Exodus 20 - Outline of Exodus (Book Notes menu page)
The Ten Commandments (ch. 20; the first section of "the Law")...
  1. set the standard of moral righteousness (ie., the line between right and wrong).
    This standard is perfect and right. Psa 19:7,8; Rom 7:12
  2. were given by God (v.1,2), who is...
    • the Lawgiver, with full authority to set the standard of right & wrong.
    • the Law Enforcer (the Judge), with the power to hold men accountable.
      Men who ignore God's laws of physics cannot escape the consequences of their actions.
      (eg., The man, who defies the law of gravity by jumping from a tall building, must suffer the impact of that defiance.)
      Likewise, those who break God's moral laws, will be broken upon them (Eze 18:4).
  3. reveal the sinfulness of men (Rom 3:19; 7:12-14).
    "The Law proposes life and righteousness as ends to be attained by keeping it. But to do what the Law requires, I must have life; and to be what the Law requires, I must have righteousness. Lacking either, I am cursed.
         The Law is a perfect plumb line: it reveals crookedness, but cannot correct it. That which can only curse can never justify [Rom 3:20], and that which can only kill can never be a rule of life [Gal 3:21]. As well might a man attempt to make a fortune by a deed of bankruptcy filed against him." [CHM]
    God's Law is not to be confused with God's Grace. (Though both can be seen in this chapter.) -
    • The Law defines what man ought to be, but cannot attain.
      The Law holds man accountable, and offers no mercy.
         (Lev 18:5; Deu 27:26; Rom 10:5; Gal 3:10; Heb 10:28)
      The Law reveals that man is a sinner, in need of a Savior.
    • Grace is revealed in the Savior satisfying the demands of the Law in behalf of the sinner,
      forgiving his indebtedness, and giving him a new nature that can please God (Rom 8:3,4).
      In this chapter (Ex ch.20), following the commandments which condemn the sinner, the LORD makes provision for an altar of sacrifice, in anticipation of the Savior (v.24; cp. Titus 2:11-14).
The Ten Commandments are grouped in two sections:
  1. Regarding man's relationship to God. (Commands # 1-4, v.2-11)
  2. Regarding man's relationship to other people. (Commands # 5-10, v.12-17)
20:1 And God spake all these words, saying,
{The First Commandment--}
20:2 I [am] the LORD thy God,
which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The LORD is the only true and living God.
Israel (and all who would follow the LORD) are to serve Him exclusively,
though the world invents and serves many false gods.
cp. Deu 6:4-5,14; Isa 43:10,11; 44:8; 45:21; Rom 1:20-25
{The Second Commandment--}
20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven {ie., carved, crafted} 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:
20:5 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;
20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
This command against the manufacture and worship of "graven images"...
    1. forbids idolatry (cp. Deu 4:15-19),
    2. identifies its foolishness (cp. Isa 40:18-23; Jer 10:3-5; Psa 115:4-8),
    3. discloses its effect upon following generations (cp. Ex 34:12-17; Deu 4:23-31).
    Not all idols occupy heathen temples. Modern idols may occupy bank accounts, closets, desktops, or garages. They may be possessions, persons or activities. They may be honorable or perverse. Whatever fills your heart and mind has become your god. cp. Col 3:5
them that hate me... them that love me...-
To honor the LORD as one god among many gods is to hate Him.
To serve the LORD wholly and alone is to love Him. cp. Mat 6:24; 10:37-39; 22:37,38
{The Third Commandment--}
20:7 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.
To take the LORD's name "in vain" {ie., in emptiness, or, to falsehood} is...
  • to swear by His name that something is true, when it is known to be false. cp. Lev 19:12; Mat 23:16-23; Jam 5:12
  • to dishonor {or, profane} His name by using it thoughtlessly or with contempt,
    or by associating Him with moral corruption. cp. Lev 24:10-16; Psa 50:14-23
    (Observe the LORD's dealings with those who were 'not guiltless,' in the examples above.)
