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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Deuteronomy 6

Verses 1-3

Announcement of the commandments which follow, with a statement of the reason for communicating them, and the beneficent results of their observance. המּצוה , that which is commanded, i.e., the substance of all that Jehovah had commanded, synonymous therefore with the Thorah (Deuteronomy 4:44). The words, “ the statutes and the rights,” are explanatory of and in apposition to “ the commandment.” These commandments Moses was to teach the Israelites to keep in the land which they were preparing to possess (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1).

Deuteronomy 6:2

The reason for communicating the law was to awaken the fear of God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 5:26), and, in fact, such fear of Jehovah as would show itself at all times in the observance of every commandment. “ Thou and thy son: ” this forms the subject to “ thou mightest fear,” and is placed at the end for the sake of emphasis. The Hiphil האריך has not the transitive meaning, “to make long,” as in Deuteronomy 5:30, but the intransitive, to last long, as in Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12, etc.

Deuteronomy 6:3

The maintenance of the fear of God would bring prosperity, and the increase of the nation promised to the fathers. In form this thought is not connected with Deuteronomy 6:3 as the apodosis, but it is appended to the leading thought in Deuteronomy 6:1 by the words “ Hear therefore, O Israel! ” which correspond to the expression “ to teach you ” in Deuteronomy 6:1. אשׁר , that, in order that (as in Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 4:10, etc.). The increase of the nation had been promised to the patriarchs from the very first (Genesis 12:1; cf. Leviticus 26:9). - On “ milk and honey,” see at Exodus 3:8.

Verses 4-9

With Deuteronomy 6:4 the burden of the law commences, which is not a new law added to the ten commandments, but simply the development and unfolding of the covenant laws and rights enclosed as a germ in the decalogue, simply an exposition of the law, as had already been announced in Deuteronomy 1:5. The exposition commences with an explanation and enforcing of the first commandment. There are two things contained in it: (1) that Jehovah is the one absolute God; (2) that He requires love with all the heart, all the soul, and all the strength. “ Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”

As the one God, therefore, Israel was to love Jehovah its God with all its heart, with all its soul, and with all its strength. The motive for this is to be found in the words “thy God,” in the fact that Jehovah was Israel's God, and had manifested Himself to it as one God. The demand “ with all the heart” excludes all half-heartedness, all division of the heart in its love. The heart is mentioned first, as the seat of the emotions generally and of love in particular; then follows the soul ( nephesh ) as the centre of personality in man, to depict the love as pervading the entire self-consciousness; and to this is added, “with all the strength,” sc., of body and soul. Loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and strength is placed at the head, as the spiritual principle from which the observance of the commandments was to flow (see also Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 30:6). It was in love that the fear of the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:12), hearkening to His commandments (Deuteronomy 11:13), and the observance of the whole law (Deuteronomy 11:22), were to be manifested; but love itself was to be shown by walking in all the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:16). Christ therefore calls the command to love God with all the heart “the first and great commandment,” and places on a par with this the commandment contained in Leviticus 19:8 to love one's neighbour as oneself, and then observes that on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27).

But for the love of God to be of the right kind, the commandments of God must be laid to heart, and be the constant subject of thought and conversation. “ Upon thine heart: ” i.e., the commandments of God were to be an affair of the heart, and not merely of the memory (cf. Deuteronomy 11:18). They were to be enforced upon the children, talked of at home and by the way, in the evening on lying down and in the morning on rising up, i.e., everywhere and at all times; they were to be bound upon the hand for a sign, and worn as bands (frontlets) between the eyes (see at Exodus 13:16). As these words are figurative, and denote an undeviating observance of the divine commands, so also the commandment which follows, viz., to write the words upon the door-posts of the house, and also upon the gates, are to be understood spiritually; and the literal fulfilment of such a command could only be a praiseworthy custom or well-pleasing to God when resorted to as the means of keeping the commandments of God constantly before the eye. The precept itself, however, presupposes the existence of this custom, which is not only met with in the Mahometan countries of the East at the present day (cf. A . Russell, Naturgesch. v. Aleppo, i. p. 36; Lane, Sitten u. Gebr. i. pp. 6, 13, ii. p. 71), but was also a common custom in ancient Egypt (cf. Wilkinson, Manners and Customs, vol. ii. p. 102).

