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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Exodus 20

Verses 1-17


THE DELIVERY OF THE MORAL LAW. Every necessary preparation had now been made. The priests, as well as the people, had "sanctified themselves." A wholesome dread of "breaking" through the fence, and "touching" the mount, had spread itself among the people Moses had returned from the camp to the summit of the mount; and both he and the people were attent to hear the words of the "covenant," which had been announced to them (Exodus 19:5). Then, amid the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the smoke, and the earthquake throbs which shook the ground, a voice like that of a man, distinctly articulate, pronounced the words of that "moral law," which has been from that day to this the guide of life to thousands upon thousands, the only guide to some, a very valuable and helpful guide to all who have known of it. It is well said by Kalisch, that the delivery of the Decalogue on Sinai "formed a decisive epoch in the history of the human race," and was even perhaps "the greatest and most important event in haman history," up to the time of its occurrence. Considering the weakness, imperfection, and moral obliquity of man, it was to the last degree important that an authoritative code should be put forth, laying down with unmistakable clearness the chief heads of duty, and denouncing the chief classes of sins. It may be true that the educated moral sense of mankind in civilised communities is sufficient to teach them all, or nearly all, of what the Decalogue forbids and enjoins; but this is the effect produced upon the internal constitution of our nature by long centuries of moral training; and nothing like it existed in primitive times. Then the moral sense was much duller; men's perceptions of right and wrong were confused, uncertain, and not unfrequently perverted and depraved. Even in Egypt, where a priest class, established as the spiritual guides of the nation for a thousand years or more, had elaborated a moral system of considerable merit, such a code as that of the Decalogue would have been a marked improvement upon anything that they had worked out for themselves. And the authoritative sanction by the "voice" and the "finger of God" was an enormous advantage, being imperatively needed to satisfy doubt, and silence that perverse casuistry which is always ready to question the off-hand decisions of the moral consciousness, and to invent a more refined system, wherein "bitter is put for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Altogether the Decalogue stands on a moral eminence, elevated above and beyond all other moral systems—Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, or Greek, unequalled for simplicity, for comprehensiveness, for solemnity. Its precepts were, according to the Jewish tradition, "the pillars of the law and its roots." They formed to the nation to which they were given "tons omnis, publici privatique juris." They constitute for all time a condensed summary of human duty which bears divinity upon its face, which is suited for every form of human society, and which, so long as the world endures, cannot become antiquated. The retention of the Decalogue as the best summary of the moral law by Christian communities is justified on these grounds, and itself furnishes emphatic testimony to the excellency of the compendium.

Exodus 20:1

God spake all these words. It has been suggested that Moses derived the Decalogue from Egypt, by summarising the chief points of the Egyptian teaching as to the duty of man. But neither the second, nor the fourth, nor the tenth commandment came within the Egyptian ideas of moral duty; nor was any such compendious form as the Decalogue known in Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian morality was minute and complex, rather than grand and simple. Forty-two kinds of sin were denied by the departed soul before Osiris and his assessors. The noble utterances of Sinai are wholly unlike anything to be found in the entire range of Egyptian literature.

Exodus 20:2

I am the Lord thy God. The ten precepts were prefaced by this distinct announcement of who it was that uttered them. God would have the Israelites clearly understand, that he himself gave them the commandments. It is only possible to reconcile the declarations of the New Testament, that the law was given by the ministration of angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2) with this and other plain statements, by regarding God the Son as the actual speaker. As sent by his father, he too was, in a certain sense, an angel (i.e; a messenger). Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt. God does not appeal to his authority as creator, but to his mercy and kindness as protector and deliverer. He would be obeyed by his people from a sentiment of love, not by fear. Out of the house of bondage. Compare Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:14; and for the ground of the expression, see Exodus 1:14; Exodus 6:9.

Exodus 20:3

Thou shalt have. The use of the second person singular is remarkable when a covenant was being made with the people (Exodus 19:5). The form indicated that each individual of the nation was addressed severally, and was required himself to obey the law, a mere general national obedience being insufficient. No one can fail to see how much the commands gain in force, through all time, by being thus addressed to the individual conscience. No other gods before me. "Before me" literally, "before my face," is a Hebrew idiom, and equivalent to "beside me," "in addition to me." The commandment requires the worship of one God alone, Jehovah—the God who had in so ninny ways manifested himself to the Israelites, and implies that there is, in point of fact, no other God. A belief in the unity of God is said to lie at the root of the esoteric Egyptian religion; but Moses can scarcely have derived his belief from this source, since the Egyptian notions on the subject were tinged with pantheism and materialism, from which the religion of Moses is entirely free. Outwardly the Egyptian religion, like that of the nations of Western Asia generally, was a gross polytheism; and it is against polytheistic notions that the first commandment raises a protest.

Exodus 20:4

As the first commandment asserts the unity of God, and is a protest against polytheism, so the second asserts his spirituality, and is a protest against idolatry and materialism. Exodus 20:4 and Exodus 20:5 are to be taken together, the prohibition being intended, not to forbid the arts of sculpture and painting, or even to condemn the religious use of them, but to disallow the worship of God under material forms. When the later Jews condemned all representations of natural objects (Philo, De Orac. 29; Joseph. Ant. Jude 1:8Jude 1:8.7, § 5), they not only enslaved themselves to a literalism, which is alien from the spirit of both covenants, but departed from the practice of more primitive times—representations of such objects having had their place both in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-34; Exodus 28:33, Exodus 28:34) and in the first temple (1Ki 6:18, 1 Kings 6:29, 1 Kings 6:32, etc.). Indeed, Moses himself, when he erected the "brazen serpent" (Numbers 21:9) made it clear that representations of natural objects were not disallowed by the law. To moderns in civilized countries it seems almost incredible that there should ever have been anywhere a real worship of images. But acquaintance with ancient history or even with the present condition of man in savage or backward countries, renders it apparent that there is a subtle fascination in such material forms, and that imperfectly developed minds will rest in them not as mere emblems of divinity, but as actually possessed of Divine powers The protest raised by the second commandment is still as necessary as ever, not only in the world, but in the very Christian Church itself, where there exists even at the present day a superstitious regard for images and pictures, which is not only irrational, but which absorbs the religious feelings that should have been directed to higher objects. Any graven image. Perhaps it would be better to translate "any image," for the term used (pesel) is applied, not only to "graven" but also to "molten images" (Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 44:10; Jeremiah 10:14; etc.), since these last were in almost every instance finished by the graving tool. Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven abovei.e; "any likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air." Compare Deuteronomy 4:17. The water under the earth. See Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:7. The triple division here and elsewhere made, is intended to embrace the whole material universe. Much of the Egyptian religion consisted in the worship of animals and their images.

Exodus 20:5

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them. Every outward sign of honour was shown to images in the ancient world. They were not regarded as emblems, but as actual embodiments of deity. There was a special rite in Greece (Theopoea) by means of which the gods were inducted into their statues, and made to take up their abodes in them. Seneca says of the Romans of his own day—"They pray to these images of the gods, implore them on bended knee, sit or stand long days before them, throw them money, and sacrifice beasts to them, so treating them with deep respect, though they despise the man who made them" (Ap. Lact. 2.2). I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God. God "will not give his glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11), will not suffer a rival near his throne. He is not "jealous." as the Greeks thought (Herod. 7.10, § 5), of mere success, or greatness; but he is very jealous of his own honour, and will not have the respect and reverence, which is his due, bestowed on other beings or on inanimate objects. Compare with the present passage Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 6:15; Joshua 24:19; etc. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. Exception has been taken to the plain meaning of this passage by a multitude of writers, who dread the reproach of the sceptic, that the God of the Old Testament is a God careless of justice and bent upon revenge. But neither does society, nor does civil justice itself, regard the visiting of parents' sins upon their children as in all cases unjust. Society by its scorn punishes for their parents' transgressions the illegitimate, the children of criminals, the children—especially the daughters—of adulteresses. Civil justice condemns to forfeiture of their titles and their estates, the innocent children of those executed for treason. God again manifestly does by the laws which obtain in his moral universe, entail on children many consequences of their parents' ill-doing—as the diseases which arise from profligacy or intemperance, the poverty which is the result of idleness or extravagance, the ignorance and evil habits which are the fruit of a neglected education. It is this sort of visitation which is intended here. The children and grandchildren of idolaters would start in life under disadvantages. The vicious lives of their parents would have sown in them the seeds both of physical and moral evil. They would commonly be brought up in wrong courses, have their moral sense early perverted, and so suffer for their parents' faults. It would be difficult for them to rise out of their unhappy condition. Still, "each would bear his own iniquity." Each would "be judged by that he had, not by that he bad not." An all-wise God would, in the final award, make allowance for the disadvantages of birth and inherited disposition, and would assign to each that position to which his own conduct—his struggles, efforts, endeavours after right—entitled him.

To say that the threat "applies only to such children as follow the sins of their fathers" Kalisch) is to empty the passage of all force. It applies to all; but the visitation intended consists in temporal disadvantages, not in the final award of happiness or misery.

Exodus 20:6

Shewing mercy unto thousands. Or, "to the thousandth generation." (Compare Deuteronomy 7:9.) In neither case are the numbers to be taken as exact and definite. The object of them is to contrast the long duration of the Divine love and favour towards the descendants of those who love him, with the comparatively short duration of his chastening wrath in the case of those who are his adversaries. And keep my commandments. Thus only is love shown. Compare John 14:15-21; 1 John 2:5; 2 John 1:6.

Exodus 20:7

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. It is disputed whether this is a right rendering. Shav in Hebrew means both "vanity" and ,'falsehood;" so that the Third Commandment may forbid either "vain-swearing" or simply "false-swearing. It is in favor of the latter interpretation, that our Lord seems to contrast his own prohibition of unnecessary oaths with the ancient prohibition of false oaths in the words—"Ye have heard that it hath been said by" (or "to") "them of old time—Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shelf perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you—Swear not at all" (Matthew 5:33-34). It is also in favour of the command being levelled against false-swearing, that perjury should naturally, as a great sin, have a special prohibition directed against it in the Decalogue, while vain-swearing, as a little sin, would scarcely seem entitled to such notice. Perjury has always been felt to be one of the greatest both of moral and of social offences. It implies an absolute want of any reverence at all for God; and it destroys civil society by rendering the administration of justice impossible. There has been a general horror of it among all civilised nations. The Egyptians punished perjury with death. The Greeks thought that a divine Nemesis pursued the perjured man, and brought destruction both upon himself and upon his offspring (Herod. 6.86). The Romans regarded the perjurer as infamous, and the object of Divine vengeance in the other world (Cic. De Leg. 2.9). The threat contained in the words—"The Lord will not hold him guiltless"—may be taken as an argument on either side. If viewed as equivalent to "the Lord will punish severely" (Kalisch), it accords best with the view that perjury was intended; if taken literally, it would suit best a lesser sin, of which men ordinarily think little.

Exodus 20:8

Remember the sabbath day. The institution of the sabbath dates, at any rate, from the giving of the manna (Exodus 16:23). Its primeval institution, which has been thought to be implied in Genesis 2:3, is uncertain. The word "remember" here may be simply a reference to what passed in the "wilderness of Sin" as related in Exodus 16:22-30. On the sabbath itself, both Jewish and Christian, see the comment upon that chapter.

Exodus 20:9

Six days shalt thou labour. This is not so much a command as a prohibition'' Thou shaft not labor more than six (consecutive) clays." In them thou shelf do all thy necessary work, so as to have the Sabbath free for the worship and service of God.

Exodus 20:10

The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. Rather—"The seventh day shall be a sabbath to the Lord thy God;" i.e; the seventh day shall be a day of holy rest dedicated to religion. All unnecessary labour shall be suspended and put aside—the law of rest and ease, so far as bodily toil is concerned, which was the law of man's existence before the fall, shall supersede for the time that law of heavy toil and continual unrest, which was laid on man as the penalty of his transgression (Genesis 3:17-19). Eden shall be, as it were, restored—man shall not "go out to his toil and his labour"—even the very beasts, pressed into man's service since the fall, shall rest. In it thou shalt not do any work. On the exceptions to this rule, which even Judaism, with its extreme formality and literalism, saw to be necessary, see Matthew 12:5, Matthew 12:11. Still in many respects, a superstitious adherence to the precept was maintained by religious Jews, who would not even defend themselves on the sabbath, if attacked by an enemy (1 Mac. 2:32-38; Malachi 2:0 Mac. Matthew 5:25, Matthew 5:26; Matthew 6:11; Matthew 15:1). Experience, however, taught them that the law had not been intended to extend so far, and after a time they determined, not to seek battle, but to accept if, and do their best, on the sabbath day (1 Mac. 2:41). Thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter. The rest is to extend to the whole family. Work is not to be merely devolved by the parents upon the children. Thy manservant, nor thy maid servant. It is to extend beyond the family proper, to the domestics of the household, who are to enjoy the respite from toil and to have the advantage of the religious refreshment, no less than their masters. Nor thy cattle. God's care for cattle is a remarkable feature of the Old Testament dispensation. God, at the time of the flood, "remembered Noah and the cattle which were with him in the ark" (Genesis 8:1). Soon after, his covenant, not to drown the earth any more, was established "with the fowl, and with the cattle, and with every beast of the earth," no less than with man (Genesis 9:9-11). In the Psalms he de clares that "the cattle upon a thousand hills" are his (Psalms 50:10). In Jonah, we find that Nineveh was spared, in part because there was in it "much cattle" (Jonah 4:11). The precept, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" is characteristic of the Mosaic dispensation, and had no parallel in the written codes or in the actual customs of other ancient nations. Animal suffering was generally regarded as of small account in the ancient world; and the idea of protecting animals from ill usage was wholly unknown. On the contrary, as Dr. Dollinger well observes: "The law was specially careful about the welfare of animals; they were to be treated with compassion and kindness. Domestic animals were to be well fed, and to enjoy the rest of the sabbath. The Israelites were to help to lift up the ass which had fallen beneath its burden, and to bring back the beast that had gone astray (Exodus 23:5, Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 25:4)… The young was not to be taken from its mother before the seventh day … From these and similar ordinances—such, for instance, as about the least painful method of killing animals—it is plain that the law tried to subdue that coarse turn of mind and unfeeling cruelty, which are engendered by the maltreatment of animals." Nor the stranger that is within thy gates. The "strangers within the gates" of Israel are those foreigners who voluntarily sojourned with them in their camps or (afterwards) in their towns. A "mixed multitude" had gone up out of Egypt with them (Exodus 12:38), and accompanied them in their wilderness wanderings. The command that these too should rest, was at once a restriction upon their liberty, requiring them to conform to the habits of those among whom they dwelt, and an admission of them into participation in some portion of the privileges of Israel. The sacred rest of the sabbath prefigured the final peace and happiness of the blest in heaven; and they who were commanded to share in the first, were encouraged to hope that they might also participate in the second.

Exodus 20:11

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth. Two reasons are assigned for the sanctification of the seventh day in the Pentateuch:—

1. The fact that the work of creation took six days, and that on the seventh God rested; and

2. The further fact, that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and gave them a time of rest after a time of labour and toil (Deuteronomy 5:15). It is not expressly said that the deliverance took place on the Sabbath, but such is the Jewish tradition on the subject. The reason here assigned must be regarded as the main reason, man's rest being purposely assimilated to God's rest, in order to show the resemblance between man's nature anti God's (Genesis 1:27), and to point towards that eternal rest wherein man, united with God, will find his highest bliss and the true end of his being. "There remaineth a rest for the people of God."

Exodus 20:12

Honor thy father and thy mother. The obligation of filial respect, love, and reverence is so instinctively' felt by all, that the duty has naturally found a place in every moral code. In the maxims of Ptah-hotep, an Egyptian author who lived probably before Abraham, "the duty of filial piety is strictly inculcated". Confucius, in China, based his moral system wholly upon the principle of parental authority; and in Rome it may be regarded as the main foundation of the political edifice. In the Decalogue, the position of this duty, at the head of our duties towards our neighbour, marks its importance; which is further shown by this being "the first commandment with promise" (Ephesians 6:2). It is curious that the long life here specially attached to the observance of this obligation, was also believed to accompany it by the Egyptians. "The son," says Ptah-hotep, "who accepts the words of his father, will grow old in consequence of so doing;" and again—"The obedient son will be happy by reason of his obedience; he will grow old; he will come to favour." Modern commentators generally assume that the promise was not personal, but national—the nation's days were to be "long upon the land," if the citizens generally were obedient children. But this explanation cannot apply to Ephesians 6:1-3. And if obedience to parents is to be rewarded with long life under the new covenant, there can be no reason why it should not have been so rewarded under the old. The objection that good sons are not always long-lived is futile. God governs the universe by general, not by universal laws.

