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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary

Exodus 20

Verses 1-17

Breaking the Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17


We have today a study on the Ten Commandments. These Commandments were written upon two tables of stone. The first four, written on one table, carried commands which were Godward; the second group of six, written on the second table of stone, carried commandments which were manward.

Jesus Christ summed up the Ten Commandments under two short expressions as found in Mark 12:30 , Mark 12:31 .

It has been argued by some that the Christian is not under the Ten Commandments, inasmuch as he is under Grace. This is partly true. The Christian is not under Law for salvation; because salvation is by Grace, apart from the works of the Law. However, in his daily walk and life the Christian, when he walks in love, fulfils the Law. It is worthy of note that each of the Ten Commandments is restated in the New Testament, under the reign of Grace, with the exception of the fourth commandment which contained the ordinance of the Sabbath, and which was given to Israel as a memorial, and never given to the Church.

No Christian lives a life worthy of his Lord unless he walks in fulfilment of Law as laid down on the tables of stone.

The Ten Commandments are holy and just and good then why cast them from us? The Ten Commandments are spiritual, then why relegate them?

When the Law entered, sin was made exceeding sinful; the Law became a plumbline, which demonstrated the crookedness of the human heart.

The Law came, and was a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ, because no man could keep the Law. The Law was weak through the flesh, since the flesh could not obey its injunctions. The Law manifested the ideals of an holy God; and sinful man could not keep the Law.


"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (1 Kings 18:21 ).

We have before us an example of how the First Commandment was broken. Elijah stood before the prophets of Baal. These prophets were devotees of sun worship. Because Israel had followed after Baal, God sent judgment upon them, and in answer to the prayer of Elisha it had not rained for the space of three years.

When Elijah finally came before Ahab, the king; the king roughly said: "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Elijah replied, "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim."

With the ax laid at the root of the trouble, Elijah commanded the king to call together all Israel. When the people came, the Prophet said unto them, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him."

The result was that under Elijah's orders two altars of testing were raised, and the God who answered by fire was to be proclaimed God, As the priests of Baal cried to their gods to send the fire, Elijah mocked them. The finality of the testing was that Elijah's God prevailed, and the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Jezebel were slain.

Let us beware lest we break this First Commandment, for many today are denying both the Son and the Father, and they will surely heap to themselves judgment against the day of judgment.


"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," etc. (Exodus 32:4 ).

We next consider how Commandment number two was broken. Moses had gone up into the mountain, and he delayed to come down. Then the people cried unto Aaron, saying, "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us." Aaron yielded to their voice and he made a molten calf. Then the people sacrificed to it, and sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

God was wroth, and sent Moses down from the mountain, saying unto him, "I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people." God was ready to destroy them, but Moses pled in their behalf.

Then, as Moses came to the people, bringing the Ten Commandments, written on the two tables of stone, his wrath waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands and break them beneath the mount. The people had broken the Commandment even before Moses broke the tables of stone.

Moses then took the golden calf, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, scattering it on the water and making the people to drink of it. That day also there were three thousand slain.

Again we have seen that the wages of sin is death. Let its fear lest we also worship gods of gold, or gods of the works of our hands, such as airships, automobiles, radio, and likewise fall under the curse.


"Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Acts 12:21-22 ).

In speaking of the breaking of the Third Commandment we usually think of cursing and swearing. We have chosen another aspect of taking His Name in vain. In Acts twelve we. have the story of Herod's great oration. The people cried, with a great shout, saying, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man."

There is a very definite statement from Heaven, which says, "My glory will I not give to another." When one ruthlessly takes the Name of God and places it upon a man, he drags down the Name of the Highest into the mud and mire of human frailties and weaknesses, into the realm of sin and shame.

Not a moment had passed after the people had thus spoken of Herod, and after Herod had, evidently, accepted the plaudits of the crowd, until God smote Herod, "because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost."

The climactic sin of the age will reach its consummation in the self-exaltation of the antichrist He will exalt himself above God, and above all that is called God, so that he, as God, will sit in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Let us not take God's Name in vain, lest we be slain as was Herod, and as antichrist will be slain when he takes his title as God.


"Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy" (Numbers 15:32-35 ).

