THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
How to have right relationship with God and with others
Exodus 20:1-21, Key Verse: 3
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
God made a covenant relationship with the people of Israel in 19:5-6, saying, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” When we read this verse very carefully, God’s covenant is conditional, starting with ‘If’ and promising his great vision. (Of course, the old covenant requires obedience and the new covenant does not require obedience but faith, yet the faith should finish in obedience for faith without deeds is dead.) God gave the people of Israel the fundamental laws that could help them keep the relationship with God and with others, which is applicable even today’s world which is declining to lawlessness. In fact, Jesus has raised the Ten Commandments to a much higher level, as a Christian lives as a citizen of God’s kingdom on earth. Amen!
In the Ten Commandments, there are two parts. The first four commandments are about the vertical relationship between God and a human, and the next six commandments are about the horizontal relationship between human beings.
I. Love God (1-10).
Look at verses 1-2, “And God spoke all these words: 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God reminded Israel of his power and grace. Therefore, remembering what God has done enables us to obey. God with his mighty hand saved the people of Israel out of the most powerful nation on earth, Egypt, at that time. They were slaves and had no payment to free themselves. They had no strength and skills to revolt against the Egyptians. They had done nothing, but they believed in God when it seemed impossible to believe and obeyed though they could not understand how the blood of the lamb on the door frame would save them from the plague of death. By faith, they asked the Egyptians who were favorably disposed for articles of silver and of gold. God opened the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross over as on dry land and drowned the Egyptian army in the water. Thus far, God not only saved them but also protected and provided for them in the wilderness, carrying them on eagle’s wings. Through all these, God revealed himself as the Lord, “I am who I am.” This supreme Lord is their God as they are God’s treasured possession.
When the people of Israel remembered what God had done for them, out of thanks and love, they could not but trust in God and made a pledge to God, saying, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” After the people made that pledge, God gave them the Ten Commandments, which requires their commitment. The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” It is a challenging command for them. In ancient Egypt, there were about 2,000 gods and goddesses. The people of Israel had seen such gods and been influenced by the Egyptians. In fact, the Hebrews had other gods also, as we know that Rachel stole her father’s gods. In chapter 15, Moses acknowledged the Lord God, Yahweh, above the other gods. Now God is commanding them to get rid of all other gods from their hearts and lives. From now on, they should worship the Lord, Yahweh, only.
The question is why people want to worship something. In every civilization, there have been many gods to worship. Atheists say that people made a god because when they feel weak, they want to depend on something more powerful. But the truth is that we are made in the image of God and God breathed his spirit into each person, so we have a desire to worship God. Since due to sin, we lost the relationship with the Lord God and do not know how to worship God properly, people began to worship manmade gods, which came from evil spirits. In history, some gods have shown power for people to follow. It is because they are from the devil, who has the power of fallen angels. Due to our spiritual nature, we are going to worship either the Lord God or gods which are from the devil. Unless the people of Israel make a decision to worship God, they may worship other gods. Therefore, it is the first commandment.
These days, we are seeing the signs of the end of the age, wars, rumors of wars and natural disasters, such as COVID19, so many hurricanes and tornados in every part of the world. At the end of the age, the devil will do his best to deceive people. Unless we, Christians, make a decision to worship the Lord God, we may be deceived to worship other gods, who are from the devil. May God help us to make a decision to have no other god before the Lord God, who saved us from our sins and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection! Amen!
Yet the form of gods or goddesses may not look like a monster we would run away from. They may come to us in deceptive forms or objects, which is the reason why God gave the second command. Look at verses 4-5a, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” An image is an object representing a god or a goddess; therefore, people worship a god or a goddess through a form of an object, called an idol. God wants his people to get rid of all idols they have accumulated and not make them anymore.
In this generation, having an idol seems harmless since we are using the word commonly like in the TV show the ‘American idol.’ In fact, anything and anyone can be an idol, if we idolize them, worshiping it in the place of God. People idolize cars, houses, celebrities, even politicians. In this selfie generation, people are worshiping themselves in the name of privacy and personalization. The most famous idol in Egypt was Baal, which was a god of prosperity, which is here today in the name of prosperity gospel.
