Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 20

Verse 1

And God spake all these words, saying,

And God spake all these words, [ kaal (H3605) hadªbaariym (H1697)] - words, precepts, or commandments, all bear the same meaning, and are used synonymously by the sacred writers [Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 5:4; Deuteronomy 18:19: cf. Mark 7:13, where ton (G3588) logon (G3056) tou (G5120) Theou (G2316) is used for teen (G3588) entoleen (G1785) tou (G5120) Theou (G2316) (Matthew 15:6), and en (G1722) heni (G1520) logoo (G3056) (Galatians 5:14)]. These passages, in which the terms are used as synonymous, are sufficient to prove that 'the words' here refer to the Ten Commandments; and there was the greatest propriety in the use of this phraseology in preference to any other, inasmuch as it more clearly and distinctly intimates the quarter whence they came. Had the historian related simply that God promulgated all these commandments, it might have been supposed that they had, like other announcements of the divine will, been first communicated in privacy to Moses, and by him afterward announced to the people. But when we are told that "God spake all the words" that follow, the selection of a term so strictly confined to the expression of audible sound, was made to intimate that God uttered them. And this view accords with all the representations of the same memorable transaction, which are given in other parts of the in spired volume (Deuteronomy 6:12-13,32-33 ).

Let the expressions used in these two passages of Deuteronomy be taken in connection with the circumstance that Moses was not at this time in secret communication with God in the sublime recesses of the mountain, but, as intimated (Exodus 19:25), had gone down to speak unto the people, and there are grounds amply sufficient to warrant the conclusion that, without his instrumentality, these words were spoken in sounds resembling indeed the tones of a human voice, but issuing from no mortal or created lips. Uttered from the summit of a lofty mountain, whether Jebel Musa, or Ras Safsafeh, they were heard and understood by the whole of the assembled multitude. Articulate sounds, spoken in the ordinary tone of conversation, are heard in that locality distinctly at a distance of which we in this land, from our different experience, can form no conception. Words interchanged in the familiar communication of friends high on the side, or even near the summit, of the mountain, are perfectly intelligible to persons standing in the farthest extremity of the immense valley below (Sandie, 'Horeb and Jerusalem,' pp. 204, 205). - "These words" were spoken in the mother tongue of the Israelites; and should it be objected that a residence of four centuries in Egypt must have led to their losing the familiar use of the old language, and, by constant contact with the natives of that country, to their adoption of the Egyptian, the answer is:

(1) That a large portion of the Israelites, retaining the habits of nomadic shepherds, continued an isolated class, preserving their ancestral language pure and in daily use.

(2) That others who were scattered throughout the land, being an oppressed and persecuted caste, would interchange their feelings and sense of wrongs by mutual communings in their own tongue.

(3) That the pious portion of them, like the modern Jews of the dispersion, might have used the old as a sacred language in their religious services.

Thus, a knowledge of the Hebrew language would be preserved among the vast majority of Israelites even during their protracted sojourn in the land of the Nile; and a minute but striking instance of the familiar use of that dialect is furnished by their exclamation on the first appearance of the manna (see the note at Exodus 16:15). Since it was the divine purpose, by the institution of many rites and ceremonies, to isolate this people, so the same purpose might be contemplated by the promulgation of the "words" in a language with which all the special traditions of the Abrahamic family were associated.

The Speaker was the Divine Being-that representative of God who had appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), and who had led the Israelites, from Egypt to their present encampment amid the wild solitudes of Sinai, in a pillar of cloud and of fire. There is no intimation or hint given in the Pentateuch that any other spoke to them. It is stated, indeed (Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalms 68:17), that the Lord on His descent upon Sinai was attended by myriads of holy ones - i:e., angels, who, as these passages seem to indicate, were present as witnesses at the promulgation of the law.

But further revelations are made. In the New Testament, Stephen says, that "the law was given eis (G1519) diatagas (G1296) angeloon (G32), by the disposition of angels." Paul declares that it was diatageis (G1299) di' (G1223) angeloon (G32), ordained by angels; while, Hebrews 2:2 has: ho (G3588) di' (G1223) angeloon (G32) laleetheis (G2980) logos (G3056), "the word spoken by angels," appears to define precisely the office they performed on this occasion, which the vague expression diatassoo (G1299) left undetermined. These passages, in their bearing upon the Mosaic narrative, have been variously interpreted. Without dwelling on the views either of one party who, founding on Psalms 104:4, regard "angels" merely as material elements-a view refuted by Hebrews 12:19 - or on that of another who, as Heinsius, Lightfoot, etc., taking "angels" as human messengers, consider the reference to be to Moses and the long series of prophets, which also seems a lame and impotent conclusion (see Bloomfield and Alford, locis citatis), it may suffice to say, that the generality of commentators agree in educing from the apostolic declarations the fact of angelic ministration at the giving of the law; but they are divided in opinion as to the actual service which the angels rendered. Some, as Kurtz, suppose that their agency was enlisted in raising the terrific phenomena which ushered in the impressive scene; in other words, the ministerial arrangement of things connected with the promulgation was executed by angels; and Henderson, who supports this hypothesis, thus expounds it: 'God distinctly and audibly delivered His law on the mountain, and each commandment, as it was pronounced, was repeated in loud and thrilling tones by the vast company of angels by whom He was surrounded, as long afterward at his birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:13-14).'

