Exhortation to Keep the Covenant Principles, 1-3
6:1 Now these are the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that the LORD your God instructed me to teach you so that you may carry them out in the land where you are headed 6:2 and that you may so revere the LORD your God that you will keep all his statutes and commandments that I am giving you—you, your children, and your grandchildren—all your lives, to prolong your days. 6:3 Pay attention, Israel, and be careful to do this so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in number—as the LORD, God of your ancestors, said to you, you will have a land flowing with milk and honey.
Deut 6:1-15 ‘stands as the centerpiece of the book as it expresses the principle of total heart commitment to the exclusive lordship of the great King.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)
Note the long view that is taken here: the way of life that involves keeping God’s commandments out of glad and loving hearts reaches far into the future. Hence the importance of passing this on from generation to generation.
Fear the Lord your God – God is both to be feared and loved (v5). ‘It is rarely easy to achieve the right balance in this matter…There must be some balance between that cowering type of awe which so heightens the sense of God’s “otherness” that he becomes remote, detached and distant, and the opposite kind of error, an insulting, caulaness or patronizing familiarity.’ (Brown)
Long life probably means ‘long life in the land’.
v3 ‘Promises of this kind do not mean that if we fear and obey God we shall always receive everything we want; far from it. That type of “name it and claim it” prosperity theology relies on a highly selective use of biblical quotations and has little foundation in Scripture as a whole. Jesus could not possibly have had more reverence for God and yet he had few possessions of his own. Paul and Peter certainly held God in awe and were similarly lacking in material benefits. Reverence and obedience will not necessarily lead to our economic prsperity but they will always work for our spiritual enrichment. We may not be wealthier people because we honour him but we shall certainly be richer ones’ (Brown)
The Essence of the Covenant Principles, 4-5
6:4 Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 6:5 You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.
‘On this passage the Jews lay great stress and it is one of the four passages which they write on their phylacteries.’ (TSK) The other passages were Deut 11:13-21, Ex 13:1-10 and Ex 13:11-16.
“Hear” – This word (transliterated from the Heb. as ‘Shema’) became the the title of the basic statement of the Jewish law as found in 6:4-9. ‘The Shema became for the people of God a confession of faith by which they acknowledged the one true God and his commandments for them. Later worship practice combined Deut 6:4-9 11:13-21 Nu 15:37-41 into the larger Shema as the summary of Jewish confession. When Jesus was asked about the “greatest commandment,” he answered by quoting the Shema.’ (Mk 12:29) (Holman)
‘Here begins the celebrated Shema (from the first word, Hear), which became Judaism’s basic confession of faith. According to rabbinic tradition, the Shema originally consisted only of verse 4 but was later expanded to include Deut 6:5-9 11:13-21; and Nu 15:37-41. According to rabbinic law, it was to be recited morning and night. (cf. Deut 6:7) Verse 4 is subject to various translations, though the statement is likely stressing the uniqueness of Yahweh and should be translated, “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” A secondary emphasis, his indivisibility, is apparent in most English translations. The Lord’s uniqueness precludes the worship of any other and demands a total love commitment. (Deut 6:5) This confession does not preclude the later revelation of the Trinity, for the word God (Elohim) is a plural word, and the word one is also used of the union of Adam and Eve (Ge 2:24) to describe two persons in one flesh.’ (Ryrie)
‘Yahweh was to be the sole object of Israel’s worship, allegiance and affection. The word “one” or “alone” implies monotheism, even if it does not state it with all the subtleties of theological formulation. Biblical monotheism was given a practical and existential expression which would lead to the abandonment of such views as monolatry. Even if some in Israel acknowledged the existence of other gods, the affirmation that Yahweh alone was Sovereign and the sole object of Israel’s obedience sounded the death-knell to all views lesser than monotheism.’ (Thompson)
Wright says that this verse may bring to the fore God’s incomparability (compared with the gods of the heathen), his singularity (there is only one God, and all others are merely idols) or his integrity (he is unchangeable, consistent, reliable).
Although this verse may not be strictly and formally monotheistic in its teaching, it certainly paves for a hope ‘that was missiological, universal, and unquestionably monotheistic’ (Wright). In any case, Scripture is not content merely to make us monotheists, but to make us believers in Yahweh who reveals himself as the only true and living God. Thus, some people tell us that the one God has many names and personae (Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Brahman, etc), but the ‘god’ behind these names becomes abstract and impersonal in a way that the present passage will not allow.
