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Exodus 20:1-17 Notes

Exodus 20:1-20 - Commentary

CONTEXT: Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, as instructed by Yahweh (Exodus 13-15). However, the journey was difficult, and the people complained often. They complained about the threat of Egyptian soldiers at the Red Sea (Exodus 14)-and bitter water at Marah (15:22-27)-and the lack of bread and meat (Exodus 16)-and the lack of water at Rephidim (17:1-7). In each instance, Yahweh responded by giving them what they needed-deliverance at the Red Sea-sweet water at Marah-manna and quail-and water at Rephidim.
        Then, "In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai" (19:1). That wilderness is the area near Mount Sinai-we don't know its exact boundaries. It is a desert wilderness in which there is little to sustain life-and certainly not enough to sustain the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The Israelites are completely dependent on Yahweh for their survival.
        Yahweh reminded the people how he had saved them, and promised: "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (19:5-6a). The people agreed to obey (19:8), so Yahweh had them prepare for a service of consecration (19:9b-15) by washing their clothes and refraining from sexual activity. Yahweh had Moses warn the people not to touch the mountain, and dictated that anyone who violates that rule is to be stoned (19:12-13).
        In a theophany (an appearance by God) characterized by thunder, lightning, the loud blast of a trumpet, smoke, and fire, Yahweh appeared to Moses and the people (19:16-25). Yahweh allowed Moses to take Aaron with him as he ascended the holy mountain, but warned Moses to tell the people not to come too close to the mountain lest Yahweh "break forth on them" (19:24).
This is a turning point in life of Israel. Until now, the book of Exodus has focused on Yahweh's saving actions to bring Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Now the emphasis shifts to emphasize the covenant relationship that exists between Yahweh and Israel-and the responsibilities of Israel to Yahweh as their part of that covenant.
        The repetition of these commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 emphasizes their importance. However, they do not constitute the full giving of the law. That began with Exodus 20, and will continue through Exodus 31. The giving of the law will then resume with Exodus 35-40 (chapter 40 being the last chapter of Exodus). The books of Leviticus and Numbers are largely additional giving of the law, and Deuteronomy is a later restatement of the law.


We usually refer to Exodus 20:2-17 as the Ten Commandments. That title does not appear in this text, but does appear in three later verses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4). However, the Hebrew word that we translate as "commandments" in those verses is debarim, which is more often translated as "words." As we shall see shortly, the distinction between Ten Words and Ten Commandments is significant, because Jews regard verse 2, which is not in the form of a commandment, as the first of Ten Words.
Jews and Christians agree that there are ten words/commandments-but they number them differently:

  • JEWS regard verse 2, "I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," as the first word. While this verse is not in the form of a commandment, it does establish the foundation upon which the commandments are based. To get ten words/commandments, Jews regard verses 3-6 as the second word and verse 17 as the tenth word.
  • CATHOLICS (and some Protestants) count verses 3-6 as the first commandment. They then split verse 17 into the ninth and tenth commandments-one a prohibition against coveting a neighbor's house and the other a prohibition against coveting a neighbor's wife, slave, livestock, or anything else that belongs to the neighbor.
  • MOST PROTESTANTS regard verse 3 as the first commandment and verses 4-6 as the second commandment. They do not split verse 17 into two commandments, but regard it as the tenth commandment.
  • Later, God will give Moses these commandments on two stone tablets (Exodus 31:18). We usually picture the first tablet as containing the first four commandments (or five, depending on the numbering system). These first commandments have a vertical focus-Israel's relationship to God. We picture the second tablet as containing the last six (or five) commandments, which have a horizontal focus-Israel's relationship to people within the covenant community.
  • Three of the words/commandments (vv. 5, 7, 11) contain a "for" clause, giving the reason behind the words/commandments. One of the words/commandments (v. 12) offers an incentive for obedience-" that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God gives you."


1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

"God (elohim) spoke all these words" (debarim) (v. 1). Two facts suggest that God speaks these words directly to the people rather than through Moses. First, the people are assembled at the foot of the mountain (19:17). Second, after God gives the words/commandments, the people become afraid and say to Moses, "Speak with us yourself, and we will listen; but don't let God speak with us, lest we die" (20:19). The emphasis of this verse is that God is the one who speaks these words.

"I am Yahweh (YHWH-Yahweh) your God (Hebrew: elohim), who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (v. 2). As noted above, Jews regard this as the First Word of Ten Words, because it establishes the foundation on which all the other words/commandments are based. Christians acknowledge the foundational character of this verse, but view it as prologue and regard verse 3 (or vv. 3-6) as the first commandment. In this verse, Yahweh establishes his identity ("Yahweh your God") and, by implication, the Israelites identity (Yahweh's people). Yahweh also reminds them of their recent salvation history-he brought them out of Egyptian slavery.


3"You shall have no other gods (Hebrew: elohim) before me. 3 "You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them nor serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, inflicting the punishment of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing favor to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

"You shall have no other gods (elohim) before me" (v. 3). This verse does not assume monotheism-that there is only one God. The Israelites only recently left Egypt, where Egyptians worshiped many gods (Anat, Isis, Osirus, Ra, and others). This commandment does not require the Israelites to believe in only one God, but requires that they put no other gods before (or in addition to) Yahweh. It establishes Yahweh's unique and exclusive claim on Israel, with whom Yahweh has established a covenant relationship. In that sense, the claim of this verse is much like the unique and exclusive sexual claim that a husband has on his wife-or a wife has on her husband.

"You shall not make for yourselves an idol (pesel-carved or graven image), nor any image (temuna-likeness or image) of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them" (v. 4-5a). The combination of these two words, pesel and temuna, make it clear that the Israelites are not to make any image of any kind that might become an object of veneration or worship.

