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A commentary on the second speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 5-8. 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
In the previous chapter we focused upon the first great Commandment about loving God, which is explained in terms of the first five commandments in the law. The second tablet of the law, containing the final five commandments teach us how to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Deuteronomy 5:17 says, “You shall not murder.” It is self-evident that if we are to love our neighbor, we ought not to murder him. But the simple commandment does not distinguish between premeditated murder and accidental homicide. Neither does it tell us if killing in time of war is murder in the sight of God, nor if abortion is murder.
The commandment does not tell us what sort of judgment was to be imposed upon those guilty of murder or killing in general. To know those details, we must study the rest of the laws, statutes, and judgments.
Premeditated murder calls for the death penalty (Ex. 21:14). One who unintentionally killed another without malice was required to confine himself to one of the six cities of refuge, where he was to remain until the death of the high priest (Ex. 21:13; Deut. 19:11). This was a voluntary confinement that did not prevent the killer from supporting himself by whatever labor he could find. If he left the city of refuge, he could be executed by the victim's representative in court (“the redeemer of blood”) with full immunity (Num. 35:26-28).
Cases of premeditated murder, when proven by two or three witnesses, required the court to impose the death penalty. We read in Deut. 19:11-13,
11 But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities [of refuge], 12 then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger [ga’al, “redeemer”] of blood, that he may die. 13 You shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you.
The law is required to sentence murderers to death. However, keep in mind that the victims always retain their right of forgiveness. Both Jesus and Stephen forgave their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60), because this was their right. That right naturally passed to the victim's guardian or representative, known by the legal term, “redeemer of blood.” His responsibility was to represent the interests of God and his family when they were victimized by crime.
The ga’al h’dam, “redeemer of blood,” is the kinsman redeemer. The term “blood” in this case means a blood relative, or kinsman.
One of the most basic principles of biblical law is that the judgment must always be in direct proportion to the crime. The crime, then, must be matched proportionately to its resolution or restitution. Simple theft requires double restitution (Ex. 22:4) to the victim in order for justice to be accomplished.
In the case of murder, it is not possible to restore the loss to the victimized family—unless one has the power to raise the murder victim from the dead. And even if he could be raised up, the victim and his family have the right to demand double restitution.
It should be clear, however, that the victims always have the right of forgiveness. The law is only empowered to enforce the rights of the victims in their search for justice. Grace and mercy is always the right of a victim, though not of a judge in the performance of his office.
In case of accidental killing, God provided a city of refuge where the guilty person may live until the death of the high priest. The provision of the cities of refuge is a diminished form of the death penalty. The penalty is lessened on account of the unintentional nature of the homicide. The redeemer of blood again has the option of forgiving the manslayer, which in most cases would be the better option, seeing that the death was accidental. But if the redeemer remains angry, the manslayer can be protected by the law only within the boundaries of the city of refuge.
Deuteronomy 20 sets forth the laws of war. As long as a war is done according to the leading of the Spirit, it is not a sin. War is justified when it is done as part of an international enforcement of the law of God to restore the lawful order. If a nation refuses to pay restitution for some act of theft or aggression, then war is justified. But if a nation covets the resources of another nation and seeks a pretense for war, then it is an unjust war that is not warranted by the law of God.
Finally, Jesus tells us in Matt. 5:21 and 22,
21 You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell [“gehenna of fire”].
The law regulates actions, but the mind of God contemplates one’s heart and motive. Sin is not merely an act against one’s neighbor, but includes the root of that act, which is a matter of the heart. The weakness of the law is that earthly courts are not capable of enforcing thought crimes, because of human limitations. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court of God has no such limitations, for the Spirit of God searches the depths of every man’s heart.
Deuteronomy 5:18 says, “You shall not commit adultery.” Adultery is not justified by “love,” because men’s definition of love often differs from God’s view. God created love, and the First Commandment gives Him the right to define it as well.
The law of God establishes marriage relationships, and any union that is outside of the law is not recognized by the law as a marriage. Hence, only a lawful marriage can end in divorce, for all other relationships are “fornication” and are to be ended by separation, not by divorce.
For example, prostitution (sexual relations outside of marriage) is fornication. The lawful solution, then, is not a bill of divorce, but a separation and cessation of the relationship. Paul speaks of incest in 2 Cor. 5:1, calling it fornication. He made it clear that this union required immediate separation.
In Jude 7 we read of the type of “fornication” that was practiced in Sodom and Gomorrah, that is, gay marriage. This too is unlawful and requires separation. A bill of divorce is only required when the marriage is recognized by the law as legitimate.
Finally, Exodus 22:19 says, “whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.” Obviously, no bill of divorce is necessary in such a case, because such a union is not recognized as a marriage under biblical law.
