The Purpose of the Commandment
Moses again reminded the people that the commandments of God were given that they might be obeyed (6:1). It is neither enough to hear God’s word nor to know God’s word, we must obey God’s word (see Luke 11:28 and James 1:22). Hearing God’s word should lead the hearer to “fear the Lord” (6:2). God’s word contains the record of God’s loving search for man. It helps men to understand the character, nature, and will of God. It leads men to reverence and love God. Psalm 119:38 states, “Establish Thy word to Thy servant, as that which produces reverence for Thee.” A fear of God should manifest itself in steadfast obedience. “The fear, or the love of God in the heart therefore, is the only power to produce loyal obedience to God” (James Wolfendale, Homiletical Commentary). The relationship between obedience and blessing is a recurring theme in Deuteronomy (6:3). As stated on page 1 of these notes, Deuteronomy is a commentary on Proverbs 13:13, “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Moses defined the wonderful rewards of obedience to God’s word in Deuteronomy 6:3 (and also 5:16, 29; 6:18, 24).
The Commandment to Love God Only
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (also Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers15:37-41) constitutes what is referred to as the “Shema,” the most important passage of the Old Testament for the Jews. It is the great confession of faith of Judaism. The designation “shema” comes from the Hebrew word “hear” in verse 4. This passage of Scripture is the first that every Jewish child must commit to memory. It is used to open every Jewish service. It is recited twice daily by the faithful in accordance with Jewish rabbinical law.
This great confession of faith begins with the declaration that God is one. This was important to the Israelites who found themselves between Egypt and Canaan. The Israelites were not unfamiliar with polytheism. The Egyptians acknowledged and worshiped innumerable gods, the names of at least two thousand of which are known. The future of the Israelites would be filled with the temptation to experiment with and incorporate the practices of their pagan neighbors (who worshiped a multiplicity of gods) into the worship of God. This confession prohibited both polytheism and syncretism. Thus this was an important confession for a people at the intersection of a past in which they were exposed to polytheism and a future that would tempt them with syncretism.
The Israelites were to wholeheartedly love God. They were to love God with all their “heart … soul … [and] might,” terms that indicate the comprehensive kind of love man should have for God. They were to love God affectionately, with “all your heart.” The word “all” precludes a half-hearted kind of love. They were to love God entirely, “with all your soul.” They were to love God energetically, “with all your might.” In repeating this commandment, Jesus added the word “mind” (see Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27). They were to love God intelligently, “with all your mind.” There is nothing unreasonable about loving God. Our love for God is best demonstrated by our obedience to His commands (see John 14:15 and 1 John 5:3). John D.W. Watts’s comments regarding the use of the word love in Deuteronomy: “It is used throughout the book to typify observance of the law” (Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 2).
Verse 6 declares that God’s word was to be passed on from generation to generation. Parents were charged with the responsibility of passing the faith on to their children. Note however, the phrase, “these words [that is, the entire law] … shall be on your heart.” Parents cannot teach their children about the love of God if they themselves have not experienced that love. Parents were to instruct their children in a comprehensive way in the course of daily living. What the parents had personally experienced (6:6) they were to communicate through a variety of methods, including verbal communication (6:7), exhibiting (6:8), and writing (6:9). In later times, the Jews interpreted literally the words of verses 8 and 9 and placed the words of the shema in small containers worn on the person (phylacteries) and attached to the doorposts of their homes (mezuzahs).
Practical Consideration: You cannot give what you do not possess. Parents cannot impart to the next generation what they themselves do not possess. They cannot teach their children the importance of observing God’s commands if observing God’s commands is not a priority in their own hearts. The faith of the parents must be a personal, heartfelt faith. Children know whether or not the things of God are dear to their parent’s hearts.
Practical Consideration: Youth ministry begins in the home. Youth ministry begins in the home for three reasons. First, because the Bible declares it. The Bible exhorts parents to teach their children the things of God. Second, because the family demands it. The home provides the proper atmosphere for youth ministry. In the home, youth are under the influence and authority of their parents from day to day. Third, because youth desire it. Youth want guidance from their parents. They want a consistent spiritual example from their parents. Socrates asked, “Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth and take so little care of your children to whom one day you must relinquish it all?”
Practical Consideration: We must not allow religious practices to become a mask for a wrong heart. The Israelites used phylacteries and mezuzahs as outward and visible reminders of the importance of loving and serving God. In time, these outward trappings became more important to them that what they symbolized. In Jesus day, the Pharisees ostentatiously displayed their phylacteries, prayers, fasting, and tithing. It is easy to allow our worship and Bible study attendance, praying, tithing, and other practices to be done without consideration of the condition of our hearts. We must be careful lest good habits become a mask for a wrong heart.
