The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus

Chapter 20

The Ten Commandments are spoken by Yahweh, 1-17. The people are afraid, but Moses comforts them, 18-20. Idolatry is forbidden, 21, 22. Of what sort the altar should be, 23-26.

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,

2 "I am the LORD your God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 "You shall have no other gods before me.

4 "You shall not make for yourself any engraved 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. 5 You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 And showing mercy to thousands of 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 hold him guiltless 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 the sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall not do any work—you, your son, your daughter, your man-servant, your woman-servant, your cattle, nor your stranger 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 the seventh day; therefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath-day and hallowed it.

12 "Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God gives you.

13 "You shall not kill.

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, his man-servant, his woman-servant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

18 And all the people saw the thunderings, the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. And when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 And they said to Moses, "Speak with us and we will hear, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die." 20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to prove you, so that his fear may be before your faces and that you do not sin." 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

22 And the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth you shall make to me and shall sacrifice thereon your burnt-offerings, your peace-offerings, your sheep, and your oxen. In all places where I record my name I will come to you and I will bless you. 25 And if you will make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have polluted it. 26 You shall not go up by steps to my altar so that your nakedness is not discovered thereon.'"


Matthew Henry Commentary - Exodus, Chapter 20[➚]


[v.3-17] - These verses are collectively known as the Ten Commandments. See also, Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4. These commandments are also listed in Deuteronomy 5:7-21. These commandments represent God's law, and the law was our school-master to bring us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). The Septuagint orders the Ten Commandments a little differently. There, the order is 1-5, 7, 8, 6, 9-10.

[v.3] - This is the first commandment. From John Gill's Exposition: "This [commandment] is opposed to the polytheism of the Gentiles, the Egyptians, from whom Israel was just come, and whose gods some of them might have had a favorable opinion of and liking to, and had committed idolatry with; and the Canaanites, into whose land they were going; and to prevent their joining with them in the worship of other gods, this law was given, as well as to be of standing us to them in all generations; for there is but one only living and true God, the former and maker of all things, who only is to be had, owned, acknowledged, served, and worshiped as such; all others have only the name, and are not by nature gods; they are other gods than the true God is; they are not real, but fictitious deities; they are other or strange gods to the worshipers of them, that cry unto them, for they do not answer them."

[v.4] - This is the second commandment. The basis of this commandment is idolatry. An idol is anything, physical or mental, on which affections are strongly or excessively set, that gives a false representation or image of the One True God and captivates the adoration, devotion and worship due to His name. God is telling His people not to create anything or any idea to represent God or anything that can be worshiped as a god. Note that idolatry does not have to involve a physical object. Believing anything that is a false representation of God or that is not 100% supported by God's word in the Bible is idolatry. God cannot be made suitable to our needs nor can He be represented in a way that is more comfortable for us. That would be worshiping a God that does not exist, or idolatry.

[v.7] - This is the third commandment. As with the previous two commandments, this commandment concerns our actions toward God. It addresses the manner in which we are not to worship His name. God's name is the name above all names and is to be held in the highest regard (Ephesians 1:21). Taking God's name in vain can be done in these ways: rendering it ineffectual, using it fruitlessly, falsely swearing by it, and using it for disgust or as a profanity. Every Christian must be mindful of the things he or she does and says in order to properly represent the name of God. This is a commandment of God to all of His people so that He may receive the honor due to His most holy name.

[v.8] - This is the fourth commandment. Keeping the Sabbath holy is not laboring in selfishness, luxury, or vanity; however, according to Jesus, doing acts of charity and necessity are allowed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11). From Matthew Henry's Commentary: "We have time enough for ourselves in those six days, on the seventh day let us serve God; and time enough to tire ourselves, on the seventh it will be a kindness to us to be obliged to rest. This is God's day: it is the sabbath of the Lord thy God, not only instituted by him, but consecrated to him. It is sacrilege to alienate it; the sanctification of it is a debt. It is designed for a memorial of the creation of the world, and therefore to be observed to the glory of the Creator, as an engagement upon ourselves to serve him and an encouragement to us to trust in him who made heaven and earth."

[v.11a] - Quoted in Acts 14:15; Revelation 10:6.

[v.11b] - Reference, Genesis 2:2-3.

[v.12a] - This is the fifth commandment. The first four commandments pertain to our conduct toward God. This commandment is the first of the commandments that concerns how we are to conduct ourselves toward our fellow human beings. Notice how the first of these types of commandments begin with the immediate family, namely, the parents. It is God's chief commandment for us towards our fellow humans to honor our father and our mother. God gives mothers and fathers a great responsibility. It says in the Proverbs for parents to, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Parents are responsible for raising children and correcting them when they are in error. The fifth commandment instructs everyone—adults and children—to honor that responsibility given to their parents by God. Earthly parents are not perfect; however, it is the commandment of the Lord our God to honor them. This is the first commandment to give a promise in return. In this, God is not only talking about the days of our life, but also our posterity. That means this promise is for the days of our life to be long and that our descendants may also receive the same, if we obey the commandment. From Matthew Henry's Commentary: "Those that do their duty to their parents are most likely to have the comfort of that which their parents gather for them and leave to them; those that support their parents shall find that God, the common Father, will support them... Those who, in conscience towards God, keep this and the rest of God's commandments, may be sure that it shall be well with them, and that they shall live as long on earth as Infinite Wisdom sees good for them, and that what they may seem to be cut short of on earth shall be abundantly made up in eternal life, the heavenly Canaan which God will give them."