The word for adultery is applied primarily to those who have sexual relations with someone else’s spouse or fiancé. But the word also has a broader meaning, “to mix,” or to adulterate something. Hence, the commandment carries a broader application than just violations of the marriage covenant. It includes fornication, which is any union or mixture that is unlawful or any “marriage” that is not recognized as valid under biblical law.
There are some who mistakenly believe that those who remarry after being divorced are guilty of adultery. This view is based primarily on a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:32.
The law not only allows divorce but also allows a divorced wife to remarry (Deut. 24:2). The only stipulation is that she must be lawfully divorced, having in her hand a writ of divorce. Without that writ, she is still legally married to her husband and cannot marry another man without committing adultery.
The problem in Moses’ day was that the common law of the nations allowed a man to divorce his wife with only a verbal statement. And so, many divorced wives had no proof of the divorce. If any of these remarried, they might always worry about a jealous ex-husband who might accuse her of adultery. So God mandated through Moses that a divorce must be given into her hand before putting her away.
The paper is the lawful divorce (apostasion). Sending her out of the house is the act of “putting her away” (apoluo). These are two distinct things that were supposed to go together in order to prevent possible injustice, but unfortunately, this was not always done. Hence, Moses’ law neither forbade nor condoned divorce, but was designed only to prevent injustice in case of divorce.
In Matthew 5 Jesus commented on the law in His “Sermon on the Mount.” Never did Jesus intend to contradict the law, as He Himself stated in Matthew 5:17-19. On that basis we are able to understand verses 31 and 32, where He gives a commentary on the true intent of the law regarding divorce and remarriage. I will quote this correctly by showing the distinction between divorce (apostasion) and “put away” (apoluo).
31And it was said, “Whoever divorces [apostasion] his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal”; 32 but I say to you that everyone who puts away [apoluo] his wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her commit adultery; and whoever married a put-away [apoluo] wife commits adultery.
In other words, when a man divorces his wife, he must first give her a written certificate of divorce before putting her away. If he does not do so, he causes her to commit adultery, if she should marry someone else—because she was not lawfully divorced from her previous husband.
Further, anyone who marries a woman who has been put away (without divorce papers) also commits adultery by marrying her. In the law, no woman is allowed to have two husbands.
The exception is “for the cause of fornication,” because in cases of fornication, or unlawful unions, divorce is unnecessary. The solution to fornication is apoluo, or separation, the act of putting away. Divorce ends a lawful marriage. Separation ends an unlawful union.
When we recognize the distinction between divorce and putting away, this law becomes understandable, and we can see that Jesus did not contradict Moses.
Deut. 5:19 says, “You shall not steal.” If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will not steal from them. Most people understand what theft is, but some cases are not as clear without an understanding of the law.
Exodus 22 gives us the basic laws against theft and the penalties or judgments of the law. In verse 1, we read that if a man steals an ox (tools of a man’s trade), he is to repay fivefold. If he steals a sheep, he is to repay just fourfold.
If the stolen object is recovered intact (or alive), the penalty is “he shall pay double” (Ex. 22:4). In other words, the stolen property is returned to the owner, along with another payment of equal value.
This is the Golden Rule in reverse, for the thief ends up losing whatever assets that his victim might have lost.
The law goes on to tell us that a man is liable if he destroys another man’s property. If fire destroys a field, the one who lit the fire is responsible as the owner of the fire. He must restore what was damaged or destroyed, but does not have to pay additional restitution, because it was an accident.
Another example is if a man entrusts his neighbor with property which is later stolen. Who is liable? If the neighbor is found to be guilty of theft, then he must pay restitution. But if there is no proof, and the victim suspects that his trusted neighbor has robbed him, he is to settle the issue by taking his neighbor to the Supreme Court of God. The priest then is to administer an oath of innocence (Ex. 22:11), in accordance with the Third Commandment, and the matter is then left to God for adjudication.
In Deut. 22 we find that lost “sheep” were to be returned to the owner if possible. If the owner was not known, the property was to be cared for by the finder until the rightful owner came to claim it. If someone laid claim to another person’s lost property, he was guilty of theft.
This is the underlying basis for God’s criticism of the shepherds who laid claim to the lost sheep of the House of Israel in Ezekiel 34. The lost sheep belonged to God, but the shepherds (pastors) were supposed to care for God’s sheep until He came to claim them. Instead, the shepherds treated the lost sheep as if they owned them.
This law is also seen in Jesus’ parable in Matt. 13:44, where we read of hidden treasure (presumably lost). If a man happens to find it, he cannot lay claim to it as if it were his own. The treasure is owned by the owner of the field. So in the parable the man had to buy the field before he could lay claim to the treasure.