  • Once again, their tenure in Egypt would have exposed them to many images that were objects of veneration for the Egyptians. The Egyptians had images for each of their many gods, and regarded these images as objects of worship.
  • Does this verse prohibit images of Yahweh? Scholars are divided on that question. Some say that this commandment prohibits all images, including images of Yahweh. Others refer back to the verse 3 prohibition of other gods, and conclude that verse 4 prohibits only images of other gods.
  • This verse does NOT prohibit the fabrication of all holy objects or images. In Exodus 25-40 Yahweh gives detailed plans for the fabrication of tabernacle and its furnishings, to include the Ark of the Covenant with its winged Mercy Seat-and "a veil of blue, and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cherubim" (26:31; 36:8, 35). The cherubim would certainly be an image of one sort or another. These and other holy objects, however, are intended to facilitate worship of Yahweh, and are not to become objects of worship.

"for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God" (v. 5b). This is the first of the "for" clauses that state the reason for a particular word/commandment. The word "jealous" might not be the best word to use here, because we usually use that word to describe an insecure person who is fearful of losing something. Yahweh is not insecure, but has intense feelings for Israel that cannot abide unfaithfulness. Many scholars would translate this word as "zealous."

"visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me". Many people today find it highly offensive that Yahweh would punish innocent children for the sins of their parents. We find something of the opposite in Ezek 18:2-4, where God responds to people who say that God is punishing them for their parents' sins. God replied, "the soul who sins, he shall die." However, the principle in this verse is that the actions of parents affect their children. Ungodly parents often (but not always) produce ungodly children, and those ungodly children can expect to be punished for their sins.

  • The sins of one generation are often visited on successive generations. Parents who are addicted to alcohol or drugs tend to wreak havoc with their children spiritually, psychologically, and physically. I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. He died many years ago, but she is still struggling to cope with the psychic injuries she sustained during her childhood. Our family knows a young woman whose parents (aging hippies) abuse alcohol and drugs. That girl is trying hard to overcome her heritage. To this point, she has not succumbed to drug use, but does seem unable to break free from the ties to her parents that lock her into their dysfunctional behaviors. Children whose parents are guilty of infidelity or gambling or criminal activity face many of those same issues.
  • This principle also works on a larger scale. We in America are still paying a terrible price for the decision of our ancestors to practice slavery. Our current generation is practicing deficit government spending, which will cause fiscal and political problems that will plague our children in the future. Nations across the globe are suffering from the imperialism of earlier generations. We are paying the price today for the failure of past generations to contain pollution. Our profligate use of energy threatens the welfare of future generations. Etc., etc., etc.
  • So it might be appropriate to view the punishment reflected in verse 5 as a kind of natural law-akin to the law of gravity. Someone has said that we cannot break the law of gravity, but can simply break ourselves by disregarding it. So it is with our behavior. Behavior has consequences, and those consequences affect our neighbors and our children as well as ourselves.
    "and showing loving kindness (hesed-mercy, kindness, love, loving kindness) to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (v. 6). The word hesed has a rich variety of meanings-kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. "When applied to Yahweh, hesed is fundamentally the expression of his loyalty and devotion to the solemn promises attached to the covenant" (Renn, 633-634).
  • Note the contrast between "on the third and on the fourth generation" of verse 5c and "a thousand generations" of this verse. The curse is for a relatively short time, but the blessing is for a very long time.
    Also note the contrast between "those who hate me" in verse 5c and "those who love me and keep my commandments" in this verse.
  • The connection between "love me" and "keep my commandments" suggests that the keeping of the commandments is the outward sign of our inward affection.


7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

"You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain" (v. 7a). Yahweh's character and identity are tied up in Yahweh's name, so using Yahweh's name to do something dishonorable would profane Yahweh's name. People are not to use Yahweh's name to give assurances that they don't intend to honor. This would include using Yahweh's name in connection with an oath sworn falsely-or using Yahweh's name in connection with any sort of deception or dishonorable activity. Clergy need to listen carefully here. If we use God's name in ways intended to manipulate other people, that would be a wrongful use of God's name.

  • While using Yahweh's name as a curse-word would be so foreign to the Israelites that the idea would never occur to them, such usage would nevertheless qualify as a wrongful use of the Lord's name.

"for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (v. 7b). This is the second of three "for" clauses in these verses. These clauses give the reason why a person should obey the commandment. In this instance, Yahweh warns that he will not acquit anyone (or leave anyone unpunished) who misuses his name.


8 "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your cattle, or your resident who stays with you. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; for that reason the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In all three numbering systems (Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant), verses 8-11 count as one word/ commandment. It is the longest of the commandments.

"Remember the Sabbath (shabat) day (v. 8a). The Hebrew word shabat has more to do with stopping or ceasing than it does with resting. It has come to mean resting because the cessation of work implies resting.

"to keep it holy" (qadosh) (v. 8b). The Hebrew word, qadosh, means holy in the sense that God has set aside something or someone for a holy purpose. The sabbath is holy, because God established the sabbath as a day of rest and worship. Israel is holy because God chose Israel to be God's covenant people. The tabernacle and temple are holy, because God set them aside as places for people to worship and to experience the presence of God. Priests and Levites are holy because God set them apart for his service.

  • All holiness is derivative-derived from the holiness of God. The sabbath is holy because God made it so.

"You shall labor six days, and do all your work" (v. 9). This verse lays the foundation for verse 10. It says there are six days to work-the implication being that Yahweh has established six work days as part of the created order of things. This verse doesn't require that people work six days a week, but restricts them from working more than six days a week.

"but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates" (v. 10). This verse defines what is involved in remembering the sabbath day and keeping it holy. That requires refraining from working on the sabbath.