A Warning Against Disobedience
In anticipation of the blessings they would receive in the Promised Land (6:10-11), Moses warned the people against forgetting the Lord who delivered them from Egypt (6:12). Moses knew that those blessings could lead to their downfall (see also Deuteronomy 8:11-14). Notice the repeated use of the phrase “which you did not” in verses 10 and 11. These words reminded the Israelites that God was the source of the blessings they would enjoy in the Promised Land. James Wolfendale comments “blessings easily gained are not often valued. We are most sensible of the things that cost us dearly; but unmindful of the giver when the gifts come easily and freely” (Homiletical Commentary).
Practical Consideration: We must beware of the dangers of prosperity. Moses warned the people to be on guard against the dangers of prosperity. One of the pitfalls of prosperity is forgetting God. Prosperity and abundance can also lead to pride and arrogance (see Deuteronomy 8:17). The blessings of God should humble and inspire us to express gratitude to God.
The “when” of verse 10 (blessing) leads to the “then” of verse 12 (warning). Moses knew that prosperity can intoxicate people and dull their sensitivity and responsiveness to God (as in the case of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32). Moses offered three ways for the people to remember God in verse 13. First, they were to “fear only the Lord.” Fear is the attitude that recognizes the holy and majestic character of God. The fear of God should motivate us to holy living (see Genesis 39:9). Second, they were to “worship [serve] Him.” Service was prescribed as a means of remembering God. Those who fear God and are living in close communion with Him will faithfully serve Him. Third, they were to “swear by His name.” Swearing by God’s name was also prescribed as a means of remembering Him. Any oaths taken were to be in the Lord’s name and not in the name of any other god.
Verse 14 is a restatement of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (5:7). The Israelites would be exposed to many of the gods of the Canaanites in the Promised Land (6:14). They would be tempted to look to those gods for agricultural blessings and success. Moses warned them to have absolutely nothing to do with the gods of the peoples around them. The reason for looking only to God, as well as the consequences for not looking to God, is given in verse 15. God is a jealous God interested in protecting what belongs to Him.
Practical Consideration: Our love for God should be unrivaled, undivided, and unbridled. Our love for God should be unrivaled. It should be supreme and unequaled. Our love for God should be undivided. It should be a loyal love given in recognition of the awesome character and majesty of God. Our love for God should be unbridled. It should be an unrestrained love expressed from a heart of gratitude.
A Call to Obey God’s Commands
Moses knew that the people would face many difficult situations in the Promised Land in which they would be tempted to doubt God’s sovereignty and care. He reminded them of the experience of their fathers at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7) where there was no water for them to drink. Rather than trusting in God who had parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13-31) and miraculously made bitter waters sweet at Marah (Exodus 15:22-26), the people grumbled against Moses. James Wolfendale comments, “They were base enough to deny His presence, doubt His power, and abuse His servant” (Homiletical Commentary). The attitude of the people is recorded in Psalm 78:17-20 and Psalm 95:8. When they came to a place with no water they quickly forgot the God who had delivered them by parting an entire sea of water. Instead they put the Lord to the test by making their obedience to Him contingent on His meeting their demands. Moses warned the people to not put the Lord to the test as they did at Rephidim. The place near Rephidim where Moses struck the rock was named Massah [test] and Meribah [quarrel] in commemoration of the people’s lack of faith in God.
Moses again exhorted the people to observe God’s commandments. Their success in the Promised Land was dependant on their obedience to God. They were to “do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord” (6:18) rather than what is expedient in the sight of men. God’s will was to be their standard of conduct.
Instructions for the Children
Verse 20 reaffirms the importance of passing the faith on to the next generation. The covenant and commands were not intended for one generation only. They were to be passed on from generation to generation. Moses understood the inquisitive nature of children. He told the parents that the day would come when their children would ask them why they lived as they did (6:20). On that day, parents were to thoroughly explain the story of God’s redemptive activity to their children (6:21-23). “The parents’ mouths were large books, in which their children did read the noble acts of the Lord” (George Swinnock, Homiletical Commentary). Moses offered an outline of the answer parents should give to their children. It is simple enough for a child to understand: First, slavery in Egypt (6:21a). Second, miraculous deliverance (“with a mighty hand”) from Egypt (6:21b-22). Third, the journey to and safe arrival in the Promised Land (6:23). In addition, parents were to emphasize the practical benefits of obeying God’s commands, “for our good always and for our survival” (6:24), and that obeying God’s commands will result in righteousness (6:25).
Practical Consideration: We should encourage our children to ask questions regarding God. A Persian philosopher gave the following answer when asked concerning how he had acquired so much knowledge: “By not being prevented by shame from asking questions when I am ignorant.” Children are inquisitive by nature. Parents should provide an atmosphere in which their children are encouraged to ask questions about God. Parents should also be prepared to answer any questions their children might ask about God.