The Ten Commandments, 1-21

Discussion starters: the Ten Commandments

  1. Look at Exodus 20:2.  Why do you think that God reminded his people of how he had delivered them from bondage in Egypt before he gave them these commandments?
  2. What do think Jesus meant when he said, in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”?
  3. Suppose a friend says to you, “I’m not interested in Jesus or in organised religion, but I do try to live my life according to the Ten Commandments.”  How might you respond?


Puritan guidelines on expounding the Ten Commandments

  1. “Where any duty is commanded, there the contrary vice is forbidden; and where any vice is forbidden, there the contrary duty is commanded.” So there are both sins of omission and sins of commission under each precept.
  2. The law of God is spiritual and perfect, reaching to the heart and requiring obedience to every duty commanded, and abstinence from all forms of sin forbidden. Tracing each precept in its roots and fruits led Downame to say that “under one particular vice mentioned in the commandment, all of the same kinds are forbidden; and under one particular commanded, all the same kind are commanded.”
  3. “Where any duty is commanded, there the means that tend thereto are enjoined; and where any vice is forbidden, there the means, provocations and allurements tending thereto are also forbidden.”
  4. The commandment of any duty or prohibition of any vice implies the command or prohibition of outward “signs” of it. Our good works must shine before men for the praise of our Father, but we should also avoid any appearance of evil in gesture, clothing, or places that we frequent.
  5. The commandments speak not only of our responsibility toward ourselves but also about our responsibility to instruct, admonish, encourage, rebuke, and reclaim others with respect to the duties and vices set forth.

George Downame, quoted by Beeke & Jones, A Puritan Theology: doctrine for life, p568f

Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words:

Ex 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Decalogue: ‘A series of commandments, ten in number, just enough to permit an intelligent selection for observance but not enough to embarrass the choice.’ (Ambrose Bierce)

Many a man has followed the Ten Commandments all his life but has never quite managed to catch up with them.

Goldsworthy (Gospel and Kingdom, 64) suggests that this verse should govern our understanding of the Sinai law. Here, God declares that he is the God of his people, and that he has already saved them. The law which follows cannot then be a programme for salvation by works, but rather an agenda for those who have been saved by grace. ‘The law is given to the people of God after they become the people of God by grace…At Sinai God spells out for his people what it means to be the people of God.’

Tom Wright agrees: ‘Rather than being understood as the means by which Israel earned God’s righteousness, the law was seen as the way of life for the people God had saved through his dramatic actions at Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea.’ (Kurt’s summary in Tom Wright for Everyone, ch. 3)

And Tim Keller writes: ‘God did not first give the law and then deliver the people. He first delivered the people and then he gave them the law. Thus we are not saved by the law but saved for the law. The law is how we regulate our love relationship with God, not the way we merit the relationship. All of this points to the ultimate way we are saved not by law, but by faith in Christ.’ (Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Scepticism, (p57)

Christopher Wright, similarly: ‘The law was given to people whom God had already redeemed…Grace comes before law.  There are eighteen chapters of salvation before we get to Sinai and the Ten Commandments…I stress this because the idea that…in the OT salvation was by obeying the law, whereas i the NT it is be grace, is a terrible distortion of Scripture.’ (‘Preaching from the law’, in Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching, p48.

Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

The first commandment

Surrounded by polytheism and idolatry, Israel needed constantly to be called back to the one true Object of faith and worship.  See Josh 24:14-18; Judg 2:11-13; Jer 18:13-17.

Assertion: we should love and serve God

  1. Not occult spirits, Lev 19:31
  2. Not people, 1 Cor 1:12
  3. Not possessions, 1 Tim 6:10
  4. Not pleasure, 2 Tim 3:4

Explanation: why we should love and serve God

  1. Because he made us, Psa 100:3
  2. Because there is none other like him Isa 44:6-8
  3. Because all other (so-called) gods are (a) imaginary, 1 Cor 8:4; (b) powerless, Jer 14:22

Application: how we should love and serve God

  1. Not with misapprehension, Psa 50:21
  2. Not with neglect, Jer 2:32
  3. But with whole-hearted devotion, Mk 12:30
What is it to have other gods besides the true God?

‘What is it to have other gods besides the true God? I fear upon search, we have more idolaters among us than we are aware of.

