Some commentators suggest that the structure of the middle section of Deuteronomy follows the ten commandments. Moses, having meditated on the law over the course of thirty-eight years in the wilderness, preaches an inspired sermon to Israel reflecting on the greater meaning and application of the law. There is some minor disagreement as to the exact boundaries within this part of Deuteronomy, but one possibility is given by James Jordan in his book, Covenant Sequence in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
- First commandment: Deut. 6-11
- Second commandment: Deut. 12-13
- Third commandment: Deut. 14:1-21a
- Fourth commandment: Deut. 14:21b-16:17
- Fifth commandment: Deut. 16:18-18:22
- Sixth commandment: Deut. 19:1-22:8
- Seventh commandment: Deut. 22:9-23:14
- Eighth commandment: Deut. 23:15-24:7
- Ninth commandment: Deut. 24:8-25:3
- Tenth commandment: Deut. 25:4-26:19
This is in keeping with other places such as Proverbs and Matthew 5-7, where we see further wisdom drawn from reflection upon the law: Moses, Solomon and Jesus are all inspired commentators on the ten commandments. This also supports the church’s practice of striving to read and apply the commandments with maximum breadth. For example, Calvin writes that “in almost all the commandments, there are elliptical expressions, and that, therefore, any man would make himself ridiculous by attempting to restrict the spirit of the Law to the strict letter of the words.” He concludes that, “thus, the end of the Fifth Commandment is to render honour to [all] those on whom God bestows it” (Book II, Chapter 8, Section 8), since the Bible understands the term “father” quite broadly. In just the same way, the Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the fifth commandment requires us to bestow honor and perform duties “belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” Paul himself seems to make this application of the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6, if we consider all of verses 1-9 to be joined together. And Moses does likewise in Deut. 16:18ff as suggested above.
This observation lends us an interesting bit of help in understanding how the Sabbath commandment can be transfigured in the new covenant from Sabbath to Lord’s day, from last day to first. In the fourth-commandment section (Deut. 14:21b-16:17), Moses mentions three of the seven feasts that God gave to Israel. We see the full list of feasts spelled out in Leviticus 23, beginning with the weekly Sabbath feast and culminating in the feast of booths. The three feasts that Moses lists here in Deuteronomy are the ones that God required to be celebrated at his house. Reading through the entire section, Moses’ application of the fourth commandment establishes the following principles:
- We obey the fourth commandment by bringing a tithe to God’s house
- We obey the fourth commandment by showing generosity and granting rest to others
- We obey the fourth commandment by keeping God’s appointed feasts at his house
These principles help us to understand how Saturday’s Sabbath is transfigured to Sunday’s Lord’s day in the new covenant. God’s house is the gathering of his people before him in worship, and in the new covenant all of the feasts of Leviticus 23 are fulfilled in one feast, the Lord’s supper. Connecting this to Moses’ application of the fourth commandment, we see that the Sabbath itself is fulfilled in the Lord’s supper. Certainly there is much more that needs to be said, but we can say this: when Jesus’s church gathers in his house to celebrate his feast with him and to bring him tribute, there the fourth commandment is being kept.
This also lends support to the practice of weekly communion.
The picture above was painted by my friend, the very talented Jermaine Powell.