command God sent the strength. YHWH gave His friend a spirit of acquiescence and peace. Moses will not enter the land, but God will satisfy him in other ways. If God does not give us what we want, He will help us be content without it.
Moses had evidently made his request often. YHWH’s refusal was painful, but God’s “No!” meant He had better things in mind for Moses. God denied only what was earthly and temporary. To be rejected in a request for transient things is not of the worst magnitude, for God’s greatest blessings are spiritual. Moses wanted to enter lower Canaan, but God offered a better alternative. YHWH in essence said, “No, come to higher Canaan instead.”
God knows all, and wants only the best for His children. Thus He must sometimes deny our requests. Our greatest disappointments may someday be viewed as supreme blessings. Be grateful God allows our needs more than our wants to influence His decisions.
If God gave us everything we asked for, the best and wisest of men would almost be afraid to pray. We can all look back over our lives and see many things we wanted, but are now glad God refused to let us have. When in Heaven we may be surprised to find ourselves more grateful for prayers God answered with “No!” than for those He answered with “Yes!”
Moses was not allowed the luxury of wallowing in disappointment. There was no time for selfish sulking; a new leader had to be trained and encouraged. Moses had to digest the pain in solitude.
Israel’s national existence depended upon their adherence to the laws of God. They were to do two things with the law: teach it and obey it.
Observing the law requires keeping it as it was given. Keep it entire by not deleting anything; keep it pure by not adding to it. Open sinners delete laws they do not like, Pharisees weaken the words of God by strapping to them ordinances of men.
Both extremes are attempts to improve upon the laws of God. Thinking one can create a better Bible than God’s is a dangerous attitude. We do not need more or less than the Bible; we simply need more time with the Bible we have.
Baal-Peor (NB 25) had given Israel an apt illustration of how obedience to the law gave life. The idolatrous whoremongers had died there, but YHWH’s faithful followers were still alive.
Moses defined national greatness as the ability to make wise decisions. Without this, even wealth and military power cannot keep a nation strong. The basis for wisdom is found in obeying God’s law. Loyalty to His word is the lifeblood of a nation. It is a fence around any society.
Another evidence of greatness is having YHWH nearby. O that we lived in such a way in our corporate existence that God felt at home among us. What a kindness we show God if we provide a nation or church or family in which He can feel comfortable.
We should have the same desire for our individual lives. Righteous conduct makes one’s heart a second heaven for God. He loves to commune with men who have clean hands and a pure heart. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor (humble) and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). Such a heart provides God an “under-heaven, a sanctuary He delights to dwell in, a place sacred to His presence” (Parker).
Moses here exalts the laws of God above all others. No nation ever had as wonderful a law code as Israel’s. The precepts of YHWH have never been excelled. There is an ethical timelessness about them. They who obey the laws of God will make wise decisions and have YHWH nearby.
The people had never seen God, but had seen God’s deeds in history. They were not to forget their experiences with Him. Alas! It is possible to forget God and His providence. Our memories are a part of our depraved nature. The enemy has a head start in his attempts to make us forget all worth remembering.
When we forget, treacherous ingratitude arises. Spiritual amnesia silences praise. Forgetfulness fosters failure, but he whose memory is strong has a song for every day.
Due to the importance of remembering, Moses suggested a way to keep their memories fresh. Speak of God’s deeds to children and grandchildren. Constantly rehearse them, talk about them, dwell upon them, relish the memory, extol the Lord’s goodness.
Speak to your family of the Lord’s goodness. We often fail in this. No wonder we speak rarely to the world about the Lord, we have not even learned to speak of him in our own households.
Moses here reminds the nation they are bound to a covenant (that is, a compact, contract, treaty, binding agreement). They have promised to obey YHWH.
Moses did not relate history simply for history’s sake. The stories were “pegs on which to hang lessons” (Ackland) that the people might be stimulated to duty and obedience. Gratitude and reverence were to motivate conformity to God’s will.
Since nothing can represent God in His totality, Israel is forbidden to make any attempt at picturing God. They worshipped a personal God, and might be tempted to represent YHWH in some form of human likeness. This is expressly forbidden.
Israel is forbidden to imitate Egypt’s worship of animal-gods. This paganism had surrounded Israel for generations, and they were always susceptible to its temptations.
The ancients were awed by heavenly bodies and often worshipped them. However, the purpose of sun, moon, and stars is merely to reflect the glory of YHWH who made them. Israel was to look past heavenly bodies and worship the Creator of them all. We may not be tempted to make graven images today, but idols can exist in the heart even when none are in the meeting hall.