Exodus 20:13

Thou shalt not kill. Here again is a moral precept included in all codes, and placed by all in a prominent position. Our first duty towards our neighbour is to respect his life. When Cain slew Abel, he could scarcely have known what he was doing; yet a terrible punishment was awarded him for his transgression (Genesis 4:11-14). After the flood, the solemn declaration was made, which thenceforward became a universal law among mankind—"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (Genesis 9:6). In the world that followed the flood, all races of men had the tradition that only blood could expiate blood. In the few places where there was an organised government, and a systematic administration of justice, the State acted on the principle, and punished the murderer capitally. Elsewhere, among tribes and races which had not vet coalesced into states, the law of blood-revenge obtained, and the inquisition for blood became a private affair. The next of kin was the recognised" avenger," upon whom it devolved to hunt out the murderer and punish him. Here the sin is simply and emphatically denounced, the brevity of the precept increasing its force. The Israelites are told that to take life is a crime. God forbids it. As usual, no exceptions are made. Exceptions appear later on (Numbers 35:22-25; Deuteronomy 4:42; etc.); but the first thing is to establish the principle. Human life is sacred. Man is not to shed the blood of his fellow-man. If he does, of his hand will the life taken surely be required. The casuistic question whether suicide is forbidden under this precept, probably did not occur to the legislator or to the Hebrews of his time. Neither the Hebrews, nor the Egyptians, among whom they had so long lived, were addicted to suicide; and it is a general rule that laws are not made excepting against tolerably well-known crimes. It has been argued that angry thoughts and insulting words were forbidden by it on the strength of our Lord's comment in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:22). But it seems to the present writer that in Matthew 5:21-47 our Lord is not so much explaining the Jewish law as amplifying it on his own authority—note the repetition of the phrase, "But I say unto you"—and making it mean to Christians what it had not meant to Jews.

Exodus 20:14

Thou shalt not commit adultery. Our second duty towards our neighbour is to respect the bond on which the family is based, and that conjugal honour which to the true man is dearer than life. Marriage, according to the original institution, made the husband and wife "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24); and to break in upon this sacramental union was at once a crime and a profanity. Adulteresses and their paramours were in most ancient nations liable to be punished with death by the injured party; but the adultery of a married man with an unmarried woman was thought lightly of. The precept of the Decalogue binds both man and woman equally. Our Lord's expansion of this commandment (Matthew 5:27-32) is parallel to his expansion of the preceding one (ib, 21-26). He shows that there are adulterous marriages in countries where the law gives a facility of divorce, and that without any overt act adultery may be committed in the heart.

Exodus 20:15

Thou shalt not steal. By these words the right of property received formal acknowledgment, and a protest was made by anticipation against the maxim of modern socialists—"La propriete, c'est le vol." Instinctively man feels that some things become his, especially by toil expended on them, and that, by parity of reasoning, some things become his neighbour's. Our third duty towards our neighbour is to respect his rights in these. Society, in every community that has hitherto existed, has recognised private pro-petty; and social order may be said to be built upon it. Government exists mainly for the security of men's lives and properties; and anarchy would supervene if either could be with impunity attacked. Theft has always been punished in every state; and even the Spartan youth was not acquitted of blame unless he could plead that the State had stopped his supplies of food, and bid him forage for himself.

Exodus 20:16

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. False witness is of two kinds, public and private. We may either seek to damage our neighbour by giving false evidence against him in a court of justice, or simply calumniate him to others in our social intercourse with them. The form of the expression here used points especially to false witness of the former kind, but does not exclude the latter, which is expressly forbidden in Exodus 23:1. The wrong done to a man by false evidence in a court may be a wrong of the very extremest kind—may be actual murder (1 Kings 21:13) More often, however, it results in an injury to his property or his character. As fatal to the administration of justice, false witness in courts has been severely visited by penalties in all well-regulated states. At Athens the false witness was liable to a heavy fine, and if thrice convicted lost all his civil rights. At Rome, by a law of the Twelve Tables, he was hurled headlong from the Tarpeian rock. In Egypt, false witness was punished by amputation of the nose and ears. Private calumny may sometimes involve as serious consequences to individuals as false witness in a court. It may ruin a man; it may madden him; it may drive him to suicide. But it does not disorganise the whole framework of society, like perjured evidence before a tribunal; and states generally are content to leave the injured party to the remedy of an action-at-law. The Mosaic legislation was probably the first wherein it was positively forbidden to circulate reports to the prejudice of another, and where consequently this was a criminal offence.

Exodus 20:17

Thou shalt not covet. Here the Mosaic law takes a step enormously in advance of any other ancient code. Most codes stopped short at the deed; a few went on to words; not one attempted to control thoughts. "Thou shalt not covet" teaches men that there is One who sees the heart; to whose eyes "all things are naked and open;" and who cares far less for the outward act than the inward thought or motive from which the act proceeds. "Thou shalt not covet: lays it down again that we are not mere slaves of our natural desires and passions, but have a controlling power implanted within us, by means of which we can keep down passion, check desire, resist impulse. Man is lord of himself, capable, by the exercise of his free-will, of moulding his feelings, weakening or intensifying his passions, shaping his character. God, who "requires truth in the inward parts," looks that we should in all cases go to the root of the matter, and not be content with restraining ourselves from evil acts and evil words, but eradicate the evil feeling from which the acts and words proceed. Thy neighbour's house, etc. The "house" is mentioned first as being of primary necessity, and as in some sort containing all the rest. A man does not take a wife until he has a home to bring her to, or engage domestic servants, or buy slaves, except to form part of a household. The other objects mentioned are placed in the order in which they are usually valued. The multiplication of objects is by way of emphasis.


Exodus 20:1-17

The ten commandments collectivety.

The ten commandments form a summary of our main duties towards God, and towards man. They stand out from the rest of the Old Testament in a remarkable way.

1. They were uttered audibly by a voice which thousands heard—a voice which is called that of God himself (Deuteronomy 5:26) and which filled those who heard it with a terrible fear (Exodus 20:19).

2. They were the only direct utterance ever made by God to man under the Old Covenant.

3. They were not merely uttered by God but written by him, inscribed in some marvellous way by the finger of God on the two tables of testimony (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:13).

4. They have the additional testimony to their primary importance, that our Lord himself appealed to them as laying down that which men must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:18, Matthew 19:19). We may observe of them collectively—

I. THAT THEY ARE ALL-EMBRACING. They include our obligations to both God and man; they are both prohibitive and directive; they reach to the heart as well as to the outward life; they comprise both moral and positive precepts. According to the division adopted by the English Church, and by the reformed churches generally, the first four lay down our duty to our Maker, the last six our duty to our fellow men. Mostly they are prohibitive; but this is not the case with the fourth and fifth. The generality are concerned with acts, but words form the subject matter of the third; and both the tenth and the fifth deal with thoughts. As the moral is much more important than the positive, they are naturally in the main moral; but, to show that the Positive is an essential element in religion, they are also partly Positive-no moral ground being assignable for the consecration of one day in seven, rather than one in eight or six, much less for the definite selection of "the seventh day" as the one to be kept holy.

II. THAT THEY ARE SYSTEMATIC, BOTH IN MATTER AND ARRANGEMENT. The Decalogue takes as its basis the fact that all our duties are owed either to God or man. It regards our duties to God as the more important, and therefore places them first. The duties consist:

1. In acknowledging his existence and unity, and in "having him" for our God and none other (first commandment);

2. In conceiving aright of his incorporeity and spirituality, and worshipping him as a Spirit, in spirit and in truth (second commandment);

3. In reverencing his holy Name, and avoiding the profane use of it (third commandment); and,

4. In setting apart for his worship some stated portion of our time, since otherwise we shall be sure to neglect it (fourth commandment). Our duties towards our fellow men are more complicated. First, there is a special relation in which we stand towards those who bring us into the world and support us during our early years, involving peculiar duties to them, analogous in part to those which we owe to God, and so rightly following upon the summary of our Divine duties (fifth commandment). Next, with respect to men in general, we owe it them to abstain from injuring them in deed, word, or thought. In deed we may injure their person, their honour, and their property, which we are consequently forbidden to do in the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth commandments. In word, we injure our neighbour especially by false witness, public or private, both of which are forbidden in the ninth commandment. We injure him in thought, finally, when we covet what is his; hence the tenth commandment.

III. THAT THEY ARE THE FIRST GERMS OUT OF WHICH THE WHOLE OF THE MORAL LAW MAY BE ENVOLVED. The Decalogue is a collection of elementary moral truths. Its predominantly negative form is indicative of this, since abstaining from evil is the first step on the road to virtue. Each command asserts a principle; and the principle is in every case capable of being worked out to a thousand remote consequences. The letter may be narrow; but the spirit of the commandment is in every case "exceeding broach" This will appear, more clearly, in the ensuing section, in which the ten commandments will be considered severally.

Exodus 20:1-17

The ten commandments severally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT. To the Christian the First Commandment takes the form which our Lord gave it—"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all-thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment' (Matthew 22:37, Matthew 22:38). Not merely abstract belief, not merely humble acknowledgment of one God is necessary, but heartfelt devotion to the One Object worthy of our devotion, the One Being in all the universe on whom we may rest and stay ourselves without fear of his failing us. He is the Lord our God—not an Epicurean deity, infinitely remote from man, who has created the world and left it to its own devices—not a Pantheistic essence spread through all nature, omnipresent, but intangible, impersonal, deaf to our cries, and indifferent to our "to us making for righteousness" in actions—not an inscrutable "something external to us making for righteousness," in the words of the religious Agnostic—but a Being very near us, "in whom we live; and move, and have our being," who is "about our path and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways," a Being whom we may know, and love, and trust, and feel to be with us, warning us, and cheering us, and consoling us, and pleading with us, and ready to receive us, and most willing to pardon us—a Being who is never absent from us, who continually sustains our life, upholds our faculties, gives us all we enjoy and our power to enjoy it, and who is therefore the natural object of our warmest, tenderest, truest, and most constant love. The first commandment should not be difficult to keep. We have only to open our eyes to the facts, and let them make their natural impression upon our minds, in order to love One who has done and still does so much for us.

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT. On its prohibitive side, this Commandment forbids us to have unworthy thoughts of God, to liken him to all idol, or regard him as "even such an one as ourselves." Considered as directive, it requires us to form in our minds a just and true idea of the Divine nature, and especially of its spirituality, its lofty majesty, and its transcendent holiness. All materialistic ideas, and consequently all Pantheistic notions, are degrading to the dignity of God, who "is a Spirit, without body, parts, or passions, not mixed with matter, but wholly separate from it, yet everywhere present after a supersensuous manner. Again, anthropomorphic notions of God are degrading to him; though it is scarcely possible to speak of him without anthropomorphic expressions. When we use such terms—as when we call God just, or merciful, or long-suffering—we should remember that those qualities in him are not identical with the human ones, but only analogous to them; and altogether we should be conscious of a deep mysteriousness lying behind all that we know of God, and rendering him a Being awful, inscrutable—whom we must not suppose that we can fathom or comprehend.

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT Primarily, the Third Commandment forbids perjury or false swearing; secondarily, it forbids all unnecessary oaths, all needless mention of the holy name of God, and all irreverence towards anything which is God's—his name, house, day, book, laws, ministers. Whatever in any sense belongs to God is sacred, and, if it has to be mentioned, should be mentioned reverently. The true main object of the Third Commandment is to inculcate reverence, to point out to us that the only proper frame of mind in which we can approach God is one of self-abasement and deeply reverential fear. "Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God," says the Preacher, "and be more ready to hear than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:1, Ecclesiastes 5:2).

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT. In the Fourth Commandment we have the basis for all that is external in religion. The dedication of one entire day out of seven to God, and the command to abstain on that day from the ordinary labours of life, led on naturally to the institution of sacred services, holy convocations, meetings for united worship and prayer. Man is an active being, and a social being. If the ordinary business of life is stopped, some other occupation must be found for him: he will not sit still from morning to night with folded hands wrapped in pious contemplation. The institution of the Sabbath stands in close relation to the appointment of a priesthood, the construction of a holy place, and the establishment of a ceremonial. On the Christian the Fourth Commandment is not binding in respect of the letter—he is not to remember the Seventh day to keep it holy, but the First; he is not tied to hallow it by an abstinence from all labour, but encouraged to devote it to the performance of good works; but in the spirit of it, the commandment is as binding as any. Men need, under Christianity as much as under Judaism, positive religious institutions, places of worship, hours of prayer, a liturgy, a ritual, ceremonies. The value of the Lord's Day as a Christian institution is incalculable; it witnesses for religion to the world; it constitutes a distinct call on men to take into consideration the aim and intent of the day; and its rightful use is of inestimable benefit to all truly religious persons, deepening in them, as it does, the sense of religion, and giving them time and opportunity for the training of their spiritual nature, and the contemplation of heavenly things, which would otherwise to most men have been unattainable. It has been well called "a bridge thrown across life's troubled waters, over which we may pass to reach the opposite shore—a link between earth and heaven—a type of the eternal day, when the freed spirit, if true to itself and to God, shall ,put on for ever the robe of immortal holiness and joy."

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT. The honour which this commandment exacts from us is irrespective of our parents' personal merits or demerits. We are to honour them as being our parents. Difficulties may be raised easily enough in theory; but they are readily solvable in practice. Let us defer to our parents' commands in all things lawful—let us do everything for them that we can—let us anticipate their wishes in things indifferent—let us take trouble on their behalf—let us be ever on the watch to spare them vexatious annoyance—let us study their comfort, ease, peace—and without any sacrifice of principle, even if they are bad parents, we may sufficiently show that we feel the obligation of the relationship, and are anxious to discharge the duties which it involves. Comparatively few men are, however, severely tried. We are not often much better than our parents; and it is seldom difficult to honour them.

1. For their age and experience.

2. For the benefits which they have conferred on us.

3. For the disinterested affection which they bear to us, and which they evince in their conduct. As a rule, parents have very much more love for their children than these have for them, and make sacrifices on their children's behalf, which their children neither appreciate nor reciprocate. The honour which, according to this commandment, has to be shown to parents, must of course be extended, with certain modifications, to those who stand to us in loco parentis—to guardians, tutors, schoolmasters, and the like. It is not perhaps quite clear that the commandment extends also to those who are set over us in Church and State, though it is usual so to interpret it. There are certain relations of parents to their offspring which are altogether peculiar; and these are absolutely incommunicable. There are others, which are common to parents with rulers; but these, unless in very primitive communities, can scarcely be said to rest upon the domestic relation as their basis. The ordinary relation of the governed to their governors is rather one parallel to that of children to their parents, than one which grows out of it; and though either may be used to illustrate the other, we must view the two as separate and independent of each other.

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT. How wide is the scope of this commandment to Christians, our Lord has shown. Not only are murder and violence prohibited by it, but even provoking words, and angry thoughts (Matthew 5:21-26). The "root of bitterness" whence murder springs, is either some fierce passion, or some inordinate desire. To be secure from murderous impulses, we must be free from such emotions as these,—we must have tender and Joying feelings towards all our fellow-men. "Love is the fulfilling of the law;" and unless a man really "love the brethren," he has no security against being surprised into violence towards them, which may issue in death. Nor is there one species of murder only. The sixth commandment prohibits, not only violence to the body, but—what is of far greater consequence—injury to the soul. Men break it most flagrantly when they lead another into deadly sin, thereby—so far as in them lies—destroying his soul. The corrupter of innocence, the seducer, the persuader to evil, are "murderers" in a far worse sense than the cut-threat, the bandit, or the bravo. Death on the scaffold may expiate the crimes of these latter; eternal punishment alone would seem to be an adequate penalty for the guilt of the former. He that has eternally ruined a soul should surely be himself eternally unhappy.

THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT. Here again we have the inestimable advantage of our Lord's comment on the commandment, to help us to understand what it ought to mean to us. Not only adultery, but fornication—not only fornication, but impurity of any and every kind—in act, in word, in thought—is forbidden to the Christian. He that looketh on a woman with the object of lusting after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28). He that dallies with temptation, he that knowingly goes into the company of the impure, he that in his solitary chamber defiles himself, he that hears without rebuking them obscene words, transgresses against this law, and, unless he repents, cuts himself off from God. And observe—the law is one both for men and women. We are ready enough to speak with scorn of "fallen women,"—to regard them as ruined for ever, and treat their sin as the one unpardonable offence; but what of" fallen men"? Is not their sin as irreversible? Is it not the same sin? Is it not spoken of in Scripture in the same way? "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). "Murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). And is it not as debasing, as deadening to the soul, as destructive of all true manliness, of all true chivalry, of all self-respect? Principiis obsta. Let the young keep that precious gift of purity which is theirs, and not be induced by the ridicule of unclean men to part with it. Once gone it can never return. Let them be pure, as Christ was pure. Blessed are the pure in heart!

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT. Simple direct stealing, being severely punished by the law in most countries, is seldom practised, unless it be by children and slaves. But indirect stealing of various kinds is common. It should be clearly understood that the Christian precept forbids any act by which we fraudulently obtain the property of another. Adulteration, concealment of defects, misrepresentation of quality, employment of false weights or measures, are the acts of a thief, as much as pocket-picking or shop-lifting. Servants steal when they take "commission" from tradesmen unknown to their masters, or appropriate as "perquisites" what their masters have not expressly agreed to allow, or neglect to do the work which they undertook, or do it in a slovenly manner, or damage their master's property by carelessness or diminish it by waste. Masters steal when they do not permit their servants the indulgences they promised, or allow their wages to fall into arrear, or force them to work overtime without proper remuneration, or deprive them of such "rest" as they had a reasonable right to expect upon the Sunday. Those steal who cheat the revenue by smuggling, or false returns to tax-collectors; or who cheat tradesmen by incurring debts which they can never pay, or who in view of coming bankruptcy pass over their property to a friend, with the understanding that it is to be restored to them, or who have recourse of any of the "tricks of trade," as they are called. All men are sure to steal in one way or another, who are not possessed by the spirit of honesty, who do not love justice and equity and fair, dealing, who do not make it the law of their life to be ever doing to others as they would that others should do unto them.

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT. False witness in a court is but rarely given. We most of us pass our lives without having once to appear in a court, either as prosecutor, witness, or accused. The false witness against which the generality have especially to be on their guard, is that evil speaking which is continually taking place in society, whereby men's characters are blackened, their motives misrepresented, their reputations eaten away. It is dull and tame to praise a man. We get a character for wit and shrewdness if we point out flaws in his conduct, show that he may have acted from a selfish motive, "just hint a fault and hesitate dislike." It is not even necessary in all cases to establish our character for shrewd insight that we should say anything. Silence when we hear a friend maligned, a shrug of the shoulders, a movement of the eyebrows, will do. Again, false witness may be given in writing as well as in speech. The reviewer who says of a book worse than he thinks of it, bears false witness. The writer for the Press who abuses in a leading article a public man whom he inwardly respects, bears false witness. The person who vents his spite against a servant by giving him a worse character than he deserves, bears false witness. We can only be secure against daily breaches of this commandment by joining the spirit of love with a deep-seated regard for truth, and aiming always at saying of others, when we have occasion to speak of them, the best that we can conscientiously say.

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT. The tenth commandment is supplementary to the eighth. Rightly understood, the eighth implies it, covetousness being the root from which theft springs. The command seems added to the Decalogue in order to lay down the principle that the thoughts of the heart come under God's law, and that we are as responsible for them as for our actions. Otherwise, it would not be needed, being implied in the eighth and in the seventh. Since, however, it was of the greatest importance for men to know and understand that God regards the heart, and "requires truth in the inward parts;" and since covetousness was the cause of the greater portion of the evil that is in the world, the precept, although already implied, was given expressly. Men were forbidden to covet the house, wife, slaves, cattle, property of their neighbour—in fact, "anything that is his." They were not forbidden to desire houses, or wives, or cattle, or property generally—which are all, within limits, objects of desire and things which men may rightfully wish for—but they were forbidden to desire for themselves such as were already appropriated by their fellows, and of which, therefore, they could not become possessed without their fellows suffering loss. A moderate desire for earthly goods is not forbidden to the Christian (Matthew 19:29; 1 Timothy 4:8); though his special covetousness should be for "the best gifts"—the virtues and graces which make up the perfect Christian character (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1).


Exodus 20:1

The moral law-Preliminary.

The law given from Sinai is the moral law by pre-eminence. The principles which it embodies are of permanent obligation. It is a brief summary of the whole compass of our duty to God and man. It is a law of supreme excellence—"holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12). God's own character is expressed in it; it bears witness to his unity, spirituality, holiness, sovereignty, mercy, and equity; truth and righteousness are visible in its every precept. Listening to its "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," we cannot but recognise the same stern voice which speaks to us in our own breasts, addressing to us calls to duty, approving us in what is right, condemning us for what is wrong. These ten precepts, accordingly, are distinguished from the judicial and ceremonial statutes subsequently given—

(1) As the moral is distinguished from the merely positive;

(2) As the universally obligatory is distinguished from what is local and temporary;

(3) As the fundamental is distinguished from the derivative and secondary. The judicial law, e.g; not only draws its spirit, and derives its highest authority, from the law of the ten commandments, but is in its own nature, simply an application of the maxims of this law to the problems of actual government. Its binding force was confined to Israel.

The ceremonial law, again, with its meats and drinks, its sacrifices, etc. bore throughout the character of a positive institution, and had no independent moral worth. It stood to the moral law in a triple relation of subordination—

(1) As inferior to it in its own nature.

(2) As designed to aid the mind in rising to the apprehension of the holiness which the law enjoined.

(3) As providing (typically) for the removal of guilt contracted by the breaking of the law. This distinctness of the "ten words" from the other parts of the law is evinced—


1. They alone were spoken by the voice of God from Sinai.

2. They were uttered amidst circumstances of the greatest magnificence and terror.

3. They alone were written on tables of stone.

4. They were written by God's own finger (Exodus 31:18). The rest of the law was communicated privately to Moses, and through him delivered to the people.


1. They are "the words of the Lord," as distinguished from the "judgments "or "rights" derived from them, and embraced with them in "the book of the covenant," as forming the statutory law of Israel (Exodus 24:3).

2. The tables on which they were written are—to the exclusion of the other parts of the law—called "the testimony" (Exodus 25:16), "the covenant" (Deuteronomy 4:13), "the words of the covenant" (Exodus 34:28), "the tables of testimony" (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15), "the tables of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9:9-11).

3. The tables of stone, and they only, were placed in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:21). They were thus regarded as in a special sense the bond of the covenant. The deposition of the tables in the ark, underneath the mercy seat, throws light on the nature of the covenant with Israel. The law written on the tables is the substratum of the covenant—its obligatory document—the bond; yet over the law is the mercy-seat, sprinkled with blood of propitiation—a testimony that there is forgiveness with God, that he may be feared (Psalms 130:4), that God will deal mercifully with Israel under this covenant. It is obvious, from these considerations, how fallacious is the statement that the Old Testament makes no distinction between the moral, juristic, and ceremonial parts of the law, but regards all as of equal dignity.—J.O.

Exodus 20:1-18

The moral law-General survey.

View this law of the ten commandments as—

I. AUTHORITATIVELY DELIVERED. "God spake all these words, saying," etc. (Exodus 20:1). An authoritative revelation of moral law was necessary—

1. That man might be made distinctly aware of the compass of his obligations. The moral knowledge originally possessed by man had gradually been parted with. What remained was distorted and confused. He had little right knowledge of his duty to God, and very inadequate conceptions even of his duties to his fellow-men. This lost knowledge was recovered to him by positive revelation. Consider, in proof of the need of such a revelation, the ignorance of God which prevails still, men's imperfect apprehensions of his holiness, their defective views of duty, etc. And this though the revelation has so long been given.

2. That a basis of certainty might be obtained for the inculcation of moral truth. This also was necessary. Man has ever shown himself ingenious in explaining away the obligations which the law imposes on him. He may deny that they exist. He may make light of holiness. He may take up utilitarian ground, and ride off on disputes as to the nature of conscience, the origin of moral ideas, the diversities of human opinion, etc. The law stops all such cavilling by interposing with its authoritative "Thus saith the Lord." See on this point a valuable paper on "Secularism," by R. H. Hutton, in "Expositor," January, 1881.

3. That the authority of conscience may be strengthened. Conscience testifies, in however dim and broken a way, to the existence of a law above us. It speaks with authority. "Had it might as it has right, it would rule the world." In order, however, that we may be made to feel that it is a living will, and no mere impersonal law, which thus imposes its commands upon us, there is a clear need for the voice within being reinforced by the voice without—for historical revelation. Sinai teaches us to recognise the authority which binds us in our consciences as God's authority.

4. For economic purposes. See previous chapter.

II. GRACIOUSLY PREFACED. "I am the Lord, thy God," etc. (Exodus 20:2). This preface to the law is of great importance.

1. It testified to the fact that God's relation to Israel was fundamentally a gracious one. "The law was introduced with the words, 'I am the Lord thy God,' and speaks with the majestic authority of the Eternal, dispensing blessings and cursings on the fulfilment and transgression of the law. But although this is given amidst the thunder and lightning of Sinai, whose roll seems to be heard constantly in its mighty imperatives—'Thou shalt not!' or 'Thou shalt!' yet still it points back to grace; for the God who speaks in the law is he who led the people out of Egypt, freed them from the yoke of bondage—the God who gave the promise to Abraham, and who has prepared a highest good, the Messianic kingdom, for his people" (Martensen).

2. It furnished a motive for obedience to the law. Mark the order—the same as in the Gospel; God first saves Israel, then gives them his law to keep. Because God had redeemed them from Egypt, and had given them, of his free mercy, this glorious privilege of being his people, therefore were they to keep his commandments. This was the return they were to make to him for the so great love wherewith he had loved them. Their relation to the law was not to be a servile one. Obedience was not to be a price paid for favour, but a return of grateful hearts for favours already received. From this motive of gratitude, and that they might retain the privileges he had given them, and inherit farther blessing, they were to walk in the prescribed way. If, notwithstanding, a pronouncedly legal element entered into that economy, a curse even being pronounced against those who failed to keep the whole law, while the good promised to obedience appears more as legal award than as a gift of grace—we know now the reason for the covenant being cast into this legal form, and can rejoice that in Christ our justification is placed on so much better a footing. Obedience, however, is still required of us as a condition of continuance in God's favour, and of ultimate inheritance of blessing.

3. It furnished to the pious Israelite a pledge of merciful treatment when he transgressed or fell short of the requirements of his law. What, e.g; had David to fall back upon in the hour of his remorse for his great transgression (Psalms 51:1-19.), but just such a word as this, confirmed as it was by acts of God, which showed that it was a word always to be depended on. This one saying, prefacing the law, altered the whole complexion of Israel's standing under law. It gave to the Israelite the assurance that he most needed, namely—that, notwithstanding the strictness of the commandment, God would yet accept him in his sincere endeavours after obedience, though these fell manifoldly short of the full requirement, i.e; virtually on the ground of faith—in connection, however, with propitiation.

III. MORAL IN ITS SUBSTANCE. This has been adverted to above. Though imposed on man by Divine authority, moral law is no arbitrary creation of the Divine will. It is an emanation from the Divine nature. (Cf. Hooker—"Of law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God; her voice the harmony of the world.") Herbert Spencer was never guilty of a greater misrepresentation than when he affirmed—"Religious creeds, established and dissenting, all embody the belief that right and wrong are right and wrong simply in virtue of Divine enactment". We may reply with Stahl—"The primary idea of goodness is the essential, not the creative, will of God. The Divine will, in its essence, is infinite love, mercy, patience, truth, faithfulness, rectitude, spirituality, and all that is included in the idea of holiness, which constitutes the inmost nature of God. The holiness of God, therefore, neither precedes his will ('sanctitas antceedens voluntatem' of the schoolmen) nor follows it, but is his will itself. The good is not a law for the Divine will (so that God wills it because it is good); neither is it a creation of his will (so that it becomes good because he wills it); but it is the nature of God from everlasting to everlasting." The law, in a word, expresses immutable demands of holiness. What these are is determined in any given case by the abstract nature of holiness and by the constitution and circumstances of the being to whom the law is given. Man, e.g; is a free, immortal spirit; but he is at the same time an inhabitant of the earth, bound by natural conditions, and standing to his fellow-men in relations, some of which at least belong only to his present state of existence. Hence we find in the Decalogue precepts relating to the weekly Sabbath, to marriage, to the institution of private property, etc. These precepts are founded on our nature, and are universally obligatory. They show what duty immutably requires of us as possessing such a nature; but obviously their application will cease under different conditions of existence (Matthew 22:30). Only in its fundamental principles of love to God and to our fellow-beings, and in its spiritual demands for truth, purity, uprightness, reverence, and fidelity, is the law absolutely unchangeable.


1. Its two divisions, turning, the one on the principle of love to God, the other, on the principle of love to man.

2. The relative position of the two divisions—duty to God standing first, and laying the needful foundation for the right discharge of our duties to mankind. True love to man has its fountain head in love to God. Neglect of the duties of piety will speedily be followed by the neglect of duty to our neighbour. The Scripture does not ignore the distinction between religion (duties done directly to God) and morality (duties arising from earthly relations), but it unites the two in the deeper idea that all duty is to be done to God, whose authority is supreme in the one sphere as in the other.

3. The scope of its precepts. These cover the entire range of human obligation. The precepts of the first table (including here the Fifth Commandment) require that God be honoured in his being, his worship, his name, his day, his human representatives. The precepts of the second table require that our neighbour be not injured in deed, in word, in thought; and in respect neither of his person, his wife, his property, nor his reputation. So complete and concise a summary of duty—religious and ethical—based on true ideas of the character of God, and taking holiness, not bare morality, as its standard, is without parallel in ancient legislation.

V. SPIRITUAL IS ITS PURPORT. "The law is spiritual" (Romans 7:14).

1. The law to be studied in its principles. Taken in its bare letter, it might appear narrow. Here, however, as everywhere in Scripture, the letter is only the vehicle of the spirit. The whole law of Moses being founded on this part of it—being viewed simply as an expansion or amplification in different relations of the principles embodied in the ten words—it is plain, and common sense supports us in the view, that the principles are the main things, the true roots of obligation. Thus, the Third Commandment, in the letter of it, forbids false swearing, or generally, any vain use of the name of God. But underlying this, and obviously forming the ground of the command, is the principle that God's name, i.e; everything whereby he manifests himself, is to be treated with deepest reverence. This principle, in its various applications, carries us far beyond the letter of the precept. Read in the same way, the Sixth Commandment forbids killing, but not less the murderous motive than the murderous act; while the principle involved, viz; reverence for, and care of, human life (cf. Genesis 9:6), branches out into a multiplicity of duties, of which the other parts of the law of Moses furnish numerous illustrations. The true key to the spiritual interpretation of the law is that given by Christ in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-48.- 7.).

2. Summed up in love. "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:8-10).

(1) It is the central requirement. "Them that love me" (verse 6). Implied in the first and all later precepts. Whatever in the way of outward service we render to God, or man, if love is withheld, the law is not fulfilled.

(2) It is needed to fill up the meaning of the special precepts. These receive their fulness of interpretation only through love. And, in the spiritual reading of them, they cannot be kept without love. It is impossible, e.g; to keep the heart free from all envy, malice, hate, covetousness, save as it is possessed by the opposite principle of love. Love is the root of fidelity to God, of spirituality in his worship, of reverence for his name, of delight in his day, etc. The more deeply we penetrate into the meaning of the law, the more clearly do we perceive that love to God and love to man are indispensable for the fulfilling of it.

(3) Love secures the fulfilling of the law. For "love worketh no ill to his neighbour" (Romans 13:10). It will not voluntarily injure another. It will not kill, rob, defraud, slander a fellowman, or covet his possessions. On the contrary, it will seek in every way it can to do him good. It is the great impelling motive to obedience. "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). "Faith, which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6).


1. By Divine threatenings (verses 5-7).

2. By Divine example (verse 11).

3. By Divine promises (verses 6-12).

See below. Behold, then, the beauty and perfection of the law. "Thy commandment is exceeding broad" (Psalms 119:96). We are not to be misled,

1. By the studied brevity of the law, which is part of its excellency; or,

2. By its prevailing negative form—a testimony, not to the unspirituality of the law, but to the existence of strong evil tendencies in the heart, needing to be repressed (Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8; 1 Timothy 1:9 1 Timothy 1:10). Yet perfect as it is of its kind, it is not to be compared, as a mirror of holiness, with the perfect human life of Jesus Christ. No accumulation of separate precepts can exhaust all that is contained in holiness. Precepts convey also a defective idea of the good by breaking up that which is in its own nature one—an ideal—into a number of separate parts. What, however, the law could not do for us, is done in the perfect example of our Lord. In him, law is translated into life. The ideal is no longer presented to us, as even in the Decalogue, in detached precepts, "broken lights," "words," which—just because holiness is so vast a thing—are left to hint more than they express, but in its true unbroken unity, in the sphered whole of a perfect human character. Our law is Christ.—J.O.


