Week of July 30, 2006


Bible Passages:  Exodus 19:4-6; 20:3-17.


Biblical Truth:  God demands that people of faith worship Him exclusively and live in ways consistent with His character.


Called to a Special Relationship: Exodus 19:4-6.


[4]  You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. [5] Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; [6] and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.   [NASU]


[4] Yahweh’s reference to what He has done emphasizes that the people of Israel, for whom He has done it, have experienced it at first hand. They have seen for themselves (1) what He did to the Egyptians, a summary of all His mighty acts through the deliverance at the sea; (2) that He bore you on eagles’ wings, a summary of the proof of His Presence through the variety of guidance and provision in the wilderness; and (3) that He has brought them to Himself, to the mountain of His special Presence, where He revealed Himself to Moses. The double emphasis of verse 4 is that Yahweh has done what has been done for Israel and that the people have themselves seen and experienced His mighty work on their behalf.


[5] Now then sets the framework for Yahweh’s expectation of Israel in voluntary response. Yahweh is here offering Israel the means of appropriate response to what He has done for them. What Israel is to do, if they choose to make a response to what Yahweh has done, is to pay the most careful attention to His instruction concerning what is expected of them and then to keep, that is, to abide by, the terms of His covenant. An affirmative response to Yahweh’s if on the part of the people of Israel will first of all mean the genesis of a people who will be Yahweh’s own special treasure. The image presented is that of the unique and exclusive possession. That image is expanded by the addition, for all the earth is Mine, to suggest the crown jewel of a large collection.


[6] The second image is that of a kingdom of priests. This phrase is unique in the Old Testament. The phrases My own possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation are closely related to one another. Although they each refer to the whole of the people who will pay attention to and follow the covenant, they are not to be taken as synonymous. Israel as God’s own possession is Israel become uniquely Yahweh’s prized possession by their commitment to Him in covenant. Israel as a kingdom of priests is Israel committed to the extension throughout the world of the ministry of Yahweh’s Presence. Israel as a holy people then represents a third dimension of what it means to be committed in faith to Yahweh: they are to be a people set apart, different from all other people by what they are and are becoming – a showcase to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes a people.


Devoted to God Alone: Exodus 20:3-11.


[3] "You shall have no other gods before Me.” [4] " You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” [5] "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, [6] but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” [7] "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” [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 of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.” [11] "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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.”   [NASU]

The ten commandments are profound in what they reveal about God and about living for His glory. When they are properly understood, they turn out to be relevant for any and every situation. To make full and proper use of this law, we need to know how to apply it. The first rule of interpretation is the Biblical rule. Every commandment must be understood in the context of the entire Bible. The way to know the full and true meaning of any Bible passage is to know what the rest of the Bible says on the same theme. To understand the full implications of each commandment, we need to know what the whole Bible teaches about it, including the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. What makes this method of interpretation valid is that everything in the Bible comes from the mind of God, as breathed out by His Holy Spirit. What God says in one place agrees with what He says somewhere else because God cannot disagree with Himself. The second rule is the inside/outside rule. The Ten Commandments are internal as well as external. They demand inward integrity as well as outward conformity. This distinguishes God’s law from any human law. According to an old Puritan proverb, “Man’s law binds the hands only, God’s law binds the heart.” God holds us accountable not only for the sins we commit with our bodies, but also for the sins we commit in the privacy of our own hearts, minds, and wills. Since the law is spiritual, we must apply the Ten Commandments to our inward affections as well as to our outward actions. The third rule of interpretation widens our application of the Ten Commandments. It is the two-sided rule. It could also be called the law of opposites. Every commandment is both positive and negative. Where a sin is forbidden, the corresponding duty is required; and where a duty is required, the corresponding sin is forbidden. There is a flip side to every commandment. Each one condemns a particular vice, while at the same time it commands a particular virtue. For example, the third commandment forbids the misuse of God’s name. We may not dishonor God by abusing His name. However, by sheer force of logic, this command also requires us to use God’s name honorably and reverently. The true intent of each commandment is to tell us what to do as well as what not to do. This rule makes the Ten Commandments at least twice as hard to keep as most people think. In order to keep the first commandment, for example, we must not only stay away from false religions, but we must enthrone the one and only true God as our supreme Lord. And in order to keep the ninth commandment, it is not enough simply to avoid telling any lies; we must also use our words to encourage and to bless. When the Ten Commandments are interpreted properly, they are comprehensive. They deal with areas of sin that are discussed all through the Scriptures. They command both the body and the soul. They not only forbid disobedience, but they also require obedience.

