Grace Theological Journal 8.2 (1987) 213-25.
[Copyright © 1987 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION
OF THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
JOHN H. WALTON
In contrast to the idea that the book of Deuteronomy is a
legalistic refinement of Mosaic regulations, the structure of Deuter-
onomy suggests that it is designed to elucidate the broader morality
behind each of Ten Commandments. The book, then, is an exposition
of the spirit of the Commandments. The sweeping implications of the
decalogue oblige the individual to a lifestyle of moral conduct that is
far broader than the “letter of the law" would suggest. Deuteronomy
revolves around four major issues (authority, dignity, commitment,
and rights and privileges), each of which is the focus of two or more
commandments. Under each of the four issues, one commandment
deals with conduct toward God and one or more with conduct
toward man. When this structure is studied, it becomes clear that
Moses grouped legal cases around common themes to bring a truer
understanding of God's concerns and requirements as they are re-
flected in each command of the decalogue. Thus, there is a moral
theme behind each command that creates timeless parameters for
* * *
ONE of the most frequently encountered questions among Chris-
tians of the last nineteen hundred years concerns the significance
and applicability of the OT law for the Church. Such questions have
not been limited to the laity, as theologians have grappled with the
hermeneutical issues involved with cross-testamental exegesis. Careful
responses need to be made to such questions in order to lay a
foundation for a correct understanding of "Church and Society."
Deuteronomy, as one of the major repositories of Israelite law,
has been subjected to much scrutiny in this regard. A breakthrough in
the understanding of the book came in 1979 when Kaufman pub-
lished his suggested correlation of the deuteronomic laws and the
214 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
decalogue.1 This was the first successful attempt at such a correlation
and has already gained recognition as a seminal work in the area of
Kaufman was of the opinion that the arrangement of the deuter-
onomic laws in accordance with the decalogue was merely a literary
device and that it did not necessarily betray the Israelite perception of
legal classification.3 An examination of the correlations of the various
sections of Deuteronomy with the decalogue suggests, however, that
the arrangement served more than a literary function. Rather, by his
choice and classification of the legal material, Moses exemplified the
"spirit" behind each of the ten basic laws, the decalogue. The impli-
cation of this hypothesis is that it is not left to Christ or even to
Jeremiah to recognize that the Ten Commandments are to be under-
stood as broader in scope than the "letter of the law." Rather, the
commandments serve as doors into the discussion of a transcendant
morality which they are fully understood to require. In other words,
the Ten Commandments, even as early as Moses, were understood to
oblige the individual to a lifestyle of moral conduct both with regard
to God and to man.
It is possible to identify in Deuteronomy four major issues which
the decalogue addresses and around which the laws seem to be
organized. They are:
MAIN ISSUES RE:GOD RE:MAN
Authority Commandment 1 Commandment 5
Dignity Commandment 2 Commandments 6; 7, 8
Commitment Commandment 3 Commandment 9
Rights and Privileges Commandment 4 Commandment 10
Commandment 1 has as its focus the authority of God, while
Commandment 5 is concerned with human authority, mostly in its
relationship to divine authority. While Kaufman saw Commandments
1 and 2 combined in Deuteronomy 12, I believe Commandment 1 is
1 Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," Maarav 1/2
2 Note: for instance, its influence in such works as Victor Hamilton, Handbook On
the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), and Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testa-
ment Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983).
3Cf., e.g., Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," 125.
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 215
more closely aligned with Deuteronomy 6-11.4 These chapters convey
the idea that God should be our first priority and final authority, and
that we owe him preference and obedience.
There are two direct statements of God's authority in this sec-
tion. The first is in 6:4 where the well-known shema presents YHWH,
and YHWH alone, as God. The second direct statement is in
which speaks of YHWH as the God of Gods, the Lord of Lords, and
the great, mighty and awesome God. Besides these direct statements,
several explicit warnings against worshiping other gods not only
speak of the authority of YHWH, but seem to demonstrate that
Commandment 1 is under discussion (-14; 7:3-5; -20; -
21; 11:16). Rather than discussing the implications of the First Com-
mandment in legislative terms, these chapters give examples of ways
that adherence to the First Commandment can be demonstrated.