  • This is not the first mention of refraining from work on the sabbath. When Yahweh initiated the provision of manna, he said, "On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days" (16:5). This made it unnecessary for them to collect manna on the sabbath. When some of the people tried to gather manna on the sabbath, they found none (16:27). The Lord said, "Behold, because Yahweh has given you the Sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days. Everyone stay in his place. Let no one go out of his place on the seventh day" (16:29-30).
  • The commandment not only applies to adult Israelites, but also applies to their children, their slaves, their livestock, and any alien residents who happen to be living among them. These provisions are intended to eliminate loopholes. Without them, an Israelite might feel free to make the sabbath a work-productive day by having other people do what he is constrained from doing personally.
  • The Mishnah (oral law) specified thirty-nine types of work that were prohibited on the sabbath, and rabbis rendered judgments with regard to particular cases. Certain exceptions were allowed, such as acting to preserve life or to save a life.
  • Jesus was involved with six sabbath controversies in which he was accused of working on the sabbath. Five of these involved healings, and one involved his disciples picking grain on the sabbath.
    - In one instance, he defended healing a sick man by reminding the Pharisees that they would rescue an animal in distress on the sabbath (Luke 14:1-6).
    - In another instance (not involving an accusation that Jesus was working on the sabbath), Jesus reminded his critics that they would circumcise a child on the eighth day, even if that happened to be a sabbath (John 7:21-24).
    - When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing his disciples to pick grain on the sabbath, Jesus reminded them that David "entered the house of God...and ate the show bread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and gave also to those who were with him" (Mark 2:26). And then he added this principle: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).
  • The early church quickly adopted the first day of the week (rather than the seventh day) as its day of worship, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the first day of the week. The apostle Paul, responding to a controversy regarding sabbath observance, made it clear that Christians are permitted to observe or not to observe the sabbath. However, if they decide to observe it, they are to do so in honor of the Lord Jesus (Romans 14:5-6).

"for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy" (v. 11). Gen. 2:1-4 concludes the first account of the creation, and says that God rested on the seventh day "and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work which he had created and made" (2:3). It would seem that God did this, not because he was exhausted, but to serve as a model for the Israelites, whom he would require to keep the sabbath day as a holy day.


12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged on the land which the LORD your God gives you.

The earlier commandments were all focused on giving honor to God. This is the first of the commandments that are focused on relationships with other humans. Because the family is the building block of society and the bond between children and parents is so fundamental, God chose honoring parents as the first human-directed commandment.

"Honor your father and your mother" (v. 12a). Note the equal status accorded fathers and mothers, a remarkable bit of legislation in the patriarchal society of that day.

  • Most scholars agree that this commandment was intended for adults rather than children. The primary concern of this commandment was for grown children to provide support for aging parents. Their system called for aging parents to turn over property (usually land and livestock) to their grown children, and called those children to assume responsibility for the care of their parents. Jesus called attention to the fact that some children would sidestep this requirement by declaring that they had given to God whatever support the parent would have received from the child. Jesus denounced this practice, saying that those who practiced it made void God's law in favor of their own traditions (Mk 7:11-13).
  • While the primary concern of this commandment has to do with the financial support of aging parents, we would be remiss to leave it at that. There are other ways to honor parents. One is by taking time to visit them or to talk to them. Another is by sending personal cards or letters. Another is by speaking graciously about them to other people. Another is by remembering special days such as birthdays or holidays and sharing those days with them. The possibilities are limited only by one's imagination.

"that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you" (v. 12b). The author of Ephesians calls this commandment "the first commandment with a promise" (Ephesians 6:2)-and this is the promise. Yahweh is leading them toward the Promised Land. If they want to enjoy their tenure in that blessed place for a long time, they should honor their father and mother.


13 "You shall not murder. (Hebrew: tirsah).

This commandment was intended to protect the covenant-community, Israel, against wanton killing. It was not intended to proscribe capital punishment or killing in war.
Note: The earlier translation of this verse, "Thou shalt not kill!" created confusion, because it appeared to prohibit all kinds of killing-or at least all taking of human life. That was not the intent. The word tirsah has to do with killing without legal authorization-killing that results from malice or hatred-killing that we today would label as murder. That some killing is permitted is attested by two facts:

  • Jewish law prescribes capital punishment for a number of offenses (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13-16; 20:11-14; Numbers 35:16-21, 30-33; Deuteronomy 17:6; 22:20-24, etc.).
  • Also Yahweh commanded the Israelites to enter the Promised Land and to put the inhabitants to death (Joshua 6:17, etc.).
  • However, even though this commandment does not prohibit capital punishment, killing in self-defense, or killing in a wartime environment, it does offer substantial protection against wanton killing based on malice or hatred.


14 "You shall not commit adultery.

The word adultery means sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, at least one of whom is married to another person. In its original patriarchal context, it seems to have meant only sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who married to another man. It did not prohibit men from having more than one sexual partner. That culture was polygamous, so men were permitted to have multiple wives and/or concubines (a concubine being a woman in an acknowledged relationship with a man whose status was less than that of the man's wife).

  • Other Jewish laws limited the sexual relationships in other ways. A man was forbidden:
    - To have sexual relations with his daughter-in-law (Leviticus 20:12).
    - To have sexual relations with another man (Leviticus 20:13).
    - To take both a woman and the woman's mother as wives (Leviticus 20:14).
    - To have sexual relations with an animal (Leviticus 20:15)
    - To have sexual relations with (or to uncover the nakedness of) his sister (Leviticus 20:17).
    - To have sexual relations with a menstruating woman (Leviticus 20:18).
    - To uncover the nakedness of his mother's sister or his father's sister (Leviticus 20:19).
    - To have sexual relationships with his uncle's wife (Leviticus 20:20).
    - To have sexual relationships with his brother's wife (Leviticus 20:20)-although there was an exception that, in the event that a married man died without children, his brother was to take the deceased man's wife as his own wife, so "that his name not be blotted out of Israel" (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)-a practice that also gave the widow a certain amount of security.
    - To profane his daughter by making her a prostitute (Leviticus 19:29).
    - To have sexual relationships with a virgin engaged to another man (Deuteronomy 22:23-27).
    - To "lay hold on" a virgin and have sexual relations with her (Deuteronomy 22:28-30).
  • However, the fact that the sin of adultery was the one sexual sin singled out for mention in these Ten Words/Commandments shows how seriously it was regarded. The family is the building block of society, so for a man to intrude upon another man's home and wife constituted a threat, not only to the other man's family, but also to society at large.
  • Today, people tend not to take adultery nearly as seriously as they did in Biblical times, but adultery continues to cause broken hearts, broken families, and wounded children. Because broken families are usually less viable financially than intact families, adultery also contributes to problems associated with children being raised in poverty.