Others, as Keil, Hengstenberg, etc., maintain that the angels [diatagai, troops or hosts of angels] were present merely as attendants to impart pomp and solemnity to the descent of the Divine Majesty; and they consider that the point of contrast intended by the apostle in Hebrews 2:2, was between the glory of "the angel of the Lord" when He came to Sinai attended by a vast retinue of inferior angels, and the same Being when He appeared alone in His own glory as the only begotten Son of God.

"These words" were first spoken, and afterward inscribed on two tables of stone; and hence, probably arose a phraseology which has been current in all ages of the Church ever since the promulgation of the law, of describing it as divided into two parts, called the two tables of the law; the first table delineating the duties men owe to God, the second specifying the duties that relate to their fellow-men. It is a most natural division, founded on the distinct and different character of the precepts themselves, and this mode of classifying them has received the sanction of Christ himself (Matthew 22:37-40).

The moral law, or decalogue, as it is called, from being summarily comprehended in 'these ten words,' was not originated when it was promulgated from Sinai. It was coeval with the creation of man, and stamped upon his nature. But the original impress on the human heart had become, through long and increasing corruption, almost obliterated; and, if it was not to be totally lost, was necessary that it should be republished and incorporated with divine revelation. It was, in one sense, a republication by divine authority of the law of nature. But it was announced on this occasion in a special connection with Judaism, because it was to form the basis of the national constitution in Israel; and thus, in another sense, it does not belong to the department of ethics alone; it had to the ancient people of God a civil as well as a moral aspect; through its relation to Yahweh it became a theocratic as well as a moral law.

"These words" were expressed in the concrete form of application to the Israelite nation in its unity - i:e., to every individual of that people. 'This simple and terse method was evidently the most suitable for the purpose of being the basis of the Israelite constitution, since a national legislation can hold its subjects amenable only for overt acts. But the goodness of God was conspicuous in making the last of the commandments refer to a state of mind, thus furnishing a direction and an excitement to such serious reflection as would not fail to bring out the constructive interpretation leading to the widest extent of practical religion.-Thus a provision was made for the cultivation of religious knowledge and practice, as we find them developed in the Psalms and other Old Testament Books;-thus a foundation was laid for the conviction of sin and a longing for redemption' (Romans 8:7-25); and thus 'the law was a schoolmaster (paedagogue) to lead us to Christ' (Pye Smith).

"These words" comprise the whole duty of man; and, as interpreted by Christ, they are so comprehensive, that there is no conceivable condition in which the human race can exist, where these precepts are not applicable as a rule. The language of each is so brief and so precise as to be capable of furnishing a perfect guide for the moral government of man. It is so immeasurably superior in its character to that of all other nations, that there is no way of accounting for its existence, except by ascribing it to divine revelation. Even infidels themselves are constrained to admit this high origin. For how came the Jews to possess so pure and admirable a law? How were they distinguished for such a sublime code of morality, while all other people, some of them far superior in civilization and the arts to the Hebrews, fell so far short of them in this respect? There is no way of accounting for so extraordinary a fact, except on the admission that the law originated from a higher wisdom than that of Moses. It was God who "spake all these words" The Decalogue occurs in Deuteronomy 5:1-33 with some slight variations; but it is evident that the form given in this passage is the original copy.

Verse 2

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt. God's right to give laws to the Hebrew nation is not founded upon His being the one only God, but upon His having by miraculous interpositions and works of power laid the foundations of their state-not upon His character and claims as the Creator of heaven and earth, but upon His special relation to them as their national Founder and Protector; and hence, by the unparalleled services which He had rendered to the Israelites, He had acquired all the title to their willing and grateful obedience that a benefactor could possibly have. This verse is commonly termed "the preface to the Ten Commandments." Several Jewish writers-Talmud, Targum, Jonathan, and Maimonides-regard this as forming a distinct precept.

The Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutherans after the example of Augustine, divide the commandments into the duties pertaining to God, comprised in the first three, and those relating to man, contained in the remaining seven. In their view also which is supported by the Masoretic division, the first commandment extends from Exodus 20:2 to Exodus 20:6; the second commandment is expressed in Exodus 20:7; and in order to make up the required number ten, they divide Exodus 20:17 into two. One part prohibits the coveting of another's house, the second part the coveting of another's wife, etc. (see the note at Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18). The various branches of the Protestant Church consider Exodus 20:2 as merely introductory; and follow the natural and obvious distribution of the commandments into those which have reference to God, Exodus 20:3-11, and those which regulate the conduct of man to his fellows (see Kurtz, ch. 3:, p. 123; Kiel and Delitzsch, Clark's Ed., ch. 2:, pp. 108, 109).