Included here are the exhortations to love God (6:5; ; 11:1, 13,
22) and to obey his commandments (6:6, 17, 24-25; -12; 8:1, 6;
-13; 11:1, 8, 13, 18, 22), along with warnings against testing the
Lord (; ). Finally, in Deuteronomy 6-11 Moses spends
much time reminding the reader of how God has proven or will prove
himself worthy of the respect and status that he demands. For exam-
ple, Moses states that
(), and that
8:2-5, 14-16; 11:2-7). Furthermore, God is able to bring prosperity
(-12; -15; 8:7-13; -15) and drive out the enemy (;
7:1-2, 16-18, 20-24; 9:1-6; -25) if the conditions of obedience
are met. While these chapters appear at first glance to be somewhat
rambling, it seems that the concept of God's authority and priority
serves as a common denominator and provides a key to understand-
ing the thoughts that are expressed.
In Commandment 5, human authority is the issue. The deuter-
onomic treatment of the commandment, however, does not focus on
how we are to respond to human authority as much as it addresses
how human authority is to conform to divine authority. It speaks of
the exercise of divine authority in the human realm. The main role of .
human authority that is emphasized is instruction.
In the commandment proper (Deut ), parents are seen as the
basic link for the communication of instruction and for the repre-
sentation of divine authority. The honor given to parents is put in the
4 This was initially the suggestion of my colleague William Luck. For this and
numerous other insights gleaned from our hours of discussion and reflected throughout
this paper I am deeply indebted to him.
216 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
context of preservation of the covenant ("that you may live long in
the land"), and that preservation is accomplished in the instruction of
children by the parents. This commandment attempts to cover a weak
link: if parental instruction is not heeded, the covenant's benefits are
The deuteronomic treatment of Commandment 5 (Deut -
) does not speak of the role of parents, but moves to a discus-
sion of other forms of human authority. It has the appearance of a
national application of the Fifth Commandment. Each section speaks
of the way in which the various authorities could place the covenant
benefits in jeopardy by identifying the weakest link--the ways in
which each office can fail in carrying out its responsibility before
The first group treated is the judges who are seen as responsible
for enforcing the covenant (17:2-7). Each time a sentence is passed
there is an opportunity for instruction. The weak link here would
occur if the judges were not preserving the integrity of the system. So
the text speaks of bribes that distort justice (-20), verdicts that
are not enforced (-12), and cases where instruction was not
heeded (-12) or the lesson was not learned (). These appear
to be the weak links in the authority/instruction chain that could put
the covenant's benefits in jeopardy.
The next office to be treated is that of the king (Deut -20).
The king is viewed as God's representative and is held responsible for
the people in the sense that he should set up a system that conforms
to the requirements of the covenant. He is thereby seen as the admin-
istrator of the covenant. The weak links occur when he becomes
preoccupied with the accoutrements of office (vv 16-17) or when he
fails to observe the law. Either of these situations can cause him
to fail in setting up an administration that supports the covenant.
Instruction here takes place through modeling. The king models
godliness to the people by governing in a way that conforms to the
requirements of the covenant.
The priests and Levites had the responsibility of serving, which
included teaching the people (-12). Deut 18:1-8 speaks of the
support of the priests and Levites by the populace. The weak link
here is that if the priests were not supported they could not function
and the covenant would be in jeopardy.
The last group is the prophets (18:9-22). They had the respon-
sibility of passing on God's messages, and thus were involved in both
the authority of God and in instruction. The weakest links occur if
wrong authority is used (e.g., divination, vv 9-14), if the people fail to
heed the prophet's words (v 19), or if the prophet speaks his own
words rather than God's (v 20).
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 217
In dealing with these four groups, the biblical author moves
backwards through the line of authority which starts with God com-
municating his instructions to the people through the prophets. After
this, the priests have the responsibility of instructing the people
concerning the word of God, and then the kings have the responsi-
bility of setting up and maintaining a system based on the instructions
given by God. Finally, the judges have the responsibility of enforcing
the system that has been set up.
Deuteronomy may be seen to warn of areas where the covenant
could be jeopardized through a break in the chain of authority and
instruction. Human authorities need to be honored in that they serve
as an important link in communicating God's instructions to his
people. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of human author-
ities not to corrupt their offices by losing sight of their primary
Commandment 2 appears to be reflected in Deut 12:1-32. The
key verse is v 4: "You shall not treat the LORD your God that way."
This chapter addresses the fact that Israel was not to use the things or
places that were part of Canaanite worship. The Israelites were not to
worship YHWH in the same way that the Canaanites worshiped their
gods. This, of course, is directly related to the ban on the use of
images that is the Second Commandment. The treatment in Deuter-
onomy confirms that the ban on images specifically concerns images
of YHWH, and it further clarifies that the prohibition of images is
intended to be understood in the context of worship.
