Exodus 20



                                    THE DELIVERY OF THE MORAL LAW



                                                            (vs. 1-17)


Every necessary preparation had now been made. The priests, as well as the people, had

sanctified themselves.” A wholesome dread of “breaking” through the fence, and

“touching” the mount, had spread itself among the people Moses had returned from the

camp to the summit of the mount; and both he and the people were attent to hear the

words of the “covenant,” which had been announced to them (ch. 19:5). Then, amid

the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the smoke, and

the earthquake throbs which shook the ground, a voice like that of a man, distinctly

articulate, pronounced the words of that “moral law,” which has been from that day

to this the guide of life to thousands upon thousands, the only guide to some, a very

valuable and helpful guide to all who have known of it. It is well said by Kalisch,

that the delivery of the Decalogue on Sinai “formed a decisive epoch in the history

of the human race,” and was even perhaps “the greatest and most important event

in human history,” up to the time of its occurrence. Considering the weakness,

imperfection, and moral obliquity of man, it was to the last degree important that an

authoritative code should be put forth, laying down with unmistakable clearness

the chief heads of duty, and denouncing the chief classes of sins. It may be true

that the educated moral sense of mankind in civilized communities is sufficient to

teach them all, or nearly all, of what the Decalogue forbids and enjoins; but this is the

effect produced upon the internal constitution of our nature by long centuries of

moral training; and nothing like it existed in primitive times. Then the moral sense

was much duller; men’s perceptions of right and wrong were confused, uncertain, and

not unfrequently perverted and depraved. Even in Egypt, where a priest class,

established as the spiritual guides of the nation for a thousand years or more, had

elaborated a moral system of considerable merit, such a code as that of the Decalogue

would have been a marked improvement upon anything that they had worked out for

themselves. And the authoritative sanction by the “voice” and the “finger of God”

was an enormous advantage, being imperatively needed to satisfy doubt, and silence

that perverse casuistry which is always ready to question the off-hand decisions of

the moral consciousness, and to invent a more refined system, wherein “bitter is put

for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”  (Isaiah 5:20) -  Altogether the Decalogue stands on

a moral eminence, elevated above and beyond all other moral systems — Egyptian,

Indian, Chinese, or Greek, unequalled for simplicity, for comprehensiveness, for

solemnity. Its precepts were, according to the Jewish tradition, “the pillars of the law

 and its roots.” They formed to the nation to which they were given “tons omnis,

publici privatique juris.” They constitute for all time a condensed summary of

human duty which bears divinity upon its face, which is suited for every form

of human society, and which, SO LONG AS THE WORLD ENDURES,

CANNOT BECOME ANTIQUATED.   The retention of the Decalogue as the best

summary of the moral law by Christian communities is justified on these grounds,

and itself furnishes emphatic testimony to the excellency of the compendium.


1 “And God spake all these words, saying," It has been suggested that Moses

derived the Decalogue from Egypt, by summarizing the chief points of the

Egyptian teaching as to the duty of man. But neither the second, nor the

fourth, nor the tenth commandment came within the Egyptian ideas of

moral duty; nor was any such compendious form as the Decalogue known

in Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian morality was minute and complex, rather

than grand and simple. Forty-two kinds of sin were denied by the departed

soul before Osiris and his assessors. The noble utterances of Sinai are

wholly unlike anything to be found in the entire range of Egyptian




The Moral Law — Preliminary (v. 1)


The law given from Sinai is the moral law by pre-eminence. The principles

which it embodies are of permanent obligation. It is a brief summary of the

whole compass of our duty to God and man. It is a law of supreme excellence —

“holy, just, and good” (Romans 7:12; Philippians 4:8). God’s own

character is expressed in it; it bears witness to His unity, spirituality,

holiness, sovereignty, mercy, and equity; truth and righteousness are visible

in its every precept. Listening to its “thou shaltsand “thou shalt nots,” we

cannot but recognize the same stern voice which speaks to us in our own

breasts, addressing to us calls to duty, approving us in what is right,

condemning us for what is wrong. These ten precepts, accordingly, are

distinguished from the judicial and ceremonial statutes subsequently given

  • As the moral is distinguished from the merely positive;
  • As the universally obligatory is distinguished from what is local and


  • As the fundamental is distinguished from the derivative and secondary.

The judicial law, e.g., not only draws its spirit, and derives its highest

authority, from the law of the ten commandments, but is in its own nature,

simply an application of the maxims of this law to the problems of actual

government. (Think of the implications of this statement today as America

has distanced herself from those laws – CY – 2017)  Its binding force was

confined to Israel.  (In time through Israel they were revealed to the world.

CY – 2017)


The ceremonial law, again, with its meats and drinks, its sacrifices, etc.

bore throughout the character of a positive institution, and had no independent

moral worth. It stood to the moral law in a triple relation of subordination:


Ø      As inferior to it in its own nature.

Ø      As designed to aid the mind in rising to the apprehension of the

holiness which the law enjoined.

Ø      As providing (typically) for the removal of guilt contracted by the

breaking of the law. This distinctness of the “ten words” from the

other parts of the law is evinced:




Ø      They alone were spoken by the voice of God from Sinai.

Ø      They were uttered amidst circumstances of the greatest magnificence

and terror.

Ø      They alone were written on tables of stone.

Ø      They were written by God’s own finger (ch. 31:18). The rest of

the law was communicated privately to Moses, and through him

delivered to the people.





Ø      They are “the words of the Lord,” as distinguished from the “judgments"

or “rights” derived from them, and embraced with them in “the book of

the covenant,” as forming the statutory law of Israel (ch. 24:3).


Ø      The tables on which they were written are — to the exclusion of the

other parts of the law — called:


o       “the testimony” (ch. 25:16),

o       “the covenant” (Deuteronomy 4:13),

o       “the words of the covenant” (ch. 34:28),

o       “the tables of testimony” (ch. 31:18; 32:15),

o       “the tables of the covenant” (Deuteronomy 9:9-11).


Ø      The tables of stone, and they only, were placed in the ark of the

covenant (ch. 25:21). They were thus regarded as in a special

sense the bond of the covenant. The deposition of the tables in the ark,

underneath the mercy seat, throws light on the nature of the covenant

with Israel. The law written on the tables is the substratum of the

covenant — its obligatory document — the bond; yet over the law

is the mercy-seat, sprinkled with blood of propitiation — a testimony

that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared (Psalm

130:4), that God will deal mercifully with Israel under this covenant.

It is obvious, from these considerations, how fallacious is the

statement that the Old Testament makes no distinction between

the moral, juristic, and ceremonial parts of the law, but regards

all as of equal dignity.


2 "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land

of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."  I am the Lord thy God. The ten

precepts were prefaced by this distinct announcement of who it was that uttered

them. God would have the Israelites clearly understand, that He Himself gave

them the commandments. It is only possible to reconcile the declarations of the

New Testament, that the law was given by the ministration of angels (Acts 7:53;

Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2) with this and other plain statements, by regarding

God the Son as the actual speaker. As sent by His father, He too was, in a certain

sense, an angel (i.e., a messenger). Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt.

God does not appeal to His authority as creator, but to His mercy and kindness

as protector and deliverer. He would be obeyed by His people from a sentiment

of love, not by fear. Out of the house of bondage. Compare Exodus 13:3, 14;

and for the ground of the expression, see ch. 1:14; 6:9.




The Speaker and the Motive (vs. 1-2)


  • THE SPEAKER (compare Deuteronomy 5:22). God, Jehovah, a personal

Deity, and one whose nature is changeless (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

Moses did not evolve the law out of his own head:


Ø      he heard it,

Ø      he received it,

Ø      he enunciated it,  but


“God spake all these words.”


  • THE MOTIVE.   The motive appealed to for obedience is too often fear;

the motive too which Israel was most inclined to act upon. God, however,

makes His appeal not to fear, but to the sense of gratitude: — “Remember

what I have done for you, then hear what I expect you to do for me.” The

deliverer has a right to lay down rules of conduct for those whom he has

delivered; whilst at the same time gratitude to Him inspires them with a

motive for obedience. Apply to ourselves:


Ø      God has REDEEMED US,

Ø      we should obey Him not from fear, but from LOVE


not that we may get something out of Him, but because we have got so

much already.


The commandments are indications of the Divine will from which they

spring. Our duty is to study what God has said in order that we may

discover what He wishes. The old covenant was on stone-tables, easily

intelligible and very definite; the new covenant is on hearts of flesh, it

contains promptings to duty, rather than directions. We need both; we

must use the old that we may give effect to the new, and the new that we

may fulfill the old. The new covenant cannot render the old nugatory; it is

well to have motive power, but we still need the lines laid down by which

to guide ourselves when we have it.



The Ten Commandments

              An Introductory Reminder (vs. 1-2)



Before the speaker of these commandments proceeded to the utterance of

them, it was necessary that He should call special and reverent attention to

Himself. Not one of the words He was about to say could either be

understood or obeyed without a constant reference in thought to Him who

had delivered and arranged them. He did not bring them before Israel as a

far seeing legislator might bring such rules as were best adapted to the

limitations and infirmities of those whom He sought to guide. They were

the laws of that kingdom where the King Himself is a real and immutable

lawgiver, He whose reign never comes to an end. Some of the

commandments had a direct reference to Himself; and all had to do with His

service. Should it not, then, be ever a helpful and sobering truth to us that

the great laws for human life thus come as expressions through a Divine

will? We cannot overrate the importance of requirements which God

himself solemnly declares. And just as we Christians in repeating the

Lord’s prayer must think constantly of the invocation to our Father in

heaven, in order to enforce and enrich the plea of each petition, so in

carrying out these ten commandments, each Israelite was bound to think of

each commandment in connection with that Jehovah who had spoken it.

The thought that He had brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of

the house of bondage was meant to give special force to everything He

required from the hands of His people.




them to look back on their own experience, to consider their past suffering

and helplessness, and how they had come to the present hour entirely

because of what He had done for them. Note that He does not, as on former

occasions, speak of Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that

was a necessary mode of description when He made His first approach to

them, but now they have their own rich and crowded experiences to

constitute a claim for their attention and obedience. God bases His

expectations on services rendered to the present generation; and the claim

He makes is founded on the greatest boon that could be conferred, liberty.

(Consider the implication of the abuse of this liberty in the United States,

and even though it is a lost art, let us bow down in sackcloth and ashes!

CY - 2017)  When from this very mountain He sent Moses to them, they were

in bitter servitude; now Moses finds himself at this mountain again, with a

nation of freemen around him. Jehovah is not afraid of referring to the land

of Egypt, even though the people had allowed the agreeable associations of

the name to override the disagreeable ones. They delighted in thinking of it

as a land where they sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full (ch.16:3;

Numbers 11:4-5). But now in this reference to Himself which would

henceforth be so conspicuous, Jehovah fixes together in a permanent

association the land of Egypt and THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE. When the

people disparaged the wilderness and glorified Egypt, He made them hear

again the sound of the clanking chain: and if that sound, heard only in

memory, was not dreadful as in the old reality, yet God, who is not influenced

by the lapses of time, knew how dreadful that reality was. (In my early days

in Christian County, sometime in the late 1960's or early 1970's, while

looking for arrowheads near an old homeplace, I wandered into a cellar

which had iron rings on a rock wall where slaves had been chained for

punishment or for whatever reason.  If the slaves involved there could come

back to life, what a tale they could tell.  If not on their bodies, in their souls

and memories, would be imprinted a parallel experience of what the Israelites

had gone through, but in a more modern context.  CY - 2017)  It is a good

thing that He remembers what men forget. Even though we be Christians,

and should have better aims and better joys, we too often catch our thoughts

turned longingly towards a forsaken world. And so God comes in to speak

plainly and burst the bubble of this world’s attractions by the emphasized

truth that spiritual Egypt is the house of bondage. He that committeth sin

is the slave of sin. While the people were in Egypt they had not talked of

these things as pleasant; the life there, in the actual experience of it, was

intolerable.  And so with perfect confidence God could appeal to their past



  • There was also an indication that GOD HAD TAKEN AWAY ALL


out of the house of bondage. They were now free to carry out all the

observances which Jehovah was about to appoint. They had no Pharaoh

to struggle with, grudging them time to serve their God (ch. 5:4);

they had no danger to fear from sacrificing the abominations of Egypt

within its borders. If God asks us for service, we may be sure that in the

very first place, He will provide all the conditions of rendering it effectually

and comfortably. As we read our New Testament, we are made to feel that

God expects very large things from us. He is most exacting in His claims

for self-denial and completeness of devotion to His cause, but what of that?

Has He not given us His own Spirit, which is a spirit of liberty, working for

the express purpose of lifting us above the crippling restraints of natural

life? The very largeness of God’s demands helps us to measure the

largeness of God’s spiritual gifts; and the very largeness of the gifts should

prepare us for large demands. God’s expectations are from the free. He

asked nothing from Israel, save silent and submissive waiting, until the

verge of the last plague, which was also the verge of liberty; and from the

free because He has freed them, He entertains large expectations. It was to

those who believed in Jesus, risen from the dead, and making His people to

live in newness of life, that He gave a spirit of such power in producing

obedience and conformity as never had been known before.


3 "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."  Thou shalt have - The use of the

second person singular is remarkable when a covenant was being made with the

people (ch. 19:5). The form indicated that each individual of the nation was addressed

severally, and was required himself to obey the law, a mere general national

obedience being insufficient. No one can fail to see how much the commands gain

in force, through all time, by being thus addressed to the individual conscience –

“no other gods before me.” - “Before me” literally, “before my face,” is a Hebrew

idiom, and equivalent to “beside me,”in addition to me.” The commandment

requires the worship of one God alone, Jehovah — the God who had in so many

ways manifested Himself to the Israelites, and implies that there is, in point of fact,

no other God.  It is against the polytheistic notions of the nations at that time that

the First Commandment raises a protest. 