(1) To trust in any thing more than God, is to make it a god. If we trust in our riches, we make riches our god. We may take comfort, but not put confidence in them. It is a foolish thing to trust in them. They are deceitful riches, and it is foolish to trust to that which will deceive us. Mt 13:22. They have no solid consistency, they are like landscapes or golden dreams, which leave the soul empty when it awakes or comes to itself. They are not what they promise; they promise to satisfy our desires, and they increase them; they promise to stay with us, and they take wings. They are hurtful. ‘Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.’ Ec 5:13. It is foolish to trust to that which will hurt one. Who would take hold of the edge of a razor to help him? They are often fuel for pride and lust. Eze 28:5: Jer 5:7. It is folly to trust in our riches; but how many do, and make money their god! ‘The rich man’s wealth is his strong city.’ Pr 10:15. He makes the wedge of gold his hope. Job 31:24. God made man of the dust of the earth, and man makes a god of the dust of the earth. Money is his creator, redeemer, comforter:his creator, for if he has money, he thinks he is made; his redeemer, for if he be in danger, he trusts to his money to redeem him; his comforter, for if he be sad, money is the golden harp to drive away the evil spirit. Thus by trusting to money, we make it a god.

If we trust in the arm of flesh, we make it a god. ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.’ Jer 17:5. The Syrians trusted in their army, which was so numerous that it filled the country; but this arm of flesh withered. 1 Kings 20:27,29. What we make our trust, God makes our shame. The sheep run to the hedges for shelter, and they lose their wool; so we have run to second causes to help us, and have lost much of our golden fleece; they have not only been reeds to fail us, but thorns to prick us. We have broken our parliament-crutches, by leaning too hard upon them.

If we trust in our wisdom, we make it a god. ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.’ Jer 9:23. Glorying is the height of confidence. Many a man makes an idol of his wit and parts; he deifies himself, but how often does God take the wise in their own craftiness! Job 5:13. Ahithophel had a great wit, his counsel was as the oracle of God; but his wit brought him to the halter. 2 Sam 17:23.

If we trust in our civility, we make it a god. Many trust to this, that none can charge them with gross sin. Civility is but nature refined and cultivated; a man may be washed, and not changed; his life may be civil, and yet there may be some reigning sin in his heart. The Pharisee could say, ‘I am no adulterer’; (Lk 18:11) but he could not say, ‘I am not proud.’ To trust to civility, is to trust to a spider’s web.

If we trust to our duties to save us, we make them a god. ‘Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;’ they are fly-blown with sin. Isa 64:6. Put gold in the fire, and much dross comes out:so our most golden duties are mixed with infirmity. We are apt either to neglect duty, or idolise it. Use duty, but do not trust to it; for then you make it a god. Trust not to your praying and hearing; they are means of salvation, but they are not saviours. If you make duties bladders to trust to, you may sink with them to hell.

If we trust in our grace, we make a god of it. Grace is but a creature; if we trust to it we make it an idol. Grace is imperfect, and we must not trust to that which is imperfect to save us. ‘I have walked in my integrity:I have trusted also in the Lord.’ Ps 26:1:David walked in his integrity; but did not trust in his integrity. ‘I have trusted in the Lord.’ If we trust in our graces, we make a Christ of them. They are good graces, but bad Christs.

(2) To love any thing more than God, is to make it a god. If we love our estate more than God, we make it a god. The young man in the gospel loved his gold better than his Saviour; the world lay nearer his heart than Christ. Mt 19:22. Fulgens hoc aurum praestringit oculos This gold with its glitter blinds the eyes. Varius. The covetous man is called an idolater. Eph 5:5. Why so? Because he loves his estate more than God, and so makes it his god. Though he does not bow down to an idol, if he worships the graven image in his coins, he is an idolater. That which has most of the heart, we make a god of.

If we love our pleasure more than God, we make a god of it. ‘Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.’ 2 Tim 3:4. Many let loose the reins, and give themselves up to all manner of sensual delights; they idolise pleasure. ‘They take the timbrel, and the harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in mirth.’ Job 21:12,13, (mg). I have read of a place in Africa, where the people spend all their time in dancing and making merry; and have not we many who make a god of pleasure, who spend their time in going to plays and visiting ball-rooms, as if God had made them like the leviathan, to play in the water? Ps 104:26. In the country of Sardinia there is a herb like balm, that if any one eats too much of it, he will die laughing:such a herb is pleasure, if any one feeds immoderately on it, he will go laughing to hell. Let such as make a god of pleasure read but these two Scriptures. ‘The heart of fools is in the house of mirth.’ Ec 7:4. ‘How much she has lived deliciously, so much torment give her.’ Rev 18:7. Sugar laid in a damp place turns to water; so all the sugared joys and pleasures of sinners will turn to the water of tears at last.

If we love our belly more than God, we make a god of it. ‘Whose god is their belly.’ Php 3:19. Clemens Alexandrinus writes of a fish that had its heart in its belly; an emblem of epicures, whose heart is in their belly; they seek sacrificare lari, their belly is their god, and to this god they pour drink offerings. The Lord allows what is fitting for the recruiting of nature. ‘I will send grass, that thou mayest eat and be full.’ Deut 11:15. But to mind nothing but the indulging of the appetite, is idolatry. ‘Whose god is their belly.’ What pity is it, that the soul, that princely part, which sways the sceptre of reason and is akin to angels, should be enslaved to the brutish part!

