Exodus 20

2 God now confirms with His own voice what Moses has been telling the Israelites. God had masterminded the Exodus, and He had indeed saved them from continued oppression in Egypt. He had bought them with His power and they are now His people. As people of God, they (and we) must adhere to some basic guidelines. They are commonly known as the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue ("ten words").

These commandments can not be considered optional. They are meant to guide us towards righteousness before God and away from sin (i.e., offenses against God). Many of these commands are cast in a negative sense ("you shall not...") because we, as descendents of Adam, are naturally bent towards sin.

Some object that God is "limiting pleasure," but He really desires that we have a fulfilling life. We can follow these commands and still have pleasure in life. In fact, following these commands will keep us away from many things that are displeasurable -- most importantly God's wrath.

3 The first and most important command is to recognize that God is the only God. Those who do not believe in God can not please Him at all since they will not establish a proper relationship with Him. Those who place God among a collection of other "gods" will diminish His authority over their lives. Furthermore, if a person does not feel accountable to God he will not follow God's guidelines.

This first command does not admit that other "gods" exist. Instead, it confirms monotheism ("one God") and points out that people tend to give divine reverence to objects or ideas that are not divine at all. Such worship is both worthless and unacceptable in God's eyes. To worship someone or something other than God is considered high treason. This command can be extended to include activities and relationships that an individual considers so important that they interfere with his relationship with God.

The Jewish leaders charged Jesus with violating this commandment. The penalty for such high treason was capital punishment (John 10:33). By claiming to be God's Son, Jesus "made Himself equal" with God. In the leaders' eyes, Jesus was setting Himself up as a "god" before God. What they did not recognize was that Jesus was indeed God.

4 God is spiritual, not material, in nature, so it is not possible to make an object that looks like Him or can represent Him. It is also impossible to capture or harness God's power by making a figurine or a "lucky" charm, obtaining certain minerals (i.e., a crystal pendant), or by any other material thing. Some people will trust these "idols" more than they trust God, and such activity is frequently rebuked (Isa 44:10-20).

Some people claim to feel more comfortable having a god they can see and touch. Instead, we should take comfort in knowing that God is not limited to the material world.

Some have taken this command to the extreme such that they consider any picture or replica of a natural or heavenly object to be unacceptable. However the phrase "graven image" in the Hebrew refer to an image specifically designed to be worshiped (see the next verse). For instance, God commanded many pictorial carvings, metalworks, and tapestries be made for His Tabernacle and Temple (Exo 25), but He becomes angry when idols are placed there (Ezek 8). There is also an example of a sacred object becoming profane because it became an idol to the people (Num 21:8, 2 Ki 18:4). Thus, artwork is not prohibited, but giving divine reverence to a work of art is. If one develops an idolatrous relationship with an object, he must destroy it before God destroys him.

5 Some people have used this verse and others like it to "prove" that God is unjust. They say it is unfair for God to punish the children for the sins of the parents. However, that is not what the verse says. Notice that the verse specifically refers to "those that hate Me." Thus, if a child of an atheist or a pagan becomes a believer then God's anger will not extend to him on Judgement Day. However, if a person stubbornly refuse to change after these invitations and chastisement, they prove that they forever reject God, and He, in turn, will forever reject them.

This verse is an observation on society and the family unit. The parents are to teach their children about God. If the parents do not believe (or teach), it is more likely that the children will not believe. The father was the head of the household and the entire family unit typically held his beliefs. Family units tended to stay together in "clans" so it would be possible for parents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be in close proximity. All four of these generations would be influenced by the beliefs of the patriarch. If the head of the household commits sins, the rest of the household might unwittingly follow his example. One record of this multi-generational anger can be found in Josh 7.

Some people feel that God does not really care if or how we worship Him. However, God describes Himself as jealous. He has a strong desire that all people respect and worship Him as the one and only God. To worship another is high treason.

6 Some people would say that God desires to be a destructive tyrant, but this is not true. God seeks out every opportunity to extend mercy, or unmerited favor, to people (Ezek 18:32).

People are naturally sinful, and God has every right to purge the universe of those things that offend Him. However, He recognizes our frailty and knows that even if we do have a change of heart and desire to please Him that we are not able to on our own.

God will later establish the system of sacrifices that would foreshadow God's own ultimate sacrifice. This ultimate sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, is the culmination of His mercy. This Sacrifice is what pays for our sins, satisfies God's justice, and allows us to enter a proper and eternal relationship with Him.

God's mercy is not limited to the Israelites, but extends to anyone who will love and obey Him (Isa 2:1-3, John 3:16, 17).

7 Taking the Lord's name in vain would more generally mean attributing to God something that He did not do or command. God will speak and move us in different ways, but if someone says, "God told me to..." when He did not, they use His name in vain (Deu 18:22). To use this kind of statement in an attempt to justify sin is most hideous.

God's name can be taken in vain during complaints. For instance, "God made me ugly," and other such comments place the complainer in judgement over God (Isa 45:9-12). If a person is dissatisfied with God's works, he should pray for a larger perspective.

