THE EXPOSITION OF ISRAEL’S COVENANTAL RELATIONSHIP BEGINS WITH THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Michael Grisanti: The Ten Commandments, distinct from most of the rest of the law, entail terse, divine demands, called “apodictic” law. Apodictic law normally begins with the second person (“you shall/shall not”), involves statements of principle or general commands without qualifications, and leaves unstated any consequences of nonobservance. Most of Mosaic law is “casuistic” or “case law.” This latter legal form normally begins with “if” or “when” and is usually in the third person. A specific situation receives attention, and the law often contains long explanatory comments or qualifications. It normally identifies the consequences of nonobservance.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Practical factors contribute to this prominence: the Decalogue has concise formulations (making it easy to memorize), it has a nice round number (ten—one command for each finger of the two hands), it is applicable to all Israelites, and it is absolute yet general in format. The Decalogue symbolizes the covenant and special relationship between God and Israel.
David Thompson: It does not matter what the field of study or occupation, but new students need to learn the basic fundamentals. If you are going to study a language, you will need to start by learning the alphabet. If you are going to join the military, you will have to go through basic training. You will need to learn the basics. If you are going to fly a plane, you will have to go through some basic instruction. If you are going to work at a job, you will need some type of indoctrination concerning that job. No matter what the field of study, new students need to learn the basic fundamentals.
This was certainly true when it came to this new generation of Israel who were just about to go into the Promised Land. This was a new generation of believers and they were about to go on a new amazing adventure. They were about to cross the Jordan River and go into the Promised Land and this new generation needed to be reminded of some basics.
Siew Kion Tham: The book of Deuteronomy has a long preamble. The first four chapters set the framework of the book – failure and grace. Before getting on to the Ten Words, Moses had another preface as if to summarize the first four chapters. We will see that again and again in Deuteronomy, Moses referred to the exodus from Egypt because the law is set in the context of God’s grace and deliverance. So whenever the law is given, there will always be reference to what God has done in His covenant grace to His people.
We can see that the Decalogue occupies a large part of Moses speech. He was not simply telling the Israelites what the commandments were, but he was keen in putting the commandments in the context of the covenant of God. What is happening to us today is that we take the commandments and put that in our legal framework. That distorts the whole message.
I am sure we are all aware of the importance of putting the law in the context of the covenant relationship. It is to establish in our minds and hearts the covenant of God to Israel and to us through Jesus Christ. A defect in our evangelical understanding has been to treat Jesus Christ as a means to an end, the end being our salvation. In a sense that is so, but there is something more than just being saved, and that is the covenant relationship. We are saved to be re-united with the Father and that is to be restored into the covenantal relationship. And it is only within the covenantal relationship that the commandments make sense.
(:1-5) PROLOGUE – SUMMONS TO OBEY THE LAW BASED ON THE HISTORICAL ESTABLISHMENT OF THE COVENANT
A. (:1) Responsibility to Obey the Law
“Then Moses summoned all Israel, and said to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.’”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The text makes it clear that to hear means more than merely to listen; it includes learning and observing (5:2).
Eugene Merrill: At last the time arrived for Moses actually to articulate the great covenant principles by which Israel was to live in the land of Canaan as the servant people of Yahweh. He therefore convened them in the valley near Beth Peor (cf. 4:46) and, in strong hortatory language, commanded them to hear (i.e., obey) the “decrees and laws” (the uqqîm and mi p îm), the very elements of covenant requirement he was about to deliver to them. The meaning of obedience is expanded by the second set of commands: “Learn them and be careful to do them” (v. 1).
B. (:2-3) Reflection on the Establishment of the Covenant
“The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.
3 “The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers,
but with us, with all those of us alive here today.”
Bruce Hurt: This covenant resulted in God establishing Israel as a theocratic nation. The LORD initiated the covenant, not Israel. This was God’s idea! It was a covenant between the infinite, holy God and finite, unholy men! That alone tells you how great is the covenant mercy of God. Made a covenant is literally “cut a covenant”. With us is interesting because only Moses, Joshua and Caleb were at the original covenant cutting ceremony at Sinai, but Moses’ point is that even though the first generation had perished, the covenant was with the nation of Israel as a whole. And it was the second generation who constituted the nation of Israel as this time.
