A Bible Lesson on Deuteronomy 6

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson is a small variant of one taught at Grand Avenue Baptist in Ames, Iowa, in May 2016.  The text is Deuteronomy 6.  This is one of the grandest chapters in all of Scripture.  It is our great privilege to open it and savor the great grace of God that it presents.  The immediate context of the text is Moses’s review of the 10 Commandments, as the people Israel are gathered on the plains of Jordan, ready enter the promised land.  The broader context is that of all Christian people as we ready ourselves for today, tomorrow, and a promised glorious eternity in the presence of the King of Kings.

Deuteronomy is “the second law,” and the 10 Commandments are reviewed in the chapter just before this one.  In Matthew 22 and Luke 10 and Mark 12, the lawyer of the Sadducees asks Jesus “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” or “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” or “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus doesn’t answer with one of the 10 Commandments of Chapter 5, but rather with (slight variants of) verse 5 of this chapter:

Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

This is the central matter of the whole chapter, and indeed the whole Biblical revelation.  There are things to know, things to do, things to avoid, attitudes to have, attitudes to not have, virtues to exhibit, and vices to flee.  But fundamental is this: to love Yahweh/the I AM, the only true God, the God of the Bible, with absolutely every fiber of one’s being.  The rest is important, but to some degree is detail that follows from the central matter.  The Westminster Catechism begins with Q1: What is the chief end of man?  A1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  The first concern of all genuinely Biblical teaching is that above all, you and I love and honor our Creator.

With this in view, let us make our way through the chapter a few verses at a time.  Moses is speaking/preaching.

Deuteronomy 6:1  “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,

Now this is the commandment/”charge”—the “statutes” or things which God has defined, marked, and traced out so that we know what is pure conduct—and the “rules” or judgments, formal decrees by the great Judge of all—that  Yahweh your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them.  It is the will of God that Moses teach these things and that God’s people do them.  There aren’t so many specifics in this this chapter, but rather general principles.  They are general principles, but far more than suggestions or advice or techniques for skillful living.  These are the serious “charge”/commandment of the One who called Moses and has delivered Israel.

This charge—the statutes and rules—of this chapter are given in the context of verses 21b-23 and the gracious history of God’s deliverance of His people.

Deuteronomy 6:21  then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.

This is the Bible order.  Obedience does not produce deliverance.  It never did and it never can.  Rather, deliverance motivates obedience.  The gracious covenants preceded the giving of the law.  Abraham was called and justified by faith before Sinai.  Grace precedes works of righteousness, that can only be done in gratitude and humility.  Pharaoh’s slaves were delivered by the I AM before they were taught how to live.—But if a people is to live with the holy One, it needs to know His nature and what He desires.  This, Moses was to deliver to God’s chosen people on the plains of the Jordan, before they entered the promised land.

So, “Now this the charge— …”

Deuteronomy 6:2  that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.

There remains a right and correct reverence and holy fear of Yahweh.  He was the God of the Israelites.  He is our God in Christ.  He is favorably disposed and gracious to us.  But He is also completely out of our class.  And He is the very definition of “what is what.”  It would be absurd to flaunt rebellion against Him and yet expect to live well and prosper.  One might as well say “I don’t believe I’ll cooperate with the law of gravity.  I intend to go my own way and step wherever I choose, including off this cliff.”

So, Hear O Israel, how things really are at the very core of existence:

3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

The gracious will of God, the destiny of His people, is eternal good.  The Israelites were headed for a temporal promised land.  Christian believers are headed for something far more grand, not temporal but rather eternal.

What is the core of this revelation of life lived in line with God?   The center of the text is verses 4 through 6.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Various translations give verse 4 various shades of meaning.  Literally, it reads something like “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh one.”  There is a purposeful ambiguity in the original language of the 4-word statement about God.  It says a number of things, depending upon where (and how many times) the verb “is” is inserted.  It could be “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” (as the ESV renders it) or it could be “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.” or it could be “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.”  The phrase “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh one.” teaches that it is Yahweh/the I AM who is Israel’s God and the Christian’s God.  It teaches the essential unity of God—to the exclusion of even the possibility of any other real “gods.”  And it teaches the exclusive nature of Israel’s relationship with God (and the Christian’s relationship with God).  There is simply no room for anyone or anything else in God’s place.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  This One God is to be loved with every ounce of one’s being.  This is how what seem to the non-regenerate mind to be impossible moral “oughts” of God’s revealed Law become the “wants” of a person’s heart.  It’s how a self-righteous score-keeping earthbound person becomes one who is grieved by remaining sin that dishonors the great Person who has given forgiveness.  This is not sinless perfection.  It is the repenting heart of King David.  This is real faith and repentance.