15 "You shall not steal.

Some scholars consider this word/commandment to prohibit only taking another person's belongings by stealth. However, there is no reason to limit it in that manner. The taking of property by stealth is called theft and the taking property by violence is called robbery. Our laws rightfully consider robbery to be the greater of the two crimes, because robbers are more likely to inflict physical injury on the victim. We should consider this commandment as proscribing both theft and robbery.

  • We should note that stealing has the potential to cause serious injury to its victims-even if there is no physical violence involved. That was especially true during Biblical times, when most people had only enough to maintain a marginal existence. If someone stole their sheep, it could result in their starving or losing everything. The poorer the victim, the more serious is the crime of stealing.
  • However, even the affluent suffer when they become victims of theft or robbery. The feeling of being personally violated creates a kind of fear that is slow to go away. That kind of fear can cause victims of theft or robbery to lead guarded, fearful lives.
  • We should also note that stealing can go beyond the taking of physical possessions. The next commandment forbids bearing false witness, because false witness has the potential to rob a person of reputation and/or personal freedom.


16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

This commandment has to do primarily with the bearing of false testimony against a neighbor-i.e., against a member of the covenant community-in a legal setting. However, there is nothing in this brief commandment that limits its application to a legal setting.

  • While false testimony in a legal setting can have serious, even fatal, consequences, it can have serious consequences in other settings as well. False witness can result in the loss of a person's good reputation or job. It can damage a marriage or relationships between friends. For most of us, our greatest temptation with regard to this commandment is gossip.
  • Leviticus 5:1 specifies that a person who knows the truth and fails to volunteer as a witness to save another person shall himself "bear his iniquity."
  • The seriousness with which the Jews took the issue of false witness is attested by the numerous times that it is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 23:1; Leviticus 6:3; 19:11, 16; Deuteronomy 5:20; 19:16-20; Psalm 27:12; 35:11; Proverbs 6:16-19; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 18:5; 19:9, 28; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18; Zechariah 5:3-4; Matthew 15:19; 19:18; Luke 3:14; 18:20; 1 Timothy 1:9-10).
  • Because of the potentially serious consequences of false witness, Jewish law required the corroboration of at least two witnesses to convict a person of a crime (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Numbers 35:30), and required witnesses to take the lead in carrying out a death sentence (Deuteronomy 17:7)-a requirement intended to emphasize the seriousness of the person's testimony. If it appeared that a person might be guilty of false witness, Jewish law required that there be a thorough inquiry. If the inquiry substantiated the charge of false witness, the law required that the community impose the same punishment on the false witness that the false witness intended to impose on the other party (Deuteronomy 19:16-20).


17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male slave, or his female slave, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

As noted above, Catholics (and some Protestants) split verse 17 into the ninth and tenth commandments-one a prohibition against coveting a neighbor's house and the other a prohibition against coveting a neighbor's wife, slave, livestock, or anything else that belongs to the neighbor. That probably is because the parallel commandment in Deuteronomy 5:21 uses two different verbs. It proscribes coveting the neighbor's wife or desiring the neighbor's house, field, etc. However, Jews and most Protestants regard Exodus 20:17 as one commandment.

"You shall not covet (hamad) your neighbor's house (bayit). You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's" (v. 17). The first question to address is what is meant by the word hamad, which we translate as covet. Does this commandment proscribe simple desire or does it proscribe only desire that is sufficiently intense to tempt the one doing the coveting to act on his/her desire-to take by stealth or force that which is desired?

  • There is no doubt that this commandment proscribes the latter-desire so intense that it tempts the one doing the coveting to act on his/her desire. While mild desire for something belonging to a neighbor would probably not constitute a culpable offense under this commandment, as we move up the desire-scale to more intense longing, we move up the danger-scale and the temptation-scale as well. If we dwell on our desire so that it grows in intensity, we will almost certainly violate this commandment.
  • The next question, then, is how much control we have over our desires. If we desire something belonging to our neighbor, is it possible to control that desire so that it doesn't spiral out of control-so that we don't violate this commandment?
  • The fact is that we have a great deal of control over our desires. We can choose to dwell on our desires so that they grow more intense-or to look for other avenues to meet our needs. Whether a desire becomes an obsession depends more on the way that we choose to handle it than on the nature of the desire.
  • While it is true that some desires (alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, etc.) can lead to addictions that are very difficult to control, that does not invalidate the significance of choices. Seldom does a person become addicted with his/her first drink-or his/her first experience with drugs-or his/her first peek at a nude photo-or by one trip to the gambling table. Desires grow into obsessions and addictions by repetition-and by our decision to nurse them. If we exercise good choices prior to becoming addicted, we can prevent the addiction.
  • Even after a person becomes addicted, there is hope that he/she can regain control of his/her life. Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organizations offer peer-group support that can help an addicted person to gain control over his/her behavior. However, that person must choose to go to the organization's meetings and to follow the organization's procedures and guidelines.
  • I conclude, then, that we can control our desires, particularly if we begin to exercise control over them before they become obsessive or addictive. We can make choices that lead to covetous behavior-or we can make choices that will keep our desires within permissible bounds.
  • One implication here is that good spiritual training is vital so that the person will know what is and what is not permissible. In our culture, there are people whose upbringing leaves them handicapped at this point. Many parents fail to instill good values in their children. Another question has to do with the definition of our neighbor's house (bayit). Does this commandment proscribe coveting the neighbor's real estate, or is there more involved?
  • The Hebrew word, bayit, has a broader meaning than our word house. It refers to the person's household, which would include the person's family and possessions. Therefore, when this commandment proscribes coveting a neighbor's house, it includes other things, such as the neighbor's wife-and the neighbor's new BMW-and the neighbor's new laptop. The implications are spelled out in considerable detail by the rest of the verse, which ends by telling us not to covet anything that belongs to our neighbor.
  • What is especially significant about this commandment is that it goes to the heart of our behaviors. If we gain control over our desires, we won't be tempted to murder-or to commit adultery-or to steal-or to bear false witness. Jesus reinforced this same principle when he said that it is necessary to control our anger so that we don't become guilty of murder (Matthew 6:21-26)-and to control our sexual desires so that we don't become guilty of adultery (Matthew 6:27-30).