Eugene Merrill: “It was not with our fathers,” Moses said, “that the LORD made this covenant, but with us” (v. 3). This rules out the identification of the Deuteronomic covenant with the patriarchal and, in fact, draws a clear line of demarcation between the two. This is in line with the generally recognized theological fact that the Horeb-Deuteronomy covenant is by both form and function different from the so-called Abrahamic. The latter is in the nature of an irrevocable and unconditional grant made by the Lord to the patriarchs, one containing promises of land, seed, and blessing. The former is a suzerain-vassal arrangement between the Lord and Israel designed to regulate Israel’s life as the promised nation within the framework of the Abrahamic covenant. The existence of Israel is unconditional, but its enjoyment of the blessing of God and its successful accomplishment of the purposes of God are dependent on its faithful obedience to the covenant made at Horeb. Thus the covenant in view here is not the same as that made with the fathers (i.e., the patriarchal ancestors), but it (and that at Horeb) finds its roots there and is related to it in a subsidiary way.
Michael Grisanti: By means of overstatement, Moses makes clear that his presentation of God’s expectations to Israel does not represent something unrelated to the events at Horeb, but is a renewal of the existing covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Further, Moses emphasizes that this covenant into which Israel entered at Horeb is just as much for the present generation as it had been for their forefathers.
Earl Kalland: The “fathers” were not the people’s immediate fathers who had died in the desert and who were recipients of the covenant but their more distant ancestors, the patriarchs (see 4:31, 37; 7:8, 12; 8:18).
C. (:4-5) Reinforcement by the Fearsome Experience of God’s Glorious Presence
“The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, 5 while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time,
to declare to you the word of the LORD;
for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.
Eugene Merrill: Moses was on the mountain, surrounded by the theophanic glory of God, in order to serve as a conduit of divine revelation, the “word of the LORD” delivered then and about to be repeated now.
I. (:6-21) TEN COMMANDMENTS (TEN WORDS)
(:6) Foundation: You Owe Exclusive Loyalty to the God of Your Redemption
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.”
Duane Christensen: The demand for exclusive loyalty to YHWH is paralleled in the ancient Near Eastern treaty texts by the necessary pledge of fidelity on the part of a vassal to the suzerain. As was often the case in these other texts, the demand for fidelity is based on a summation of the suzerain’s benevolent deeds in behalf of the vassal. That YHWH brought the people from bondage in Egypt is sufficient cause for obedience to his commandments.
David Thompson: I don’t want to gloss over this because it is critical chronology.
Before God gave us His word and before God challenged us to obey, He saved us. Do not miss this. Any relationship with God starts with God’s salvation and election and not our obedience. God chose this nation, God saved and delivered this nation and then He gave the people His word to obey.
A. (:7) #1 – No Other Gods
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Peter Craigie: the first commandment is concerned primarily with a direct relationship to the living God, whose reality had already been experienced. . .
Thus the implications and obligations of the first commandment are far-reaching in their significance. The commandment calls for a style of life dominated by a relationship to God. The commandment was not merely “theology,” nor was it concerned simply with the proper form of worship. It affected the whole life of the whole covenant community. Its implications remain the same today; the relationship to one God must dominate every sphere of life, whether the life of action, of thought, or of emotion. There can be no area of life in which a person or thing comes before the commitment to the one God. The other gods may take on forms more subtle than wooden images or stone idols; indeed anything that relegates the relationship with God to second place functions in effect as “another god.”
B. (:8-10) #2 – No Idolatry
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Daniel Block: The final clause (v. 10) declares that like divine love, human love is not merely an emotion; it is commitment demonstrated in action, in this instance by keeping Yahweh’s commands.
Peter Craigie: Thus the second commandment guards against two possible dangers:
(a) that while maintaining the faith and worship of the one Lord, the expression of that faith and worship might adapt itself to the forms (viz., imagery) of the Near Eastern religions;
(b) that thereby the Israelite faith and worship might implicitly confine the greatness and transcendence of God.
