Exodus 20: The Ten Commandments

1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

-This first commandment seems rather clear but it is more than what it says on the surface. As we learned from Jesus in Mathew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. This means that not just our actions but our very thoughts and what is inside our hearts count towards the keeping of this commandment. I can confidently say that I have never literally bowed in worship to another god or believed in another religion so I would appear to have kept this commandment my whole life. But if this commandment means that a “god” is living for something else other than God then I break this every day I live for myself. If we are seeking to serve only ourselves, we are making ourselves into god and breaking this commandment. If we are concentrating on things like sex or accomplishment in life, we are making that into a god. The truth is, we follow other gods all the time, every day. There is almost never a time that we are not following another god and there is scarcely a moment amongst believers when we do.

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

-This one appears more specific but many have argued it essentially means the same thing as the first commandment. The first is not having something that is worshiped or devoted to more than God. This second one is not having an image or likeness that is worshiped. So this second one applies to even in worshiping the true God. In a while, the Israelites will make a golden calf and say that this is the one true God when of course it is not. They are intending on worshiping God, but what they are doing is worshiping a cow, not God. This is why this commandment exists. We know from the first to worship God, but now we know from the second we cannot worship God in the wrong way. Many on the other side of this argument will take this to the extreme and say we cannot have crosses or pictures of Jesus because these are symbols representing God that violate the second commandment. I do not believe these are wrong because God uses imagery all the time to help us understand and we are not literally bowing before a picture of Jesus or a cross or a fish. These symbols are to help us remember and think about the truth of God and what He has done for us. God Himself establishes symbols as remembrances like the rainbow, the manna preserved in the jar, the ark of the covenant, Aaron’s staff that budded, and many many more artifacts and symbols throughout the bible. These items are not being worshiped or being told that they are God completely, this is the difference. The best example one can give is ourselves, we are images of God. Our existence does not violate the second commandment unless we worship ourselves.

5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

-What is it mean that God is a “jealous” God. Isn’t this a bad thing? Jealousy is about to us, mankind, because we do things because of our jealousy. Men have killed other men for trying to woo their woman or for owning something the other desires. Jealousy is never a good thing because of our sinful nature. But at its core, jealousy means wanting something and desiring it so much that one wants to maintain and guard it. In other words, loving something so much that one does not desire to live without it and will do anything to maintain it. This describes God perfectly. God loves us so much that He is “jealous” when we stray away because He wants us all to Himself. He wishes for us never to leave Him. It is not wrong because the sinful result of jealousy does not exist with God. God will not force us to be with Him and will let us walk away if that is our wish. But that does not mean He will feel unspeakable hurt if that is our choice. Imagine the reality of this, a God who has perfect jealousy and we sinners who are in perfect rebellion apart from the Spirit! What a force! It is no wonder all the angels of heaven rejoice every time a soul is saved!

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

-Many believe this simply means not to “swear” but this doesn’t even come close to covering this commandment. A person’s name says who they are and in God’s case, His name “I Am Who I am” says everything about who He is. The name of the Lord is the nature of the Lord so therefore, we have to always be accurate about His nature. Notice the progression so far, 1) Do not have other gods, 2) Do not worship God the wrong way, 3) Do not portray God the wrong way. From the first, we know not to have other gods and religions. From the second, we know not to use an image or an idol when we worship God. Now from the third, we know to portray God who He is as being “I Am”. He is everything and created everything and we must acknowledge this when we speak of Him. To not acknowledge the awesomeness of God is to take His very name in vain. If we say that we believe in God and that He created the universe but is not present and does not actively love us, we are taking His name in vain. We are discrediting who He is and what He does.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

-You wouldn’t think keeping a Sabbath every week would be so important that it would make #4 on the ten commandments list right after who God is but it does because it is. God has told us to worship Him, worship Him correctly, and to not misrepresent Him. Now, we are given a commandment to prepare us for all others. Every other commandment is designed to make us more like Him if we follow it. This commandment is a precursor. If we keep a Sabbath, we won’t just be following His model for how He created the world but we would be setting aside one day a week to do no work so we can spend time with Him. Many couples have something that’s called “date night” where they make sure to do something together without kids or anyone else around to distract them. This is a highly recommended practice by both Christian and secular psychologists to help maintain a healthy relationship. This is how we should view the Sabbath, as “date night” with God. This doesn’t just mean we go to church but we seek to be completely undistracted from being in His presence. Doing this will grow us closer and help us keep the rest of the commandments to follow. Ideally, we would always be in His presence but we have purpose here on earth and work we must do so this is truly an ideal model. We are not meant to all be monks and live in a temple and do nothing with our lives. God has put us here for certain work, some more than others, some work seemingly grander than others and we must do it. Jesus and the disciples kept the Sabbath and it did not become “obsolete” when He was sacrificed on the cross. So many believe the Sabbath does not have to be kept and in terms of salvation, we aren’t going to lose it and be sent to hell if we don’t keep it. But like with all commandments, if we love Him, we will obey. Even though we as Christians meet and go to church on Sunday, the 6th day is Saturday and this is and always will be the Sabbath. However, this commandment does not say our Sabbath day has to be Saturday but instead says, “ Six days you shall labor…but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God”. So as long as there are six days of work and rest every seventh, we are in keeping of this commandment even if that day were a Wednesday. This allows those who work in the church like Pastors and teachers to take a sabbath day on a different day so they can do their work on Sunday. It must be pointed out that “you shall not do any work” does not literally mean no motion or physical activity but instead applies to work to benefit oneself. The day is supposed to be for God so obviously we can do work that is directly for God like serving the church just as Jesus healed on the Sabbath and priests worked hard on the Sabbath all through the time of Israel. The point is to give our lives to God.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