Verse 3

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me - Heb., Let there not be, or, There shall not be to thee other gods [ `al (H5921) paanaaya (H6440)] over and above me [Septuagint, pleen emou, except, besides me]. Michaelis, who considers this commandment as intimately connected with the preceding statement, remarks ('Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' vol. 1:, art. 33) that it was addressed to a people born and bred in a polytheistic land, and deeply imbued with the idolatrous tendencies of its people; and that, viewed in this light, the purport of it was, 'Lest you should absurdly suppose that there are many gods who can hear your prayers and recompense your offerings, know that I alone have delivered you from Egyptian tyranny, have made you a people, and am the author and founder of your state; therefore, let no gods but me be worshipped among you.' The unity of the Divine Being was a fundamental article of their religion. It was no esoteric doctrine, but proclaimed publicly to all classes of the people. The establishment of the true religion, comprehending, as a first principle, the knowledge and belief of one invisible God, in the midst of nations where Polytheism and Pantheism universally prevailed, is alone sufficient to show that the theology of the Jews had a different origin from that of the neighbouring people-was not the result of their superior intelligence, but was divinely communicated. This pure and absolute monotheism was also the basis of the national covenant. The Israelites required to be worshippers of one God by outward profession, which is the only token of obedience to the command which, as a nation, they could give: and whenever they violated this commandment, which formed the hinge on which the whole theocracy turned - i:e., when Yahweh was publicly and nationally disowned-they forfeited their title to the possession of the land of Canaan.

Verses 4-6

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:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, [ pecel (H6459), a carved image, either of wood or stone; Septuagint, eidoolon].

Or any likeness, [ tªmuwnaah (H8544), appearance, form; Septuagint, homoiooma] - namely, of Yahweh (Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:15). Both of these words, taken in connection with Deuteronomy 4:15, are considered by eminent critics as prohibiting the worship of Yahweh under any visible and material representation; but undoubtedly they include images or likenesses of pagan deities also (Judges 17:3; 2 Kings 21:7).

That is in heaven above - namely, angels, the sun, moon, and stars, images of which were made, as seen on Assyrian sculptures, in the form of discs, crescents, rayed stars, etc., used in Zabaism or astrolatry, the oldest form of idolatry in the world; bright light in the image of Baal or Bel, and pale light in that of Astarte;-birds (Deuteronomy 4:17-18), the hawk, eagle.

Or that is in the earth beneath - deified heroes, statues of men and women, as male and female divinities, representing the different stages of life-the old man and the youth, the matron and the virgin; and the myths relating to the influences of such gods (Mover's 'Die Phonizier,' 1:, p. 148, quoted 'Bib. Cyc.,' vol. 2:, 3); and images of beasts-the calf Mnevis of Heliopolis, the bull Apis of Memphis, etc.; and reptiles, frogs, scarabaeus, the Egyptian beetle.

Or that is in the water under the earth - crocodiles, Dagon.

Verse 5. Thou shalt not bow - i:e., 'make in order to bow.' Under the auspices of Moses himself, figures of cherubim, brazen serpents, oxen, and many other things were made and never condemned. The mere making of them was no sin, it was the making with the intent to give idolatrous worship.

For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, [ 'Eel (H410) qanaa' (H7067)] (Exodus 34:14) - a God who cannot brook a rival, cannot receive a partial or divided homage [Septuagint, Theos xeelootees], zealous for his own honour (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11).

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation, [ baaniym (H1121) `al (H5921) shileeshiym (H8029)] - descendants of the third generation (Genesis 50:23); [ bªneey (H1121) baaniym (H1121)] grandchildren are not mentioned here (Gesenius), as the purpose is to show the punishment of the fathers' sins will extend to their remote posterity. This denunciation of a severe penalty does not refer to such natural evils as leprosy, which Michaelis specifies, phthisis, insanity, which result from the inheritance of a vitiated bodily constitution, or poverty and infamy, which are often entailed upon their offspring by wicked parents. It has a special reference, as is clearly indicated by the words;

of them that hate me - i:e., of idolaters.

The infliction of the severe penalty denounced was, it must be particularly noticed, reserved by God to Himself, not delegated to a human magistrate; because under the Jewish, as under all wise and equitable governments, it was a settled principle that 'the fathers should not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers; every man should be put to death for his own sin' (Deuteronomy 24:16). 'Now God's appropriating to Himself the execution of this law, would abundantly justify the equity of it, even supposing it had been given by Him as a part of universal religion: for why was the magistrate forbidden to imitate God's method of punishing, but because no power less than omniscient could in all cases keep clear of injustice in such an inquisition? Nor was this sanction chargeable with cruelty more than with injustice. It is, indeed, evident that to extend the temporal punishment denounced against idolatry by the Jewish law to the family of the idolater might be the tenderest mercy, as the most probable method of checking the contagion of that infectious crime among a people who were habituated to consider temporal punishment as the sure criterion of divine displeasure, and on whom its infliction was therefore the only effectual mode of awakening to serious reflection ordinary providential government which Yahweh judged it necessary to exercise over the Jewish nation, since national rewards and punishments necessarily extended beyond the limits of a single generation, in order to produce any permanent and general effect.