If we love a child more than God, we make a god of it. How many are guilty in this kind? They think of their children, and delight more in them than in God; they grieve more for the loss of their first-born, than for the loss of their first love. This is to make an idol of a child, and to set it in God’s room. Thus God is often provoked to take away our children. If we love the jewel more than him that gave it, God will take away the jewel, that our love may return to him again.’

(Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments)

According to Enns (The Evolution of Adam), this is, in the context of the polytheistic world in which the Israelites lived, a statement of monolatry, rather than of monotheism: ‘The command does not say that there are no other gods but that Israel is to have no other gods rivaling Yahweh.’  Enns says that monolatry may be found in many of the psalms, where the Lord is praised, not for being the only god, but for being greater than the gods of the other nations (Psa 95:3; 96:4; 97:9; 135:5; 136:2).  It seems to me that Enns does not give sufficient weight to his own acknowledgement of the presence of poetic language in the psalms, or to the presence of distinctly monotheistic statements throughout the Old Testament (Deut. 4:39; Isa. 44:6–20; Jer. 10:1–16),to say nothing of the very first verse of Genesis (Gen 1:1).

Similar to Enns’ account is the following, by Nyasha Junior, in the Women’s Bible Commentary:

‘While ancient Israelite religion is often considered to be a form of monotheism, in some sense it might be better thought of not as strictly monotheism but as monolatry. Monolatry is the worship of a single god while acknowledging the existence of other gods. For example, the Decalogue reads, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2–3). In Jewish tradition, this is the first commandment, while for Protestant Christians, it is the prologue to the Ten Commandments. Here “before me” can be translated also as “except for me” or “other than me.” Also, within the Covenant Code, Exodus 22:20 states, “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.” These and other texts recognize the existence of other gods but require allegiance to YHWH alone. The other gods mentioned in this text could have included female deities, since female deities appear frequently in other ancient Near Eastern texts as well as in other parts of the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs. 11:5, 33; 18:19; 2 Kgs. 23:4; Jer. 7:18; 44:17–25). These texts seem to acknowledge the existence of male deities even as they discourage Israel from worshiping them.’

Bray (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, art. ‘God’) offers a more nuanced account: ‘Whether the ancient Israelites believed that their God was the only divine being in existence, or whether they attributed some kind of being to the gods of other nations has been a matter of controversy. The former view is strict ‘monotheism’, and was certainly the position of the Jews in NT times. The other view is known as ‘henotheism’, which may have prevailed in the pre-exilic period. From a theological point of view, however, there is little or no difference between the two options. Whatever the Israelites may have thought about the gods of the nations around them, they always regarded their own God as supremely powerful and thus ‘real’ in a way that the others were not. We may therefore conclude that Israel practised a de facto monotheism from earliest times, even if this was not fully clarified until the time of the exile or later.’

Waltke says: ‘Because the first commandment tacitly assumed the existence of other gods, most scholars contend that at the time of Moses, Israel had not yet arrived in its religious development to a doctrine of monotheism but only to a belief in henotheism, the worship of one god that admits the existence of other gods. This formulation distorts the picture. The first commandment offers religious instruction and not theological statement. In the OT there is an ambivalence about the existence of pagan gods: de facto they were served with practices that debased mankind (cf. Dt. 32:12, 16; Jgs. 11:24; 1 S. 26:19), but de jure they were not gods (Dt. 32:21, 39; Isa. 41:24). In religious commandment Israel was forbidden to serve them (Dt. 6:20), but in religious statement their reality was denied (Dt. 32:17). The same tension exists in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 8:1–13).’ (ISBE, art. Israel, Religion of; see also his Old Testament Theology, ch. 15).

Ex 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”

The Second Commandment

An American sailor heard the Ten Commandments recited in Church, and commented to his friend afterwards, “Well, at least I’ve never made a graven image.”

The 1st commandment has respect to the object of worship: we should worship the one true and living God; the 2nd has respect to the means of worship: we should worship God only by the means which he has ordained.  According to the 1st commandment, it is possible to worship the wrong God; according to the 2nd commandment, it is possible to worship the right God in the wrong way.

The Israelites would have been sorely tempted to break the 2nd commandment.  Both Egypt, the county they had just left, and Canaan, the land towards which they were heading, were full of images of various deities.  The Egptian gods Apis and Hathor were both represented by a bull.  Baal, the Canaanite storm god, was pictured as a mighty warrier, wielding a club and a lightning bolt.  The Israelites must have thought, “Everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t we make an image of our God?”

Indeed, is wasn’t long before the Israelites did break this commandment.  In Ex 32 we read how Aaron made a golden calf, and set up an altar in front of it, and a feast was called in honour of the calf as a ‘festival to the Lord’.

