Exodus 20:13-17

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!

Exodus 20:1-12

The Ten Commandments are a summary of the moral law that God personally gave to his chosen people to teach them how to live as free people under the kingship of the LORD Almighty. The stipulations of the covenant agreement were everything the Israelites would need to become a great nation that would be a blessing to the entire world. The giving of the Law was God’s plan to restore his blessings and relationship with the descendants of Adam; it taught them how to live as holy people governed by God’s justice. The Law continues to teach us God’s character and perfect holiness and reveals our inclination to selfishness and sin by comparison.

The Ten Commandments are based on God as the source of the Law, higher than any king or human authority; they are not based on personal opinion or cultural norms but on the very words of the LORD. The Israelites too were under cultural pressure to worship and govern like the nations that surrounded them; together we are learning to live God’s way, not in ways of our own making. God’s covenant establishes a personal and intimate relationship with the Creator, when the Israelites lived within the restraints of God’s covenant they would experience the blessings and freedom that comes from knowing God and living as His people. These covenant promises of blessings and freedom continue to be available for us today.

“God spoke all these words”. God communicated from the mountain with words punctuated with thunder, darkness, fire and trumpet blasts; the Israelites heard God’s voice and trembled with fear. God’s first words declare, “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” The LORD Almighty is different from the gods of Egypt; He commands an exclusive relationship between Himself and His people. God calls the Israelites to be His people therefore they will worship and serve only Him. Additionally, the LORD God is supreme no other object of worship will stand alongside or compete with the LORD: “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God”.

Next, the LORD’s commands the Israelites to not make any image, carving or likeness of any of the creatures of heaven or earth. This command prohibits both making minor gods and attempting to capture God’s essence in images for the purpose of worship. Deuteronomy 4:15-18 clarifies this for us, explaining that any image we make corrupts the true nature of God who did not appear to the Israelites in any form. God is living spirit, active in our world and in our lives, not limited by our imaginations or controlled by human hands. Romans 1:25 describes what happens when we attempt to make or worship God in images created by our thoughts and hands. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised”. Our sinful inclination is to remake God into an image or theology that we are comfortable embracing and worshiping; we need to resist this tendency to brand God with our corrupt ideas and instead focus on the very words that God declares about Himself.

The third command forbids speaking the LORD your God’s name in vain; this is a command to revere the name, character and nature of the LORD. This would include idle and frivolous use of God’s name and speaking falsely about the LORD – God has revealed Himself to the world – we are not to make light of His being or misrepresent Him or bear false witness against God.

The fourth command is to set apart as holy, a Sabbath day. God gives his own work in creation as the example: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy”. God gives special instructions that this command is for everyone, even the animals were to be given one day rest out of seven. God instituted this pattern as a refreshing benefit for all mankind, Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.” After the ascension the early church began to gather together on Sundays as a weekly reminder of Jesus’ resurrection, this is called the LORD’s Day which has become a traditional day for Christian worship.

The fifth command is to honor you father and your mother that you may live a long time in the land the LORD your God is giving you. God sets another pattern for blessings and long life; a home life that honors and respects the LORD, parents and elders who teach and obey God’s holy commands will produce generations of descendants that honor, respect and obey the LORD. This will multiply the benefits and blessings to all who come in contact with God’s Holy people.

Exodus 19

Exactly three months after escaping from Egypt, the Israelites make camp at the base of Mt. Sinai. God brought them through the desert wilderness and when they doubted His presence the LORD graciously gave them exactly what they needed with a demonstration of power, provision and mercy. The LORD fulfilled His promise that the Israelites would come to this very spot, to worship the LORD on the mountain where God revealed Himself to Moses and promised to free His people from slavery. It is here that the LORD God creator of the universe makes a treaty with the people he rescued; the Israelites have become a free people now they will become a nation with the LORD God as their King.

God reveals his purpose to the Israelites: “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”

God promised Abraham and his descendants that He would make them into a great nation, He said, “I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The next step in God’s plan is put into motion, He will make a covenant with His people; He will teach them how to live and how to worship. If they diligently listen to the LORD and keep the covenant then they will become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The Israelites became with this covenant God’s special possession, but this status was conditional upon their obedience to God and His covenant.

Moses speaks this message from God to the Israelites and they all answered together, “All that the LORD commanded we will do!” Then God sets the stage for the formal establishment of His covenant; the preparations and the drama make the serious nature of the agreement clear to everyone. The LORD God will descend on the mountain in a dense cloud and He will speak to Moses and the people so that all would hear and believe.

First the Israelites must prepare themselves to meet with the LORD, they set a boundary around the base of the mountain with dire warnings against people and animals if they irreverently step foot on Holy ground. At the appropriate time, when the ram’s horn sounds they may go up on the mountain. The Israelites were commanded to sanctify themselves by washing their clothes to be ready on the third day. On the third day there was thunder and lightning, a dense cloud settled on the mountain and very loud horn sounded. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, the LORD descended with smoke and fire, the whole mountain shook, the horn grew louder and louder, Moses was speaking and God was answering him with a voice. The LORD God showed himself so that the Israelites would believe and obey the words of the LORD. Moses warns the people to not set foot on the mountain, then takes Aaron with him up the mountain of God, where God spoke the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are the conditions of the covenant, the very words of God, the constitution for the new nation of Israel. The Ten Commandments are the binding law for the new nation of Israel under Yahweh their God and King. These ten words spoken by God play a decisive role in the history of Israel, in western civilization and in humanity as a whole. The Law will teach the Israelites the awesome holiness of God and the exceeding sinfulness of man. The Law continues to teach us how to live as God’s special possession and to understand the greatness of God’s mercy and grace that provides a way for us to approach the LORD with confidence.