Deuteronomy 5:18

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.

Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).

Deuteronomy 5 begins the exposition of the covenantal principles by which the Israelites were to live in the Promised Land as vassals or servants of Yahweh. This chapter is divided into three parts.

• The first part deals with Moses’s exhortation to Israel to obey God’s commandments. Here, Moses reminds the people of God’s manifestation at Mount Horeb (Sinai) where He established a covenant relationship with them and promised that if they walked in obedience as a nation, they would serve a priestly function to other nations (vv. 1-5).
• The second part deals with Moses’s restatement of the Ten Commandments God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai after redeeming them from bondage in Egypt (vv. 6-21).

• The third part focuses on exhorting Israel to fear God and walk in obedience by reminding them of the time when their elders asked Moses to be the mediator between the LORD and His people, because the Israelites were afraid upon hearing God’s voice from the midst of the fire at Mount Sinai (vv. 22-33).

Essentially, this chapter serves to encourage Israel to be loyal to their Suzerain (Ruler) God by reminding them of their past commitments with Him at Mount Horeb (Sinai). It provides assurance that God will keep His part of the bargain and see to their success if they will walk faithfully, as well as reminding them that they experienced that God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24).

It also reminds Israel of the three pillars of self-governance set up by God as the social order for His priestly nation: rule of law, private property, and consent of the governed.

The Seventh Commandment

God prohibits Israel from committing adultery.

In Leviticus 18, God instructs Israel to avoid repeating the sexual practices they observed in Egypt and will observe in Canaan. These practices included a full range of immoral sexual behavior ranging from incest of every sort imaginable to sex with animals. The fertility cults attached to the various forms of pagan religions embraced various forms of sexual immorality as an integral part of their idol worship. When Israel sinned by worshiping the golden calf, they “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6) which probably meant they engaged in the sort of sexual immorality they had observed in Egypt.

It was also common practice in the ancient Near East for rulers to kill husbands and steal their wives, which is why Abraham asked his wife Sarah to identify herself as his sister as they journeyed through unfamiliar lands (Genesis 12:13). It was into this culture of sexual promiscuity and perversion that God stated the seventh commandment not to commit adultery.

The verb translated here as “to commit adultery” refers to a sexual intercourse of a man and a married woman, according to Leviticus 20:10 and Ezekiel 16:32. Just as God used the familiar and broadly applied Suzerain-vassal covenant format to make His covenant with Israel, He sometimes applied other familiar patterns. This particular command seems to mirror similar laws in the ancient Near East. For example, the code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian code of law that likely predated the Ten Commandments (being dated to about 1754 BC), stated, “If the wife of a man is caught lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the water.” According to Leviticus 20:10, if a married woman has sex with a man, both she as well as the man are to be put to death.

Jesus made clear that God intended for marriage to be the union of a male and female that would remain unbroken (Matthew 19:3-9); Genesis 2:24). However, Jesus also explained that God allowed for divorce as a departure from His original design because of the hardness of the hearts of men (Matthew 19:7-9). It appears that God made a similar exception to His original design by allowing polygamy, which could be a reason this seventh commandment only refers to the woman as being married.

The prohibition against adultery continues in the New Testament era (Matthew 5:27-28; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:19; Jas. 2:11). Jesus himself expands this prohibition by saying that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Thus, believers today are to exercise caution to avoid cultivating lust, which is the root of adultery. All sin is displeasing to God, but according to 1 Corinthians 6:18, sexual sin is especially harmful because it is a sin against our own bodies.

Biblical Text:

18 You shall not commit adultery.

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