THE SECRETS OF OBEDIENCE
Moses was a wise teacher of God’s truth. First he reviewed what the Lord had done for Israel (Deut. 1—4) and reminded the people of God’s mercy and goodness. Then he reaffirmed the basic principles of God’s law (Deut. 5—6), what we know as the Ten Commandments (10:4). In chapters 6 and 7, Moses discussed motives for obedience and explained why the people should honor God’s laws. He wanted the nation’s obedience to be based on spiritual principles, not just personal opinions, and to be encouraged by the right motives. Only after Moses had laid this strong foundation did he apply God’s commandments to specific areas of Israel’s life.
God gave His law to build the people individually as well as the nation collectively. How could over 2 million people live together and work together, let alone fight the enemy together, unless they had rules and regulations to govern them? Israel’s civic peace and general welfare depended on the people respecting the law and obeying it. Unfortunately, over the years, some of the religious leaders added so many traditions to God’s law that the people felt like they were wearing a galling yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1).
The law was also meant to reveal God and draw the people closer to Him. If Israel was to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:1–8), they needed a holy law to guide them. Certainly God was concerned about the external conduct of His people, but He was also concerned that their hearts be devoted to Him. When you read Psalm 119, you discover what the law of God meant to Jewish people who were spiritually minded and devoted to the Lord in their hearts. They saw God’s righteous law, not as a heavy yoke, but as honey (v. 103), light (v. 105), a treasure (vv. 14, 72, 127, 162), freedom (v. 45), and a source of great joy (v. 14). They delighted in the law and meditated on it (vv. 15–16, 23–24, 47–48, 77–78; see 1:1–3). Yes, the Ten Commandments were engraved on tables of stone, but the spiritual Jew also had the Word hidden in his heart (119:10–11).
One of the key themes in Deuteronomy 6—7 is motivation for obedience. These two chapters answer the question, “Why should we obey God’s Word in a world where most people ignore it or deliberately disobey it?” Moses explained four fundamental motives for obedience.
Love for the Lord (6:1–9)
Moses has already emphasized God’s love for Israel and the importance of Israel’s love for God (4:32–43), and he will mention this topic several times before he concludes his address. If Israel obeyed the Lord, they would conquer the enemy, possess the land, multiply in the land, and enjoy a long life in the place of God’s blessing (6:1–3). At least six times in this book, Moses called Canaan “a land of milk and honey” (v. 3; 11:9; 26:9, 15; 27:3; 31:20), a phrase that describes the richness and fruitfulness of the land. Milk was a staple food and honey a luxury, so “a land of milk and honey” would provide all that the people needed. There would be adequate pastures for their flocks and herds and sufficient plants in the fields for the bees to obtain pollen. How could the people not love and obey Jehovah when He blessed them so abundantly?
Covenant (v. 3). There was always a danger that the new generation would become proud and think that God had blessed them because they were better than previous generations. Moses reminded them that all their blessings came from the Lord because of His covenant with their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, it was this truth that opened his address (1:8, 21, 35), and he would mention it again (6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; and see Ex. 6:8 and 33:1). God’s gracious promise to the patriarchs gave Israel ownership of the land, but it was their own obedience to the Lord that guaranteed their possession and enjoyment of the land.2 It’s unfortunate that after Israel had lived in the land, they took their blessings for granted, disobeyed God’s law, and had to be punished for their 317 Deuteronomy 6 rebellion. First they were chastened in the land (described in the book of Judges) and then they were removed from the land and taken captive to Babylon.
Believers today need to be reminded that all our blessings come to us because of God’s eternal covenant with His Son (Heb. 13:20) and the new covenant which Jesus made through His sacrificial death on the cross (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8—9). We aren’t blessed because of what we are in ourselves but because of what we are in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14).
