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Exodus 20:117comment (0)

April 15, 2010

By Jeffrey S. Quiett

Related Scripture: Exodus 20:117

Explore the Bible
Associate professor of marriage and family counseling, University of Mobile

Exodus 20:1–17

God Alone (1–7)

The first commandment was responsible for shaping the Israelites’ monotheism. Belief in one God set their religion apart from all other ancient Near Eastern religions. Such overwhelming paganism may explain why they were tempted to worship other gods. One could think of it as the ancient equivalent of “peer pressure.” The first commandment is basic to all the others, for unless God is the only God, none of the other commandments is meaningful or binding. Anything more important than God becomes an idol. Such gods today may be career, family, wealth, pleasure or anything else that drains ultimate concern away from God. Any form of self-exaltation above God is also idolatry. The prohibition against making images is not a wholesale condemnation of all art forms but specifically forbids the use of images in the worship of God. This command was given against the background of a world that believed gods could be controlled by such images. The true God, however, cannot be controlled by rites or words. He is spirit (John 4:24) and no likeness or location can represent Him accurately. 

The command to respect the name of God usually is associated with profanity but its implications reach further. “In vain” or “misuse” includes any frivolous, insincere or unjustified use of God’s name. The command may be violated by the use of profanity but also by using God’s name when there is no commitment to Him or to manipulate people.

Sacred Rest (8–11)
The word “Sabbath” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cease” or “to rest.” The Sabbath commemorated God’s rest from His creative activity and later celebrated the Exodus from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). In the New Testament, overly strict interpretations of this command were enforced so that the day became oppressive. Jesus tried to restore the original intent of the Sabbath. It was never intended to be a burdensome day upon man but to be a day to renew one’s physical body through rest and one’s spiritual being through worship. Early Christians later changed the “Sabbath” to Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus.

Further Commands (12–17)
“Honor” in the fifth commandment carries the idea of “respect.” The command is not conditional on whether the parents deserve respect. Since parents are God’s representatives, the child learns to honor God by honoring his or her parents.

The sixth commandment underscores the sanctity of human life. It served not as a blanket prohibition against killing but only against unauthorized killing, i.e., the taking of the law into one’s own hands. Jesus broadens this command to include anger with one’s brother (Matt. 5:21–26).

The seventh commandment implies respect for marriage and requires purity of the marriage state. Adultery violates the marriage trust. Jesus later increased the strictness of the command by adding “lustful looks” to the meaning of adultery. One can commit adultery with thoughts just as much as actions.

The command to not steal implies respect for others’ property. The Bible defends the right to hold property. Any unauthorized taking of property, whether it is someone else’s goods, time or ideas, violates this command. The Bible also equates withholding tithes and offerings with robbing God (Mal. 3:8–10).

The command not to bear false witness originated in the setting of the court, where witnesses were under oath to tell the truth. But in its broader application, it is a prohibition against untruthfulness of any kind. The tongue is a powerful weapon (James 3:5–6); it can destroy as surely as killing does, whether it is the malicious lie, gossip, propaganda or a half-truth. Insincere flattery or keeping silent when another’s reputation is being maligned unjustly violates the spirit of this command.

The last commandment involves one’s thoughts rather than overt actions. The Hebrew word for “covet” is itself a neutral word that means “desire” or “to take pleasure in.” It is only when desire is directed into wrong channels that it becomes sin.

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