4  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing

that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water

under the earth.” The triple division here and elsewhere made, is intended to embrace

the whole material universe. As the First Commandment asserts the unity  of God, and

is a protest against polytheism, so the second asserts His spirituality, and is a protest

against idolatry and materialism. Vs. 4 and 5 are to be taken together, the prohibition

being intended, not to forbid the arts of sculpture and painting, or even to condemn

the religious use of them, but to disallow the worship of God under material forms.

When the later Jews condemned all representations of natural objects (Philo,

De Orac. 29; Joseph. Ant. Jud. 8:7, § 5), they not only enslaved themselves to

a literalism, which is alien from the spirit of both covenants, but departed from

the practice of more primitive times — representations of such objects having had

their place both in the tabernacle (ch. 25:31-34; 28:33-34) and in the first

temple (I Kings 6:18, 29, 32, etc.). Indeed, Moses himself, when he

erected the “brazen serpent” (Numbers 21:9) made it clear that

representations of natural objects were not disallowed by the law. To

moderns in civilized countries it seems almost incredible that there should

ever have been anywhere a real worship of images. Acquaintance with ancient

history or even with the present condition of man in savage or backward

countries, renders it apparent that there is a subtle fascination in such material

forms, and that imperfectly developed minds will rest in them not as mere emblems

of divinity, but as actually possessed of Divine powers The protest raised by the

Second Commandment is still as necessary as ever, not only in the world, but

in the very Christian Church itself, where there exists even at the present day a

superstitious regard for images and pictures, (Compare the modern obsession

with computers and screens – the satisfaction that comes from sight and not

wholly having to depend on faith - CY – 2010) which is not only irrational,

but which absorbs the religious feelings that should have been directed to

higher things. Any graven image. Perhaps it would be better to translate

“any image,” for the term used (pesel) is applied, not only to “graven” but

also to “molten images” (Isaiah 40:19; 44:10; Jeremiah 10:14; etc.), since these

last were in almost every instance finished by the graving tool. Or any likeness

of anything that is in heaven above i.e., “any likeness of any winged

fowl that flieth in the air.” Compare Deuteronomy 4:17. The water

under the earth. See Genesis 1:6-7. The triple division here and elsewhere made,

is intended to embrace the whole material universe. Much of the Egyptian religion

consisted in the worship of animals and their images.  (things that are made and

not the Maker – CY – 2017)


5 “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the

LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers

upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that

hate me;”  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them - Every outward

sign of honor was shown to images in the ancient world. They were not

regarded as emblems, but as actual embodiments of deity. There was a

special rite in Greece (Theopoea) by means of which the gods were

inducted into their statues, and made to take up their abodes in them.

Seneca says of the Romans of his own day — “They pray to these images

of the gods, implore them on bended knee, sit or stand long days before

them, throw them money, and sacrifice beasts to them, so treating them

with deep respect, though they despise the man who made them” (Ap.

Lact. 2:2). I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God. God “will not give his

glory to another” (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11), nor will He suffer a rival near His

throne. He is not “jealous.” as the Greeks thought (Herod. 7:10, § 5), of

mere success, or greatness; but He is very jealous of His own honor, and

will not have the respect and reverence, which is His due, bestowed on

other beings or on inanimate objects. Compare with the present passage

ch. 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Joshua 24:19; etc.

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. Exception has

been taken to the plain meaning of this passage by a multitude of writers,

who dread the reproach of the skeptic, that the God of the Old Testament

is a God careless of justice and bent upon revenge. But neither does

society, nor does civil justice itself, regard the visiting of parents’ sins upon

their children as in all cases unjust. Society by its scorn punishes for their

parents’ transgressions the illegitimate (until political correctness of the

late 20th and early 21st centuries – CY – 2017), the children of criminals, the

children — especially the daughters — of adulteresses. Civil justice

condemns to forfeiture of their titles and their estates, the innocent children

of those executed for treason. God again manifestly does by the laws which

obtain in His moral universe, entail on children many consequences of their

parents’ ill-doing — as the diseases which arise from profligacy or

intemperance, the poverty which is the result of idleness or extravagance,

the ignorance and evil habits which are the fruit of a neglected education. It

is this sort of visitation which is intended here. The children and

grandchildren of idolaters would start in life under disadvantages. The

vicious lives of their parents would have sown in them the seeds both of

physical and moral evil. They would commonly be brought up in wrong

courses, have their moral sense early perverted, and so suffer for their

parents’ faults. It would be difficult for them to rise out of their unhappy

condition. Still, “each would bear his own iniquity.” Each would “be

judged by that he had, not by that he had not.” An all-wise God would, in

the final award, make allowance for the disadvantages of birth and

inherited disposition, and would assign to each that position to which his

own conduct — his struggles, efforts, endeavors after right — entitled

him.  The visitation intended consists in temporal disadvantages, not in the

final award of happiness or misery


6 “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my

commandments.” And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me -

Or, “to the thousandth generation.” (Compare Deuteronomy 7:9) - In neither case

are the numbers to be taken as exact and definite. The object of them is to contrast the

long duration of the Divine love and favor towards the descendants of those who

love Him, with the comparatively short duration of His chastening wrath in the case

of those who are his adversaries – and keep my commandments.  Thus only is love

shown. Compare John 14:15-24; I John 2:5; II John 1:6. 




The First and Second Commandments:

    Against Polytheism and Image-Worship (vs. 3-6)


These two commandments seem to be bound together naturally by the

reason given in ver. 5. There Jehovah says, “I am a jealous God;”

obviously such a feeling of jealousy applies with as much force to the

worship of other gods as to the making of graven images. Consider —



of other gods than Jehovah, and the representation of them by images of

created things. The declaration here is not against more gods than one.

Such a declaration would have been incomprehensible to the Israelite at

this time, even to Moses himself. The utter emptiness of all idolatry, the

non-existence, except as the imagination of a superstitious and darkened

mind, of any other Deity than Jehovah was a truth not yet appreciable by

those to whom Jehovah spoke. He had to take His people as they stood,

believers in the existence and power of other gods, and proclaim to them

with all the impressiveness that came from the demonstrations of Sinai, that

none of these gods was to be in the smallest degree recognized. An idolater

in the midst of his idolatries, and not yet laid hold of by Jehovah’s hand,

might as well have a thousand gods as one. Jehovah speaks here to those

who are already bound to Himself. Have they not made their promise? Did

not the people answer and say, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do”?

It was the right and dutiful course of every Israelite to worship Him, serve

Him, and depend upon Him. The great and pressing peril was that, side by

side with Jehovah, the people should try to put other gods. And to have

other gods meant, practically, to have images of them. How necessary and

appropriate these two commandments were to come at this particular time

and in this particular order, is seen when we consider the image-making

into which Israel fell during the seclusion of Moses in the mount. This

seems to have been the accordant act of the whole people; Aaron, who was

soon to be the chief official in Jehovah’s ritual, being the eager instrument

to gratify their desires. Nor was this a mere passing danger to the Israelites,

a something which in due time they would outgrow. The peril lies deep in

the infirmities of human nature. Those whom Jehovah has brought in any

measure to Himself, need to be reminded that HE IS MASTER!  Jesus has

put the thing as plain as it can be put, “No man can serve two masters.” We

cannot serve God and Mammon. Dependence on something else than God,

even though there be nothing of religious form in the dependence, is a peril

into which we are all liable to come. It is hard to fight — harder than we

imagine till we are fairly put to the struggle — against the allurements of

the seen and temporal. Even when we admit that there is an invisible God

whose claims are supreme, and whose gifts, present and future, are beyond

anything that the seen in its pride and beauty can afford — even then we

have the utmost difficulty in carrying our admission into practice.




the way of right worship are in the way to a profitable knowledge of God.

They come to be recognized by Him, accepted by Him, and blessed by Him.

Having graven images inevitably led away from Jehovah. There was no

possibility of keeping the first commandment, even in the least degree, if

the second even in the least degree was broken. Certainly we are under no

temptation to make images, but it comes to the same thing if we have

images ready made. It is conceivable that the day may come when not an

image shall be left in the world, except on museum shelves, and the trade

of Demetrius thus come to an end. (Acts 19:24)  But what of that? The change

may simply be one of form. Why men should first have made images and called

them gods is an impenetrable mystery. We cannot but wonder who was the

first man to make an image and why he made it. But that image-making,

once established, should continue and return into practice again and again

in spite of all attempts to destroy it, is easy enough to understand. Habit,

tradition, training, will account for everything in this way. Yet the practice

of image-worship, at all events in its grossest forms, can only exist together

with DENSE INTELLECTUAL DARKNESS!  When men begin to think and

question asto the foundation of things, when they get away from their mother’s

knee, then the simple faith in what they have been taught deserts them. There

is a frequent and natural enough lamentation that those who have been taught

concerning Christ in childhood, oftentimes in manhood depart from him by

the way of skepticism, into utter disbelief and denial. Yet we must remember

that it is exactly by this kind of process thousands in still image-worshipping

lands have broken away from their image-worship. It has not

satisfied the awakened and expanding intellect. There is this difference,

however, that whereas the awakened intellect forsaking Christ may come

back to Him, and indeed actually does so oftener than we think, the

awakened intellect forsaking image-worship cannot go back to it. But to

something as a dependent creature he must go. A man leaving his old

idolatries and not finding Christ, must needs turn to some new idolatry,

none the less real as an idolatry, none the less injurious to his best interests

because the image-form is absent. We must not make to ourselves anything

whatever tO:


Ø      take the place of God,

Ø      intercept the sight of Him,

Ø      or deaden His voice.


We may contradict the spirit of the second commandment, in doing

things which we think profitable to the religious life and glorifying to God.

A great deal that is reckoned beneficial and even indispensable in the

Church of Christ, that has grown with its growth and strengthened with its

strength, might come to look very questionable, if only the spirit of this

commandment were exactly appreciated. How many splendid buildings,

how many triumphs of the architect, how many combined results of many

arts would then be utterly swept away! Men delude themselves with the

notion that these things bring them nearer to God, whereas they simply

take His place. In worshipping Him we should regard with the utmost

jealousy all mere indulgence of the senses and even of the intellect.



COMMANDMENTS, Many reasons might have been given, as for

instance, the vanity of graven images, their uselessness in the hour of need,

the degradation in which they involved the worshippers. But God brings

forward a reason which needed to be brought forward, and put in the very

front place, where human thought might continually be directed to it.

Polytheism and image-worship are indeed degrading and mischievous to

man — but what is of far greater moment, they are also dishonoring to

the glory of Deity. Those who were sliding away into the service of other

gods were showing that they had no truly reverent appreciation of Jehovah;

and in order to intimate the severity of His requirements with respect to

exclusive and devoted service, Jehovah speaks of Himself as possessing a

feeling which, when found among men is like a devouring and

unquenchable fire. A jealous man does well to be jealous, if he has

sufficient ground for the feeling at all, if the affection, service, and

sympathies that should be reserved for him are turned elsewhere. Think

then of such a feeling, exalted into the pure intensity of a holy anger and

bursting into action from God Himself, and then you have the measure of

His wrath with those who think that the glory of the incorruptible God can

be changed into an image made like to corruptible man. (Romans 1:23)  He

makes His jealousy apparent in unquestionable, deeply penetrating action. It is

the action of the great I AM, who controls thousands of generations. God

does, as a matter of fact, visit the iniquities of the fathers on the children,

and the magnitude of what He does is accounted for by the intensity of His

feelings with respect to those who give HIS GLORY to another. His almighty

hand comes down with a blow the afflictive energies of which cannot be

exhausted in one or even two generations. Say not that there is something

unjust about this. That each generation must take something in the way of

suffering from preceding generations is a fact only too plain, altogether

apart from the Scriptures. The mercy of God is that He here gives us

something in explanation of the fact, and of how to distinguish its working

and at last destroy it. To serve idols, to depend upon anything else than

God, anything less than Him, anything more easily reached and more easily

satisfied — this, when stripped of all disguise, amounts to hating God. And

a man living in this way is preparing, not only punishments for himself, but

miseries for those who come after him. Many times we have advice given

us to think of posterity. Depend upon it, he thinks most of posterity who

serves the will of God most humbly and lovingly, with the utmost

concentration and assiduity, in his own generation. (Like David – Acts 13:36)

Note here also the unmistakable revelation of GOD’S MERCIFUL

DISPOSITION!   He visits iniquity to the third and fourth generation of

them that hate Him. But those who love Him are blessed to thousands of

generations. Not that the blessing will be actually operative, for, alas, there

may come in many things to hinder. But the expressed disposition of God

remains. If the posterity of the faithful to God are unblessed, it is because

they themselves are utterly careless as to the peculiar privileges into which

they have been introduced.


7  “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD

will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”  It is disputed whether

this is a right rendering. Shav in Hebrew means both “vanity” and ,’falsehood;” so

that the Third Commandment may forbid either “vain-swearing” or simply

“false-swearing. It is in favor of the latter interpretation, that our Lord seems to

contrast his own prohibition of unnecessary oaths with the ancient prohibition of

false oaths in the words — “Ye have heard that it hath been said by (or “to”) them

of old time — Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shelf perform unto the Lord

thine oaths. But I say unto you — Swear not at all” (<Matthew 5:33-34). It is

also in favor of the command being leveled against false-swearing, that

perjury should naturally, as a great sin, have a special prohibition directed

against it in the Decalogue, while vain-swearing, as a little sin, would

scarcely seem entitled to such notice. Perjury has always been felt to be

one of the greatest both of moral and of social offences. It implies an

absolute want of any reverence at all for God; and it destroys civil society

by rendering the administration of justice impossible. There has been a

general horror of it among all civilized nations. The Egyptians punished

perjury with death. The Greeks thought that a divine Nemesis pursued the

perjured man, and brought destruction both upon himself and upon his

offspring .(Herod. 6:86). The Romans regarded the perjurer as infamous,

and the object of Divine vengeance in the other world (Cic. De Leg. 2:9).