Confession (v. 4). The orthodox Jewish confession of faith is called “the Shema” after the Hebrew word which means “to hear.” This confession is still recited each morning and evening by devout Jews all over the world, affirming “Jehovah, our Elohim, Jehovah is one.” (See Matt. 22:37–38; Mark 12:29–30; Luke 10:27.) So important is this confession that Jewish boys in orthodox homes are required to memorize it as soon as they can speak. The nations around Israel worshipped many gods and goddesses, but Israel affirmed to all that there is but one true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Hebrew word translated “one” (ehad) can also mean “a unity” as well as “numerical oneness.” It’s used that way in Genesis 2:24, describing the oneness of Adam and Eve, and also in Exodus 26:6 and 11 to describe “unity” of the curtains in the tabernacle (see niv). The word also carries the idea of “uniqueness.” In contrast to the many pagan gods and goddesses, Jehovah is unique, for there is only one true God; He is God alone and not part of a pantheon; and He is a unity, which Christians interpret as leaving room for the Trinity (Matt. 28:19–20; 3:16–17). When Israel began to put Jehovah alongside the false gods of the Gentile nations, they denied their own confession of faith. The Gentiles could renounce their false gods and trust the true God, the God of Israel, but a devout Jew could never put Jehovah on the same level as the gods of the Gentiles.
Commandment (v. 5). Is it possible to command somebody to love? Isn’t love a mysterious thing that just appears, a wonderful emotion that’s either there or it isn’t there? No, not according to Scripture. In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part. Love isn’t simply an exotic feeling; love leads to action. “God so loved … that he gave” (John 3:16). The virtues of love that are listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 describe how we treat people and not just how we feel about them.
To love God and worship and serve Him is the highest privilege we can have, so when the Lord commands us to love, He is inviting us to that which is the best. But our love for God must involve the totality of the inner person—“with all your heart … soul … and strength.” It isn’t necessary to define and distinguish these elements, as though they were three different internal human functions. In some Scriptures only two are named (Deut. 4:29; 10:12; Josh. 22:5), while in other parallel Scriptures there are four (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). The phrase simply means “all that is within you” (Ps. 103:1), a total devotion to the Lord. If the inner person is completely yielded to the Lord and open to His Word as ministered by His Spirit, then the feelings will follow. But even if they don’t, we must still relate to other people as the Lord relates to us.
Communication (vv. 6–9). When we hear the Word of God and receive it into our hearts (1 Thess. 2:13), then the Holy Spirit can use the truth to transform us from within (2 Cor. 3:1–3; John 17:17). God “writes” the Word upon our hearts and we become “living epistles” that others may read, and our lives can influence them to trust Christ. How we live is important because it backs up what we say. Moses admonished parents to discuss God’s Word in the home, among the children, and to allow the Word to guide their minds and hands as they work throughout the day. The Word should even control who is permitted to go through the gate and come through the door into the house. The Jews took these commandments literally and wore portions of Scripture3 in little containers called phylacteries on their forehead and left arm (Matt. 23:5). They also attached a small container of Scripture, called a mezuzah, to the front door and on every door in the house. Each occupant touched the mezuzah reverently each time he or she passed through a door (Ps. 121:8). It was a sign that the house was to be a sanctuary for the Lord and a place where the Word was loved, obeyed, and taught.
We can’t help but admire such respect for the Word of God, but it’s likely that the emphasis of this commandment was obedience to God’s Word in all that we think and do rather than the actual wearing of the Scriptures on the forehead and the arm. At least that seems to be the emphasis in Deuteronomy 11:18–21. However, we agree wholeheartedly that God’s people ought to make their homes places where God dwells, where the Scriptures are honored, and we aren’t ashamed of our faith. It isn’t necessary to turn every room into a chapel, but a Bible on the table and a few Scripture texts on the wall at least bear witness that we belong to the Lord and desire to please Him.
THE WIERSBE BIBLE COMMENTARY: OLD TESTAMENT
Published by David C. Cook
© 2007 Warren W. Wiersbe