The Ten Commandments – Deuteronomy 5

Read the Passage: Deuteronomy 5

The First Three Commandments (5:6–11)

Deuteronomy 5:6 is sometimes called the prologue to the Ten Commandments, for this verse does not give any directions, rather it reveals the source behind the Decalogue, who is God. In beginning the Ten Commandments with a statement of self-revelation, God was communicating the fact that these moral laws are not arbitrary rules, as if it were possible for God to have commanded the opposite or even different laws. Indeed, since God roots the Decalogue in His own self-revelation, we can discern that these commands are not right and true simply because God stated them; rather, the moral laws recorded in Deut. 5:6–22 are right and true because they are a revelation and reflection of God’s moral character. To cite the sixth commandment as an example, it is right for man to respect innocent human life (or, said differently, to not murder) because God respects innocent human life.

The first three commandments, as well as the fourth, share a commonality in that they each deal with ways in which man is to love and to worship God. To elaborate, the first commandment focuses on the internal love of God, the second commandment focuses on the external love of God, the third commandment focuses on the verbal love of God, and the fourth commandment—which we’ll unpack in more detail below—focuses on the temporal love of God. These first four commandments, which are sometimes called the first table of the law, define for us how to order our relationship with God. Taken together, Jesus taught that these moral precepts are the first and greatest commandment of the law (cf. Matt. 22:38), and can be summarized as “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind” (Deut. 6:5).

The Fourth Commandment (5:12–15)

The fourth commandment in the Decalogue reminds us to “observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:12). Of all the moral laws, this commandment is the one over which Christians seem to disagree the most—and it is arguably the moral law that has been the most abused, either by neglect or by distortion. Several factors have contributed to the confusion over this law. First, the fourth commandment is the longest of the Ten Commandments; thus, there is more information in this command to process. Second, whereas the first three commands focus on one’s relationship with God, and the last six commands focus on one’s relationship with others, the fourth commandment relates both to God and to man. Third, of all the moral laws in the Decalogue, the fourth commandment is the only law that is formulated differently in its statement in Exod. 20:8–11 and Deut. 5:12–15.

Upon careful investigation, it is clear that the Sabbath command is not something that believers ought to fear. Rather, as Isaiah taught, we can “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isa. 58:13). Each of the Ten Commandments has what could be called a specific and a broad application. To return to our earlier example, regarding the sixth commandment, believers are specifically prohibited from murder. More broadly speaking, however, this moral law prohibits speaking hateful words about others (cf. Matt. 5:21–26). Concerning the fourth commandment, Christians are specifically called to observe a regular time of worship (cf. Heb. 10:25). More broadly speaking, though, the fourth commandment exhorts believers to live their entire lives characterized by the rest we have in Christ. Indeed, Jesus reminds us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light (cf. Matt. 6:31–34; 11:28–30).

The Last Six Commandments (5:16–22)

Commands five through ten of the Decalogue are often referred to as the second table of the law. These six moral laws share a commonality in that they each deal with an aspect of the relationships that exist among mankind. To elaborate, the fifth commandment focuses on the sanctity of human authority, the sixth commandment focuses on the sanctity of human life, the seventh commandment focuses on the sanctity of human intimacy, the eighth commandment focus on the sanctity of human property, the ninth commandment focuses on the sanctity of human reputation, and the tenth commandment focuses on the sanctity of human motives. In fact, in quoting Lev. 19:18 Jesus taught that these six moral laws can be summarized with the teaching, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Observe that this same teaching was given by Paul at Rom. 13:8–10.

Application Questions:

  1. Why do you think the Ten Commandments were more prevalent, both in the church and in the culture, in earlier generations?
  2. In what ways do the Ten Commandments function differently in the lives of unbelievers as compared to believers?
  3. Why do some believers affirm the legitimacy of the Ten Commandments, but then deny the applicability of the fourth commandment?
  4. While salvation has always been by faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:8), theoretically, was salvation by law-keeping ever a possibility (cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:21)?
  5. Is there any moral issue that is not addressed by at least one of the Ten Commandments? Does the Decalogue restrict or promote personal freedom?