And, finally, it was strictly analogous to the general system of the divine government over the whole human race; since in what is termed the common course of events we perpetually find families and nations, for a long series of years, involved in the mischiefs arising from their parents' follies and crimes, or enjoying the blessings derived from their wisdom, virtue, and fortitude. The Jewish scheme proceeded on exactly the same principles, with this only difference, that the supreme Yahweh, the immediate sovereign as well as the tutelary God of the Hebrew nation, undertook to dispense this as well as every other species of reward and punishment, by an immediate and extraordinary providence, in which justice should be tempered with abundant mercy, confining the providential and temporal punishment for the parent's crimes (as in the captivity) to the third and fourth generation; while it encouraged adherence to virtue and to piety, by the assurance of a reward, similar, indeed, in kind, but infinitely superior in degree, and which, under the common course of events, could not be hoped for; promising to extend the blessings obtained by parental faith and obedience (as in the case of Abraham) to the thousandth generation of those who love God,' (Graves 'On the Pentateuch,' part 3:, sec. 3: see also Warburton's 'Divine Legation,' b. 5:, sec. 5; Michaelis' 'Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' b. 5:, art. 229; Magee 'On the Atonement,' note 42; Calmet's 'Fragments,' by Taylor, cccxxxix. and cccxl.)

It may be added, that the threats and curse denounced against idolatry, though annexed only to this commandment, are apparently designed for breaches of the first as well as of the second precept of the law. Although they were inflicted by God in the exercise of His extraordinary providence toward the Hebrew nation, the uniform course of history and experience attests the philosophical truth and soundness of this corollary to the second commandment, that the iniquity of the fathers in bowing down to and serving graven images is visited upon the children of the third and fourth generation of those that hate the Lord. It is exemplified in the degradation of the pagan. Every people who adopt a false religion begin to deteriorate in character and condition, and in proportion as they become blind worshippers of stocks and stones, they gravitate to the lowest point in the social scale, whereas a steadfast adherence to true religion invariably leads to intellectual progress and moral dignity.

Verse 7

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.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, [ lashaaw' (H7723)] - Thou shalt not utter the name of Yahweh to a falsehood; i:e., Thou shalt not swear falsely (Gesenius). A different meaning is attached to these words by Hengstenberg, who ('Pentateuch,' vol. 1:, p. 290) explains them thus: 'Thou shalt not attribute (carry) nothingness to the name of Yahweh thy God. Yahweh, the I AM, who had revealed Himself as such to Israel, must not be confounded with nothingness.'

The commandment, according to his view, is directed against hypocrisy in general, of which the essence is falsehood-the donation of God into the sphere of nothingness, of which perjury is only one species. [Hengstenberg and Keil maintain that naasaa' (H5375) sheem (H8034) never means to 'utter a name,' but to 'take up, to raise;' but Gesenius has proved that this verb, which signifies to take up, is frequently used in the sense of 'uttering' (Exodus 23:1; Numbers 23:7; Job 27:1; Psalms 15:3; Psalms 139:20; Isaiah 37:4). Keil holds that shaaw' (H7723) does not signify a lie, but from its etymon, shaa'aah (H7582), to be waste, denotes what is vain, nugatory, that for which there is no occasion. The Septuagint has: ou leepsee epi mataioo, 'Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God upon a vain thing, a trifling, frivolous occasion.'] This accords with our Lord's exposition of the commandment, as prohibiting all swearing in ordinary social conversation-all light and irreverent use of the name, titles, attributes, works of God, or anything that is His.

For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain "not hold him guiltless" = hold him guilty. In a later age of Jewish history the Rabbis perverted the meaning of this precept by limiting its application to the use of the name [ Yahweh (H3068)], Jehovah, and hence, they not only tolerated, but sanctioned the practice of swearing in common conversation as quite harmless, provided the reference to God was not directly expressed. Our Lord exposes the falsity of this rabbinical gloss by showing that it was a violation of the law. Henceforth all light appeals and useless references to the Divine Being were to be avoided; and in regard to the spirit of the law, which implies that God knows all that is said, a simple affirmation or negation is all that is required. It is observable, that while God speaks in the first person throughout the first and second commandments, there is here a transition to the third person.

Verses 8-11

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. To keep holy or sanctify the Sabbath is to appropriate it to sacred purposes; and the purport of this commandment is, that as the Sabbath properly signifies rest and leisure from servile work, and at the same time is used to denote the seventh day, which God at the beginning of the present worldly system consecrated to holy rest, to enjoin by a special precept the duty of hallowing it by a total suspension of all labour, both personal and domestic. The word "Remember" implies that it was well known and recognized.

Verse 10. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God literally, a Sabbath to the Lord thy God;

i.e., a rest from labour and consecrated to religion.

