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Scripture reading: Exodus 19-20

All of Israel witnessed the outward manifestation of God’s heavenly glory as smoke and fire engulfed Mount Sinai. The trumpet blasts warned man, woman, and beast that none dared approach the mount and live (19:12-13). Then, out of the midst of the mountain, the LORD was heard saying, “I am the LORD [Jehovah; Eternal, Self-Existent God] thy God [Elohim], which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (20:2).

Exodus 20

The Ten Commandments were part of the LORD’S covenant with Israel, and the people were commanded to hear, heed, and obey them (20:1-17).

The first commandment stated, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (20:3). Unlike the neighboring nations who worshipped innumerable gods, Israel was to worship one God—Yahweh, Elohim, the True, Eternal, Self-existent One.

The second commandment was, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (20:4-6). Unlike their neighbors, Israel was not to worship idols or images like Israel’s God. The people were warned that the family would bear the guilt for violating the second commandment and thereby invoke God’s judgment “upon the children” (20:5).

The third commandment reminded Israel that the essence of God’s character was summed up in His name. We read, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (20:7). God’s name was to be honored and not spoken of lightly or in vain. The name and meaning of Israel’s God was to be hallowed.

The fourth commandment served as a reminder that Israel’s God was Creator, and the Sabbath would serve as a day of rest and a memorial to His handiwork. Of the Sabbath, we read: “8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (20:8-11). The Sabbath Day, the seventh day of the week, was dedicated to the LORD as a day of worship and rest (31:16-17).

The fifth commandment moved the emphasis of the Law and Commandments from man’s relationship with his Creator to his relationship with his fellow man. Israel was commanded, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (20:12). Because fathers and mothers represented God’s authority, sons and daughters of Israel were to honor and revere their parents. Likewise, the elderly were to be honored and revered; any who failed were condemned (Deuteronomy 27:16). The fifth commandment also carried a particular promise and reward–long life (20:12b; Ephesians 6:1-3).

The sixth commandment was a reminder of the sanctity of human life: “Thou shalt not kill” (20:13). Because Adam was created in God’s image, the life of man and woman were to be valued as sacred (Genesis 1:27; 2:7, 21-22).

The seventh commandment served as a reminder of the sanctity of marriage. The LORD commanded Israel, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (20:14). From the beginning, God established the institution of marriage as a sacred covenant between Himself and the man and woman. It was ordained by their Creator that “man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). As “one flesh,” the bond between the husband and his wife is not to be broken (Genesis 2:24). So sacred is the institution of marriage, that it served in the New Testament as a picture of Christ’s enduring love for believers and the church (Ephesians 5:30-32; Matthew 5:27-29).

The eighth commandment established the right of ownership. It stated: Thou shalt not steal” (20:15). Thus, to take that which belonged to another (whether by theft or deceit) was a sin against God and man (Ephesians 4:28).

The ninth commandment demanded that truth would prevail. We read, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (20:16). God’s people were to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 25, 29), and libel, slander, or bearing false witness was a grievous sin.

The tenth commandment stated, “Thou shalt not covet,” and focused upon desires for that which belonged to another. So we read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (20:17). Though manifested outwardly, covetousness is deeply-rooted within the heart of man.

The Manner of Worship Required by a Holy God (Exodus 20:18-26)

Having forbidden idols and images of Himself (20:4-6; 23-25), the LORD was also concerned about the attitude and manner of those who approached His altar to worship and offer sacrifices. Therefore, steps were forbidden at the altar to preserve a modest, respectful decorum, lest those who worshipped be perceived as immodest (20:26).

Closing thoughts:

The LORD’S expectations for Israel’s altar, and His demand for modesty, should be instructive. The priests were commanded to conduct themselves in a manner befitting the holiness of God. There were not to allow “nakedness” (immodesty) to distract those who worshipped the LORD (20:26).

Tragically, “anything goes” seems to be the mode of worshippers in the 21st-century church. I fear there is little thought given to the manner or style of worshiping God who is holy.

Questions to consider:

1) Was Israel permitted to have and worship a physical likeness (image) of God? (Exodus 20:4)

2) What were the people promised if they kept God’s Commandments? (20:6)

3) Why was Israel commanded to consider the Sabbath a holy day? (20:11)

4) What two commandments stressed the sanctity of human life and marriage? (Exodus 20:13-14)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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