Saturday, December 10, 2016


Deut 5:1–22

After God delivered his people from slavery, he gave Moses what we call the Ten Commandments. Notice this was after deliverance, not something required before deliverance as a condition to be met before God would deliver his people. This was a post-deliverance “covenant” (Deut 5:2), made not with the ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but with the newly delivered people meeting around the base of Sinai (Deut 5:4).

The very basis upon which God asserted his right to make these demands of the people was this: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery” (5:6). Then the Lord set out two kinds of commandments: First, he taught them the first four commandments, which can be summarized this way: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deut 6:5). Second, he taught them the last six commandments, which can be summarized this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). And this would have been Jesus’ own summary of the entire law (Mark 12:29–21; Luke 10:27). And if you were summarizing the law’s requirements for horizontal relationships, it could be summarized by citing Leviticus 19:18 only (Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8).

Love God

(1) No other gods (Deut 5:7; Exod 20:3). This monotheistic command was unique in the ancient Near East, where people commonly divided up the job descriptions for between various competing deities, ascribing this responsibility and power to one so-called god, and others to other gods. But Israel’s relation with the Lord God was to be “monogamous,” and any violation of this first command was considered spiritual adultery. Sadly, Israel’s history on this command makes for discouraging reading all too often. And what can we say of today’s penchant for worshiping no one but man himself?

(2) No idols (Deut 5:8–10; Exod 20:4–6). The Jewish tradition joins these verses with the preceding verse, including idolatry with the first commandment; however, both syntax and logic imply that it’s a second commandment, as we generally read it. Indeed, it’s possible to use idols while claiming to worship only the Lord—or Jesus Christ in the New Testament church. God allowed temple art; however, no human work was ever to be considered the object of human worship. When this happened, a prophet like Isaiah could be absolutely caustic in his criticism of the lunacy of idolatry (e.g., Isa 44:8–20).

Today, most people in the West are unlikely to be turning to physical idols; however, any physical image is first the product of human imagination and creativity and only then a physical image of stone, metal, or paint. Even at the stage of mental conception, this must never become the object of worship.

(3) No misusing the Lord’s name (Deut 5:11; Exod 20:7). The Jewish tradition tried to assure that this law was never broken by forbidding any use of the divine name. Instead of saying God’s name “Yahweh” when talking or even when reading the Old Testament, they would instead say, “Adonai,” which our English Bibles translate Lord. But perhaps as great as misusing God’s name is the sin of neglecting to name the Lord as one’s God and neglecting to call on his name in time of trouble (1 Chr 16:8; Ps 105:1; 116:4, 13, 17; Lam 3:55; Joel 2:32; Zech 13:9; Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13; 1 Cor 1:2) or to praise his name in times of thankfulness (1 Chr 23:13; Neh 9:5; Ps 34:3; 68:4; 92:1; 96:2; 102:21; 103:1; 106:47; 113:1; 135:1, 3; 145:21; 148:5, 13; Isa 26:13; 42:8; Joel 2:26; Acts 19:17).

This command does not merely prohibit the incorporation of God’s name into vulgar conversation, although it would certainly include that. It doesn’t merely forbid the use of false oaths in God’s name, although swearing “by God” then failing to perform what was vowed would violate the command. And it doesn’t merely forbid cursing someone in God’s name. Actually, the prophets did curse in God’s name, so just using “God” and “damn” in the same sentence is not the sin; rather, it’s cursing someone and calling on God to back up a curse he has no intention of supporting by divine judgment. Indeed, God may have plans to bless the very one you want to curse. So that would be a misuse of God’s name.

This command warns that anytime you take empty recourse to the divine name, you are misusing it. “Any invocation of God’s presence, any calling on His name that is simply perfunctory is taking God’s name in vain, this is, using the divine name for or in something that lacks vitality, reality and substance. So Elton Trueblood can say, ‘The worse blasphemy is not profanity, but lip service.’”1 So never curse someone without the sanction of the Spirit-led Church (Matt 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23); that is misusing the name of the Lord. And the all-too popular practice of saying “the Lord told me” this or that when you are really talking about your own thoughts is misusing the Lord’s name. Or announcing in church, “Thus saith the Lord,” when you are only sharing your own impressions is misusing the Lord’s name.

(4) No misusing the Lord’s day (Deut 5:12–15; Exod 20:8–11). This commandment reflects a pattern of recognizing God’s lordship over everything by acknowledging his absolute lordship over something in particular, whether one day in seven of the week or one part in ten of your income.

I think there is still room to distinguish between the Lord’s day and the other six, acknowledging a difference between Sunday and Monday. The Sabbath was not rooted merely in the distinct concerns of Israel’s religious calendar; rather, it was rooted first of all in the order of creation (Exod 20:8–11), and then in Israel’s own redemptive history (Deut 5:12–15). In Exodus, the reason for this command, was that God himself rested on day seven, so we who bear his image and likeness ought to do the same. And then Deuteronomy added a second rationale: You used to be slaves in Egypt, so keep the Sabbath and give your household a rest, from the master of the house, to the children, to the servants, and even the animals (Deut 5:13–14). This shouldn’t be burden but a blessing, a relief from labor.