David Guzik: The second commandment doesn’t forbid making an image of something for artistic purposes; God Himself commanded Israel make images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18, 26:31). It forbids the making of images as an aid or help to worship….In John 4:24 Jesus explained the rationale behind the second commandment: God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The use of images and other material things as a focus or help to worship denies who God is (Spirit) and how we must worship Him (in spirit and truth).
Phillip Ryken: This commandment is about worshiping the right God in the right way. God refuses to be worshiped by means of images. This shows that he is spirit, that he does not have a physical form. The mention of the heavens and the earth also shows that he is the Creator. One problem with idols is that they confuse the Creator with his creation.
C. (:11) #3 – Don’t Take the Name of the Lord in Vain
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
Daniel Block: The idiom derives from the ancient practice of branding slaves with the name of their owner. To bear the name of Yahweh means to claim him as one’s owner and to accept the role of representing him (cf. Isa 44:5). At issue is Israel’s status and function as the people of Yahweh. They may not claim Yahweh as their covenant Lord and then live as if they belonged to Baal.
Eugene Merrill: The prohibition says, literally, “You shall not lift up the name of Yahweh your God without reason.” The meaning clearly is that one must not view the name as a counterpart of Yahweh and then proceed to take it in hand (or in mouth) as a means of accomplishing some kind of ill-advised or unworthy objective. This was typical of ancient Near Eastern sorcery or incantation where the names of the gods were invoked as part of the act of conjuration or of prophylaxis. Whoever violates the sanctity of the name will not be left unpunished.
Peter Craigie: Any attempt to manipulate God for personal ends comes under the prohibition. Thus, the name of God may be called on in prayer, and prayer is a right and proper form of communication in the covenant community. But prayer too may be misused and may result in an attempt to channel God’s power toward some worthless purpose. And in more evident and overt terms, to link God’s name to some purely selfish human purpose, whether it be the conduct of war or the undertaking of some human enterprise, may be to use God’s name in vain.
David Guzik: There are at least three ways this command is commonly disobeyed.
(1) Profanity: Using the name of God in blasphemy and cursing.
(2) Frivolity: Using the name of God in a superficial, stupid way.
(3) Hypocrisy: Claiming the name of God but acting in a way that disgraces Him.
D. (:12-15) #4 – Observe the Sabbath
1. (:12) Statement of the Command
“Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy,
as the LORD your God commanded you.”
Eugene Merrill: Obviously, a day cannot be holy in the moral sense, so the meaning of keeping the seventh day holy is that of the normal meaning of the verb, to set it apart for a particular purpose. In this instance it is to withhold that day from profane use so that it may be used for other purposes such as reflection on the Lord and his works of creation and redemption.
Steven Cole: In my experience, sincere Christians who attempt to impose this command (KEEP THE SABBATH) on the church invariably end up mired in legalism. They come up with lists of what you can and cannot do on Sundays. Some even say that you have sinned if you talk or even think about anything other than spiritual matters on Sunday! I believe that we are not under the Old Testament Sabbath commandment. It was fulfilled in Christ, who is our true rest (Col. 2:16–17; Heb. 3–4). At the same time, there is a valid principle that carries over to New Testament believers: Set aside the Lord’s Day to rest from your normal work and to gather with God’s people for worship, instruction, fellowship, and prayer.
2. (:13-14) Explanation of the Command
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”
Duane Christensen: On the one hand, one should refrain from working on the Sabbath. On the other, the Sabbath itself is a time of celebration. It was a time for public worship (see 2 Kgs 4:23; Isa 66:23), special offerings (Lev 24:8), and the recitation of special psalms (Ps 92).
3. (:15) Motivation for the Command
“And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”
Duane Christensen: The central commandment in terms of elaboration and detail is the fourth commandment, “to keep the Sabbath” (vv 12–15). This commandment contains an elaborate motivation clause (v 15) and is the first commandment to be stated positively. . .
The motive behind the fourth commandment, as given here, differs markedly from its parallel in Exod 20:11. In Exodus the doctrine of creation dominates, whereas in Deuteronomy it is the doctrine of redemption.
E. (:16) #5 – Honor Father and Mother
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
Duane Christensen: The command to honor one’s parents is extended in the central core to include all persons in authority: judges and officers in general (16:18–20; 17:8–13), the king (17:14–20), the Levites (18:1–8), and the prophet (18:9–22). . .
