Exodus Chapter 20

The Ten Commandments

      • A very important note from Guzik’s commentary before we begin: “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 and the New Testament also tell us about the law of God…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…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…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… 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).”

    • Then God spoke these words to the people:

      • I am the Lord your God, that brought you out of slavery in Egypt.”

1. “Do not have any other god but Me.”

        • “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…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.” (Guzik)

2. “Do not make an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens, on the earth, below the earth, or in the sea. Do not bow down and worship them because I am a jealous God who lays the sins of the parents upon their children of those who hate Me to the third and fourth generations, but I show faithful love to those who love Me and obey My commands for a thousand generations.”

        • “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.” (Guzik)

        • “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)

      • Guzik writes, “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).”

      • Guzik also makes a very important observation that some may overlook, “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.”

      • What does it mean that God is “jealous?”

        • Redpath explains, “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.”

        • Cole writes, “’Zealous’ might be a better translation in modern English, since ‘jealousy’ has acquired an exclusively bad meaning.” (Cole)

      • Does God punish children for the sins of their parents?

        • First we much establish that the Hebrew definition of “love” and “hate” do not translate well into English. NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “The Hebrew words commonly translated “love” ( Exodus 20:6) and “hate” are difficult to translate into English because they include an act of the will as well as the emotional element we are familiar with. In biblical thinking, to “love” is to choose something and to act consistently in accord with that choice. To “hate” is to reject something and to act in ways consistent with that choice. The choice is connected to emotion: Feeling expresses itself in choices, and our choices show how we really feel.”

        • Now that we have a better understanding of what is meant biblically by “love” and “hate,” there are a couple of different approaches to understanding what is meant by “punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.”

                  1. Kaiser writes, “Children who repeat the sins of their father evidence it in personally hating God; hence they too are punished like their fathers.” Guzik posits, “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.”

                  2. “God does not punish children for their parents’ sins. Rather, He is saying that our sins affect future generations of descendants. But He is also restricting the natural effects of those sins to three or four generations, while graciously extending the effects of obedience to a thousand generations.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God. You will be punished if you do.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “In Hebrew, one’s name connotes nature and character. To make the name of God empty (NLT, misuse) is to do anything that makes Him appear insignificant or worthless.”

      • Guzik writes, “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.”

4. Remember to dedicate the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You are to work for 6 days, but the 7th day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day, no one in your household can do any work- you, your children, your servants, your livestock, or any foreigners living among you. The Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them in 6 days, but He rested on the 7th day. This is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

      • I will note here that this verse is very problematic for any individual who wishes to interpret the Genesis creation account as “ages” or insert vast periods of time between creation days. Here, the only logical interpretation is a literal one. God obviously isn’t saying that we work for 6 “ages” or 6 days interrupted by long periods of time, followed by a 7th “age” of rest. God intentionally designed the “week” specifically for us and modeled it for us in His creation work. Those who hold to non-literal interpretations of the creation account do offer explanations, however, they require significant mental gymnastics. For more on this topic and differing views of the creation account you can check out my article, “What in the World Happened Between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?”
      • Guzik highlights a concept that God introduced here that is often overlooked, “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.”
      • Guzik does an excellent job of explaining the Sabbath and how it applies to us today, “God commanded Israel – and all humanity – to make sure that there was sacred time in their life, separated time of rest…The most important purpose of the Sabbath was to serve as a preview picture of the rest we have in Jesus…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…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)…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.”
      • “The first four commandments relate to one’s relationship with God. Observing them would foster a correct understanding of God in contrast to the idolatrous notions of deity that the Israelites had encountered in Egypt and would yet encounter in Canaan.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)
      • “The remaining six instructions all have to do with human relationships. Many of the stipulations of the covenant with God relate to how people treat each other.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

5. Honor your father and mother and you will have a long life in the land the Lord is giving you.

      • Trapp writes, “A good child lengtheneth his father’s days; therefore God promiseth to lengthen his.”
      • Guzik notes, “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).”

6. Do not murder.

      • Guzik writes, “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).”
      • The Hebrew word used in this verse is “rasah.” Kaiser says, “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.”

7. Do not commit adultery.

8. Do not steal.

9. Do not give a false testimony 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…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.” (Guzik)

10. Do not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

      • “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.” (Guzik)
    • If you come from a legalistic denomination that attempts to impose Mosaic Law (or their version of it) as binding on Christians today, you are aware that there is a great deal more to discuss on these verses. For those who are interested in an in-depth discussion of the “Ten Commandments” as a part of the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant and how they relate to modern day Christians under the New Covenant, I highly recommend the following sources:

The People’s Reaction

    • When the people saw the thunder and lightening, the mountain surrounded by smoke, and heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they were terrified and stood a distance away from the mountain.
    • They told Moses, “You speak to us and we’ll listen to you, but please don’t let God speak to us directly or we will die!”
      • “One might think that Israel loved the dramatic experience at Mount Sinai, and especially the honor of hearing God’s voice like a loudspeaker from heaven. Instead, because of the great awe and dread they felt, they wanted God to stop speaking to them directly…Biblically speaking, an up-close encounter with God could just as often be troubling as it might be comforting. Israel could not see, feel, and hear this much from God and not at the same time be acutely aware that He is perfect and holy and they were not…This is a typical reaction of those who came into the presence of God, such as Isaiah who felt undone before God (Isaiah 6:1-5) and John who fell as a dead man before the Lord (Revelation 1:17).” (Guzik)
    • Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. God has come in this way to test you and so that your fear of Him will keep you from sinning.” As the people stood a distance away from the mountain, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
        • “Man’s desire for a mediator – someone to act as a go-between with us a God – is only good if it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).” (Guzik)
      • Guzik explains what God’s test revealed, “ (1)The test revealed to them what kind of God they served: a God above nature, personal, good, and holy. (2) The test revealed to them what God’s expectations were, that God is a moral God who expects moral behavior from His people. (3) The test revealed to them their own weakness and need for God’s grace, help, and rescue.”
      • Guzik elaborates on the types of “fear” intended by this passage, “This distinguishes between two kinds of fear. Do not fear speaks of the tormenting fear that comes from both guilt and danger. That His fear may be before you speaks of the attitude of honor and reverence that leads to respect and obedience.”
      • “Israel dreaded the powerful presence of God, but Moses longed for it. Moses would later more directly and eloquently show this desire (Exodus 33)…Moses had a relationship with God the common man in Israel did not have. Through the circumstances of his life and the direct revelation of God, Moses was aware of both God’s holy power and also of God’s glorious grace.” (Guzik)

Moses Receives Additional Laws

    • The Lord told Moses to tell the Israelites the following, “You saw for yourselves that I spoke to you from heaven. Do not make gods of silver or gold to rival Me.”
    • “Build Me and altar made of earth and sacrifice your offerings to Me- burnt offerings, peace offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle.”
      • “As God began this expanded section of His law for Israel, the first law mentioned had to do with sacrifice and atonement. This was in expectation that Israel would break the laws God gave them, and need to atone for their sin by sacrifice, all with a view to the ultimate sacrifice God would ultimately provide.” (Guzik)
    • “ Wherever I cause My name to be remembered I will come and bless you.”
    • “If you make an altar for Me out of stones, they must be natural and uncut. Using a chisel to shape the stones will defile them. Don’t come to My altar by going up steps so no one may see your nakedness under your clothes.”
      • “Ascending the altar on steps would expose the sacrificial area to the underside of the priest’s clothing, and possibly to his private parts. This was considered an affront to the Lord.” (HCSB commentary)