Again, in 1 Kings 12;28 we read how Jeroboam 1 set up images of two golden calves, one in Bethel, and the other in Dan, so that the people wouldn’t have to travel to Jerusalem to worship.

In neither case was there an intention to depart from the worship of Jehovah.  In neither case had Jehovah been entirely forgotten.  These images were set up not as rivals to Jehovah, but as aids to the worship of him.  But in both instances a great sin was committed.  The honour due to the Lord was given instead to images of him.  This was idolatry.

Some references:

Ex 32 – the golden calf Isa 40:18ff “To whom will you liken God?” Jer 7:4ff “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'”

By itself, the 2nd commandment might seem to refer to the worship of images of gods other than Jehovah – Babylonian idols (Isa 44:9ff 46:1f) or the pagan gods of the Greek and Roman world of Paul’s day. (Rom 1:23,25) But if this were the case, the 2nd commandment would simply be repeating the 1st. Accordingly, we are to understand this commandment to refer, not to the worship of false gods, but the false worship of the true God. In other words, the 1st Commandment deals with the object of our worship, the 2nd with the manner of our worship. Specifically, it is the use of visual representations of God in our worship. But why is this important – so important as to find a place in the Decalogue, with the solemn declaration of God’s jealousy, and the fearful threat of punishment? The answer must not be sought in the supposed helpfulness or otherwise of images, but in their truthfulness or otherwise:-

1. Images are demeaning to God, for they obscure his glory. ‘The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (men, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fishes, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator.’ See Isa 40:18. We might say of a picture of a person, “It does not do her justice.” How much less can any picture of the infinite God “do him justice.” According to Walter Brueggemann, ‘we may see in the prohibition of images an assertion of the unfettered character of Yahweh, who will not be captured, contained, assigned, or managed by anyone or anything, for any purpose.’

2. Images are damaging to us, for they convey false ideas about God. Images are dead, material, visible; God is living, spiritual, invisible. Images of God localise and materialise God, and thus lead to a danger of magical attempts to placate or even control God; whereas God, being a spirit, does not dwell in temples man by human hands. When Aaron made an image of God in the form of a bull-calf, no doubt he intended it to be a fitting image of Jehovah’s strength. But it led the Israelites to thinking that God could be worshipped by a frenzied orgy, Ex 32:5: Gen 1:26ff teaches that man has been created in God’s image; but that does not mean that God is like man, Ps 50:21 Isa 55:9.

Not only does this commandment forbid us to manufacture false images of God, it also forbids us to dream up mental images of him. Whenever we say, “I like to think of God as…” then we are in danger of creating God in our own image – and that image is a false image. Such an image almost inevitably involves a denial of some aspect of the biblical revelation about God. Moreover, such an image at best is some kind of human image – an ideal man, perhaps – but God is not human, he is God.

The purpose of this commandment, therefore, is plain. ‘Negatively, it is a warning against ways of worship and religious practice that lead us to dishonour God and to falsify his truth. Positively, it is a summons to us to recognise that God the Creator is transcendent, mysterious, and inscrutible, beyond the range of any human imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable; and hence a summons to us to humble ourselves, to listen and learn of him, and to let him teach us what he is like and how we should think of him.’ See Isa 55:8f Rom 11:33f. (See Packer, Knowing God, pp43-51)

We must not make or worship false images of God. Any image of God is false, because it would necessarily “capture” him in a way that denied his infiinity; it would impose on him a physical form, in a way that denied his spirituality; it would limit him to a form peculiar to a given culture, thus denying his unchangeableness; it would contradict the way in which God had chosen to reveal himself. ‘The Moses who came down from the mountain did not come down with a visible representation of God but with ten words on two tablets of stone. God had chosen to reveal himself by his Word. The task of communicating the reality of God to the people was entrusted to prophets not to artificers or connoisseurs of the fine arts.’ (Blanch, The Ten Commandments, p36).

This commandment is broken not only by rank idolatry, but by all forms of superstition. Like weeds in a garden, idols and images crop up not so much through forethought and planning (“Today I’m going to become an idolater”), but rather through carelessness and neglect.  Protestants will think that Catholics violate this commandments, with their attraction to crucifixes, statues of Mary, relics, prayers to the saints, and adoration of the bread and wine in the eucharist. Protestants, however, will do well to consider what mental images of God they have formed (some of these borrowed from J.B. Phillips):-

  1. Resident Policeman – waiting to blow the whistle as soon as you step out of line
  2. Emergency Firefighter – useful in an emergency
  3. Grand Old Man – kindly, but senile and ineffectual
  4. Slot-Machine – you do your bit, and he will reward you
  5. Master of Ceremonies – just wanting everyone to have a good time

There is, however, one image of God which is permitted to us = Jn 1:18.