In it thou shalt not do any work literally, 'Thou shalt not do every work:' but the meaning undoubtedly is, 'thou shalt do no work,' conformably to a well-known rule in Hebrew grammar, relating to the interpretation of all with a negative (Ewald, sec. 576).

(thy cattle - i:e., the beasts employed in the service of man - "the ox and the donkey" are specified elsewhere (Deuteronomy 5:14). The horse, the use of which was prohibited in the law, is not mentioned. Ewald thinks the camel is included in the "cattle." Thus, the lower animals were allowed to participate in the privileges of the Sabbath in common with their owners. With the exception of the Jewish code, it does not appear that the useful animals ever obtained the benefit of any legal enactments. The principle of humanity to beasts of labour was never assumed as a basis of legislation in any of the national codes of the ancient world.

Nor thy stranger - i:e., foreigner. The mention of a stranger being to observe a Sabbath is a proof that the command of a Sabbath is not merely Jewish, as has frequently been asserted. No stranger could join in eating the Passover without being circumcised, and thereby initiated into Judaism: but a stranger might, nay, was obliged, as the commandment runs, to keep the Sabbath, though he had not been circumcised. The reason of this remarkable distinction is, that circumcision was a national, and the Sabbath a universal institution: the former was given in command to Abraham, and obligatory only on his descendants; while the latter was given to Adam, the father of all mankind (Kennicott). [The Septuagint, however, has proseelutos-one who, though uncircumcised, had become a worshipper of the true God (see the notes at Exodus 12:19; Exodus 12:45; cf. Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 31:12, where gar is used for an uncircumcised person). But generally the distinction is sufficiently marked by the sacred historian employing gar for a sojourner or proselyte, and thoshab for a foreigner].

Within thy gates, [ bish`aareykaa (H8179)] (cf. Deuteronomy 5:14). This expression occurs in the original form, as well as in the recapitulation of the law; and yet it is objected by Davidson (Introduction) that it was inapplicable in the desert. But it is a wide and comprehensive phrase, used with reference to habitations both in settled and nomadic life: the gate of a palace (Esther 2:19; Esther 2:21), of the temple (Ezra 8:5; Ezra 8:10; Ezra 8:19), of a city (Genesis 23:18; Joshua 2:7), as well as of a camp (Exodus 32:26-27), though neither of a house nor a tent. [The Septuagint has: ho proseelutos, ho paroikoon en soi, dwelling with you].

Verse 11. For in six days the Lord made, [ `aasaah (H6213), not baaraa' (H1254), created]. The operation referred to in this passage-namely, the making of the "heaven," or firmament, "the earth," "the sea, and all that in them is" - is that described, Genesis 1:6-27. The words which were spoken by Yahweh Himself, and afterward given by Him as a permanent record on stone, do not assert that the work of creation was begun and entirely completed in six days. Only so much of the creative process is referred to as related to the law of the Sabbath, the six days of the Adamic creation. In other words, the object of the passage is not to touch upon anything that might, or might not, have taken place in the universe, or even on this globe, prior to the first day of the Adamic creation; its specific design is to determine that nothing was done after the sixth day.

The reason assigned for the sanctification of the Hebrew Sabbath is here enjoined on the ground not only of the divine conduct in 'resting on the seventh day, but in blessing and hallowing it;' whereas it is enforced, Deuteronomy 5:15, upon the Israelites from a consideration of their release from Egyptian bondage. And hence, it has been maintained that Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch, since these two motives are widely different, and that there is reason to conclude that this verse, which refers to so remote an era, is a gloss or comment introduced by some later hand. But there is no external evidence furnished, either by Hebrew MSS. or versions, for the hypothesis that this passage was a later interpolation, nor is there any internal proof on the ground of discrepancy; because the enforcement of the Sabbath by two different motives does not constitute two discordant precepts; and it is far from being unusual with the sacred writers to adduce a secondary reason, as if it were one, in urging preceptive truths which had been previously announced.

The law of the Sabbath was constituted a memorial of creation: and hence, the reason here assigned must be considered as demonstrating its universal obligation. It is not a reason applicable to any one age, or to one class of men more than to another. All classes of men are bound to obey and glorify the Creator; and the devout observance of the Sabbath is one of the methods divinely appointed for that end. This statute of religion, then, as thus enforced, maintains its primordial character even when incorporated with the code of Sinai. For the physical rest, though necessarily made prominent in the prohibitory form of the enactment (and, forming part of the law of the land, was severely punishable, Numbers 15:32), did not certainly comprehend the whole or the chief object of the institution. Such abstinence from 'any manner of work' would not be equivalent to 'keeping holy the Sabbath day.' It is a part-an important, but not the principal, end of it, which was to afford an opportunity of worshipping God (pp. 9, 28, 29).