Here is a solemn Commandment. It was given to Israel and to the stranger within her gates: It was given to Israel, because God had given Israel rest from the Egyptians. The Sabbath was to remain throughout the generations of the Children of Israel as a sign between God and them. It was to be a day of rest, because God had given them rest from their enemies, and because He had promised them rest to come. They were to refrain from all work because God had saved them apart from the work of their own hands.

When, therefore, a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day, he was put to death. The Divine fiat seemed harsh, yet the act of the man, who, in open disobedience, not only defied the Most High, but dared to break the type of rest, was most wicked. Remember, "The wages of sin is death."

The Fourth Commandment was particularly Jewish. The Sabbath has never been changed, but it has never been given to the Church, and is not restated in the Epistles, as are all of the others of the Ten Commandments. However, we need to remember the words of Christ, the Sabbath was made for man. Man needs one day of rest in seven, and let the one who ruthlessly tramples that need under his feet, remember that he must pay the penalty thereof.


"Honour thy father and thy mother" (2 Samuel 18:9 ).

We now come to the first of Six Commandments which were written on the second table of stone, and which carried statements of our duties toward our fellow men. This Commandment has to do with the obedience of the child to the parent, and of giving honor to both father and mother.

Our illustration of Absalom is most fitting, as an example of one who met death through dishonoring the name of his father, David.

In all Israel there was none so beautiful, and none so greatly admired, as Absalom. There was also none so much to be praised as he. Absalom early developed a spirit of pride and of self-ambition, that ultimately led to his ruin. Under the guise of going to Hebron to worship, he raised an insurrection against his father, seeking to wrest the kingdom from him. His perfidy knew no bounds. He not only trampled upon a father's tender love, but he set himself against one of God's chosen servants.

The results was, that in battle against his father, Absalom was found hanging to a tree by the hair of his head. His hair had been the source of his pride, now it was the means of his death.

As Absalom hangs there, dead, let us remember that "the wages of sin is death." Let us remember, likewise, that he who honors his father and his mother, is keeping a commandment which invokes length of days, and promise of blessing "That it may be well with thee."


"Thou shalt not kill" (Genesis 4:8 ).

Our illustration is based, this time, upon Cain and Abel. God accepted the offering of Abel, because Abel brought the firstling of his flock, and brought it in faith. God rejected the offering of Cain, because Cain brought the fruit of the ground, an offering which acknowledged no sin, and pled no heed of a sacrifice of blood. Cain merely came, in his own way, to pass, as it were, compliments with God.

When Cain saw that his offering was refused, and that Abel's was accepted, he arose and slew his brother. Once more, "the wages of sin is death."

God said unto Cain, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground." Then God pronounced the curse, "And now art thou cursed from the earth, * * it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth."

There are many murderers who have not shed blood as Cain shed blood. Some are killing their loved ones by their rebellious ways, and killing them step by step, inch "by inch. Read the words of Christ as found in Matthew 5:21-22 .


"Thou shalt not commit adultery" (2 Samuel 12:18 ).

Sin is always heinous, but it is doubly so when it leads into the lust of the flesh. David sinned in the case of Bathsheba. The result was that David's own bones waxed old with their roaring all the day long, and also the child which was born unto David and Bathsheba died.

One can almost hear the groanings of David's soul as he prayed, saying, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; * * blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity."

How many hearts have lost their joy because some lust of the, flesh has crept into their lives. The child of God must put off all iniquity and every evil way. He must be clean in word, in thought, in deed, or else he too will feel the wrath of God.


"Thou shalt not steal" (Joshua 7:21 ).

The Children of Israel had been routed in battle at Ai. When Joshua cried unto God, the Lord said, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned." There is a time to clean up the camp, and not to pray for help. There is a time to search out the "accursed thing," and not to start a revival.

It was this way: In the victory against Jericho, Achan had seen among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, too hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight. Achan had seen and coveted and had taken these things, and then he had hid them in his tent. The result of Achan's theft was that when Israel next went forth to battle, God was not with them, and they met defeat. The punishment alloted to Achan was death. He and all his, who, no doubt, were party to his calumny, were stoned and then burned with fire. Afterward the people raised over him a great heap of stones as a monumental warning to all who sin.


"Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Acts 5:1 , Acts 5:5 ).