  • to misrepresent Him, through dishonorable living, while claiming to belong to Him. cp. Rom 2:23,24; Isa 52:5; 2Sam 12:14; 2Tim 2:19(b)
{The Fourth Commandment--}
20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy {HB=qadash}.
20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
20:10 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:
20:11 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
{HB=qadash} it.
The seventh day of the week was to be "kept holy"{HB=qadash, to set apart, to consecrate}.-
Observance of the Sabbath...
  • honored the LORD, the Creator of the Sabbath Rest (see the Notes at Ex 16:22-31).
  • was for the benefit of mankind. cp. Mark 2:27,28
  • was a special sign, which marked Israel as a people set apart unto the LORD. (see Ex 31:13-17, note that this is directed to Israel in v.13,16,17; note also the severe penalties for violation of the Sabbath in v.14,15).
       Similarly, the "first day of the week" marks believers in Christ, since by His death and resurrection (on the first day of the week), He brought them into spiritual rest and a new creation. cp. Joh 20:1,19; Heb 4:9,10
    [Some make a great deal about which day is to be observed. But see Rom 14:5; Col 2:16,17]
The Basis of the Sabbath -
six days shalt thou labour...-
There is Work for the Sabbath people.-
  • As God worked to provide rest for His people, He expected them to work with Him toward that end. For example, in the wilderness, the LORD made miraculous provision to nourish His people, but they were required to gather the manna, six days per week (Ex 16:14-30).
    The power, to provide, was His. Yet, they labored together with Him in appropriating His provision.
  • This also applies to God's work in and through His church, today. cp. 1Cor 3:9; 2Cor 6:1; Heb 4:11
Commandments # 5-10 relate to man's relationships with other people (v.12-17) -
{The Fifth Commandment--}
20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: {cp. Prov 15:5; 23:22-25}
that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
{cp. Eph 6:1-3}
Obedience to this command would extend Israel's time in the land which God promised to them.
The strength of the family structure is a key to the strength of a nation. cp. Psa 144:11-15
Disobedience to parents leads to moral bankruptcy and national collapse.
cp. Prov 20:20; 30:11,12; Mat 15:4-6; Rom 1:29-31; 2Tim 3:1-5
{The Sixth Commandment--}
20:13 Thou shalt not kill. {cp. Ex 21:12-14; Deu 19:11-13}
kill {HB= ratsach, to murder, to slay} -
The word is always used in regard to the taking of another individual's life by an individual. It sometimes refers to an unintentional slaying (eg. Num 35:11,12, translated 'manslayer'), but usually refers to intentional murder (eg. Num 35:16-21, trans. 'murderer').
This prohibition does not apply to the actions of a soldier in behalf of his nation.
Jesus quoted this commandment in Mat 19:18,19.
He also taught that murder is committed in the heart, not only by the hands (Mat 5:21,22).
{The Seventh Commandment--}
20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery. {cp. Lev 20:10-13}
Jesus commented on this commandment in Mat 5:27,28.
{The Eigth Commandment--}
20:15 Thou shalt not steal.
There are many ways to be a thief. Examples...
Thieves have no place in God's Kingdom. 1Cor 6:9-11; Eph 4:28; 1The 4:6
{The Ninth Commandment--}
20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Deceitful testimony robs the accused of his reputation, and subjects him to unjust judgment.
cp. Lev 19:11,16; Deu 19:15-21; Psa 101:7; Mat 26:59-61
{The Tenth Commandment--}
20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,
thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,
nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour's.
thou shalt not covet {ie., desire greatly, lust after, yearn to take possession}...
The tenth commandment looks beyond a man's external actions to test the thoughts of his heart.
  • This command encompasses some of the other manward commands (eg., thou shalt not steal... thou shalt not commit adultery...). Rom 7:7; 13:9
    In a similar way, Jesus raised the standard of righteousness above mere externalities (Mat 5:20-28; 19:16-26).
