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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Deuteronomy 5

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Moses Reminds Israel of their Covenant with God at Sinai

A. The requirements of God’s covenant with Israel.

1. (Deuteronomy 5:1-5) The setting of the covenant.

And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said:

a. Hear, O Israel: Israel was bound to the covenant they agreed to in Exodus 24:1-8, yet the covenant was made with the previous generation which perished in the wilderness. The present generation had to understand and embrace the covenant if they were to enjoy the blessings of the covenant.

b. Made a covenant: Literally, this is to “cut a covenant.” The idea of “cutting” is associated with covenant because covenants were always sealed with sacrifice — the cutting of a sacrificial victim.

c. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us: In fact, the covenant was originally made with the previous generation, and Moses did not deny this. But he drove the point home: This was their covenant; it is a covenant of the living, not of the dead.

d. The LORD talked with you face to face: This demonstrates that the term face to face does not mean “literal face to literal face,” but is a Hebraic figure of speech meaning “intimate, free communication.”

i. Deuteronomy 4:12 specifically says that Israel saw no form; you only heard a voice. Yet they had a remarkably transparent communication with God, so the figure of speech face to face applies.

ii. This is why Exodus 33:11 says So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, and in Exodus 33:20 the LORD says, You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live. The use of face to face in Exodus 33:11 is a figure of speech, meaning Moses had free and unhindered communication with the LORD.

iii. “Face to face seems to mean ‘in person,’ that is, in the immediacy of personal contact.” (Thompson)

e. I stood between the LORD and you at that time: Israel could not bear such free and unhindered communication with the LORD, so they asked Moses to speak to God on their behalf.

2. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7) The first commandment: No other gods before Me.

‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

a. I am the LORD your God: 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.

b. You shall have no other gods before Me: The first commandment logically flows from understanding who God is and what He has done for us. Nothing is to come before God and He is the only God we worship and serve.

i. In the days of ancient Israel, there was great temptation to worship the gods of materialism (Baal, the god of weather and financial success) and sex (Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex, romance, and reproduction), or any number of other local deities. We are tempted to worship the same gods, but without the old-fashioned names and images.

c. No other gods before Me: 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.”

i. 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.

ii. Failure to obey this commandment is called idolatry. We are to flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). Those lives marked by habitual idolatry will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8, 22:15). Idolatry is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), which marks our old life instead of the new (1 Peter 4:3), and we are not to associate with those who call themselves Christians who are idolaters (1 Corinthians 5:11).

3. (Deuteronomy 5:8-10) The second commandment: You shall not make for yourself any carved image... you shall not bow down to them.

‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image; any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

a. You shall not make for yourself a carved image: The second commandment prohibited not only idolatry regarding false gods, it also dealt with making an image of any created thing which we might worship.

b. Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath: 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.

i. 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.

ii. “To countenance its image worship, the Roman Catholic Church has left the whole of this second commandment out of the decalogue, and thus lost one whole commandment out of the ten; but to keep up the number they have divided the tenth into two.” (Clarke)

iii. 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).

iv. Paul reminds us of the futility of trying to make God into our own image: Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23)

c. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God: How can it be said that God is a jealous God? “God’s jealousy is love in action. He refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for Himself, but because He knows that upon that loyalty to Him depends our very moral life... God is not jealous of us: He is jealous for us.” (Redpath)

d. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me: This does not mean God punishes us directly for the sins of our ancestors. The important words are of those who hate Me — if the descendants love God, they will not have the iniquity of the fathers visited on them.

i. “‘This necessarily implies — IF the children walk in the steps of their fathers; for no man can be condemned by Divine justice for a crime of which he was never guilty.” (Clarke)

ii. Yet, 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.

4. (Deuteronomy 5:11) The third commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

a. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: 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).

i. Jesus communicated the idea of this command in the disciple’s prayer, when He taught us to have a regard for the holiness of God’s name (Hallowed be Your name, Matthew 6:9).

b. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain: 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.

5. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day.

‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

a. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: The seventh day (Saturday) was commanded to be respected as a day of rest. This rest was for all of Israel — servants and slaves as well as visitors.

i. This is an important principle that might be too easily passed over. Here God declared the essential humanity and dignity of women, slaves, and strangers, and said they had the same right to a day of rest as the free Israeli man. This was certainly a radical concept in the ancient world.

ii. In fact, in Moses’ exposition of the Law here in Deuteronomy, he pays special stress on the fact that the Sabbath is for the foreign-born slaves among Israel. Deuteronomy 5:15 (And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt) is not cited in Exodus 20.

b. To keep it holy: In their traditions, the Jewish people came to carefully quantify what they thought could and could not be done on the Sabbath day, in order to keep it holy.

i. For example, in Luke 6:1-2, in the mind of the Jewish leaders, the disciples were guilty of four violations of the Sabbath every time they took a bite of grain out in the field, because they reaped, threshed, winnowed, and prepared food.

ii. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But he could carry something with the back of his hand, his foot, his elbow, or in his ear, his hair, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or sandal. Or, on the Sabbath, you Israelites were forbidden to tie a knot — except, a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, an Israelite could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket and pull it up from the well.

iii. In observant Jewish homes today, one cannot turn on a light, a stove, or a switch on the Sabbath. It is forbidden to drive a certain distance or to make a telephone call — all carefully regulated by traditions seeking to spell out the law exactly.

c. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth: God established the pattern for the Sabbath at the time of creation. When He rested from His works on the seventh day, God made the seventh day a day of rest from all our works (Genesis 2:3). But the most important purpose of the Sabbath was to serve as a shadow of the rest we have in Jesus.

i. 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).

ii. 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).

iii. 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.

iv. 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.

v. 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.

vi. But we are also commanded to work six days. “He who idles his time away in the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh.” (Clarke) Many Christians should give more “leisure time” to the work of the LORD. Every Christian should have a deliberate way to serve God and advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

6. (Deuteronomy 5:16) The fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

a. Honor your father and your mother: Honor for fathers and mothers is an essential building block for the stability and health of all society. If the younger generations are constantly at war with older generations, the foundations of society will be destroyed.

i. Jesus used the way the Pharisees interpreted this commandment as an example of how one might keep the law with a limited interpretation, yet violate the spirit of the commandment (Matthew 15:3-6).

b. That your days may be long: In Ephesians 6:2 Paul repeated this command, emphasizing the promise stated here: that your days may be long upon the land. Rebellion is costly, and many have paid a high price personally for their rebellion against their parents.

7. (Deuteronomy 5:17) The sixth commandment: You shall not murder.

‘You shall not murder.

a. You shall not murder: 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).

b. You shall not murder: 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.

8. (Deuteronomy 5:18) The seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

‘You shall not commit adultery.

a. You shall not commit adultery: Recognize that the act itself is condemned. God allows no justification for the ways that many people often seek to justify extra-marital sex, such as saying “my partner doesn’t understand me” or “we are in love” or “God led us to be with each other” or any other excuse.

i. Michael English, who lost his recording contract and marriage over adultery with another Christian music singer, says of his adultery and its aftermath: “Maybe God allowed this to happen to make me see I needed some freedom.” No!

b. You shall not commit adultery: The New Testament clearly condemns adultery: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication uncleanness, licentiousness... (Galatians 5:19). But more than the act itself, Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. It prohibits us from looking at a woman to lust for her, where we commit adultery in our heart or mind, yet may not have the courage or opportunity to do the act (Matthew 5:27-30). We aren’t innocent just because we didn’t have the opportunity to sin the way we really wanted to.

9. (Deuteronomy 5:19) The eighth commandment: You shall not steal.

‘You shall not steal.

a. Not steal: This command is another important foundation for human society, establishing the right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or states are not permitted to take that property without due process of law.

b. Not steal: We can also steal from God. Of course, this demands we honor God with our financial resources, so we are not guilty of robbing Him (Malachi 3:8-10). But we can also rob God by refusing to give Him ourselves for obedience and His service, because He bought us and owns us: knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold... but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19); For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:20).

c. Not steal: Ephesians 4:28 gives the solution to stealing. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

10. (Deuteronomy 5:20) The ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness.

‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

a. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: We can break the ninth commandment through slander, talebearing, creating false impressions, by silence, by questioning the motives behind someone’s actions, or even by flattery.

i. “Slander... is a lie invented and spread with intent to do harm. That is the worst form of injury a person can do to another. Compared to one who does this, a gangster is a gentleman, and a murderer is kind, because he ends life in a moment with a stroke and with little pain. But the man guilty of slander ruins a reputation which may never be regained, and causes lifelong suffering.” (Redpath)

ii. “Talebearing... is repeating a report about a person without careful investigation. Many, many times I have known what it is to suffer with that. To repeat a story which brings discredit and dishonor to another person without making sure of the facts, is breaking this commandment... How many people, especially Christian people, revel in this, and delight in working havoc by telling tales about others. To excuse the action by saying they believed the report to be true, or that there was no intention to malign, is no justification.” (Redpath)

iii. What about inappropriate silence? “When someone utters a falsity about another and a third person is present who knows that statement to be untrue but, for reasons of fear or being disliked, remains quiet, that third person is as guilty of breaking this law as if he had told a lie.” (Redpath)

b. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: The New Testament puts it simply. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9) “How very strange that we have ever come to think that Christian maturity is shown by the ability to speak our minds, whereas it is really expressed in controlling our tongues.” (Redpath)

i. “What a startling revelation it would be if a tape recording could be played of all that every church member has said about his fellow members in one week!” (Redpath)

ii. Satan is always there to encourage a lie (John 8:44; Acts 5:3); and Jesus Himself was the victim of false witness (Mark 14:57); in some ways, we might say this was the sin that sent Jesus to the cross.

11. (Deuteronomy 5:21) The tenth commandment: You shall not covet.

‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

a. You shall not covet: All the first nine commands focus more on things we do; the tenth deals straight with the heart and its desires.

i. 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.

b. Your neighbor’s house... wife... ox... donkey: Covetousness can be expressed towards all sorts of things; it is the itch to have and to possess what someone else has. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with what we have, and a jealously towards those who have something “better.”

i. Hebrews 13:5 puts it well: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

ii. This last commandment is closely connected with the first commandment against idolatry: For this you know, that no... covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).

iii. Jesus gave a special warning about covetousness, which explained the core philosophy of the covetous heart: And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

B. The response of Israel and the response of God at Mount Sinai.

1. (Deuteronomy 5:22-27) The response of Israel: shrinking fear.

“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. And you said: ‘Surely the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near and hear all that the LORD our God may say, and tell us all that the LORD our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.’

a. In the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice: The whole scene was indeed awesome: The LORD spoke; there was fire, a cloud, thick darkness, a loud voice; and it all made such an impression on Israel that they asked Moses to not have God speak to them so directly any more.

i. Why should we die... if we hear the voice of the LORD our God anymore, then we shall die makes it plain. The Mount Sinai experience was not one of sweet fellowship with God. The message of Mount Sinai was not “come unto Me,” but “stay away, for I am holy, and you are not.”

ii. This is exactly the message of the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:18-24: We, under the New Covenant, have not come to Mount Sinai and the message “stay away”; we have come to Mount Zion, where God’s message is “come unto Me.”

b. Tell us all that the LORD our God says to you, and we will hear and do it: Israel was far too confident in their ability to keep the law of God. Their experience at Mount Sinai convinced them of God’s glory, but not of their own corruption and inability.

2. (Deuteronomy 5:28-33) God responds with hopeful pleasure in Israel.

“Then the LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.’ Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.

a. They are right in all they have spoken: God was pleased with Israel’s response. Their response was evidence that they took Him seriously.

b. Oh, that they had such a heart: The feeling is that God liked what He saw in Israel, but “hoped” (to use a figure of speech, because God doesn’t “hope” for things the way we do) that they would keep the same attitude of heart. In fact, Israel did not keep this heart; not 40 days later they danced in worship around a golden calf.

c. That it might be well with them and their children forever: 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.

d. Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you: Knowing the glory of God (as revealed at Mount Sinai) and the love of God (as revealed by His longing that it might be well with them), gave them all the more reason to obey God.

i. When we have trouble obeying God, we are clearly lacking in one or both of these areas. Either we forget His glory, or we forget His love for us, or we forget both of them.

©2018 David Guzik — No distribution beyond personal use without permission


  1. Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 1 (Genesis-Deuteronomy) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1826)
  2. Redpath, Alan "Law and Liberty: The Ten Commandments for Today" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell 1993)
  3. Thompson, J. A. "Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary" Volume 5 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) (Intervarsity Press, 1981)

Updated: August 2022

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