LCN Article
Deuteronomy 4:13: The Broken Contract

July / August 2016

Dexter B. Wakefield

Let us say that a man bought a small house as an investment. He fixed it up for use as a rental and located a prospective tenant. He and the tenant signed a lease (also called a contract or covenant), and it provided that if the tenant paid his rent on time and kept the place up, then he could live there for a year. Such conditions are typical for rental agreements.

However, soon after moving in, the tenant stopped paying his rent and began to damage the house. The owner was forced to declare the lease in default, terminate it and require the tenant to leave. When there was no more contract between them, did the house disappear? Of course not! The house existed before the contract, during the contract and after the contract. They made a conditional agreement about the house—the agreement was not the house itself. When the contract terminated, the existence of the house was not affected. That simple outcome may seem obvious, but sometimes people lose sight of it when thinking about God’s commandments.

Anyone who has taken a basic course in contract law knows that contracts (sometimes called “covenants”) must have something called “consideration,” which means that there must be something in the agreement for both parties. Each party must consent and receive consideration in the agreement. You will find that word in almost all valid contracts, and without mutual consideration, a contract may be declared invalid. Contracts often provide that, IF one party will do something, THEN the other party will do something in return.

God and ancient Israel made a covenant or agreement at Mt. Sinai: “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient’” (Exodus 24:7). God stated the terms of the covenant and Israel consented.

If… Then

God detailed this covenant to Israel—and there were conditions: “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled” (Deuteronomy 11:13–15).

However, there was a penalty for non-performance by the people of Israel. “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you … For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him—then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves” (vv. 16–17; 22–23).

The Bible contains many other examples of this “If… Then” conditional nature in various aspects of the Old Covenant with the ancient nation of Israel. Sometimes the “If… Then” condition is stated, sometimes it is implied (for instance, Deuteronomy 7:9–13; 11:8–9, 27–28; 29:15–20; Leviticus 26:3–4, 14–16).

Before, During and After

The covenant made at Mt. Sinai, referred to as the Old Covenant, was a covenant about the Ten Commandments, not the Commandments themselves—just like a lease covenant is made about a residential property. A lease is not the property itself. And, just as a house exists before, during and after a contract on it terminates, the Ten Commandments exist before, during and after any covenant based on them.

In fact, the Bible clearly shows that the Ten Commandments existed before, during and after the Old Covenant and will exist in the Kingdom of God!

For example, when God made His covenant with Abraham and continued it through Isaac—long before Mt. Sinai—notice the role that the commandments played: “Dwell in this land, and [then] I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:3–5). God’s holy, righteous character and His definition of right and wrong that comes from that character existed before this world was created—and His Commandments existed long before God’s covenant with Abraham and Isaac’s descendants at Mt. Sinai.

We know that the Ten Commandments of God existed before the Old Covenant. God asserted that fact to Abraham, as He did throughout the Old Testament—and that covenant was based on the Commandments.

After Christ died, the apostles instructed their churches to keep the commandments. For instance, the Apostle John wrote, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3–4). The Apostle Paul even mentions the Sabbath in Hebrews: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9–10 NASB).

Paul actually listed some of the Ten Commandments in his letter to the Romans. “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9–10). Clearly, the Ten Commandments existed after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What about in the last days of this age? When the third angel sounds during the Great Tribulation, he declares, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). God’s people will be keeping His commandments continuously until Christ’s coming. Jesus told His disciples that the Sabbath commandment would still be valid and the Sabbath would still be holy in the final days of this age when He said, “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20).

What about in the Kingdom of God? Isaiah prophesied about Christ’s rule from Jerusalem: “Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people” (Isaiah 2:3–4). I would not want to be the poor fellow who tries to tell the all-powerful King of kings and Lord of lords that His commandments and laws have been done away! Even so, there are many who teach that falsehood today!

Commandments Equal Covenant?

Some still make the mistake of claiming that the Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments. Then they reason that when the covenant with Israel ended, the Ten Commandments ended also. However, is it no longer a sin to commit murder? Or to steal?