Whenever you are tempted to say, “I like to think of God as…” or, “My God would never…” then there is a danger that you have reduced God to an image of your own making.

Whether our images are physical or mental, they all represent an attempt to turn God into something other than, and less than, he really it; an attempt to bring him down to our level, to make him more manageable.

Ex 20:4 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name

In Bible times, a name was more than a personal label: it frequently stood for the person himself – his being, character and attributes.  So it is with God himself, Ex 3:13f; 34:5f; Isa 30:27.  God is known by a rich variety of names, especially in the OT, cf. Ex 6:2f.

We honour God’s name by our:-

  1. love, Psa 5:11
  2. confidence, Psa 52:9
  3. thankfulness, psa 54:6
  4. prayer, Psa 99:6
  5. witness, Isa 12:3f
  6. obedience, Mic 4:5
  7. meditation, Mal 3:16

We should not misuse God’s name by:-

  1. swearing falsely, Lev 19:12
  2. blaspheming, Lev 24:11
  3. hypocrisy, Isa 48:1
  4. immorality, Amos 2:7
  5. cursing, Rom 3:13f

Ex 20:5 you shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them” – ‘The words “you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9) make it clear that the command does not preclude the pursuit of art, nor the use of certain representations in worship, such as the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, but that one is not to worship an image or venerate it by bowing before it. Thus the Israelites were to make no symbolic representations of Yahweh in any form. (Deut 4:15-18) This commandment made Israel’s faith unique among the nations of the ancient world.

This prohibition of idol worship may not have encouraged advancement in the visual arts, but it served to make the concept of God intensely spiritual. Efforts to concretize the spiritual nature of God were made in the realm of bold literary anthropomorphism. It may be that this verbalizing of the divine attributes caused Israelite religion to find its greatest expression in word rather than in artistic depiction.’ (ISBE)

“I, the Lord your God” – this lofty self-designation reminds us that the Lord is incomparable, Isa 40:25:-

  1. An idol is dumb; but God speaks.  When Moses came down from the mountain he did not come with a picture or a statue of god, but with ten words on two tablets of stone.  God had chosen to reveal himself bu his word.  The task of communicating the reality of God was entrusted not to connoisseurs of the fine arts but to prophets.
  2. An idol is confined to one place; but God is totally unconfined.  In fact, says Isaiah, the idol has to be nailed down in its place, lest it topple over, Isa 41:7.  Cf. Acts 7:48f.
  3. An idol is material; but God is spirit.  Isaiah ridicules idols and pours scorn on those who fashion them.  “Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” jeers the prophet.  Cf. Jn 4:24.
  4. An idol is created; but God is Creator, Rom 1:25.

“I…am a jealous God” – See Ex 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Jos 24:19. This is not the petty and unworthy attitude which is usually suggested by our word ‘jealous’. The Heb. word is always used of God’s opposition to idols or images. A very similar word refers to a husband’s reaction to his wife’s infidelity. God demands the same kind of faithfulness from his people as a husband would of his wife. He reacts vehemently when his people forsake him: he regards idolatry as spiritual adultery.

This expression, writes Charnock, is ‘a metaphor taken from jealous husbands, who will not endure the least adultery in their wives, nor God the least defection of man from his law. Every act of sin is a spiritual adultery.’

‘Several things about this prominent OT theme deserve notice.

(1) It is important to recognize that the description of Yahweh as jealous is an anthropomorphism, i.e., it is the attribution to God of a human emotion. It should therefore not be assumed that Yahweh’s jealousy is identical with the human emotion of jealousy. The analogy between divine and human jealousy lies in the demand for exclusive possession or devotion.

(2) The term is used in the context of the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel. As Israel’s sovereign, Yahweh had a right to demand his people’s exclusive loyalty. This was the first and most basic stipulation of the covenant (cf. the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me,” Ex 20:3). Nonetheless, the OT records Israel’s perpetual lapses into idolatry, and it was this unfathfulness that provoked Yahweh’s jealous wrath (cf. Nu 25:3,11; Dt. 29:18-20: 32:16, 21; 1 King 14:22f; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; cf. also Eze 8:3,5, where the idol in Ezekiel’s vision is called “the image of jealousy” because it provoked Yahweh to Jealousy). Frequently the metaphor of a marriage was used to describe the relationship between Yahweh and his people, with Yahweh depicted as the jealous husband and Israel as the adulterous wife. (cf. Eze 36:38f) There is another side, however, to Yahweh’s?, namely, his jealousy for his covenant people, which is expressed in pity and zeal for Israel’s renewal and results in judgment upon Israel’s enemies and the restoration of Jerusalem. (e.g., Eze 36:5-7; 38:18-19; 39:25; Joe 2:18-19; Zec 1:14-17; 8:2-3)