These words, says verse 7, are to be on your hearts.  Far from being means of self-justification or intellectual abstractions, these words are a gracious constant guide to who God is and what He desires in His people.  If I love Him and He is truthful, I want to be truthful.  If I love Him and He is merciful and generous, I want to be similarly merciful and generous.  If there are things that He hates, I want no part of them.  These words become part of a believing person’s basic control system.  DA Carson put it this way: “True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.”

In some ways, Deuteronomy 6 gives form to the first two of the 10 Commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:6  “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 “‘You shall have no other gods before me.

8 “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

These commands: “No other ‘gods.'” and “No idols.”  How?  How?  Calvin correctly said that our hearts are idol factories.  Ruined by the fall, we cannot suppress idolatrous impulses by dint of negative effort.  Only a positive active passion for Yahweh alone, given by and empowered by His Spirit can shut down the idol factory.  That is His wonderful work in those who come in faith.  Thanks be to God!

We often use the modern idiom “What does it look like?”  In the present context … what does loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, “look like”?  The balance of the chapter gives some guidance.

Deuteronomy 6:7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

For one thing, Israelite family life was to be saturated with the love of the I AM.  Christian family life is to be saturated with the love of the I AM.  Children are to know that the one great passion of their parents’ lives is Christ.  The first impulse in good times and bad times is to be to turn to God in prayer.  Every situation is to be seen through the lens of the Scripture.  Every word spoken and action taken is to be understood as Corem Deo, before the face of God.  Days are to begin and end with God.

These things are to be true in the home.  These things are to go with believing people as they go out of the home.  The God who really is, who is loved with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength cannot become invisible as one goes out the front door.  Secular society pressures God’s people to act in public as if He is not there, as if He’s some silly private fiction.  But to the contrary, the Israelites were to see themselves as publicly marked people.  Christians are to see themselves as marked people, not in some easy way of wearing symbolic jewelry or a religious tee shirt, but in word and deed genuinely consistent with His presence.  Their dwellings are to be marked out, not with Jesus junk, but with real evidence of the presence and grace of God—with hospitality, with kindness, with compassion, with the fruit of the Spirit of God, with evident goodness and reverence for the Holy One, with clear testimony to His Kingship.

10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build,

11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full,

12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

God’s people Israel are about to enjoy great benefits for which they had not worked, benefits that they didn’t in any sense merit.  With those benefits comes the danger of ingratitude.  Moses has been around the block.  He’s 120 years old as he speaks here.  He knows the human condition, and as a good shepherd of God’s flock, he warns the people of the danger of forgetting, of taking the grace of God for granted.  He calls the people to be careful to dwell on the saving acts of the I AM.  They are never to lose track of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

Christian people are recipients of benefits and blessing immeasurably beyond anything experienced by Israel.  In view of this great grace, we are obliged to continually remind ourselves of God’s great deliverance of our souls in the work of Christ.  We never get beyond that fundamental.  It is our duty and joy to remember, to rehearse, to meditate on, to live constantly in the light of God’s redemption from bondage to sin, hell, and the grave.  A Christian life lived loving the I AM with all heart, soul, and might, is one that meditates and wonders constantly and joyously on its deliverance in Christ Jesus.

13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

You were “slaves” in Egypt, now you shall “serve” Him.  The words “slaves” in verse 12 and “serve” in verse 13 have the same Hebrew root.  It’s no accident that they are here back-to-back.  The Israelites have been taken from dark and miserable service to a cruel and oppressive human tyrant to bright privileged service of the great beneficent divine King of all.  In Christ, the I AM gives a far greater and lasting deliverance from bondage to His service.  The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Colossians 1:13  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

The Scriptures and human experience are clear.  We either serve God or we serve sin.  There is no other option.  The wonder is that God doesn’t leave us in the misery that human rebellion chooses and warrants, but instead gives redeemed people life in His good and blessed Kingdom in the service of Christ.

By His name you shall swear says 13b.  The veracity of the word of God’s people is guaranteed by their all-consuming love for the person of the God of truth.  Of course, Jesus takes verse 13b a step further in Matthew 5.  A life lived with passion for Yahweh is one where no oaths are needed and “yes is yes and no is no.”  God’s word is sure.  The word of a devoted Christian disciple is similarly sure without resort to offering a guarantee.

In a way, verses 14 and 15 restate things that have been said before in this chapter.