EW Commentary: Exodus 20:1-17 - The Ten Commandments

A. Four commandments regarding our conduct before God.

1. (20:1) Preface to the Ten Commandments.

And God spoke all these words, saying:

  1. And God spoke: It is proper to believe that God spoke these words to Israel as a whole, as they assembled together at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, God answered him [Moses] by voice (Exodus 19:19), as Moses stood among the people at the foot of Mount Sinai.
        i. "These commandments were after all addressed to the ordinary Israelite, not to the religious elite of the day: they are expressed in strong simple terms, understandable to all, and deal with the temptations of the common man, not of the theologian." (Cole)
        ii. After this, the people asked that God not speak with them directly, and that Moses be the messenger (Exodus 20:18-19). After this, Moses went back up the mountain to receive more revelation from God for the people (Exodus 20:21).
        iii. In reading and thinking through these commandments, it should be always remembered that Israel first heard these commands spoken by God from heaven in an audible voice. This made the strongest, most authoritative impression upon the people possible.
  2. God spoke all these words: The following laws were not invented at Mount Sinai. A few aspects of the Mosaic Law show new revelation, but for the most part it simply clearly and definitely lays out God's law as it was written in the heart of man since the time of Adam.
        i. "It is wrong to steal, or murder, or covet, not primarily because these sins are forbidden by the Decalogue. They are forbidden by the Decalogue, because they were previously forbidden by conscience; and they are forbidden by conscience because they are forbidden by the nature of things; and the nature of things is God." (Meyer)
        ii. "It has been well said that the commandments are God's nature expressed in terms of moral imperatives." (Cole)
        iii. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explained how there certainly is a universal morality among men. He gave concrete examples of how all cultures in the past were able to agree on the basics of morality because these principles are implanted in the heart and mind of mankind.
        iv. All cultures have said murder is wrong, and kindness is good. All agree that we have particular obligations to our family. All say that honesty is good and that a man cannot have any woman he wants. They agree that stealing is wrong, and that justice is good. There are no cultures where cowardice is good, and bravery is bad.
  3. God spoke all these words: This God-based moral code set the God of Israel - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - apart from the commonly worshipped gods of the pagan world at that time. They were often just as immoral or more immoral than their human followers.
        i. The God-based moral code also established that this people, this nation of Israel belonged to God and not to Moses. This wasn't Moses' law (though we often casually refer to it as such). Rather, God spoke all these words, and Moses nor any other man was never to think of himself our allow others to think of him as above the law. God was above all, and His law was and is the expression of His will.
        ii. The Code of Hammurabi is another well-known set of laws and principles from this same approximate period. There are some similarities between the Ten Commandments/Mosaic Law and the Code of Hammurabi, but the differences are even more profound. While Hammurabi mentions the gods of Babylon, the emphasis is clearly on him as the king and lawgiver (with divine authority, of course). The Code of Hammurabi begins with page after page of how wonderful Hammurabi is and how much he has accomplished. Hammurabi is clearly above his own law since he was the embodiment of the law. Not so with Moses; the emphasis is clear: God spoke all these words, and no man is above the law.
  4. God spoke all these words: We need God to morally instruct and guide us. Though these principles resonate with the human conscience (both individually and collectively), they are certainly not the only influence upon our thinking and behavior. We need to know that there is a God in heaven who expects certain moral behavior and that there are consequences from obeying or disobeying these commands.
        i. The Ten Commandments (and all of the Law of Moses that follows) is a God-based moral code. It doesn't just say that certain behavior is unwise or unhelpful; it says that God commands us to do or not do certain things, and it either says or implies that:
    - God sees our obedience or disobedience.
    - God measures our obedience or disobedience.
    - God, in some way, rewards our obedience and punishes our disobedience.
        ii. Without a God-based moral code, it is difficult or impossible to answer the question "Why?" in response to any moral demand.
        iii. The idea of a God-based moral code seems to become less and less popular. While the idea of a moral code remains strong, the tendency grows that the moral code should be based on an individual's inner sense of right or wrong, good or bad - and not upon a standard set by God.
  5. God spoke all these words: The Bible tells us that the law is holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12). It tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). These commandments are good gifts that came to Israel and humanity at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are good because:
    - They show the wise moral guidance and government of God.
    - They answer the need of mankind for moral guidance and government.
    - They give us a way to teach morality.
    - They would make the world so much better if obeyed.
    - They are good for all humanity; some of the Law of Moses is specific unto Israel, but the Ten Commandments are universal.
    - They are good when they are promoted and held as ideals, even when not perfectly obeyed.
        i. "The 'ten words' are at once the beginning and the heart of the Mosaic revelation." (Cole)
  6. God spoke all these words: It is important for us to know, understand, receive, and obey all of these commandments in a fully Biblical perspective, also taking into account what the rest of the Book of Exodus the New Testament also tells us about the law of God.
        i. The Ten Commandments were never given with the thought that one might earn heaven by obeying them all perfectly or adequately. The covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai was much bigger than the law, though that was its first and perhaps most dramatic aspect. Another aspect of the covenant was sacrifice, which was given because both God and Israel knew that it was impossible for them to keep this law perfectly, and they must depend on the sacrifice of an innocent victim as a substitute for the guilty law-breaker. In this sense, the Ten Commandments were like a mirror that showed Israel their need for sacrifice.
        ii. These Ten Commandments can also be summarized as Jesus did in Matthew 22:35-40: Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." This simplification doesn't eliminate the Ten Commandments; it fulfills them, showing us the heart and desire of God for His people. The problem is that we haven't kept the two commandments either, much less the ten.
        iii. More importantly, we know that Jesus Himself was the only one to ever keep the law perfectly - either in the ten or the two. He never needed to sacrifice for His own sin, so could be the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Wonderfully, His obedience is credited to those who put their love and trust in Him. Romans 8:2-3 puts it this way: For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. This is God's amazing promise to those who repent and believe on Jesus.
        iv. The law is a schoolmaster to us (Galatians 3:22-25). Before God's plan of salvation in Jesus Christ was fully evident, we were kept under guard by the law - both in the sense of being bound by the law, but also held in protective custody. The law, through its revelation of God's character and its exposure of our sin, prepares us to come to Jesus - but after we have come, we no longer have to live under our tutor (though we remember the behavior he has taught us).
        v. From the perspective of the entire Bible, we can say that the law of God has three great purposes and uses:
    - It is a guardrail, keeping humanity on a moral path.
    - It is a mirror, showing us our moral failure and need for a savior.
    - It is a guide, showing us the heart and desire of God for His people.
        vi. "The great message of the Christian faith is, therefore, that we are free from the Law's condemnation in order that we may be able to fulfill its obligation by the power of [Jesus] within us." (Redpath)
        vii. "My obedience therefore is not legal, but inspired by love and empowered by God's Holy Spirit. Does New Testament grace allow a lower standard than Old Testament law? The standard under grace is higher." (Redpath)
        viii. The Ten Commandments are often organized into two groups. The first four focus on our conduct toward God, and the next six on our conduct toward one another.