Exodus 20:1, Exodus 20:2

The Ten Commandments-an introductory reminder.

Before the speaker of these commandments proceeded to the utterance of them, it was necessary that he should call special and reverent attention to himself. Not one of the words he was about to say could either be understood or obeyed without a constant reference in thought to him who had delivered and arranged them. He did not bring them before Israel as a far seeing legislator might bring such rules as were best adapted to the limitations and infirmities of those whom he sought to guide. They were the laws of that kingdom where the King himself is a real and immutable lawgiver, he whose reign never comes to an end. Some of the commandments had a direct reference to himself; and all had to do with his service. Should it not, then, be ever a helpful and sobering truth to us that the great laws for human life thus come as expressions through a Divine will? We cannot overrate the importance of requirements which God himself solemnly declares. And just as we Christians in repeating the Lord's prayer must think constantly of the invocation to our Father in heaven, in order to enforce and enrich the plea of each petition, so in carrying out these ten commandments, each Israelite was bound to think of each commandment in connection with that Jehovah who had spoken it. The thought that he had brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage was meant to give special force to everything he required from the hands of his people.

I. JEHOVAH SPEAKS OF HIMSELF IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM TO WHOM HE SPEAKS. He solemnly charges them to look back on their own experience, to consider their past suffering and helplessness, and how they had come to the present hour entirely because of what he had done for them. Note that he does not, as on former occasions, speak of himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that was a necessary mode of description when he made his first approach to them, but now they have their own rich and crowded experiences to constitute a claim for their attention and obedience. God bases his expectations on services rendered to the present generation; and the claim he makes is founded on the greatest boon that could be conferred, liberty. When from this very mountain he sent Moses to them, they were in bitter servitude; now Moses finds himself at this mountain again, with a nation of freemen around him. Jehovah is not afraid of referring to the land of Egypt, even though the people had allowed the agreeable associations of the name to override the disagreeable ones. They delighted in thinking of it as a land where they sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4, Numbers 11:5). But now in this reference to himself which would henceforth be so conspicuous, Jehovah fixes together in a permanent association the land of Egypt and the house of bondage. When the people disparaged the wilderness and glorified Egypt, he made them hear again the sound of the clanking chain: and if that sound, heard only in memory, was not dreadful as in the old reality, yet God, who is not influenced by the lapses of time, knew how dreadful that reality was. It is a good thing that he remembers what men forget. Even though we be Christians, and should have better aims and better joys, we too often catch our thoughts turned longingly towards a forsaken world. And so God comes in to speak plainly and burst the bubble of this world's attractions by the emphasised truth that spiritual Egypt is the house of bondage. He that committeth sin is the slave of sin. While the people were in Egypt they had not talked of these things as pleasant; the life there, in the actual experience of it, was intolerable. And so with perfect confidence God could appeal to their past consciousness.

II. There was also an indication that GOD HAD TAKEN AWAY ALL EXTERNAL HINDRANCES TO OBEDIENCE. He had taken them clean out of the house of bondage. They were now free to carry out all the observances which Jehovah was about to appoint. They had no Pharaoh to struggle with, grudging them time to serve their God (Exodus 5:4); they had no danger to fear from sacrificing the abominations of Egypt within its borders. If God asks us for service, we may be sure that in the very first place, he will provide all the conditions of rendering it effectually and comfortably. As we read our New Testament, we are made to feel that God expects very large things from us. He is most exacting in his claims for self-denial and completeness of devotion to his cause, but what of that? Has he not given us his own Spirit, which is a spirit of liberty, working for the express purpose of lifting us above the crippling restraints of natural life? The very largeness of God's demands helps us to measure the largeness of God's spiritual gifts; and the very largeness of the gifts should prepare us for large demands. God's expectations are from the free. He asked nothing from Israel, save silent and submissive waiting, until the verge of the last plague, which was also the verge of liberty; and from the free because he has freed them, he entertains large expectations. It was to those who believed in Jesus, risen from the dead, and making his people to live in newness of life, that he gave a spirit of such power in producing obedience and conformity as never had been known before.—Y.

Exodus 20:3-6

The first and seceded commandments: against polytheism and image-worship.

These two commandments seem to be bound together naturally by the reason given in Exodus 20:5. There Jehovah says, "I am a jealous God;" obviously such a feeling of jealousy applies with as much force to the worship of other gods as to the making of graven images. Consider—

I. THE POSSIBLE TRANSGRESSION HERE INDICATED. The having of other gods than Jehovah, and the representation of them by images of created things. The declaration here is not against more gods than one. Such a declaration would have been incomprehensible to the Israelite at this time, even to Moses himself. The utter emptiness of all idolatry, the non-existence, except as the imagination of a superstitious and darkened mind, of any other Deity than Jehovah was a truth not yet appreciable by those to whom Jehovah spoke. He had to take his people as they stood, believers in the existence and power of other gods, and proclaim to them with all the impressiveness that came from the demonstrations of Sinai, that none of these gods was to be in the smallest degree recognised. An idolater in the midst of his idolatries, and not yet laid hold of by Jehovah's hand, might as well have a thousand gods as one. Jehovah speaks here to those who are already bound to himself. Have they not made their promise? Did not the people answer and say, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do"? It was the right and dutiful course of every Israelite to worship him, serve him, and depend upon him. The great and pressing peril was that, side by side with Jehovah, the people should try to put other gods. And to have other gods meant, practically, to have images of them. How necessary and appropriate these two commandments were to come at this particular time and in this particular order, is seen when we consider the image-making into which Israel fell during the seclusion of Moses in the mount. This seems to have been the accordant act of the whole people; Aaron, who was soon to be the chief official in Jehovah's ritual, being the eager instrument to gratify their desires. Nor was this a mere passing danger to the Israelites, a something which in due time they would outgrow. The peril lies deep in the infirmities of human nature. Those whom Jehovah has brought in any measure to himself, need to be reminded that he is master. Jesus has put the thing as plain as it can be put, "No man can serve two masters." We canner serve God and Mammon. Dependence on something else than God, even though there be nothing of religious form in the dependence, is a peril into which we are all liable to come. It is hard to fight—harder than we imagine till we are fairly put to the struggle—against the allurements of the seen and temporal. Even when we admit that there is an invisible God whose claims are supreme, and whose gifts, present and future, are beyond anything that the seen in its pride and beauty can afford—even then we have the utmost difficulty in carrying our admission into practice.

II. CONSIDER IN PARTICULAR HOW THE COMMANDMENT AGAINST IMAGE-WORSHIP MAY APPLY TO US. Those who go in the way of right worship are in the way to a profitable knowledge of God. They come to be recognised by him, accepted by him, and blessed by him. Having graven images inevitably led away from Jehovah. There was no possibility of keeping the first commandment, even in the least degree, if the second even in the least degree was broken. Certainly we are under no temptation to make images, but it comes to the same thing if we have images ready made. It is conceivable that the day may come when not an image shall be left in the world, except on museum shelves, and the trade of Demetrius thus come to an end. But what of that? The change may simply be one of form. Why men should first have made images and called them gods is an impenetrable mystery. We cannot but wonder who was the first man to make an image and why he made it. But that image-making, once established, should continue and return into practice again and again in spite of all attempts to destroy it, is easy enough to understand. Habit, tradition, training, will account for everything in this way. Yet the practice of image-worship, at all events in its grossest forms, can only exist together with dense intellectual darkness. When men begin to think and question as to the foundation of things, when they get away from their mother's knee, then the simple faith in what they have been taught deserts them. There is a frequent and natural enough lamentation that those who have been taught concerning Christ in childhood, oftentimes in manhood depart from him by the way of scepticism, into utter disbelief and denial. Yet we must remember that it is exactly by this kind of process thousands in still image-worshipping lands have broken away from their image-worship. It has not satisfied the awakened and expanding intellect. There is this difference, however, that whereas the awakened intellect forsaking Christ may come back to him, and indeed actually does so oftener than we think, the awakened intellect forsaking image-worship cannot go back to it. But to something as a dependent creature he must go. A man leaving his old idolatries and not finding Christ, must needs turn to some new idolatry, none the less real as an idolatry, none the less injurious to his best interests because the image-form is absent. We must not make to ourselves anything whatever to take the place of God, intercept the sight of him, or deaden his voice. We may contradict the spirit of the second commandment, in doing things which we think profitable to the religious life and glorifying to God. A great deal that is reckoned beneficial and even indispensable in the Church of Christ, that has grown with its growth and strengthened with its strength, might come to look very questionable, if only the spirit of this commandment were exactly appreciated. How many splendid buildings, how many triumphs of the architect, how many combined results of many arts would then be utterly swept away! Men delude themselves with the notion that these things bring them nearer to God, whereas they simply take his place. In worshipping him we should regard with the utmost jealousy all mere indulgence of the senses and even of the intellect.

III. THE DIVINE REASON GIVEN FOR ATTENDING TO THESE COMMANDMENTS, Many reasons might have been given, as for instance, the vanity of graven images, their uselessness in the hour of need, the degradation in which they involved the worshippers. But God brings forward a reason which needed to be brought forward, and put in the very front place, where human thought might continually be directed to it. Polytheism and image-worship are indeed degrading and mischievous to man—but what is of far greater moment, they are also dishonouring to the glory of Deity. Those who were sliding away into the service of other gods were showing that they had no truly reverent appreciation of Jehovah; and in order to intimate the severity of his requirements with respect to exclusive and devoted service, Jehovah speaks of himself as possessing a feeling which, when found among men is like a devouring and unquenchable fire. A jealous man does well to be jealous, if he has sufficient ground for the feeling at all, if the affection, service, and sympathies that should be reserved for him are turned elsewhere. Think then of such a feeling, exalted into the pure intensity of a holy anger and bursting into action from God himself, and then you have the measure of his wrath with those who think that the glory of the incorruptible God can be changed into an image made like to corruptible man. He makes his jealousy apparent in unquestionable, deeply penetrating action. It is the action of the great I AM, who controls thousands of generations. God does, as a matter of fact, visit the iniquities of the fathers on the children, and the magnitude of what he does is accounted for by the intensity of his feelings with respect to those who give his glory to another. His almighty hand comes down with a blow the afflictive energies of which cannot be exhausted in one or even two generations. Say not that there is something unjust about this. That each generation must take something in the way of suffering from preceding generations is a fact only too plain, altogether apart from the Scriptures. The mercy of God is that he here gives us something in explanation of the fact, and of how to distinguish its working and at last destroy it. To serve idols, to depend upon anything else than God, anything less than him, anything more easily reached and more easily satisfied—this, when stripped of all disguise, amounts to hating God. And a man living in this way is preparing, not only punishments for himself, but miseries for those who come after him. Many times we have advice given us to think of posterity. Depend upon it, he thinks most of posterity who serves the will of God most humbly and lovingly, with the utmost concentration and assiduity, in his own generation. Note here also the unmistakable revelation of God's merciful disposition. He visits iniquity to the third and fourth generation of them that hate him. But those who love him are blessed to thousands of generations. Not that the blessing will be actually operative, for, alas, there may come in many things to hinder. But the expressed disposition of God remains. If the posterity of the faithful to God are unblessed, it is because they themselves are utterly careless as to the peculiar privileges into which they have been introduced.—Y.

Exodus 20:7

The Third Commandment. Profanity forbidden.

This Commandment clearly comes as an appropriate sequel to the two preceding ones. Those who are Jehovah's, and who are therefore bound to glorify and serve him alone, depend on him alone, and keep themselves from all the degradations and obscuring influences of image worship, are now directed to the further duty of avoiding all irreverent and empty use of the sacred name. With respect to this, there must have been a very real danger in Israel. We have only to observe the licence of modern colloquial speech in this respect, we have only to call to mind some of the most common expletives in English, French, and German, and we shall then better understand that there may have been a great deal of the same sad and careless licence among the ancient Hebrews. Not that we are to suppose Jehovah directed this command exclusively or even chiefly against profane swearers in the ordinary sense of the term. They are included, but after all they are only a small part of those to whom the commandment is directed. It is quite possible for a man to keep above all coarseness and vulgarity of speech, and yet in God's sight be far worse than an habitual swearer. Many are concerned to avoid profane swearing, not because it is offensive to God, but because it is ungentlemanly. It needs no devoutness or religious awe to understand the couplet:—

"Immodest words admit of no defence,
For want of decency is want of sense."

And there is as much want of decency in profane words as in immodest ones. The thing to be considered is not only the words we avoid, but the words we use. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak. This commandment, like the rest, must be kept positively, or it cannot be kept negatively. If we are found making a serious and habitual use of God's name in a right way, then, and only then, shall we be kept effectually from using it in a wrong one.

I. Evidently the first thing to keep us from empty words with respect to God is TO KEEP FROM ALL EMPTINESS AND SHALLOWNESS OF THOUGHT WITH RESPECT TO HIM. Thinking is but speaking to oneself; and God's commandment really means that we must labour at all times to have right and sufficient thoughts concerning him. We might almost say, take care of the thought and the speech will take care of itself. All our thinking about God, as about every topic of thought, should be in the direction of what is practical and profitable. Blessed is he who has made the great discovery, that of the unseen cause and guide, behind all things that are seen, he can only get profitable knowledge as that Great Unseen is pleased to give it. We who live amid the great declarations of the Gospel are really thinking of God in a vain and displeasing way as long as we suppose it possible to get any true knowledge of him except in Christ. Right knowledge of God, and therefore profitable thoughts of him must be gained by experimental personal search into the riches of God in Christ Jesus. Thinking of this sort will not be vain, shallow, fugitive thinking, seeing that it springs out of apprehended, personal necessities, has an immutable basis of fact, a rewarding element of hope, and is continually freshened by a feeling of gratitude towards one who has conferred on us unspeakable benefits. Surely it is a dreadful sin to think little, to think seldom, and to think wrongly of that profoundly compassionate God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to save it from perishing by the gift of eternal life. No thoughts of ours indeed can measure the fulness of that sublime love, and we shall even fall short of what the holiest and devoutest of men can reach; but there is all the more need why we should labour in constant meditation on the saving ways of God, according to our abilities. Put the word "God" on a sheet of paper, and then try to write underneath all that the name suggests, particularly all that it suggests in the way of individual benefit. Perhaps the writing may come to an end very soon, and even what is written be so vague and valueless as to make you feel that this commandment of God here is not a vain one so far as concerns you.

II. THEN WE MUST NOT TAKE THE SAME OF GOD IN VAIN, IN OUR INTERCOURSE WITH OUR FELLOW-MEN. God, our God, with all his claims and all his benefits, cannot be spoken about too much in the circles of men, if only he is spoken about in a right way: but that right way—how hard it is to attain. Much speaking concerning him, even by those who do it officially, is very dishonouring to his name and hindering to his rule in the hearts of men. Preachers of the word of life and duty, the word concerning divine gifts and requirements, need to take great heed in this respect, for whenever they speak without proper impressions as to the solemnity of their message, they are assuredly taking God's name m vain. There has also to be a consideration of the audience. The words of God's truth and salvation must be as far as possible words in season, not wasted, as pearls before swine. It needs that we should strive and watch incessantly to have all attainable fitness as the witnesses of God. Jesus would not have the testimony of demons to his Messiahship, but chose, prepared, and sanctified such men as he saw to be suitable; and then when he had found fit witnesses, even though few, he sent them forth to bear their testimony, sure that it would be sufficient for all who had the right mind to receive it. It is awful, when one only considers it, in how many instances God's name is taken in vain, by the use of it to sanctify unholy ends, justify unrighteousness, and give to error what dignity and force can be gained from an appeal to divine authority. When the Scriptures were quoted to justify slavery, what was this but taking the name of God in vain? How much of it there must have been in theological controversy, where disputants have got so embittered by partisan spirit that they would twist Scripture in any way so as to get God on their side, instead of labouring as honest men to be on the side of God. Look at the glutton sitting down to pamper his stomach from the loaded table; but first of all he must go through the customary grace and make a show of eating and drinking to the glory of God in heaven, when in truth the god he really worships is his greedy, insatiable belly. We may do many things in the name of the Lord, but that does not make them the Lord's things. "Lord, Lord" may ever be on our lips, we may even get a very general reputation for our devotedness to God and goodness; but all this may not prevent us from hearing at the last, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

III. Most particularly we must guard against profanity IN OUR APPROACHES TO GOD. If we are his at all, there must be constant approaches to him, and his name therefore must be constantly on our lips.

