Scriptures

The Ten Commandments

Introduction

When it comes to the Ten Commandments, we must remember that they were given by God to the Israelites and the Israelites only, Exodus 19:5-6. The laws were given for the social security and health of the nation of Israel which would help them live together as a society in this new land called Canaan.

These ten commands are the basis for the Hebrew law, the first four are focused on their relationship towards God and the next six are focused on their relationship with each other and other people. God is going give these laws because He wants them to love Him because of what He’s done for them up to this point in time.

Remember God has just delivered them from Egypt, they’ve been exposed to the Egyptian culture and religion. The Egyptians worshipped absolutely everything and anything which moved, they believed in many gods and worshipped each one regularly. When we keep this in mind, we can begin to understand why God gave them these commands.

Please note that there are some slight differences between the statements of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17 and the statements found in Deuteronomy 5:6-12.

The reason for this is obvious, in Deuteronomy the commandments are given to those Israelites who are preparing to live in the Promised Land but in Exodus the commandments were given to those Israelites to those who would eventually die in the wilderness. In other words, the words written in Deuteronomy were given to a new generation of people, who were preparing to enter the Promised Land.

Israel’s Relationship Towards God

Other Gods

‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20:3

‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Deuteronomy 5:6

In this first command, we learn about the uniqueness of God, Deuteronomy 6:4. God was to be their only God, they were to be monotheist. They weren’t to be atheistic, believing that there was no God, they weren’t to be polytheistic, believing in many gods. They weren’t to be pantheistic, believing in nature worship, they weren’t to be deistic, the belief that God created everything but just left them to it, and they weren’t to be agnostic, believing that they couldn’t know God. God was to be their only God.

Although the word ‘you,’ plural, is referring to the Israelites as a whole, it also implies that each person was responsible for their own actions. Each individual was to have no other gods before them, but we need to ask the question, is God implying that there are other gods? The answer is no, it’s not that other gods excited, rather He’s referring to the gods of their imaginations, gods which people create after their own image.

God is warning them against following after their own religious imaginations in order to establish their own religious laws. It’s true that Israel wouldn’t give up their knowledge of the One True God, but over time they would eventually give in to worshipping the gods of the nations around them. God is laying the foundation that He won’t tolerate His people worshipping these other ‘gods’ which they have made up in their mind.

Images

‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’ Exodus 20:4-6

‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’ Deuteronomy 5:8-10

The first command shows us the uniqueness of God and the second command, shows us God’s nature, He is spirit. God is a loving God, who wants nothing more than people to love Him back in worship. This is all about having a proper relationship with Him.

It doesn’t take much to move from creating a god in your mind, to making some physical representation of that god as a reminder, this is called idolatry.

God is telling them that they must not make an image of any kind, of any representation of any god they make up in their minds. They mustn’t bow down to any image as if it were real, as it had some power to direct their lives and their behaviour. When you think about it, God is spirit, John 4:24, and so because He’s spirit, they wouldn’t need any kind of physical representation of Him.

I think it’s important to point out that it’s not wrong to make things that have some kind of religious significance, after all, at God’s command, the Israelites would do this later with the items they created for the tabernacle, Exodus 25:31-34, and later for the temple, 1 Kings 6:18 / 1 Kings 6:29.

Idolatry comes in when the people who make these items believe that the items have got some kind of emotional or spiritual power over their lives, Isaiah 44:9-20. We know that stones or trees don’t have any power, it’s all in people’s minds, they believe that these objects possess some kind of supernatural power.

Idolatry was a big problem for the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land, the good news is that after their Babylonian captivity they learned the lesson and never committed idolatry again.

The sad news is that many people commit idolatry today, even without thinking about it. They worship people, objects and images, they pray to statues, believe that rosary beads help them with their prayers etc, 1 Corinthians 10:14 / Colossians 3:5 / 1 Perter 4:3.

God tells Israel that they mustn’t make any images, otherwise, they’ll end up bowing down and worshipping those images. Like I mentioned, God is spirit and He’s not to be worshipped by using an idol, we can’t squeeze Him into an object.

The word ‘jealous’ can be very misleading, the word here simply means He is zealous, in other words, He’s zealous for the protection of His own honour as the ‘one True God’, Isaiah 42:80.

Misusing God’s Name

‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Exodus 20:7

‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ Deuteronomy 5:11

Misusing God’s Name or using His Name in vain, carries with it the idea of calling upon the Name of the Lord for superstitious reasons in order to determine the destiny of things in this world. This would include the making of offhand oaths and promises in the Name of God, Deuteronomy 6:13 / Leviticus 24:14-16 / Matthew 5:33-34.

What is God’s name?

Well, God has many names. Yahweh, the self-existent One. He has always existed and will always exist. You can always rely on Him because He is your eternal source of strength, Genesis 2:4 / Isaiah 40:3 / Exodus 3:14. Adonai, God is the Lord over all. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, He reigns forever. Therefore, you find safety in Him and Him alone, Genesis 15:2 / Judges 6:15 / Deuteronomy 10:17.