An iron furnace was one whose fire was hot enough to melt iron ore. This was a fit figure to describe the terrible sufferings endured by Israel in Egypt. Pharaoh’s land was a place of ordeal and purifying for Israel.
Moses again mentions the painful fact he will not share in the entrance to Canaan.
To make an idol was equivalent to renouncing the covenant. Hence, Moses commanded the people to “take heed” unto themselves. Godliness requires vigilance. Stay on guard! Never let up! Be alert! “It is easy to go downhill. There is something in wrong-doing that suits the complex nature of man: he goes to it so easily, as if he loved it” (Parker).
The covenant is based on love. Hence, the response of God to its being broken is jealousy. The word literally means “one who maintains his rights,” and refers to the practical expression of God’s love for us. God desires our entire affection and adoration. Hence, He allows no rivals. If He tolerated loyalty to another, His people would be kept from blessing and prosperity. His love will not allow this.
What will happen if the people forget God and His covenant? Everything will go haywire. Their society will crumble, life will be shortened and the nation will perish from the land. The people will be scattered and found serving impotent gods. The very futility of having to serve useless gods would awaken their memories of the living God.
Until a nation is right spiritually, things will go wrong economically, socially, educationally, politically, judicially, legislatively, etc. The same principle applies to individuals. Men are such profoundly spiritual creatures that when they err in religion they err in every phase of life. If our spiritual lives are awry, everything else goes haywire.
Jesus said it best, “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (MT 6:23). In other words, if your spirit is wrong, your whole life is profoundly and unutterably confused.
A man who truly seeks God will be successful, but the search must include three key ingredients. First, believe God can be found. Second, be dissatisfied with one’s own distance from God. Men who have all they want do not embark upon a search. Third, be diligent. Apply yourself wholeheartedly to the search. Success belongs to those who exhibit unflinching determination. One who refuses to be put off will not be put off. Whether things look good or bad, favorable or unfavorable, calm or stormy, press on and you shall find the Master.
Moses’ predictions proved highly accurate. Apostasy repeatedly brought Israel famine, plague, invasion, and other problems. Repentance, though, always brought a return to God’s pleasure.
Moses gives a straightforward challenge: Can any nation’s beginnings compare to Israel’s? It was unheard of for a God to snatch a nation from the midst of another nation. “Temptations” in verse thirty-four refers to the tests Pharaoh experienced.
“The proof of the reality of the Lord their God lay not in any philosophical argument, but in the acts and words of God in history” (Craigie). The basis of our faith is in deeds (eg. the Exodus, virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection of Jesus, Day of Pentecost, etc.). Our moorings are in historical facts.
These verses emphasize God’s grace. Israel was chosen by God due solely to His favor. All God’s people share this testimony: unlovely, but loved.
Moses set aside three cities in Transjordan as cities of refuge.
Moses here began his second discourse on his remembrances of God in history.
Moses reminded this new generation they had entered a covenant with God at Horeb (Sinai). This was not done in the distant past (“fathers” in verse three refers to the patriarchs). Israel had recently bound themselves by oath to obey the laws of God.
“Face to face,” literally “mouth to mouth,” expresses open and direct communication without mediators. The Lord spoke audibly and freely to Israel. His presence could never be doubted.
At one time God talked regularly with man, but sin in Eden ended such direct communication. Fortunately, God broke the silence and spoke words of life. It would be terrible to imagine a world forgotten by God. We need His words to guide our steps through this life. Sin makes men miserable, and God has spoken to tell us what things are sin, and therefore harmful to us.
We need God’s words. His instructions are our only hope. David realized this and prayed, “Be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit” (PS 28:1). We should treasure the Bible, for it is God’s illuminating Word for us. It is appropriate the Bible’s longest chapter (PS 119) is an exaltation of the Word of God.
Moses reminded the people of the setting for the giving of the ten commandments. It was an awesome occasion, appropriate for the presentation of history’s finest law code. The ten commandments have never been improved upon. They still form the bed-rock on which all goodness and morality are built.
Moses emphasized their importance by repeating them here. Effective teaching involves repeating precept upon precept, line upon line. We need the basics taught to us again and again (PH 3:1).
This decalogue is not an exact reproduction of the original (EX 20). This is explained by the fact Moses was here preaching a sermon. Certain variations were used for emphasis.
Note that the commandments were given to a people already redeemed. The law came after deliverance, not before.