Ananias and Sapphira came, supposedly, with the whole price of a piece of land that they had sold, and laid the amount at the Apostles' feet. Ananias and Sapphira, in fact, kept back part of the price of the land. Their sin was that they lied to the Holy Ghost. They gave a false witness of themselves. The result was, that, under the words of Peter, each, in turn, fell down dead. Again, "the wages of sin is death." We may marvel at the severity of the judgment, why not marvel at the depth of the sin.

Suppose God never visited sinners for their sins, then sinners would place a premium on sinning. One Scripture says, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."

Bearing false witness is a great sin. Alas, there are many, we fear, who are held in highest esteem in the Church, who are given over to this sin.


"Thou shalt not covet" (1 Kings 21:2 , 1 Kings 21:6-7 ).

The story of Naboth and his vineyard is known to us all. Ahab coveted the vineyard, and when Naboth would not sell it to his lord and king, Ahab was full of jealousy and grief. Jezebel marked his mood, saying, "Why is thy spirit so sad?"

We all know how, under Jezebel's whip, Ahab slew Naboth; and then confiscated the vineyard that the lust of his eyes desired.

Then it was that Elijah said unto Ahab, "Where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." To Jezebel, the Lord also said, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel."

Is Ahab the only one who has coveted, and then gone the limit to obtain that for which he coveted? Even now we can hear the groanings of many a widow and orphan, because some man of the world has coveted their gold and silver, and, in order to obtain it, they have gone to all lengths of deceit and fraud; perhaps in a perfectly legal and business-like way, they have satisfied their lust.

Forget not the words of the Spirit, through John, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." And what is the chief idolatry of today? It is covetousness for "covetousness is idolatry."


A wealthy man came to a poor saddler, and, leaving a bridle, gave orders that it should be finished by Monday. "That is not possible!" "What nonsense! There is all day tomorrow." "We do not work on Sunday, sir." "Then I shall go to those who do." "We can get it done by Tuesday." "That will not do; put it in the carriage."

Quietly the saddler did as he was told. Hours afterward a neighbor said: "I thought that I would come and thank you, and tell you that I should be glad of as many more customers as you would like to send."

"I shall not send you those I can keep," said the saddler, "but I will never go against my conscience for any man nor for his money."

Weeks went by, weeks of trouble to this faithful saddler. One day a military man came into his shop. "So you are the fellow who will not work on Sunday. My friend said that you refused to do his work!" "I had no choice, sir." "Yes, you had; you were free to choose between serving God and pleasing man, and you made your choice, and because of that I am here today. I am General Downing. I have been looking for a man on whom I could rely to execute a large government order. The moment I heard of you I made up my mind that you should have it." Westminster Quarterly.

Verses 1-20

The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:1-20


As introductory to this study we wish to answer some statements relative to the Christian and the Law.

1. Saints are not under the Law for salvation. We say with unequivocable terms, salvation by the Law is utterly impossible.

"Do and live" may have been and still may be true so far as physical life, and physical health, are concerned; but not so far as eternal life is concerned.

The Commandments were never given as a method of obtaining life, but they came that sin might abound, and that sin might be declared exceeding sinful. By the Law is the knowledge of sin, not redemption from sin. Sinners are now, and always have been, shut up to the Cross of Christ for redemption and salvation.

2. Saints are under Law as a standard of living. Saints, under grace, may not live as they list; they cannot find, in grace, any license for greed or for licentiousness.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Here is what happens when salvation and regeneration come into the soul: "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin," did.

The Law could not save the sinner for the simple reason that the sinner could not keep the Law, He may boast his righteousness, and claim that he does fulfill the Law, but all such boasting is vain. "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." Sin is the transgression of the Law, and all are transgressors.

Jesus Christ, the righteous One, and the holy One, therefore, became sin for us and suffered, the Just for the unjust. In His death He sustained the sanctity of the Law, fulfilled its every requirement, suffered for us its penalty, and made it possible for the one who believes to be saved.

Now that the believer, is saved, and now that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within him, the believer has found that he is panoplied of God to meet and fulfill the Law's demands.

3. Saints, then, are not UNDER the Law, but are above it. They are not slaves driven to despair by its requirements, but they are victors, through the Spirit, living above and beyond all it demands. They do not keep the Law as a slave bending under the whip of his master; they are freemen living beyond its reach; in a high and holier realm of perfect obedience.