  • This command also has a Godward aspect. For the man, whose heart is set on earthly things, cannot love the LORD as he ought. Mat 6:24,33; Col 3:1-5; 1Tim 6:6-10
20:18 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.
{cp. Ex 19:16-18; cf. Eph 2:13}
20:19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear:
but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
{cp. Deu 5:5,23-29; 18:16-19; cf. Heb 12:18-24}
20:20 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.
20:21 And the people stood afar off,
and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God [was].
Fear not... that His fear may be before you.-
In a palpable way, the LORD demonstrated Himself to be the Living God, in the sight of Israel,
so that they would serve Him rather than false gods. Deu 6:2; 10:12,13; Josh 24:14
     The greatness and power of the LORD, which terrifies those who stand opposed to Him,
ought to fill His people with reverential awe and move them to obey Him. Isa 8:13
...for God is come to prove {test} you... that you sin not...- cp. Deu 8:2
What are the test results?
  • Condemnation by God - for 'all have sinned.' Rom 3:19,20,23; Jam 2:10,11
  • Separation from God (cp. Isa 59:2). This separation is pictured, in v.21, by the people standing "afar off" from the holy God, who is clothed in "thick darkness" to eyes unworthy of His presence (cp. Psa 97:2).
20:22 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.
20:23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver,
neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
20:24 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.
20:25 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.
20:26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar,
that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
an altar... peace offerings...-
     The Law has done its job. Now, I see that I am unrighteous, and unable to approach the Holy God. I need to be reconciled to Him, whose holiness I have profaned. By His Grace, God has made the way of reconciliation through the altar. The penalty for sin is death. To exercise true justice, God cannot put my sin aside, until that penalty is paid. Eze 18:4; Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22; Rom 6:23; Col 1:20
     Like a mirror revealing dirt on my face, the Law reveals I am a sinner at heart, in need of cleansing. Also like a mirror, the Law cannot cleanse me... it only reveals my filth. But beneath my bathroom mirror is a wash basin. ['mirror and basin' illustration from JVMcGee]
     Rightly understood, the Law leads me to the means of cleansing (Gal 3:23,24; 4:4,5), which is the Lamb slain for my sins (Joh 1:29; 1Pet 1:18-21).
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains. [hymn]
an altar... not... of hewn stone... neither... by steps...-
  • The place of true worship requires no human workmanship to erect, nor effort to approach.
    The LORD's blessing is not secured by what we do, but rather by His coming to us. v.24; cp. Eph 2:8,9
  • The altar is the place where the Holy God can meet with sinners who are reconciled to Him, through His gracious provision of the one sufficient sacrifice. Righteousness is imputed to the sinner who simply trusts in His provision. cp. Rom 3:23-26; 4:3,23-25
  • Later, the complex design of the Tabernacle, including its brass altar, (to be discussed in future chapters) would convey lessons concerning the way of access into God's presence. But it would not supersede the 'faith and blood simplicity' of the 'meeting place' with God (Lev 17:11; Ex 25:21,22). Long after the Tabernacle was built, Joshua led Israel in worship at a simple stone altar (Josh 8:30,31), as commanded by Moses (in Deu 27:4-8).
         An altar of whole stones declares that salvation from sin is totally the work of God. He provided the Savior, who is the Altar (Heb 13:10-13), the Rock (1Pet 2:7,8), the Lamb (Joh 1:29), and the Priest (Heb 10:11,12).
         The Way of salvation, which God has provided, is not subject to modification. When men lift their tools to alter God's altar, they corrupt the Gospel of Christ, turning it into 'another gospel,' which cannot save (Gal 1:6,7).
         The High Priest who offered Himself for our sins, is "holy... undefiled..." (Heb 7:26,27). Thus, to present a clearer picture of Him, Israel's priests were prohibited from ascending an altar with steps, to prevent potential priestly immodesty.

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