The fifth commandment functions as a bridge connecting the obligations toward God in the first four with those toward fellow human beings in the last five.
Peter Craigie: The first four commandments were concerned with the man/ God relationship; without a proper relationship to God, a proper relationship to fellow man was impossible. The last five commandments deal specifically with man/man relationships (within the covenant); the proper relationship to God was dependent on a proper man/man relationship. The fifth commandment, falling between these two poles and dealing specifically with the family situation, is in a sense the sphere of the most intimate relationship and is at the core of the covenant community.
Steven Cole: Parents should teach their children when they are very young that they are not permitted to defy their parents, hit their parents, or say that they hate them. The command also applies to adult children showing honor and taking care of their elderly parents. It establishes the family as the foundation of society. I recognize that it is extremely difficult to apply this command if your parents have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive. It is difficult for a believing young person to honor parents who attack his or her faith in Christ. In such cases, get godly counsel on how to show respect while protecting yourself from abuse.
F. (:17) #6 – Don’t Murder
“You shall not murder.”
Peter Craigie: This commandment deals specifically with murder and not with all forms of taking life. Thus it does not eliminate the possibility of capital punishment, which was present in Israelite legislation (see Deut. 17:2–7 and 19:12), nor does it prohibit war (see Deut. 20–21 for the legislation on war). . .
Since each individual Israelite was bound to the Lord in the covenant, his life lay in God’s hands. God alone, who had made man in his own image, had the right to terminate life. Thus an act of murder involved the abrogation of divine power, the taking away of that which God had given and which God alone could give, namely life itself.
David Thompson: Homicidal murder is condemned in the Church Age (Rom. 13:9; James 2:11; I Pet. 4:15).
G. (:18) #7 – Don’t Commit Adultery
“You shall not commit adultery.”
Peter Craigie: The reason why adultery is singled out for attention in the Decalog is because adultery, more than other illicit sexual behavior, has to do with unfaithfulness in a relationship of commitment. Marriage was a binding commitment of faithfulness between two persons and it was in principle similar to the covenant relationship itself. The crime of adultery was the social equivalent to the religious crime of having other gods (5:5); both offenses involved unfaithfulness and both were therefore reprehensible to the God of the covenant, whose character it was to be totally faithful. It is this emphasis, that faithfulness (expressed in obedience) must permeate every sphere of life, both the religious and the secular, that gives a distinctive character to the Israelite law on adultery. Adultery of one partner in a marriage involved not only unfaithfulness to the other partner, but also unfaithfulness to God.
H. (:19) #8 – Don’t Steal
“You shall not steal.”
Daniel Block: Since the verb gānab is sometimes used of stealing persons (Ex. 21:15; Deut. 24:7), in Jewish tradition some have interpreted this command as a prohibition on kidnapping. However, it should not be restricted to stealing people. This is a categorical prohibition of all theft, particularly of items one is tempted to covet, as listed in the last principle (v. 21b).
Michael Grisanti: What God gave belonged to the recipient and what God gave was enough. At a fundamental level, theft manifests dissatisfaction with what God has provided. The person who steals tries to gain more than God has given to him by taking it from others.
I. (:20) #9 – Don’t Bear False Witness
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Peter Craigie: The focus of the commandment is thus again on the matter of personal human relationships, and it emphasizes the integrity and honesty required within the community of God. Though the immediate context of the commandment was in the sphere of legal process, the implications applied to the activities of daily life. A God of faithfulness, who did not deal deceitfully with his people, required of his people the same transparency and honesty in personal relationships.
Michael Grisanti: Yahweh abhors the giving of false testimony to the detriment of an innocent person for at least three reasons.
– First, as the God of truth (Isa 65:16; Ps 119:142, 151) who hates a “lying tongue” (Pr 6:17, 19), he demands that his chosen people speak the truth.
– Second, at various junctures of the Mosaic law the Lord establishes guidelines that are intended to ensure the practice of justice and equity among God’s people. Consequently, giving false testimony represents a direct violation of God’s required justice.
– Finally, in all human relationships false testimony represents a betrayal of trust; it strikes at the heart of any society, especially one that God intends will demonstrate his character to the surrounding nations.