The point is that God wants the Israelites to understand that He is a holy God, 1 Peter 1:16, and because He is a holy God, His Name is holy and is to be revered and so we must use it respectfully. Sadly, in today’s society, many people use the Lord’s Name to empathise they’re telling the truth but to take His name in vain means to make Him less significant.

The Sabbath Day

‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ Exodus 20:8-11

‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.’ Deuteronomy 5:12-15

The Exodus passage tells them to ‘remember the Sabbath day’ and the Deuteronomy passage tells them to ‘observe the Sabbath day’. God understands that life can get very busy and He knows that the Israelites, just like many people do today, don’t take any time out from work and consume themselves with work.

The idea is the more we work, the more money we’ll earn, therefore, the more we can spend on ourselves. It’s a such a shame that many people don’t work for a living, but they live to work.

God is telling the Israelites that six days is more than enough time to do all the things which are necessary for living. In other words, the Sabbath, is made for man to rest, Mark 2:23-28. The meaning of the word ‘Sabbath’ teaches us the purpose for keeping the day, the word doesn’t mean ‘seventh’ it means ‘rest’. The Israelites were to rest from work on this day.

The reason for this rest day is illustrated in God’s creation, He rested from His work in creation. God could easily have created the heavens and earth in a shorter or greater time, but to establish an example for man in reference to his work, God set the pattern by the six 24-hour days of creation.

For the Israelites, keeping the Sabbath was also a sign of their covenant with God. The Sabbath and circumcision were the two signs of the covenant, and so when Israel as a nation rested on this day, the other nations around them would see this and know Israel was in a covenant relationship with God. Remember also, it wasn’t simply a sign to the nations around them, but mainly a sign to God that Israel was keeping the covenant.

Why did He tell them to keep the Sabbath day holy?

It was to remind them of what God had done for them in Egypt and please note that the Sabbath wasn’t given as a ‘religious day’, but as a day where there would be common respect between the citizens of society. Those who employed people to work for them, couldn’t force their employees to work on the Sabbath, this is respect, even the animals were not allowed to be put to work. The Sabbath was made for man in order to give him rest, a rest from all the earthly things so that he had time to think about spiritual things.

Many people believe that the Sabbath Day command is still binding upon Christians today, but note that this is the only command that’s not reinstated in the New Testament, why? Simply because this commandment was given to the Israelites to remind them that God brought them out of Egypt, Deuteronomy 5:15.

A few people turn to Genesis 2:1-3, to argue the Sabbath Day’s rest is still in force today. This is basically a summary of Genesis 1, and notice it’s not stated here that God rested from all activity, but that He rested from creation, ‘the work which he had been doing,’ which is an expression repeated twice.

Please note that this has no reference whatever to the Jewish sabbath. This doesn’t refer to the days of the week, but to the days of the creation. This day of God’s rest is still going on, Hebrews 4:4-6 / Hebrews 4:11, and will obviously continue until Christ returns. There is no command here for man to rest, no revelation whatever to Adam or his posterity suggesting or commanding the observance of any such thing as the Jewish sabbath.

Notice also, the specific thing from which it’s stated that God rested is the work of creation, a fact which is obvious enough in the fact that the creation isn’t still going on. There is also no mention here of ‘evening and morning,’ which tells us that the close of the seventh day is still in progress. We must remember that the sabbath that God blessed was the first day of Adam’s life, not the seventh, and there’s no indication whatever that Adam ever heard of a sabbath.

The sabbath was made known, not to Adam, but to Moses, Nehemiah 9:13-14, and the reason for the Jewish observance of the sabbath given to them wasn’t because God rested on the creation sabbath, but ‘the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt,’ Deuteronomy 5:15. The sabbath was never a sign between God and all men, but, ‘It is a sign between me (God) and the children of Israel.’ Exodus 31:17.

God created everything in six days, Genesis 1 / Exodus 20:11. At the end of the sixth day, God looked at everything He had made and said it was ‘very good’, Genesis 1:31. The next day, day seven, God rested from His work of creating because it was all finished, Genesis 2:2. God then blessed this day because it was the day that He chose to rest from His work, Genesis 2:3.

Why did God rest?

Was He tired from all the work of creating? Not at all! The Bible tells us that God doesn’t get tired or sleep, Psalm 121:3-4. He rested to establish a pattern for us to follow.

Israel’s Relationship Towards Others

Honour Your Parents

‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.’ Exodus 20:12

‘Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.’ Deuteronomy 5:16

Honouring or respecting parents is the building block upon which society is built, the whole of society is dependent on this. Children have their first relationship with their parents and it’s from them we learn how to behave in society.

The first lesson of disobedience and obedience are taught in the family, Leviticus 20:9 / Ephesians 6:1-3 / 1 Timothy 5:4. Obedience to parents is a duty to God, but disobedient parents are a hallmark of the Gentile community.