[3] The words before me mean “before my face.” This could mean that you should not have other gods in God’s presence. Taken literally, this would forbid people from bringing foreign idols into the place where God is worshiped. But since God is everywhere, it really forbids us from worshiping false gods anywhere. The point is that when it comes to worshiping God, it is all or nothing. When God commands us to reject false gods, He is also commanding us to choose Him as the true God, enthroning Him as our only Lord. This commandment solidifies the covenant relationship between God and His people. Notice that in this commandment God speaks to us in the singular. God says, “You (individually) shall have no other gods before me (personally).” God wants to have an exclusive love relationship with each one of His people. Obviously in order for this relationship to work, it is essential for us not to share our love with any other god. We must be faithful to the only true God. We must give Him our total allegiance, honoring, adoring, and revering Him as our Lord and Savior.

[4-6] The second commandment is one of the longest. There are four parts to this commandment: the rule, the reason, the warning, and the promise. The rule is very simple: “Don’t make any idols.” The rule is clarified with a list of the kinds of idols God forbids in the remainder of verse 4. The reason for the rule: for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. To use a more positive and also a more accurate word, it is because of His zeal – the burning passion of His love. God’s jealousy explains why the second commandment ends with a warning and a promise. God shows His zeal to be glorified in our worship by cursing those who break the second commandment and blessing those who keep it. The warning is that children will be punished for the sins of their fathers. What a father passes on to his children is not simply a bad example but the guilt of his sin. The principle here is covenant solidarity: God holds families responsible for their conduct as families. God never condemns the innocent but only the guilty. Here it is important to notice that God is punishing those (including the children) who hate Me. People who struggle with the fairness of this commandment usually assume that although the father is guilty, his children are innocent. But the children hate God as much as their father did. Therefore, it is fair and just for God to punish them for their sin and for their father’s sin. God also promises to show mercy or lovingkindness (His covenant love) to those who love Him and keep His commandment not to serve idols. The promise is more powerful than the warning because its blessing lasts not just for three or four generations, but to thousands, or forever.

[7] The third commandment defends the honor of God’s great name. Unlike the first two commandments, here God refers to Himself in the third person. He does this to call attention to His special covenant name Yahweh, or Lord. It speaks of God’s self-existence, self-sufficiency, and supreme sovereignty. As the events of the exodus unfolded, it also testified to His saving power. For the Israelites someone’s name expressed a person’s inward identity. When we use the name of God, therefore, we are referring to the essence of His divine being. The third commandment is both negative and positive. In its negative form it forbids the misuse of God’s name. We are not to use it in a vain or empty way. The specific misuse that God has in mind is speaking about Him carelessly, thoughtlessly, or even flippantly, as if He did not matter or really did not exist at all. God’s name has deep spiritual significance. So to treat it like something worthless is profanity in the truest sense of the word. It is to treat something holy and sacred as common and secular. The positive form of this commandment is to use His name properly. Instead of taking His name in vain, we should take it in all seriousness. There are many ways to use God’s name properly. His name can be praised, honored, blessed, and celebrated. It can be lifted on high and exalted. It can be worshiped and adored. One of the best places to learn the proper use of God’s name is the book of Psalms.