[v.12b] - Quoted in Matthew 15:4, 19:19; Mark 7:10, 10:19; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2-3.

[v.13a] - This is the sixth commandment. This commandment deals specifically with murder. This commandment is quite self explanatory, but it does beg a certain amount of commentary. This commandment defines murder in the law; however, Christ gave His interpretation of murder during His ministry. "You have heard that it was said to them of old time, 'You shall not kill,' and whoever kills, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be in danger of the council. And whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be in danger of hell-fire" (Matthew 5:21-22). (Raca is an interpreted Aramaic word that basically means, "you worthless..." for utter vilification.) Christ's interpretation of this commandment is very interesting. He's defining transgressors, even before a person's life is taken, by equating murder to the act of hating someone, speaking defamatory things about someone, or even being angry at someone without cause. This interpretation gives light to the perfectness of God's holy and just law. It demonstrates that the law bypasses actions and is aimed directly at the heart and conscience.

[v.13b] - Quoted in Matthew 5:21, 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9; James 2:11.

[v.14a] - This is the seventh commandment. This commandment deals specifically with adultery. Noah Webster defined adultery as, "Violation of the marriage bed; all manner of lewdness or unchastity; idolatry, or apostasy from the true God." In addition, Webster said, "In common usage, adultery means the unfaithfulness of any married person to the marriage bed." As with the previous commandment, this one is self explanatory, but requires further explanation. Christ had given His interpretation of adultery during His sermon on the mount. He said, "You have heard that it was said to them of old time, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Again, Jesus directs the commandments to the heart to show the perfectness of God's law and His holiness. He has interpreted adultery as not only the act of adultery, but also simply thinking about the act, or lusting. Looking at another person with sexual desire is the same as having fulfilled that sexual desire with that person. This, according to Jesus, is adultery. Another aspect of adultery was given in one of Noah Webster's definitions of adultery. In that, he had defined adultery as idolatry. His reference for this definition comes from Jeremiah, ch. 3, specifically verse 9. In that chapter, God is accusing Israel of playing the harlot (i.e. idolatry and adultery) with her backslidings, and essentially setting her affections on idols and not God.

[v.14b] - Quoted in Matthew 5:27, 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9; James 2:11.

[v.15a] - This is the eighth commandment. It addresses the act of theft, that is, the act of stealing, or taking something regardless of its perceived or known value.

[v.15b] - Quoted in Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9.

[v.16a] - This is the ninth commandment. This commandment deals specifically with lying. Lying, as defined by Noah Webster, is, "to tell a falsehood." A lie is defined as, "A falsehood uttered or acted for the purpose of deception; an intentional violation of truth; an untruth spoken with the intention to deceive." God sees lying as a serious offense. In fact, it carries the same punishment as murder, idolatry, and unbelief. This is noted in Revelation 21:8, which says, "But the fearful, unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, lewd men, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death." That said lake is also known as hell. That sounds like a harsh punishment for what might seem to be a mere lie, but God's holy law was designed to be perfect so that, "every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). Now, the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient—liars included (1st Timothy 1:9-10). It breaks and humbles a high, proud, callous, or hardened heart to receive the gospel of Christ.

[v.16b] - Quoted in Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9.

[v.17a] - This is the tenth commandment. This commandment covers the the act of coveting. To covet, as defined by Noah Webster, is to, "desire inordinately (or disorderly, irregularly, or immoderately); to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess." This commandment can also be summed up in two words: greed and jealousy. Matthew Henry gives this commandment distinction by saying, "The others forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbor; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves." With that in mind, the desire for something to self gratification can be a stumbling block to transgress the other commandments. For instance, desiring another man's wife may cause jealousy. Jealousy, in this case, may lead to lust and/or anger: lust for the woman, and/or anger towards the man for not being able to have his wife. Thus, other commandments have been broken. Another instance is the desiring of another man's possession, such as a car, clothing, job, or even lifestyle. As with the previous instance, this greed may lead to anger; therefore a transgression of the sixth commandment. It may also lead to theft, transgressing the eighth commandment. Coveting things may also lead to the transgression of the first two commandments. The greed or jealousy may consume a man so much that he devotes his affections towards the object being coveted. It is for these reasons that James said in his letter (James 2:10), "For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, he is guilty of all."

[v.17b] - Quoted in Romans 7:7, 13:9.

[v.23] - "You shall not make with me gods" - In other words, "You shall not make other gods to worship together with me."