The threat contained in the words — “The Lord will not hold him

guiltless” — may be taken as an argument on either side.



The Third Commandment:  Profanity Forbidden (v. 7)


This Commandment clearly comes as an appropriate sequel to the two

preceding ones. Those who are Jehovah’s, and who are therefore bound to

glorify and serve Him alone, depend on Him alone, and keep themselves

from all the degradations and obscuring influences of image worship, are

now directed to the further duty of avoiding all irreverent and empty use of

THE SACRED NAME!   With respect to this, there must have been a very real

danger in Israel. We have only to observe the license of modern colloquial

speech in this respect (Oh my God!, Jesus Christ!, God Damn!, etc. – CY - 2017),

we have only to call to mind some of the most common expletives in English,

French, and German, and we shall then better understand that there may have been

a great deal of the same sad and careless license among the ancient Hebrews. Not

that we are to suppose Jehovah directed this command exclusively or even chiefly

against profane swearers in the ordinary sense of the term. (Hollywood, television,

etc. are vulgarly guilty in this – CY – 2017)  They are included, but

after all they are only a small part of those to whom the commandment is

directed. It is quite possible for a man to keep above all coarseness and

vulgarity of speech, and yet in God’s sight be far worse than an habitual

swearer. Many are concerned to avoid profane swearing, not because it is

offensive to God, but because it is ungentlemanly. It needs no devoutness

or religious awe to understand the couplet:


“Immodest words admit of no defense,

For want of decency is want of sense.”


And there is as much want of decency in profane words as in immodest

ones. The thing to be considered is not only the words we avoid, but the

words we use. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

(Matthew 12:34)  This commandment, like the rest, must be kept positively, or it

cannot be kept negatively. If we are found making a serious and habitual use of

God’s name in a right way, then, and only then, shall we be kept effectually

from using it in a wrong one.


  • Evidently the first thing to keep us from empty words with respect to


THOUGHT WITH RESPECT TO HIM. Thinking is but speaking to

oneself; and God’s commandment really means that we must labor at all

times to have right and sufficient thoughts concerning Him. We might

almost say, take care of the thought and the speech will take care of itself.

All our thinking about God, as about every topic of thought, should be in

the direction of what is practical and profitable. Blessed is he who has

made the great discovery, that of the unseen cause and guide, behind all

things that are seen, he can only get profitable knowledge as that Great

Unseen is pleased to give it. We who live amid the great declarations of the

Gospel are really thinking of God in a vain and displeasing way as long as

we suppose it possible to get any true knowledge of Him except in Christ.

Right knowledge of God, and therefore profitable thoughts of Him must be

gained by experimental personal search into THE RICHES OF GOD IN

CHRIST JESUS!   Thinking of this sort will not be vain, shallow, fugitive

thinking, seeing that it springs out of apprehended, personal necessities, has an

immutable basis of fact, a rewarding element of hope, and is continually

freshened by a feeling of gratitude towards One who has conferred on us

unspeakable benefits. Surely it is a dreadful sin to think little, to think

seldom, and to think wrongly of that profoundly compassionate God,

who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to save it from

perishing by the gift of eternal life. (John 3:16)  No thoughts of ours indeed

can measure the fullness of that sublime love, and we shall even fall short of

what the holiest and devoutest of men can reach; but there is all the more

need why we should labor in constant meditation on the saving ways of

God, according to our abilities. Put the word “God” on a sheet of paper,

and then try to write underneath all that the name suggests, particularly all

that it suggests in the way of individual benefit. Perhaps the writing may

come to an end very soon, and even what is written be so vague and

valueless as to make you feel that this commandment of God here is not a

vain one so far as concerns you.




all His claims and all His benefits, cannot be spoken about too much in the

circles of men, if only He is spoken about in a right way: but that right way

how hard it is to attain. Much speaking concerning Him, even by those

who do it officially, is very dishonoring to His name and hindering to His

rule in the hearts of men. Preachers of the word of life and duty, the word

concerning divine gifts and requirements, need to take great heed in this

respect, for whenever they speak without proper impressions as to the

solemnity of their message, they are assuredly taking God’s name m vain.

There has also to be a consideration of the audience. The words of God’s

truth and salvation must be as far as possible words in season, not wasted,

as pearls before swine. It needs that we should strive and watch incessantly

to have all attainable fitness as the witnesses of God. Jesus would not have

the testimony of demons to His Messiahship, but chose, prepared, and

sanctified such men as He saw to be suitable; and then when He had found

fit witnesses, even though few, He sent them forth to bear their testimony,

sure that it would be sufficient for all who had the right mind to receive it.

It is awful, when one only considers it, in how many instances God’s name

is taken in vain, by the use of it to sanctify unholy ends, justify

unrighteousness, and give to error what dignity and force can be gained

from an appeal to divine authority. When the Scriptures were quoted to

justify slavery, what was this but taking the name of God in vain? How

much of it there must have been in theological controversy, where

disputants have got so embittered by partisan spirit that they would twist

Scripture in any way so as to get God on their side, instead of laboring as

honest men to be on the side of God. Look at the glutton sitting down to

pamper his stomach from the loaded table; but first of all he must go

through the customary grace and make a show of eating and drinking to

the glory of God in heaven, when in truth the god he really worships is his

greedy, insatiable belly. We may do many things in the name of the Lord,

but that does not make them the Lord’s things. “Lord, Lord” may ever be

on our lips, we may even get a very general reputation for our devotedness

to God and goodness; but all this may not prevent us from hearing at the

last, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”



APPROACHES TO GOD. If we are His at all, there must be constant

approaches to Him, and His name therefore must be constantly on our lips.


Ø      We must guard against formality. We must not take a name on our lips

that expresses no felt reality. To confess sins and needs and supplicate

pardon and supply when the heart is far away from the throne of grace, is

certainly taking God’s name in vain.


Ø      We must guard against coming in other than the appointed way. A very

elaborate and comprehensive prayer may be constructed to the God of

nature and providence, but even though it may seem to be of use for a

while, it will show its emptiness in the end if God’s own appointment of

mediation through Christ Jesus be neglected. Do not let us deceive

ourselves with words and aspirations that are only dissipated into the air.

For a suppliant to know of Christ and yet ignore His mediation, is assuredly

to take God’s name in vain, however honest the ignoring may be.


Ø      Then surely there is an empty use of God’s name in prayer, if we ask in

other than the appointed order. The order of thought in all right approach

to God is such as our Great Teacher has Himself presented to us. Is it the

sinner who is coming, wretched and burdened? Jesus approves the prayer,

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” Sinners never take the name of God in

vain, if they come to Him with two feelings blended in one irrepressible cry:


o        the feeling of God’s anger with ALL SIN and

o        the feeling of His unfailing compassion for the sinner.


Or if it be the disciple and servant who is coming to God, then the order of

thought for his approach Jesus has also given. We must ever think of Him as

our Father in heaven, and first of all of such things as will sanctify His name,

advance His kingdom and procure the perfect doing of His will on earth.

We must make all our approaches to God with our hearts entirely submitted

to Him, otherwise we shall only find that we are taking His name in vain.


8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  The institution of the sabbath

dates, at any rate, from the giving of the manna (ch. 16:23). Its primeval institution,

which has been thought to be implied in Genesis 2:3, is uncertain. The word

“remember” here may be simply a reference to what passed in the “wilderness of Sin”

 as related in ch. 16:22-30.  On the sabbath itself, both Jewish and Christian, see the

comment upon that chapter.


9 “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work” – This is not so much a

command as a prohibition  “Thou shaft not labor more than six (consecutive) days.”

In them thou shalt do all thy necessary work, so as to have the Sabbath free for

the worship and service of God. 


10 “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt

not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor

thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:”

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God” - Rather — “The

 seventh day shall be a sabbath to the Lord thy God;” i.e., the seventh day shall

be a day of holy rest dedicated to religion. All unnecessary labor shall be suspended and

put aside the law of rest and ease, so far as bodily toil is concerned, which was the

law of man’s existence before the fall, shall supersede for the time that law of heavy toil

and continual unrest, which was laid on man as the penalty of his transgression (Genesis

3:17-19). Eden shall be, as it were, restored man shall not “go out to his toil and

his labor”even the very beasts, pressed into man’s service since the fall, shall rest -  

“in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter”The rest

is to extend to the whole family -  “thy manservant, nor thy maidservant” - It is to

extend beyond the family proper, to the domestics of the household, who are to enjoy

the respite from toil and to have the advantage of the religious refreshment, no less than

their masters -  “nor thy cattle” - God’s care for cattle is a remarkable feature of the

Old Testament dispensation. God, at the time of the flood, “remembered Noah and the

cattle which were with him in the ark(Genesis 8:1). Soon after, His covenant, not to

drown the earth any more, was established “with the fowl, and with the cattle, and

with every beast of the earth,” no less than with man (Genesis 9:9-11). In the Psalms

He declares that “the cattle upon a thousand hills” are His - (Psalm 50:10). In Jonah,

we find that Nineveh was spared, in part because there was in it “much cattle”

(Jonah 4:11).  The precept, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the

corn” (Deuteronomy 25:4) is characteristic of the Mosaic dispensation, and had no

parallel in the written codes or in the actual customs of other ancient nations. Animal

suffering was generally regarded as of small account in the ancient world; and the

idea of protecting animals from ill usage was wholly unknown – On the contrary, as

Dr. Dollinger well observes (Jew and Gentile, vol. 2. pp. 346-7): “The law

was specially careful about the welfare of animals; they were to be treated

with compassion and kindness. Domestic animals were to be well fed, and

to enjoy the rest of the sabbath. The Israelites were to help to lift up the ass

which had fallen beneath its burden, and to bring back the beast that had

gone astray (ch. 23:5, 12; Deuteronomy 25:4)… The young

was not to be taken from its mother before the seventh day… From these

and similar ordinances — such, for instance, as about the least painful

method of killing animals — it is plain that the law tried to subdue that

coarse turn of mind and unfeeling cruelty, which are engendered by the

maltreatment of animals.” “nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” –

The command that these too should rest, was at once a restriction upon their liberty,

requiring them to conform to the habits of those among whom they dwelt, and an

admission of them into participation in some portion of the privileges of Israel.

The sacred rest of the sabbath prefigured the final peace and happiness of the

blest in heaven; and they who were commanded to share in the first, were

encouraged to hope that they might also participate in the second.


11 “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that

in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the

sabbath day, and hallowed it.” -  Two reasons are assigned for the sanctification

of the seventh day in the Pentateuch:


  • The fact that the work of creation took six days, and that on the seventh

God rested; and


  • The further fact, that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and gave

them a time of rest after a time of labor and toil (Deuteronomy 5:15).

It is not expressly said that the deliverance took place on the Sabbath, but

such is the Jewish tradition on the subject. The reason here assigned must

be regarded as the main reason, man’s rest being purposely assimilated

to God’s rest, in order to show the resemblance between man’s nature

and God’s (Genesis 1:27), and to point towards that eternal rest wherein

man, united with God, will find his highest bliss and the true end of his

being. “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.” – (Hebrews 4:9)






The Soul for God Only (vs. 3-11)


  • GOD’S DEMAND. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” All else is

emptiness and falsehood. There must be nothing even of our holy things

put between the soul and God. HIS PRESENCE must be THE SOUL’S

LIFE,  the very air it breathes.




Ø      By keeping ourselves from idols. Our daily avocations, our interests,

affections, pleasures, may lead to our esteeming something our chief

good and making it to be instead of God to us. God must be seen

behind His gifts, and be more to us than all besides.


Ø      By watchful fear and hope. We bring evil not upon ourselves only, and

the blessings which rest upon obedience are an everlasting heritage.

We sow seeds of evil or of blessing which yield many harvests (vs. 5-6).

(“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth,

that shall he also reap!  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the

flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the

Spirit reap life everlasting.”  - Galatians 6:7-8)


Ø      By reverence (v. 7). God’s name must not be emptied of its power to

touch the heart by our lightness or hypocrisy.


Ø      By keeping sacred the sabbath rest (vs. 8-11).


o       It will be a day of self-revelation, of rebuke for the evil in us,

of strengthening to the good.

o       It will be a day for the remembrance of God; and

of participation in his rest.


One of the main reasons the Children of Israel went into CAPTIVITY

was because they did not keep the sabbath.  (II Chronicles 36:18-21 –

CY – 2017)




    The Fourth Commandment: The Sacred Sabbath (vs. 8-11)


  • THE GROUND OF THIS COMMANDMENT. God, who had spoken

to Israel as to those whom He had brought out of the house of bondage,

and who had bidden Moses speak of Him to the captives as the God of

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now takes the thoughts of His people as far

back as it is possible for them to go. They are directed to think of the great

work of Him who in six days made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in

them is. “All the earth is mine,” He had bidden Moses say in ch.19:5;

and of course the Israelites, whatever their other difficulties in the

way of understanding God’s commandments, had no question such as

modern science has thrown down for us to ponder with respect to these

alleged days of creation. Though indeed, as is now generally agreed, no

difficulty is found in this question when we approach it rightly. God’s

thoughts are not as our thoughts; his ways are not as our ways; and so we

may add His days are not as our days, seeing that with Him one day is as a

thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The great matter to be

borne in mind by ancient Israelites — and for every Christian the

consideration remains whether he also should not very strictly bear it in

mind — was that by this seventh day of rest after creation, God gave the

great rule for the consecration of His people’s time. It is to a certain extent

correct to say that this precept is a positive one; but it is not therefore

arbitrary. God may have seen well to give the precept in such emphatic

way, just because the need of setting apart one day out of seven is in some

way fixed in the nature of things. It is a question worth while asking, why

creation is set before us as having occupied six successive periods. Why

not some other number? May not the periods of creation have been so

arranged with a view to the use of them as a ground for this

commandment? God sanctified the seventh day because it was the best day:


Ø      best for human welfare and

Ø      best to exhibit Divine glory;


and it seems to have been at Sinai that He first distinctly made this sanctification.