It is easy to understand the concern that God has for the Israelites
as they enter a land infested with Canaanites. Syncretism is the path
of least resistance. So rather than allowing the Canaanite sanctuaries
to be converted, only a central sanctuary is sanctioned. This would
serve to assure homogeneity of religious practice and set up a priestly
control of popular practice. Both of these factors would help guard
against syncretism. This is especially evident with regard to the ritual
elements where the closest monitoring was needed. Deut 12:30-31
again make this clear: "beware that you are not ensnared to follow
after them. . . and that you do not inquire after their gods saying,
'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'
You shall not behave this way."
The main thrust of the deuteronomic treatment, then, concerns
how the ritual aspect of worship takes place. The Israelites are
instructed not to repeat pagan rituals (of which images are a large
part), and a central sanctuary is to be established to monitor the
218 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
ritual practice. The concern is that the ritual must reflect the true and
unique nature of YHWH rather than accommodating the pagan stan-
dards in the world around them. The dignity of YHWH is jeopardized
when he is treated as the pagans treat their deities. The point is that
ritual is performed for the recognizing of no one else but YHWH.
Thus, ritual should never accommodate the world's standards. Rather,
all ritual must reflect true worship on the part of the individual. True
worship cannot take place if ritual becomes an end in itself. True
worship must give God his proper place. It cannot be manipulative or
self-serving, for that robs God of the dignity that the worship is
intended to recognize.
Corresponding to Commandment 2 and its concern with the
preservation of the dignity of God are three commandments (6, 7 and
8) that are concerned with preserving the dignity of man. Com-
mandment 6 appears to be treated in Deut 19:1-21:23. This section,
for the most part, seeks to delineate what is really behind the prohibi-
tion against murder by discussing some of the instances in which life
is being taken, but where murder has not been committed. As a result
we find sections on the following:
1. Accidental homicide and the connected discussion of the function
of the levitical cities (19:1-13);
2. The requirement of two witnesses in a capital case (since capital
punishment involves the taking of a life and the witnesses are
implicated in the taking of life; );
3. The treatment of malicious witnesses (-20) who are put to
death if the case is a capital case;
4. The lex talionis as a protection against a judicial taking of life
where the crime would not call for that serious a punishment
Chap. 20 then proceeds to discuss the rules for warfare, another
situation in which life is being taken, but the commandment is not
being broken. In chap. 21, miscellaneous issues are treated such as
caring for bloodguilt when the murderer is unknown. This dem-
onstrates that the issue of murder must be dealt with not only on the
level of punishing the murderer, but also in terms of absolving blood-
guilt on the land (21:1-9). Also mentioned are the guidelines for
dealing with the rebellious child (-21) and for the treatment of a
capital punishment victim (-23). The prohibition of murder is
designed to protect the dignity of the individual from a minimalist
perspective. That is, everyone deserves the dignity of existence. Deu-
teronomy appears to be suggesting exceptions to that general rule. A
murderer has forfeited his right to that dignity, and war is another
matter altogether. In this section there are also portions that do not
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 219
fit this commandment easily, though they can be seen to impact the
dignity issue (; -17). These will require more study.
Commandment 7, which would seem to connect with 22:1-23:14,
is one of the most difficult to fit together. Chap. 22:1-12 deals with a
number of diverse issues, some of which can be tied to dignity, some
of which seem more suitable to the issue of integrity, and some which
do not seem to fit well at all. This sort of development always causes
one to question his own system of organization. However, the appar-
ently smooth operation of the classification system throughout the
rest of the material leads to the hope that this is merely a case of the
elusive nature of these specific examples. Perhaps others will be able
to suggest suitable solutions.
Deut 22:12-30 treats the various types of adultery including
inferred adultery (13-21), simple adultery (22), rape (23-29), and
incest (30). These all threaten the dignity of the family. Chap. 23:1-14
speaks of the relationship of emasculated, illegitimate, and foreign
individuals to the assembly, as well as the matter of cleanness in the
camp. These both have to do with preserving the dignity of the camp.