2. (20:2-3) The first commandment: no other gods before Me.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me."

  1. I am the LORD your God: In the ancient world (including Egypt), men worshipped many gods. Here Yahweh (the LORD), the covenant God of Israel, set Himself apart from any of the other supposed deities.
        i. In these first few words, God both reminded and taught Israel essential facts or principles about who He is, about His nature.
    - God is above nature; He is not merely the personification of fire, or the wind, or the sun, or the sky, or any other created thing.
    - God is personal; He is not a depersonalized force; He relates with and communicates to man in an understandable way. God has a mind, a will, a voice, and so forth.
    - God is good; He had done good for Israel and now does good for them in giving these commands, the keeping of which not only pleases Him, but is genuinely best for humanity.
    - God is holy; He is different than the supposed gods of the pagans, and He therefore also expects His people to be different.
        ii. It seems that the structure of these commands and covenant were familiar in the ancient world. "Most scholars point to the similarity between this historical prologue (followed by its stipulations, witnesses, and provisions for succession) and the great suzerain-vassal treaty forms of the ancient Near East." (Kaiser)
  2. Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: Before God commanded anything of Israel He reminded them what He had done for them. This was a clear foundation: because of who God is, and what He has done for us, He has the right to tell us what to do - and we have the obligation to obey Him.
        i. "God did not promulgate a code of laws for the children of Israel, while they were in bondage, telling them that if they would obey it, He would deliver them. He brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and then gave them His law." (Morgan)
        ii. "God's blessings are binders; every deliverance is a tie to obedience." (Trapp)
  3. You shall have no other gods before Me: The first commandment logically flowed from understanding who God was and what He had done for Israel. Because of that, nothing was to come before God and He was the only God we worship and serve.
        i. In the days of ancient Israel, there was great temptation to worship the gods of materialism (such as Baal, the god of weather and financial success) and sex (such as Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex, romance, and reproduction), or any number of other local deities. We are tempted to worship the same gods, but without the old-fashioned names and images.
        ii. It has been said (perhaps first by John Calvin) that human nature is like an idol factory that operates constantly. We constantly deal with the temptation to set all kinds of things before or competing with God and His preeminent place in our life.
  4. No other gods before Me: This does not imply that it is permissible to have other gods, as long as they line up behind the true God. Instead the idea is that there are to be no other gods before the sight of the true God in our life. According to Cole, before Me is literally, To My face.
        i. This means God demands to be more than added to our lives. We don't just add Jesus to the life we already have. We must give Him all our life.
        ii. Failure to obey this commandment is called idolatry. We are to flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). Those lives marked by habitual idolatry will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8, 22:15). Idolatry is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), which marks our old life instead of the new (1 Peter 4:3), and we are not to associate with those who call themselves Christians who are idolaters (1 Corinthians 5:11).

3. (20:4-6) The second commandment: You shall not make for yourself any carved image... you shall not bow down to them.

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

  1. You shall not make for yourself a carved image: The second commandment prohibited not only idolatry regarding false gods (overlapping with the first commandment), it also forbids with making an image of any created thing that we might worship (you shall not bow down to them nor serve them).
        i. Some take this command to prohibit any kind of representation of God, such as with a painting of Jesus or a picture of a dove to represent the Holy Spirit, or any other representation. However, others emphasize that the prohibition is actually in the making of an image that would be or would likely be worshipped (you shall not bow down to them nor serve them).
        ii. Speaking later of Israel's experience at Sinai, Moses wrote: 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 (Deuteronomy 4:12). This established the principle that the worship of God was to be word-based and not image-based.
  2. Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath: In that day as well as in our own, worship was tied closely with images - idealized images, or even images in the mind of man. God will not allow us to depict Him with any such image, nor replace Him with another image.
        i. The second commandment doesn't forbid making an image of something for artistic purposes; God Himself commanded Israel make images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18, 26:31). It forbids the making of images as an aid or help to worship. "If the making of cherubim was permitted, then the prohibition of the 'image' will refer only to the making of direct objects of worship." (Cole)
        ii. "To countenance its image worship, the Roman Catholic Church has left the whole of this second commandment out of the decalogue, and thus lost one whole commandment out of the ten; but to keep up the number they have divided the tenth into two." (Clarke)
        iii. In John 4:24 Jesus explained the rationale behind the second commandment: God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The use of images and other material things as a focus or help to worship denies who God is (Spirit) and how we must worship Him (in spirit and truth).
        iv. Paul reminded us of the danger and futility of trying to make  God into our own image: Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23)
  3. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God: God is jealous in the sense that He will not accept being merely added to the life; He insists on being supreme and does this out of love.
        i. "God's jealousy is love in action. He refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for Himself, but because He knows that upon that loyalty to Him depends our very moral life... God is not jealous of us: He is jealous for us." (Redpath)
        ii. "'Zealous' might be a better translation in modern English, since 'jealousy' has acquired an exclusively bad meaning." (Cole)
  4. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me: This does not mean God punishes people directly for the sins of their ancestors. The important words are of those who hate Me. If the descendants love God, they will not have the iniquity of the fathers visited on them.
        i. "'This necessarily implies - IF the children walk in the steps of their fathers; for no man can be condemned by Divine justice for a crime of which he was never guilty." (Clarke)
        ii. "Children who repeat the sins of their father evidence it in personally hating god; hence they too are punished like their fathers." (Kaiser)
        iii. Yet, the focus here is on idolatry, and this refers to judgment on a national scale - nations that forsake the LORD will be judged, and that judgment will have effects throughout generations.
  5. But showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments: It's possible for everyone to receive God's mercy; if they will only turn to Him in love and obedience.