Israel knew already that God rested on the seventh day from all His work which

He had made (Genesis 2:2); now it is known — at least it is known in part —

why this resting was not till the seventh day, and also not later. May it not be

that the expression “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because

that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made,”

(ibid. v. 3) was inserted by Moses after the transactions at Sinai, as a

suitable addition to the statement that God rested from His work? If this

verse was not inserted in the Genesis record until after the instructions

from Sinai, then we have some sort of explanation why no clear,

indubitable sign of the Sabbath is found in patriarchal times.



distinctly bear in mind the object to be attained. The seventh day was to be

sanctified, and in order that it might be properly sanctified, a scrupulous

rest from ordinary work was necessary. The rest was but the means to the

sanctification; and the sanctification is the thing to be kept prominently in

view. The mere resting from work on the seventh day did an Israelite no

good, unless he remembered what the rest implied. The commandment

began, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” not “Remember to do

no work therein.” Certainly it was only too easy to forget the requirement

of rest; but it was easier still to forget the requirement of holiness. A man

might rest without hallowing, and so it had to be enjoined on him to shape

his rest that hallowing might be secured by it. Certain of the animals

required for holy purposes by God, were to be such as had not borne the

yoke. The animal could not be given to God and at the same time used for

self. And in like manner the Sabbath could not both be given to God and

used for self. Therefore the Israelite is charged to do no work and let no

work be done, even by the humblest of his slaves. He himself must get no

temporal benefit from this day. God has so arranged, in His loving

providence and holy requirements, that six days’ work shall supply seven

days’ need. This lesson the manna distinctly teaches if it teaches anything at

all. And now that the Jewish Sabbath has gone, the Christian has to ask

himself how far the mode of Sabbath-keeping in Israel furnishes any guide

for him in his use of the Lord’s day. He is a miserable Christian who begins

to plead that there is no distinct and express commandment in the New

Testament for the keeping of a sacred day of rest. To say that the Sabbath

is gone with the outward ordinances of Judaism is only making an excuse

for self-indulgence. True, the sacrifices of the law are done away with, but

only that imperfections may give place to perfections. In the very doing

away, a solemn claim is made that the Christian should present his body as

a living sacrifice; and one cannot be a living sacrifice without feeling that

ALL ONE’S TIME is for doing God’s will. When in the inscrutable

arrangements of Providence, we find that one day in seven has actually come

to be so largely a day of cessation from toil, surely the part of Christian wisdom

is to make the very best of the opportunity. There is, and there always will

be, room for much improvement as to the mode of keeping the day of rest;

but in proportion as we become filled with the spirit of Christ and the

desire for perfection, in that proportion we shall be delivered from the

inclination to make Sunday a day for self, and led forward in resolution,

diligence and love, to make it a day for God. The more we can make our

time holy time, the more we shall make ourselves holy persons. If in God’s

mercy we find Sunday a day of larger opportunities, let it be according to

our individual opportunity, a day of larger achievements. Each one of us

should say, “I am bound to discover how God would have me use this

day.” My neighbor Christian may feel constrained to use it in a way that,

if I were to imitate him, might not promote my own spiritual advantage, or

the glory of God. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, only

let him take care that he has a persuasion and acts conscientiously and

lovingly up to it.



“Remember.” Not of course that this commandment is more important than

the rest. He who breaks one breaks all, for each is a member of the whole

as of a living unity. But there must have been a special reason in the mind

of God for calling attention to this commandment. We are told to

remember what we are likely to forget. Also, certain things we are

exhorted to remember, because if we only remember them we shall come in

due course to other things which cannot be so constantly in the mind, and

which indeed the mind may not yet be able properly to grasp. He who

remembers the right way will assuredly come to the right end, even though

he may not be constantly thinking of it. We may be sure that keeping the

Sabbath day really holy, had a very salutary effect towards KEEPING ALL

THE REST OF THE COMMANDMENTS!  It gave time for reflection on

all those affairs of daily life in which there are so many opportunities and

temptations to set at naught the righteous claims both of God and of our

fellow-men. And so the Christian may ever say to himself, “Soul, remember

the day of rest which God has so graciously secured to thee.” God, though

He has condescendingly done so much to come near to needy men with His

supplies of grace, gets soon hidden by the cloud and dust of this world’s

business. It is only too easy to forget the spirit of these commandments,

and be unfair, unkind, malicious and revengeful toward our fellow-men in

the jostlings and rivalries of life. Remember then. Let us but attend to this

and the rest of Gods remembers, and we may be sure they will do a great

deal to neutralize that forgetting which is inevitably incident to the

infirmities of FALLEN HUMAN NATURE!


12 Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land

which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” - In the Decalogue, the position of this duty,

at the head of our duties towards our neighbor, marks its importance; which is further

shown by this being “the first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2).  Modern

commentators generally assume that the promise was not personal, but national —

the nation’s days were to be “long upon the land,” if the citizens generally were

obedient children. But this explanation cannot apply to Ephesians 6:1-3. And if

obedience to parents is to be rewarded with long life under the new covenant, there

can be no reason why it should not have been so rewarded under the old. The

objection that good sons are not always long-lived is futile. God governs the

universe by general, not by universal laws.



The Fifth Commandment: the Commandment for Children (v. 12)





Ø      This commandment gave the parents an opportunity for telling the

children how it originated. Not only an opportunity, but we may say a

necessity. It was a commandment to children, through their parents. All

the commandments, statutes, and judgments, were to be taught

diligently (with effort) to the children (Deuteronomy 6:7), and this one

here would require very earnest and special explanation in the family.

It will be seen that it was a commandment which could not be isolated;

a self-willed parent could not quote it with any advantage for the sake

of upholding arbitrary authority.  The Israelite parent had to explain how

these commandments were given; he had to narrate the events in Sinai,

and these in turn compelled a reference to the exodus and the bitter

experiences of Egypt. Parents had well to consider how much depended

on themselves in making their children duly acquainted with all the

glorious doings and strict requirements of Jehovah. If a parent had to

deal with a disobedient and despising child, he was able to point out that

this requirement of honoring father and mother was God’s most strict

requirement, and God was He who had rule and authority over parent

and child alike.


Ø      Thus father and mother were evidently required to honor themselves.

No special verbal utterance was here required, telling father and mother

to remember the obligations to offspring, and anyway this was not the

proper place for it. The commandments here are universal

commandments, such as all men incur the temptation of breaking. Thus

it was eminently fitting to have a word for children, enjoining upon them

the proper feeling towards parents; as all know the filial relation, but all

do not know the parental one.  One of the merits of the Decalogue is its

brevity and sententiousness. No father could expect his children to

honor the parental relation unless he did so himself; and in measure as

he more and more comprehended the import of the relation, in that

measure might his children be expected to respond to his treatment

of them. “Honor all men,” says the apostle Peter (I Peter 2:17);

and to do this we must begin at home in our own life, and put the

proper value on ourselves. God has put immense honor on father

and mother; and it is the curse, loss, and fearful reservation of

penalty for many parents that they do not see what momentous

interests have been put in their stewardship.


Ø      God thus showed His earnest desire to help parents in their arduous,

anxious work. The work of a parent in Israel who had weighed all his

responsibilities was no light matter. Great opportunities were given him,

and great things might be done by him; things not to be done by any

other teacher or guide, and he had thus a very comforting assurance

that God was his helper. Helper to the father, and, bear in mind, to

the mother also.  It is worthy of note that father and mother are

specially mentioned. She is not left in the obscurity of a more general

term. God would give to both of them according to their peculiar

opportunities all understanding, wisdom, forbearance, steadfastness,

discrimination of character, that might be necessary for their work.


  • AS IT CONCERNED THE CHILDREN. A commandment was not

needed to teach children as to the making of some sort of distinction

between their father and mother and other men and women. But, in order

that the distinction might be a right one, and evermore real and deepening

in its presence and influence, such a commandment as this was imperatively

needed. As we have said, it was a commandment universal in its scope,

because all are or have been in the filial relation, but as a matter of fact it

would address itself directly to the young. They were laid hold of as soon

as anything like intelligence, power to obey, and power to understand the

difference between right and wrong manifested themselves. God came and

made His claim upon them, in a way as suitable as any to their childish

consciousness. They were to honor father and mother, not because father

and mother said so, but because GOD SAID SO. Plainly the honoring

included both deep inward feeling and clear outward expression. The

outward expression, important as it was, could only come from real and

habitual feeling within. Outward expression by itself counted for nothing.

Honoring with the lips while the heart was far removed from the parent

would be reckoned a grievous sin against God. The child had to grow up

esteeming and venerating the parental relation everywhere. It could not

honor its own father and mother and at the same time despise the parents

of other children. The promise here given obviously a suitable one for

children. To them the prospect of a long life, in the land already promised,

was itself a promise agreeable to the limitations of the old covenant, when

there could be no pointing in clear terms to the land beyond death; and we

may be very sure that, according to this promise, filial obedience had a

corresponding temporal reward.



The Commandment with Promise (v. 12)




Ø      Its reasonableness. Reverent, loving subjection to parents is obedience

to the deepest instincts of the heart.


Ø      Its pleasantness. This subjection is rest and joy: it is ceasing from

doubt and inner conflict; it lets into the spirit the sunshine of a parent’s

loving approbation.


  • THE PROMISE: “That thy days may be long upon the land which the

Lord thy God giveth thee.”  Obedience to parents is the condition of

national prosperity.


Ø      It is respect for law and loyal acceptance of the teachings of the past.

Ø      It is denial of the spirit of self will and self pleasing.

Ø      It guards youth from excess and vice.

Ø      It prepares for the understanding of and submission to THE WILL


Ø      It lays broad and deep in the nation’s life the foundations of industry

and strength and of moral, as well as material, greatness.

(Something that is dreadfully lacking in a large segment of society

in the United States of America – CY – 2017)


13 “Thou shalt not kill.” - Our first duty towards our neighbor is to respect his life.

When Cain slew Abel, he could scarcely have known what he was doing; yet a

terrible punishment was awarded him for his transgression (Genesis 4:11-14).

After the flood, the solemn declaration was made, which thenceforward became a

universal law among mankind — “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his

blood be shed:  for in the image of God made He man” (Genesis 9:6). In the world

that followed the flood, all races of men had the tradition that only blood could

 expiate blood. (Now many in the United States want to question this and have

perverted justice in many cases, and drawn out the punishment for so long a

time that it is almost meaningless.  CY – 2017)  In the few places where there was

an organized government, and a systematic administration of justice, the State acted

on the principle, and punished the murderer capitally. Elsewhere, among tribes and

races which had not yet coalesced into states, the law of blood-revenge obtained,

and the inquisition for blood became a private affair. The next of kin was the

recognized “avenger,” upon whom it devolved to hunt out the murderer

and punish him. Here the sin is simply and emphatically denounced, the brevity of

the precept increasing its force. The Israelites are told that to take life is a crime.

God forbids it. As usual, no exceptions are made. Exceptions appear later on

(Numbers 35:22-25; Deuteronomy 4:42); but the first thing is to establish the principle. 

Human life is sacred.  Man is not to shed the blood of his fellow-man. If he does,

of his hand will the life taken surely be required. The casuistic question whether

suicide is forbidden under this precept, probably did not occur to the legislator or

to the Hebrews of this time. Neither the Hebrews, nor the Egyptians, among whom

they had so long lived, were addicted to suicide; and it is a general rule that laws are

not made excepting against tolerably well-known crimes. It has been argued that

angry thoughts and insulting words were forbidden by it on the strength of our

Lord’s comment in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22). But it seems to

the present writer that in Matthew 5:21-47 our Lord  is not so much explaining

the Jewish law as amplifying it on His own authority — note the repetition of the

phrase, “But I say unto you” — and making it mean to Christians what it had

not meant to Jews.


14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.” - Our second duty towards our neighbor is to

respect the bond on which the family is based, and that conjugal honor which to the

true man is dearer than life. Marriage, according to the original institution, made the

husband and wife “one flesh” - (Genesis 2:24); and to break in upon this sacramental

union was at once a crime and a profanity. Adulteresses and their paramours were in

most ancient nations liable to be punished with death by the injured party; but the

adultery of a married man with an unmarried woman was thought lightly of. The

precept of the Decalogue binds both man and woman equally. Our Lord’s expansion

of this commandment (Matthew 5:27-32) is parallel to His expansion of the preceding

one (ibid. vs. 21-26). He shows that there are adulterous marriages in countries where

the law gives a facility of divorce, and that without any overt act adultery may be

committed in the heart.


15 Thou shalt not steal.” - By these words the right of property received

formal acknowledgment, and a protest was made by anticipation against the maxim

of modern socialists — “La propriete, c’est le vol.”  Instinctively man feels that

some things become his, especially by toil expended on them, and that, by parity of

reasoning, some things become his neighbor’s. Our third duty towards our neighbor

is to respect his property rights. Society, in every community that has hitherto existed,

has recognized private property; and social order may be said to be built upon it.

Government exists mainly for the security of men’s lives and properties;

and anarchy would supervene if either could be with impunity attacked.  Theft has

always been punished in every state.


16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against  thy neighbor.” - False witness is

of two kinds, public and private. We may either seek to damage our neighbor by

giving false evidence against him in a court of justice, or simply calumniate him

by making false statements to others in our social intercourse with them. The form

of the expression here used points especially to false witness of the former kind,

but does not exclude the latter, which is expressly forbidden in ch. 23:1. The wrong

done to a man by false evidence in a court may be a wrong of the very extremest kind

— may be actual murder (I Kings 21:13) More often, however, it results in an injury

to his property or his character. As fatal to the administration of justice, false witness

in courts has been severely visited by penalties in all well-regulated states. Private

slander may sometimes involve as serious consequences to individuals as false

witness in a court. It may ruin a man; it may madden him; it may drive him to suicide.