-Does this literally mean that the secret to long life is honoring your parents? It probably does not mean that there is some magic formula but think about the stress and pain of strained relationships with your parents. Think about all the years and years of hurt a poor relationship can cause. If one is at peace with their parents, it certainly improves the quality of life. This is a statement of wisdom, not some magic formula. Living a life free of stress and emotional pain probably will make our bodies healthy which will extend the length of our lives but that’s just good practice like eating healthy. This commandment is the first strictly “be like God” commandment and its put in front of murder in importance. Can you imagine that? Honoring your parents is more important than not murdering! But think about this, if we cannot honor our fathers, How can we honor our heavenly father? But many argue, “yeah but you don’t understand what my dad is like!”. To get into this requires a very lengthy post and articles in itself but I will try and cut this as short as possible. God loves us, despite the fact that we are disgusting, evil, rebellious, wretched, stinking, no good, little devils that are more like satan than we are God and yet He fights for us and offers us eternal life. Do we deserve salvation? Do we deserve anything good to happen to us? If we are truly like God, we would love our parents no matter what they do and how much they may not love us. Our challenge is even if we had abusive parents that hate us, to love them anyway and be there for them always. We all have heard the phrase “love conquers all” and it is true. If you love your parents like this, even if they do not deserve it, it will influence them. There is no 100% guarantee they will love you back but this is what God expects from us and I’m willing to bet it would work. What parent doesn’t, at least deep down, want their children to love them back? They do, even if they never ever show it. If you are a parent, you know.

13 “You shall not murder.

-The ESV translates the word to “murder” but the classic King James translation of this verse is “Thou shalt not kill”. This is to help explain what is meant by this four word commandment (two words in Hebrew). We have already been told that Israel can stone or shoot someone for violating certain commandments so it seems this does not extend to capital punishment. The Israelites were also permitted to fight and kill the Amalokites and will kill many peoples in the future as they clear their new land of inhabitants. So it certainly seems killing in war is permitted as well. The type of killing being referred to is the same as what Cain did to Abel. Cain hated Abel and wanted him to die and so he killed him. Remember that even a thought of doing something is akin to doing something. The emotion tied to killing is hate and so any form of killing that is a result of hate is a violation of this commandment. Self-defense is not explained in the bible as a justified reason for killing, if you can believe it. The closest we come to an explanation is Mathew 24:42-44 where it is implied a man will do what it takes to protect his home as well as Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 where we are told everything has a season and there is “a time to kill”. But these do not specifically say it is OK to kill someone who breaks into your home. But think about this, is there any possession on this earth that is worth so much one should kill for it? Of course not, the only true treasure is our relationship with God and no one can take that away from us but ourselves. I do believe its wrong to kill, even in self-defense, because my worth is not greater than someone who would seek to kill me. God is in control of my protection and should He decide my life should end at the hand of a murderer, that is His will. I do not have power over life and death and do not have a right to say that this man should die and I should live no matter if I am capable of turning the tide. Even in the worst scenario I can imagine. If my wife or daughter were being violated in front of my eyes, even then, I still do not have justification to kill this man although you better believe I will do whatever it takes to stop him short of killing him. For me to kill a man like this would be killing our of hate, and that’s when this command is violated. It’s important to remember that although killing is allowed as part of war, we still cannot hate our enemies but we only kill because we have to. If we take pleasure in cutting our enemies down one by one, even as a soldier, we are sinning because it has become murder in our hearts.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

-Jesus gives enough explanation in Matthew 5:28 as mentioned above. Even a thought of being with another man’s wife is adultery. But it extends beyond simply not cheating on your wife/husband. Dictionary.com defines adultery as, “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” This means any sex you have that is not with your spouse is a violation of this commandment. This covers the rule against not having sex before you are married. It does not matter if you do eventually marry this person, they are not your spouse yet, therefore it is wrong.