The prohibition of "any work" appears absolute; but our Lord explained and proven that the degree of restriction admitted of considerable latitude; for instance, works of necessity and mercy were in full accordance with the spirit and design of the commandment (Matthew 12:11; Luke 14:5). In this respect it is a moral precept, adapted to the character of intelligent creatures, and founded on their relations to the Creator. It has been said, indeed, this commandment alone, of the ten words, is partly moral and partly positive, because it has a small addition of positive precept in the case of a specified time for religious duties. But such an addition cannot affect the real character of the commandment-for although a circumstance may be appended to or conjoined with it, it still remains intrinsically moral, being in its own nature of eternal and immutable obligation.

This seems to be a juster and more correct view than that of Owen and others, who represent the Sabbath as a positive and ceremonial institution, having a moral purpose in it: for if it be not pre-eminently moral in its principle, how comes it to have been placed in the center of the Decalogue? 'Where throughout this code,' says Dr. Richard Hamilton ('Horae et Vindiciae Sabbaticae), 'is the statute of religion, if it be not in its fourth precept? Where else is it written, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart?" (Matthew 22:37.) Not in those which precede it: they are only interdicts upon Polytheism, idol-worship, and profanity. Not in those which follow; because they only regard the ethics of man, and of man in the present state. But "on those two commandments," or summaries and heads of commandments, "hang all the law and the prophets." Here it is to be found, if found at all.'

Hengstenberg ('Lord's Day'), after adverting to Bengel's remark, that the subject of the Sabbath occupies a considerable portion of the evangelical history, says, 'This fact is of no small importance. It can scarcely be supposed that the Lord would have taken so much care to correct the erroneous opinions which prevailed in his time as to the Sabbath, if this had been in its essence an Old Testament institution. But He distinctly declared that "the Sabbath was made for man" - man in general.'

Verse 12

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Honour thy father and thy mother - by expressions of respect and reverence for them, as instrumentally the representatives of God, and by every token of attention and considerate regard for their support and comfort. This commandment holds a high place in the rank of social duties, and comes next in order after the law of the Sabbath, with which it is associated (Leviticus 19:3). Love is the sentiment required to be cherished toward our fellow-men (Leviticus 19:18), but honour or 'fear' toward parents. There is a solitary instance of apparent neglect to His mother in the life of Jesus; but His conduct, as explained by Himself, was perfectly consistent with the utmost respect to His human parents (Luke 2:49).

This commandment, in its spirit and legitimate range, extends beyond natural parents to rulers, who existed at the time of its delivery in the form of patriarchal governors (Exodus 22:28; Genesis 45:8; Judges 5:7), as well as to prophets and teachers, who are frequently called "fathers" (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:1-25; 2 Kings 14:1-29: cf. Psalms 34:11; Psalms 45:10; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 1:10; Proverbs 1:15).

That thy days may be long upon the land - i:e., that thou mayest live long in the land; said either of the Israelites collectively, that if they were distinguished by a race of obedient children they would enjoy a lengthened possession of the land of promise, or with regard to individuals, that by piety and righteousness they would, through the natural tendency of these, as well as by the blessing of God secured by them, attain a protracted longevity (Deuteronomy 6:2) in this world, which will be the pledge and prelude of eternal life in the next.

In Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 22:7, as well as in Ephesians 6:3, the additional clause, "that it may be well with thee," is inserted apparently with no other view than to bring out the meaning more fully. Those who walk in the ways of the Lord find, as the general course of history and experience attests, this divine premise fulfilled. A remarkable instance is recorded in Scripture, (Jeremiah 35:1-19.) To this day the Rechabites are living monuments of the truth of this promise ('Journal' of Dr. Joseph Wolff).-The commandments in the second table of the law relate to violations of social order-in deed, in word, and in thought or desire. The first three stand in our present Hebrew Bibles is the following order;-prohibitions of acts against life, marriage, and property. In the Septuagint they are arranged differently-marriage, property, and life.

Verse 13

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not kill. 'Killing' is not what is prohibited, otherwise the judicial infliction of capital punishment, as well as the slaughter of an enemy in defensive war, would be unlawful-in which light these were certainly not regarded by the Israelites in the time of Moses (Exodus 21:14; Deuteronomy 19:11; Deuteronomy 31:9). [ Lo' (H3808) tirtsaach (H7523), Thou shalt not commit murder. The verb signifies to slay with premeditation and malice, and is properly rendered by the Septuagint: ou (G3756) foneuseis (G5407).] Of course, the interdict includes not only the actual perpetration of murder, but every deed that tends to the danger of life, as well as to personal injury, and the criminality of the act consists in its being an assault upon the image of God (Genesis 9:6). 'The omission of the object still remains to be noticed, as showing that the prohibition includes not only the killing of a fellowman, but the destruction of one's own life, or suicide' (Kiel).

Verse 14

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not commit adultery, [ lo' (H3808) tin'aap (H5003)] - a word used with reference both to man and woman (cf. Leviticus 20:10); and although the verb is in the second person singular masculine, like the rest of these commandments, this precept must be taken in the comprehensive sense of the term (Matthew 5:32).

Verse 15

Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not steal. This refers to the act of theft-the secret purloining or abstraction of any property belonging to another. This commandment was as necessary as the two preceding; because stealing is the natural propensity of the old man, and it is indulged in many ways that no human law can take hold of (cf. Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:6).