Deuteronomy 6:14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—

15 for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

It is only consistent with verse 5 and a whole-hearted love of the real God that there is no room for dabbling with other supposed deities, or really, any rivals for a person’s basic affections.  This is, again consistent with the first and second of the 10 commandments.  What is jarring to post-modern sensibilities in these two verses are the words “jealous,” “anger,” and “destroy.”  But that is the fault of impoverished post-modern Biblical understanding and pop theology.  Human jealousy is always small and hateful and ugly.  God’s jealousy is none of these.  It is instead His white-hot passion for all that He is, for all that is right and good and true.  Brothers and sisters, this would be an awful universe if God was not properly jealous and protective of those things.  But thanks be to Him, He is not indifferent to honor being given to made-up and corrupt objects of worship.  It is a wonderful thing that He is jealous for His own glory.  He could not be genuinely good and fail to hate and finally destroy evil and crush misrepresentations of good.  It is both wonderful and most serious and dangerous to be called to know, love, and represent such a God.

Here is another aspect/outworking of undivided love for the God of the Bible:

16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

The nature of putting God “to the test” is this: In human difficulty, there is the possibility of essentially saying to God “I don’t like this.  Get me out of it now.  I want XYZ.  If you don’t give it, I’ll presume that You aren’t for me or reliable or powerful enough to help me.”  That was what happened at Massah.  The people were thirsty and demanded that Moses produce water as a test of whether God was really with them.  God is pleased with cries for mercy and help from His children.  But this is something else entirely.  It forgets the past saving acts of God and substitutes in their place demands for signs of human choosing right now.  This is impertinence.  This is the “forgetting” of verse 12.  This is human arrogance presuming to order about the Creator and Sustainer of all.  This is antithetical to the pure love of God of verse 5.

17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.

Natural human rebellion against God’s Law, against the commandments, implicitly assumes that God’s Law is arbitrary, that it could be something else, that it is whim.  But it is not.  It is gracious revelation of His nature.

The word “testimonies” used here has interesting implications.  What is given in Deuteronomy points to or bears witness to something “beyond.”  The charge, the commandments, the statutes, are not ends in themselves, but testify/witness to who God is.  They reveal what is true and what is true about Him.  Real love of God gladly embraces them, and when embraced they give guidance to right living in the here and now.  You shall do what is right and good.

18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers

19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has promised.

Of course.  Doing right and good is consistent with walking with the One who is right and good.  It doesn’t justify one, but a person who doesn’t care about it doesn’t know Him.  And doing what is right and good, living in accord with Biblical revelation is prerequisite to sane blessed living in the here and now.

And now we come back to the context of the great commandment to love God with a whole heart.  In the ordinary rhythm of a God-honoring God-saturated family life, there will come times when the children will ask “Why do we live like this?  We’re not like others.  We spend our time and resources differently than they do.  We interact with people differently than they do.  We are people of the Book and they hold it in derision.  We honor the I AM and they ignore Him.  We love the Son, and they hate him.  So

20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’

21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.

The father is to answer: “We were slaves!”  Christian parents are to answer to their children: “We were slaves!”  Why do we live this way? We were slaves and have been delivered!  The nation of Israel is a picture for us of universal human slavery to corruption and death.  There was no possible way for the enslaved nation to get itself out of bondage.  Humanly speaking, it was doomed to horrible misery for the balance of its existence.  But “the LORD/Yahweh/the I AM brought us (Israel) out (of Egypt) with a mighty hand.”  Glory to God!

The Israelite father would go on “He did the impossible and led us over Jordan under His protection by His great presence.  He pledged Himself to us forever.  How, son, could we not love Him with a whole heart?”

Christian brothers and sisters, we were dead in sin, with no ability to escape eternal darkness, and He brought us out by the miracles of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and the work of His Spirit in our dead hearts.  How then could we not love Him with whole hearts?  How could we not choose to obey Him?

24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.

When God then graciously describes what life with Him must be like, how could our hearts not sing?  How could we not embrace His statutes?

25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’

Don’t hear what this doesn’t intend to say.  Moses is not promising forensic/judicial justification on the basis of obedience.  That would make absolutely no sense in context.  In the words of theologian Christopher Wright, the righteousness of verse 25 is “a righteousness that presumes the experience of redemption, not a righteousness that presumes to achieve redemption.”  The statement is that single-hearted love of God in response to His merciful sovereign deliverance motivates glad acceptance of His ways and produces the great joy and blessing of all of existence being fundamentally right, in line with who He is and how things really are.

Deuteronomy 6 is the Gospel of Moses.  The natural human condition is one of miserable slavery to sin and death.  God acts to deliver, doing for humans what they could never do for themselves.  The only sensible response to that redemption is a heart of unalloyed love for the I AM.  That love is lived out in humble gratitude and lives marked as belonging to the Redeemer.  The end is life that is fundamentally whole and good and blessed, now and forever.  Amen, Amen, and Amen!

Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done!  We love You.  Lead us in Your ways for Your own glory and our good in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.