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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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Deuteronomy 5 - Moses Reminds Israel of their Covenant with God at Sinai

A. The requirements of God's covenant with Israel.

1. (1-5) The setting of the covenant.

a. Hear, O Israel: Israel was bound to the covenant they agreed to in Exodus 24:1-8, yet the covenant was made with the previous generation which perished in the wilderness. The present generation must understand and embrace the covenant if they are to enjoy the blessings of the covenant.

b. Made a covenant is literally "cut a covenant." The idea of "cutting" is associated with "covenant" because covenants were always sealed with sacrifice - the cutting of a sacrificial victim.

c. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us: In fact, the covenant was originally made with the previous generation, and Moses is not denying this. But he is driving the point home: This is their covenant; it is a covenant of the living, not of the dead.

i. Does God still hold national Israel to the terms of this covenant? We should think so, unless a Jew has come to God on the basis of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

d. The Lord talked with you face to face: This demonstrates that the term face to face does not mean "literal face to literal face," but is a Hebraic figure of speech meaning "intimate, free communication."

i. Deuteronomy 4:12 specifically says that Israel saw no form; you only heard a voice. Yet they had a remarkably transparent communication with God, so the figure of speech face to face applies.

ii. This is why Exodus 33:11 says So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, and in Exodus 33:20 the Lord says, You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live. The use of face to face in Exodus 33:11 is a figure of speech, meaning Moses had free and unhindered communication with the Lord.

iii. "Face to face seems to mean 'in person', that is, in the immediacy of personal contact." (Thompson)

e. I stood between the Lord and you at that time: Israel could not bear such free and unhindered communication with the Lord, so they asked Moses to speak to God on their behalf.

2. (6-7) The first commandment: no other gods before Me.

a. Before God commands anything of man, He declares who He is (I am the Lord your God) and what He has done (who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage).

i. Because of who God is, and what He has done for us, He has the right to tell us what to do - and we have the obligation to obey Him.

b. The first commandment logically flows from understanding who God is and what He has done for us; nothing is to come before God, He is to be the only God we worship and serve.

i. In the days of ancient Israel, great was the temptation to worship the gods of materialism (Baal, the god of weather and financial success) and sex (Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex, romance, and reproduction), or any number of other local deities. We are tempted to worship the same gods, but without the old fashioned names and images.

c. The idea behind no other gods before Me is not that it is permissible to have other gods, as long as they line up behind the true God; the idea is that there are to be no other gods before the sight of the true God in our life. Before Me is literally, "to My face."

i. This means God demands to be more than "added" to our lives. We don't just add Jesus to the life we already have; we must give Him all our lives.

d. Failure to obey this commandment is called idolatry. We are to flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14); those whose life is marked by habitual idolatry will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8, 22:15); idolatry is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), which marks our old life instead of the new (1 Peter 4:3), and we are not to associate with those who call themselves Christians who are idolaters (1 Corinthians 5:11).

3. (8-10) The second commandment: You shall not make for yourself any carved image . . . you shall not bow down to them.

a. The second commandment prohibits not only idolatry regarding false gods, it also deals with making an image of any created thing which we might worship.

b. In that day as well as in our own, worship was tied closely with images - idealized images, or even images in our minds. God will not allow us to depict Him with any such image, nor replace Him with another image.

i. 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" to worship.

c. John 4:24 explains 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)

i. Paul reminds us of the futility of trying to make God into our own image: Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23)

d. How can it be said that God is a jealous God? "God's jealousy is love in action. He refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for Himself, but because He knows that upon that loyalty to Him depends our very moral life . . . God is not jealous of us: He is jealous for us." (Redpath)

e. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me: This does not mean God punishes us directly for the sins of our ancestors; the important words are of those who hate Me - if the descendants love God, they will not have the iniquity of the fathers visited on them.

i. "'This necessarily implies - IF the children walk in the steps of their fathers; for no man can be condemned by Divine justice for a crime of which he was never guilty". (Clarke)

ii. Yet, the focus here is on idolatry, and this refers to judgment on a national scale - nations that forsake the Lord will be judged, and that judgment will have effects throughout generations.