But it does not disorganize the whole framework of society, like perjured evidence

before a tribunal; and states generally are content to leave the injured party to the

remedy of an action-at-law. The Mosaic legislation was probably the first wherein

it was positively forbidden to circulate reports to the prejudice of another, and

where consequently this was a criminal offence. 


17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy

neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his

ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” - Here the Mosaic law takes a step

enormously in advance of any other ancient code. Most codes stopped short at the deed;

a few went on to words; not one attempted to control thoughts. “Thou shalt not covet”

teaches men that there is One who sees the heart; to whose eyes “all things are naked

and open;” (Hebrews 4:13) and who cares far less for the outward act than the inward

thought or motive from which the act proceeds. “Thou shalt not covet” lays it down

again that we are not mere slaves of our natural desires and passions, but have a

controling power implanted within us, by means of which we can keep down passion,

check desire, resist impulse. Man is lord of himself, capable, by the exercise of his

free-will, of molding his feelings, weakening or intensifying his passions, shaping

his character. God, who requires truth in the inward parts,” (Psalm 51:6) looks

that we should in all cases go to the root of the matter, and not be content with

restraining ourselves from evil acts and evil words, but eradicate the evil feeling

from which the acts and words proceed. Thy neighbors house” is mentioned

first as being of primary necessity, and as in some sort containing all the rest.

The other objects mentioned are placed in the order in which they

are usually valued. The multiplication of objects is by way of emphasis.



                                    The Ten Commandments Collectively (vs. 1-17)


The ten commandments form a summary of our main duties towards God, and towards

man. They stand out from the rest of the Old Testament in a remarkable way:


ü      They were uttered audibly by a voice which thousands heard — a voice

which is called that of God himself (Deuteronomy 5:26) and which

filled those who heard it with a terrible fear (v.19).


ü      They were the only direct utterance ever made by God to man under the

Old Covenant.


ü      They were not merely uttered by God but written by him, inscribed in

some marvelous way by the finger of God on the two tables of

testimony (ch. 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:13).


ü      They have the additional testimony to their primary importance, that our

Lord Himself appealed to them as laying down that which men must do

to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:18-19). We may observe of them



  • THAT THEY ARE ALL-EMBRACING. They include our obligations to both

      God and man; they are both prohibitive and directive; they reach to the heart as

      well as to the outward life; they comprise both moral and positive precepts.

      According to the division adopted by the English Church, and by the reformed

      churches generally, the first four lay down our duty to our Maker, the last six

            our duty to our fellow men. Mostly they are prohibitive; but this is not the case     

            with the fourth and fifth. The generality are concerned with acts, but words form

            the subject matter of the third; and both the tenth and the fifth deal with thoughts.           



ARRANGEMENT.  The Decalogue takes as its basis the fact that all our duties

are owed either to God or man. It regards our duties to God as the more

important, and therefore places them first. The duties consist:


ü      In acknowledging His existence and unity, and in “having Him” for

      our God and none other (First Commandment);


ü      In conceiving aright of His incorporeity and spirituality, and worshipping

                        Him as a Spirit, in spirit and in truth (Second Commandment);


ü      In reverencing His holy Name, and avoiding the profane use of it (Third

                        Commandment); and,


ü      In setting apart for his worship some stated portion of our time, since

otherwise we shall be sure to neglect it (Fourth Commandment). Our

duties towards our fellow men are more complicated. First, there is a

special relation in which we stand towards those who bring us into the

world and support us during our early years, involving peculiar duties to

them, analogous in part to those which we owe to God, and so rightly

following upon the summary of our Divine duties (Fifth Commandment).  

Next, with respect to men in general, we owe it them to abstain from         

injuring them in deed, word, or thought. In deed we may injure their

person, their honor, and their property, which we are consequently 

forbidden to do in the Sixth, the Seventh, and the Eighth Commandments.

In word, we injure our neighbor especially by false witness, public or

private, both of which are forbidden in the Ninth Commandment. We

injure him in thought, finally, when we covet what is his; hence the

Tenth Commandment.



OF THE MORAL LAW MAY BE ENVOLVED. The Decalogue is a collection

of elementary moral truths. Its predominantly negative form is indicative of this,

since abstaining from evil is the first step on the road to virtue. Each command

asserts a principle; and the principle is in every case capable of being worked

      out to a thousand remote consequences. The letter may be narrow; but the spirit

      of the commandment is in every case “exceeding broad” – (Psalm 119:96) –

      This will appear, more clearly, in the ensuing section, in which the Ten       

      Commandments will be considered individually.




                        The Ten Commandments Individually (vs. 1-17)


  • THE FIRST COMMANDMENT. To the Christian the First Commandment

      takes the form which our Lord gave it — “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God

      with all-thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first

      and great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).  Not merely abstract belief, not    

      merely humble acknowledgment of one God is necessary, but heartfelt devotion   

      to the One Object worthy of our devotion, the One Being in all the universe on     

      whom we may rest and stay ourselves without fear of His failing us. He is the       

      Lord our God — not an Epicurean deity, infinitely remote from man, who has      

      created the world and left it to its own devices — not a Pantheistic essence

      spread through all nature, omnipresent, but intangible, impersonal, deaf to our       

      cries, and indifferent to our “to us making for righteousness” in actions — not an

            inscrutable “something external to us making for righteousness,” in the words of   

            the religious Agnostic — but a Being very near us, “in whom we live., and          

            move, and have our being,” (Acts 17:28) who is “about our path and about

            our bed, and spieth out all our ways,” a Being whom we may know, and

            love, and trust, and feel to be with us, warning us, and cheering us, and

            consoling us, and pleading with us, and ready to receive us, and most

            willing to pardon us — a Being who is never absent from us, who

            continually sustains our life, upholds our faculties, gives us all we enjoy

            and our power to enjoy it, and who is therefore the natural object of our

            warmest, tenderest, truest, and most constant love. The First Commandment

            should not be difficult to keep. We have only to open our eyes to the facts,

            and let them make their natural impression upon our minds, in order to

            love One who has done and still does so much for us.


  • THE SECOND COMMANDMENT. On its prohibitive side, this

Commandment forbids us to have unworthy thoughts of God, to liken Him

to an idol, or regard Him as “even such an one as ourselves.” (Psalm 50:21) –

Considered as directive, it requires us to form in our minds a just and true idea

of the Divine nature, and especially of its spirituality, its lofty majesty, and its

            transcendent holiness. All materialistic ideas, and consequently all

            Pantheistic notions, are degrading to the dignity of God, who “is a Spirit,

            without body, parts, or passions, not mixed with matter, but wholly

            separate from it, yet everywhere present after a supersensuous manner.

            Again, anthropomorphic notions of God are degrading to Him; though it is

            scarcely possible to speak of Him without anthropomorphic expressions.

            When we use such terms — as when we call God just, or merciful, or         

            longsuffering — we should remember that those qualities in Him are not

            identical with the human ones, but only analogous to them; and altogether

            we should be conscious of a deep mysteriousness lying behind all that we

            know of God, and rendering Him a Being awful, inscrutable — whom we

            must not suppose that we can fathom or comprehend.


  • THE THIRD COMMANDMENT.   Primarily, the Third Commandment

            forbids perjury or false swearing; secondarily, it forbids all unnecessary

            oaths, all needless mention of the holy name of God, and all irreverence

            towards anything which is God’s — His name, house, day, book, laws,

            ministers. Whatever in any sense belongs to God is sacred, and, if it has to

            be mentioned, should be mentioned reverently. The true main object of the

            Third Commandment is to inculcate reverence, to point out to us that the

            only proper frame of mind in which we can approach God is one of self-   

            abasement and deeply reverential fear. “Keep thy foot, when thou goest to

            the house of God,” says the Preacher, “and be more ready to hear than to

            offer the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil. Be not

            rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything

            before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy

            words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2).


  • THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT. In the Fourth Commandment we

            have the basis for all that is external in religion. The dedication of one

            entire day out of seven to God, and the command to abstain on that day

            from the ordinary labors of life, led on naturally to the institution of

            sacred services, holy convocations, meetings for united worship and

            prayer. Man is an active being, and a social being. If the ordinary business

            of life is stopped, some other occupation must be found for him: he will not

            sit still from morning to night with folded hands wrapped in pious

            contemplation. The institution of the Sabbath stands in close relation to the

            appointment of a priesthood, the construction of a holy place, and the

            establishment of a ceremonial. On the Christian the Fourth Commandment

            is not binding in respect of the letter — he is not to remember the Seventh

            day to keep it holy, but the First; he is not tied to hallow it by an abstinence

            from all labor, but encouraged to devote it to the performance of good

            works; but in the spirit of it, the commandment is as binding as any. Men

            need, under Christianity as much as under Judaism, positive religious

            institutions, places of worship, hours of prayer, a liturgy, a ritual, ceremonies.        

            Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some

            is, but exhorting one another:  and so much the more as ye see the day        

            approaching”(Hebrews 10:25) - The value of the Lord’s Day as a Christian       

            institution is incalculable; it witnesses for religion to the world; it constitutes a      

            distinct call on men to take into consideration the aim and intent of the day; and   

            its rightful use is of inestimable benefit to all truly religious persons, deepening

            in them, as it does, the sense of religion, and giving them time and opportunity

            for the training of their spiritual nature, and the contemplation of heavenly things,            

            which would otherwise to most men have been unattainable. It has been well        

            called “a bridge thrown across life’s troubled waters, over which we may pass to  

            reach the opposite shore — a link between earth and heaven — a type of the         

            eternal day, when the freed spirit, if true to itself and to God, shall, put on for

            ever the robe of immortal holiness and joy.”


  • THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT. The honor which this commandment

            exacts from us is irrespective of our parents’ personal merits or demerits.

            We are to honor them as being our parents. Difficulties may be raised

            easily enough in theory; but they are readily solvable in practice. Let us

            defer to our parents’ commands in all things lawful — let us do everything

            for them that we can — let us anticipate their wishes in things indifferent

            — let us take trouble on their behalf — let us be ever on the watch to

            spare them vexatious annoyance — let us study their comfort, ease, peace

            — and without any sacrifice of principle, even if they are bad parents, we

            may sufficiently show that we feel the obligation of the relationship, and

            are anxious to discharge the duties which it involves. Comparatively few

            men are, however, severely tried. We are not often much better than our

            parents; and it is seldom difficult to honour them:


Ø      For their age and experience.

Ø      For the benefits which they have conferred on us.

Ø      For the disinterested affection which they bear to us, and which

   they evince in their conduct. As a rule, parents have very much more

   love for their children than these have for them, and make sacrifices on      

   their children’s behalf, which their children neither appreciate nor   

   reciprocate.  The honor which, according to this commandment, has to

   be shown to parents, must of course be extended, with certain        

   modifications, to those who stand to us in loco parentis — to guardians,    

   tutors, schoolmasters, and the like. It is not perhaps quite clear that the      

   commandment extends also to those who are set over us in Church and     

   State, though it is usual so to interpret it. There are certain relations of        

   parents to their offspring which are altogether peculiar; and these are         

   absolutely incommunicable.  There are others, which are common to           

   parents with rulers; but these, unless in very primitive communities,

   can scarcely be said to rest upon the domestic relation as their basis.

   The ordinary relation of the governed to their governors is rather one         

   parallel to that of children to their parents, than one which grows out

   of it; and though either may be used to illustrate the other, we must

   view the two as separate and independent of each other.


  • THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT. How wide is the scope of this

            commandment to Christians, our Lord has shown. Not only are murder and

            violence prohibited by it, but even provoking words, and angry thoughts

            (Matthew 5:21-26). The “root of bitterness” whence murder springs, is

            either some fierce passion, or some inordinate desire. To be secure from

            murderous impulses, we must be free from such emotions as these, — we

            must have tender and joying feelings towards all our fellow-men. “Love is

            the fulfilling of the law;” (Romans 13:10) and unless a man really “love the           

            brethren,” he has no security against being surprised into violence towards

            them, which may issue in death. Nor is there one species of murder only. The        

            Sixth Commandment prohibits, not only violence to the body, but — what is

            of far greater consequence — injury to the soul. Men break it most flagrantly

            when they lead another into deadly sin, thereby — so far as in them lies —

            destroying his soul. The corrupter of innocence, the seducer, the persuader

            to evil, are “murderers” in a far worse sense than the cut-throat, the bandit,

            or the bravo. Death on the scaffold may expiate the crimes of these latter;

            eternal punishment alone would seem to be an adequate penalty for the

            guilt of the former. He that has eternally ruined a soul should surely be

            himself eternally unhappy.


  • THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT. Here again we have the inestimable

            advantage of our Lord’s comment on the commandment, to help us to

            understand what it ought to mean to us. Not only adultery, but fornication

            — not only fornication, but impurity of any and every kind — in act, in

            word, in thought — is forbidden to the Christian. He that looketh on a

            woman with the object of lusting after her, has already committed adultery

            with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28).


