Chapter 5



The Principles of the Covenant (5:1-11:32)

Ten Commandments for the Covenant Community

        • Moses called the Israelite community together and told them to listen to the statutes and ordinances that he was giving them that day, to learn them, and to obey them carefully. He said, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Sinai (Horeb). He didn’t make this covenant with our ancestors, but with us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you directly from the fire on the mountain. At this time I was standing between you and the Lord as an intermediary reporting His words to you because you were afraid of the fire and didn’t want to go up the mountain. This is what He said to you:

          • What does Moses mean that God didn’t make this covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) with their ancestors? We know the He originally made this covenant with the parents (the generation that died in the wilderness) of the generation that is now standing before Moses .

          • Barnes Notes on the Bible clarifies in this way: “The ‘fathers’ are, as in Deuteronomy 4:37, the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With them God did indeed make a covenant, but not the particular covenant now in question. The responsibilities of this later covenant, made at Sinai by the nation as a nation, attached in their day and generation to those whom Moses was addressing.”

          • Guzik notes, “Before God commanded anything of man, He declared who He was and what He did for Israel (who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage). The foundation was clear: because of whom God was and what He did for His people, He has the right to tell us what to do – and we have the obligation to obey Him.”

          • ‘I am the Lord your God who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. Do not have any other gods before Me.’

          • Skeptics like to draw parallels between Israel’s covenant and those of the ancient Near Eastern treaties common to the time period. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible specifically notes the key difference, “The exclusivity of Yahweh is vaguely paralleled in other ancient Near Eastern treaty texts, but in the form of an allegiance to the human vassal to his human suzerain and the suzerain’s many gods- not just to one god, as in Israel.”

            • Guzik adds, “This did not imply that it was permissible to have other gods, as long as they lined up behind the true God. Instead 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.’…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.”

          • ‘Don’t make, bow down, or worship any idols in the likeness of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the water because I am a jealous God. I punish the children for the sins of the parents up to the 3rd and 4th generations of those who reject Me. But, I show faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and obey My commands.’

          • Guzik writes, “In that day as well as in our own, worship was tied closely with images – idealized images, or even images in the mind of man. God will not allow us to depict Him with any such image, nor replace Him with another image…The second commandment didn’t forbid making an image of something for artistic purposes. God Himself commanded Israel make images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18, 26:31). It forbade the making of images as an ‘aid’ to worship…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).”

          • Are children really punished for their ancestor’s sins? HCSB elaborates, “These words reflect the OT concept of the corporate nature of community and family life. All members are implicated in the blessing and judgment of even one member (Deuteronomy 2:34). It is well known that the sins of one generation have repercussions for generations to come (Exodus 20:5). The impact of David’s sin on his children is a classic case in point (2 Samuel 12:10; 13:28).” Guzik adds, “…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.”

          • On those who “love” or “hate” God, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The term reject (literally hate) does not relate to having bitter and hostile feelings but to forsaking a relationship.” Those who “love” God are “Those who choose to accept the Lord…”

          • ‘Don’t misuse My name because I will punish anyone who does so.’

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

          • If you have interacted with Jewish individuals, you may have noticed the unusual ( to us) ways they refer to God: “the Almighty,” “the One above,” or “Hashem” (Hebrew for “the name”). Some may type “G-d, ” leaving out the “o”. This is in response to this particular commandment. Guzik says, “The strength of this command has led to strange traditions among the Jewish people. Some go to extreme lengths in attempting to fulfill this command, refusing to even write out the name of God, in the fear that the paper might be destroyed, and the name of God be written in vain.”

          • ‘Observe the Sabbath day as I have commanded you: you will work for 6 days, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord. On this 7th day you must rest. Don’t do any work. This applies to you, your children, your slaves, your livestock, and to any foreigners who are living among you. I have commanded you to keep this Sabbath day because you are to remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt until I brought you out by My power.’

          • New Covenant law as given in the New Testament includes 9 of these 10 commandments (in a magnified form). However, the Sabbath command is not present. This is a highly debated topic since some groups seek to hold on to the Decalogue as somehow separate from the remaining 603 laws in the Mosaic Covenant therefore applying the Sabbath command to us today on this basis. However, the unity of the 613 laws included in this Mosaic Covenant is well attested in Scripture. (Two prominent Scriptural proofs of this unity are James 2:10 and Matthew 5:17-20.) Interestingly, most groups that still wish to adhere to the Sabbath, citing Exodus and Deuteronomy, do not do so within the Scriptural definition. This applies equally to the two primary Sabbatarian camps: 1) those who believe that Sunday is the “New Covenant Sabbath” and; 2) those who claim to observe the OT seventh day Sabbath (Saturday). Guzik includes an excellent commentary on this topic:

          • Some claim that Christians are required to keep the Sabbath today. But the New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11), because Jesus fulfilled the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11)… 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 our salvation is accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10)…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… 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. Like a car that needs regular maintenance, we need regular rest – or we will not ‘wear’ well. Some people are like high mileage cars that haven’t been maintained well, and it shows…Some Christians are also dogmatic about observing Saturday as the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. But 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 and 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.”

          • ‘Honor your parents as I have commanded you so that you’ll live a long and prosperous life in this land that I have given you.’

          • ‘Don’t murder.’

          • Guzik writes, Some wonder 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. As opposed to killing, murder is the taking of life without legal justification (execution after due process) or moral justification (killing in defense).” This is also an excellent example of how New Covenant law magnifies the commands given in the Mosaic Law. Guzik notes, “Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. He showed that it also prohibits us from hating someone else (Matthew 5:21-26), because we can wish someone dead in our hearts, yet never have the “courage” to commit the deed. Someone may not kill from a lack of courage or initiative, though his or her heart is filled with hatred.”

          • ‘Don’t commit adultery.’

          • ‘Don’t steal.’

        • ‘Don’t give a false testimony against your neighbor.’

          • Don’t covet (desire) anything that belongs to your neighbor- his wife, field, slaves, livestock, etc.’

          • Literally, the word for “covet” here 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.” (Guzik)

The People’s Response

        • These are the commands that the Lord spoke to you from the fire surrounded by dark clouds on the mountain. He wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. After hearing and seeing this, you all came to me with your tribal leaders and elders and said, “God has shown us His glory and greatness and we have heard His voice coming from the fire. We have now seen that God can speak to us as humans without killing us. But why should we take the risk? We are afraid that the fire will consume us if God continues to speak to us from it. Who else other than us has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking to them from fire and survived? You go listen to what the Lord says then come and tell us. We will listen and obey.”

        • The Lord heard what you said to me and affirmed that you are right. He said, “Oh that they would always have hearts like this to fear and obey My commands so that their descendants would prosper forever. Tell them to go back to their tents, but you stay here with Me and I’ll give you all of My commands, statues, and ordinances. You must teach the people so that they can obey them in this land that I am giving to them.”

          • Guzik writes, “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.”

        • So Moses told the people to carefully obey all of the commands that the Lord had given them, in their entirety. He told them to stay on the path that God had commanded, not straying to the right or left so that they would live prosperously in the land that He was giving them.

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