God is telling the Israelite children the terms and conditions for a long life in a healthy society, in the Promised Land. Sadly, Israel as a nation failed to maintain the sacredness of the family and so, even as we see in our society today, whenever the family of any society breaks down, then the society breaks down as whole.

God tells the children of Israel the importance of honouring their parents, they will live long in the land. Out of all the ten commandments this is the only one which has the promise

‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Ephesians 6:1-3

Paul doesn’t mean if children honour their parents, they’ll live to 100 and get a letter from the queen. Too many kid’s lives have come to end prematurely simply because they haven’t listened to their parent’s advice, Proverbs 15:5.

They got involved in gangs, they ended up with addictions, they catch a sexually transmitted disease, they had children of their own and can’t handle being a parent. Honouring our parents and listening to their advice may help us live longer.

Murder

‘You shall not murder.’ Exodus 20:13

‘You shall not murder.’ Deuteronomy 5:17

Here God teaches Israel about the sacredness of human life, if there’s no regard for human life, then society will end up in social chaos. Although there are different types of murder, Exodus 21:12-13 / Numbers 35:22-23 / Exodus 22:2-3 / Leviticus 24, it’s all about the sacredness of human life, Deuteronomy 22:8 / Leviticus 19:14 / Leviticus 19:18 / Leviticus 19:19. These laws were given to give them stability, this is our duty our fellow man, we must respect human life, Matthew 19:18.

Adultery

‘You shall not commit adultery.’ Exodus 20:14

‘You shall not commit adultery.’ Deuteronomy 5:18

Adultery has been rising throughout the world at an alarming rate and the effect has been devastating in our society. How many families have been ripped apart because the husband or the wife has an affair with someone else?

The reason God tells the Israelites not to commit adultery is obvious, marriage is sacred and when adultery is committed, it’s a sure sign that the marriage relationship is breaking down, Matthew 5:28. We know how serious this crime was because the punishment for adultery was stoning to death, Leviticus 20:10.

Stealing

‘You shall not steal.’ Exodus 20:15

‘You shall not steal.’ Deuteronomy 5:19

This is all about respecting other people’s property, Ephesians 4:28 / Exodus 22:1-3 / Proverbs 6:30-31. There are many lazy people in the world who don’t work but want everything, they see other people with their material possessions, but instead of buying them for themselves, they decide they want they and so they go out their way to get them, even if that means breaking into someone’s home to steal them.

Stealing in any shape or form or sinful, any act where someone takes something which belongs to someone else is theft. If anyone steals anything it’s an act of selfishness because they’re not concerned about the person their stealing from, they have no respect for anyone.

God is teaching them to be content with what they have, Philippians 4:12, He wants them to enjoy the material blessings God has given them, rather than stealing other people’s material blessings.

False Testimony

‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.’ Exodus 20:16

‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.’ Deuteronomy 5:20

If anyone wants to destroy someone’s character, then making up a lot of false stories, along with false accusations is the way to do to it. God wants to protect the individuals of Israel from such horrendous circumstances, Deuteronomy 19:16-20 / Ephesians 4:25. This would include slander, gossip, unproven accusations, false witnessing and half-truths concerning an individual.

Coveting

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ Exodus 20:17

‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ Deuteronomy 5:21

God commands Israel not to covet because He wants their hearts, Colossians 3:5-6. Anyone who covets is selfish, only thinking about themselves and not the consequences of their actions. It all begins in the heart, which then leads to the action. Coveting a neighbour’s wife is a clear signal that a man’s relationship with his wife is failing.

Summary

The first four commandments were focused on Israel’s relationship towards God, the first is about loyalty, the second is about worship, the third is about reverence, the fourth is about sanctification and relationships.

The next six commandments were focused on Israel’s relationship with each other and other people. The fifth commandment is about respect for parental authority, the sixth is about respect for human life, the seventh is about purity in relationships, the eighth is about honesty, the ninth is about truthfulness, and finally the tenth is about contentment.

It’s through these commandments that God reveals His true nature, He is just and He righteous, because He is a holy God, His laws are holy. People need to see, know and understand their own sinfulness, God knew that no one could keep His laws, but He wanted to help us see just how far from His holiness we actually are. The law itself provided the building blocks for a great society, for a just society.

God made them into a holy nation, Exodus 19:5-6, and now He’s laying the foundations of how this new nation should behave and interact with God and each other.

As I mentioned earlier many people believe that the Sabbath Day command is still binding upon Christians today, but note again in the table below that this is the only command that’s not reinstated in the New Testament.

Conclusion

It’s such a blessing to know that we can’t be saved by keeping the ten commandments today, Galatians 3:24, the old law pointed out our sin and condemned us, Galatians 3:10.

As Christians, there are many commands to obey, nine of which are found within the Ten Commandments but forgiveness of our sins is found through Christ for anyone who repents and is baptised, Acts 2:38, and for the Christian who tries to live right and confesses their sins to God, 1 John 1:7-9.

For those who are trying to obey the law, let me leave you with James’ inspired words.

‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.’ James 2:10

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Psalm 37:4

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