In Summary: I know it seems that every one of these summaries starts with “Moses repeated…” but then again, that’s Deuteronomy for you. There’s not much new ground to plow in these passages. This is not to make them as without value, simply to highlight that we’ve covered much of this territory.
Deuteronomy 5 is no exception. Here we encounter a restatement of the Ten Commandments. Rather than addressing these as the written commands of God, though, Moses here highlights the spoken nature of the Decalogue. The people of Israel not only received the written word, but heard the spoken word prior to that.
What difference might that make? Taking Deuteronomy 5 as a whole, the Ten Commandments are the content of God’s speaking and the center of the chapter. The conditions of the speaking form the frame of the narrative. Look at what you have: first, God speaks to the people (v. 4), then the people decline to continue hearing from God (v. 25). They send Moses as their representative. This same Moses whose leadership they reject later in their wanderings, including raising the question about whether or not God had truly spoken to him!
This gives us an additional concept in Deuteronomy that was not as clear in the Exodus narrative of the same event. God initiates not merely a formal “obey this” covenant with His people at Horeb (another name for Sinai). God initiates a relational covenant with His people, just as now. It has never been the revealed will of God to create automatons or independent actors on His behalf: God relates to His people.
True, He’s still in charge and sovereign, but there is a relational, personal aspect to how He rules.
In Focus: Take a hard look at Deuteronomy 5:2-3, and then think about what you remember of the history of the Israelites in the Exodus. Who is present during the Deuteronomic retelling of the history?
That’s right, it’s only the children of those present at the first giving of the Law. Yet Moses reminds them that the covenant of God is with them, not their parents. The covenant is with the living. Why?
Because, as noted above, the covenant is relational and the living are those able to walk in a relationship with God. There is a change in the relational dynamic when people pass from this life into eternity, because the glorified reality of God’s people is very different from dealing with the sin-afflicted life we have now.
In Practice: We need to remember this concept as we remember the Mighty Acts of God in our history. God’s covenant is either with us, or we do not have one that is effectual in our lives. There is no covenant with God whereby we can claim His blessings because of our parentage. Only through our ongoing relationship with God do we have a connection with Him.
This is true of salvation: the old saying that “God has no grandchildren” is accurate. You are either His child or not.
This is true of our churches: that the last generation was right with God is no guarantor of present righteousness. We do, or we do not, but that they did is informative, not protective.
This is true of nations: are we obedient or not? The prior righteousness, and unrighteousness, of a nation have created the situation, but they do not maintain it.
Walk with God in the covenant He has structured for you: forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ, and obedience rooted in love going forward. Nothing else is adequate.
In Nerdiness: Of course, any mention of Horeb/Sinai brings us to the question of where it really was. That’s a fun nerd-question, but hardly one I’m up to settling tonight. I will say this: there are compelling reasons to doubt the traditional location on the Sinai peninsula and look on the Arabian peninsula. There are also compelling reasons to hold the tradition. Grab some reputable books and consider—and no, a Google search doesn’t count as research.
Also note how the people fled from God, though they were invited into His presence. Don’t do the same.