Love the Lord your God – ‘There is a twofold love: (1.) Amor concupiscentiae, a love of concupiscence, which is self-love; as when we love another, because he does us a good turn. A wicked man may be said to love God, because he has given him a good harvest, or filled his cup with wine. This is rather to love God’s blessing than to love God. (2.) Amor amicitiae, a love of delight, as a man takes delight in a friend. This is to love God indeed; the heart is set upon God, as a man’s heart is set upon his treasure. This love is exuberant, not a few drops, but a stream. It is superlative; we give God the best of our love, the cream of it.’ (Thomas Watson)
The servants of any deity of that period were united to their god in bonds primarily of fear or flattery. But in the Preamble to the Deuteronomic Code, in contrast to the prevailing view, the Israelite was actually commanded to love his deity (what an extraordinary conception for the ancient world!), to love Yahweh with all his heart (i.e. with all his intelligence), with all his soul (i.e. with his total personality, his whole nephesh), and with all his might (i.e. with all the forcefulness at his command). Wright, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, 240)
‘Jesus Christ called this the first and great commandment and added to it the phrase “with all your mind.” (Mk 12:30) Cf. also Mt 22:37 Lk 10:27; also 1 Jn 5:3.’ But the Heb. idea of ‘heart’ includes will and mind, and so there is no essential difference. The key point is that we should give to God all that we are, as well as all that we have.
This passage not only teaches the unity of God: it also teaches the unity of God’s people. For ‘you’ and ‘your’ that they are addressed with are singular. This applies to all of God’s people at the present time, and also down the ages (hence the importance of education from one generation to the next).
‘”We love, because he first loved us,” is a NT text that could as easily have been at home in Deuteronomy.’ (Wright)
‘The simple”] fact that Deuteronomy’s love is one that can be commanded shows that it is not merely an emotion. It is also a commitment to Yahweh, which generates corresponding action in line with his word: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (Wright)
Soul indicates the whole of the inner self, as in the parallelism of Ps 103:1 – ‘Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.’
Your strength translates an unusual expression that could equally mean, ‘your possessions’. Cf. Pr 3:9. The meaning of this great commandment, then, is, ‘Love God with with all that you are and all that you have.’
Such love characterised Josiah in his reforms, 2 Kings 23:25.
Exhortation to Teach the Covenant Principles, 6-9
6:6 These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, 6:7 and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up. 6:8 You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. 6:9 Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates.
“Upon your hearts” – in contrast to being merely on tablets of stone. The heart that loves God (v5) will treasure God’s word in the heart and meditate upon it.
‘The words of God are to be ever before his people, part of the routines of life, and of every normal human activity.’ (McConville)
The NT, too, stresses the relationship between love and obedience, Jn 14:21; 1 Jn 5:2.
This verse goes a long way to dispel the misconception that obedience to the OT law was meant to be a matter of legal conformity to an external code. The internalisation called for here is also referred to in Deut 4:9; 10:16; 11:18; Jer 4:4; 31:33; Eze 18:31; 36:26-27.
“Impress them upon your children” – Although it might be argued that it is not so much the rearing of godly children, as the continuance of the covenant nation, which is the primary concern here. Cf. vv2f.
Religion was not to be of interest merely to some professional elite. The law was to be discussed inside and outside the home, at breakfast-time and at bed-time. The various opportunities, private and public, are expanded in the metaphors that follow.
‘Bishop Patrick well observes here that Moses thought his law so very plain and easy that every father might be able to instruct his sons in it and every mother her daughters. Thus that good thing which is committed to us we must carefully transmit to those that come after us, that it may be perpetuated.’ (MHC)
Jud 2:6-10 records Israel’s disobedience in failing to teach God’s mighty acts to succeeding generations.
Jer 7:18 graphically describes the family that passes on idolatry to the next generation: “The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger.”
‘The Bible repeatedly calls on parents to educate their children concerning the mighty redemptive Acts of God and the appropriate response of loyal obedience. Such education should occur in the context of the Passover feast and the consecration of the firstborn. (Ex 13:1-16) In anticipation of entering the promised land, Israel is reminded of God’s activity for them and their consequent obligation to obey him and to teach their children to do the same. (Deut 4:1-14,40 5:29 6:1-7,20-25 11:19-21) Even after the people were settled in the land, the importance of teaching children was not minimized. (Ps 78:5-8) Proverbs repeatedly enjoins the education of children, with particular stress on sons obeying their fathers and mothers. The New Testament also stresses the teaching role of parents, especially the father.’ (Lk 2:39-52 Rom 1:30 Eph 6:1-4 Col 3:20-21 1 Tim 3:4-5,12 5:4,10,14 2 Tim 1:5 3:2,15 Tit 1:6 2:4) (EDBT)
When you sit at home and when you walk along the road – in doors and out of doors.