“Gods” denotes not only objects of religious worship, but also any object of supreme affection or esteem. Men often let other persons or things have preeminence in their lives.
The Devil busily promotes the idea if there is a God, He is a Supreme Being too great to trouble Himself with the affairs of Earth. Once the premise God does not care is believed, the door is thrown open to all kinds of affections. It is then easy to let other gods be joined to the worship of the true living God.
God is vitally concerned about being number one in our lives. His primary desire is to have our undivided allegiance.
This may have been the most unlikely and most surprising commandment of all. Ancient religions universally used images to represent their deities, but Israel was forbidden to do so.
YHWH is not found by outward form, but only by inward purity. The first command requires we worship God exclusively; this command requires we worship Him spiritually. Do not worship false gods, and do not worship the true God in false ways.
The Jews took this command as forbidding any representation of God in art, sculpturing, paintings, etc. For four centuries early Christians also shrank from representing Christ at all. When Empress Constantina asked Eusebius to send her as a present a likeness of Christ, the churchman told her to read the Gospels to learn what Christ was like.
In the year 402 A.D., the highly orthodox and universally respected Bishop of Salamis tore down a curtain in a church because it had a picture of Christ woven on it. The Bishop declared images of Christ were unchristian and told the astonished priest to use the material to make clothes for the poor.
The command probably forbids anything which might be worshipped, bowed down to, or deemed as having any innate power.
Not only must God be worshipped exclusively and spiritually, but also reverently. He is to be treated with utmost respect. Profaneness is the destruction of all reverence towards God. It corrupts one’s whole character, and is a terrible affront to God. A swearer excuses himself by saying he means no harm. What a farce! Insult God to His face and yet say no harm is intended.
Profanity is dangerous. “YHWH will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” Profanity does not die on the air. It has an eternal echo.
Cursing is crude. A foul mouth betrays a foul heart. A Senator once sent a man to discuss business with Abraham Lincoln. The guest’s speech was accented by profanity. The President finally said. “I thought the Senator had sent me a gentleman. I see I was mistaken. There is the door, and I bid you good-day.”
YHWH must be worshipped not only exclusively, spiritually, and reverently, but also regularly. Every seventh day must be set aside to honor Him. God rested from creation on the seventh day. Man, created in His image and given dominion over that creation, has the privilege of sharing in His rest.
The Sabbath is a humanitarian institution. In Egypt the people experienced the bitterness of uninterrupted slavery. A weekly day of rest would differentiate their labors from slavery.
Coleridge looked forward with delight to the weekly day of rest and worship. The Christian poet once told a friend, “I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year.”
God must be worshipped not only exclusively, spiritually, reverently, and regularly, but also representatively. Respect for Him should be reflected in our reverence for parents.
History has reserved fine accolades for those who have kept this command. The truest men have never blushed to give public evidence of love for parents. When Sir John More lay dying on the field of Corunna, his last word was the name of his mother.
Immediately upon taking the oath of office, President James Garfield, before multiplied thousands and viewed by all, stepped to the side of his aged mother and kissed her. When Prince Conradin of Hohenstauffen was treacherously led to the gallows at the age of sixteen, he remained calm and undaunted. As he neared the block, he spoke his last words, “O, my mother, how deep will be thy sorrow at the news of this day.”
Titus was so moved by rumors of intrigue against his father that he forsook a military expedition and rushed with headlong speed to Rome. He burst into Vespasian’s presence with tears and sobbed, “I have come, my father; I have come.”
When the Emperor Decimus tried to abdicate in favor of his son Decius, the younger strenuously objected, “I am afraid lest, being made an emperor, I should forget that I am a son. I had rather be no emperor and a dutiful son, than an emperor and such a son as hath forsaken his due obedience. Let then my father bear the rule; and let this only be my empire–to obey with all humility, and to fulfill whatsoever he shall command me.”
History has reserved some of her most derogatory evaluations for those who have treacherously ignored this command. When Henry II saw the list of those in rebellion against him, he broke at reading the name of his youngest and best-loved son.
Reminiscent of David and Absalom, Frederick Barbarossa cried out bitterly at his son’s death, “I am not the first who have suffered from disobedient sons, and yet have wept over their graves.” Henry IV of Germany was maliciously arrested by his own son. The father fell on his knees and pleaded, “Oh, do not defile thy honor and thy name; no law of God obliges a son to be the instrument of Divine vengeance against a father!”
