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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 20

Verses 1-26

Exodus 20:1. God spake all these words. In compassion to man, and the increasing weakness of human traditions, it has pleased the infinitely wise and Holy One to renew the evidences of revelation at fit and proper periods: and he has promised to do this again at the commencement of the glory of the latter day. Isaiah 65:17. Ezekiel 43:0. Zechariah 14:4. Acts 3:21. David, celebrating this glorious scene, Psalms 18:13, regards God as the speaker. “The Highest gave his voice.” The chariots of angels were in attendance, which induced the Jews to say, that the law was given “by the disposition of angels.” They understood that an angel sounded the trumpet. The law delivered on mount Sinai is much the same as the seven precepts delivered to Noah. The rules to understand it are, first, according to St. Paul, to consider the law as spiritual, holy, just and good; free from ceremony. Secondly, that every capital crime prohibited, comprises all the minor faults which are included under it. So our Saviour has expounded the law. Matthew 5:0. Thirdly, that when any vice is forbidden, the opposite virtue is always enjoined. Fourthly, love being the end of the commandment, these laws are to be written on our hearts.

Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Being JEHOVAH thy Elohim, thou shalt not accept of angel, spirit, or idol, as thy advocate or god.

Exodus 20:4. Thou shalt not make any graven image. Leviticus 26:1. This precept is illustrated into a prohibition of making any figure or likeness, as an object of worship; the brazen serpent, and the twelve oxen that supported the molten sea, were not objects of worship. The papist writers being here pressed, evade the precept by saying, that we must not make the image of another god! Therefore we may worship titular deities. Shameful defence!

Exodus 20:5. Visiting the iniquity. In a temporal view, however innocent the children may be, providence often afflicts their bodies with their fathers’ diseases; but when the children persist in the hatred of GOD, by the worship of idols, or by a course of crimes, the punishment of their fathers shall be visited upon them. Sometimes a whole tribe or nation has been cut off for one sin, as that of the Benjamites for the sin against the Levite’s concubine; the sin of David also, and the sin of Amalek. In a spiritual view however, the son shall not answer for the sins of the father. Ezekiel 18:0. With regard to the visitation of iniquity, there have of late years been some very striking instances. In 1685 the clergy of France, says Jurieu, procured an edict which totally deprived the protestants of their religious liberties; and at that time their number was about two millions. The ministers were compelled to leave France in fifteen days, or be hanged: and many of them were arrested in their flight, and afterwards executed. The people were enjoined immediately to embrace the Roman Catholic religion, or leave their shops and lands, and become labourers. The dragoons were quartered on their houses till all they had was consumed; and so circumstanced, language cannot describe the insults their families received. Those who attempted to worship God in the woods and forests, were shot, hanged, burnt, and tortured without mercy. Now reader, mark the hand of retributive justice. At the breaking out of the French Revolution in 1789, it was the third and fourth generation; and the nobility and clergy either perished in France, or lost their lands, and were driven to beg their bread in the very countries to which their ancestors banished the protestants! Many ancient testimonies of like nature might be here adduced, as the sin of David visited on his children, and the blood of Christ visited on the Jews, and on their children in the most awful manner.

Exodus 20:8. Remember the sabbath-day. See Ezekiel 20:0.

Exodus 20:24. Where I record my name. God reserved to himself the choice of the place, where he would record his name, or cause the glory of his presence to rest.

Exodus 20:25. Make me an altar. The Lord’s altar was to be of rough stones, or of earth where no stones were at hand: it was to be destitute of carvings, in opposition to the decorated altars of the heathen, that the mind might not be attracted by exterior pomp. The Druidical altars are generally cairnes of rough stones, on the tops of craggy hills.


The substance of this law was given to Noah in the seven precepts preserved by the Jews, and its principal characters are still written on the heart of man, and enforced by the power of conscience. But since the fall, self-love biases the judgment, and inclines a man to interpret the law in his own favour; hence it became requisite to write it on stones, and support it by the divine sanction. The awful and terrific characters which God assumed on giving the law were wisely calculated to produce sanctity and obedience among the people. Who would dare to make an idol, when he saw no figure or likeness on the mount? Who would dare to swear by another, while the Lord pronounced himself the only God? Who would dare to profane the sabbath by common labour or sinful pleasures, while God hallowed it by his blessing, by resting from his works, and sending no manna on that day? Who would dare to he irreverent to parents, while the heavenly Father, so jealous of idols, requires homage to be paid to our parents? Who would dare to kill, while God extended his arm as the guardian of life; or violate marriage, while God proclaims it the first of covenants? Who, we may ask, in short, would dare to steal, to commit perjury, to seduce a woman, to steal a servant or a beast, while He who is a consuming fire, proclaims himself the avenger of the oppressed, and pronounces the guilty worthy of death?

But the grand question is, whether this law be binding on Christians, seeing they are not under the law, but under grace? It is replied, that on sincere repentance, and believing in Christ with the heart unto righteousness, they are no longer under the curse of the law, for Christ was made a curse for us; nor are they at all under the ceremonial law, for he is the end of that law to every one that believeth. But if a man renounce righteousness, and become an apostate, God holds his perfect and unchangeable law in his hands, to enforce it in full penalty against him, for all his former sins. We should therefore devoutly pray in those sound words, “Lord have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws on our hearts, we beseech thee.”

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.