When you lie down and when you get up – from the beginning to the end of the day.
On your hands and…on your foreheads – symbolic, respectively, of outward action and inner thought.
Jews from the time of Christ practiced this commandment later by wearing phylacteries. It is difficult to say whether these words were intended to be taken literally. Certainly v6 emphasises the importance of having God’s words in the heart. This passage hardly encourages the externalism of later Judaism, or the self-display challenged by Jesus, Mt 23:5.
Wright remarks that we might find the use of phylacteries and so on unnecessarily literalistic. ‘However, the question is whether we are any more serious or successful in flavouring the whole of life with conscious attention to the law of God, (v7, which is not at all “symbolic”) as a personal, familial, and social strategy for living out our commitment to loving God totally.’
On the door-frames of your houses and on your gates represent domestic and public life.
Almost all the biblical references to gates are to the city gates. ‘Because city gates were public passageways, they took on the nature of a “public square” where legal and civil events occurred. Even farmers slept in the towns at night, so the gateway was the most frequented place in town. It was where one met with others (2 Sam 15:2) and gossiped (Ps 69:12; cf. the prayer for the virtuous wife that her works might “praise her in the city gates”). (Pr 31:31) The city gate was also the appropriate place to make public announcements and demonstrations. In Proverbs the personified figure of Wisdom cries out “at the busiest corner…at the entrance of the city gates” (Pr 1:21 NRSV; see also 8:3). Markets were located near the city gate as well, (2 Kings 7:1) and gates were sometimes named for special commodities-the Sheep Gate, (Ne 3:1) the Fish Gate, (Ne 3:3) the Horse Gate.’ (Ne 3:28) (Dictionary of Bible Imagery)
Note: before the law went on the door-frames, the blood had gone on.
Exhortation to Worship the LORD Exclusively, 10-15
6:10 Then when the LORD your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you—a land with large, fine cities you did not build, 6:11 houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat your fill, 6:12 be careful not to forget the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. 6:13 You must revere the LORD your God, serve him, and take oaths using only his name. 6:14 You must not go after other gods, those of the surrounding peoples, 6:15 for the LORD your God, who is present among you, is a jealous God and his anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land.
‘Nothing, said the Apostle Paul, can separate us from the love of God, Rom 8:35-39. Unfortunately there is plenty that can separate God from the love of God’s people.’ (Wright)
Two aspects of remembering the Lord and his commandments are now introduced: negatively, an exhortation not to forget, Deut 6:10-19, and positively, an encouragement to teach the children about the Lord’s deliverance of his people from Egypt.
Raymond Brown remarks that the Israelites are here warned of the danger of forgetting four crucial things: ‘God’s gracious promise, incomparable nature, generous gifts and mighty acts.’
‘Throughout history, affluence has often led to spiritual indifference and moral carelessness. In many parts of the western world, people have only perishable assets. They have everything but the things which matter most.’ (Raymond Brown)
v12 “Do not” flashes (as Wright says) like warning lights three times – here, and in verses 14 and 16. The warnings are expanded upon in the next two chapters.
Forgetfulness is of great concern in Deuteronomy, Deut 4:9,23 8:11,14,19; 9:7; 25:19. If God’s people forget him and his mercies, they will inevitably turn to idols, Deut 7:4; 17:3; 28:36,64; 29:26; 30:17; 31:20.
‘There is no embarrassment in Deuteronomy in anticipating the abundance and richness of life in the land that lay ahead. God’s desire for the people of God was (and still ultimately remains) a full life, enjoying the gifts of creation. But equally there is no illusion regarding the likely behaviour of the people; in the enjoyment of the gift they might forget the giver.’ (Wright)
There is a great tendency to forgetfulness, of course, when life is easy, vv10f. When Israel prospered in the 8th century BC her worship became one of external observance only, Am 5:4,5,14; 6:1,4-6; Ho 2:5,8; Isa 1:4,21-23. ‘In our own day, the nominalism of the church in our affluent Western world bears loud testimony to the fact that in its prosperity the church has forgotten God.’ (Thompson)
A ‘ministry of reminding’ is prominent in the New Testament also. See, for example, 2 Pet 1:12-15.
