The first four commandments articulate a personal relationship with God and teach the new nation of Israel God’s holiness and exclusive relationship. The remaining six commands teach the nation and individuals how to treat each other in God’s kingdom. Their personal worship of the LORD is intertwined with their relationship to their neighbors; all are based on loving God and loving our neighbor.
The fifth command is “You shall not murder” or “kill” in some translations. The verb used refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of human life and teaches the sanctity of all human life. It does not refer to the judicial executions for capital of offenses or deaths resulting from war. We understand from this command that human life is precious because even in its sin soaked forms human beings are made in the image of God. Jesus clearly states that Satan is the source of murderous actions from the beginning of time; his purpose was to bring death to mankind. Think of the nations that surround the Israelites, the practice of human sacrifice, of leaving unwanted babies out to die, the casual killing of slaves and outsiders all this is forbidden by God because He has placed His image in every human even the rejected and unwanted of this world.
You shall not commit adultery follows the prohibition against the taking of innocent life; by this God’s sets His order of priority to protect life and protect the marriage covenant. Husbands and wives shall be faithful to each other in thought and deed. We know the high priority of marriage because God frequently describes the desertion of His people to other gods as adultery. Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”; He confirms God’s purpose “the two, male and female will become one flesh”. Like our relationship with the LORD, when we accept Christ and bend our will to the Savior’s we become united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Whenever we allow false gods, images and ideas of our own creation to invade our lives it will steal our devotion to God alone and we too become adulterous.
You shall not steal reflects a respect for property rights, but is not limited to land or money. We cannot take anything that belongs to another; material things like money, land or treasures, but also a person’s reputation and their trust or dignity. The Apostle Paul helps us to understand that this means more than not doing something; instead of taking from others we are to use our efforts and blessings to help those in need.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” could be literally translated “do not be a lying witness”. While some might like to limit this to truth telling in a courtroom setting, any situation where untrue words are used to harm another individual is giving false testimony. This is command is far-reaching in our relationship with others; when we spread a rumor or gossip we join with the false witness even if we did not originate the falsehoods. When we fail to speak the truth, we allow or insinuate the falsehood without actually saying it is so. All this false testimony leads to contempt for truth; as if truth can be determined or changed by our approval or silence. Ultimately contempt for the truth leads to injustice and pervasive false witness leads to confusion so severe that we can no longer distinguish the truth from a lie.
God’s final word addresses our inner feelings and thoughts; “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servant, ox, donkey nor anything that belongs to your neighbor”. Quite simply coveting leads to evil and thus all the preceding commandments; coveting allows the evil desires of our mind to invade our heart and guide our actions. Remember God gave us these commands as a blessing not as a burden; if we learn to apply this discipline of thinking rightly, then we will be content to live with what God had graciously provided – what a blessing that is!