Deuteronomy 5-11: Psalm 119:129-136

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reviewed the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. After Moses restated the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:6-21), he reminded Israel that they had pledged to obey His instruction (Deut 5:22-31). Though the Lord told Moses, “If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands, so that they and their children will prosper forever” (Deut 5:29), in Deut 5:32-33, Moses urged the people to maintain their commitment to obey. For Moses, Israel’s affection for God—the kind of devotion the psalmist described in Ps 119:129-136—would lead to blessings in the Promised Land (Deut 5:32-6:25). Moses said, “Listen, Israel, and be careful to follow them, so that you may prosper and multiply greatly, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 6:3). Israel’s obedience to God’s instruction would lead to prosperity in the land—and satisfaction in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-20)

In Deut 7:1-10:11, Moses warned Israel to avoid having a casual relationship with God. Israel needed to deal vigorously with any external threats to loving God in the land (Deut 7:1-26). In the exodus, God set Israel apart from the Egyptians. When Israel entered Canaan, they were likewise to be set apart from other nations by annihilating all foreigners that occupied the land. Moses reminded Israel that they had not always been faithful to God (Deut 8:1-10:11). The blessings of life in the land were despite Israel’s sin and not because of Israel’s merit. Moses reminded Israel of the depths of God’s mercy from the covenant at Mount Sinai even to the death of Aaron (Deut 10:1-11). Moses exhorted the people to faithfulness in light of what God had done for them in Egypt (Deut 11:1-7) and what He promised/threatened to do for/against them in Canaan (Deut 11:11-25). The blessings and curses Moses set out in Deut 11:26-32 provide the schema of the Sinaitic covenant.

And Deuteronomy 5-11 provides a schema for ethics in the macro narrative of the Bible.

(1) When the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, at each point Jesus replied by quoting from Deuteronomy 6 and 8. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones to bread (Matt 4:3-4//Luke 4:3-4), Jesus replied from Deut 8:3, where Moses reminded Israel of their complete dependence upon God in the wilderness, where they understood that “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” When Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (Matt 4:5-7//Luke 4:9-12), Jesus replied with Moses’ word in Deuteronomy 6, “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God. Otherwise, the LORD your God will become angry with you and wipe you off the face of the earth. Do not test the LORD your God as you tested Him at Massah” (Deut 6:14-16). When Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow to him (Matt 4:8-10//Luke 4:5-8), Jesus replied by quoting Deut 6:13, “Fear the LORD your God, worship him, and take your oaths in His name.”

(2) When Jesus answered the Rich Young Ruler’s question about how he could gain eternal life, Jesus quoted from the Ten Commandments. When Jesus was making His way from Galilee to Jerusalem, a wealthy man approached Him with the question, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt 19:16; see Mark 10:17-22//Luke 10:25-29). Jesus pointed him to the commandments, specifically, “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 19:18-19). Respectively, Jesus quoted from the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and fifth commandments of the Ten Commandments stated in Exod 20:8-16 and Deut 5:16-21, adding a phrase from Lev 19:18. While the wealthy young man confessed that he had kept the commands, he asked, “What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20). Jesus challenged the man to be perfect—to part with his wealth and commit to following Jesus fully in discipleship. Jesus taught that eternal life is reserved for those who have an unqualified commitment to Him and commit themselves to loving their neighbors (see Luke 10:30-37; Gal 5:13-15; Jas 2:8-13).

(3) In Rom 13:8-9, Paul wrote that love for neighbor fulfills all the commands of the law, including the Ten Commandments. In Romans 13, Paul urged his readers to work out the mercy they had received in Christ. They were to submit to governmental authorities (Rom 13:1-7) and owe no one anything except love (Rom 13:8). Quoting the commandments against adultery, murder, thievery, and covetousness (Exod 20:13-17; Deut 5:17-21), Paul went on to say that all of Moses’ commands are summed up in Lev 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom 13:10).

(4) In Heb 12:21, Moses quoted Deut 9:19 to contrast Moses’ fear on Mount Sinai with the joyful welcome those in the new covenant receive in the heavenly Mount Zion. In Deut 9:7-29, Moses reflected on Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf and how the Lord was merciful to His people. In Heb 12:18-24, the author reflected on the events recorded in Exod 19:1-22, when the Lord came upon Mount Sinai to reveal His law to Israel, and Exod 32:1-10, when the Lord commanded Moses to leave the mountain because Israel had made the golden calf. For the author of Hebrews, God’s presence on Mount Sinai always elicited fear from human observers (Heb 12:18-21). But Mount Zion offered the participants in the new covenant a festive celebration in Jesus’ blood with all those whose names were written in heaven.