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Life of Moses

Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-21

Lesson audio

During the 1950’s Paramount studios produced a large number of stone tablets with the ten commandments on them – in English, of course – and gave them to large numbers of courthouses. They were an advertising gimmick for the film (what else?) The Ten Commandments. Lately it has been the bustling business of the humanists to demand that these be removed from their public – as certainly our court system now has little relationship to divine standards of justice. So, just to refresh your memory:

Exo 20:1-21 NIV The Ten Commandments

And God spoke all these words: (2) "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (3) "You shall have no other gods before [1] me. (4) "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (5) You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (6) but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. (7) "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (8) "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. (11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (12) "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (13) "You shall not murder. (14) "You shall not commit adultery. (15) "You shall not steal. (16) "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (17) "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (18) When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance (19) and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (20) Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." (21) The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.


May we point out a bit of the obvious here?

  • The Law is of God’s own making – and therefore it comes in His power.
  • The Law is also of His speaking – His word, a phrase with greater implications through the New Testament.
  • It is brought in with great power and ceremony – but also in accord with His character. Its principles go back before time, and are clearly seen with the patriarchs.
I am the Lord

It is well that remember just who is delivering here:

  • He is the self-existent one; He does not need us, we need Him.
  • He is the necessary being; we owe the concept of existence to Him.
  • He is eternal, beyond time. He alone can see all ends.
  • He is the creator; the source of all power.
The right to command

Given the above, it should be clear that He is entitled to command His creation – as He does in the realm of physics. It is our duty to obey. But note this: because He wants children rather than pet primates, He stands at the door and knocks.

Concerning God and Man

The Ten Commandments can be neatly divided into those which deal with the relationship of God and Man, and those which deal with man to man relationships. It is fitting that the first four center man on God; the others then follow as natural results.

I. No gods before Me.

This makes more sense when you remember that “before” can mean “spread out in front of me.” It simply means that you are to have one God, not one God and a collection of assistant gods. Don’t hedge your bets.

In the more modern sense – idolatry has not been a problem for about 1500 years – it is the worship of sensuality, materialism and pride.

II. Make no Idol

It should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church combines this with the first one, and splits the tenth to adjust the count. By this means they justify the numerous statues, medals and other idols used in their worship. An audit of a typical Catholic institutions will show dozens of statues of Mary and saints.

Idolatry today is not limited to Catholics, however. Celebrity is the new deity. There’s a reason they call the show “American Idol.” But note, please, the severe warning given in this commandment.

III. Do not take His name in vain

In its simplest sense, it means we are not to come into worship in a vain, frivolous way; rather, we are to worship in all seriousness. It sometimes appears that our worship is without solemnity; we forget the awe and respect due the King of Kings.

Traditionally, this has been interpreted to prohibit the misuse of God’s name in obscene language (“blasphemy.”) But it should be noted that it also includes giving someone advice that you’re sure God would have given, if He had the time to think about it. God is jealous for His name – and will punish those who misuse it.

IV. Keep the Sabbath holy

You should note that the Sabbath being set apart goes back to the days of the patriarchs. It is set aside as a day of rest, and a day of worship. This commandment has been largely ignored for the last two generations, at least.[1] The church having shifted the day to Sunday, the Lord’s Day – a shift done by the Apostles – reflects the change from an end to a new beginning in Christ Jesus.

Concerning Man and God

Having set right the relationship between man and God, which is the core of righteousness, we now see the relationships between man and man.

V, Honor your father and mother

As is noted elsewhere, this is the first commandment with a promise of good in it. In our youth, obedience is required; in their age, their care; at all times, honor and respect are due them.

In our time, this is taught to young children as requiring obedience, which is as it should be. But we do not teach them to honor and respect their parents nearly so often. Why? Our society as a whole teaches that anyone as old as your parents is a hopeless incompetent, tolerated only for prior services rendered. Think not? Homer Simpson. Once a child leaves the 6th grade it is assumed that obedience should be grudging, avoided if possible. To become an adult, it seems, you must despise adults first.

VI. Do not murder

As the context later makes clear, this does not apply to lawful war, execution by authorities or legitimate self defense. Our ancestors concluded that this prohibition included suicide, however. It was viewed as “self murder.” Interestingly, however, of the six suicides in the Bible, none is actually condemned. The point is touchy to those who have been touched by it.

We may make two other obvious points:

  • Commandment is often a deterrent, even to the mentally ill. It has been suggested that the rise in serial killers is due in part to the fact that we so commonly portray murder in cinema and television – while we also argue that the mentally ill are somehow excused from fault in this.
  • It is patently obvious to anyone who takes the Scripture as inspired and Christ as divine sees abortion as murder. The Prince of Evil is also the Prince of Choice.

VII. Do not commit adultery

Of all the commandments this is the one most commonly ignored. How important is it? God himself uses marriage as the metaphor for His love for Israel and later the church. The sanctity of marriage creates the strong building block of a society, indeed a civilization. If the family is destroyed, civilization follows quickly.

Which is why the abandonment of this commandment is most tragic. It is to the point where the average church member cannot imagine hearing a sermon on the subject (at least in California, anyway. This is not Nebraska here.) I recall the gasp of horror our congregation made when the preacher said – as part of a message on a different subject – “of course, sex outside of marriage is wrong.” That was several years ago; I have not heard him refer to the subject since then.

VIII. Do not steal

The word in the original extends to such things as fraud and moving boundary markers. It seems a fairly obvious sort of command, and therefore not taught beyond childhood. But not denied either.

What has changed is our acceptance of theft and fraud. Particularly if the thief is one of a downtrodden minority, we are more willing to tolerate the theft. A congressman from a white, conservative district knows that getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar will stop his career, permanently. Standards for liberals are a little more lenient, though even yet the abuse of office is offensive.

IX. Do not bear false witness

It sounds a little formal in English, so we sometimes assume this means only as a witness in a court case. In fact, the prohibition extends to such things as slander and libel as well.

Consider, however, that it also applies to us when we want to tear someone else down to build ourselves up. The prohibition requires a rigorous honesty, which sometimes we do not wish to apply to ourselves.

X. Do not covet

This last commandment is unique in that it deals with our attitudes, wants and desires. It is not only that we don’t steal; it is that we don’t want what he has. This is the commandment to learn contentment – to be abased and abound, as Paul put it. The test here is contentment, the acceptance of what we have as our bounty from God. Is it not sad that the Christians of the richest nation in the world are not content with what they have? It is proof that having much has little effect on how much we covet.


The shorthand version:

Mat 22:34-40 NIV Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. (35) One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: (36) "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (37) Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[2] (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[3] (40) All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

[1] I can remember, growing up, encountering people who won little awards for being in Sunday School every Sunday for forty years. Today, attendance is often a question of whether or not they have something else to do. Anything is more important than the worship of God these days.

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