When studying the Word, it can be easy to lose sight of what a word, verse, chapter, or book is really about. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses instructs the people of Israel about their actions in the promised land. Within this speech, he touches on something that reveals the heart of God and their relationship with Him – the essence of covenant theology.

The following is a single footnote from the ever-exceptional
New International Commentary on the Old Testament.

20 When, in time to come, your son shall ask you, saying: What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments which the Lord our God commanded you?

21 then shall you say to your son: We were slaves of pharaoh in Egypt. Then the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand.

22 And the Lord provided great and calamitous signs and wonders against Egypt, against pharaoh, and against all his household before our very eyes.

23 Then he brought us out from there, so that he might bring us in to give to us the land which he promised to our fathers.

24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our own good always, to keep us alive at this very day.

25 And we shall have righteousness, if we are careful to do this whole code of law in the presence of the Lord our God, just as he commanded us.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

A son’s question and a father’s answer.

The son asks: What is the meaning of the testimonies? The nature of the question implies a good family relationship, the kind envisaged by the positive implications of the fifth commandment (see 5:16). The positive nature of the question is shown by the identification of the questioner with the God of the covenant, even though he was not present at the initial making of the covenant; thus he is asking about the commandments which the Lord *our God commanded *you. It is a question from a youth growing to maturity in the covenant community, already instructed in obedience, but wishing to know and understand the meaning and significance of the commandments that shaped the course of his daily life.

The answer that the father was to give to his son’s question contains a condensation of the principal elements of the faith of the Israelites; in order to present that condensation clearly, it is given in outline form below:


1. The Previous Situation: vassals of the Egyptian pharaoh (v. 21).


2. The experience of God: the deliverance of the Exodus (v. 21).
3. The judgement of God: God’s dealings with Egypt (v. 22).
4. The purpose of God: to grant His people the promised land (v. 23).


5. The word of God: the giving of the law (v. 24).
6. The conditions given: obedience and reverence (v. 24).

The Essence of Covenant Theology

These points contain the essence of the covenant theology: God revealed himself both by act and by word. Both the acts and the words of God revealed his concern and his purpose for his people. Both the acts and the words imposed a responsibility on God’s people, to revere and obey God in order that they might continue to experience his presence in history and continue to hear his words. The result of this reverence and obedience is then stated in v. 25: we shall have righteousness … . Righteousness in this context describes a true and personal relationship with the covenant God (see also Gen. 15:6), which not only would be a spiritual reality, but would be seen in the lives of the people of God. Thus the answer to the son’s question finally focuses on the proper relationship of a man to God, and the fruit of that relationship in daily life.

New International Commentary on the Old Testament

New International Commentary OT essence of covenant theology

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