[8-11] This is the longest commandment, and it comes in three parts. Verse 8 tells us what to do, verses 9, 10 specify how we are to do it, and verse 11 explains why. What God wants us to do is to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The word “remember” has a double meaning. This commandment calls us to a weekly remembrance of the Sabbath. We are prone to forget the great work of God in creation and redemption. And when we forget, we fail to praise Him for making us and saving us. But the fourth commandment is a reminder. It is God’s memorandum to His people, reminding us to give Him glory for His grace. Remembering involves more than just our memories; it demands the total engagement of our whole person in the service of God. Remembering the Sabbath means using the day to show our love for God in a special way. It means to keep it holy. Literally, we are to sanctify it, setting it apart for sacred use. How are we to do this? The fourth commandment gives explicit instructions for keeping the Sabbath holy. God begins by telling us what he wants us to do with the rest of our week: Six days you shall labor and do all your work. This means that God governs our work as well as our rest. Work is a divine gift that goes back before the fall. We honor God by doing an honest week’s worth of work. How do we keep the fourth commandment? By worshiping the Lord on His day. To keep something holy in the Biblical sense is to dedicate it exclusively for worship. To keep a Sabbath to the Lord is to give the day over to God, setting it apart for Him and His glory. The Sabbath is not only a day for worship but also a day of rest. It is a day for ceasing from work, and especially from common labor. It is a day for relaxation and recuperation. This rest was for everyone to enjoy: you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. The reason for this commandment is very simple. We are called to work and rest because we serve a working, resting God. Why should we remember the Sabbath? Because in six days the Lord made the heavens and the 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. There are many additional reasons for keeping the Sabbath (today, the Lord’s Day) holy. It promotes the worship of God. It restores us both spiritually and physically; so it is for our benefit. But our fundamental reason for obeying the fourth commandment is not practical but theological; God made the world in six days, and then he rested. His activity in creation thus sets the pattern for our own work and leisure. The Lord’s Day is for worship. It is a day for attending corporate worship, for enjoying fellowship with the people of God, for catching up on our spiritual reading, and for spending the whole day in ways that really make it the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is also for mercy, in performing deeds of mercy in God’s name. Finally, the Lord’s Day is for rest, for ceasing from our labor. In keeping the fourth commandment there is room for Christian freedom and the wise exercise of godly judgment. Legalism must be avoided. We do not have a set of man-made regulations for keeping the Sabbath. This is what the Pharisees did, and Jesus condemned them.


Commanded to Live God’s Way: Exodus 20:12-17.


[12] "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” [13] "You shall not murder.” [14] "You shall not commit adultery.” [15] "You shall not steal.” [16] "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” [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 belongs to your neighbor."   [NASU]


[12] The word honor is the word the Old Testament uses for the glory of God, for the weightiness of His divine majesty. To honor one’s parents, therefore, is to give due weight to their position. It is to give them the recognition they deserve for their God-given authority. To honor is to respect, esteem, value, and prize fathers and mothers as gifts from God. The opposite of honor is dishonor. Just as the fifth commandment requires respect for parents, so it forbids showing them any disrespect. This commandment also includes the promise of long life in God’s land if it is obeyed. When the Bible talks about living long in the land, it is not simply talking about how old people are when they die. The expression “live long in the land” is a Hebrew phrase for the fullness of God’s blessing. It means to have an abundant life.


[13] The sixth commandment is one of the shortest. But what kind of killing does the Bible have in mind? The Hebrew language has at least eight different words for killing. What the commandment forbids is not killing in general, but the unlawful killing of a human being. What makes the killing lawful? The answer is that the goal of the killing is not the destruction of life but its preservation; such as self-defense, capital punishment, war. The sixth commandment preserves the sanctity of human life. Like the rest of God’s law, the sixth commandment is a lot harder to keep than it seems at first. By forbidding murder God teaches us that He hates the root of murder, such as envy, hatred, anger, desire for revenge, and that He regards all these as murder.