4. (20:7) The third commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."

  1. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: There are at least three ways this command is commonly disobeyed.
    - Profanity: Using the name of God in blasphemy and cursing.
    - Frivolity: Using the name of God in a superficial, stupid way.
    - Hypocrisy: Claiming the name of God but acting in a way that disgraces Him
        i. Jesus communicated the idea of this command in the disciples' prayer, when He taught us to have a regard for the holiness of God's name (Hallowed be Your name, Matthew 6:9).
  2. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain: The strength of this command has led to strange traditions among the Jewish people. Some go to extreme measures to avoid violating this command, refusing to even write out the word God, in the fear that the paper might be destroyed, and the name of God be written in vain.

5. (20:8-11) The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

  1. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: The command is to respect the seventh day (Saturday) as a day of rest (you shall do no work). This rest was for all of Israel - for the son and the servant and the stranger - even including cattle.
        i. This is an important principle that might be too easily passed over. Here God declared the essential humanity and dignity of women, slaves, and strangers, and said they had the same right to a day of rest as the free Israeli man. This was certainly a radical concept in the ancient world.
        ii. "The baser sort of people in Sweden do always break the Sabbath, saying that it is for gentlemen to keep that day." (Trapp)
  2. To keep it holy: God commanded Israel - and all humanity - to make sure that there was sacred time in their life, separated time of rest.
        i. In their traditions, the Jewish people came to carefully quantify what they thought could and could not be done on the Sabbath day, in order to keep it holy. For example, in Luke 6:1-2, in the mind of the Jewish leaders, the disciples were guilty of four violations of the Sabbath every time they took a bite of grain out in the field, because they reaped, threshed, winnowed, and prepared food.
        ii. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But he could carry something with the back of his hand, his foot, his elbow, or in his ear, his hair, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or sandal. Or on the Sabbath Israelites were forbidden to tie a knot - except, a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, an Israelite could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket and pull it up from the well.
        iii. In observant Jewish homes today, one cannot turn on a light, a stove, or a switch on the Sabbath. It is forbidden to drive a certain distance or to make a telephone call - all carefully regulated by traditions seeking to spell out the law exactly.
  3. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth: God established the pattern for the Sabbath at the time of creation. When He rested from His works on the seventh day, God made the seventh day a day of rest from all our works (Genesis 2:3). It's as if God said, having too much to do isn't an excuse from taking the rest you need - I created the universe and found time to rest from My work.
        i. When God told them to remember the Sabbath, He told them to remember the rest. "The term 'Sabbath' is derived from the Hebrew verb 'to rest or cease from work.'" (Kaiser) The most important purpose of the Sabbath was to serve as a preview picture of the rest we have in Jesus.
        ii. Like everything in the Bible, we understand this with the perspective of the whole Bible, not this single passage. With this understanding, we see that there is a real sense in which Jesus fulfilled the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11) - He is our rest, when we remember His finished work we remember the Sabbath, we remember the rest.
        iii. Therefore, the whole of Scripture makes it clear that under the New Covenant, no one is under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11). Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week - the rest of knowing we don't have to work to save ourselves, but our salvation is accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).
        iv. The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). In the New Covenant the idea isn't that there is no Sabbath, but that every day is a day of Sabbath rest in the finished work of God. Since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any particular day - or no day - as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel.
        v. Yet we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest - God has built us so that we need one. Like a car that needs regular maintenance, we need regular rest - or we will not wear well. Some people are like high mileage cars that haven't been maintained well, and it shows.
        vi. Some Christians are also dogmatic about observing Saturday as the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. But because we are free to regard all days as given by God, it makes no difference. But in some ways, Sunday is more appropriate; being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9), and first met with His disciples (John 20:19), and a day when Christians gathered for fellowship (Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2). Under Law, men worked towards God's rest; but after Jesus' finished work on the cross, the believer enters into rest and goes from that rest out to work.
        vii. But we are also commanded to work six days. "He who idles his time away in the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh." (Clarke) Many Christians should give more "leisure time" to the work of the LORD. Every Christian should have a deliberate way to serve God and advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

B. Six commandments regarding our conduct before God and man.

1. (20:12) The fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you."

  1. Honor your father and your mother: This command is wise and good, because honor for parents is an essential building block for the stability and health of all society. If the younger generations are constantly at war with older generations, the foundations of society will be destroyed.
        i. To honor one's parents includes to prize them, to care for them, and to show respect or reverence to them. The command is given to children, but not for only while they are children. "This is not a popular doctrine in our modern world, where youth is worshipped, and old age dreaded or despised. The result is the folly by which men or women strive to remain eternally youthful, only to find it an impossible task." (Cole)
        ii. Jesus used the way the Pharisees interpreted this commandment as an example of how one might keep the law with a limited interpretation yet violate the spirit of the commandment (Matthew 15:3-6).
  2. That your days may be long: In Ephesians 6:2 Paul repeated this command, emphasizing the promise stated here, that your days may be long upon the land. Rebellion is costly, and many have paid a high price personally for their rebellion against their parents.
        i. "A good child lengtheneth his father's days; therefore God promiseth to lengthen his." (Trapp)

2. (12:13) The sixth commandment: You shall not murder

"You shall not murder."