Ø      He that dallies with temptation,

Ø      he that knowingly goes into the company of the impure,

Ø      he that in his solitary chamber defiles himself,

Ø      he that hears without rebuking the obscene words,


transgresses against this law, and, unless he repents, cuts

            himself off from God. And observe — the law is one both for men and

            women. We are ready enough to speak with scorn of “fallen women,”

            to regard them as ruined for ever, and treat their sin as the one

            unpardonable offence; but what of “fallen men”? Is not their sin as

            irreversible? Is it not the same sin? Is it not spoken of in Scripture in the

            same way? “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge (Hebrews

            13:4). “Murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and

            all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and    

            brimstone; which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). And is it not as            

            debasing, as deadening to the soul, as destructive of all true manliness, of all

            true chivalry, of all self-respect? Principiis obsta. Let the young keep that

            precious gift of purity which is theirs, and not be induced by the ridicule of

            unclean men to part with it. Once gone it can never return. Let them be

            pure, as Christ was pure. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall

            see God!” – (Matthew 5:8)


  • THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT. Simple direct stealing, being severely

            punished by the law in most countries, is seldom practiced, unless it be by

            children and slaves. But indirect stealing of various kinds is common. It

            should be clearly understood that the Christian precept forbids any act by

            which we fraudulently obtain the property of another. Adulteration,

            concealment of defects, misrepresentation of quality, employment of false

            weights or measures, are the acts of a thief, as much as pocket-picking or

            shop-lifting. Servants steal when they take “commission” from tradesmen

            unknown to their masters, or appropriate as “perquisites” what their

            masters have not expressly agreed to allow, or neglect to do the work

            which they undertook, or do it in a slovenly manner, or damage their

            master’s property by carelessness or diminish it by waste. Masters steal

            when they do not permit their servants the indulgences they promised, or

            allow their wages to fall into arrear, or force them to work overtime

            without proper remuneration, or deprive them of such “rest” as they had a

            reasonable right to expect upon the Sunday. Those steal who cheat the

            revenue by smuggling, or false returns to tax-collectors; or who cheat

            tradesmen by incurring debts which they can never pay, or who in view of

            coming bankruptcy pass over their property to a friend, with the

            understanding that it is to be restored to them, or who have recourse of

            any of the “tricks of trade,” as they are called. All men are sure to steal in

            one way or another, who are not possessed by the spirit of honesty, who

            do not love justice and equity and fair, dealing, who do not make it the law

            of their life to be ever doing to others as they would that others should do

            unto them.  (Matthew 7:12)


  • THE NINTH COMMANDMENT. False witness in a court is but rarely

            given. We most of us pass our lives without having once to appear in a

            court, either as prosecutor, witness, or accused. The false witness against

            which the generality have especially to be on their guard, is that evil

            speaking which is continually taking place in society, whereby men’s

            characters are blackened, their motives misrepresented, their reputations

            eaten away. It is dull and tame to praise a man. We get a character for wit

            and shrewdness if we point out flaws in his conduct, show that he may

            have acted from a selfish motive, “just hint a fault and hesitate dislike.” It is

            not even necessary in all cases to establish our character for shrewd insight

            that we should say anything. Silence when we hear a friend maligned, a

            shrug of the shoulders, a movement of the eyebrows, will do. Again, false

            witness may be given in writing as well as in speech. The reviewer who

            says of a book worse than he thinks of it, bears false witness. The writer

            for the Press who abuses in a leading article a public man whom he

            inwardly respects, bears false witness. The person who vents his spite

            against a servant by giving him a worse character than he deserves, bears

            false witness. We can only be secure against daily breaches of this

            commandment by joining the spirit of love with a deep-seated regard for

            truth, and aiming always at saying of others, when we have occasion to

            speak of them, the best that we can conscientiously say.


  • THE TENTH COMMANDMENT. The Tenth Commandment is

            supplementary to the eighth. Rightly understood, the eighth implies it,

            covetousness being the root from which theft springs. The command


            added to the Decalogue in order to lay down the principle that:


Ø      the thoughts of the heart come under God’s law, and

Ø      that we are as responsible for them as for our actions.


Otherwise, it would not be needed, being implied in the

            eighth and in the seventh. Since, however, it was of the greatest

            importance for men to know and understand that God regards the heart,

            and “requires truth in the inward parts;” and since covetousness was the

            cause of the greater portion of the evil that is in the world, the precept,

            although already implied, was given expressly. Men were forbidden to

            covet the house, wife, slaves, cattle, property of their neighbor — in fact,

            “anything that is his.” They were not forbidden to desire houses, or wives,

            or cattle, or property generally — which are all, within limits, objects of

            desire and things which men may rightfully wish for — but they were

            forbidden to desire for themselves such as were already appropriated by

            their fellows, and of which, therefore, they could not become possessed

            without their fellows suffering loss. A moderate desire for earthly goods is

            not forbidden to the Christian (Matthew 19:29; I Timothy 4:8); though his

            special covetousness should be for “the best gifts” — the virtues

            and graces which make up the perfect Christian character (I Corinthians

            12:31; 14:1).



The Moral Law — General Survey (vs. 1-18)


View this Law of the Ten Commandments as:


  • AUTHORITATIVELY DELIVERED. “God spake all these words,

saying,” etc. (v. 1). An authoritative revelation of moral law was necessary:


Ø      That man might be made distinctly aware of the compass of his

obligations. The moral knowledge originally possessed by man had

gradually been parted with. What remained was distorted and confused. He

had little right knowledge of his duty to God, and very inadequate

conceptions even of his duties to his fellow-men. This lost knowledge was

recovered to him by positive revelation. Consider, in proof of the need of

such a revelation:


o        the ignorance of God which prevails still,

o        men’s imperfect apprehensions of His holiness, and

o        their defective views of duty, etc.


And this though the revelation has SO LONG BEEN GIVEN!


Ø      That a basis of certainty might be obtained for the inculcation of moral

truth. This also was necessary. Man has ever shown himself ingenious in

explaining away the obligations which the law imposes on him. He may

deny that they exist. He may make light of holiness. He may take up

utilitarian ground, and ride off on disputes as to the nature of conscience,

the origin of moral ideas, the diversities of human opinion, etc. The law

stops all such caviling by interposing with its authoritativeThus saith the

Lord.” See on this point a valuable paper on “Secularism,” by R. H. 

Hutton, in “Expositor,” January, 1881.  (One of the glories of the

Internet is that things as old as this can be found in 2017 - If interested

look it up.  CY - 2017)


Ø      That the authority of conscience may be strengthened. Conscience

testifies, in however dim and broken a way, to THE EXISTENCE OF


as it has right, it would rule the world.” (The man who killed around 60

people and injured over 500 in Las Vegas last Sunday night, could

have and should have known "thou shalt not kill!"  Our government

is very foolish to prevent this idea from being taught in the public schools,

as it had from the beginning of this country!  A man's religion can keep

him from killing someone, A GOVERNMENT CANNOT!   In 1961,

in our senior play at Ferguson High School in Ferguson, Kentucky, I carried

a real gun.  I do not remember anyone checking to see if it was loaded.

You figure - CY - 2017)    In order, however, that we may be made to feel

that it is a living will, and no mere impersonal law, which thus imposes its

commands upon us, there is a clear need for the voice within being

reinforced by the voice without — for historical revelation. Sinai teaches

us to recognize the authority which binds us in our consciences as Gods



  • GRACIOUSLY PREFACED. “I am the Lord, thy God,” etc. (v. 2).

This preface to the law is of great importance.


Ø      It testified to the fact that Gods relation to Israel was fundamentally a

gracious one. “The law was introduced with the words, ‘I am the Lord thy

God,’ and speaks with the majestic authority of the Eternal, dispensing

blessings and cursings on the fulfillment and transgression of THE LAW.

But although this is given amidst the thunder and lightning of Sinai, whose

roll seems to be heard constantly in its mighty imperatives‘Thou shalt not!’

or ‘Thou shalt!’ yet still it points back to grace; for the God who speaks in

the law is He who led the people out of Egypt, freed them from the yoke of

bondage — the God who gave the promise to Abraham, and who has

prepared a highest good, THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM for His people”



Ø      It furnished a motive for obedience to the law. Mark the order — the

same as in the Gospel; God first saves Israel, then gives them His law to

keep. Because God had redeemed them from Egypt, and had given them,

of His free mercy, this glorious privilege of being His people, therefore were

they to keep His commandments. This was the return they were to make to

Him for the so great love wherewith He had loved them. Their relation to

the law was not to be a servile one. Obedience was not to be a price paid

for favor, but a return of grateful hearts for favors already received.

From this motive of gratitude, and that they might retain the privileges He

had given them, and inherit further blessing, they were to walk in the

prescribed way. If, notwithstanding, a pronouncedly legal element entered

into that economy, a curse even being pronounced against those who failed

to keep the whole law, while the good promised to obedience appears

more as legal award than as a gift of grace — we know now the reason for

the covenant being cast into this legal form, and can rejoice that in Christ

our justification is placed on so much better a footing. Obedience,

however, is still required of us as a condition of continuance in God’s

favor, and of ultimate inheritance of blessing.  (Jesus said, "If a man love

me, he will keep my words:  and my Father will love him, and we will

come unto him, and make our abode with him."  John 14:23 - CY - 2017)


Ø      It furnished to the pious Israelite a pledge of merciful treatment when

he transgressed or fell short of the requirements of his law. What, e.g.,

had David to fall back upon in the hour of his remorse for his great

transgression (Psalm 51), but just such a word as this, confirmed as it was

by acts of God, which showed that it was A WORD ALWAYS TO BE

DEPENDED ON! always to be depended on. This one saying, prefacing

the law, altered the whole complexion of Israel’s standing under law.

It gave to the Israelite the assurance that he most needed, namely — that,

notwithstanding the strictness of the commandment, God would yet accept

him in his sincere endeavors after obedience, though these fell manifoldly

short of the full requirement, i.e., virtually on the ground of faith — in

connection, however, with propitiation.


  • MORAL IN ITS SUBSTANCE. This has been adverted to above.

Though imposed on man by Divine authority, moral law is no arbitrary

creation of the Divine will. It is an emanation from the Divine nature.

The primary idea of goodness is the essential, not the creative, will of God.

The Divine will, in its essence is:


Ø      infinite love,

Ø      mercy,

Ø      patience,

Ø      truth,

Ø      faithfulness,

Ø      rectitude,

Ø      spirituality, and

Ø      all that is included in the idea of HOLINESS WHICH



The holiness of God, therefore, neither precedes His will

(‘sanctitas antceedens voluntatem’ of the schoolmen) nor follows

it, but is His will itself. The good is not a law for the Divine will (so that

God wills it because it is good); neither is it a creation of His will (so that it

becomes good because He wills it); but it is THE NATURE OF GOD from

everlasting to everlasting.” (See also Martensen’s “Christian Ethics,” on

“God the only Good,” and on “The Law’s Content.”) The law, in a word,

expresses immutable demands of holiness. What these are is determined in

any given case by the abstract nature of holiness and by the constitution

and circumstances of the being to whom the law is given. Man, e.g., is a

free, immortal spirit; but he is at the same time an inhabitant of the earth,

bound by natural conditions, and standing to his fellowmen in relations,

some of which at least belong only to his present state of existence. Hence

we find in the Decalogue precepts relating to the weekly Sabbath, to

marriage, to the institution of private property, etc. These precepts are

founded on our nature, and are universally obligatory. They show what

duty immutably requires of us as possessing such a nature; but obviously

their application will cease under different conditions of existence

(Matthew 22:30). Only in its fundamental principles of love to God and

to our fellow-beings, and in its spiritual demands for truth, purity,

uprightness, reverence, and fidelity, is THE LAW absolutely unchangeable.




Ø      Its two divisions:


o        the one turning on the principle of love to God,

o        the other, on the principle of love to man.


Ø      The relative position of the two divisions duty to God standing first,

and laying the needful foundation for the right discharge of our duties to

mankind. True love to man has its fountain head in love to God. Neglect of

THE DUTIES OF PIETY will speedily be followed by THE NEGLECT
The Scripture does not ignore the

distinction between religion (duties done directly to God) and morality

(duties arising from earthly relations), but it unites the two in the deeper

idea that ALL DUTY IS TO BE DONE TO GOD  whose authority is

supreme in the one sphere as in the other.


Ø      The scope of its precepts. These cover the entire range of human

obligation. The precepts of the first table (including here the Fifth

Commandment) require that God be honored :


o        in His being,

o        His worship,

o        His name,

o        His day,

o        His human representatives.


Ø      The precepts of the second table require that our neighbor be not injured:


o        in deed,

o        in word,

o        in thought; and


in respect neither of:


o        his person,

o        his wife,

o        his property, nor

o        his reputation.


So complete and concise a summary of duty — religious and ethical —

based on true ideas of the character of God, and taking holiness, not bare

morality, as its standard, is without parallel in ancient legislation.


  • SPIRITUAL IN ITS PURPORT. “The law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14).


Ø      The law to be studied in its principles. Taken in its bare letter, it might

appear narrow. Here, however, as everywhere in Scripture, the letter is

only the vehicle of the spirit. The whole law of Moses being founded on

this part of it — being viewed simply as an expansion or amplification in

different relations of the principles embodied in the ten words — it is plain,

and common sense supports us in the view, that the principles are the main

things, the true roots of obligation. Thus, the Third Commandment, in the

letter of it, forbids false swearing, or generally, any vain use of the name of

God. But underlying this, and obviously forming the ground of the

command, is the principle that God’s name, i.e., everything whereby He

manifests Himself, is to be treated with deepest reverence. This principle, in

its various applications, carries us far beyond the letter of the precept.

Read in the same way, the Sixth Commandment forbids killing, but not less

the murderous motive than the murderous act; while the principle involved,

viz., reverence for, and care of, human life (compare Genesis 9:6 -

I saw on Facebook today - being Oct. 4, 2017 - these words - Sorry, but I

don't listen to anti-gun lectures from people who think it is okay to

kill a baby!"  CY - 2017), branches out into a multiplicity of duties,

of which the other parts of the law of Moses furnish numerous illustrations.

The true key to the spiritual interpretation of the law is that given by Christ

in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7).


Ø      Summed up in love. “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).


o        It is the central requirement. “Them that love me” (v. 6). Implied in

the first and all later precepts. Whatever in the way of outward service

we render to God, or man, if love is withheld, the law is not fulfilled.


o        It is needed to fill up the meaning of the special precepts. These receive

their fullness of interpretation only through love. And, in the spiritual

reading of them, they cannot be kept without love. It is impossible, e.g.,

to keep the heart free from all envy, malice, hate, covetousness, save as

it is possessed by the opposite principle of love. Love is the root of:


§         fidelity to God,

§         spirituality in His worship,

§         reverence for His name,  and

§          delight in His day, etc.