1. We must guard against formality. We must not take a name on our lips that expresses no felt reality. To confess sins and needs and supplicate pardon and supply when the heart is far away from the throne of grace, is certainly taking God's name in vain.

2. We must guard against coming in other than the appointed way. A very elaborate and comprehensive prayer may be constructed to the God of nature and providence, but even though it may seem to be of use for a while, it will show its emptiness in the end if God's own appointment of mediation through Christ Jesus be neglected. Do not let us deceive ourselves with words and aspirations that are only dissipated into the air. For a suppliant to know of Christ and yet ignore his mediation, is assuredly to take God's name in vain, however honest the ignoring may be.

3. Then surely there is an empty use of God's name in prayer, if we ask in other than the appointed order. The order of thought in all right approach to God is such as our Great Teacher has himself presented to us. Is it the sinner who is coming, wretched and burdened? Jesus approves the prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Sinners never take the name of God in vain, if they come to him with two feelings blended in one irrepressible cry, the feeling of God's anger with all sin and the feeling of his unfailing compassion for the sinner. Or if it be the disciple and servant who is coming to God, then the order of thought for his approach Jesus has also given. We must ever think of him as our Father in heaven, and first of all of such things as will sanctify his name, advance his kingdom and procure the perfect doing of his will on earth. We must make all our approaches to God with our hearts entirely submitted to him, otherwise we shall only find that we are taking his name in vain.—Y.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Fourth Commandment: the sacred Sabbath.

I. THE GROUND OF THIS COMMANDMENT. God, who had spoken to Israel as to those whom he had brought out of the house of bondage, and who had bidden Moses speak of him to the captives as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now takes the thoughts of his people as far back as it is possible for them to go. They are directed to think of the great work of him who in six days made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is. "All the earth is mine," he had bidden Moses say in Exodus 19:5; and of course the Israelites, whatever their other difficulties in the way of understanding God's commandments, had no question such as modern science has thrown down for us to ponder with respect to these alleged days of creation. Though indeed, as is now generally agreed, no difficulty is found in this question when we approach it rightly. God's thoughts are not as our thoughts; his ways are not as our ways; and so we may add his days are not as our days, seeing that with him one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The great matter to be borne in mind by ancient Israelites—and for every Christian the consideration remains whether he also should not very strictly bear it in mind—was that by this seventh day of rest after creation, God gave the great rule for the consecration of his people's time. It is to a certain extent correct to say that this precept is a positive one; but it is not therefore arbitrary. God may have seen well to give the precept in such emphatic way, just because the need of setting apart one day out of seven is in some way fixed in the nature of things. It is a question worth while asking, why creation is set before us as having occupied six successive periods. Why not some other number? May not the periods of creation have been so arranged with a view to the use of them as a ground for this commandment? God sanctified the seventh day because it was the best day—best for human welfare and Divine glory; and it seems to have been at Sinai that he first distinctly made this sanctification. Israel knew already that God rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made (Genesis 2:2); now it is known—at least it is known in part—why this resting was not till the seventh day, and also not later. May it not be that the expression "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made," (Genesis 2:3) was inserted by Moses after the transactions at Sinai, as a suitable addition to the statement that God rested from his work? If this verse was not inserted in the Genesis record until after the instructions from Sinai, then we have some sort of explanation why no clear, indubitable sign of the Sabbath is found in patriarchal times.

II. THE MODE OF KEEPING THIS COMMANDMENT. Let us distinctly bear in mind the object to be attained. The seventh day was to be sanctified, and in order that it might be properly sanctified, a scrupulous rest from ordinary work was necessary. The rest was but the means to the sanctification; and the sanctification is the thing to be kept prominently in view. The mere resting from work on the seventh day did an Israelite no good, unless he remembered what the rest implied. The commandment began, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," not "Remember to do no work therein." Certainly it was only too easy to forget the requirement of rest; but it was easier still to forget the requirement of holiness. A man might rest without hallowing, and so it had to be enjoined on him to shape his rest that hallowing might be secured by it. Certain of the animals required for holy purposes by God, were to be such as had not borne the yoke. The animal could not be given to God and at the same time used for self. And in like manner the Sabbath could not both be given to God and used for self. Therefore the Israelite is charged to do no work and let no work be done, even by the humblest of his slaves. He himself must get no temporal benefit from this day. God has so arranged, in his loving providence and holy requirements, that six days' work shall supply seven days' need. This lesson the manna distinctly teaches if it teaches anything at all. And now that the Jewish Sabbath has gone, the Christian has to ask himself how far the mode of Sabbath-keeping in Israel furnishes any guide for him in his use of the Lord's day. He is a miserable Christian who begins to plead that there is no distinct and express commandment in the New Testament for the keeping of a sacred day of rest. To say that the Sabbath is gone with the outward ordinances of Judaism is only making an excuse for self-indulgence. True, the sacrifices of the law are done away with, but only that imperfections may give place to perfections. In the very doing away, a solemn claim is made that the Christian should present his body as a living sacrifice; and one cannot be a living sacrifice without feeling that all one's time is for doing God's will. When in the inscrutable arrangements of Providence, we find that one day in seven has actually come to be so largely a day of cessation from toil, surely the part of Christian wisdom is to make the very best of the opportunity. There is, and there always will be, room for much improvement as to the mode of keeping the day of rest; but in proportion as we become filled with the spirit of Christ and the desire for perfection, in that proportion we shall be delivered from the inclination to make Sunday a day for self, and led forward in resolution, diligence and love, to make it a day for God. The more we can make our time holy time, the more we shall make ourselves holy persons. If in God's mercy we find Sunday a day of larger opportunities, let it be according to our individual opportunity, a day of larger achievements. Each one of us should say, "I am bound to discover how God would have me use this day." My neighbour Christian may feel constrained to use it in a way that, if I were to imitate him, might not promote my own spiritual advantage, or the glory of God. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, only let him take care that he has a persuasion and acts conscientiously and lovingly up to it.

III. THE PECULIAR EMPHASIS LAID ON THIS COMMANDMENT. "Remember." Not of course that this commandment is more important than the rest. He who breaks one breaks all, for each is a member of the whole as of a living unity. But there must have been a special reason in the mind of God for calling attention to this commandment. We are told to remember what we are likely to forget. Also, certain things we are exhorted to remember, because if we only remember them we shall come in due course to other things which cannot be so constantly in the mind, and which indeed the mind may not yet be able properly to grasp. He who remembers the right way will assuredly come to the right end, even though he may not be constantly thinking of it. We may be sure that keeping the Sabbath day really holy, had a very salutary effect towards keeping all the rest of the commandments. It gave time for reflection on all those affairs of daily life in which there are so many opportunities and temptations to set at nought the righteous claims both of God and of our fellow-men. And so the Christian may ever say to himself, "Soul, remember the day of rest which God has so graciously secured to thee." God, though he has condescendingly done so much to come near to needy men with his supplies of grace, gets soon hidden by the cloud and dust of this world's business. It is only too easy to forget the spirit of these commandments, and be unfair, unkind, malicious and revengeful toward our fellow-men in the jostlings and rivalries of life. Remember then. Let us but attend to this and the rest of God's remembers, and we may be sure they will do a great deal to neutralise that forgetting which is inevitably incident to the infirmities of fallen human nature.—Y.

Exodus 20:12

The Fifth Commandment: the commandment for children.


1. This commandment gave the parents an opportunity for telling the children how it originated. Not only an opportunity, but we may say a necessity. It was a commandment to children, through their parents. All the commandments, statutes, and judgments, were to be taught diligently to the children (Deuteronomy 6:7), and this one here would require very earnest and special explanation in the family. It will be seen that it was a commandment which could not be isolated; a self-willed parent could not quote it with any advantage for the sake of upholding arbitrary authority. The Israelite parent had to explain how these commandments were given; he had to narrate the events in Sinai, and these in turn compelled a reference to the exodus and the bitter experiences of Egypt. Parents had well to consider how much depended on themselves in making their children duly acquainted with all the glorious doings and strict requirements of Jehovah. If a parent had to deal with a disobedient and despising child, he was able to point out that this requirement of honouring father and mother was God's most strict requirement, and God was he who had rule and authority over parent and child alike.

2. Thus father and mother were evidently required to honour themselves. No special verbal utterance was here required, telling father and mother to remember the obligations to offspring, and anyway this was not the proper place for it. The commandments here are universal commandments, such as all men incur the temptation of breaking. Thus it was eminently fitting to have a word for children, enjoining upon them the proper feeling towards parents; as all know the filial relation, but all do not know the parental one. One of the merits of the Decalogue is its brevity and sententiousness. No father could expect his children to honour the parental relation unless he did so himself; and in measure as he more and more comprehended the import of the relation, in that measure might his children be expected to respond to his treatment of them. "Honour all men," says the apostle Peter; and to do this we must begin at home in our own life, and put the proper value on ourselves. God has put immense honour on father and mother; and it is the curse, loss, and fearful reservation of penalty for many parents that they do not see what momentous interests have been put in their stewardship.

3. God thus showed his earnest desire to help parents in their arduous, anxious work. The work of a parent in Israel who had weighed all his responsibilities was no light matter. Great opportunities were given him, and great things might be done by him; things not to be done by any other teacher or guide, and he had thus a very comforting assurance that God was his helper. Helper to the father, and, bear in mind, to the mother also. It is worthy of note that father and mother are specially mentioned. She is not left in the obscurity of a more general term. God would give to both of them according to their peculiar opportunities all understanding, wisdom, forbearance, steadfastness, discrimination of character, that might be necessary for their work.

II. AS IT CONCERNED THE CHILDREN. A commandment was not needed to teach children as to the making of some sort of distinction between their father and mother and other men and women. But, in order that the distinction might be a right one, and evermore real and deepening in its presence and influence, such a commandment as this was imperatively needed. As we have said, it was a commandment universal in its scope, because all are or have been in the filial relation, but as a matter of fact it would address itself directly to the young. They were laid hold of as soon as anything like intelligence, power to obey, and power to understand the difference between right and wrong manifested themselves. God came and made his claim upon them, in a way as suitable as any to their childish consciousness. They were to honour father and mother, not because father and mother said so, but because God said so. Plainly the honouring included both deep inward feeling and clear outward expression. The outward expression, important as it was, could only come from real and habitual feeling within. Outward expression by itself counted for nothing. Honouring with the lips while the heart was far removed from the parent would be reckoned a grievous sin against God. The child had to grow up esteeming and venerating the parental relation everywhere. It could not honour its own father and mother and at the same time despise the parents of other children. The promise here given obviously a suitable one for children. To them the prospect of a long life, in the land already promised, was itself a promise agreeable to the limitations of the old covenant, when there could be no pointing in clear terms to the land beyond death; and we may be very sure that, according to this promise, filial obedience had a corresponding temporal reward.—Y.

Exodus 20:13-17

The individual Israelite considered in his duties towards his neighbour.

Of these five commandments—namely, against murder, adultery, theft, slander and covetousness, it almost goes without saying that their very negativeness in form constitutes the strongest way of stating a positive duty. From a proper consideration of these commandments all possible manifestations of brotherliness will flow. They show the spirit we should cherish towards our neighbours; those who equally with ourselves are the objects of Divine providence and mercy. They show what we are bound to give and what we have equally a right to expect. Pondering the serious and injurious actions here indicated we note—

I. THE GREAT HARM WHICH MEN CAN DO TO ONE ANOTHER, A man maliciously disposed, sensual, reckless, unscrupulously selfish, has thus the extent of his power set before him. That life which man has no power to give, he can take away at a single blow. A man in the gratification of his sensual passions is able to destroy domestic peace, gladness and purity. Property, which may be the fruit and reward of long industry, is swept away by those who will not work for themselves as long as they can get others to work for them. Reputation may be taken away by adroit and plausible slander. A man's whole position may be made uncertain by those who on the right hand and the left look enviously on that position and wish to make it their own. It is when these possibilities are borne in mind that we feel how true it is that even the best guarded of earthly store-houses is nevertheless the one where the thief can break through and steal. Industry, temperance, caution, vigilance, will guard many points of human life, but what avails, if even a single one is left that cannot be called invulnerable? If, then, our fellow men are so much in our power, how it becomes us to quell the very first outbreaks of all that is malicious, envious, selfish and sensual! ]f we allow the evil in us to grow, we know not what evil it may inflict on the innocent and happy.

II. But if these commandments show a dark and menacing side in our relations to others, they equally show a bright one. THERE IS GREAT GOOD WHICH WE CAN DO TO ONE ANOTHER. The man who has power to kill, has, on the other hand, power to do much in the way of preserving, cherishing and invigorating the lives of others. Instead of pulling down others by a degrading companionship to the level of his own impure heart, he can do something by seeking purity himself to draw others toward a like quest. Instead of stealing, he will work not only to sustain himself, but that from his superfluity, if possible, he may give to those who have not. He who has spoken ill of men will find it just as easy to speak well, if only he is so disposed. That tongue with which the renewed heart blesses God will also be constrained to say what is kind, commendatory and helpful to others. Covetousness will give place to a gracious and generous disposition that constantly takes for its motto, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It is only when we are doing our neighbours all the good we can, that we may be really sure we are carrying out the commandments of God. There are only the two ways, the forbidden and the commanded one; and if we are not treading heartily and resolutely in the commanded one, it follows as a matter of course that we are in the forbidden one.

III. It is something to remember that THE GOOD WE CAN DO BY KEEPING THESE COMMANDMENTS IS GREATER THAN THE ILL WE CAN DO BY BREAKING THEM. God has put us largely in the power of one another, that thereby we might have the happiness coming from loving service and mutual association in giving and receiving; but, at the same time, he has made us so that while we are very powerful as co-workers with him, yet even our greatest efforts are comparatively powerless against those who put themselves under his protection. Those injuring others do indeed inflict a great injury from a certain point of view; but they terribly deceive themselves in thinking that the injury is such as can never be compensated for. Christ has given to his people the word of comfort against all assault and spoliation from evil men:—"Fear not them that kill the body." The priceless treasures, constituting the essence of every human life, are not without a storehouse because the earthly storehouse proves insufficient. The truth seems to be that man has it in his power to do more good than he can conceive, more good certainly than he ever attempts. He has not the faith to believe that incessant and plenteous sowing will bring good results, to be manifested in that day when all secrets are brought fully to light. And so on the other hand, the malicious man exaggerates his power. He thinks he has done more than he possibly can do. Good is left undone for want of faith, and evil is done through too much faith. Many an evil act would never have been committed if the doer had only known how his evil, in the wondrous reach of God's providence, would be turned to good. And so the evil-doer, the man of many crimes, if perchance the hour comes to him when he reflects in self-condemnation in the past, and says in his heart that all repentance is vain, should yet find hope and illumination as he considers how the evil done to others is an evil which God can neutralise, which he can even transmute into good. He who hurts his neigh-bout and rejoices over the mischief, may find, when it is too late, that the only real evil has been to himself, because he has persisted in an impenitent heart.—Y.


Exodus 20:16-21

The ten words.

"And God stake all these words." "And the people stood afar off: and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was." (Exodus 20:1, Exodus 20:21). Our subject is the law of the ten commandments, and—

I. The NAMES of the code, for names are oft the keys to things. There are five chief names; four in the Old Testament and one in the New.

1. "The ten words." ["The ten commandments" is an unscriptural phrase.] (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4 See Hebrews) This name implies that the code was in a very special sense the distinct utterance of God. The utterance touched that which was central in human life, viz; duty.

2. "The law," i.e; the heart and core of the Mosaic legislation. All the rest was as the fringe to the robe of righteousness.

3. "The testimony." God's attestation of his mind as to our moral carriage through life.

4. "The covenant." But care should be exercised as to the putting of this. Israel was not to keep the ten words in order to salvation, but because Israel had been saved. Spiritual obedience springs from gratitude—cannot be given as the price of salvation.

5. "The commandments"( Matthew 18:17). The names of the code stamp it as unique. The Mosaic legislation stands out like a mountain range from all other codes historic in the world; but the "ten words" are the ten peaks of that mighty range.