(3) Yahweh’s claim to the exclusive allegiance of his people arises out of his unique nature as the only true the God, the sovereign Lord of all creation. No other gods can rival him; thus Yahweh alone is deserving of his creatures’ exclusive and wholehearted devotion (cf. Pss 95-97. etc.; Dt. 6:4-5). Yahweh’s jealousy is an expression of his holiness. (cf. Jos 24:19; Eze 39:25) His very name is Jealous.’ (Ex 34:14) (ISBE)

‘Jealousy is but the anger and pain of injured and insulted love. When God resents the illegitimate transfer to material symbols of the devotion inspired by his own acts, it is not because his greatness suffers any diminution or because his authority is impaired. It is his love which is wounded. He cannot endure to lose any of the affection, trust, or reverence by which he has stirred our souls. One of the fairestlooking falsehoods by which men excuse themselves for living a life in which God has no place, is the plea that the infinite God cannot care for the love and reverence of such creatures as we are. When will men understand that no father can ever be great enough to be indifferent to the affection, the obedience, and the confidence of his children?’ (R. W. Dale)

There are, as Packer explains, two kinds of jealousy, and only one of them is a vice.  Vicious jealousy is hateful and hurtful.  See Prov 27:4.  But there is a jealousy which seeks to protect a loving relationship.  It is the jealousy of a husband who

“Punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” – This is used by supporters of generational transference of demons. However, there is nothing in the text to support such an interpretation.

“The third and fourth generations” – apparently a way of referring to the whole family, since there would normally be three or four generations alive at any one time. The reference is not, perhaps, to future generations as yet unborn. The emphasis, then, would be on the relative short duration of divine punishment, compared with the covenant love of God extended to the thousandth generation, v6. Still, there is a typical collective accountability here, which contrasts markedly with the individualism of our own day. There moral and spiritual welfare of children are more dependent on the moral and spiritual stature of their parents than we sometimes think. Indeed, both collective punishment (Achan at Ai, Jos 7:24-25) and individual punishment (Moses not entering the promised land, Nu 27:12-14) are apparent.

‘Since this is God’s world, and since we are all involved with one another, breaches of God’s law by one generation do indeed affect those of future generations to come. Slavery, exploitation, imperialism, pollution, immorality, are all examples of this principle.’ (Cole)

Generational guilt?

Richard Bewes writes:

'God's basic human unit is the Family.  All of the Old Testament is about the story of a family.  And although it is true that ultimately we must all bear responsibility of our own sin (Deut 24:16; Ezek 18:4), we can still recognise the principle of Exodus 20:5 as a pattern affecting all human life.

Children, and even remote descendants are liable to inherit, not so much the penalties of their forebears' sins, but rather their consequences - in terms of disease, poverty, education and lifestyle (see Lev 26:39).

But we are not at the mercy of impersonal deterministic forces.  It does not follow that if your parents of grandparents lived in an unprincipled way, you are inevitably doomed to an unstable or purposeless life.  Preaching, witness and intercessory pray can turn the tables for anyone.  When this happens, the lone believer in the ancestral line becomes the key figure of the whole family.  Such is the power of God's Word and Spirit.

(The Top 100 Questions, p238)

Ex 20:6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"Showing love to a thousand generations" - or, the thousandth - i.e. to the thousandth generation, cf. Deut 7:9-10. See comment on previous verse. The ‘love' here is ‘steadfast love' - covenant love.

Ex 20:7 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."

Misuse of God's Name

  1. Perjury, Le 19:12
  2. Rash swearing, 2 Kings 5:20 Mt 5:34-35
  3. Blasphemy, 2 Kings 19:22
  4. Lip-service, Mal 2:13 ff; Tit 1:16
  5. Irreverence, Deut 28:58
  6. Hypocrisy, Isa 48:1 Lk 6:46
  7. Cursing, Rom 3:13-14 Jer 23:10

Richard Rohr: 'In our contemplative heritage, God the Father is normally experienced best in silence, beyond words or pronunciation, which is exactly what the Jewish people insisted upon [referring to this verse]. This preserves our humility before God so we don’t think that any word will ever comprehend the divine incomprehensibility.  (The Divine Dance: The Trinity and your transformation).  The leap from 'not misusing God's name' to 'God the Father is normally experienced best in silence' is a large one and unwarranted.

Ex 20:8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."  9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Ex 20:12 "Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you."

'Long before a child thinks about murder, contemplates the passing pleasure of adultery, understands the apparent advantage of stealing, learns to lie or yearns for the possessions of others, it struggles to break free from parental discipline. That is always the first relationship to be trampled upon, and therefore the first one that a child must learn to value. From this commandment flows an attitude to a thousand people.' (Brian Edwards, The Ten Commandments for Today)

Fifth Commandment

1. The scope of this commandment. More is intended than is stated. This includes all relationships between junior and senior family members, and, by further extension, to similar relationships within the household of God, 1 Tim 1:5.