4. (11) The third commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

a. We can break the third commandment through profanity (using the name of God in blasphemy and cursing), through frivolity (using the name of God in a superficial, stupid way), and through hypocrisy (claiming the name of God but acting in a way that disgraces Him).

b. In their tradition, the Jewish people would take this command to extreme lengths, refusing to even write out the name of God, fearing the paper might be destroyed and the name of God be written "in vain."

c. Jesus communicated the idea of this command in the disciple's prayer, when He taught us to have a regard for the holiness of God's name (Hallowed be Your name, Matthew 6:9).

5. (12-15) The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day.

a. The seventh day (Saturday) was commanded to be taken as a day of rest, for all of Israel, servants and slaves as well as visitors.

i. This is an important principle that might be too easily passed over. God declares here the essential humanity and dignity of women, slaves, and strangers, and says they have the same right to a day of rest as the free Israeli man - a radical concept in the ancient world!

ii. In fact, in Moses' exposition of the Law here in Deuteronomy, he pays special stress on the fact that the Sabbath is for the foreign-born slaves among Israel. Deuteronomy 5:15 (And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt) is not cited in Exodus 20.

b. In their traditions, the Jews carefully sought to quantify what could and could not be done on the Sabbath day.

i. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But you could carry something with the back of your hand, with your foot, with your elbow, or in your ear, your hair, or in the hem of your shirt, or in your shoe or sandal. Or, on the Sabbath, you were forbidden to tie a knot - except, a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, you could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket!

ii. In observant Jewish homes today, one cannot turn on a light, a stove, or a switch on the Sabbath; one cannot drive a certain distance or make a telephone call - all carefully regulated by traditions seeking to spell out the law exactly.

c. Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath today? The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 4:9-11), because Jesus fulfills the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11).

i. Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years; the rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week - the rest of knowing we don't have to work to save ourselves, but that our salvation was accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).

ii. The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). We have a rest in Jesus that is ours to live in every day. Therefore, since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any day - or no day - as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel.

iii. However, though we are free from the legal obligation of the Sabbath, we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest - God has built us so that we need one.

iv. What about Saturday as opposed to Sunday? Because we are free to regard all days as given to God, it makes no difference. But in some ways, Sunday is more appropriate, being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9), and first met with His disciples (John 20:19), and a day when Christians gathered for fellowship (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). Under Law, men worked towards God's rest; but after Jesus' finished work on the cross, the believer enters into rest and goes from that rest out to work.

v. But we are also commanded to work six days. "He who idles his time away in the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh." (Clarke) Couldn't more "leisure time" be given to the work of the Lord?

6. (16) The fifth commandment: honor your father and your mother.

a. Honor for our fathers and mothers is an essential building block for the stability and health of all society; if the young are constantly at war with the old, the foundations will be destroyed.

b. In Ephesians 6:2, Paul repeats this command, pointing out it has a promise associated with it: That your days may be long upon the land. Rebellion is costly, and many have paid a high price personally for their rebellion against their parents.

7. (17) The sixth commandment: You shall not murder.

a. Some have wondered how God can approve both capital punishment (Exodus 19:12) and this prohibition of murder. The simple answer is that in Hebrew as well as English, there is a distinction between to kill and to murder.

b. Murder is the taking of life without legal justification (execution after due process) or moral justification (killing in defense).

8. (18) The seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

a. Recognize that the act itself is condemned; there is no justification under the ways we often seek to justify extra-marital sex: "my partner doesn't understand me"; "we are in love"; "God led us to be with each other" or any other excuse.

b. Michael English, who lost his recording contract and marriage over adultery with another Christian music singer, says of his adultery and its aftermath: "Maybe God allowed this to happen to make me see I needed some freedom." No!

c. The New Testament clearly condemns adultery: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication uncleanness, licentiousness . . . (Galatians 5:19).

d. Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment; it prohibits us from looking at a woman to lust for her, where we commit adultery in our heart or mind, yet may not have the courage or opportunity to do the act (Matthew 5:27-30). We aren't innocent just because we didn't have the opportunity to sin the way we wanted to!