What then? "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." To sinners God writes, "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not": to saints God writes: "Little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not."

Saints do not need to sin: sin shall not have dominion over them, for they are not under the Law, but under grace.

Thus, nevermore let us speak of grace as an excuse for discarding the righteous requirements of the Law, but let us use our new position as the basis for recognizing that we are dead to the Law, in the Body of Christ; and that, being also risen with Him, sin shall not reign in our mortal body.


1. The physical condition displayed. "There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount." That is the word of Exodus 19:16 .

"And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." That is the statement in Exodus 19:18 .

It was amid such surroundings as these that the Law came, and that God spake to His people.

Think of it if so much as a beast touched that mount he was immediately slain; and no mortal man could touch it and live.

2. The consummate folly of basking under the Law. How strange it is that sinful man forever boasts his own goodness, and even dares to seek approach to God on the basis of his good deeds!

The ungodly seek to bask under the Law as a place of safety and security from the wrath to come.

Can a sinner rest under the words, "The wages of sin is death," or "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"?

The Law worketh wrath, not peace; it is a message of condemnation, not of conciliation; it is the specter of death, not the giver of life.

The Law cannot save, but it drives us to the Saviour; the Law cannot justify us, but it casts us prostrate at the feet of the Lord Jesus, as we cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

The Law is at the same time holy, and righteous, and good; while it is the forerunner of judgment, and of death, and hell.


1. The supremacy of God. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." The Bible opens with the words, "In the beginning God." He was before all things and shall be after all things. In all things He is preeminent. "All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vainty."

What then? He only is God. Hear God Himself speaking: "I am the First, and I am the Last; and beside Me there is no God."

Again the Lord says, "Is there a God beside Me? yea, there is no God." Again, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me."

Again we read, "Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it * *: I am the Lord; and there is none else."

Once more we read, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved * *: for I am God, and there is none else."

2. The folly of images. When men, without excuse, refused to know God and glorified Him not as God, their foolish hearts were darkened, and they made unto themselves images like to corruptible men, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things; wherefore God gave them up. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, wherefore God gave them up to reprobate minds.

God is a jealous God, and He will, as suggested above in quotations from the first chapter of Romans, visit the iniquity of parents upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him.

God, however, does show mercy unto thousands of them who love Him, and keep His Commandments.


1. Taking the Name of the Lord in vain. Thus it is written, "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."

We think at once of blasphemy and of cursing and swearing. All that is a clear breaking of the Third Commandment. Such language shows that many individuals have no fear of God in their eyes, and no sense of love and appreciation of His glory and power.

There is, however, another and deeper way in which men break this Commandment. Here is an example taken from Malachi: * * O priests, that despise My Name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised Thy Name? * * In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible." These priests were not blaspheming with their lips, but with their acts. They were offering the blind, the lame, and the sick for sacrifice. Was this not evil? The blood of the sacrificial lamb had no depth of meaning to them. They even "snuffed" at His table, and said, "What a weariness it is."

Believers take His Name in vain when they belittle His glory and His praise by their evil ways.

2. Remembering the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. This day was given to Israel in memory of their rest from the tyranny of the Egyptians. Yet they refused to keep that day as a day of rest, and they were cursed with a curse.

The seventh day was given to Israel, thus, "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."


1. The Fifth Commandment: "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

There is a verse which reads, "A son honoureth his father." Then God says, "If then I be a Father, where is Mine honour?"

The word "honor" carries a depth of meaning. The New Testament reads: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord * *: which is the first Commandment with promise." Thus "honor" means to obey. He honors his father who reveres him, seeks to please him in all things, and bears his father's name without shaming it by his evil deeds. To such a one God does give promise: "That thy days may be long."

2. The Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." It was of this Commandment which Christ said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." Then Christ stopped to give a deeper insight to the old Commandment by saying, "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

Oftentimes there is murder in the heart, when the actual deed is not enacted for fear of the judgment.

Christians are told to love their brothers. "By this shall all men know that we are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." Not to hate, therefore, is not enough we must love.


1. The Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Impurity is one of the curses of the age in which we live. Morals are at a low ebb. The movies with their display of the sensual cannot be too deeply condemned; the novel with its poison of false loves, plays also a large part in the downgrade of morals: also other evils.

