Words of Praise
In the silence before time began,
in the quiet of the womb,
in the stillness of early morning
is your beauty.
At the heart of all creation.
at the birth of every creature,
at the center of each moment
is your splendor.
Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter, p. 38
1. The Ten Commandments are understood as a form of a “higher law” that stands behind and above all human systems of law. They do not, however, elaborate new areas of life that need to be regulated. These subjects have formed the basis of numerous statements of religious law. As part of Torah, the Commandments are a document of Israel’s faith. Yet they have been understood within both Judaism and Christianity as an essentially universal ethical document.
2. The ten provisions combine one’s duties to God (verses 6-15) and one’s duties to fellow human beings (verses 16-21).
3. Despite much speculation, it is of no great significance that eight of the ten are set out as prohibitions.
4. The Commandments are distinguished as direct speech of God. They are not simply the speech of Moses. In almost all other cases, it is the prophets who utter such directives, but only “in the name of the Lord.” In the Commandments we hear the voice of God.
This Week’s Prayer
This passage records a significant event in the history of Israel: coming to terms with the death of Moses. Moses had been the primary revealer and spokesman of God throughout his lifetime. His death would take away their leader, the nation’s source of wisdom and guidance.
In providing for the future, the crucial decision was not the choice of Joshua as the successor of Moses. No single person, even one as obedient and courageous as Joshua, could replace Moses.
The important decision was to write down the book of the law which Moses had received from God (Genesis-Deuteronomy), entrust its safekeeping to the sons of Levi, and provide that every seven years at the Festival of Booths it should be read to the gathered nation. From this time on Israel would be known as “the people of the book.”
The reading of the law was a way of insuring that, generation after generation, Israel recalled its foundational covenant with God and remained faithful.
Ronald Clements makes a contemporary application: “At many periods of their respective histories, both Jews and Christians have encountered problems from those who have believed that this book-orientation of their religion is irksome and tiresome. Should not religion be free and completely open to wherever the Spirit may lead? Such has been the reasoning of those who have felt constrained by the need for biblical instruction. Yet such freedom has all too often become a byway to disaster akin to exploring a land without a map.”
This passage, following immediately on the giving of the Ten Commandments (5:6-21), summarizes the central importance of that experience and of the Commandments themselves to the life of Israel.
1. Two distinct but parallel themes run through this passage. On the one hand, the Commandments are received with fear and dread. A voice speaks out of fire, cloud, impenetrable darkness, and the awesome sound of thunder. The people are terrified by what they have seen, felt, and heard.
2. On the other hand, they have had the unique privilege of encountering God. Indeed, Moses has seen God and lived. In the Commandments the Israelites have the opportunity for a rich and hopeful future.
3. The emphasis finally falls on paying heed to the Commandments God has given and following them faithfully. The Israelites could live life on a new level through obedience to the divine expectations. The last several verses underscore the critical necessity of obedience. “You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. . . . You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.” (verses 32-33)