2. The dignity of this commandment. The family - God's idea, Gen 1:27-28. The responsibilities of children, Eph 1 6.

3. The promise of this commandment. National stability. Illustrated by the Jews: their national survival and low crime rate.

4. The meaning of this commandment. To honour one's parent means to

(a) heed their advice, Ex 18:24;

(b) show them kindness, Ru 4:15;

(c) give attention to their instruction, Pr 4:1

(d) show them honour and respect, Pr 31:28;

(e) willing obedience, Eph 6:1;

(f) submit to their discipline, Heb 12:9.

Conclusion: the great example, Lk 2:51 Jn 19:26.

Ex 20:13 "You shall not murder.

The sixth commandment

The first five commandments are principally to do with our duty towards God; the second five to do with our duty towards other people.  However, even these latter flow out of the former: we are commanded not to kill not only because this would be a crime against humanity, but also, and especially, because it is God who has given us life and we must not take it away.

If the translation 'You shall not kill' (AV, RSV) is to braod, then 'You shall not commit murder' is too narrow.  This commandment is against all unlawful killing by individuals.  The underlying word 'ratsach' is not used of the slaughter of enemies or of capital punishment.  In the teaching of Jesus, however, this commandment becomes very comprehensive, Mt 5:21f.  Few of us have committed murder, but we have all been angry.

Unlawful killing

  1. Murder.  Joab murdered Abner and Amasa, and was duly put to death by Solomon, 1 Kings 2:28-35.
  2. Health and Safety at Work(!), Ex 21:28f; Deut 22:8.
  3. Personal revenge, Ex 22:2f.

Different degrees of guilt and punishment attach to premeditated murder and accidental or impulsive killing, Num 35:16-21; 35:22-28.

The murderous attitude

Manifestations include  verbal aggression, vandalism, uncontrollable temper, physical or sexual abuse, neglect of the vulnerable (include the very young and the very old) authoritarianism, vengefulness.

  1. Resentment, Gen 4:6-8.  God rejected Cain's offering, but gave him the opportunity to right the wrong.  But Cain in his anger refused to do so, and in his case anger led to murder.  How do we react when our mistakes are exposed?
  2. Hatred, Mt 5:21f.  This is the attitude which thinks, "I wish you were dead."  We may be legally innocent, but morally guilty of murder when we have this attitude.  See also 1 Jn 3:15; 4:20.
  3. Oppression, James 5:1-6.  The innocent here are the defenceless poor.  If they could not pay their debts, they could be thrown in prison, or forced to see all their possessions.  They might even be forced to sell their loved ones into slavery.  In such conditions, the poor often died of starvation.  God calls this murder, and does not count guiltless those who hoard money, live indulgently, and exploit the poor.

The positive side

See Rom 13:8f.  This commandment declares all human life to be sacred: it is to be nurtered and cherished.

  1. The propagation of life, Gen 9:6f.
  2. Kindness to strangers, Ex 22:21; 23:9; Lev 23:22; Deut 10:18f; Heb 13:1f.
  3. Impartiality, James 2:1-7.
  4. Love, 1 Cor 13:4-7.

Some current issues

  1. Suicide
  2. Euthanasia
  3. Abortion
  4. Safety in the home, on the roads, at work
  5. Medical negligence
  6. Race relations
  7. Love for fellow-Christians, 1 Jn 4:21

Using the principles that the commandment addresses the heart, that more is intended than is spoken, and that if something displeases God, the opposite pleases him, Willem Vangemeren discusses the breadth of the sixth commandment:-

...Jesus applies the prohibition against murder to the attitude of the heart (Matt. 15:19), to anger (5:22), and to malicious speech (5:22). John applies it to hatred (1 John 3:15). James argues that anyone who shows favoritism may be guilty of associating with a murderer (James 2:5–8; 5:1–6) and consequently be a lawbreaker (2:11). Other texts in Scripture apply the sixth commandment to the oppression of the poor (Ps. 94:6) and to the comfort and defense of the poor (Isa. 1:16–17).

...This commandment prohibits suicide as well as homicide, the neglect of life, sinful expressions of the emotions (anger, envy, revenge, excessive passions), distracting cares, improper care of the body (food, drink, work, recreation), hurtful words or abusive language, and behavior that brings discord or hurt.

The sixth commandment promotes the physical, psychological, mental, and spiritual vitality of human beings...Because humans are in God’s image, we have the duty to protect everything that is associated with the divine image. Hence, obedience to the law requires the preservation of physical life; the defence of the innocent or powerless; the comfort of the distressed; the proper care of one’s body (food, drink, sleep, work, recreation); and the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit in one’s being (love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness), in one’s speech and behavior (peaceable, mild, courteous), and in one’s attitude to one’s neighbor (forbearance, readiness to forgive, doing good for evil).

