Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it:VI.
FIRST PORTION OF THE COMMENTARY ON THE LAW(Deuteronomy 6-11).
(1) These are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord . . . commanded . . . that ye might do them in the land.—After the Decalogue itself has been recapitulated, Moses proceeds to apply its principles to the conduct of Israel in the promised land. The first part of the application is more general, and concerns the relation of Israel to Jehovah, who has brought them from Egypt through the wilderness to the promised land. This portion concludes with Deuteronomy 11. The precepts that follow are particular, and concern the land of Israel viewed as the seat of (1) the worship and (2) the kingdom of Jehovah. But the whole discourse, from Deuteronomy 4:44 to the end of Deuteronomy 26 is presented to us as one unbroken whole. (See Introduction for a complete analysis.)
The commandments.—Literally, this is the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments. The “commandment” is the duty imposed on Israel by the covenant of the ten words—its application to their daily lives. This application includes (1) statutes, religious ordinances, or institutions; and (2) judgments, requirements, actual rules of behaviour. The two words “statutes” and “judgments,” in the original, may sometimes represent two aspects of the same thing. For example, the Passover is an ordinance, or “statute,” or, as we should say, an “institution.” The rules for its observance are “judgments,” or requirements. The thing itself is permanent; the rules for its observance may vary. It was originally eaten standing, and in haste. But after Israel was at rest, it was eaten by them reclining, and in an attitude of repose. Again, the moral law as a whole was eternal; but its application to the life of Israel was very different from its application to ourselves. The word here rendered “commandments” is now commonly employed by the Jews to signify any religious duty or good work.
Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.(3) That ye may increase mightily . . . in the land.—The position of Israel in the land, and their continuance therein, depended entirely on their fulfilment of the purpose for which they were brought there—the observance of the Law of Jehovah, as it applied to their peculiar situation.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:(4, 5) Hear, O Israel . . .—These two verses are styled by our Lord “the first and great commandment” in the Law. The first words of the Talmud concern the hours when this form should be recited in daily morning or evening prayer—“Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah” The unity of Jehovah, as opposed to the belief in “gods many and lords many,” is the key-note of the Jewish faith. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” But this truth, though visible in the Old Testament by the light of the New, was not explicitly revealed until it came forth in history, when the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, and both sent the Holy Spirit to represent Him in the Church.
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.(5) With all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.—The word “heart” has been taken both as “thought” and “affection.” Hence, perhaps, the four terms, “heart, mind, soul, and strength,” which we find in St. Mark 12:30. Bashi says upon the expression “all thy heart”—“with both natures” (the good and evil nature). “With all thy soul” he expounds thus: “Even though He take it (thy life) from thee.” And “with all thy might” he paraphrases in a truly practical and characteristic fashion, “With all thy money, for you sometimes find a man whose money is dearer to him than his life (or body).” Or, as an alternative, “in every condition which He allots to thee, whether prosperity or chastisement. And so He says in David, ‘I will take the cup of salvation (deliverances), and I will call on the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 116:13); and again. ‘I shall find trouble and heaviness, and I will call on the name of the Lord’” (Deuteronomy 6:3-4.) It is an interesting illustration of the passage, though the verbal connection on which it is based will not hold.
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.(7) And thou shalt teach them diligently.—The same Jewish commentator remarks that there should be no hesitation in answering anything that a man might ask. Had this system of education been carried on from the first, the history of Israel would hare been very different from what it is.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.(8) And thou shalt bind them . . .—From this precept the Jews derive the use of the Tephillin, the portions of the Law which they bind upon the head or arm when about to pray.
And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,(10-13) The song of Moses supplies a prophetic comment upon this in Deuteronomy 32:15 : “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked . . . then he forsook God.” “In all time of our wealth, good Lord, deliver us.”
Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.(13) Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him.—Literally, Jehovah thy God thou shalt fear, and him shalt thou serve: i.e., Him only, as translated by the LXX., and cited by our Lord in His temptation. It is remarkable that all His answers to the tempter were taken not only from Deuteronomy, but from one and the same portion of Deuteronomy—Deuteronomy 5-10 inclusive—the portion which applies the principles of the Decalogue to Israel’s life.
And shalt swear by his name.—Comp. Exodus 23:13. “Make no mention of the name of other gods.” The principle was not unknown to the patriarchs. Laban appealed to the “God of Nahor,” but “Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:53). (Comp. Jeremiah 5:7 : “Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by . . . no-gods.”)
(For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.(15) From off the face of the earth.—Literally, of the ground. Absolute extermination is threatened by the fire of His jealousy.
Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.(16) Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God.—In the LXX., “Thou shalt not tempt,” and so where our Lord used it against the tempter (Matthew 4 and Luke 4).
As ye tempted him in Massah.—How did they tempt Him in Massah? By raising the unbelieving question, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Even by the side of Satan upon the giddy pinnacle of the Temple, our Saviour refused to doubt the care of Jehovah. He would not throw Himself from thence into the arms of the angels to escape Satan, but “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” To this standard of action Israel was called in face of the powers of evil. But it was not always realised.
And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers,(18) And that thou mayest go in and possess.—This should be taken with what follows, “Possess,” so as “to cast out all thine enemies from before thee” (Deuteronomy 6:19). There was no question now whether Israel should pass the Jordan; but how far the conquest of Canaan would be completed, or within what period of time, depended upon their faithfulness to His decrees. That it was delayed by their disobedience is clear from Judges 2:20-23.
And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you?(20) What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments.—These three words appear for the first time together in the introduction to this discourse (Deuteronomy 4:45). The Law, or Torah, includes charges, and institutions, and requirements. The Decalogue itself is primarily the Torah; the charge which follows may come under the head of “testimony.” The “statutes” and “judgments” more properly describe the contents of the chapters from Deuteronomy 11-26 inclusive.
Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand:(21) The Lord brought us out of Egypt.—The simple explanation of the obligations of the Law given in these verses is based upon the message of Jehovah to Israel from Sinai. in Exodus 19:3-6 : “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how Ì bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me.” The keeping of the Law of Jehovah by Israel as a nation in the land that He gave them was the final cause of their national existence. This fundamental fact must never be forgotten. This alone would justify what had been done to Egypt. Hence the neglect of the Law must inevitably bring down the Divine vengeance.
And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.(25) And it shall be our righteousness.—In one Targum, “It shall be merit to us,” or more fully, in the other, “It shall be merit laid up for us against the world to come.” In the LXX., “It shall be alms to us.” This conjunction of ideas will help to explain why in Matthew 6:1 “alms” and “righteousness” occur as alternative readings. We have “alms” in the Authorised Version, “righteousness” in the Revised Version. To this day the Jews call alms ts’dâkah, “righteousness.”