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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 1

A commentary on the first speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 1-4. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 19

The Ten Commandments

Deuteronomy 4:9 says,

9 Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.

God had worked many great miracles during Israel's sojourn in the wilderness. The fact that the people were being told not to forget this implies that these miracles would not necessarily be repeated in later generations. Hence, they had a need to keep a record of these events and to relate them to succeeding generations.

The parting of the Red Sea was repeated in a partial manner 40 years later when God caused Israel to cross the Jordan on dry ground, but once they came into the Promised Land, the manna ceased (Joshua 5:12). Never again did God bring water out of the rock. Fiery serpents were seen no more, and God never told Israel to construct a bronze serpent again. Never again did God come down upon a mountain in fire and smoke to speak directly to the people.

God moves on to do new things according to present needs. Miracles do not cease, but they change. When Israel fought a battle against the Amorites in Canaan, God caused the sun to stand still for a day (Josh. 10:13).

We can always expect God to do miracles, but we cannot expect Him to do the same miracles in every generation. We ought to have a fresh relationship with God, rather than try to imitate the saints from the past. The miraculous examples that are recorded for us are designed to inspire us to see that God is well able to meet every new and different challenge that we face as time marches on.

10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.”

Although God never did this again, we can learn much from that event by seeing that it was a prophetic type and pattern of Pentecost in Acts 2. The difference was that the mount was now in a new location, and the fire came upon the heads of the disciples, rather than on the top of the mountain. We can see from this that the purpose of Pentecost was to hear the voice of God. By hearing His voice, the law was to be written on our hearts by the power of His Spirit.

The Heart of the Heavens

In Deuteronomy 4:11 Moses continues,

11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom.

This implies a pillar of fire, extending into the heavens. The “heart of the heavens” is an interesting phrase, because the Hebrew word for “heart” is leb, which has a numeric value of 32. This is the biblical number for “covenant.” God came down as fire to reveal His heart and to make covenant with Israel. Of course, they broke that covenant, and so it was necessary later to make a new covenant.

When Jesus died on the cross, and was later raised from the dead, He brought us out of the house of bondage in order to bring us to Pentecost, where He established the New Covenant. We tend to think that the New Covenant was established at the cross, but that would be like saying that God made the Old Covenant with Israel at Passover while they were in Egypt. Passover was a necessary requirement, of course, but Pentecost was the time for both of the covenants to be ratified—old and new.

The Unquenchable Fire of God’s Nature

12 Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice.

Why did God manifest Himself as fire? Fire has no specific form, for it constantly changes its appearance. Fire also burns the flesh, so it portrays the purpose of “the baptism of fire” that John prophesied in Matt. 3:11 and 12,

11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Wheat must be threshed in order to remove its chaff, the protective outer shell. The chaff is burned by the fire. In other words, the “wheat” represents those who experience Pentecost, and the fire is designed to burn the “chaff” (fleshly works) from the Pentecostal believers.

This is accomplished by God's “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2), as it is written in their hearts. John the Baptist calls it “unquenchable fire,” because no man can prevent the nature of God from its purpose, and no flesh can quench it by sheer quantity.

True Pentecost is not a place of fleshly comfort. It is a place where flesh is burned and crucified with Christ. If no flesh is burned, then there is no true Pentecost in one's life. If we run from the fire, we are no different from the Israelites in Moses' day, who also ran and refused to hear the rest of the law (Ex. 20:18-21). If men refuse to hear the law, then the law is not being written on the heart, and Pentecost is largely an illusion.

Tables of Stone

Moses continues in Deuteronomy 4:13,

13 So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the ten commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.

When the Ten Commandments were first spoken in Exodus 20, God said nothing about writing them on tablets of stone. The tablets were necessary only after the people refused to hear God's voice directly. Their refusal to hear indicated fear, which induced them to resist rather than accept the law. For this reason, they needed a written record of the law, so that the law could restrain their fleshly impulses until they could hear His voice and be changed inwardly.

So we see that God spoke the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but the tables of stone were ordained later in Ex. 24:12 and given to Moses finally in Ex. 31:18. Those first tablets were broken in Ex. 32:19, and new tablets were made in Ex. 34:1-4.

These two sets of tablets prophesy of the two covenants that God would make with us. Under the first covenant, the law was broken; but under the second covenant, the law was kept perfectly by Jesus Christ Himself. We, as believers, are then instructed to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

The Rest of the Law

Moses continues in Deuteronomy 4:14,

14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.

The Ten Commandments only summarized the ten main categories of God’s law. Understanding the commandments required further revelation that is found in the statutes and judgments. This more detailed teaching was necessary on account of Israel's refusal to hear God's voice directly. In Exodus 20:19 the people said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”

If Israel refused to hear God directly, how would they be able to hear God's voice through Moses? Unfortunately, the people did not have ears to hear, and so they could only hear Moses himself (as a man). To hear God produces faith; to hear a man can only persuade people. Faith and persuasion are two different things. True Pentecost, which Israel could not receive at the time, gives us the ability to hear the voice of God—whether by direct revelation or through a mediator such as Moses, the prophets, or any other who is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

And so the psalmist writes in Psalm 40,

6 Sacrifice and meal offering Thou hast not desired; My ears Thou hast opened; Burnt offering and sin offering Thou hast not required. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; 8 I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.”

If God opens our ears, we find the law a delight, because it is within our hearts.