John Currid: Several of the Hebrew words in this commandment are legal terms reflecting a judicial setting. Thus, it is forbidden to bear false witness against one’s neighbour in a court of law. Perjury is condemned. The Torah takes this law so seriously that it requires at least two witnesses for evidence to be considered valid (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). In addition, in capital punishment cases, ‘The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people’ (Deut. 17:7)….The Hebrew word shāqer means ‘to give an empty promise’. To promise, to give one’s word, to covenant with one’s neighbour—all come within the scope of this law. To speak falsely about one’s neighbour, to the prejudice of his or her character and reputation, is also forbidden. Such things as gossip, slander and unwarranted flattery are to be shunned.
J. (:21) #10 – Don’t Covet
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
II. (:22-27) REVELATION DEMANDS A RESPONSE – DESIRE FOR MOSES TO SERVE AS MEDIATOR
A. (:22) Revelation from God
1. Spoken Word of God
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly
at the mountain from the midst of the fire,
of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice,”
2. Sufficient Word of God
“and He added no more.”
3. Written Word of God
“And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.”
Paul Barker: These tablets were to be placed in the ark of the covenant, a place which symbolized the presence of God (Exod 40:20).
Earl Kalland: They constitute the basic behavioral code that was to determine not only their allegiance and life-style but also that of all succeeding generations as well. No other such short list of commands begins to compare with the effect that these have had in world history. In spite of being constantly broken, they stand as the moral code par excellence.
Jack Deere: This verse emphasizes the divine origin of the Ten Commandments and the awe-inspiring setting in which they were given (fire . . . cloud, and deep darkness; cf. Ex. 19:18; 20:21).
B. (:23-27) Response of the People
1. (:23) Motivated by Fear
“And it came about, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire,
that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.”
2. (:24) Overwhelmed by God’s Presence
“And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.’”
Peter Craigie: The words give some insight into the people’s concept of the reality and awesomeness of their God. Though he could not literally be seen, God could be known, but to see the phenomena surrounding his presence was exceptional rather than normal. It was the exceptional occurrence that terrified the people and reminded them of their mortality. It is easy to have too small a view of God in the mind, but the experience of the presence of God may shatter the inadequacy of such a view and impress rather the awesomeness of the living God (v. 26).
3. (:25-26) Afraid of Being Consumed
“Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?”
4. (:27) Requesting that Moses Serve as a Mediating Buffer
a. You Go and Hear
“Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says;”
b. You Communicate to Us
“then speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you,”
c. We Will Hear and Obey
“and we will hear and do it.”
III. (:28-33) MEDIATORIAL ROLE OF MOSES
A. (:28-29) Recognition of the Response of the People
“And the LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’”
Donald Ackland: There is a note of heartbreak in God’s response to his people’s vow of allegiance . . . In the pathos of these words we recognize God’s anguish over the weakness of will and instability of heart which were to mark Israel’s spiritual history. We also sense his reluctance to abandon his people even when they repudiated their solemn pledge by breaking his laws and adding iniquity to iniquity. If only God cold devise some way to bind them to himself by unbreakable cords!
B. (:30-31) Reinforcement of the Mediatorial Role of Moses
1. (:30) Dismissing the People
“Go, say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’”
2. (:31) Delivering Instructions to Moses to Communicate to the People
a. Mediator of the Instruction
“But as for you, stand here by Me,”
b. Communication of the Instruction
“that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them,”
c. Purpose of the Instruction
“that they may observe them
in the land which I give them to possess.”
C. (:32-33) Reiterated Exhortation
1. (:32-33a) Charge to Obey God’s Law
a. (:32a) Complete Compliance
“So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God
has commanded you;”
b. (:32b) No Deviation
“you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left.”
c. (:33a) Complete Compliance
“You shall walk in all the way
which the LORD your God has commanded you,”
2. (:33b) Consequences of Obedience
a. Quality of Life
“that you may live,”
b. Prosperity of Life
“and that it may be well with you,”
c. Length of Life
“and that you may prolong your days
in the land which you shall possess.”
Bruce Hurt: Fear of God motivates obedience to God which yields the blessing of God from one generation to the next.