The more deeply we penetrate into the meaning of the law, the

more clearly do we perceive that love to God and love to man are

indispensable for the fulfilling of it.


o        Love secures the fulfilling of the law. For “love worketh no ill to his

neighbour (Romans 13:10). It will not voluntarily injure another. It

will not kill, rob, defraud, slander a fellowman, or covet his possessions.

On the contrary, it will seek in every way it can to do him good. It is the

great impelling motive to obedience. “The love of Christ constraineth

us” (II Corinthians 5:14). “Faith, which worketh by love” (Galatians





Ø      By Divine threatening (vs. 5-7).

Ø      By Divine example (v. 11).

Ø      By Divine promises (vs. 6-12).


See below. Behold, then, the beauty and perfection of the law. “Thy

commandment is exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96). We are not to be



Ø      By the studied brevity of the law, which is part of its excellency; or,


Ø      By its prevailing negative form — a testimony, not to the unspirituality

of the law, but to the existence of strong evil tendencies in the heart,

needing to be repressed (Romans 7:7-8; I Timothy 1:9-10). Yet

perfect as it is of its kind, it is not to be compared, as a mirror of


No accumulation of separate precepts can exhaust all that is contained

in holiness. Precepts convey also a defective idea of the good by

breaking up that which is in its own nature one — an ideal —

into a number of separate parts. What, however, the law could

not do for us, is done in the perfect example of our Lord. In Him,

law is translated into life. The ideal is no longer presented to us,

as even in the Decalogue, in detached precepts, “broken lights,”

“words,” which — just because holiness is so vast a thing — are

left to hint more than they express, but in its true unbroken unity,

in the sphered whole of a perfect human character.

Our law is CHRIST!




   The Individual Israelite Considered in His Duties Towards His Neighbor

                                                     (vs. 13-17)             


Of these five commandments — namely, against murder, adultery, theft,

slander and covetousness, it almost goes without saying that their very

negativeness in form constitutes the strongest way of stating a positive

duty. From a proper consideration of these commandments all possible

manifestations of brotherliness will flow. They show the spirit we should

cherish towards our neighbors; those who equally with ourselves are the

objects of Divine providence and mercy. They show what we are bound to

give and what we have equally a right to expect. Pondering the serious and

injurious actions here indicated we note:



A man maliciously disposed, sensual, reckless, unscrupulously selfish, has

thus the extent of his power set before him.


Ø      That life which man has no power to give, he can take away at a

single blow.


Ø      A man in the gratification of his sensual passions is able to destroy

domestic peace, gladness and purity.


Ø      Property, which may be the fruit and reward of long industry, is

swept away by those who will not work for themselves as long

as they can get others to work for them.


Ø      Reputation may be taken away by clever and plausible slander.


Ø      A man’s whole position may be made uncertain by those who on the

right hand and the left look enviously on that position and wish

to make it their own.


It is when these possibilities are borne in mind that we feel how true it is that

even the best guarded of earthly store-houses is nevertheless the one where

the thief can break through and steal. Industry, temperance, caution, vigilance,

will guard many points of human life, but what avails, if even a single one is

left that cannot be called invulnerable?  If, then, our fellow men are so much

in our power, how important it becomes us to quell the very first outbreaks

of all that is malicious, envious, selfish and sensual!  If we allow the evil in us

to grow, we know not what evil it may inflict on the innocent and happy.


  • But if these commandments show a dark and menacing side in our

relations to others, they equally show a bright one. THERE IS GREAT


power to kill, has, on the other hand, power to do much in the way of

preserving, cherishing and invigorating the lives of others. Instead of

pulling down others by a degrading companionship to the level of his own

impure heart, he can do something by seeking purity himself to draw others

toward a like quest. Instead of stealing, he will work not only to sustain

himself, but that from his superfluity, if possible, he may give to those who

have not. He who has spoken ill of men will find it just as easy to speak

well, if only he is so disposed. That tongue with which the renewed heart

blesses God will also be constrained to say what is kind, commendatory

and helpful to others. Covetousness will give place to a gracious and

generous disposition that constantly takes for its motto, “It is more blessed

to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).   It is only when we are doing our

neighbors all the good we can, that we may be really sure we are carrying

out the commandments of God. There are only the two ways:


Ø      the forbidden and

Ø      the commanded one;


and if we are not treading heartily and resolutely in the commanded one,

it follows as a matter of course that we are in the forbidden one.


  • It is something to remember that THE GOOD WE CAN DO BY


WE CAN DO BY BREAKING THEM. God has put us largely in the

power of one another, that thereby we might have the happiness coming

from loving service and mutual association in giving and receiving; but, at

the same time, He has made us so that while we are very powerful as

coworkers with Him, yet even our greatest efforts are comparatively

powerless against those who put themselves under His protection. Those

injuring others do indeed inflict a great injury from a certain point of view;

but they terribly deceive themselves in thinking that the injury is such as

can never be compensated for. Christ has given to His people the word of

comfort against all assault and spoliation from evil men: — “Fear not them

that kill the body.” The priceless treasures, constituting the essence of

every human life, are not without a storehouse because the earthly

storehouse proves insufficient. The truth seems to be that man has it in his

power to do more good than he can conceive, more good certainly than he

ever attempts. He has not the faith to believe that incessant and plenteous

sowing will bring good results, to be manifested in that day when all

secrets are brought fully to light. And so on the other hand, the malicious

man exaggerates his power. He thinks he has done more than he possibly

can do. Good is left undone for want of faith, and evil is done through too

much faith. Many an evil act would never have been committed if the doer

had only known how his evil, in the wondrous reach of God’s providence,

would be turned to good. And so the evil-doer, the man of many crimes, if

perchance the hour comes to him when he reflects in self-condemnation in

the past, and says in his heart that all repentance is vain, should yet find

hope and illumination as he considers how the evil done to others is an evil

which God can neutralize, which He can even transmute into good. He who

hurts his neighbor and rejoices over the mischief, may find, when it is too

late, that the only real evil has been to himself, because he has persisted in

an impenitent heart.



Our Threefold Duty to Our Neighbor (vs. 13-17)




Ø      His life is to be held sacred. It is God’s great gift to him and it is God’s

only to take it away, by express command, or by His own judgment.

This is a law for nations as well as individuals. In every unjust war this

command is trampled under foot.


Ø      His home is sacred. The wreck of homes which lust has made! The

holy, loving refuge of childhood and youth desolated, and its very

memory made a horror and anguish!  (The same for drugs! 

a work “...of the flesh.. witchcraft - φαρμακεία pharmakeia

Galatians 5:19-20)  Here the word φαρμακεία, originally denoting the

use of drugs merely, means, sometimes, their use for poisoning; but

this sense would not be very suitable here. But the nouns φαρμακός,

φαρμακεύς, and φαρμακεία, like veneficus and veneficium in Latin, are

also often used with reference to the employment of drugs in charms

and incantations; and thence of the employment of black arts in general –

magic, sorcery, witchcraft (sins of irreligion)


Ø      His property is sacred. It is the man’s special stewardship from God.

God can bless us also, for all things are His, but this stands between

our neighbor and the Master, to whom he must render his account.

          (“For must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that

            every one may receive the things done in his body, according to

            that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”  (II Corinthians 5:10)


  • HE IS NOT TO BE INJURED BY WORD. We may lay no hand upon

his life, his home, his goods, and yet our tongue may wound and rob him.

We may cause respect and love to fall away from him wrongfully. Our

dimininishing aught of these, save as the servants of truth, is a crime before



  • HE IS NOT TO BE WRONGED IN THOUGHT. God asks not only

for a blameless life but also for A PURE HEART, in which lust and hate

and envy and greed HAVE NO PLACE!   Sin is to be slain in its root.





Our Threefold Duty to Our Neighbor (vs. 13-17)




Ø      His life is to be held sacred. It is God’s great gift to him and it is God’s

only to take it away, by express command, or by His own judgment.

This is a law for nations as well as individuals. In every unjust war this

command is trampled under foot.


Ø      His home is sacred. The wreck of homes which lust has made! The

holy, loving refuge of childhood and youth desolated, and its very

memory made a horror and anguish!  (The same for drugs! 

a work “...of the flesh.. witchcraft - φαρμακεία pharmakeia

Galatians 5:19-20)  Here the word φαρμακεία, originally denoting the

use of drugs merely, means, sometimes, their use for poisoning; but

this sense would not be very suitable here. But the nouns φαρμακός,

φαρμακεύς, and φαρμακεία, like veneficus and veneficium in Latin, are

also often used with reference to the employment of drugs in charms

and incantations; and thence of the employment of black arts in general –

magic, sorcery, witchcraft (sins of irreligion)


Ø      His property is sacred. It is the man’s special stewardship from God.

God can bless us also, for all things are His, but this stands between

our neighbor and the Master, to whom he must render his account.

          (“For must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that

            every one may receive the things done in his body, according to

            that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”  (II Corinthians 5:10)


  • HE IS NOT TO BE INJURED BY WORD. We may lay no hand upon

his life, his home, his goods, and yet our tongue may wound and rob him.

We may cause respect and love to fall away from him wrongfully. Our

dimininishing aught of these, save as the servants of truth, is a crime before



  • HE IS NOT TO BE WRONGED IN THOUGHT. God asks not only

for a blameless life but also for A PURE HEART, in which lust and hate

and envy and greed HAVE NO PLACE!   Sin is to be slain in its root.



                                    THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE PEOPLE


            THE NEARER APPROACH OF MOSES TO GOD (vs. 18-21)


The effect produced upon the people by the accumulated terrors of Sinai — “the

thunderings and the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain

smoking” — the cloud, and the voice out of the cloud — was an awful and terrible

fear. They could not bear the manifestation of the near presence of God; and therefore

“they removed and stood afar off.” It seemed to them as if, on hearing the voice

of God, speaking out of the thick darkness, they must die (v.19). Moses, upon their

expressing these feelings, comforted them with an assurance that God had shown His

terrors, not for their injury, but to put His fear in their hearts (v.20), and allowed

them to retire to a distance from the mount, while he himself “drew near unto the

thick darkness where God was” (v.21).


18 “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the

noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it,

they removed, and stood afar off.” –  The people saw the thunderings. The use

of a specific verb for a generic one, with terms to all of which it is not, strictly

speaking, applicable, is common to many writers, and is known to grammarians as

zengma. “Saw” here means “perceived, witnessed.” The mountain smoking.

Compare ch.19:18. In Deuteronomy 5:23 it is said that “the mountain did burn

with fire.” When the people saw it, they removed. It appears, from Deuteronomy

5:23, that. before retiring, the people sent a deputation of heads of tribes and elders

up to Moses in the mount, to convey to him their wishes, and suggest that he

should be their intermediary with God. Moses laid their wishes before God,

and was directed to give them his sanction, whereupon they withdrew to their tents

(ib, 30).


19 “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not

God speak with us, lest we die.”  Their whole speech, as delivered in Deuteronomy

5:24-27 was as follows: — Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us His glory

and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire:

we have seen this day, that God doth talk with man, and He liveth. Now,

therefore, why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear

the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there

of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God, speaking out of the

midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go then near, and hear all that the

Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God

shall speak unto thee; and. we will hear it, and do it”.   The speech is here

abbreviated greatly; but its essential points are preserved:


  • “Speak thou with us”
  •  be thou our intermediary
  • “Let not God speak with us, lest we die.” 


20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove

you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” 

And Moses said unto the people. Not immediately — Moses

first held colloquy with God. God declared that the people had “spoken

well” (Deuteronomy 5:28); and authorised Moses to allow of their

withdrawal (ibid. v. 30). Fear not. Here Exodus is more full in its details than

Deuteronomy. Moses, finding the people in a state of extreme alarm, pacified

them — assured them that there was no cause for immediate  fear — God had

not now come in vengeance — the object of the terrors of Sinai was to prove

them — i.e., to test them, whether they were inclined to submit themselves to

God, or not and to impress upon their minds permanently an awful fear of God,

that they might be kept back from sin by dread of His almighty power. The motive

of fear is, no doubt, a low one; but where we can appeal to nothing else, we must

appeal to it.  Israel was still a child, only fit for childish discipline; and had to be

directed by the harsh voice of fear, until it had learned to be guided by the tender

accents of love


21 “And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness

where God was.” The people stood afar off. They retired from the base of Sinai

to their tents, where they “stood,” probably in their tent doors. And Moses

drew near unto the thick darkness. As the people drew back, Moses

drew near. The display which drove them off, attracted him. He did not

even fear the “thick darkness” — a thing front which human nature

commonly shrinks. Where God was, he would be.




The Ten Words (vs. 16-21)


“And God stake all these words.” “And the people stood afar off: and

Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:1, 21).

Our subject is the law of the ten commandments, and:


  • THE NAMES OF THE CODE.  Names are oft the keys to things. There are

five chief names; four in the Old Testament and one in the New.


Ø      The ten words.” [“The ten commandments” is an unscriptural phrase.]

(ch. 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4 See Hebrew) This name

implies that the code was in a very special sense the distinct utterance of

God. The utterance touched that which was central in human life, viz.,



Ø      The law,” i.e., the heart and core of the Mosaic legislation. All the rest

was as the fringe to the robe of righteousness.


Ø      The testimony.” God’s attestation of His mind as to our moral carriage

through life.


Ø      The covenant.” But care should be exercised as to the putting of this.

Israel was not to keep the ten words in order to salvation, but because

Israel had been saved. Spiritual obedience springs from gratitude —

cannot be given as the price of salvation.


Ø      The commandments(Matthew 19:17). The names of the code stamp

it as unique. The Mosaic legislation stands out like a mountain range

from all other codes historic in the world; but the “ten words” are the

ten peaks of that mighty range.


  • THE MOMENT when God gave the “ten” was critical and significant.


Ø      Subsequent to salvation (ch. 20:1). Trace the evangelical parallel, show

that this is the order of the divine love:


o       first deliverance, and

o       then direction for life.


Ø      Before ritual. Hence the subordination, even for the Jew, of ritual to

morals. For us the symbolic ritual is no more. Our prerogative is that of

unveiled gaze upon the spiritual.


