Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter contains a recapitulation of the Decalogue itself and of the circumstances of its delivery. The repetition of the Ten Commandments is the true beginning of the Deuteronomy, as their first delivery is the beginning of the Law itself.
And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.(1) And Moses called all Israel, and said.—What follows is thus presented to us as an actual exhortation, not merely a portion of a book.
The statutes and judgments.—The religious ordinances and institutions, and the general requirements. The mention of these is prefixed to the Decalogue, of which they are only the application—to a special people under special circumstances. More precisely, the words apply rather to what follows the Decalogue than to the Ten Commandments themselves. (See Deuteronomy 6:1.)
The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.(2) The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.—It must never be forgotten that the Law is a covenant in its very form. (See Note on Deuteronomy 5:6.)
The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.(3) Not . . . with our fathers, but with us.—That is, according to the usage of the Hebrew language in drawing contrasts, not only with our fathers (who actually heard it), but with us also, who were in the loins of our fathers, and for whom the covenant was intended no less than for them; and, in fact, every man who was above forty-two at the time of this discourse might actually remember the day at Sinai.
The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,(4) The Lord talked with you face to face.—Yet they saw no manner of similitude (Deuteronomy 4:12), i.e., no visible form: but the very words of God reached their ears. So in Exodus 20:22, “Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”
(I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying,(5) In this verse a colon seems too large a stop after “the word of the Lord.” Perhaps it should rather be read thus: “I stood between Jehovah and you at that time (for ye were afraid by reason of the fire), and ye went not up into the mount.” The cause of their not going up into the mount was not their fear, but the express prohibition of Jehovah, as may be seen by Exodus 19
I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.(6) I am the Lord thy God.—It should never be forgotten that this sentence is an integral part of the Decalogue, and also the first part. The declaration of Divine relationship, with all that it implies—the covenanted adoption of Israel by Jehovah—precedes all the requirements of the Law. The Law is, therefore, primarily a covenant in the strictest sense.
Thou shalt have none other gods before me.(7) Thou shalt have none other gods before me.—Literally, upon my face, in addition to my presence; or, as Rashi says, “in any place where I am, that is, in the whole world.” “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy face?” Idols are, at the very best, only masks which man puts upon the face of God, insulting to His dignity, and tending to conceal Him from our view.
(8,9) These two verses should be closely connected, according to the idiom of the original, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any of these things for the purpose of bowing down to them or worshipping them.”
Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,(9) Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.—There are no sins which so surely entail penal consequences upon succeeding generations as the abominations of idolatry. All idolatry means the degradation of the Divine image in man. But it is not meant here that the soul of the son shall die for the father. The penalty extends only “to them that hate me.”
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.(10) Them that love me.—We have an echo of this commandment in the words of our Saviour: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The promise of His presence with us through the “other Comforter” compensates for the absence of any visible image. As love in this verse is practical, so is hatred in the previous verse. To hate God is to disobey His commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.(11) Take . . . in vain.—Literally, Thou shalt not put the name of Jehovah thy God to vanity: i.e., to anything that is false, or hollow, or unreal. Primarily, it is false swearing that is forbidden here; but the extension of the principle to vain and rash swearing, or the light use of the Name without real cause, is sufficiently obvious.
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.(12-15) The language of this commandment is identical with the form it takes in Exodus only so far as the 13th and 14th verses are concerned; and even here the special mention of the ox and the ass is confined to Deuteronomy. The introduction and the close of the command, which gives the reason for it, are different here. The reason drawn from the creation is not mentioned; the reason drawn from the exodus is. This fact illustrates the observation that in Deuteronomy we find “the Gospel of the Pentateuch.” If for the exodus of Israel we substitute here “the exodus of Christ, which He accomplished at Jerusalem,” not so much by His death as by His resurrection, we have a reason for keeping not the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day.
It is worth while to observe that the Israelites had express authority given them to enforce the observance of the Sabbath upon Gentiles, when these could be regarded as “strangers within their gates.” The words Isaiah 56:6 seem to show that “strangers” who “took hold of the covenant” of Jehovah were expected to “keep His sabbath from polluting it.” For an example of its enforcement, see Nehemiah 13:16; Nehemiah 13:20-21.
If any difficulty is felt at the variation of the form of the commandment from that which we have in Exodus, it should be observed, first, that the command itself is not altered, as appears by Deuteronomy 5:13-14, compared with Exodus 20:9-10; and secondly, that in this exhortation Moses calls Israel to hear the statutes and judgments which he, as their mediator, commands them, and that he is free to enforce them by such reasons as may seem to him best.
Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.(16) That it may go well with thee . . .—In this form St. Paul cites the commandment in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Deuteronomy 6:2-3). As to what may be made of this promise, see a Note on Deuteronomy 22:7, and a quotation from the Talmud on the point.
Thou shalt not kill.(17-20) The wording of these four commandments is the same with that of Exodus 20.
Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.(21) His field.—These words are not found in Exodus 20. The children of Israel had now become, or were just about to become, landowners; hence the addition is appropriate in this place. There is also another slight verbal alteration. One word only is used for “covet” in Exodus 20:17; here two are employed. The idea of the one is to “delight in,” and the other to “lust after.”
These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.(22) He added no more—i.e., He spoke no more in this manner; or, there were only ten commandments. So Deuteronomy 5:25 : “If we add to hear “—i.e., in this fashion.
And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;(23-27) The speech of the elders to Moses is more fully and exactly described here than in Exodus 20, where it is briefly summarised as expressing the mind of the whole people.
(25) Why should we die?—The instinctive dread of death awakened by the Divine presence, and especially by the declaration of the Divine law, bears eloquent testimony to the truth that man was made to bear the Divine likeness, and to live a holy life.
(26) For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard.—A famous passage in the Talmud makes all nations hear the words of the Law, every people in its own language. The thought is remarkable as bringing out a further analogy between the revelation at Sinai and the revelation on the Day of Pentecost, when every man heard in his own language the wonderful works of God.
And the LORD heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the LORD said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.(28-31) And the Lord heard the voice of your words . . .—The Divine comment on the words of the people is recorded only in Deuteronomy; but in order to obtain a complete record of it, we must refer to Deuteronomy 18:18-19. It will appear by comparison of the two passages that the promise of the prophet like unto Moses was given at this very time: “They have well said all that they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in His mouth.” It is not a little remarkable that He who gave the Law from Sinai “in blackness and darkness and tempest” should, on that very day, acknowledge the need of a different form of teaching for His people, and should promise it then and there. But it must not be forgotten that He “whose voice then shook the earth” is the very same Person who “speaketh from heaven” now. He who pronounced the Law in the letter writes it on the heart by His Spirit. The Angel of the covenant and the Prophet like unto Moses are one. He who gave the Law on Sinai died under it on Calvary, and provided for its observance for ever.
(29) O that there were such an heart in them.—Literally, Who will give that there shall be this heart in them, to fear me, and to keep all my commandments all the days? He who asked the question has also supplied the, answer: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Or, more exactly, in Hebrews 8:10, “Giving my laws into their understanding, I will also write them upon their hearts.” The need of a Mediator like themselves was well stated by the people; it was also met by Him who said, “They have well said all that they have spoken.”