Good morning! Today’s passage (Deuteronomy 4-6) concludes the first address of Moses to the people about to enter into Canaan and begins a second address. Remember that this is directed to the younger Israelites who have been found worthy to enter Canaan because they came of age after the Exodus. In other words, they have known what it is to rely fully on God.
Moses’ first sermon to the Hebrew people concludes in Deuteronomy 4. Egypt, in the rearview mirror, was an “iron-smelter” and now the Israelites belong more fully to God. The punishment threatened for following idols—being scattered abroad, only a few left—is so apt that one wonders if this was written from a latter vantage point with that result in view. One thread that continues from earlier in the Torah is the promise that even in the midst of turmoil and trauma, God will not forget the covenant. This long exhortation culminates by saying that God has done a series of marvelous things—how else are the people to respond except with praise and obedience? Afterwards, a brief third-person mention of “cities of refuge” on the eastern side of the Jordan River (which seems out of place), and an introduction to the longer second address serves as a transition to that which follows.
Deuteronomy 5 opens with a recapitulation of The Ten Commandments. Moses says that the covenant at Sinai was made “not with our ancestors…but with us, who are all of us here alive today.” This seems to forget the premise of Deuteronomy, that the people here are decidedly NOT the ones who gathered around Mount Sinai and heard Moses’ first proclamation of the law. One significant difference in this list from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 is that the reason for Sabbath is not the creation in six days but the need for rest in light of Egypt’s slave labor. This reveals more of an underlying moral/ethical concern in Deuteronomy rather than the earlier priestly concerns. Moses describes how he came to be the mouthpiece of God (to protect the people from God’s unmediated speech), and urges them again to follow every letter of the law.
To aid in the teaching of the Law, Deuteronomy 6 expands what and how the law is to be passed on. 6:4 contains the “Shema”, a most-holy command recited by Jews: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” This and the verse that follows are presumably the sources for Jesus’ declaration of “the greatest commandment”. It’s so important to remember these instructions that they are to be taught to children, worn on hand and forehead (the source of Jewish phylacteries today), and inscribed on doorposts (today’s Jewish mezuzot). “Moses” regards it as of utmost importance not to forget God in all that is to come, especially when the descendants of these people are comfortably ensconced in their new land. Obedience to all the commandments will be a righteous proclamation to the children of these Israelites, and will secure protection of their future in the land. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Deuteronomy 7-10. Thanks for reading!