Keep the Ten Commandments
Sunday School Lesson for December 16, 2001
Focal Teaching Passage: Deuteronomy 5:6-21
This section of Deuteronomy (5:1-5) begins Mosesí second major address to the covenant nation. In these verses he sets forth three significant points regarding the Law of God (see Christopher Wright, 62-63):
The First Table of the Decalogue: The Worship of God (5:6-12)
This verse is commonly referred to as the preamble to the Decalogue. Taking the familiar form of suzerainty treaties with which the people of Israel would have been acquainted, Yahweh declares His identity and His saving power, and then His demands for exclusive and loyal worship. He is "the Lord your God," that is, the God who has acted powerfully and graciously on behalf of the nation of Israel. He is further identified as the God "who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." With this statement we see that the Law of God "is firmly set in the context of grace, from its very origins" (Alan Cole, Exodus, TOTC. 153). Here the Lord appeals to His mercy and grace and calls forth an obedience that is motivated by love, not fear. Christopher Wright observes that these commandments were given to the people of Israel, "not so they could perhaps gain salvation by keeping them, but because God had already redeemed them and this was how they were to live in the light of that fact" (Deuteronomy, 63). In summary, we might say that these verses provide for us the identity of the God who is to be worshipped, as well as the motive for obedience and service.
The First Commandment: Verse 3
This commandment requires the exclusive worship of the one true Godó"You shall have no other gods before me." This was especially significant in the light of the polytheistic world in which the people of Israel dwelt. Literally, the command is to have no other gods "before the face of" the one true God. Its ultimate purpose is to "assert and protect the exclusive covenantal sovereignty of Yahweh as God" (Wright, 68). In this prohibition, the Lord declares that He will not share His worship with another. Thus, true worship has God and Him alone at its center.
The Second Commandment: Verses 8-10
Whereas the first commandment identified the God who alone is worthy of worship, this command instructs us as to how the one true God is to be worshipped. Here we see that God forbids the use of "an idol in the form of anything" in worship. Thus, true worship is by definition aniconic. The words aboveó"idol" and "form"ó refer to objects carved out of wood or crafted out of metal that men might attempt to use in the worship of God. It has direct reference to any attempt to represent God by means of any material object. As George Rawlinson notes, this command is given to "disallow the worship of God under material forms" (Exodus, Vol. 2. TPC. 131). Thus, it is God alone who determines how His subjects are to worship Him. The reason such representations of God are forbidden might be that it is utterly impossible for such likenesses to properly represent His divine nature and being. Any such attempt would fall far short of His glory and would, in fact, profane His holiness. Alan Cole comments that the "localization and materialization of God was another danger inherent in idolatry. Even Israel in later days tended to believe that Godís presence was localized and contained in ark or temple; how much more so, if there had been an image?" (155-156). It must also be noted that a material representation of God would lend itself to the desire to exert control over Him, placing Him under the power of men. Furthermore, Christopher Wright adds that since Yahweh is represented as the God who speaks, idol worship would betray a desire to "escape from the living voice and commands of the living God" (71).
In verse 9 we read that God is "a jealous God." That is, He is jealous of His own honor and glory and will not share it with another, especially a man-made material object. In addition, He is jealous for His unique relationship with the nation of Israel. His holy jealousy is related to His exclusive covenant made with the nation. Thus, "no husband who truly loved his wife could endure to share her with another man: no more will God share Israel with a rival" (Cole. Pg. 156). Verse 9 also includes a solemn warning that the "iniquity of the fathers" will be visited upon the children throughout the "third and fourth generations. . . . " This should be understood as meaning that "breeches of Godís law by one generation do indeed affect those of future generations to come" (Cole, 156). Thus, the children and grandchildren of idolaters will suffer for their parentís sins and failures. However, verse 10 in glorious contrast declares Godís intention to display "lovingkindness to thousands" who both love Him and keep His commandments.