9. (19) The eighth commandment: You shall not steal.

a. This command is another important foundation for human society, establishing the right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or states are not permitted to take that property without due process of law.

b. Ephesians 4:28 gives the solution to stealing: Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

10. (20) The ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness.

a. We can break the ninth commandment through slander, talebearing, creating false impressions, by silence, by questioning the motives behind someone's actions, or even by flattery.

i. "Slander . . . is a lie invented and spread with intent to do harm. That is the worst form of injury a person can do to another. Compared to one who does this, a gangster is a gentleman, and a murderer is kind, because he ends life in a moment with a stroke and with little pain. But the man guilty of slander ruins a reputation which may never be regained, and causes lifelong suffering." (Redpath)

ii. "Talebearing . . . is repeating a report about a person without careful investigation. Many, many times I have know what it is to suffer with that. To repeat a story which brings discredit and dishonor to another person without making sure of the facts, is breaking this commandment. . . . How many people, especially Christian people, revel in this, and delight in working havoc by telling tales about others. To excuse the action by saying they believed the report to be true, or that there was no intention to malign, is no justification." (Redpath)

iii. What about inappropriate silence? "When someone utters a falsity about another and a third person is present who knows that statement to be untrue but, for reasons of fear or being disliked, remains quiet, that third person is as guilty of breaking this law as if he had told a lie." (Redpath)

b. The New Testament puts it simply: do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9) "How very strange that we have ever come to think that Christian maturity is shown by the ability to speak our minds, whereas it is really expressed in controlling our tongues." (Redpath)

i. "What a startling revelation it would be if a tape recording could be played of all that every church member has said about his fellow members in one week!" (Redpath)

c. Satan is always there to encourage a lie (John 8:44; Acts 5:3); and Jesus Himself was the victim of false witness (Mark 14:57); in some ways, we might say this was the sin that sent Jesus to the cross.

11. (21) The tenth commandment: You shall not covet.

a. All the first nine commands focus more on things we do; the tenth deals straight with the heart and its desires.

i. Literally, to covet means "to pant after." Covetousness works like this: The eyes look upon an object, the mind admires it, the will goes over to it, and the body moves in to possess it. Just because you have not taken the final step does not mean you are not in the process of coveting right now.

b. Covetousness can be expressed towards all sorts of things; it is the itch to have and to possess what someone else has. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with what we have, and a jealously towards those who have something "better".

i. Hebrews 13:5 puts it well: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

c. This last commandment is closely connected with the first commandment against idolatry: For this you know, that no . . . covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).

d. Jesus gave a special warning about covetousness, which explained the core philosophy of the covetous heart: And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15)

B. The response of Israel and the response of God at Mount Sinai.

1. (22-27) The response of Israel: shrinking fear.

a. The whole scene was indeed awesome: The Lord spoke; there was fire, a cloud, thick darkness, a loud voice; and it all made such an impression on Israel that they asked Moses to not have God speak to them so directly any more.

i. Why should we die? . . . if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die makes it plain. The Mount Sinai experience was not one of sweet fellowship with God; the message of Mount Sinai was not "come unto Me," but "stay away, for I am holy and you are not."

ii. This is exactly the message of the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:18-24: We, under the New Covenant, have not come to Mount Sinai and the message "stay away"; we have come to Mount Zion, where God's message is "come unto Me."

b. Tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it: Israel seems far too confident in their ability to keep the law of God; their experience at Mount Sinai has convinced them of God's glory, but not of their corruption and inability.

2. (28-33) The response of God: hopeful pleasure in Israel.

a. They are right in all they have spoken: God was pleased with Israel's response; it was evidence they took Him seriously.

b. Oh, that they had such a heart: The feeling is that God likes what He sees in Israel, but "hopes" (to use a figure of speech, because God doesn't "hope" for things the way we do) that they would keep the same attitude of heart - which Israel did not (not forty days later, they were dancing around a golden calf).

c. That it might be well with them and their children forever! This is God's motive in calling for our obedience - that it might be well with us. Every command of God is rooted in love for us, not some obsessive desire for control, or mean-spirited attitude towards us.

d. Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you: knowing the glory of God (as revealed at Mount Sinai) and the love of God (as revealed by His longing that it might be well with them), should give them all the more reason to obey God.

i. When we are having trouble obeying God, we are clearly lacking in one or both of these areas - either we are forgetting His glory or His love for us, or we are forgetting both.


Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=de&chapter=005>. 1997-2003.  

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