II. THE MOMENT when God gave the "ten" was critical and significant.

1. Subsequent to salvation (Exodus 20:1). Trace the evangelical parallel, show that this is the order of the divine love, first deliverance, and then direction for life.

2. Before ritual. Hence the subordination, even for the Jew, of ritual to morals. For us the symbolic ritual is no more. Our prerogative is that of unveiled gaze upon the spiritual.

III. THE DELIVERY of the "ten words." [The object here should be so to describe the incidents of the delivery, on the basis of the sacred narrative, aided by topographical illustration, as to exhibit the unique character of this code. The following hints may be of service]:—The great plain north of Sinai; Sinai to the south; the barren character of this huge natural temple [Stanley's "J. C." 1:128]; on the third day every eye turned to the mountain; mists rising like smoke; lightning; thunder like ten thousand trumpets; reverberation; earth-trembling. The people would have drawn away, but Moses led them near the base. He ascended; but returned, that he, as one of the people, and with them, might hear the code. God alone. Then the very voice of very God, possibly pronouncing the "ten" in their shortest form. [Ewald: "Israel," 2:163, Eng. tr.] The cry of the people for a mediator. If we had to-day a phonogram even of that awful voice, some would still say, "It is the voice of a man, and not of a god."

IV. THE PRESERVATION. The "ten" were—

1. Graven by God. The record supernatural, like the delivery. On granite; not too large for a man to carry; graven on both sides; symbol of the completeness, inviolability, and perpetuity of the Divine law. Note the seven or eight weeks' delay ere the tables were given, and the intervening incidents.

2. Kept in the ark. In that which was a memorial of the desert life; the wood, acacia of the wilderness. In that which was central to the life of Israel. In Israel a sanctuary, a holiest of all, the ark, and in the deep recesses of that the idea of duty enshrined. The tables last seen at Solomon's dedication. Are they now lying with the wreck of Babylon in the valley of the Euphrates?


1. There were five words on each table. So we think. Great diversity of opinion as to the division and the throwing of the "ten words" on the two tables. According to the division we adopt, the first table concerned itself with God—his existence, worship, name, day, and representative. But if the parent is the representative of God, then there are suggestions for the character and the administration of the parent; as well as for the intelligent obedience of the child.

2. The five words concerning duty to God come first. Religion ever comes before morality, and morality without that foundation must be partial and imperfect. Man must first be in right relation with the Father in heaven, then he will come to be right with all the children.

VI. THE COMPREHENSIVENESS. Passages like Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:8; Psalms 119:18, Psalms 119:72, imply a great depth and breadth in these "ten." Are they really so comprehensive as is implied?

1. Glance at the "ten." We have seen how comprehensive are the first five. [See above, Psalms 5:1.] Note the comprehensiveness of the second. We are not to assault the life, the family, the property, the reputation, the peace (by coveting and threatening what they have), of our fellow-men.

2. Pierce into the spirit of the "ten," and note!—

(1) The negative must include the positive; e.g; we are bound to conserve life, lest by neglect we kill.

(2) The absolute form covers all cases; e.g; the sixth commandment stands absolute, unless dispensed with by the supervention of a higher law. There may be things more sacred even than life.

(3) The external includes the internal. (Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:25.) Given the lust, its gratification does not depend upon the man, but upon circumstances out of his control; therefore he is guilty. Besides, what we are is of more moment than what we do.

(4) The principle of obedience in all is love.

VIII. THE PRESENT USE AND OFFICE OF "THE TEN." [For detailed exposition of each of "the ten," in relation to our own time and circumstances, see "The Ten Commandments,'' by R. W. Dale, M.A.] On the use and office the following positions may be firmly laid down:—

1. The law of" the ten words" was, and is, something absolutely unique. Of the unique character all that has been previously said is illustration. It may, then, be reasonably inferred that "the ten" will have some special bearing on our moral life.

2. It implies that God claims authority over the moral life of man. [On this see valuable observations on the decay of the sense of authority, its evil effects, etc; Dale's "Ten Commandments," pp. 6-13.]

3. It was not intended to afford man an opportunity for winning salvation. That is God's free gift.

4. Salvation given, God means the law to be obeyed. [On this see also Dale, pp. 13-16.]

5. The effort to obey will deepen man's sense of the need of God's delivering mercy. The effort brings a deeper acquaintance with the law, and so we come to know more of—

(1) the righteousness of God—

(2) the depravity of man.

6. A growing conformity is, however, blessedly possible.

7. There comes with growing conformity freedom from law, Love dispenses with the literal precept. This is the ideal of the New Testament. Still." the ten words" have ever their use for those on the low planes of spiritual life.

8. And even with those free from the law, it will still have the following offices:—

(1) To keep the Christian under grace as the source of all his serenity and bliss.

(2) To restrain from sin in the presence of temptation.

(3) To keep before the aspiring saint the fair ideal of righteousness.—R.


Exodus 20:3-11

The soul for God only.

I. GOD'S DEMAND. "Thou shalt have no other," etc. All else is emptiness and falsehood. There must be nothing even of our holy things put between the soul and God. His presence must be the soul's life, the very air it breathes.


1. By keeping ourselves from idols. Our daily avocations, our interests, affections, pleasures, may lead to our esteeming something our chief good and making it to be instead of God to us. God must be seen behind his gifts, and be more to us than all besides.

2. By watchful fear and hope. We bring evil not upon ourselves only, and the blessings which rest upon obedience are an everlasting heritage. We sow seeds of evil or of blessing which yield many harvests (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:6).

3. By reverence (Exodus 20:7). God's name must not be emptied of its power to touch the heart by our lightness or hypocrisy.

4. By keeping sacred the sabbath rest (Exodus 20:8-11).

(1) It will be a day of self-revelation, of rebuke for the evil in us, of strengthening to the good.

(2) It will be a day for the remembrance of God; and

(3) of participation in his rest.—U.

Exodus 20:12

The commandment with promise.


1. Its reasonableness. Reverent, loving subjection to parents is obedience to the deepest instincts of the heart.

2. Its pleasantness. This subjection is rest and joy: it is ceasing from doubt and inner conflict; it lets into the spirit the sunshine of a parent's loving approbation.

II. THE PROMISE: "That thy days," etc. Obedience to parents is the condition of national prosperity.

1. It is respect for law and loyal acceptance of the teachings of the past.

2. It is denial of the spirit of self will and self pleasing.

3. It guards youth from excess and vice.

4. It prepares for the understanding of and submission to the will of God.

5. It lays broad and deep in the nation's life the foundations of industry and strength and of moral, as well as material, greatness.—U.

Exodus 20:13-17

Our threefold duty to our neighbour.


1. His life is to be held sacred. It is God's great gift to him and it is God's only to take it away, by express command, or by his own judgment. This is a law for nations as well as individuals. In every unjust war this command is trampled under foot.

2. His home is sacred. The wreck of homes which lust has made! The holy, loving refuge of childhood and youth desolated, and its very memory made a horror and anguish!

3. His property is sacred. It is the man's special stewardship from God. God can bless us also, for all things are his, but this stands between our neighbour and the Master, to whom he must render his account.

II. HE IS NOT TO BE INJURED BY WORD. We may lay no hand upon his life, his home, his goods, and yet our tongue may wound and rob him. We may cause respect and love to fall away from him wrongfully. Our dimininishing aught of these, save as the servants of truth, is a crime before God.

III. HE IS NOT TO BE WRONGED IN THOUGHT. God asks not only for a blameless life but also for a pure heart, in which lust and hate and envy and greed have no place. Sin is to be slain in its root.—U.


Exodus 20:1-2

Utility of a course of teaching on the commandments,

that Divine law which can never be destroyed. Let those who object to the preaching of morality remember John Wesley's words: "I find more profit in sermons on either good tempers or good works than in what are vulgarly called 'gospel sermons.'" Consider—


1. Division. We know that there are ten—the ten words—but how are the ten words made up? The modern Jewish method makes the introductory announcement, a "first word," and combines our first and second as the "second word." By others the first and second are combined as the first, and then the tenth divided to complete the number. Our own ordinary division is most likely to be correct; but various usage shows that the importance attaches not to the number but the sense.

2. Grouping. Two tables, but how many on each? Augustine held that the first table contained three, the second seven, whence he drew some mystical conclusions with regard to the Trinity. The popular view includes four in the first table, and six in the second. Most likely, however, there should be five in each table [perhaps connected with the hand as the symbol of action]. On this view we shall see that in each table the four first commandments are rooted in the fifth.


1. The speaker (cf. Deuteronomy 5:22).—God, Jehovah, a personal Deity, and one whose nature is changeless (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). Moses did not evolve the law out of his own head; he heard it, he received it, he enunciated it, but "God spake all these words."

2. The motive.—The motive appealed to for obedience is too often fear; the motive too which Israel was most inclined to act upon. God, however, makes his appeal not to fear, but to the sense of gratitude:—"Remember what I have done for you, then hear what I expect you to do for me." The deliverer has a right to lay down rules of conduct for those whom he has delivered; whilst at the same time gratitude to him inspires them with a motive for obedience. Apply to ourselves: God has redeemed us; we should obey him not from fear, but from love—not that we may get something out of him, but because we have got so much already.


1. There is an order in the arrangement. "Order is heaven's first law," and it shows itself in the code from heaven. First God, our filial relations; then man, our fraternal relations; the upward-looking and the outward-looking aspects of life. Under each, too, the order is maintained; first we are shown the blossom, then the stem, then the root. The flower of worship is rooted in the home, and the flower of love is rooted in the heart.

2. The commandments are indications of the Divine will from which they spring. Our duty is to study what God has said in order that we may discover what he wishes. The old covenant was on stone-tables, easily intelligible and very definite; the new covenant is on hearts of flesh, it contains promptings to duty, rather than directions. We need both; we must use the old that we may give effect to the new, and the new that we may fulfil the old. [Illustration.—For engine to fulfil its works steam needed inside to propel, lines outside to direct.] The new covenant cannot render the old nugatory; it is well to have motive power, but we still need the lines laid down by which to guide ourselves when we have it.—G.

Exodus 20:3-6

These two commandments are complementary: one God only to be worshipped, one way only in which to worship him. Consider:—


1. How Israel would understand it. "No foreign god in opposition to me." The natural idea would be that Jehovah was one amongst many deities; that possibly, away from Egypt, some other god might have higher authority (cf. 2 Kings 18:33-35). In any case it would be hard to realise that he was more than God of gods; others might be inferior to him, but surely they might claim an inferior worship. All such notions are set aside at once. Whether there are other gods or no, all such must be Jehovah's enemies; to offer them worship of any kind was to be disloyal to Jehovah, and to break the covenant.

2. How it applies to ourselves. Polytheism, a thing of the past! In theory perhaps, but how about our practice? Obedience is the best evidence of worship; our God is he by reference to whom we govern our conduct, and regulate our actions. Illustrate from the case of the man whose life is given to the pursuit of wealth—wealth is practically his deity; or the case of one whose conduct is regulated by constant reference to public opinion; wealth, public opinion, and the like may be nothing more than personified abstractions, none the less we may serve them far more consistently than we serve God. Such service is worship, worship of an alien deity; it involves disloyalty to Jehovah, and enrols us amongst the forces of his foes. Quite as easy for us to break this commandment as it was for Israel; it needs to be reiterated in our ears no less persistently than it was in their ears.

II. THE SECOND COMMANDMENT. As the first has to do with the object of worship, so this has to do with the manner of worship. An image degrades the ideal, it can only present God, and that imperfectly, under one out of many aspects. One image of God alone is adequate (Colossians 1:15). To the Jew, this second commandment was a fence to guard the empty shrine, which shrine could only receive its occupant when "the Word was made flesh" at the incarnation of our Lord. Notice:—

1. The effect of braking the commandment. Degrading the God worshipped, it led on naturally to the degradation of the worshipper, and through the worshipper his posterity was affected, so as to become yet more degraded. Who could have a better excuse than Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, for breaking the commandment? Who could have broken it more carefully? Considerations of utility seemed to justify him. He might have argued that the first commandment was all-important, and that to ensure respect for it he must tamper with the second. None the less the effect was manifest (2 Kings 17:22, 2 Kings 17:23). The sin of Jeroboam was the ruin of his people.

2. The bearing of the commandment on ourselves. Christ has come. The empty shrine is filled. We possess the true image, and can worship God in Christ. "But Christ, you say, is unseen; thoughts wander in prayer, I need some object by which to fix them, some symbol upon which they may stay themselves and rest." The excuse is plausible; but it is the same excuse as a Jew in old times might have offered. A man may use, as good men have used, the crucifix, e.g; as an aid to devotion. But the crucifix, or any other symbol, is utterly inadequate; it shows Christ only under one aspect: we must worship him in all his fulness if we take him as the image of the invisible Jehovah. To confine our thoughts to Calvary is to limit, and by limiting to degrade the ideal. The crucifix has much to answer for in narrowing men's views, and making their religion one-sided and incomplete. For a Christian to obey the second commandment, he must worship Christ in all his fulness. Only so can he worship God with that pure worship which is alone acceptable.

"Show me not only Jesus dying,

As on the cross he bled,

Nor in the tomb a captive lying,

For he has left the dead.

Not only in that form suspended,

My Saviour bid me see;

For to the highest heavens ascended,

He reigns in majesty!"


Exodus 20:7, Exodus 20:8

The first commandment deals with the object of worship; the second, with the manner of worship; in the third and fourth we have the method of worship, true reverence and genuine devotion.


1. Obedience to the letter insufficient. None ever obeyed it thus more strictly than the Jews did. The Sacred Name, called the shuddering name; only pronounced once annually by the High Priest on the Great Day of Atonement. So strictly was the command kept that the true pronunciation of the name is lost to us. Even in our own Bibles we have evidence of the ancient practice, "The LORD" being used as a substitute for Jehovah. Yet, with all this, of. Ezekiel 36:20. The name, which was never uttered by the lips, was yet profaned by the conduct of the worshippers. We, too, may never perjure ourselves, or speak profanely, yet the tenor of our whole life may bring God's name into contempt. The commonest excuse made by those who never enter a place of worship is based upon the inconsistent conduct of those who frequent such places regularly. They may not go themselves, but they know well enough who do go, and they know also the kind of lives which they who do go are leading.

2. The true obedience. They who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth. True reverence is a thing of the heart, which shines through and illuminates the conduct. This leads us to:—

II. THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT. True reverence will best show itself in copying the example of the person reverenced. The fourth commandment shows us God's example made plain for a man to copy.

1. The rest-day to be kept holy.

(1) Nature teaches us that a rest-day, a Sabbath, is a necessity. He who works seven days a week is a bad economist of his time. He simply shortens life. The body must be laid aside the sooner to keep its disregarded Sabbaths in the grave.

(2) The Holy-day is no less necessary than the holiday. Man's nature is complex, and his spirit needs rest and refreshment, quite as surely as his body needs them. [Illust.: You may shut up a man's piano, but that only rests the instrument, it does not necessarily rest the instrumentalist.

1. The rest for a man's spirit is only to be obtained by sharing the spiritual rest of God; if the holiday be not a holy-day this spiritual rest will still be lacking.

2. The days of labour to be modelled on God's pattern. Labour as much commanded as rest; but labour, as rest, after the Divine model. All that God does, he does earnestly and thoroughly. To work as God works is to work with the heart as well as with the hands (Colossians 3:23). One cannot wonder that the rest-day is profaned, when the days of toil are profaned no less, when a man's chief object seems to be not to do his work, but to have done with it. If God had worked as we work, he could scarcely have called his work "very good." The world by now would have been a dilapidated chaos, more appalling than the waste from which it sprang. The commandment is not "Six days shalt thou loiter," but "Six days shalt thou labour."

CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS.—Mere literal keeping of the commandments may bring them and their author into contempt. We can only "magnify the law and make it honourable" by keeping it from the heart outwards. The Jews kept the third and fourth commandments literally enough. Our own Sunday legislation dates from the time of Charles II; when, of all times, God's law was, perhaps, the most fearfully profaned. "My son, give me thine heart," that is the invitation which first requires to be accepted. If we would really keep the commandments, let our prayer be: "Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep thy law."—G.

Exodus 20:12

Previous commandments have dealt with the object and manner of worship; this deals with the nursery and school of worship. Consider:—


1. Absolute; parents to be honoured, whether living or departed, known or unknown, good or evil.

2. Hard to obey in some cases; yet always possible, for remember the father and mother may be honoured, even though the individuals fall short of the ideal they should exemplify. One can honour from the standpoint of the child, even those who from any other standpoint may be despicable. [Illust.: Dr. Macdonald's story of "Robert Falconer;" the father is a reprobate scamp, yet the son, persistently honoring his fatherhood, at length wins him back to respectability.]