The Third Commandment- Verse 11
This commandment forbids the "misuse [of] the name of the Lord your God." Originally, this prohibition was interpreted to mean that one could not swear falsely by the name of Yahweh. That is, one was forbidden from invoking the name of the Lord while telling a falsehood (see Lev. 19:12). However, we note that it was entirely permissible, according to the Law, to bless or curse someone in the name of Yahweh (Deut. 6:13; 11:26) or to use His name in oaths (Zeph. 1:4,5). Thus, this command particularly deals with the sin of perjury and of employing the divine name recklessly or without due reverence. The third commandment, then, is better understood in light of the fact that the knowledge of Godí name was "arguably the greatest gift entrusted to Israel" (Wright, 73).
The Fourth Commandment: Verses 12-14
The heart of this commandment is captured in Verse 12 with the words, "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." The concept of the Sabbath had already been introduced to the nation of Israel in Exodus 16:22-30. There the seventh day of rest was to be observed as a day for the people of God to cease from work and reflect upon Godís provision for their needs in the wilderness and for His protection from all their enemies. On this special day no work was to be done as daily labors were suspended in order to provide an opportunity for each Israelite to focus upon the saving work of God who had faithfully delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh.
The idea of a seventh day of rest is also found in the creation account in Genesis 2:1-3. Here we read that God "rested from all the work," not because He was tired, but rather in the light of His completed work of creation and the divine pronouncement that it was "good." On this special day the Lord "finished" His work, He "rested," He "blessed" the day, and He "made it holy," setting it apart in a special relationship to Himself. On this day, the Lord brought His creative activity to an end and then stepped back from it into a position of divine rest and satisfaction.
Furthermore, in Exodus 20:8-11 and 31:13-17 we see that the Sabbath observance is the lengthiest of the commandments (20:8-11), and the most strictly enforced. Since the Sabbath was declared "holy," the penalty of death was reserved for those who "profaned" it through neglect or abuse (31:14). In addition, it was to be observed as a "perpetual covenant" between God and His people and as a "sign . . . forever"(31:16-17). Finally, its observance was to follow that pattern set by the Lord God when He rested from His work and "was refreshed" (31:17). In Exodus 20 we see that the Sabbath was to be a day of rest for the entire Israelite home, including even the "animals" and "the alien within your gates" (20:10). Exodus 20:11 declares that it is to be patterned after the rest which God enjoyed when "the Lord made the heavens and the earth" and then "rested on the seventh day." As already noted above, the breaking of the Sabbath resulted in the most severe penalty for guilty parties. For this reason, the abuse and neglect of the Sabbath was a frequent theme in the writings of the prophets (Neh. 13:17-18; Jer. 17:21-23; Ezk. 20:13-24).
To summarize, we may say that there are three major points of significance in regard to the observance of the Sabbath:
At this point we must recognize the fact that Christians have differed over the meaning and application of this commandment. Historically there have been three views advanced by the Church (see Richard P. Belcher, A Laymanís Guide to the Sabbath Question, Crowne Publications. 1991):
The Second Table of the Decalogue: Relationships with Fellow Men (5:16-21)
The Fifth Commandment: Verse 16
This is the first of six commandments that concern personal relationships among men. These involve our duties to other men who have been created in the image of God. The command stated here is "Honor your father and your mother." Thus, we find in this commandment the fact that "out of respect for the dignity and worth of God our heavenly Father and in view of the honor due His name, we are moved to submit ourselves to those whom He has placed over us in a similar relationship" (Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom. 136). In a similar light John Calvin comments that the essence of this commandment is that "we are to look up to those whom the Lord has set over us, yielding them honor, gratitude, and obedience" (Institutes, Book Two, 344).
Here the term "honor" communicates the concepts of obedience, respect, gratitude, and love on the part of the child for the parents. As implied above, most commentators and scholars have concluded that this command is not limited to domestic relations only, but applies to all authorities that have been placed in power by God. Thus, it would extend to servants, citizens of a country, workers, and all others under authority
One question that might be raised is that of our duty to obey parents or other authorities who might lead or order us to act in ways which are in clear violation of Godís will and word. At this point, the wisdom of John Calvin is especially helpful. He notes that our obedience is always to be "in the Lord." That is, in full submission to His ultimate authority and sovereignty. Therefore, "the submission yielded to them [earthly authorities] should be a step in our assent to the Supreme Parent, and hence, if they instigate us to transgress the law, they deserve not to be regarded as parents, but as strangers attempting to seduce us from our obedience to our true Father. The same holds in the case of rulers, masters, and superiors of every description" (Institutes, Book Two. 346).