Commandment 8, the prohibition against stealing, seems to be
treated in Deut 23:15-24:7 with regard to preserving the dignity of
individuals. By his treatment of the issue, the author attempts to deal
with the question of why stealing is wrong. By seeing dignity as the
basic element behind the prohibition, he is able to discuss other areas
that are impacted by the commandment. Deut 23:15-20 speaks of
stealing intangible things. The case of the foreign slave who has
escaped to the land is a situation where Israelites are prohibited from
stealing his freedom (a dignity issue). Deut 23:17-18, in singling out
daughters and sons, implies that these individuals are being forced
into prostitution, thus having their self-respect stolen. Deut 23:19-20
forbids the charging of interest within the institution of debt slavery in
that that is like stealing the interest from the debtor, as well as
robbing him of the ability to recover. Again, in the end, this robs him
of his self-respect.
Deut 23:21-23 speaks of stealing from God by not paying one's
vows. This seems unusual in the context of preserving human dignity,
and, as yet, the reason for its being here has not been identified.
Deut 23:24-25 attempts to draw the line concerning what is
stealing and what is not by giving a guideline for picking food on
someone else's property. It also serves to preserve the dignity of poor
travelers who gain their subsistence in this way.
Deut 24:1-4 covers the well-known case where a man is pro-
hibited from remarrying a woman whom he has divorced and who
has been married to someone else in the meantime. Here the legisla-
tion does not treat the issue of divorce but rather appears to be
220 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
concerned about preserving the woman's self-respect by forbidding
that she be treated as a piece of property. The indecency found in her
(v 1) cannot be adultery, for the text has affirmed in the previous
chapter that adultery is a capital crime. Rather, the indecency ought
to be considered a matter of technicality5 that the husband is using as
an excuse to discard the woman. This would again be an issue of
stealing her dignity from her.
Deut 24:5-6 speaks of stealing the things that are essential for
survival. Military conscription of a newly-married man is depriving
the new wife of her conjugal rights and of the privilege of bearing
children (for her new husband might be slain in battle). Likewise, the
theft of major food-producing implements is more than theft of
goods, it is the stealing of an individual's ability to provide for
himself and his family. Thus the issue of stealing is expanded far
beyond the confines of the simple notion of taking some object that
belongs to someone else. Most of this section deals with intangibles
and is concerned with the dignity, rights, and self-respect of others
which must not be violated. This is emphasized again in the last
prohibition of this section.
Deut 24:7 deals with kidnapping. It is interesting to note, how-
ever, that it treats only one specific kidnapping situation. That is, it
identifies kidnapping as a capital crime when it is either connected
with violence or with the sale of the kidnapped individual. Presum-
ably if neither of these related crimes occurred, kidnapping would not
be a capital crime. Kidnapping in general was prohibited by the
Eighth Commandment without further elaboration. But here the
legislation is protecting the dignity of the kidnapped individual even
further by placing a stricter punishment on anyone who would abuse
5 The rbd tvrf referred to in Deut 24:1 could not be adultery, for has just
condemned the adulterer to death. The term is used elsewhere only in Deut where
it describes the situation in which excrement is not properly cared for. It is significant
also that the woman is not prevented from remarrying, and there is no prohibition
against the first husband remarrying the woman if another marriage has not inter-
vened. Likewise, the woman is not "defiled" if she marries anyone but the first
husband. The verbal stem used to reflect the defilement in v 4 is the unusual hothpa’al,
which appears to involve passive, causative, and reflexive or durative elements. For this
reason, I would interpret the defilement as something that would be brought upon her
by her first husband should he attempt to remarry her. This is treated under Com-
mandment 8 which suggests that Deut 24:1 is not dealing with a sexual sin per se, but
with a situation in which the woman has been robbed of her dignity. A possibility is
that the husband has used a menstrual dysfunction as a legal loophole and excuse to
divorce the woman. After this kind of humiliation, he is prevented from acting as if it
never happened and "graciously" taking her back again. The second marriage is
brought into the case as the indicator that the first husband totally repudiated the
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 221
Commandments 3 and 9 seem to deal with the issue of com-
mitment. These two commandments have often been identified to-
gether because of the similarity of their subject matter, and this
schema supports even further that connection.
Commandment 3 seems to be treated in Deut 13:1-14:21 and
addresses in various ways the problem of not taking God seriously
enough or not taking one's relationship, commitment, or obligations
to God seriously enough, which is part of the same problem.