The best we can do for the young people is to remind them of the words of King Lemuel: "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her." "Her children arise up, and call her blessed."

We may also remind the young people that "he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."

2. The Eighth Commandment: "Thou shalt not steal." We should think of more than the common thief who robs another of his gold. A man may rob his God also. Have you not read, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me * * in tithes and offerings."

There is another method of stealing. Shakespeare wrote something like this: "Who steals my purse, steals trash; but he who filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, and leaves me poor indeed." Yes, we may steal by our tongues as well as by our hands.

Let us determine that we will go beyond the letter of Law, and into the deeper meanings thereof. Neither by tricks of trade, or by any legal but unrighteous act, may we ever seek to enrich ourselves by impoverishing our fellow man. Let us deal honestly with all men.


1. The Ninth Commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Here is a Commandment that is frequently broken. Insinuations hurtful to the honor and the character of others are given; words of uncertain yet of hurtful effect are stated. Others are discounted, and sometimes even maligned upon some mere breeze of guilt, where there is no proof of sin.

It is easy to tear down another's honor; it is not so easy to reconstruct it.

If we will practice the teaching of our Lord we will not be found bearing false witness. He said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

"Don't look for the faults, as you go through life,

And even if you find them,

It is better by far, to look at a star,

Than the spots in the sun abiding."

2. The Tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet." We are not to covet our neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is our neighbor's.

How about coveting his power, and his influence, and his fame, and his fine auto, etc.? Instead of coveting the things which belong to our neighbor, we should seek in every way to help and increase his rightful possessions. We should pray for him that he prosper, and be in health even as his soul prospereth. We should share his burdens, and help him to carry his cares. We should never, for one instance, seek to build ourselves up on his downfall, or to enrich ourselves at the expense of making him poor.

Our attitude toward our neighbor should be at all times the abetting of everything that concerns his welfare. We should love him as we love ourselves.


1. The people were filled with fear. When the people saw the lightnings, and the noise, of the trumpets, and the mountain on smoke, they removed and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die."

What else can God's Law do to us than to fill us with dread and fear? If the Law worketh wrath, where can we find peace? If the Law is a word of condemnation because of our own sins, where can we find peace and rest and quiet to our sin-conscious spirits?

There is but one answer the Law is a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ. Under the thunderings of the Law we hear judgment and death and hell, for there is not a just man on the earth that doeth good and sinneth not.

To Christ, then, let us go.

"Beneath the Cross cf Jesus,

I fain would take my stand,

The shadow of a mighty Rock,

Within a weary land."

2. The purport of the Ten Commandments. When the people were afraid, Moses said, "Fear not: for God is come to prove you." These words give the real purport of the Ten Commandments. Moses did not say, "God is come to save you." Certainly not. The Commandments cannot save. They could not be a giver of life, if man could from babyhood to death keep them in all their wonderful fullness.

The Commandments, however, were weak through the flesh, because the flesh is filled with sin and no flesh is holy in His sight.

The Commandment could and did prove the people. They are like the plumb line that is dropped down, not to straighten the wall, but to show whether it is straight.

"By the Law is the knowledge of sin." Paul went so far as to say, "I had not known sin but by the Law." Then he added, "That sin by the Commandment might become exceeding sinful." When the Law entered he died, that is, he saw himself dead in sin.

The Law entered that sin might abound. Let us from henceforth seek salvation through faith in the Blood of Christ.


Keeping God's every command and doing His perfect will, should be our chief quest.

What abuse there is in our religion. One thinks it consists only in a multiplication of prayers, another in a great number of outward works done for the glory of God and help of our fellow men. Some place it in their continual desire for perfection, again others in great austerities. All these things are good and to a certain extent are necessary, but he is deceived who places them as the essential and foundation of true piety. The piety that sanctifies us and devotes us entirely to God, consists to do His will, and accomplishing it precisely at the time, and in the place, and in the circumstances, where He places us: this is His desire for us. Have all the activity you desire, do all such brilliant works as you are pleased to do; you will receive no reward but for having done the will of the sovereign Master. Your servant might work wonderfully well in your house; but if he did not follow out your wishes, his work would be as nothing to you, and you would have the right to complain that he served you badly, Fenelon.

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Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Exodus 20". "Living Water".