In chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, Moses reviewed again with Israel the Ten Commandments. After this review, chapter 6 begins with Moses reminding the Israelites why they must follow the Law given to them by God, through Moses. It is “so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” In addition, it is “so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.”
It is impossible for the Israelites to enjoy long life and to prosper in the Promised Land if they do not follow the commands of God. There is no successful way forward for this new nation without loving obedience to their God.
Verses 4-9 are known to Jews as the Shema. These verses contain the fundamental truth of Jewish religion and the fundamental duties based on that truth. Observant Jews still recite these verses at least twice a day.
The fundamental truth is found in verse 4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Peter C. Craigie, in The Book of Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), explains the implications of this important verse:
The Israelites had already discovered the practical implications when they celebrated the Exodus in song: ‘Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?’ (Exod. 15:11), a rhetorical question inviting a negative response—there were no gods like the Lord! In the Exodus, the Israelites had discovered the uniqueness of their God and that the Egyptian ‘gods’ could do nothing to stop the Lord’s people leaving Egypt. It was because they had experienced the living presence of their God in history that the Israelites could call the Lord our God. Thus the oneness and reality of the Lord were practical knowledge to the people.
But there were also theological implications and the context of this verse indicates its source as a direct revelation from God (v. 1). The word expresses not only the uniqueness but also the unity of God. As one God (or the ‘Unique’), when he spoke there was no other to contradict; when he promised, there was no other to revoke that promise; when he warned, there was no other to provide refuge from that warning. He was not merely first among the gods, as Baal in the Canaanite pantheon, Amon-Re in Egypt, or Marduk in Babylon; he was the one and only God and as such he was omnipotent. It was this all-powerful Unique God who imposed on Israel the charge to love him, thereby revealing another aspect of his character.
In verse 5 we find the fundamental duty of every Jew and Christian: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In essence, this verse instructs us to love God with all of our being, with every part of us. Jesus referred to this verse as the greatest command.
Verses 6-9 command the Israelites to keep the Law on their mind at all times and to teach their children everything in the Law. Even though verse 8 was meant figuratively, some Jews, up to present day, have taken these verses literally and have actually tied small boxes containing Bible verses around their foreheads and forearms during particular religious holidays.
Verses 10-12 remind the children of Israel that all of the good things they will receive in the Promised Land will be given to them by God, not earned by Israel. The houses, cities, wells, and vineyards – everything – that they will take from the Canaanites, will be because of God’s promises to their forefathers. An interesting implication of these verses is that the Israelites, for the most part, are not to destroy the property of the Canaanites, but only drive the people out of the land.
In verses 13-19, God again reminds the Israelites that they are to only worship Him alone. If they do worship other gods, His anger “will burn against [them], and he will destroy [them] from the face of the land.” They are not to test the Lord, which means they are not to doubt His promises to them. If they keep His commands, their enemies will be driven away and they will inherit the land they were promised.
If an Israelite father is ever asked by his child why Israel must keep the commandments of God, he is to answer:
We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.
In summary, God saved Israel from slavery, delivered them to a new land, and provided them instructions (the Law) on to maintain a proper relationship with Him. As long as their relationship with God was first priority, they would prosper.