The text before us consists of the first five commandments which God gave Moses upon the arrival of the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Jesus provided commentary on all of the commandments when He answered the question, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” (Matt. 22:36-40). The Lord quoted Deuteronomy 6:5. To keep the greatest commandment, one must keep the first five in their entirety.
“And God spake all these words . . .” (v. 1). The setting is at Mount Sinai. The children of Israel arrived at and camped before the mount in the third month (Ex. 19:1). The Lord spoke these words approximately two and a half months following the exodus from Egypt. In the interim, the children of Israel had seen the Lord cause the waters of the sea to part before them, the bitterness of the water of Marah to disappear, manna to fall from heaven, and water to rush forth from the rock at Rephidim. The children of Israel had seen all these things but they still did not know the God who had done them.
New Testament believers know God. We know that the Lord gave His commandments to the children of Israel such that they might know Him. Exodus 19:16 records that all the people of the camp trembled when a thick cloud and thunderings and lightnings came upon the mount. After the thunderings and lightnings, Moses went upon the mount. Upon his return, he delivered the words by which His people should know God.
In verse 2, the Lord speaks directly to Israel, the people whom He brought out of slavery in Egypt. With these same words, the Lord speaks to New Testament believers in that He has made us free from the power of sin (Rom. 6:22). New Testament believers are to live by the commandments of Him who has made us free as Israel was to live by the commandments set before them in Exodus 20.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (v. 3). Some scholars suggest that “before me” means “in addition to Me.” This view is consistent with “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” (Deut. 6:5). If one loves the Lord with all one’s heart, there is no room for any other.
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . .” (v. 4). A graven image is a representation of a god. God created man in His image (Gen. 1:26). Any graven image includes images of God which men might construct. A graven image of a human is not an image of God; it is an image of self. To worship self is to become as Lucifer who said, “I will be like the most High” (Isa. 14:14).
“. . . I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (v. 5). God demands faithfulness and exclusive worship.
Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children means that the wrongs of the past have consequences that extend to the third and fourth generations. This most certainly was the case for the nation of Judah following the Babylonian conquest. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were innocent of the transgressions of their fathers but never dwelt in the land of their birth as adults. The Lord does not punish the sons for the transgressions of the fathers (see Deut. 24:16, Jer. 31:29-30, Ezek. 18:1-32).
“. . . showing mercy . . .” (v. 6). The Lord’s mercy far exceeds His judgment for those who love Him and keep His commandments. Again, the scriptures document His mercy which spared Daniel and Mordecai and lifted them to positions of prominence.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain . . .” (v. 7). Taking the Lord’s name in vain is more, much more, than cursing. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is any misuse of His name. Misuse includes using God to affirm that which is false (perjury), to express surprise, or to use His name when there is no clear purpose for doing so. God has called His people to lift up His name. Lifting up His name and misusing His name are as distant as west from east.
In verses 8 through 11, God tells His people to keep the sabbath day and why. The sabbath day is to be a day of rest. The Lord first instructed the children of Israel concerning the sabbath when He told Moses that He would cause bread to fall from heaven. God would provide a double portion of manna on the sixth day and none on the sabbath (Ex. 16:5). God rested on the seventh day. Israel was to rest from gathering on the seventh day. The instruction to keep the sabbath given at Sinai is part of Israel’s covenantal agreement. Israel was to be a nation of priests who would declare God to all people through keeping the law given to Moses.
In keeping the sabbath, Israel would loudly declare the Lord God who “made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them” (v. 11). Israel was to declare the Lord who “blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” The Lord raised up a people to declare His righteousness to all peoples.
Worship requires obedience. New Testament believers have a better covenant than Israel in that Christ has fulfilled the law which no man can keep. Our better covenant is conditional upon believing upon Christ Jesus. Obedience to the Lord’s commandments is proof of belief. Jesus has commanded us to love one another as He loves us. Jesus commanded believers to go and to teach and to baptize. We are to teach all people to do as Jesus has said. He has given Himself as our sin payment. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9).
He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to Him in repentance.