And to apply this more particularly to modern life:-

The sins prohibited include negative competition in sports and business; oppressive relations between employer and employee, husband and wife, parents and children; parental abuse of children; neglect of the disabled and elderly; discrimination based on anyone’s race, religion, social status, or sex; abortion; addictive behavior (alcohol, smoking, drugs); and a cover-up of one’s bearing an infectious disease such as AIDS.

The duties include the development of positive business and professional relations; the cultivation of harmonious relations between employer and employee, husband and wife, parents and children; protection of the dignity of children, the handicapped, and the elderly; care for mothers-to-be and unborn babies; the encouragement of positive behavioral patterns; and the responsible handling of issues that involve AIDS, such as testing and communication between the medical profession and the patients.

(Five Views on Law and Gospel)

Ex 20:14 "You shall not commit adultery.

Ex 20:15 "You shall not steal."

Ex 20:16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour."

See also Deut 5:20

Although this commandments refers most obviously to a law-court situation, it is right and proper to extend its reference to include others aspects of truthfulness and justice. In the words of a Jewish commentary, ‘the prohibition embraces all forms of slander, defamation, and misrepresentation, whether of an individual, a group, a people, a race or a faith.' (Q by Blanch)

‘Since, in a simple"] desert society, nearly all crimes were captial charges, successful "false witness" would be equivalent to murder. To safeguard against it, a witness must also be the executioner, Deut 17:7, so that he might incur blood-guiltiness if he was lying. False witnesses figure largely in the Old Testament, (e.g. 1 Kings 21:10) as in any land where extreme poverty exposes men to the temptation of bribery. No doubt the command could be generalised into the prohibition of tattling and tale-bearing, (Le 19:16) particularly of untrue and unkind gossip which could damage one's neighbour.' (Cole)

‘The NEB rendering, "give false evidence," highlights the fact that the commandment relates in the first place to the law-court, where justice can only be done if witnesses tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"-a formula which forcibly reminds us that exaggerations, half-truths, and misleading silences can all in effect be lies. But the principle of holding truth sacred goes beyond the law-court, and touches all our living.' (Packer, Growing in Christ)

‘The terminology indicates the main focus is on formal slander and libel and is concerned primarily with the legal setting. The maintenance of justice was dependent on the reliability of the witness. Nevertheless, character assassination in any of its forms, legal or casual, would constitute false witness and would be a violation of this commandment.' (OT Background Commentary)

‘The ninth commandment continues the emphasis upon ethical relationships. The command does not confine itself to prohibiting the telling of untruths, but speaks particularly about telling untruths concerning others. Congratulating oneself upon one's honesty is to miss the point of the commandment. Integrity is not for oneself, but for the sake of others; it is that they may live in security, knowing that we will treasure their reputation above our own.' (EDBT)

Thomas Watson says that there is a ‘mandatory', as well as a ‘prohibitory' part to this commandment: ‘The mandatory part of the commandment implied is that we stand up for others and vindicate them when they are injured by lying lips. This is the sense of the commandment, not only that we should not slander falsely or accuse others; but that we should witness for them, and stand up in their defence, when we know them to be traduced. A man may wrong another as well by silence as by slander, when he knows him to be wrongfully accused, yet does not speak in his behalf. If others cast false aspersions on any, we should wipe them off. When the apostles were filled with the wine of the Spirit, and were charged with drunkenness, Peter openly maintained their innocence. ‘These are not drunken, as ye suppose.' Acts 2:15. Jonathan knowing David to be a worthy man, and all those things Saul said of him to be slanders, vindicated him. ‘David has not sinned against thee; his works have been to thee-ward very good. Wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?' 1 Sam 19:4,5. When the primitive Christians were falsely accused for incest, and killing their children, Tertullian wrote a famous apology in their vindication. This is to act the part both of a friend and of a Christian, to be an advocate for another, when he is wronged in his good name.' (The Ten Commandments)

The NT contains a number of endorsements of the 9th Commandment. John the Baptist told the people not to extort money or accuse people falsely, Lk 3:14. Jesus included ‘false testimony' and ‘slander' among the evils that come out of a man's heart and defile his character, Mt 15:19. Paul mentions ‘liars' and ‘perjurers' in a list of those who break the commandments, 1 Tim 1:10.

Ex 20:17 "You shall not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour."

Ex 20:18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance

Ex 20:19 and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die."

Ex 20:20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning."

Ex 20:21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

Idols and Altars, 22-26

Ex 20:22 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven:"

Ex 20:23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Ex 20:24 "‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you."

Ex 20:25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.

Ex 20:26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'