Verse 16

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, [ `eed (H5707) shaaqer (H8267)] - false, lying evidence, not only in a court of justice, but in the common intercourse of life, by which another's life or character map be endangered, his interests affected, or his feelings wounded (see the note at Exodus 23:1).

Verse 17

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.

Thou shalt not covet, [ lo' (H3808) tachmod (H2530)] - Thou shalt not desire; Septuagint, ouk epithumeeseis, Thou shalt not set thine heart upon (Deuteronomy 5:21). Evil concupiscence is the root of all sin (Romans 7:7-8), especially of all offences which men commit against their fellow-men (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21). The preceding commandments refer primarily to the outward act, although, in the broad sense put upon them by our Lord, the passions and feelings which prompt to the commission of the deed appear sinful also. But in this case it is the covetous desire, the indulgence of the inward thought of longing appropriation, which is prohibited; and the reason is assigned by the apostle James, James 1:15.

The repetition of "Thou shalt not covet" does not indicate that there are two commandments: it is designed only to arrest attention; and this is evident from Deuteronomy 5:21, where a slight change in the order of enumeration is adopted. In this passage the word "house" may stand for household, and therefore include the catalogue of objects that follow. The Septuagint has here the same arrangement as in the parallel passage of Deuteronomy, where wife is put first; and there are some other deviations from the present Hebrew text [as oute ton agron autou, nor his field; it has: hupozugion oute pantos kteenous, his donkey (Matthew 21:5), nor any beast.]

These ten 'words' were delivered in circumstances of the greatest imaginable pomp and terror. Everything was so ordered as to give the most striking display of the glorious majesty of the Lawgiver, to point out the character of the law in its strictness and rigour, to impress a salutary dread of its tremendous penalties, and to inspire alarm by producing a sense of sin. These commandments, when seen in the spirituality and extent of their requirements, are "exceeding broad;" and while it may be presumed that multitudes in the ancient church entertained the same impression of their far-reaching authority as David, it was not until the time of Christ the Decalogue was represented and known in its true spirit and bearings on the character and lives or men-as reaching to the heart as well as to the conduct-to the motives as well as to the actions.

This law was given to God's people as the rule of their obedience, with the express promise concerning its commandments, that "if a man do them, he shall even live in them." Whosoever rests his hope upon that law stands a debtor to do it all. A hopeless attainment for fallen and sinful man. But thanks be to God that we can look to One who has "magnified the law" and rendered it consistent with the principles of the divine government to extend to transgressors the benefits of a free and full pardon (cf. Matthew 5:17-18).

But is the "law made void by faith" in this substitute of man? No; it is established. It is a law of perpetual obligation. Delivered from the summit of Mount Sinai, it was designed not for the chosen people alone, but ultimately for the whole human race. Its enactments are founded on the relations between God and man-between man and his fellows-so that as far as humanity extends they extend, and never will there be a period when they shall cease to exist.

Verse 18

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

And all the people saw the thunderings ... Some have maintained that only Moses and the elders were present at the giving of the law. But this opinion is contrary to the whole tenor of the narrative, and is expressly contradicted by the statement in this verse, that not the leaders and representatives only, but "all the people" were before the mount, on an area sufficiently extensive to accommodate two million people-the plain es-Sebayeh, previously described, being three miles long and one and three-quarters broad (Drew's 'Scripture Lands'). "Saw the thunderings." Verbs that belong to the human senses are often put for one another, and particularly those denoting sight, as most of the mental impressions are produced through that medium. Thus, to, see a voice is an expression used by the apostle John (Revelation 1:12). As to the "lightnings" which flashed on its porphyry summit, and the trumpet-peals which made the mount, from its sharp, splintered pinnacles to its base, tremble at the voice of the Lord, see the note at Exodus 19:18. [ halapiydim (H3940), the vivid flashes.]

And the mountain smoking. Harmer supposes that the trees and shrubs, which produce a very oily fruit, and grow in great abundance on the mount, were set on fire, and occasioned the dense smoke. Rationalists account for the whole phenomena on the hypothesis of the eruption of a volcano. But every part of the mount has been carefully explored, especially in modern times, and no traces appear that there ever was volcanic action.

Verse 19

And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us ... but let not God speak with us. It was the heads of the people and the elders who came (see their application to Moses fully detailed, Deuteronomy 5:22-27), while they perceived in the phenomena on the mount the ensigns of His presence. They had heard Him proclaim the moral law with an articulate voice, and that voice was more appalling to them than the loudest peals of thunder. Mankind are weak creatures at the best; and all the uncommon appearances or extraordinary occurrences of nature are to them messengers of terror, for they are associated with ideas of danger. Men are also guilty creatures; and every indication of supernatural power makes their hearts tremble with alarm, lest the power should be exerted for their punishment. It is not wonderful, then, that the Israelites were struck with consternation at the scenes of which they had been eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses. But they were more afraid at the voice of Yahweh than all the rest, and entreated that He Himself would not speak to them anymore. Even Moses himself was overpowered with fear (Hebrews 12:21).