Deut 13:1-5 concern the false prophet. The false prophet's activ-
ity is identified in v 3 as a test from God, "to find out if you love the
Lord your God with all your heart." If an individual is serious about
God, the described behavior will be offensive and intolerable. The end
of v 5 makes it clear that the concern is to "purge evil from among
you." Commandment 3 speaks of how God treats those who do not
take him seriously ("God will not hold him guiltless"). This chapter
follows up on that by suggesting that if one is not offended by those
who do not take God or their commitment to God seriously, then he
is guilty along with them. He should not hold them guiltless or he
becomes an accomplice. If he tolerates wicked behavior and fails to
purge it out, he is not taking God seriously. The enticement to
worship other gods is used here as an example--any wicked behavior
In vv 6-11, wickedness even in one's relatives or friends should
not be tolerated. It is suggested in vv 12-18 that even if a whole town
is involved, there should be no mercy. So whether the offender is a
highly respected religious authority, a good friend, or a large group of
people, wicked behavior cannot be tolerated.
Chap. 13 uses the hypothetical case of the most blatant and basic
offense--enticement to serve other gods. In that case, being serious
about a relationship with God requires immediate and total purging.
In contrast, chap. 4 uses a hypothetical case of something that is
tangential and subtle.
Chap. 14 is, of course, the section concerning the dietary laws.
Wenham, following the research of Douglas, an anthropologist, has
suggested that "holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the
class to which they belong.”6 The unclean animals are those that in
one way or another fail to conform to the expectations of the animal
group to which they belong. Concerning the restriction on the Isra-
elites to eat only clean animals, Wenham explains,
6 Gordon Wenham, "The Theology of Unclean Food," The Evangelical Quarterly
53 (1981) 11. My thanks to my colleague, Dennis Magary, for bringing this article to
222 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Their diet was limited to certain meats in imitation of their God who
had restricted his choice
among the nations to
bring to mind
distinguished between clean and unclean foods, they were reminded
that holiness was more than a matter of meat and drink but a way of
life characterized by purity and integrity.7
The connection here would be that while seriousness about God
requires severe action in blatant cases (chap 13), it requires a response
that is above reproach in the subtle cases ("gray areas"). In many
cases there would have been nothing innately wrong with eating the
listed animals, but the truly committed person would demonstrate his
commitment to God even in his diet. This is holiness through symbol
and analogy (not unlike baptism). In chap. 13 the preaching of an
individual was leading the people astray, and the person who was
preaching needed to be put to death if God was to be taken seriously.
In chap. 14 the practice of an individual is an indicator of that
individual's commitment to God and holiness in his life. This is an
important step for the person who is taking his relationship to God
Commandment 3 is paralleled by Commandment 9 which treats
1. Taking your commitments to your fellow man seriously;
2. Assuming that he is going to take his commitment to you
3. Not making false accusations.
The common denominator between these areas and the decalogue's
injunction against bearing false witness is the matter of trust--trusting
one another to do what has been agreed upon. This is the important
issue in the case of false witness. It was frequently impossible to
determine by objective means whether an individual was telling the
truth in court cases. The entire justice system, and therefore the whole
fabric of society, was dependent on being able to trust the word of a
witness. For trust to exist in a society, individuals must have the
confidence that commitments are being taken seriously.
The section in Deuteronomy that deals with this commandment
is Deut 24:8-16, though others would extend the section as far as
Deut 25:4. The verses in question, 24:17-25:4 could fit with either
commandment and may serve as a transition section, but it seems to
fit better into the Commandment 10 discussion.
Deut 24:8-9 introduces the section by referring to the example of
Miriam. Here, a case of false accusation against Moses is adduced to
7 Ibid., 12.
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 223
remind the reader of the strict punishment that may accompany a
violation of this commandment.
Deut 24:10-13 deals with the handling of a situation where an
individual is the holder of his poor neighbor's pledge. The reader is
admonished not to act in such a way that he would betray a lack of
trust in his neighbor. He is not to think so poorly of his neighbor as
to protect himself against the neighbor's not fulfilling his pledge. This
is the same kind of statement that in Commandment 3 admonished
the reader not to imagine that God would not defend things that were
said in his name.
Deut 24:14-15 instructs the Israelites concerning pledges and
agreements. Everyone has the obligation to establish his own trust-
worthiness by carrying out the agreements he has made, and even
further, by being sensitive to the needs of those who are depending on
him to meet their needs.
Deut 24:16 prohibits punishing someone for a crime that he did
not commit. To punish an innocent person is like bearing false
witness against him.
RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES
Commandments 4 and 10 speak of rights and privileges. Com-
mandment 4 speaks of God's rights, and Commandment 10 addresses
the issue of human rights.
