One of the fascinating aspects of the reviewing of the Decalogue here in Deuteronomy is the audience to which Moses is speaking, and what that implies about his introduction. This group of people were either born in the wilderness or were small children at the time of the Exodus. None of them were present in any sort of accountable way at Sinai. And yet Moses tells the people that God made a covenant with “us,” not “our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive” (v. 3). And he continues with the statement that God spoke to them face-to-face on the mountain, but that they were afraid and did not go up on the mountain (vv. 4, 5). These people did not physically experience any of these things, but they are to live and believe as though they did. This is one of the main messages of Deuteronomy, that all God is telling Israel is still for us today. We are to live as if God is also speaking to our hearts and longing for a close relationship with us. Each successive generation is to live as though they experienced the exodus, and to pass this on to their children.
In light of that understanding, the third Word of the Decalogue becomes all the more powerful (v. 11). In Hebrew, this Word has very little to do with swearing, or using God’s name inappropriately, although it probably would include that. Instead, it is about living so that when people see us, they see God’s character and name emblazoned on our lives. “Bearing God’s name with futility or worthlessness” is a more accurate translation. If someone claims to follow God, but does not show it in their life, this would be tantamount to treason and would make God’s name appear worthless. Because we know to whom we belong, we act and live differently, in accordance with the Ten Words.
The Sabbath Word is slightly different between Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20, with a different motivation to keep the Sabbath. Here in Deuteronomy it refers specifically back to the Exodus as the reason for not working on the Sabbath (v. 15). Because the people had no ability to save themselves, from slavery or from the Egyptians, but God saved them with great miracles and power, they are to commemorate that salvation on the Sabbath by not working and resting in God’s deliverance. In addition, all those who were likely to be exploited or oppressed are mentioned as participating in Sabbath rest. Even specific animals are delineated, expanding the Sabbath rest in Exodus 20.