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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Exodus 20

Verses 1-3

EXODUS - CHAPTER TWENTY

Verses 1-3:

God prefaced the giving of the Law by establishing Himself as the authority. "I am Jehovah thy Elohe," the One who delivered Israel from Egypt and slavery.

The "Commandments," lit., "the Words," begin with God’s claim to priority. "Thou" in the text is singular, meaning that the "Word" was directed to each individual in the nation, as well as to the nation as a whole.

"Before" is "beside" or "in addition to." This "Word" requires the worship of Jehovah alone. He confirmed this claim in His superiority over Egypt’s gods.

Verses 4-6

Verses 4-6:

This "Word" is not a prohibition of the art of sculpture or painting. This is evident in the construction of the Tabernacle, which included both statues and embroidery work depicting angels. This "Word" forbids the worship of God under any material form. In the ancient world, the images of the gods were reverenced.

There was a special rite in Greece in which the gods were induced into their statues.

"Graven" pesel, applies to molten as well as graven images, perhaps because both were finished with graving tools, see Isa 40:19; 44:10; Jer 10:14.

"Jealous" qanna, "Jealous;" not of success or greatness, but jealous of His own honor. He will not permit the honor which is His due, to be given to others, animate or inanimate, see Jos 24:19.

The latter clause of v. 5 does not teach that God arbitrarily places the guilt of parents’ sins upon the children to the fourth generation. Neither does it teach that children are not responsible’ for their sins. Ezek. chapter 18 affirms that each person is responsible for his own sins. What this clause does teach is: the sins of parents affect the lives of their children to the fourth generation. A parent sows the seed of immorality in his life, and contacts a venereal disease, which may be transmitted to the children. Or, a parent has a bitter spirit; the children grow up in an atmosphere of bitterness, and learn to partake of it.

The law of genetics applies in this instance. The full extent of this law is not known today. However, research has established that a parent who is a drug-abuser or who is a drunkard may pass on a genetic trait that shows up in his children as a weakness for drugs or alcohol.

This principle does not mean that one may say, "I am not responsible for my drunkenness, because my father was a drunk," and absolve himself from quilt. It is possible for one to break the chain of immorality or rebellion, by turning to the Lord and applying His principles in life.

Verse 7

Verse 7:

"Name" means more than the written or spoken title of God. It refers to His reputation, honor, and the means by which He manifests His glory.

"Vain"shav, is "vanity" or "false-swearing."

This third "Word" forbids the use of the Name of Jehovah for untruth or for empty words in false swearing, idle talk, cursing, or magic.

Among the ancients, perjury was punishable by death.

Verses 8-11

Verses 8-11:

This fourth "Word" implies Israel’s previous knowledge and observance of the Sabbath. Prior to the giving of the Law, Sabbath observance appears to have been voluntary. But the giving of the Law made it mandatory, and violation of it was a capital offense, Nu 15:32-36.

God’s work of creation is the basis of the Sabbath law. The principle of one day out of seven for rest, was established in the dawn of history, Ge 2:1-3. It is true that today God’s people are not under the mandatory provisions of the Sabbath law, see Col 2:14-17. However, God has never nullified the principle of the Sabbath, which requires one day of the week devoted to prayer, worship, and rest.

Verses 12-17

Verses 12-17:

The first four "Words" or commands deal with man’s relationship to God. The last six "Words" or commands deal with man’s relationship to man.

The fifth "Word" imposes the obligation of respect for parents. This principle was honored throughout the ancient world, among pagans as well as God’s, people. A child who will not honor his parents will not honor God.

Disrespect for and disobedience toward parents was a capital crime under the Law, see De 21:18-21. While this is not true today, this principle still applies, Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20.

This fifth "Word" is the first of all commandments with promise. The one who obeys it is promised long life.

The sixth "Word" is, "Thou shalt not kill." The Hebrew word is ratsach, meaning "to murder, pierce." Nine other words are translated "kill." The meanings vary: slay, put to death, slaughter, smite, wound. A literal translation of this text: "Thou shalt do no murder." It does not apply to the judicial sentence of execution for a capital crime.

The seventh "Word" prohibits immorality, sexual sins. "Adultery" naaph, refers to any act of a moral nature which violates the marriage covenant bond. See Mt 5:28; Ro 1:24; Eph 5:3; Pr 6:25, 26.

The eighth "Word" prohibits theft, the taking of that which belongs to another, by any means. It respects the individual’s right to hold personal property. See Mal 3:8; Pr 11:1; 16:8; 21:6; 22:16; Jer 17:11.

The ninth "Word" may be literally translated: ’ ’Thou shalt not answer against thy neighbor as a false witness, or a witness of falsehood." Compare with De 5:20 ("a witness of vanity). This shows that both untrue and unfounded statements against one’s neighbor are included in this commandment.

The tenth "Word" is a prohibition against a sin of the heart or will. It forbids all wrong, inordinate desires toward anything that belongs to someone else. In reality, this provision of the Law is the one most likely to awaken an awareness of sin, Ro 7:7. The other nine "Words" refer primarily to outward deeds, and these stem from the innermost thoughts and desires of the heart.

Verses 18-21

Verses 18-21:

The people saw the awesome manifestations of God’s presence upon the Mount Sinai, and they were filled with fear. They heard the sound of God’s voice in thunderings, but were likely unable to discern the words He spoke.

"Moses said. . ." not immediately, but after conferring with God, see De 5:28. God had not come to execute terror or vengeance upon the people, but to "prove" to test them, to see whether or not they were inclined to submit to Him.

Verses 22-23

Verses 22, 23:

Here God re-affirms that He is the Author of the "Words" or Law, and that the people are to obey Him. This is in part a repetition of the second "Word" forbidding the making of any kind of image by which to worship God.

Verses 24-26

Verses 24-26:

Altars were indispensable to Divine worship, as a place to offer sacrifices. They were often provided on short notice, constructed of sod or stones collected on the spot.

Burnt offerings and peace offerings were common long before the giving of the Law, see Ge 8:20; 12:7; 22:9; 35:1.

God’s promise (v. 24) of blessing was conditional upon an acceptable altar, and acceptable sacrifices.

Stone altars were acceptable to God (Ge 28:20-22; 31:45-49). The provision in this text is that the stones be used in their natural state, unhewn by any tool.

The prohibition of steps upon the altar was primarily for modesty. The garments commonly worn were robes. If one ascended steps, or was on an elevation, he could easily be exposed.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Exodus 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/exodus-20.html. 1985.