  • THE DELIVERY of the “ten words.” [The object here should be so

to describe the incidents of the delivery, on the basis of the sacred

narrative, aided by topographical illustration, as to exhibit the unique

character of this code. The following hints may be of service]: — The great

plain north of Sinai; Sinai to the south; the barren character of this huge

natural temple [Stanley’s “J. C.” 1:128]; on the third day every eye turned

to the mountain; mists rising like smoke; lightning; thunder like ten

thousand trumpets; reverberation; earth-trembling. The people would have

drawn away, but Moses led them near the base. He ascended; but returned,

that he, as one of the people, and with them, might hear the code. God

alone. Then the very voice of very God, possibly pronouncing the “ten” in

their shortest form. [Ewald: “Israel,” 2:163, Eng. tr.] The cry of the people

for a mediator. If we had today a phonogram even of that awful voice,

some would still say, “It is the voice of a man, and not of a god.”


  • THE PRESERVATION. The “ten” were:


Ø      Graven by God. The record supernatural, like the delivery. On granite;

not too large for a man to carry; graven on both sides; symbol of the

completeness, inviolability, and perpetuity of the Divine law. Note the

seven or eight weeks’ delay ere the tables were given, and the

intervening incidents.


Ø      Kept in the ark. In that which was a memorial of the desert life; the

wood, acacia of the wilderness. In that which was central to the life of

Israel. In Israel a sanctuary, a holiest of all, the ark, and in the deep

recesses of that the idea of duty enshrined. The tables last seen at

Solomon’s dedication. Are they now lying with the wreck of Babylon

in the valley of the Euphrates?




Ø      There were five words on each table. So we think. Great diversity of

opinion as to the division and the throwing of the “ten words” on the two

tables. According to the division we adopt, the first table concerned itself

with God his existence, worship, name, day, and representative. But if

the parent is the representative of God, then there are suggestions for the

character and the administration of the parent; as well as for the intelligent

obedience of the child.


Ø      The five words concerning duty to God come first. Religion ever comes

before morality, and morality without that foundation must be partial and

imperfect. Man must first be in right relation with the Father in heaven,

then he will come to be right with all the children.


  • THE COMPREHENSIVENESS. Passages like Joshua 1:7-8;

Psalm 119:18, 72, imply a great depth and breadth in these “ten.” Are

they really so comprehensive as is implied?


Ø      Glance at the ten.” We have seen how comprehensive are the first five.

[See above, v.1.] Note the comprehensiveness of the second. We are not

to assault:


o       the life,

o       the family,

o       the property,

o       the reputation,

o       the peace (by coveting and threatening what they have),


 of our fellow-men.


Ø      Pierce into the spirit of the ten,” and note!


o       The negative must include the positive; e.g., we are bound to

conserve life, lest by neglect we kill.

o       The absolute form covers all cases; e.g., the sixth commandment

stands absolute, unless dispensed with by the supervention of a

higher law. There may be things more sacred even than life.

o       The external includes the internal. (Matthew 5:27-28) Given the

lust, its gratification does not depend upon the man, but upon

circumstances out of his control; therefore he is guilty. Besides,

what we are is of more moment than what we do.

o       The principle of obedience in all is love.




Ø      The law ofthe ten wordswas, and is, something absolutely unique.

Of the unique character all that has been previously said is illustration.

It may, then, be reasonably inferred that “the ten” will have some

special bearing on our moral life.

Ø      It implies that God claims authority over the moral life of man.

Ø      It was NOT INTENDED to afford man an opportunity for winning

salvation.  That is God’s free gift.

Ø      Salvation given, God means the law to be obeyed.

Ø      The effort to obey will deepen mans sense of the need of Gods

delivering mercy. The effort brings a deeper acquaintance with the

law, and so we come to know more of:

o       the righteousness of God,

o       the depravity of man.

Ø      A growing conformity is, however, blessedly possible.  (“But as

many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the

sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” - John 1:12)

Ø      There comes with growing conformity freedom from law, Love

dispenses with the literal precept. This is the ideal of the New Testament.

Still, “the ten words” have ever their use for those on the low planes of

spiritual life.

Ø      And even with those free from the law, it will still have the following


o       To keep the Christian under grace as the source of all his

serenity and bliss.

o       To restrain from sin in the presence of temptation.

o       To keep before the aspiring saint the fair ideal of righteousness.





                                                            (vs. 18-21)


When Christ was upon the earth, so winning was His graciousness that crowds

flocked to Him, and one man at least exclaimed, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever

thou goest.” (Luke 9:57) But at the same time so terrible was the manifestation of His

power, that there were those who “besought Him that He would depart out of their

coasts.”  (Mark 5:17) – God is love, and God is power, and wherever He is, He

exhibits both qualities; but there are some who see mainly the love, and there are

others who see only the power.  Hence the Divine presence at once:


Ø      attracts and repels,

Ø      charms men and affrights them.


The Israelites invited to draw near to God, and hold with Him direct communication,

after brief trial,  decline the offer, and will have an intermediary. Moses, given the

same invitation, and a witness of the same sights and sounds, not only stands his

ground, but at the end draws more near. The reasons for the difference would seem

to be these:



            have no love, “believe and tremble.” (James 2:19) - Men, who have greatly           

            sinned, and who therefore cannot help seeing in God mainly a “consuming

 fire,”   (Hebrews 12:29) and “an avenger to execute wrath,” (Romans 13:4)

lose sight of all God’s gentler attributes, cease to feel that He is their Father,

no longer look upon Him as “merciful and gracious,” (ch. 34:6) and

consequently no longer have any feeling of love towards Him. We cannot

love one from whom we expect nothing but punishment.



MASTERS IT.  “The fear of the Lord endureth for ever” (Psalm 19:9) —

no love of which a creature is capable can altogether cast it out. The very

angels veil their faces before the Lord of Hosts, and feel themselves unworthy

to gaze upon the Divine perfections. (Isaiah 6) - But where love increases, fear

diminishes. Let love grow, and become strong, and glow within the heart like a

flame of fire — by degrees fear changes its character, ceases to be a timorous

dread, and becomes awe. Awe and love can very well co-exist; and love draws

us towards God more than awe keeps us back. Love is glad to have no

intermediary — rejoices that imay “go boldly to the throne of grace that

we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”(Hebrews

4:16) - seeks to draw as near as possible to the beloved one — so constrains

fear, that fear ceases to act any longer as a deterrent, is mastered, and held

under restraint. “Moses drew near into the thick darkness where God was.” 

The loving soul presses towards God —        would “see Him  face to face”

  and “know even as it also is known.”   (I Corinthians 13:12)



     THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT – ch. 20:22 to ch.23:31


 The Decalogue is followed by a series of laws, civil, social, and religious, which

occupy the remainder of ch. 20. and the whole of the three following chapters

21, 22, and 23. It appears from ch. 24 that these laws, received by Moses on Sinai,

immediately after the delivery of the Ten Commandments, were at once committed to

writing and collected into a book, which was known as “the Book of the Covenant”

(ch. 24:7), and was regarded as a specially sacred volume. The document, as it has

come down to us, “cannot be regarded as a strictly systematic whole” (Canon Cook):

yet still, it is not wholly unsystematic,but aims in some degree at an orderly

arrangement. First and foremost are placed the laws which concern the worship of

God, which are two in number:


Ø      Against idols – (v. 22)

Ø      Concerning altars (vs. 23-26).


Then follow the laws respecting what our legal writers call “the rights of persons”

which occupy thirty-two verses of ch. 21 and fall under some twenty different heads,

beginning with the rights of slaves, and terminating with the compensation to be made

for injuries to the person caused by cattle. The third section is upon “the rights of

property,” and extends from ch. 21:33, to ch. 22:15, including some ten or twelve

enactments. After this we can only say that the laws are mixed, some being concerned

with Divine things (as ch. 22:20, 29-30; and ch. 23. 10-19): others with human, and

these last being of various kinds, all, however, more or less “connected with the civil

organization of the state” (Kalisch).  In the fourth section the enactments seem to fall

under about twenty-five heads. The result is that the “Book of the Covenant” contains,

in little more than three chapters, about seventy distinct laws.


22 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the

children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”

The book opened with this reminder, which at once recalled its author and

declared its authority. “I, who give these laws, am the same who spake the

Ten Commandments amid the thunders of Sinai. Reverence the laws accordingly.”


23 “Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods

of gold.” - This is a repetition, in part, of the Second Commandment, and can only be

accounted for by the prohibition being specially needed. The first idea of the

Israelites, when they considered that Moses had deserted them, was to make a

golden calf for a god.  (ch. 32)  


24 “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice

thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and

thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto

thee, and I will bless thee.  An altar of earth.  Among the nations of antiquity

altars were indispensable to Divine worship, which everywhere included sacrifice.

They were often provided on the spur of the occasion, and were then "constructed

of earth, sod, or stone, collected upon the spot." The patriarchal altars had probably

been of this character, and it was now provided that the same usage should

continue: at any rate, elaborate structures of hewn and highly ornamented stone should

not be allowed, lest thus idolatry should creep in, the images engraved upon the altars

becoming the objects of worship – and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings,

and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my

name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” - The promise is conditional on

the observance of the command. If the altars are rightly constructed, and proper

victims offered, then, in all places where He allows the erection of an altar,




25 “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it

of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”

And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone - i.e., if, notwithstanding my preference

expressed for an altar of earth, thou wilt insist on making me one of stone, as more

permanent, and so more honorable, then I require that the stones shall be rough

stones shaped by nature, not stones chiseled into shape by the art of man. For if

thou lift up thy tool upon it thou hast polluted it. It is conjectured with reason

that we have here an old traditional idea, which God thought fit under the

existing circumstances to sanction. The real object was that altars should not

be elaborately carved with objects that might superinduce idolatry. The widely

prevalent notion, that nature is sacred, and that all man's interference with nature

is a defilement, was made use of economically, to produce the desired result.

No tool being allowed to be used, no forms of living creatures could be engraved,

and so no idolatry of them could grow up.


26 “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy

nakedness be not discovered thereon.”  Neither shalt thou go up by steps

unto mine altar. Here the reason of decency, added in the text, is obvious; and

the law would necessarily continue until sacerdotal vestments of a very different

character from the clothes commonly worn by Orientals were introduced

(ch. 38:3-43). After their introduction, the reason for the law, and with it the law

itself, would drop. The supposed "slope of earth" by which the priests are thought

to have ascended to the "ledge" on the altar of burnt offerings, and the "inclined

plane," said by Josephus to have given access to the great altar of Solomon,

rest on no sufficient authority, and are probably pure fictions. As soon as an

ascent was needed, owing to the height of the altar, it was probably an ascent

by steps (See Ezekiel 43:17.)



                                                The Law of the Altar (vs. 22-26)


  • THE OBJECT OF WORSHIP. The true God, not gods of silver, or gods

            of gold (v.23). The God who had talked with them from heaven had

            appeared in no visible form. Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no

            similitude; only ye heard a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12). Let the sole

            object of our worship be the invisible, spiritual, infinite, yet revealed God.

            God’s revelations of Himself lay the basis of right worship. God has

            spoken. How reverently should we hear!  “God is a Spirit and they

            that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth”  - (John



  • THE PLACE OF WORSHIP. “In all places where I record my name”

            (v. 24). God records His name by making a revelation of Himself, as at

            Bethel, Peniel, etc. Whatever places He chose for the building of His altar,

            till the time came for the erection of a permanent sanctuary, there would He

            meet with them. Religion is now set free from places (John 4:21-23).

            Wherever two or three are met in Christ’s name, there will he be in the

            midst of them (Matthew 18:20).


  • THE ALTAR OF WORSHIP. To be built of unhewn stone — i.e., of

            natural materials (v. 25). The simple unadorned material as provided by God         

            himself. Anything beyond this, any touch of human handicraft, pollutes it.  It

            is the altar of propitiation. Man is viewed as one whose sins are yet unexpiated.    

            His ART, in that state, would have polluted the altar. Art came in afterwards

            (ch. 25). Nothing of man’s own avails for propitiation (atoning sacrifice for

sins).  The principle which underlies this fact: — sacrifices offered in the

appointed way are acceptable; if we try to better the appointed way —

 to put something of our own into the sacrifice as a ground for acceptance

— we spoil all. Self-obtrusion, however well-intended, is pollution. The altar

is the expression of God’s will: try to improve it, and it becomes instead an

expression of the will of the would be improver. THE ALTAR OF SELF IS

NOT THE ALTAR OF GOD!  Sacrifices offered upon it may perhaps



  • THE MATERIALS OF WORSHIP. Animal sacrifices (v. 24). For

            purposes of atonement — as symbols of personal consecration (burnt

            offerings) — as pledges of peace and renewed fellowship (peace offerings).

            Not in the first, but in the other meanings of sacrifice, we are still

            summoned to bring them in our worship — “spiritual sacrifices” of self-

            surrender (Romans 12:1), of the broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), of

            praise and thanksgiving.


  • THE MANNER WORSHIP (v. 26). Reverence and decency.  If the offering

be made with a pure motive, it must also be offered in a pure and reverent

manner.  The special direction, no doubt, aimed against the enthusiastic

indecencies associated with idolatry. Still, it illustrates a principle: “All things,”

in the worship of God, should be done “decently and in order.” (I Corinthians

14:40) - God looks first at character, but He requires also that character be

matched by conduct. The Corinthian Christians (I Corinthians chapters 11 and

14) infringed the principle, if not the precept. Many amongst modern

worshippers infringe it also, e.g., by indecencies of dress, behavior, etc.,

 in a place of worship or when engaged in prayer – (Dear contemporary

      reader – this is not my writing but was written by men of God 200 years ago –

CY – 2010)  In conclusion - two things required of us, humility and reverence;

inward and outward self-suppression. Do we want a motive? Mine altar”


place is left for self when the heart is fixed on God?



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