In the decalogue, the focus in Commandment 4 is on the Sab-
bath. God has a right to be honored through the dedication of a
special day to him in gratitude for his
(Exodus 20). Deuteronomy seems to pick up from that point by
discussing other things one might dedicate to God in gratitude or
commemoration to honor him. Deut 14:22-16: 17 suggests showing
gratitude to God as the source of one's goods (tying into Creation)
and as the source of one's freedom (tying into the Exodus) by dedi-
cating some of one's goods to him and by becoming a source of goods
and freedom to others in his name.
In this connection Deut 14:22-29 begins by discussing the tithe.
This is giving a portion of one's goods back to God in gratitude.
Every third year this tithe is to go to the support of the community.
Other elements of this section include the following:
1. During the seventh year no payment is to be expected toward
long term debts of fellow Israelites (15:1-3). This is an act of
compassion because observance of the fallow year would mean
that there was no guaranteed income that year.
2. Willingly lending to the poor among
224 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
3. A six year limit to debt slavery of a fellow Hebrew is set
4. Firstling sacrifice (-23)
5. Passover (16:1-8)
6. Feast of weeks and first fruits (16:9-12)
7. Feast of Booths (-15)
All of these involve the setting apart of time or goods to give honor
to God in gratitude. This is the right of God and our privilege: he
demands of us goods and acts of compassion, just as he provides
goods and acts of compassion.
Commandment 10 in the decalogue admonishes against coveting.
Coveting something is desiring something that does not belong to
one. It oversteps the bounds of what one has a right to possess.
Deuteronomy appears to expand this thinking into the whole area of
violating the rights and privileges of others. The rights of others are
to be preserved just as the rights of God needed to be preserved in the
Deut 24:17 -18 speaks of the right to justice--the basic right of
all, even those who are most vulnerable. In connection to this, the
Israelites are reminded of the time when they lost all their rights (in
only in the parallel section elaborating Commandment 4 (; ;
Deut 24:19-22 deals with the right of the poor to the leftovers of
the harvest. Deut 25: 1-3 speaks of the right of the innocent that
punishment be made in full and the right of the guilty that a limit be
set for being beaten. Deut 25:4 speaks of the right of the ox. Deut
25:5-10 deals with the institution of levirate marriage-a protection
of the rights of the dead brother's family. Deut 25:11-12 addresses
the violation of the rights of the individual who is being attacked. His
right to bear children is being threatened without due process. Deut
25:13-16 speaks of the right to fair treatment in the marketplace.
Deut 25:17-19 uses the example of the Amalekites' taking unfair
advantage of the vulnerable ones in the wilderness.
Finally, 26:1-15 addresses the issue of first fruits as a way of
remembering the rights and privileges that the Israelites were enjoying
that their forefathers did not enjoy. There is also a stress on the third
year tithe, which should be considered a right of the poor.
The commandment itself, then, has focused on coveting as a
violation of the rights that others have to their own property. The
Deuteronomic treatment moves beyond this to the basic issues of
human rights, justice and fair treatment.
WALTON: DEUTERONOMY: AN EXPOSITION 225
Based on this preliminary study, it is suggested that a working
hypothesis may be established that views the deuteronomic law (chaps.
6-26) as an expansion of the decalogue with the intent of addressing
the spirit of the law. That is, the decalogue has implications con-
cerning conduct that far transcend the limited number of issues that it
addresses directly. The author is accomplishing this task by choosing
exemplary cases that are intended to highlight the attitudes implied
by the initial commandment. In other words, the author is presenting
implications of the decalogue by developing a legislative portfolio for
each of the commands--all with the express purpose of moving
beyond legalism to a truer understanding of God's concerns and
requirements. This then is much the same as what Christ does in the
Sermon on the Mount. When the Lord extrapolates from the com-
mandment against murder to the idea that hateful anger falls into the
category of murder (Matt -22), he is continuing the deuterono-
mic treatment of the decalogue that has been suggested herein.
Morality is more than a list of rules. The spirit of those rules must be
discerned and heeded. Both Moses in Deuteronomy and Christ in the
Sermon on the Mount show that the prohibition against murder is a
prohibition against things murderous, whether attitudes or actions.
While much more work is needed, if this working hypothesis is
true, it implies that the Deuteronomic code is relevant to the church
because it elucidates not the letter but the spirit of the law. While the
law in some ways has passed away, the validity of the spirit behind
the law can never pass away, for it is a reflection of an absolute
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
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