Most people limit taking God's name in vain to swearing. Certainly, a statement like "God damn [something]" is highly presumptuous. People who say such things are often not believers anyway, so they do not intend others to take these statements literally. However, when someone flippantly calls down the wrath of God to vent his anger he actually arouses the Lord's anger against himself.

Most people consider using Jesus' name as a swear word to violate this command. While it does not quite fit the definition as I have described it here, such misuse does show immense disrespect for God. The person making such statements more likely has a problem with the first command rather than this one.

It is perplexing that someone would use Jesus' name to express his displeasure. On one hand Jesus gave His own life as a supreme and loving sacrifice for all who would believe in Him (Acts 4:12). On the other hand Jesus will return with the authority to judge all men (Phil 2:9). Using His name in a vile way not only contradicts His character, but also will further arouse His displeasure on Judgement Day.

God's name can also be taken in vain with broken oaths (Lev 19:12). When someone promises, "by God," or, "With God as my witness," and does not intend to keep his promise he violates this command. In addition, if he makes such a promise when referring to a sinful activity he violates this command (and others) even if he keeps his promise. God would never sanction promises that have sinful intents.

In short, the misuse God's name shows disrespect and tarnishes God's reputation unfairly.

8 The word "Sabbath" in Hebrew encompasses both rest and celebration. What makes a Sabbath holy is that it is a day of rest and celebration that honors God.
10 The Israelites were to set aside the seventh day of the week (Saturday) to "rest in God." They were not to work, nor were they to allow a person or animal they "controlled" to work. Work here is taken in the sense of doing things for your own benefit or profit.

Food preparation and acts of mercy do not violate this commandment (Exo 12:16). Services rendered to God do not violate this command either (Mat 12:5).

The Sabbath is to be a time when families and neighbors get together and relationships are strengthened. The father and mother are to teach the children about God.

Christians generally observe the first day of the week (Sunday) as their Sabbath (Acts 20:7). This is because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9) and it is appropriate to celebrate this miracle each week. Some might wonder if changing the day of the week on which to observe the Sabbath is allowable. A defense can be found in John 20:19 in that Jesus appeared before the disciples on a Sunday-Sabbath and did not condemn the practice.

In the United States Sunday is often observed by the government and some businesses as a day when people do not need to work (Saturday is also so observed, but to a lesser extent in the private sector). However, the Christian often does not use this "free time" as an observance to God. It is common to find that Christians use this time to fulfil their own desire for pleasure or busy themselves with housework and such. Physically, we lose the health benefits that come from resting one day a week. Spiritually, we do not take the time to develop our relationship with God, fellowship with other believers (attending church notwithstanding), teach our children or others about God, or perform acts of mercy.

Others take the other extreme of doing absolutely nothing on the Sabbath. However, rest does not necessarily mean inactivity. It is true that the majority of appropriate activities on the Sabbath do not require much physical exertion, but it is nonetheless spiritual labor and is not passive or inactive. We should reach a balance between the physical rest and spiritual focus that we need.

Another question that has come up from time to time concerns the practice of "eating out" on Sunday. Many Christians in the United States go to church on Sunday and afterwards go to a restaurant to eat. While the diners may not be exerting physical labor, they are paying others to do so and thus violate this command. God makes this clearer in Lev 16:29 and Neh 10:31. A Christian should seriously consider how his actions affect the beliefs of those they meet. If we do not take God seriously, why should anyone else?

11 The original purpose for the Sabbath was to commemorate God's creation of the universe. God spent six days in "worldly" labor (pun intended) and one day to rest from that labor. As mentioned above, Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection each week, but we should not forget to celebrate God's original creative work.

God set the pattern for how His creation should run. People may argue about whether they should observe the Sabbath or not, but it really comes down to a question of obedience. God commanded this and we should obey Him.

This verse is used to defend the "literal" six-day Creation. Although God makes it abundantly clear in Gen 1 that He created the world in six literal days, many people will argue that "science" has "proven" that the world is much older than that. Within the Biblical context this verse leaves no doubt that God created the world in six literal days and intends for us to celebrate that fact each week. Many others have written on this subject, so I would refer you to them (Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research).

12 Respect for authority begins in the home. If a child never learns to respect his parents' rules, he will find it difficult to respect the laws of God and society.

This verse speaks directly to the child and assumes that the child has godly parents. The child must come to recognize that he does not know everything and needs help from others with more experience if he wants to have a rewarding life. The parents are to be a first and primary resource for the child's education concerning love, God, and the world. As the recipient of that education, the child must submit to the parents' guidance.

This verse promises "long days" in the land for this obedience. While this is not a guarantee that an honoring child will have a long life, the principle of heeding the wise advice of his parents might prevent him from doing something foolish that would end his life early. On a larger scale, if all the Israelites were to accurately teach their children about God and all the children were to continue on in God then God would preserve the nation as a whole.

Consider the negative form of this verse, "You shall not dishonor your father and mother." While this is not exactly what the verse says, it gives us another angle to look at. A child should not do anything that would bring shame to the family name. Instead, he should live so that others might say, "your parents must be very proud of you," or, "you must have had fine parents."