The Sixth Commandment: Verse 17
Interestingly, this commandment in the original Hebrew is composed of just two words literally translated, "no murder." The NIV translation preserves the full force of the Hebrew rasah. Therefore, this commandment related to the killing of the innocent and did not condemn accidental or defensive killing, or the execution of condemned prisoners (see Exodus 21:12-15).
As we attempt to understand the meaning of this commandment we must keep in mind the fundamental biblical principle of the sanctity of human life as created by God. The fact that all men are created in the "image of God" means that all human life is sacred to God. In this light, most agree that the sixth commandment forbids not only the murder of the innocent, but also violence and injustice of all types that might be perpetrated against humanity. Martin Luther, in his Larger Catechism, maintains that this commandment is violated whenever someone "fails to do good to his neighbor, or, though he has the opportunity, fails to prevent, protect, and save him from suffering bodily harm or injury . . . Therefore, God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel and aid to men in need and in peril of body and life."
The Seventh Commandment: Verse 18
This commandment presents the second duty related to oneís neighbor, that of giving due respect and honor to the institution upon which the family unit is based. God declared to the Israelites, "You shall not commit adultery." This commandment speaks to the preservation and health of the marriage relationship that, in the eyes of God, is sacred. According to Godís initial instructions in the Garden of Eden, marriage from the beginning was designed as the union of one man to one woman for the duration of their natural lives. Note Godís words to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:24.
Specifically, this commandment forbids the breaking of the marital bond by any sexual activity outside of and apart from the marriage union. That is, it forbids the attempt to "enjoy the pleasure of this covenant without the responsibility of the covenant" (Michael Horton, 186). This would relate to any deviation from the pattern for marriage which was established in Eden including polygamy, pre-marital sexual relations, homosexuality, and divorce on non-biblical grounds, each of which the Bible clearly condemns. Additionally, according to the words of Jesus, this command also forbids thoughts or desires of the heart that are immoral and improper (Matt. 5:27-28).
The Eighth Commandment: Verse 19
This commandmentó"you shall not steal"órelates to the God-given right to own property and the duty of respecting it. Thus, it forbids the taking of that which does not belong to us. This right of ownership and the corresponding duty of respecting it is amplified in Exodus 22:1-9 where the Lord gives instructions regarding restitution for the theft or loss of property.
The Ninth Commandment: Verse 20
This command relates to the telling of the truth at all times, especially in a court setting where witness are under oath. It simply reads, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." The serious nature of this command lies in the fact that "a false witness could bring about the death of an innocent person or destroy the reputation of another person" (F. B. Huey Jr. Exodus: A Study Guide Commentary. 91-92).
Michael Horton offers three reasons for this commandment (227-228). First is the value of a personís name. We see this with the name of God (Ex. 20:7), but also among those who have been created in His image. Secondly is the value of oneís word. Words and communication, being divine gifts, "are symbols of a personís spiritual condition, a barometer of the storms we all encounter, and the measure of our responses to them" (228). The tool of communication, given by God to men in order to praise and worship Him, can also be used as a "tool of diabolical pride, hatred, slander, and deceit" (228). Thirdly is the value of the truth itself. This commandment reflects the holiness and truthfulness of God and that which He requires of His people.
The Tenth Commandment: Verse 21
The final commandment in the Decalogue addresses coveting "anything that belongs to your neighbor." The meaning of the Hebrew word "covet" (hamad) is closely akin to the idea of desire or that which one might take pleasure in. Thus, this commandment relates to the inner attitude of oneís heart and reveals that "there is One who sees the heart; to whose eyes Ďall things are naked and open;í and who cares far less for the outward act than the inward thought or motive from which the act proceeds" (George Rawlinson, Exodus, TPC, 135). Specifically, this commandment attacks what is the most basic and subtle cause of strife and pain, as well as "the root of every sin committed against other people." (Huey, 92).
As one might readily see, this commandment really has to do with all the previous nine as it touches the condition of the heart that precedes the actual act of sin. Thus, we learn that sin is a condition before it is an action, and that the transgression of the tenth is really the breaking of the first.