Deuteronomy 6 Study Notes


6:1 The term translated command is a generic word synonymous with the covenant as a whole, including its statutes and ordinances.

6:2 The fear of the Lord is not a condition of terror or foreboding. Rather, it is a profound reverence for God that may, indeed, have overtones or manifestations of fear in the usual sense (5:5,24-26; Ex 3:6), though that is not the intent here (see word study on yare’ at Dt 10:12).

6:3 Milk and honey were products of the comparatively rich soils of Canaan, but are also metaphorical of the best the land had to offer from human labor (milk) and nature (honey). The phrase became a cliché that is likely also a merism, a figure of speech intended to include all things by mentioning two of its parts (11:9; Ex 3:8,17; Nm 13:27).

6:4-5 These two verses are commonly known as the Shema (shuh MAH), after the first word of v. 4 in Hebrew. This was considered the greatest commandment; Jesus Christ, when asked which commandment was greatest, cited this passage (Mk 12:28-30). The Shema is the foundational principle for the Ten Commandments, and they in turn contain the essence of God’s covenant with Israel. It is divided between a statement asserting the nature of God and one enjoining a certain response to that understanding. He is described as being one. Other interpretations are that the Lord alone is our God or the Lord our God is one Lord.

6:6 The Shema must be more than a mere abstraction: it must first be deeply ingrained in the heart (that is, the mind; v. 5) and then put into action.

6:7 The old adage that “repetition aids learning” is an ancient one as this verse attests. Parents must repeat the words of the Shema and the rest of God’s instruction to their children and not in a hit-or-miss manner. There must be strong intentionality that issues in constant instruction by word and deed about devotion to God. By a figure of speech (merism) Moses described the unremitting process of education by speaking in terms of opposites. To sit and to walk suggest being at rest and being active, that is, in any situation. To lie down and to get up naturally call to mind nighttime and daytime, that is, all the time. The kind of love God requires is one that is full time and under every circumstance. Children must therefore be taught to love him in the same way.

6:8 Though the command to bind the commandments is most likely figurative language, such practices were taken literally as early as the first century BC, and remain part of contemporary conservative Jewish custom when phylacteries are worn.

6:9 The doorposts of Israel’s houses and their city gates must be identified as those dedicated to covenant compliance by the affixing of the law to them as well. Small metal boxes known as (Hb) mezuzah are to this day attached to doorways of Jewish homes to signify the commitment of their inhabitants to Judaism. These also contain Scripture portions (vv. 4-9; 11:13-21).

6:10-11 The reference to cities Israel did not build, houses they did not fill . . . cisterns they did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves they did not plant is significant in terms of the nature of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. With few exceptions, physical structures and agricultural assets were left intact precisely so Israel could take them over and thus more quickly and easily settle the land (Jos 11:13; 24:13). On the other hand, the wicked Canaanite populations were to be destroyed because they would become a stumbling block to Israel, an influence drawing them away from the Lord and toward idolatry (Dt 7:1-6).

6:12-15 Here is the third of many warnings in Deuteronomy not to forget the Lord, his acts, or his covenant (4:9,23; 8:11,14,19; 9:7; 25:19). On the Lord’s jealousy see 4:24; 5:9; Ex 20:5; 34:14; Jos 24:19; 1Kg 14:22; Ezk 23:24; 39:25; Jl 2:18; Nah 1:2; Zch 1:14; 8:2.

6:16 Massah means “testing” and refers to an episode in Exodus in which Israel, fresh from deliverance from Egypt, demanded that Moses provide them water to drink (Ex 17:1-7). At the Lord’s instruction, Moses struck a rock from which water gushed forth. The real issue was not the need for water, however, but Israel’s unbelief. The people were testing the Lord to see if he was really among them (Ex 17:7).

6:20 With the passing of time it is difficult to keep fresh the ideas and principles that give birth to movements and institutions. Moses was keenly aware that Israel must never forget its history.

6:24 The reason for remembering the history of God’s dealings with his people was so that future generations might understand them (v. 20) and fear the Lord. This would ensure prosperity from the Lord as well as their preservation.

6:25 Absolute righteousness cannot be earned by good works but is imparted only by the grace of God through faith (Eph 2:8-9). This fundamental truth is rooted in God’s covenant with Abraham, who “believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6). Abraham did nothing but believe, and on that basis alone he was declared righteous (cp. Rm 4:1-3,9-12). In this verse righteousness is associated with obedience to the Lord’s commands, suggesting, if read in isolation from the rest of Scripture, that righteousness can be earned. However, reading this verse in the larger context of Deuteronomy (7:7-11; 9:5-6) makes clear that God’s favor is a gift that cannot be earned. Having received God’s gift, the believer is called to live according to the standard expected of those to whom the covenant has been extended.