(Note: The Jewish custom of the Medusah is nothing but a formal and outward observance founded upon this command. It consists in writing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-20 upon a piece of parchment, which is then placed upon the top of the doorway of houses and rooms, enclosed in a wooden box; this box they touch with the finger and then kiss the finger on going either out or in. S. Buxtorf, Synag. Jud. pp. 582ff.; and Bodenschatz. Kirchl. Verfassung der Juden, iv. pp. 19ff.)

Verses 10-11

To the positive statement of the command there is attached, in the next place, the negative side, or a warning against the danger to which prosperity and an abundance of earthly goods so certainly exposed, viz., of forgetting the Lord and His manifestations of mercy. The Israelites were all the more exposed to this danger, as their entrance into Canaan brought them into the possession of all the things conducive to well-being, in which the land abounded, without being under the necessity of procuring these things by the labour of their own hands; - into the possession, namely, of great and beautiful towns which they had not built, of houses full of all kinds of good things which they had not filled, of wells ready made which they had not dug, of vineyards and olive-plantations which they had not planted. - The nouns ערים , etc. are formally dependent upon לך לתת , and serve as a detailed description of the land into which the Lord was about to lead His people.

Verses 12-13

House of bondage,” as in Exodus 13:3. “ Not forgetting ” is described from a positive point of view, as fearing God, serving Him, and swearing by His name. Fear is placed first, as the fundamental characteristic of the Israelitish worship of God; it was no slavish fear, but simply the holy awe of a sinner before the holy God, which includes love rather than excludes it. “Fearing” is a matter of the heart; “serving,” a matter of working and striving; and “swearing in His name,” the practical manifestation of the worship of God in word and conversation. It refers not merely to a solemn oath before a judicial court, but rather to asseverations on oath in the ordinary intercourse of life, by which the religious attitude of a man involuntarily reveals itself.

Verses 14-16

The worship of Jehovah not only precludes all idolatry, which the Lord, as a jealous God, will not endure (see at Exodus 20:5), but will punish with destruction from the earth (“the face of the ground,” as in Exodus 32:12); but it also excludes tempting the Lord by an unbelieving murmuring against God, if He does not remove any kind of distress immediately, as the people had already sinned at Massah, i.e., at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7).

Verses 17-19

They were rather to observe all His commandments diligently, and do what was right and good in His eyes. The infinitive וגו להדף contains the further development of וגו ייטב למען : “ so that He (Jehovah) thrust out all thine enemies before thee, as He hath spoken ” (viz., Exodus 23:27., Deuteronomy 34:11).

Verses 20-24

In Deuteronomy 6:20-25, the teaching to the children, which is only briefly hinted at in Deuteronomy 6:7, is more fully explained. The Israelites were to instruct their children and descendants as to the nature, meaning, and object of the commandments of the Lord; and in reply to the inquiries of their sons, to teach them what the Lord had done for the redemption of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, and how He had brought them into the promised land, and thus to awaken in the younger generation love to the Lord and to His commandments. The “ great and sore miracles ” (Deuteronomy 6:22) were the Egyptian plagues, like מפתּים , in Deuteronomy 4:34. - “ To fear,” etc., i.e., that we might fear the Lord.

Verse 25

And righteousness will be to us, if we observe to do: ” i.e., our righteousness will consist in the observance of the law; we shall be regarded and treated by God as righteous, if we are diligent in the observance of the law. “ Before Jehovah ” refers primarily, no doubt, to the expression, “to do all these commandments;” but, as we may see from Deuteronomy 24:13, this does not prevent the further reference to the “ righteousness” also. This righteousness before Jehovah, it is true, is not really the gospel “righteousness of faith;” but there is no opposition between the two, as the righteousness mentioned here is not founded upon the outward (pharisaic) righteousness of works, but upon an earnest striving after the fulfilment of the law, to love God with all the heart; and this love is altogether impossible without living faith.

Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.