This was probably what was behind Jesus’ note that “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Love Your Neighbor

(5) Honor your parents (Deut 5:16; Exod 20:12). There is a sense in which this commandment could be grouped with the first four, as one more command having to do with vertical relationships; however, it’s probably best to understand the first four as those summarized by Deuteronomy 6:5 and this command as the first of the six that can be summarized by Leviticus 19:18). Children are told to honor their parents. Of course that doesn’t mean the absolute obedience and honor that belongs only in the realm of rightful worship (Matt 10:37; Luke 14:26). Nonetheless, children should acknowledge the inherent dignity and standing of those who are over them by God’s own design.

The New Testament endorses this command (Matt 15:4; Mark 7:10), and Paul called it “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph 6:2). Notice that this promise was not “long life”; rather, it was “Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12; Deut 15:16)—it was the way to avoid exile.

(6) No murder (Deut 5:17; Exod 20:13). The older English translations translated this “You shalt not kill” (e.g., kjv); however, it clearly has to do not with killing per se but with murder. Of course you could kill animals for food and clothing, so it was about humans; and you could kill in war or for various capital crime sentences, so it was about murder not all taking of human life. The reference is to culpable homicide, or killing with malice aforethought, which American legal systems call murder in the first degree.

In fact, the malice aforethought becomes the key element in the New Testament treatment of this, which gets to the heart of the deed: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt 5:21–22). Watch your heart, for out of it are all the issues of life and death.

(7) No adultery (Deut 5:18; Exod 20:14). This commandment demonstrates that marriage is not merely a private matter; it is a covenant undertaken before God, who enforces its obligations. “‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel. ‘To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,’ says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. ‘So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife’” (Mal 2:16).

The New Testament expands on the notion that one should “not be unfaithful to your wife” to include emotional infidelity as well as physical infidelity (Matt 5:27–30).

(8) No stealing (Deut 5:19; Exod 20:15). Usurpation of another’s belongings is an invasion of their person, which God condemns. Of course this can be done through banditry on the highways, breaking and entering in the neighborhood, or picking pockets in crowds. But it can also come by not paying your employee’s wages promptly and fairly, cheating on prices through false weights or other mercantile deceits. It can come by moving the property boundaries of widows and orphans, or by oppressing the debtor until they’re deprived of their home and land.

The New Testament expands on this ethic, considering it something that comes with conversion. Not only must thievery stop, but giving must start; only then will you really be fulfilling the heartbeat of God on that law: “If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need” (Eph 4:28). That deals with this matter at the individual level; however, tthe Bible is very concerned about corporate guilt and righteousness as well. So to the degree that your lifestyle or business ethic supports unjust economic situations, you should repent and seek God’s way to move from economic oppression to giving rather than taking.

(9) No false testimony (Deut 5:20; Exod 20:16). As a believer, you should put away all malicious and harmful communication. You should never lend perjured testimony to the conviction of the innocent. You should never libel or defame someone. Character defamation began in the Garden, with Satan’s lies about God’s motives (Gen 3); and this kind of talk still bears the stamp of its original practitioner.

The New Testament tells us what a destructive body part the tongue can be unless it’s tamed by the Holy Spirit (Jas 3:1–7). Let the Holy Spirit tame that tongue, and you’ll be set on the ninth commandment—try to rely only on your own self-control, and that most unruly member will eventually prove just about long and sharp enough to cut your own throat.

(10) No coveting (Deut 5:21; Exod 20:17). The previous nine commandments have to do with overt and observable behavior. This last commandment focuses on an attitude of the heart. Of course, coveting can leading to breaking other commandments. It’s not immediately clear how coveting leads to violating the fifth, sixth, and ninth commandments, but it’s easy to see how coveting would undermine the other commandments. Coveting God’s glory leads to violating the first commandment, and coveting God’s sole prerogative of self-revelation leads to violating the second. Coveting the power of God’s name leads to violating the third commandment, and coveting the free use of God’s day leads to violating the fourth. Coveting your neighbor’s wife leads to breaking the seventh commandment, and coveting his belongings leads to violating the eighth.

The New Testament moves from negative prohibition to a positive solution to coveting, which is contentment with whatever God provides (Phil 4:11–13).

Questions, Reflections and Commitments

  • See how Hosea’s marriage and prophecy spoke to the first commandment.
  • Note the various phrases you occasionally hear that could be an indicator that someone is falling into the worship of their own mental image of God rather than the true God as he has revealed himself: “I like to think of God as….” “I could never worship a God who….” “The ‘Man Upstairs’ probably….”
  • Think of the ways your household might improve in how it relates to the structures of this world that are taking from the poor to support the lifestyle of the prosperous western society. If your children are old enough to understand this concept, consider discussing with them how the family might move ahead on this so they grow up with a less materialistic world view than the unbelievers around them.
  • In this Christmas season, think of how much television advertising can feed a covetous attitude if you don’t control it. Perhaps the advertisement blocks are more of a spiritual danger to your household than the crude programming itself. Consider ways to reduce this stream of covet-provoking propaganda into the minds of your household.


1. Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook to the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992), 203; quoting Elton Trueblood, Foundations for Reconstruction (New York: Harper, 1946), 31.

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