13 There are several Hebrew words that mean, "to kill." The word used here specifically means to kill a human being (some animal rights activists misuse this verse). The word can refer to either murder or the accidental killing of someone. Obviously, the intent of the verse means, "do not intentionally murder someone," but the use of the word indicates that even accidental killings have consequences. See Num 35 for more information on this.

Jesus refers to this commandment in Mat 5:21, 22. He clarifies that murder is not limited to the killing of the body. Our sinful nature prompts us to honor ourselves and put others down. When this is coupled with anger physical murder could result. However, when someone devalues and becomes furious at another then he "murders" him in his heart. People are the image bearers of God, and it is important to God that we respect that image both physically and mentally. Remember that the body will die whether someone kills it or not, but the thoughts of our hearts will be brought before and judged by God.

14 The word adultery specifically refers to a sexual relationship involving at least one individual breaking their marital vow. In the broader sense, this could refer to any sexual activity outside of marital bonds. Jesus explains that this word includes all kinds of sexual immorality, including that which is not physically acted out (Mat 5:27, 28, Exo 20:17).
15 The topic of property rights is very important to God. How we treat material possessions are a reflection of how we think about God. This verse specifically refers to how we treat other people's possessions. God has given each person specific possessions to use for His purposes. Thus, it is a violation of His divine providence for someone to take another's possessions without consent or permission.
16 God is always truthful and He demands that His people also be truthful.

This command is specifically directed at (but not limited to) him who would slander another or commit perjury during a trial. The goal of such lies is usually harm, and they are thus forbidden. The penalty for perjury was to inflict the punishment for the alleged crime on the false accuser (Deu 19:18).

Other kinds of lies can be included under this command. False reports (i.e., misrepresentation of facts or products) (Exo 23:1), lies of omission (Lev 5:1), and general lies (Lev 19:11) where also forbidden.

The text specifically states that deception is not to occur between the Israelites, but it seems a natural extension that we are not to deceive anyone.

17 While the seventh and eighth commandments dealt with the actual seizing of what is not ours, the tenth commandment deals with the desires of our heart. As was mentioned earlier, this world will end, but God will judge the thoughts of our heart.

All crimes begin with a wrong desire in our heart. Such wrong desires interfere with our proper relationship with both God and our neighbors. If you are dissatisfied with your "lot in life," you need to bring that before God. He will either change your circumstances or give you a new focus. If your focus is directed towards things you do not or can not have, then your focus is directed away from God. If you continue to desire those things you can not have, then you devalue God's divine providence and are probably missing God's purpose for your life.

18 The people had heard from God directly. From this point on God has made it clear what He expects from us, and we have no excuse for disobedience.
19 The people were so frightened by God's display of power that they were afraid to hear any more. It was told to them that if someone looked at God's theophany "face-to-face" he would instantly die. Man's sinful condition simply can not stand in the pure goodness of God's presence. The people reasoned that what was true for sight might also be true for hearing. They did not know how much more they could endure. To hear the commands relayed through a mediator would be easier for the people to bear.
20 Moses explains that God chose this fearsomely powerful appearance so that the people would be afraid to sin. Yes, God's love alone should be a compelling reason to love and obey Him, but many people will not respect God until they are proven to be subject to His authority. Unfortunately, some will continue to be unimpressed with God and will not bow to His authority until Judgement Day, when they will have no choice.
21 Moses' faith in God had grown so much that he was able to approach God with confidence (Heb 4:16).
23 All the commandments are related to one another. God places certain demands on us to treat Him with respect and reverence because He is God. God also demands that we treat one another with respect because all mankind bears His image. Thus, the second command is related to the first command such that if someone makes an idol he also violates the command to worship no other thing as a god. If we were to continue down the list we should be able to see how a violation of any of the last nine commandments violates the first.
24 A basic altar was very simply a mound of earth. God is around us all the time, but the altar is a special place where we meet with Him.
25 Another simple altar would simply be a pile of rocks. If people tried to make a "fancy" stone altar, God would find in unacceptable.

Unlike memorials, the location of the altar site would eventually be forgotten as the Israelites moved from camp to camp. Perhaps God intentionally specified this (along with the portable Tabernacle later on) to prevent the creation of "shrines."

A shrine is typically an permanent outdoor worship site that is demarcated with low stone walls or other structures. If God had the Israelites make shrines everywhere they went then the sites would be later visited by both Israelites and non-Israelites who would either worship God inappropriately or practice idolatry.

It seems that many people like to attach special spiritual or "magical" feelings to particular pieces of land or structures (especially "ancient" constructions). This seems to me another form of idolatry, and it seems especially strange to me that people who claim to be Christians will make pilgrimages to the most dubious of "holy" sites.

26 In the Western world men almost exclusively wear pants and under that underwear. But the Israelite's clothing was undoubtedly very similar to Middle Eastern clothing today: long, loose fitting garments and no underwear. Thus, if a man were to approach an altar on stairs he would "expose" himself to the altar, and that would offend God. Even though the Tabernacle altar would not have stairs, God would order the priests to wear underwear while working (Exo 28:42, 43). Remember that back in the Garden on Eden, the first effect of sin was the shame over nakedness (Gen 3:7). God is simply confirming that this shame is real and that it does still matter to Him.