This request made to Moses was an evidence that the grand design of the appalling phenomena on the mount-namely, that of convincing everyone of sin, and showing them the necessity of a Mediator-had been accomplished. For they, who at first could scarcely be restrained from bursting through the barriers that prevented their access to the hill, became afterward so overwhemed with terror that they shrunk back from their station, and begged that God would no longer deliver his commands to them in that way, 'lest they should die.' They desired that Moses might act as a mediator between God and them, and that all future revelations of the divine will might be made to them through his agency. They were probably not aware of the full import of their request, and how much they stood in need of a greater Mediator than he. But God granted their petition, by not only appointing Moses to negotiate with Him in their stead, but promising that, at a future period, another Mediator of still higher character and qualifications should appear. For it was at this time, as we learn from Deuteronomy 18:15, that the promise of the great Prophet was made to them.

Verse 20

And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

And Moses said unto the people, Fear not. The leader himself, with all his experience and privileges, was equally panic-striken with the rest of the people. It is said (Exodus 19:19) that God answered him with a voice; but what communication was made to him has not been put on record. Doubtless it tended to reassure his agitated feelings and restore him to that state of mental equilibrium necessary for the right discharge of his important ministry; because when the deputies arrived they found him calm, steadfast, and encouraging. "Fear not" -

i.e., be of good courage, take comfort; the fatal consequences you apprehend will be averted, and God is present with you as your covenanted Sovereign. This exhortation, "Fear not," was in later ages resorted to as a divine pledge to the nation (Isaiah 63:11; Haggai 2:4-5).

For God is come to prove you. The divine object in inaugurating the national existence of Israel by the giving of the law was to put their obedience to a fresh proof-to give them a more signal opportunity than before-of evincing their deference and devotedness to His will. All the fearful accompaniments of this august manifestation were intended to impress the minds of His chosen people with a profound regard to the authority and majesty of God, and thus restrain them from sin.

Verse 21

And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 22

And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

The Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel. The supplementary legislation which is recorded in the following section, extending from this verse to Exodus 23:33, naturally sprang from the transactions at Sinai, and it embraces the most prominent points in the covenant relating, first, to the style of divine worship in Israel (20:22-26); secondly, to the maintenance of the personal, domestic, and social rights of the people, (Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 23:13); thirdly, to the stated times of religious observance (Exodus 20:14-19); and, fourthly, to the tutelary care which God would take of Israel.

Verse 23

Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

Ye shall not make with me gods of silver. It appears from Deuteronomy 4:14-16 that this injunction was a conclusion drawn from the scene on Sinai; that as no similitude of God was displayed then, they should not attempt to make any visible figure or form of Him.

Verse 24

An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

An altar of earth. This regulation was applicable to special or temporary occasions; but even when a permanent altar was constructed under the immediate direction of God (see the note at Exodus 27:1-8), the basis was earthen. That natural element, as it came from the hands of the Creator, was most suited to the simplicity of divine worship, and easily procurable in the frequent migrations of the Israelites. Besides, at the introduction of a ritual so eminently symbolical, the use of the crude material in the erection of sacrificial altars had a deep significance, inasmuch as the soil or the native rook typified the scene of the great propitiatory sacrifice (Kurtz, 'Mosaic Offering,' div. 2:, ch. 4:)

Sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings (see the note at Exodus 18:12), and thy peace offerings, [ wª'et (H853) shªlaameykaa (H8002)] - victims of peace. This is the first mention of peace offerings, which, being federal in their nature, were not in use until the establishment of the national covenant. It is of importance to bear in mind that these instructions respecting an altar and sacrifices refer to the ritual not of a personal but a national worship, (Lowman's 'Ritual of the Hebrew Worship,' part 2:, ch. 4:)

In all places where I record my name, [ 'azkiyr (H2142)] - I shall cause you to remember my name; i:e., by establishing the symbols of my presence. The connection of this clause with the preceding seems to be, that the promise of the divine presence and blessing will be secured, not by the altar, whether of earth or stone, but by a careful adherence to the place which the Lord shall choose for the establishment of His worship, and the obedience of faith that shall characterize the people.

Verse 25

And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. If thou wilt make me an altar of stone ... not ... of hewn stone. The reason was, that in the polish of a human chisel the emblematic idea suggested by the earth (see the note at Exodus 20:24) would be entirely lost, while inventions in decorative art would pre-occupy the minds of the worshippers; and an additional reason probably was, lest in following the prevalent styles of architecture, they should be led to carve the altar with figures and ornaments which might lead to superstition; and if once familiarized with such artificial fabrics, they might, on their settlement, appropriate to the worship of God altars that had been besmeared with victims offered to Canaanite idols.

Verse 26

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar. This precaution was taken for the preservation of decorum, in consequence of the loose, wide, and flowing garments of the priests while discharging their sacred functions.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.