[14] What does it mean to commit adultery? The simplest answer is that it is sexual intercourse that breaks the bonds of a marriage covenant. Adultery is the greatest sexual sin because it violates the trust between a husband and wife. Having sex is not the only way to commit adultery, however. The Ten Commandments generally rule out the most extreme form of every kind of sin, but by implication they also rule out all the lesser sins that lead up to it. What is forbidden is everything that causes adultery. Most adulterous relationships do not start with sex; they start with inappropriate intimacy. The seventh commandment thus forbids a married man to flirt with a woman who is not his wife, or a single man to get close to someone else’s wife. In order to forestall temptation, a certain social distance needs to be maintained. It also forbids a married woman to seek emotional support from some other man because of where it will lead. To put things more positively, the seventh commandment requires husbands and wives to nurture their love for one another emotionally and spiritually as well as sexually. The commandment is meant to protect sexual purity. Therefore to submit to any temptation to become sexually impure is a violation of this commandment. Thus fornication, prostitution, pornography, lust, etc. are all ruled out. Why is adultery, in all its forms, forbidden? Because whenever sexual intercourse is divorced from the total life commitment of marriage, it loses its true purpose and its highest joy. Whenever people try to isolate the pleasures of sex, they always end up harming themselves and others.


[15] To steal is to take something that does not belong to you. What the eighth commandment forbids seems very simple. But, like the rest of God’s law, the prohibition on stealing is comprehensive. Martin Luther said that we break the eighth commandment whenever we take advantage of our neighbor in any sort of dealing that results in loss to him. Whenever we take something that does not belong to us, we sin against God as well as against our neighbor. Stealing is a sin against God in at least two ways. First, every theft is a failure to trust in His provision. Whenever we take something that does not belong to us, we deny that God has given us or is able to give us everything we truly need. Therefore, keeping the eighth commandment is a practical exercise of our faith in God’s providence. Every theft is also an assault on God’s providence for others. This is a second way that stealing is a sin against God. It robs what He has provided for someone else. We do not have the right to take for ourselves what God has given to others. This brings us to the positive side of the eighth commandment. At the same time that we are forbidden to take things that do not belong to us, we are required to use what we have in ways that are pleasing to our God. The eighth commandment is not just about stealing, it is also about stewardship. A steward is someone who cares for someone else’s property. He is not free to use it however he pleases, but only to manage it in accordance with his master’s intentions. This is our situation exactly. Whatever we possess is God’s property, and he has given us the sacred trust of looking after it.


[16] The immediate context for the ninth commandment is a court of law. What God most specifically condemns in this commandment is a lying witness, someone who testifies falsely against anyone accused of a crime. A courtroom is not the only place where someone can give false testimony. The underlying principle in this commandment is that God forbids every form of falsehood. The most blatant violation of the ninth commandment is any lie that harms someone else. The most prevalent example of this is gossip which damages someone’s reputation. Instead of telling lies, this commandment requires us to always tell the truth. The reason we are called to be people of the truth is because we serve a truth-telling God.


[17] What does it mean to covet? It means to crave, to yearn for, to hanker after something that belongs to someone else. We covet whenever we set our hearts on anything that is not rightfully ours. It is not simply wanting something we do not have; it is wanting something that someone else has. It is a sin of desire. Not all desires are selfish, of course. God made us to be creatures of desire. But like everything else about us, our desires are corrupted by sin. We often want the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason, and this is what the tenth commandment rules out. To summarize, the tenth commandment lists several things that we are tempted to covet. The items listed are not exhaustive; they are only suggestive. We are not allowed to covet anything at all. God’s law rules out every unlawful desire. Contentment is the positive side of the tenth commandment; it is the remedy for covetous desire. Contentment means wanting what God wants for us rather than what we want for us. The secret to enjoying this kind of contentment is to be so satisfied with God that we are able to accept whatever He has or has not provided. Ultimately, it concerns our relationship with God.





Questions for Discussion:


1.   In 19:5-6 we have God’s conditional covenant with the nation of Israel. We need to always remember that the reason Peter can apply these three images to the Church [see 1 Peter 2:9] is because Jesus has met all of the conditions of the covenant on our behalf. Meditate upon what it means to you personally and to the Church as a whole to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.


2.   How we interpret the Ten Commandments is crucial for our understanding of the comprehensiveness of God’s Law upon our lives. Read again the section that describes three rules of interpretation to use on the Ten Commandments. Once again we see that it is only by God’s grace in the work of Jesus Christ that a believer can fulfill the requirements of God’s Law.



Exodus, Alan Cole, Inter-Varsity Press.

Exodus, John Durham, Nelson Publishers.

Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.