3. Mischief of thoughtless disrespect. No honourable shame to be ashamed of one's own parentage, especially when, if rightly looked at, there is nothing to be ashamed of in it. No doubt apparent disrespect may sometimes grow out of a wholesome familiarity; still, even so, painful to the parent, whilst it injures the child in the opinion of rightminded people. [Common shame of doing, or refusing to do things out of respect to a parent's wishes. At most, if the wish is respected, it is merely a "humouring of the old people," as though the command were "humour," instead of "honour" "thy father and mother."] Why chafe at such simple duties as those which spring from the most sacred of relations. There is a far worse bondage than that of "a mother's apron strings;" it is not well to rupture needlessly those cords of a man which are the bonds of love. If you want a reason for the command:—

II. HOME REVERENCE IS THE ROOT OF WORSHIP. That ladder which Jacob saw is always reared within the shadow of the home. Even with him, an exile, it was the God of his father who stood above it. The parents, or those who stand in the place of parents, are the only God a child knows at first. Worship, like other things, comes by practice and experience: the first lessons are learnt in the home. Practically, God is revealed through the parent; other things equal, no reverence for parents, there will be no reverence for God. No doubt there are homes and homes; some where you can almost catch the rustle of the angel wings; others, withered husks of home, blasted before the breath of hell. Still, even in the worst homes the ladder is planted, could one but see it. Take away home and its associations, and you leave it with no ground to stand on. Notice in this light the great responsibility of parents. Further:—

III. HOME REVERENCE IS THE SOURCE OF INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL PERMANENCE. The position of the commandment teaches its connection with worship, the promise attached to it its connection with prosperity. It ensures:—

1. The prosperity of the individual. The man who does not honour and respect his parents has not gained the habit of reverence; he does not honour God, he does not honour all men. What follows?—

(1) Not honouring God, there is no power but self to restrain self. Impulses, desires, etc; are likely, unreined, to run away with him. A man so run away with is rushing post haste to death.

(2) Not honouring men, he will hold aloof from men. They may hinder, they are not likely to help him. The friction of life intensified; all that is done—done with twice the effort. Such a man may be successful, not likely to be long-lived. The needless friction must wear out the life. Could the test be applied, an insurance company would be justified in charging a lower premium on one who kept this commandment, than on one who habitually disregarded it.

2. The prosperity of the nation. For

(1) That nation is most stable which founds itself in reverence for the past. The "Land of settled government" is the land—

"Where Freedom broadens slowly down
From precedent to precedent."

(2) That nation is most stable which adopts the principle of the fourth commandment and respects authority above numbers. The commandment does not say, "Honour the family vote," it says, "Honour thy father and thy mother."

Conclusion.—Home is linked with heaven; the earthly parent with the Father of eternity. Would you reach heaven, then reverence home; would you worship God, then honour your parents.—G.

Exodus 20:13

The second table.
Fraternal relations; the outward-looking aspect of life. May classify them either

(1) as they affect us personally, or

(2) as they affect man generally.

According to

(1) they deal with our actions, our words, and our thoughts. According to

(2) they teach us:—The sanctity of life, of home, of property, of character; whilst the tenth commandment shows further that the heart is the source whence springs reverence for these sanctities. Notice as regards this sixth commandment:—

I. ITS BEARING ON ACTIONS. Murder, the criminal taking of life, varies in character; according to the nature of the life destroyed and according to the nature of the action of the destroyer. Life is threefold, of the body, of the mind, and of the spirit: and murder, as against each, may be deliberate or careless, resulting from action or from inaction. Illustrate from cases affecting the bodily life:—

1. Deliberate murder. Life taken of malice aforethought.

2. Careless murder, resulting from negligence or culpable ignorance; e.g; the house builder who so builds his house as to injure the health of a tenant, neglecting drains, etc.; or the parent who spreads some infectious disorder through sending his children to school whilst tainted with it.

3. Inactive murder. Paraphrasing James 4:17, "He that knoweth to save life and doeth it not, to him it is murder;" e.g; a man who allows his neighbour to murder others deliberately or through carelessness. Like kinds of murder apply to the cases of the mind and spirit. The slave-owner who forbade his slaves to be educated, and who debarred them from religious privileges; the parent who stifles the spiritual development of his child through indifference. These and like cases might be instanced. "Thou shalt do no murder," such is the command. To the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" the answer is, "Undoubtedly you are." If you can save life of any kind, and fail to do so, you must be classed with Cain.

II. ITS BEARING ON THOUGHTS (Matthew 5:21; 1 John 3:15). Really a special case of the tenth commandment; or rather, this commandment is viewed in the light of the tenth. The unkind thought, fostered, soon becomes the malicious thought, and a malicious thought acts like leaven, resulting in a murderous heart. [Illustration: cotton wool, pure, soft, innoxious. Treat it with certain chemicals. It looks just the same; but its character is completely altered, it is transformed into an explosive, gun cotton. So, too, treat the human heart with the chemistry of envy, hatred, and malice, and it too will become an explosive—murderous, and ready for murder.] From the murderous heart proceeds murder of the worst kind; but saturate the heart with indifference or carelessness, and you still make it an explosive. "Keep," i.e; guard "thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life," or death!

III. A SPECIAL CASE. SUICIDE. Self murder does not imply hatred or malice. Still it is unlawful killing, and may be classed with extreme forms of manslaughter. It is however to be condemned on more general principles as against the spirit of the whole table of the law. It is cowardly. It is selfish. If a brother commit suicide, what are your feelings? What then your brother's feelings if you destroy your life? Juries should give in such cases more stringent verdicts. A verdict of temporary insanity results from misplaced charity; it cannot do much to alleviate the distress of friends; it helps to facilitate suicide, which would be far less frequent if the verdict on it were usually more severe.

Conclusion.—The justification of this commandment is to be found in the sanctity of the life which it protects. Bear in mind that life is God's gift, an emanation from the Deity. Keep the eyes open and keep the heart open, so will you soon find opportunities to preserve life and ward off death.—G.

Exodus 20:14

A correspondence between the two tables:

to worship a false god is to aim at the life of the true God. Idolatry is spiritual adultery. Besides this the sixth and seventh commandments are clearly related; the one guards the life of the individual, the other the life of the family, the sanctity of the home. Consider:—

I. THE SIN ITSELF. When a man by anticipation, or after marriage, breaks the marriage vow; when a woman acquiesces in the crime thus perpetrated, it is murder aimed at the collective life of the family. Madness for society to make light of such a crime, which, if permitted, must destroy society. For notice, the family, not the individual, is the ultimate social unit. [Illustration. Tree covered with foliage: individual leaves and blossoms are connected with twigs and boughs; you may kill a leaf without injury to the bough, but kill the bough, and what about the leaves?] Individuals are leaves and blossoms on the tree of life; it is through the family that they belong to the tree at all. Adultery poisons the bough, and through that withers the leaves and blossoms. Further, the sin involves a spreading plague. It spreads not merely far and wide, but on and on through future generations. You may keep it hid, you cannot keep it inactive. [Illustrate from case of David and Bathsheba; may we not trace his mother's influence in Solomon's sin? He goes after strange women, and then after strange gods. On David's side we have Amnon's sin directly connected with Absolom's rebellion, which again is connected indirectly with the successful rebellion of Jeroboam and resulting idolatry of the northern kingdom. It is still the one sin which spreads; outwards and onwards.] A pure home is a sound spot in the social organism; corrupt its purity, and it becomes a centre of corruption. May notice also, in this connection, that all sins of this class, fornication, uncleanness, etc; do and must manifest themselves in spite of concealment. Other sins (1 Corinthians 6:18) are "outside the body." These are "against the body," and through the body they declare themselves. The pure may not know why they shun the impure, but instinctively they discern the signs of his impurity. His sin shows through him, as a lurid light shows through a lantern.


1. A low ideal of womanhood. According to the Divine ideal, "man" is "male and female;" it is in the union of the sexes that the "image of God" is reflected. According to the human ideal, woman is rather man's play-mate than his help-mate; he chooses her as he would a picture, because he likes the look of her. She is in thought his toy, his doll. In unchristian countries this low ideal of woman is universally prevalent, but even in Christian countries it is too often tacitly if not verbally accepted. Such an ideal cannot but be mischievous. [Illustration: Take lantern from summit of light-house and place it at the foot. It will still guide the ships, though no longer off the rocks but on to them.] Woman must exert influence; place her high and it will be ennobling, set her low and it will become degrading.

2. A low ideal of manhood. If woman is a toy, then that part of a man's nature which can require such a costly toy, will be the most important. The animal nature will be uppermost. The desires will rule.

3. A low level of life. This results naturally from 1 and 2. A man cannot live above the level of his own ideals. If man is a mere animal, woman a mere toy, then marriage is a mere convention. All its sanctity has evaporated. A man will marry if he can afford a wife, if not he will take some cheaper substitute. In the light of the Divine ideal, marriage becomes a duty and a privilege; the completion of that Divine idea of which man unmarried is a mere torso. Guard, of course, against improvident marriages; at the same time it is not improvidence to share, in common, sacrifice and self-denial. One man has two hundred pounds per annum and cannot marry under four hundred pounds; another has four hundred pounds and requires one thousand pounds. If a man divides himself into his income and finds he goes once and nothing over, he may set to work and make his income larger, or he may try to make self smaller; many a man could so reduce his divisor, that, without any increase in his income, the quotient should be two, with a fair remainder.

Conclusion.—All such evils spring no doubt from a corrupt heart; but a high ideal will guard the heart and tend to purify it if impure. By the help of God's grace, let man reverence woman, and woman reverence man, and each reverence in himself and in the other that ideal which is their common glory. Before the splendour of the Divine image as thus mirrored in their union, adultery and sins of uncleanness must be driven afar off.—G.

Exodus 20:15

The eighth commandment

Guards the sanctity of property. Consider:—

I. PROPERTY AND THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY. Property is that which gives expression to individual and family life. In some sort it is an extension of the bodily organism, an added possibility of self-revelation in the sphere of sense. Social usage allows a man's right, or the right of a corporation, to absolute possession of certain things. Primarily, probably, such right is founded on the right of the labourer to the product of his labour; a man's own is what he has made his own. Such limit, however, has come to be enlarged on grounds of general utility; we may say generally that a man's property is that which social usage allows him to consider such.


1. Stealing. Appropriating a man's property against the will of the owner. All condemn the thief, he is condemned even by his own conscience; however much he may steal from others he can never think it right for them to steal from him! There are, however, various kinds of diluted theft which are equally offences against the eighth commandment, though not so strongly stigmatised by society.

2. Cognate offences. Property in the old times consisted mainly of land, crops, and cattle. The principle involved in the eighth commandment illustrated, as applied to them, by a number of cases in Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 22:1-31; all such acts as result in loss to one's neighbours, provided that loss was not inevitable, are condemned by it. Circumstances, nowadays, are somewhat different, but the principle of honesty still applies. Take a few instances:—

(1) Acts of petty dishonesty.

(a) When in a bargain one party takes advantage of the ignorance of the other; e.g; a collector finds some rarity in the possession of a man who does not know its value, and secures it far below its proper price.

(b) Borrowing without definite intention to return; e.g; books, money, or other property.

(c) Leaving bills unpaid for a needlessly long time. In such case, even though paid eventually, the creditor is defrauded of the profit which he might have made by the use of his money.

(2) Mischievous actions; e.g; marking books or scribbling in them. Cutting initials in trees and buildings. No man has any right to depreciate by his actions the value of another man's property.

(3) Culpable negligence. Must be as careful with the property of others as with our own property. A pure accident is not a pure accident if it would not have happened had the property been our own.

III. COMPENSATION FOR OFFENCES AGAINST PROPERTY. Cf. Exodus 22:9. Not enough to make good the original value, the law of restitution requires double and, in some cases, fivefold or fourfold. Such a law:—

1. Emphasises the importance of strict honesty. In view of it possible offenders will be more cautious as to how they offend. Should it be enforced now-a-days; how many struggling tradesmen and mechanics might find themselves rescued from the verge of bankruptcy! How might charity in a thousand places spring up to banish and destroy suspicion!

2. Secures something like adequate atonement. Defraud a man of anything, and you defraud him of more than the value of that thing. His loss occasions further loss; loss of time, loss of temper, anxiety, inconvenience, for all which the sufferer is entitled to a recompense. Fourfold restitution may sound generous, yet even that may be less than just.

Conclusion.—Honesty is by no means such a common virtue as some suppose. It behoves us to examine ourselves as to how far our conduct may bear strict scrutiny. Are there none to whom we should make restitution? If so, let us be thankful if we can make it. There are losses which we occasion others, dues which we owe to God and man, yet which now, it may be, we can never make good—no remedy now exists for the lasting evil they have occasioned. There are debts we can still pay, there are others which we can never pay; who has not need to join in the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts"?—G.

Exodus 20:16

Connect with the preceding commandment. That guards the property, what belongs to a man outside himself. This guards the character, what belongs to a man inside himself. To steal the purse may be only to steal trash, but to defraud a man of his good name is to do him an irreparable injury.

I. COMMONEST FORM OF THE OFFENCE. Most often committed against comparative strangers. We calculate the effect of our words when speaking of people whom we know—the consequences may be unpleasant to ourselves if we fail to use due care. As regards others, we are far too ready to catch up and publish some prejudicial opinion; it is so much easier to speak evil than to keep silence and say nothing. Take, e.g; the language current with regard to politicians of an opposite party; what disgraceful imputation of unworthy motives is constantly permitted without a protest! We have a right to our own opinion, if we have taken due pains to form it, as to the public acts of public men; we have no right to go beneath those acts and assume that the actors are less honourable than we are. Partisans of the platform and the correspondence column would seem to care nothing for the sanctity of truth, their one aim is to blacken the character of their opponents, so as to emphasise by contrast their own purity.

II. How HABIT STRENGTHENS BY PRACTICE. Bear false witness against a stranger and it will be easier to bear false witness against a friend; the use of unmeasured language in the one case will lead to less measured language in the other. As a fact this is the case. People who express themselves so strongly when speaking of political opponents, are just the people who behind your back will speak of you with inaccurate unkindness. They misrepresent and misinterpret from the mere pleasure of lowering a man in the eyes of others:—

"Low desire
Not to feel lowest makes them level all;
Yea they would pare the mountain to the plain.
To leave an equal baseness."

We are all mirrors in which our neighbours' characters must be in some sort reflected; let us take care lest we reflect falsely, distorting, through flaws in our own character, the character which is reflected through us. Two special cases should be noted:—

1. False witness embodied in accurate speech. We may use true words and yet create a false impression; e.g; a remark made and repeated verbatim. The way, however, in which it is repeated, the special setting, the peculiar intonation; these things give it a very different meaning to that intended by the original speaker. The words are accurate, the testimony is false. (New music alters the character of a song.)

2. False witness may be borne by silence. In discussing a man's character, silence, with or without significant looks, is eloquent. "He could have spoken," it is argued, "had he been able to say anything favourable." Silent acquiescence in the charges made is quite sufficient confirmation of their truth!

Conclusion.—The character of our neighbour, whatever his rank or position, whether the neighbour be a Prime Minister or only a domestic servant, ought to be as precious to us as our own character. It is easy enough to injure a man's good name by thoughtless speech or cowardly silence. We cannot rid ourselves of the responsibility which attaches to our carelessness or cowardice. By speech or silence we give our testimony, whether the testimony be true or false.—G.

Exodus 20:17

The last commandment of the second table.

Murder, adultery, theft, slander, all these spring from a corrupt heart. The wrong thought admitted nourishes the wrong desire, which in time gives birth to the wrong action. Out of the heart are the issues of life, therefore keep thy heart with all diligence.

I. THE SOURCE OF COVETOUSNESS. There are two ideals by which men mould their lives. One makes God the centre of all things, the other makes self the centre. One says "Thy will be done," the other says "My will be done." It is in the heart that accepts this latter ideal that covetousness has its home. Everything is regarded in its relation to self—the neighbour's life and home, and property, and character, are only so many possible instruments which may thwart or assist the gratification of selfishness. The thought of something which may give pleasure, leads us to the desire for the possession of that thing, and the desire will only be restrained from fulfilment by external checks which may make fulfilment difficult. A man may refrain from adultery or theft, because of the social penalties which attach to such transgressions; all the same in his inmost heart he may be a thief and an adulterer. Selfishness is the parent of all sins; its offspring is only dwarfed in growth when selfishness is restrained by society. (Cf. Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:28.)