This parable is really about Jesus Christ, who found the lost sheep of the House of Israel. They were the “peculiar treasure” (Ex. 19:5) lost in the “field,” which is the world (Matt. 13:38). In order for Jesus to own the hidden treasure, He had to buy the field first. If He had simply claimed the treasure without first buying the field, He would have been convicted as a thief and a sinner.
And so we see that He died for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2) and not just Israel. Once He had paid the purchase price for the world, He owned the “field” and could lay claim to the treasure (Israel) that was hidden in it.
Finally, Scripture teaches us that usury (interest on money) is theft. Yet the law of usury distinguishes between loans to foreigners and loans to those who live according the laws of the Kingdom. Deut. 23:19, 20 says,
19 You shall not charge interest to your countryman: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countryman you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.
The “foreigner” in this case is one living outside of the Kingdom in a land that does not recognize the Creator as King, nor does it follow His laws. A Kingdom citizen was not obliged to loan money to such a foreigner who, in turn, could charge others interest on money. Under God’s law, the foreigner could be treated according to his own standard of measure (Matt. 7:2).
On the other hand, if a foreigner living in the Kingdom and abiding by the law of the land should become impoverished, he was to be treated by the same standard of measure that any other citizen was to be treated (Leviticus 25:35-37). Israel was not to oppress aliens in the land, for all aliens were bound to obey the law of God. Numbers 15:15, 16 says,
15 As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
For this reason, the law forbids any Israelite or alien to charge usury to a neighbor. Love does not steal from others.
Deut. 5:20 says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The difference between the Third and the Ninth Commandment is that the Third applies to a court of law and our love of God, whereas the Ninth applies more personally to our dealings with our neighbors.
If a man or woman falsely swears an oath of innocence before God, it is blasphemy, and God will judge him or her accordingly. But if a man bears false witness in an earthly court of law, the judges were to pass judgment upon him according to the intent of his false testimony. Deut.19:16-18 says,
16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days, 18 and the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother.
In other words, whatever restitution a false witness had hoped to receive from the innocent victim is what the false witness must pay the victim. The judgment always fits the crime, and it is then the right of the victim to take all that is due to him or to forgive any portion of it as he might be led by the Spirit.
If a false witness accuses his neighbor of premeditated murder, then the false witness himself could be executed for his crime, for that was what he intended for his victim.
The law of witnesses also applies to the most basic laws of creation, where heaven and earth form two witnesses (Deut. 4:26). It is the basis of marriage, where a husband and wife are each expected to hear God’s voice and provide a double witness to each other in knowing the will of God for the family.
Their success, of course, is based upon their ability to be true and faithful witnesses of what they have heard God tell them. If there is any heart idolatry in either party, at least one of them will bear false witness, conflict will arise, and the marriage will become less than what God intended it to be.
In fact, heart idolatry always distorts or hinders our communica-tion with God in every area of life. It is the key problem any time we seek to be God’s true witnesses.
Jesus Himself is said to be “a true and faithful witness” in Rev. 3:14,
14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea, write: “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God, says this…”
Jesus was a true witness, as He says in John 8:28, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” He is thus called “The Amen,” for all that He did was an Amen to what the Father was doing. All that Jesus spoke was an Amen to what the Father was speaking.
If we follow His example, we too can be an Amen people and thus fulfill the Ninth Commandment.
Deut. 5:21 says,
21 You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
In Col. 3:5 the Apostle Paul equates covetousness with idolatry, because we worship that which we covet, if we are willing to sin to obtain it.
This is the only commandment that carries no penalty in an earthly court of law. Murder and adultery may carry the death penalty, theft is judged by double restitution, and bearing false witness is judged according to what the victim might have had to pay. But covetousness is a crime of the heart, which carries no penalty in an earthly court until it motivates some action against one’s neighbor.
God, however, knows all hearts and considers all covetousness to be sin, because such motives fall short of the character of Christ and the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
When Jesus said in Matt. 5:28 that “everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart,” He was basing His interpretation upon the Tenth Commandment. The Sermon on the Mount was designed to show how the Tenth Commandment works in conjunction with all of the other commandments.
To hate one’s brother was to covet his life and was the equivalent of murder, in light of the Tenth Commandment.
To covet another man’s wife was the equivalent of adultery, in light of the Tenth Commandment.
To covet another man’s property was the equivalent of theft, in the light of the Tenth Commandment. This applies to bearing false witness as well, because that sin is designed to steal something from a neighbor, whether property or his life itself.
The Tenth Commandment, then, can be viewed as a summary of all the others. Yet it is more than a summary, for it is the revelation that God is not merely concerned with actions, but also with motive and intent. The weakness of the law is that it cannot penalize thoughts and intents of the heart. Yet such things are still exposed by the Tenth Commandment as sin.