As a lad, King James IV of Scotland opposed his father in battle. He made the rest of his life one long penance for that crime. He wore under his robe an iron belt to which he annually added a new link that the penance might be heavier every year.
Obeying this command is essential to national life. “The cornerstone of national life is the hearthstone.” Moses added the words, “That it may go well with thee.” They are not in the original decalogue. Moses was emphasizing the value of serving God at home (Paul echoed this addition by Moses in Ephesians 6:3). God, give us Christian homes. Cowper’s main pride was not that his parents were noble or wealthy, but rather that they were righteous. In your home, transmit the heritage of righteousness.
As a thief neared the gallows, he said, “My father built the gallows –and he wasn’t a carpenter.” Parents, be honorable.
This command forbids homicide, abortion, and suicide. The Bible makes allowance for self-defense, capital punishment, and wars for justice.
Since all life proceeds from God, it is sacred and must be treated with reverence. Murder is a clamorous sin. The blood of the victim cries out to God (GN 4:10). All sins are heard in Heaven, but this one screams extra loudly. O the value of life!
Disobedience to this command has fostered much bloodshed. Napoleon alone sacrificed 500,000 French troops in his quest to rule the world. An incident in his life revealed the conqueror’s true sentiment. He was told a plan of his would cost the lives of 100,000 men. Napoleon haughtily replied, “A hundred thousand men! What are a hundred thousand men to me?”
Outraged at such callousness, Prince Metternich immediately stormed to the window, flung it open, and exclaimed with indignation, “Sire, let all Europe hear that atrocious sentiment.”
This command forbids any extramarital and premarital sex, and homosexuality. Jesus expanded it to forbid lust. This command protects the sacredness of marriage. God has even armed Nature itself to guard against impurity. Disease claims an awful price for violated purity. There is no pity for the unclean.
Marriage is important to God because it is a binding commitment to faithfulness between two persons. The respect or disrespect given to this human covenant reflects one’s attitude toward the divine covenant. Faithfulness is to characterize every sphere of our lives, including church and home.
As a man’s life and marriage are divine gifts, so are his possessions. Men have a right to private property.
Moses used the connecting word “Neither” to link these last five commands. They all belong together. God’s laws are one, and of equal authority. One cannot “pick and choose.” He who offends in one point is guilty of all (James 2:10-11).
In addition to property, a man has the right to a good reputation. Individuals must be spoken of honestly, especially in court. To deter perjury, a false witness suffered the punishment the defendant would have received (DT 19:16-20).
Only God knows when this command is broken. It relates to the state of the heart rather than to outward conduct. Do not covet the sphere of others. Love your neighbor, not his goods.
Negatively, this command forbids unlawful desire for the possessions of others; positively it calls for contentment and faith. “Be content with such things as ye have” (HB 13:5).
Covetousness is a curse, a misery which slaves of gold need to confess. A contented mind, on the other hand, is impregnable. It is a treasure none but ourselves can rob us of. Sir Edmund of Canterbury left money on his window sill for the poor to take. He would sprinkle dust over the coins and say, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” One of Martin Luther’s secrets to success was his complete lack of covetousness. He could not be bought. In frustrated exasperation, Pope Leo X exclaimed, “This German beast cares nothing for gold.”
Contentment leads to the apex of virtues–self-sacrifice. Once covetousness has been conquered, abstinence and giving can be fostered.
Believers are legally free from the regulations of the Mosaic Code, but not therefore exempted from obedience to God. The importance of the principle of obedience was demonstrated by the dramatic sights and sounds which accompanied the presentation of the ten commandments. The display of grandeur frightened Israel.
In the destruction of the world by water there were clouds; in the devastations of Sodom there was fire; Pharaoh endured lightning; Dathan and Abiram were swallowed in an earthquake. At Sinai all these phenomena and more were displayed. There were clouds, fire, smoke, thunder, lightning, loud trumpets, earthquakes, and an audible voice from Heaven. Israel learned from the first they had a Governor whose commands were not to be trifled with or neglected. It is still a fearful thing to displease such a Legislator. Law is important to God. In fact, the New Testament may contain almost as many commands as the Mosaic Code.
God was pleased with their attitude of reverence, but knew it would not long endure.
God did not doubt their sincerity, just their constancy. One can sense God’s anguish over the weakness of will and instability of heart which would characterize Israel’s spiritual life.
God’s desire has ever been to devise a way whereby His people would be bound to Him by unbreakable cords. The key to success would be a committed heart. This is where the fountain of obedience must begin its flow. It is said of the righteous man, “The law of his God is in his heart” (PS 37:31).