  1. You shall not murder: In Hebrew as well as in English there is a distinction between to kill and to murder. As opposed to killing, murder is the taking of life without legal justification (execution after due process) or moral justification (killing in defense).
        i. "Only two words are used in Hebrew, as blunt as the order 'no killing' would be in English." (Cole)
        ii. Kaiser on rasah: "Hebrew possesses seven words for killing... If any one of the seven words could signify 'murder,' where factors of premeditation and intentionality are present, this is the verb." (Kaiser)
        iii. This important distinction explains how someone can quite consistently argue for the principle of capital punishment and the prohibition of murder. When carried out properly, capital punishment is killing with legal justification.
  2. You shall not murder: Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. He showed that it also prohibits us from hating someone else (Matthew 5:21-26), because we can wish someone dead in our hearts, yet never have the nerve to commit the deed. Someone may not kill from a lack of courage or initiative, yet his or her heart is filled with hatred.

3. (20:14) The seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not commit adultery."

  1. You shall not commit adultery: Clearly, the act itself is condemned. God allows no justification for the ways that many often seek to justify extra-marital sex. It is not to be done, and when it is done it is sin and it damages.
        i. "For a man to have intercourse with another man's wife was considered as heinous sin against God as well as man, long before the law, in patriarchal times (Genesis 39:9)." (Cole)
        ii. Because there are different punishments for adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22) and the seduction of a virgin woman (Exodus 22:16-17, Deuteronomy 22:23-29), adultery is distinguished from pre-marital sex in the Old Testament. Each is wrong, but wrong in sometimes-different ways.
        iii. Some years ago there was a Christian music industry singer named Michael English. He lost his recording contract and marriage over adultery with another Christian singer. Afterward he said of his adultery and its aftermath: "Maybe God allowed this to happen to make me see I needed some freedom." No!
  2. You shall not commit adultery: The New Testament clearly condemns adultery: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication uncleanness, licentiousness (Galatians 5:19). The act is condemned, but not only the act itself.
        i. More than the act itself, Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. It prohibits us from looking at a woman to lust for her, where we commit adultery in our heart or mind, yet may not have the courage or opportunity to do the act (Matthew 5:27-30). We aren't innocent just because we didn't have the opportunity to sin the way we really want to.
        ii. "As to the word adultery, adulterium, it has probably been derived from the words ad alterius torum, to another's bed; for it is going to the bed of another man that constitutes the act and the crime." (Clarke)

4. (15) The eighth commandment: You shall not steal.

"You shall not steal."

  1. Not steal: This command is another important foundation for human society, establishing the right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or states are not permitted to take that property without due process of law.
  2. Not steal: We can also steal from God. Of course, this demands we honor God with our financial resources, so we are not guilty of robbing Him (Malachi 3:8-10). But we can also rob God by refusing to give Him ourselves for obedience and His service, because He bought us and owns us: knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold... but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19)
        i. 1 Corinthians 6:20 gives the same idea: For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
  3. Not steal: Ephesians 4:28 gives the solution to stealing. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

5. (20:16) The ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

  1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: The primary sense of this command has to do with the legal process. Yet it is common to speak in an informal court, where what we say is taken seriously and truth or error matters for us and for others.
        i. In an extended sense, we can break the ninth commandment through slander, tale bearing, creating false impressions, by silence, by questioning the motives behind someone's actions, or even by flattery.
        ii. "Slander... is a lie invented and spread with intent to do harm. That is the worst form of injury a person can do to another. Compared to one who does this, a gangster is a gentleman, and a murderer is kind, because he ends life in a moment with a stroke and with little pain. But the man guilty of slander ruins a reputation which may never be regained, and causes lifelong suffering." (Redpath)
        iii. "Talebearing... is repeating a report about a person without careful investigation. Many, many times I have known what it is to suffer with that. To repeat a story which brings discredit and dishonor to another person without making sure of the facts, is breaking this commandment... How many people, especially Christian people, revel in this, and delight in working havoc by telling tales about others. To excuse the action by saying they believed the report to be true, or that there was no intention to malign, is no justification." (Redpath)
        iv. Inappropriate silence may also break this command. "When someone utters a falsity about another and a third person is present who knows that statement to be untrue but, for reasons of fear or being disliked, remains quiet, that third person is as guilty of breaking this law as if he had told a lie." (Redpath)
        v. "Neither bear it, nor hear it; raise, nor receive wrong reports of another; [do not] make a lie, nor love it when it is made." (Trapp)
  2. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: The New Testament puts it simply. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9). Lying and false representations belong to the old man, not to the new life we have in Jesus.
        i. "How very strange that we have ever come to think that Christian maturity is shown by the ability to speak our minds, whereas it is really expressed in controlling our tongues." (Redpath)
        ii. "What a startling revelation it would be if a tape recording could be played of all that every church member has said about his fellow members in one week!" (Redpath)
        iii. Satan is always there to encourage a lie (John 8:44; Acts 5:3); and Jesus Himself was the victim of false witness (Mark 14:57); in some ways, we might say this was the sin that sent Jesus to the cross.

6. (17) The tenth commandment: You shall not covet.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

  1. You shall not covet: All the first nine commands focus more on things we do; the tenth deals straight with the heart and its desires.
        i. Literally, the word for covet here means, to pant after. "Hebrew hamad, 'desire', is in itself a neutral word. It is only when misdirected to that which belongs to another that such 'desire' becomes wrong." (Cole)
        ii. Covetousness works like this: the eyes look upon an object, the mind admires it, the will goes over to it, and the body moves in to possess it. Just because you have not taken the final step does not mean you are not in the process of coveting right now.
  2. Your neighbor's house... wife... ox... donkey: Covetousness can be expressed towards all sorts of things; it is the itch to have and to possess what someone else has. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with what we have, and a jealously towards those who have something better.
        i. Hebrews 13:5 puts it well: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
        ii. This last commandment is closely connected with the first commandment against idolatry: For this you know, that no... covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).
        iii. Jesus gave a special warning about covetousness, which explained the core philosophy of the covetous heart: And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15)