Deuteronomy 5: The 10 Commandments
In the last passage, Moses gave an introduction to the laws he was about to reiterate for the Israelites. In this chapter, he begins giving them those laws, appropriately enough, with the 10 Commandments, that God had handed down on Mount Horeb. He begins thusly:
Moses summoned all Israel and said:
Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) …
These are the commandments that were handed down:
- They were not to have any gods before (or besides) God
- They were not to create idols, of any form, and they were not to bow down or worship idols. A reason is given for this commandment:
… for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (verses 9b–10)
- They were not to “misuse” the LORD’s name (verse 11). The ESV translates this as “[y]ou shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,” which is probably the way most of us are used to hearing this.
- They were to observe the Sabbath, keeping it holy, by doing no work on that day. Nobody in the land was to do any work; not sons or daughters, not servants, not livestock, not even any visitors to the land. Again, a reason is given for this command:
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (verse 15)
- They were to honour their parents, that their days would be long, and that it would go well with them in the land that the LORD was giving them.
- They were not to murder
- They were not to commit adultery
- They were not to steal
- They were not to “give false testimony” against their neighbour (verse 20); the ESV translates “give false testimony” as “bear false witness.”
- They were not to covet things that other people had
Moses reminds the people that God had given them these commandments, “in a loud voice” (verse 22), and then written them on stone tablets—and that the people, upon hearing the LORD’s voice, were very afraid, and therefore asked if God would please stop speaking to them directly, and instead direct His messages to them through Moses. (That is, obviously, my own paraphrasing of the conversation.) Then God’s response is given:
The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
“Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.”
With all of this in mind, Moses entreats the Israelites to obey the LORD’s commands, so that they will live and prosper in the Promised Land.
On an unrelated note, I don’t know if I’ve been consistent on this blog about writing “The Ten Commandments” vs. “The 10 Commandments,” but I don’t think it’s a very big deal.
I’ve decided, based on all of the context in Deuteronomy, that Mount Horeb must be the mountain where God handed down the 10 Commandments to the Israelites. In Exodus 19:10–11 it states that the Israelites were at Mount Sinai, but I am now concluding that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai must be two names for the same mountain. (And, in fact, I looked up “Horeb” on Wikipedia, and was told the same thing.)
The ninth commandment is phrased in pretty legalistic terms; the Israelites were forbidden from “giving false testimony,” or, as other translations put it, “bearing false witness.” We generally understand this to be a more general commandment, not to lie, rather than one that only applied during legal proceedings. But I have to wonder; why didn’t God just say “don’t lie,” instead of saying “don’t give false testimony?” I’m just posing the question; I don’t pretend to have an answer.
I also find it very interesting that the fifth commandment is a commandment for the Israelites to honour their parents, and the tenth commandment is not to covet. “Don’t kill,” “don’t steal,” even “don’t commit adultery,” these all seem like no-brainers—but to have a commandment against coveting seems very… well, very personal. How can you police a commandment like that? You can’t; but the 10 Commandments were not about creating enforceable laws, they were about creating a relationship between the Israelites and their God. On a personal note, think how much closer to God any of us would be if we didn’t covet things we didn’t have; if we could be satisfied with what we have. Paul learned this; in the letter to the Philippians he writes:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10–13)
I had always thought of the Old Testament rules as being more legalistic, and the New Testament paradigm being more of a personal relationship with God, but as I’m blogging through the Bible, and going through the Old Testament rules, I’m finding that this isn’t really the case. (Or, at the very least, that the truth is more complex than that.) The Old Testament rules are already pretty personal, between the Israelites and their God. I find it unlikely that any other nation—before or since—had a rule that they weren’t allowed to covet.
I’m tempted to start writing about the fact that covetousness is a way of life, in our possession-driven North American society, but I’ll leave that tangent aside…