They must never forget God’s great deliverance at the Exodus. ‘It was for this reason that the Hebrew people had their great festivals, especially Passover, to keep all these things in the top level of their minds.’ (Raymond Brown)
The NIV inappropriately inserts a paragraph break between v12 and v13. It also obscures the fact that ‘slavery’ in v12 and ‘serve’ in the present verse are the same root word.
The people now serve a new and better Master.
‘Christians rejoice that they have been redeemed from a greater tyranny than anything the Hebrews experienced n Egypt. By Christ’s saving work, God has liberated them from “the dominion of darkness” miraculously transferring them to the “kingdom of the Son he loves,” Col 1:13. They too respond to God’s mercy by offering their lives for his work., Rom 6:22; 12:1 “Serving the Lord” is a central theme in Moses’ preaching, Deut 10:12,20; 11:13; 13:4; 28:47 and elsewhere. In the passage before us, the Israelites are reminded that service is an act of obedience, v13, loyalty, vv14-19 and gratitude, vv20-25.’ (Brown)
To take your oaths in his name is to acknowledge him as the highest authority.
v14 In our own day, ‘society has been subtly infiltrated by worthless idolatry – materialism (the god of “what I can get”), hedonism (the god of “what I enjoy”), social approval (the god of “how I am regarded”), vaulting ambition (the god of “what I must achieve”), and there are many more. The believer’s greatest ambition is to serve God and put him first.’ (Brown)
v15 ‘The learned bishop Patrick observes here, that we never find, either in the law or the prophets, anger, or fury, or jealousy, or indignation, attributed to God but upon occasion of idolatry.’ (MHC)
Exhortation to Obey the LORD Exclusively, 16-19
6:16 You must not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah. 6:17 Keep his commandments very carefully, as well as the stipulations and statutes he commanded you to observe. 6:18 Do whatever is proper and good before the LORD so that it may go well with you and that you may enter and occupy the good land that he promised your ancestors, 6:19 and that you may drive out all your enemies just as the LORD said.
If there is a danger of forgetting God in times of plenty, v10-11, there is also a danger of doubting him in times of hardship.
Israel had tested the Lord at Massah, Ex 17:1-7, by doubting his presence and power. Our Lord had resisted Satan by quoting this warning, Mt 4:7. ‘Like the people as Massah, he was in the wilderness and, like them, he too had a basic physical need. They were thirsty; he was hungry. The enemy came to taunt him just as he had tempted them. Jesus refused to put God to the test by responding to the devil’s suggestions and quoted these very words, Lk 4:5-12.’ (Brown)
To test God ‘is to impose conditions on him and to make his response to the people’s demand in the hour of crisis the condition of their continuing to follow him…In his day Jesus refused to offer signs to the scribes and Pharisees, Mt 12:38,39; 16:1-4; Mk 8:11,12; Lk 11:16,29,30; cf 1 Cor 1:22.’ (Thompson)
Exhortation to Remember the Past, 20-25
6:20 When your children ask you later on, “What are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that the LORD our God commanded you?” 6:21 you must say to them, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt in a powerful way. 6:22 And he brought signs and great, devastating wonders on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on his whole family before our very eyes. 6:23 He delivered us from there so that he could give us the land he had promised our ancestors. 6:24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these statutes and to revere him so that it may always go well for us and he may preserve us, as he has to this day. 6:25 We will be innocent if we carefully keep all these commandments before the LORD our God, just as he demands.”
When your children ask you – lit. ‘When your son asks you’.
“What is the meaning…?” – Such questioning presupposes that the parents were observing the laws. But notice that the answer begins with grace, rather than law. Cf Deut 7:7-8. We might tend to scroll down to v24 – ‘because God says so; because God commanded it’, but the explanation begins with the story of the gospel in the most advanced version that they had it – the exodus.
If our children asked us about our faith, what questions would the be likely to ask, and what answers would we give them?
Wright remarks that we could easily imagine the text jumping straight from v20 to v24 – “Why do we keep these laws?” – “Because the Lord commanded us.” Many a parent will have been tempted to answer such questions with a simple”] appeal to authority – including, “Because I say so.” But here vv21-23 make it clear that the Lord who commands us is the Lord who delivered us.
‘The commandments were designed, not as burdens to be borne, but as the gracious provision by a beneficent Sovereign of a guide for good living.’ (Thompson)