Only God can bestow such a heart. Christ must enter and give one the strength to serve the Lord. Such a heart is available to any who truly desire it. We are limited only by our willingness to receive. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (MT 5:6).
YHWH agreed not to speak audibly to the nation again. Henceforth, Moses would convey the Divine messages.
A supreme eloquence permeates these last three speeches of Moses. These are the words of a man who once told God he could not speak well. Aaron was to be the golden-tongued orator, but one is hard-pressed to remember anything Aaron ever said.
Moses had once been “of a slow tongue,” but God has a way of qualifying the man he chooses. Whom God calls, He equips. The Lord can take a trembling, broken-hearted man and turn even his stammering into powerful oratory. God needs our availability more than He needs our ability. If He receives the former, He can create the latter.
It may seem contradictory to some that we are commanded here to fear YHWH, and elsewhere are required to love Him. Love and fear do not seem to go together, but the two complement one another and combine to convey a complete expression of worship.
Fear reacts to what God is; love to what God does. We stand in awe of God’s majesty and holiness; but our hearts are warmed by His kindnesses. Fear maintains holy adoration by keeping love from slipping into mere sentimentality. Love keeps us from serving God merely due to slavish legalism based on terror. Fear casts out self-indulgent love; love cast out tormenting fear.
The goal of Moses’ teaching was long-term commitment by the people to God. To help achieve such dedication, Moses continued to exhort them with pastoral solicitude. This book of Deuteronomy has been called the Old Testament’s Sermon on the Mount.
Moses urges them to seek first the Kingdom of God, and then all these blessings would issue from that. In their world of war, the ancients naturally desired large numbers, and considered increased population as evidence of Divine favor. Also, desert-dwellers dreamed of land flowing with milk and honey, because such a condition was possible only where rich wells or running water produced sufficient pasture and fruit. If Israel would obey, God would take care of everything else.
“This is not bribery. Moses must not be conceived of as holding up a prize, saying this donation is for the best-behaved among you. No man can be made good by such temptations. The very desire to have the prize may itself indicate a viciousness inveterate and ineradicable. Moses is not pointing out a reason, but indicating a consequence.” (Parker) The reason for obedience is presented in the next few verses.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Introduction
Jews call verses four through nine the Shema (Hebrew form of the first word, “Hear”). It is one of Scripture’s most comprehensive statements. The Bible often summarizes large bodies of its teachings into a few unforgettable words.
The Shema is essentially the Jewish confession of faith (Judaism’s “John 3:16”). For ages this has been the first bit of the Bible which Hebrew children have learned to say and to read. Every synagogue service is opened by its recital. Later law required the Shema be recited twice daily by all Jews.
There is but one God, YHWH. What a blessing this knowledge would be to Israel. Multiplicity of gods caused great tension among the ancients. Even if one served his god diligently, another god might cause trouble. There was never a sense of security. Israel, however, was spared such agony. They had one God, and one was enough. He was altogether sufficient.
YHWH stands alone. There are no other Gods. His only reaction to the possibility of other Gods is contempt, mockery, and disdain. When YHWH speaks, there is no one to contradict. When He promises, there is no one to thwart. When He threatens, there is no one to provide refuge. When He acts, there is no one to counteract.
Jesus added a few words to this statement and called it the greatest commandment. Love for God is man’s fundamental religious duty. Never set God away from your love.
Intellectual contemplation and theological training must never be allowed to crowd out the emphasis on love. We ever need simple, childlike, clinging, adoring love.
Keep God near and dear to your heart. The heart is mentioned first because it was considered the seat of the emotions. Our affections must find in God their ultimate object and satisfaction.
Love for God should involve all the soul, the total essence of one’s being. Love to God must pervade one’s entire self-consciousness. One must realize, “I exist to love God.” Half-heartedness is disallowed. Love involves loyalty in all of one’s life.
One who sincerely loves seeks above all else to please the beloved. He tries to learn the desires of the beloved, and once these are known he devotes himself to their fulfillment. Love is the ruling emotion in every man. A man will not be false to his love. Where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be, also. If love to God exists, it will regulate all the rest of his life.
Might refers to expressing love through deeds. Let all you do be a reflection of inner love for God. Deeds are the means whereby you measure the extent of your actual devotion to God.
The test of love is preference. Love is revealed when a choice must be made between two competing desires. As long as temptation is in your reach, you will always be able to gauge the depth of your love to God. Obedience is the acid test of love. Jesus said, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (JN 14:15).