Israel consented to their covenant with God when they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). The Ten Commandments have their origin in the very character of God, and divine law does not need human consent. For instance, idolatry, theft, murder, adultery and other transgressions of God’s commandments are sin whether humanity agrees for them to be sin or not. Those things are wrong because God says they are, and God said, “…I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Can you imagine someone telling God that His commandments are not valid because that person did not agree to them in the first place?

Some assert that the comma in the following scripture (emphasized) equates the Old Covenant with the Ten Commandments. Moses said to Israel, “Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:11–14). They reason that if the Old Covenant and the Commandments were the same and if later the Old Covenant ended, then our obligation to keep the Ten Commandments ended with the Old Covenant.

However, the punctuation in the highlighted portion above was inserted by the translators—it is not in the Hebrew text. If you read the verse without the translators’ inserted punctuation, the meaning is clear. What God declared in His covenant that Israel was to do was “…to perform the Ten Commandments…,” and this admonition is repeated in many other scriptures. If they did, then they would receive the benefits of obedience. The covenant was about the commandments. As such, the commandments were not the covenant itself. The verse does not equate the Old Covenant with the Ten Commandments, although some translators may prefer that interpretation theologically, and it certainly does not do away with or diminish any of God’s Ten Commandments.

It should also be noted that the word “which,” appearing in Deuteronomy 4:13 as “…His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments,” is translated from the Hebrew, ‘asher (Strong’s 834). The same Hebrew word is often translated “in which” in the NKJV and is translated that way multiple times in Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy  12:7; 17:11; 28:20; 28:53–55). It is translated as “in which” in a number of other places in the Pentateuch as well. So Deuteronomy 4:13 could be translated, “So He declared to you His covenant in which He commanded you to perform the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.” That makes a lot more sense.

The Sinaitic covenant was something that God made with Israel. However, the Ten Commandments are as eternal as the character of God and were not made at Mt. Sinai. And, He said in Deuteronomy 10:12–14 that He commanded them “for our good.” The Apostle Paul affirmed that after the death of Christ when he wrote, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).

The Real Issue

The real issue for some who try to do away with the commandments is often the Fourth Commandment about the Sabbath. They do not deny that it is wrong to murder or steal, but the commandment that says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) makes them uncomfortable. They simply do not want to obey it. So they try to find ways to justify profaning the holy time that God has set apart in the seventh day.

In multiple authoritative works of official Catholic teaching and doctrine, the writers claim not to do away with the Ten Commandments, and they acknowledge that in the Bible no change in the Sabbath commandment was made. They simply claim that the Catholic Church transferred the solemnity of the seventh-day Sabbath to the first day of the week—Sunday—and that it did so with papal authority. As the Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine states, “The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed on her!” (Peter Geiermann, C.SS.R., (1946), p.50). However, since Catholic authority was rejected in the Reformation, Protestants have had to come up with a variety of different explanations for abandoning the fourth commandment. None work very well.

They may assert, in effect, that “we no longer have the Ten Commandments, we only have The Nine Suggestions.” Or they may suggest that when Christ died for our sins, the Ten Commandments were, in effect, tossed into the air, and only nine came down. Or that they were “nailed to the cross.” Or they also say that all Ten Commandments somehow “ended” with the Old Covenant. But God does not change, so His definition of right and wrong does not change. It is still sin to profane what God has made holy, whether it is His holy name or His holy time. Nowhere does the Bible remove the sanctity of the Sabbath. Doing so is a tradition of men (Mark 7:9)!

Any such assertions are wrong if they attempt to do away with, or to invalidate or even to diminish one or all of God’s Ten Commandments.

 Jesus taught us that His commandments would not change in the slightest when He admonished us, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17–19). With such a powerful statement coming from our Savior, should we not teach that all of God’s commandments should be kept, instead of making erroneous assertions that they are done away?

Even though God’s Church is living under the terms of the New Covenant and not the Old, the Ten Commandments—upon which the Old Covenant was based—existed before, during, and after that covenant, and they will be just as valid in the Kingdom of God. God gave all ten of them “for our good”!