15 “You shall not steal.

-This is straight-forward. Do not take something that does not belong to you. This doesn’t just involve objects but also includes abstract things like ideas. In fact, this can even be stretched into stealing someone else’s energy. If someone has an idea and is doing well and you put them down and discourage them when their idea is not sinful then you are stealing their energy. In this day, we have an issue of “stealing” in regards to pirating things like movies. Technically, you are downloading a copy and not stealing a physical movie. Technically, if you download a torrent, you are downloading many fragments of a file that is being compiled later into the file you want that actually came from multiple sources. Unfortunately, this is no different than if you “stole” an idea. You didn’t literally grab an idea our of someone’s head to where they do not have that idea themselves anymore, you made a copy. It also isn’t OK if you were to steal an object by having someone disassemble it and spread all the individual parts around to different people and you went around one by one getting each individual part from each individual person and reassembled the object. It is not yours, you do not own it, and therefore it is stealing.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

-This also means, “Do not lie”. To lie is to invent a new truth of our own making. This is something only God has the authority to do, to create. Whenever we lie we are making a statement that God is wrong and that we are instead right. It is an intensely evil thing to do yet we do it so casually we don’t even realize it AND we would even argue that “white” lies are OK. No, even “white” lies are not OK. I had a challenge when I first came because I was told not to tell anyone I was a missionary but to say “I am staying with friends” which is technically true. But had I been questioned further or asked directly if I was a missionary, I could not say that I was not. The ends do not justify the means. If God had wanted me to enter the country as a missionary then He would enable me to do so without the need of having to sin against Him to do so. Does that not make perfect sense? How could a God that is perfect and who He hates all sin allow you to do “little sins” to accomplish good? That does not even make sense yet we are so accustomed to lying we are almost all at the point that to not lie is utter nonsense. We think it is impossible to function this way realistically but I urge you all to try it. God has never had to lie to us. Jesus did not lie. It is certainly possible to try.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

-Some may believe it is not fair to hold the Israelites to an interpretation we did not receive until Jesus spoke it in Matthew 5:28 to explain that even our thoughts are violations. But the truth is, they already had it right here in the tenth commandment. To “covet” means to desire or wish for. So certainly if we are desiring for someone to be killed or to bed another man’s wife, we are coveting and therefore violating the tenth commandment. Jesus did not add to or take away from the law but merely explained, just like a rabbi or teacher is supposed to do because all of this was already there. When Jesus talked about the greatest commandment and the second just like it, He was quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus respectfully. He was teaching us that rather than looking at all the law as a list of 613 individual commandments, it is instead all interconnected and all relates to being an image of God. If we are like God by loving Him and others, we will follow all commandments. When we are not like God, we essentially violate every commandment. Every sin can be traced back to pride and pride is saying “I am God, not you”. This is why every sin is the total opposite of God and explains why He hates sin so much. There is no degree with sin, every sin is us acting in complete and total rebellion against Him. But the good news is anytime we are not sinning, though rare, we are acting in complete union with God.

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

-How amazing that the very presence of God and the words He spoke was so powerful, even hearing God gave the people so much fear they thought they would drop dead. Although more than just the power, there may have been a feeling of conviction as well when they began hearing things they have probably committed themselves. Perhaps they feared God would “find out” that the people have already broken these commandments and have them drop dead on the spot.

Laws About Altars

22 And the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. 26 And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’

-God is clarifying that while He is asking the people to build an altar, it is not a god or an image of Him, just an altar. “Hewn stones” means stones that are “hewn” which means crafted with a tool. This means an altar would be no more than a gathering of stones or another material in a pile. “Not go up by steps” literally means not to build an altar high up in the air as if one is “ascending” into heaven to reach God. The part about nakedness means that if we were symbolizing that we were going up to heaven, we would be “naked” before God and our sin would be exposed before Him and we would be judged by it. We cannot come before God unless our sins have been washed clean as we can now if we have accepted the Lord and we pray to Him. By having the Israelites do this, it is symbolizing our relationship with God. We don’t craft an altar because we come to God as we are. God is not impressed by our craftsmanship but only wants us to give of what we truly are. We do not ascend steps because it is not us who reach up to God but rather God who reaches down and humbles Himself down to our level. Every individual instruction that we will read about in this and the proceeding three books represents the truth on a Spiritual level. God never gives us some ritual without reason or meaning behind it. We will be exploring every single ritual and discovering the meaning behind it so that next time we read this books, we will not be so bored into skipping them because we will be understanding the relevance and the meaning behind everything so that our brains will be engaged.

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