A means is now prescribed to help us maintain our devotion. Meditate upon the words of God. He who loves God, will love His Bible. Absorb His precepts.
Teach your children. The verb used here literally means to whet or sharpen. Pierce the lessons of God into the heart. Rub them in. The lessons must be incisive and impressed keenly upon the children. My Grandma Marshall and I once visited the house of her childhood. She pointed to a spot and said, “That’s where Grandpa Puckett always gathered us together to read the Bible to us.”
Religious instruction of the young is necessary, because God commanded it. Childhood, as much as adulthood, belongs to God. Infancy is a time for acquiring deep convictions and forming lifelong habits. The young have in them a moral and spiritual nature to be molded.
Waiting till children are older to teach them is as illogical as waiting to fertilize a sickly plant until all its flowers have fully blossomed. By then it is too late. Children should be taught valuable principles even before they can understand them. For instance, children should know Jesus was born of a virgin before they know what a virgin is. Also, children should love the Bible before they can read it.
“To teaching we must add talking; to the formal exposition we must add the informal. . .coming into conversation with the ease which belongs to the perfect acquaintance with the Spirit of God” (Parker). The words of God should be so thoroughly in our hearts that they mingle with our very breathing. We should be able to talk of them with familiarity in any circumstance. Devotion should characterize every aspect of life. Fill your mouth with worthwhile stuff and there will not be room for anything else.
The Jews later began to interpret these words literally. Small containers were made to enclose parchments on which key Bible verses were written. The containers worn on one’s own body, bound to the forehead and/or left wrist, were called phylacteries. Containers attached to door posts and city gates were called mezuzahs. As a pious Jew passed a mezuzah he would touch the box and then kiss his fingers. Christ argued against the Pharisees wearing large and ostentatious phylacteries for show (MT 23:5).
A literal interpretation of these verses did serve one useful purpose. Few written copies of the whole law existed among the ancients. Writing down special verses provided at least some measure of personal reading from God’s Word.
This same principle was applied when the Reformation first reached England. Bibles were scarce. The few copies which did exist often had to be chained down to avoid their being stolen. The people desired to read God’s Word. Therefore, select portions of Scripture were written on the walls and pillars of the churches that the people might become familiar with them. Gothic architecture included “picture-stories” in stained glass windows, murals, etc.
God probably did not intend for the words of our text to be taken literally. Such an interpretation would violate the principle of heart-religion.
The spirit of this command was threefold. First, all diligence should be given to keeping God’s law fresh upon the mind. Second, there was to be no secret religiousness. They were to live the Word of God so obviously that others would recognize their devotion. Third, God was to be served at every level of national life. Individuals (frontlets), families (doorposts), and cities (gates) were to be set aside in obedience to God.
The Jews are going to receive the benefits of a civilization to which they did not contribute. Their prize was “ready-made.” They were going to reap a harvest sowed by others, live in houses built by others, drink water from wells dug by strangers, and eat fruit from trees planted by previous generations.
The goodness of God might easily become a device whereby men could forget Him. Prosperity often causes one to forget the Author of the blessings. Abundance can cause the memory to be other than religiously employed.
Affluence can easily cause us to forget our dependence upon God and our need of Him. Multiplied possessions sometimes result in a security inconsistent with man’s frail and uncertain tenure. A wealthy man may unconsciously begin to see himself as beyond the reach of providence. Riches can lull the mind unto a false sense of security.
Dependence upon worldly treasures is folly. There is no permanence in them, no matter how multiplied many of them we possess.
The people are to swear by the Name of YHWH, which means they must never appeal to any other god as the discerner of truth, and avenger of wrong. They are to swear by YHWH in all treaties and covenants. No other god shall be called upon to bear witness.
God’s people are to live such devoted lives their children’s curiosity will eventually be stimulated.
The parents were to tell the children of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, for it marked the birth of their nation.
The parents were to tell their children stories of God’s mighty acts. This simple method of religious instruction is still valid today. The stories of God’s deeds still impart religious knowledge. Plus, they have the added dimensions of being exciting, simple, and easy to understand. Any parent can teach them to any child.
God, who delivered them, will also have to preserve them through His laws. God must carry on the work as well as begin it. In “The Star Spangled Banner” Francis Scott Key wrote, “Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.”
Obedience will be the proof of their righteousness, but such a life would be possible only by loving God with all the heart. This love would be impossible apart from saving faith.