II. THE CURE FOR COVETOUSNESS. The only radical remedy is that which starts by cutting at the root of selfishness. God, not the individual man, is the centre of the universe. Man is related directly to him, and to all other things through him. It is God's will, not our own will, by reference to which we may live righteously. What then is God's will? It is that which corresponds with his character, which is love. To live as in his sight is to live in the light of love. Love in us is kindled and developed by contemplation and experience of the love which is in him. Love is that Divine affection which alone has power to expel all selfishness. Love alone can purify the heart, guard the thoughts, and discipline the desires. And what is love in practice? It is nothing more nor less than doing to others as we would they should do unto us. All men as related to God are on an equality, all, as in his sight, have equal rights. Here, however much we may differ, we are yet all on common ground. They who acknowledge one God, who accept redemption through one Saviour, who yield to the influence of one sanctifying Spirit, are in the way to the attainment of that love which is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10.)

Conclusion.—Notice how the last commandment links itself on to the fulfilment o! the first. The ten precepts of the two tables are ten golden links in a perfect circle. Thus regarded, that circle is none other than the perfect bond of charity (Colossians 3:14), a girdle wherewith whoso girds himself ensures a twofold peace, "Peace on earth towards men of good will," and the peace of God to keep his heart.—G.

Verses 18-21


WITHDRAWAL OF THE PEOPLE, AND NEARER APPROACH OF MOSES TO GOD. The effect produced upon the people by the accumulated terrors of Sinai—"the thunderings and the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking"—the cloud, and the voice out of the cloud—was an awful and terrible fear. They could not bear the manifestation of the near presence of God; and therefore "they removed and stood afar off." It seemed to them as if, on hearing the voice of God, speaking out of the thick darkness, they must die (Exodus 20:19). Moses, upon their expressing these feelings, comforted them with an assurance that God had shown his terrors, not for their injury, but to put his fear in their hearts (Exodus 20:20), and allowed them to retire to a distance from the mount, while he himself "drew near unto the thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21).

Exodus 20:18

The people saw the thunderings. The use of a specific verb for a generic one, with terms to all of which it is not, strictly speaking, applicable, is common to many writers, and is known to grammarians as zengma. "Saw" here means "perceived, witnessed." The mountain smoking. Compare Exodus 19:18. In Deuteronomy 5:23 it is said that "the mountain did burn with fire." When the people saw it, they removed. It appears, from Deuteronomy 5:23, that. before retiring, the people sent a deputation of heads of tribes and elders up to Moses in the mount, to convey to him their wishes, and suggest that he should be their intermediary with God. Moses laid their wishes before God, and was directed to give them his sanction, whereupon they withdrew to their tents (Deuteronomy 5:30).

Exodus 20:19

And they said unto Moses. Their whole speech, as delivered in Deuteronomy, was as follows:—"Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day, that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now, therefore, why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God, speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go then near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and. we will hear it, and do it" (Deuteronomy 5:24-27). The speech is here abbreviated greatly; but its essential points are preserved—"Speak thou with us"—be thou our intermediary—"Let not God speak with us, lest we die.'"

Exodus 20:20

And Moses said unto the people. Not immediately—Moses first held colloquy with God. God declared that the people had "spoken well" (Deuteronomy 5:28); and authorised Moses to allow of their withdrawal (Deuteronomy 5:30). Fear not. Here Exodus is more full in its details than Deuteronomy. Moses, finding the people in a state of extreme alarm, pacified them—assured them that there was no cause for immediate fear—God had not now come in vengeance—the object of the terrors of Sinai was to "prove" them—i.e; to test them, whether they were inclined to submit themselves to God, or not—and to impress upon their minds permanently an awful fear of God, that they might he kept back from sin by dread of his almighty power. The motive of fear is, no doubt, a low one; but where we can appeal to nothing else, we must appeal to it. Israel was still a child, only fit for childish discipline; and had to be directed by the harsh voice of fear, until it had learnt to he guided by the tender accents of love.

Exodus 20:21

The people stood afar off. They retired from the base of Sinai to their tents, where they "stood," probably in their tent doors. And Moses drew near unto the thick darkness. As the people drew back, Moses drew near. The display which drove them off, attracted him. He did not even fear the "thick darkness"—a thing front which human nature commonly shrinks. Where God was, he would be.


Exodus 20:18-21

The Divine presence at once attractive and repellent.

When Christ was upon the earth, so winning was his graciousness that crowds flocked to him, and one man at least exclaimed, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." But at the same time so terrible was the manifestation of his power, that there were those who "besought him that he would depart out of their coasts." God is love, and God is power, and wherever he is, be exhibits both qualities; but there are some who sea mainly the love, and there are others who see only the power. Hence the Divine presence at once attracts and repels, charms men and affrights them. The Israelites invited to draw near to God, and hold with him direct communication, after brief trial, decline the offer, and will have an intermediary. Moses, given the same invitation, and a witness of the same sights and sounds, not only stands his ground, but at the end draws more near. The reasons for the difference would seem to be these—

1. FEAR, WHERE IT IS EXCESSIVE, EXPELS LOVE. The devils, who have no love, "believe and tremble." Men, who have greatly sinned, and who therefore cannot help seeing in God mainly a "consuming fire," and "an avenger to execute wrath," lose sight of all his gentler attributes, cease to feel that he is their Father, no longer look upon him as "merciful and gracious," and consequently no longer have any feeling of love towards him. We cannot love one from whom we expect nothing but punishment.

II. LOVE, WHERE IT IS STRONG, COUNTERACTS FEAR AND MASTERS IT. "The fear of the Lord endureth for ever"—no love of which a creature is capable can altogether cast it out. Tim very angels veil their faces before the Lord of Hosts, and feel themselves unworthy to gaze upon the Divine perfections. But where love increases, fear diminishes. Let love grow, and become strong, and glow within the heart like a flame of fire—by degrees fear changes its character, ceases to be a timorous dread, and becomes awe. Awe and love can very well co-exist; and love draws us towards God more than awe keeps us back. Love is glad to have no intermediary—rejoices that it may "go boldly to the throne of grace"—seeks to draw as near as possible to the beloved one—so constrains fear, that fear ceases to act any longer as a deterrent, is mastered, and held under restraint. "Moses drew near into the thick darkness where God was." The loving soul presses towards God—would "see him face to face"—and "know even as it also is known."


Exodus 20:18-22

The terrors of Sinai

their design and their effects.


1. Not to slay the people. The people dreaded that if God spoke to them again, they would die (Exodus 20:19). But Moses said—No; this was not the design of the manifestation. "Fear not" (Exodus 20:20). The voice of the law in Scripture, though it is felt in the conscience to be a voice of death (Romans 7:9-11), is not intended to be really so. It is meant to lead to Christ.

2. To prove the people (Exodus 20:20). God gave this awful manifestation, that his fear might ever after be before their faces. They had heard with their own ears the proclamation of the law, and they had seen these terrors. If anything could awaken fear in them—a salutary fear—and keep them from apostasy, these things should. But, alas! terror is a very ineffective instrument of conversion. These Israelites soon forgot their terrors, and within forty days were dancing in mat[ glee round their golden calf (Exodus 32:1-35.).


1. They inspired the keenest alarm. This is the invariable result in the sinful breast of any near approach of God. A fear akin to that of the Israelites has often been manifested—

(1) In presence of unusual appearances of nature (comets, eclipses, etc.).

(2) Under the powerful preaching of the realities of judgment.

(3) In prospect of death.

2. They awakened the cry for a mediator (Exodus 20:19). However much, under ordinary circumstances, the unbeliever may scout the idea of being indebted to a mediator, it will be strange if there do not come times in his life when he feels that he needs one. Three principles in our nature give birth to this feeling—

(1) The sense of weakness and finitude.

(2) The sense of sin.

(3) The feeling of need.

The longing for fellowship with God gives rise to the desire for one to mediate that fellowship, to bring it about by making peace.

3. They impelled the self-convicted Israelites to flee from God's presence (Exodus 20:18, Exodus 20:21). This is what will take place at the last judgment. How different with Moses, who had "boldness" to enter even into the thick darkness! The good man need not fear to be anywhere with God—J.O.

Verses 22-26


THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT, (Exodus 20:1-26. Exodus 20:22, to Exodus 22:1-31.Exodus 22:23; Exodus 22:23). The Decalogue is followed by a series of laws, civil, social, and religious, which occupy the remainder of Exodus 20:1-26. and the whole of the three following chapters (Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 22:1-31. and 23.). It appears from Exodus 24:1-18. that these laws, received by Moses on Sinai, immediately after the delivery of the ten commandments, were at once committed to writing and collected into a book, which was known as "the Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 24:7), and was regarded as a specially sacred volume. The document, as it has come down to us, "cannot be regarded as a strictly systematic whole" (Canon Cook): yet still, it is not wholly unsystematic,but aims in some degree at an orderly arrangement. First and foremost are placed the laws which concern the worship of God, which are two in number:—

1. Against idols;

2. Concerning altars (Exodus 20:23-26).

Then follow the laws respecting what our legal writers call "the rights of persons"—which occupy thirty-two verses of Exodus 21:1-36. and fall under some twenty different heads, beginning with the rights of slaves, and terminating with the compensation to be made for injuries to the person caused by cattle. The third section is upon "the rights of property," and extends from Exodus 21:33, to Exodus 22:15, including some ten or twelve enactments. After this we can only say that the laws are mixed, some being concerned with Divine things (as Exodus 22:20, Exodus 22:29, Exodus 22:30; and Exodus 23:10-19): others with human, and these last being of various kinds, all, however, more or less "connected with the civil organization of the state" (Kalisch). In the fourth section the enactments seem to fall under about twenty-five heads. The result is that the "Book of the Covenant" contains, in little more than three chapters, about seventy distinct laws.

Exodus 20:22

Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. The book opened with this reminder, which at once recalled its author and declared its authority. "I, who give these laws, am the same who spake the ten commandments amid the thunders of Sinai. Reverence the laws accordingly."

Exodus 20:23

Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, etc. This is a repetition, in part, of the second commandment, and can only be accounted for by the prohibition being specially needed. The first idea of the Israelites, when they considered that Moses had deserted them, was to make a golden calf for a god.

Exodus 20:24

An altar of earth. Among the nations of antiquity altars were indispensable to Divine worship, which everywhere included sacrifice. They were often provided on the spur of the occasion, and were then "constructed of earth, sods, or stones, collected upon the spot." The patriarchal altars bad probably been of this character, and it was now provided that the same usage should continue: at any rate, elaborate structures of hewn and highly ornamented stone should not be allowed, lest thus idolatry should creep in, the images engraved upon the altars becoming the objects of worship. Thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings. The mode in which these are introduced implies that sacrifice was already a long-standing practice. The patriarchal sacrifices are well known (Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 22:9; Genesis 35:1). Jethro had recently offered sacrifice in the camp of Israel (Exodus 18:12). If the Israelites had not sacrificed to God during the sojourn in Egypt, at any rate they had kept up the idea of sacrifice; and it was for the purpose of offering sacrifices that Moses had demanded permission to go with all his nation into the wilderness. I will come unto thee and I will bless thee. The promise is conditional on the observance of the command. If the altars are rightly constructed, and proper victims offered, then, in all places where he allows the erection of an altar, God will accept the sacrifices offered upon it and bless the worshippers.

Exodus 20:25

And if thou wilt make me an altar of stonei.e; if, notwithstanding my preference expressed for an altar of earth, thou wilt insist on making me one of stone, as more permanent, and so more honourable, then I require that the stones shall be rough stones shaped by nature, not stones chiselled into shape by the art of man. For if thou lift up thy tool upon it thou hast polluted it. It is conjectured with reason that we have here an old traditional idea, which God thought fit under the existing circumstances to sanction. The real object was that altars should not be elaborately carved with objects that might superinduce idolatry. The widely prevalent notion, that nature is sacred, and that all man's interference with nature is a defilement, was made use of economically, to produce the desired result. No tool being allowed to be used, no forms of living creatures could be engraved, and so no idolatry of them could grow up.

Exodus 20:26

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar. Here the reason of decency, added in the text, is obvious; and the law would necessarily continue until sacerdotal vestments of a very different character from the clothes commonly worn by Orientals were introduced (Exo 38:3 -43). After their introduction, the reason for the law, and with it the law itself, would drop The supposed "slope of earth" by which the priests are thought to have ascended to the "ledge" on the altar of burnt offerings, and the "inclined plane," said by Josephus to have given access to the great altar of Solomon, rest on no sufficient authority, and are probably pure fictions. As soon as an ascent was needed, owing to the height of the altar, it was probably an ascent by steps (See Ezekiel 43:17.)


Exodus 20:20-22

The law of the altar.

I. THE OBJECT Or WORSHIP. The true God, not gods of silver, or gods of gold (Exodus 20:23). The God who had talked with them from heaven had appeared in no visible form. "Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice" (Deuteronomy 4:12). Let the sole object of our worship be the invisible, spiritual, infinite, yet revealed God. God's revelations of himself lay the basis of right worship. God has spoken. How reverently should we hear!

II. THE PLACE Or WORSHIP. "In all places where I record my name" (Exodus 20:24). God records his name by making a revelation of himself, as at Bethel, Peniel, etc. Whatever places he chose for the building of his altar, till the time came for the erection of a permanent sanctuary, there would he meet with them. Religion is now set free from places (John 4:23). Wherever two or three are met in Christ's name, there will he be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).

III. THE ALTAR OF WORSHIP. To be built of unhewn stone—i.e; of natural materials (Exodus 20:25). It was the altar of propitiation. Man is viewed as one whose sins are yet unexpiated. His art, in that state, would have polluted the altar. Art came in afterwards (Exodus 25:1-40. etc.). Nothing of man's own avails for propitiation.

IV. THE MATERIALS OF WORSHIP. Animal sacrifices (Exodus 20:24). For purposes of atonement—as symbols of personal consecration (burnt offerings)—as pledges of peace and renewed fellowship (peace offerings). Not in the first, but in the other meanings of sacrifice, we are still summoned to bring them in our worship—"spiritual sacrifices" of self-surrender (Romans 12:1), of the broken spirit (Psalms 51:17), of praise and thanksgiving (1 Peter 1:5).

V. THE MANNER WORSHIP (Exodus 20:26). Reverence and decency.—J.O.


Exodus 20:22-26

I will go unto the altar of God.

The directions given shadow forth the essentials of genuine worship. Amongst the heathen the idol is the central figure, the human symbol of the unseen God. The true God will admit no such symbol; it is a barrier against, not a step towards, the worship he desires. In true worship there must be utter self-suppression. "Obedience is better than sacrifice;" it is only through obedience that the sacrifice becomes acceptable. In this light consider—

I. THE ALTAR. To be made of earth or unhewn stones. The simple unadorned material as provided by God himself. Anything beyond this, any touch of human handicraft, pollutes it. The principle which underlies this fact:—sacrifices offered in the appointed way are acceptable; if we try to better the appointed way—to put something of our own into the sacrifice as a ground for acceptance—we spoil all. Self-obtrusion, however well-intended, is pollution. The altar is the expression of God's will: try to improve it, and it becomes instead an expression of the will of the would-be improver. "I give thee this, O God; it is not worth much, but I give it thee in this self-chosen manner, and surely that adds to its value." Not a bit: it deprives it of all value. The altar of self is not the altar of God; sacrifices offered upon it may perhaps soothe the worshipper, they cannot propitiate the Deity. The pillar, e.g; of a St. Simeon Stylites does not add to the value of his prayers; they have a better chance of reaching heaven from the contrite heart at the foot of the pillar. (Cf. Colossians 2:22, Colossians 2:23.)

II. THE APPROACHES. If the offering be made with a pure motive, it must also be offered in a pure and reverent manner. The special direction, no doubt, aimed against the enthusiastic indecencies associated with idolatry. Still, it illustrates a principle: "All things," in the worship of God, should be done "decently and in order." God looks first at character, but he requires also that character be matched by conduct. The Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 11:1-34; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40.) infringed the principle, if not the precept. Many amongst modern worshippers infringe it also, e.g; by indecencies of dress, behavior, etc; in a place of worship or when engaged in prayer.

Conclusion.—Two things required of us, humility and reverence; inward and outward self-suppression. Do we want a motive? "Mine altar" (Exodus 20:26). Remember who it is whom we worship. What place left for self when the heart is fixed on God?—G.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 20". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.