Why does God want his people to have no gods before him and not worship any object? Look at verses 5b-6. “for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” It is because God is jealous. It reveals one of God’s characteristics. He will not allow anyone or anything else to be an object of our worship. He is like a bridegroom who is jealous of his bride. Jealousy is another side of love. Due to God’s jealousy, his anger flared up when the people of Israel worshiped other gods like Baal. It is the evidence of God’s strong love for his people.
There are consequences of one’s life of worship. God promised to bless those who worship him and their descendants for a thousand generations, while cursing up to the fourth generation those who worship an idol. God’s promise has been proved true down through generations. Here is one examples from American history. Two men grew up on the same village in New York, Jonathan Edwards and Max Jukes in 1700. The descendants of Jonathan Edwards, who was a believer and became one of the great preachers, came 1 vice president, 3 senators, 3 governors, 13 college presidents, almost hundreds of lawyers, doctors, professors and military officers. But from Max Jukes, who denied Christ, came 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 150 other convicts and hundreds of alcohol addicts. And many of them died prematurely. Now, it is up to each one of us whether we want to worship the God alone and be blessed and bless our children or not.
Look at the third commandment, which says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Misuse is using something not for its purpose or improperly. God’s name should be honored and glorified as God. God’s name should be above all names. But some people use God’s name for their own desires. There was one young man who claimed that God told him in his dream to marry one girl in his church who was very pretty. We cannot use God’s name carelessly. When we misuse his name, there are also consequences; God will hold us accountable. James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (ESV). When we call upon God’s name, we should sincerely do so with faith in his love and power.
Look at the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” God wanted his people to keep the Sabbath day holy. Keeping it holy means setting it apart from other days not to work but to worship God and find rest in him, just as God rested from his work of creating the world. While the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, they had no rest, working seven days a week, being beaten and suffering restlessly. In fact, this is the state of those who do not believe in God because they work like slaves. Though they do not know, they become a slave of money working without rest. Their hearts find no rest due to worries and anxieties about losing money. But our God is the God who gives his people rest. From now on, they are able to take rest once a week after working hard for six days. They can bring offerings to God and share food with others having fellowship with others.
The Sabbath day is Saturday, but setting apart from Judaism, Christians changed it to Sunday, as Jesus declared that he is the Lord of Sabbath. Jesus rose again from the dead on Sunday, thus we worship God on the first day of a week. Moreover, Jesus invites us saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30) Therefore, we find rest not only physically but also spiritually as we learn from Jesus’ gentle and humble heart as we take the yoke with Christ, serving people with the love and word of God. As God was working, Jesus did not stop working with God, saving lives on the Sabbath day. Yet some people make use of this for their excuse, not to worship but go to work, making money for themselves. They are misusing Jesus’ word to do whatever they would like to do. In fact, it shows their priority; God or money.
Jesus summarized these four commandments into one: love God, which is from Deuteronomy 6:5. When we love God with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our soul and with all our strength, we will not have other gods, not make an idol or misuse his name and keep Sunday holy, giving God the first priority. How can we love God then? When we remember how he saved us from the slavery of our sin and death through sacrificing his one and only Son Jesus Christ, we can be thankful. Out of thanks and love, we want to keep it. Even if we may be distracted by the world, we can remember his grace, repent of our sins and be restored.
II. Love your neighbor as yourself (12-21).
Up until now the four commandments above are dealing with the vertical relationship between God and a human being. The rest of them are about the horizontal relationship between human beings. The next five commandments are the foundation of human laws, accepted by all cultures and nations. Yet the fifth one is a transitional commandment from the vertical to the horizontal. Look at verse 12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” It is the first and foremost relationship in one’s life. No one came to this world without parents. When we were babies, they took care of us as they thought best, feeding milk and changing diapers. When we are young, we listen to whatever they say. In fact, it resembles our relationship with God. If we do not honor our own parents, how can we say that we honor God?
There is also a reward from God in this commandment: when a child honors one’s parents, he or she may live long in the land God promised. It also makes sense when we think about the human relationship. An obedient child will listen and obey their own parents and continue to inherit parents’ heritage of faith and their property. Obedience comes with blessings.
Next four commandments are basic laws between human beings, keeping a society safe to live in. They fall under the golden rule: treat others just as we want to be treated. Let’s look at the sixth commandment in verses 13, “You shall not murder.” A human life is precious because each person is created in the image of God. Yet Jesus interpreted this command on a higher level in Matthew 5:21-26. Being angry at a brother or sister will make us subject to judgment and saying, ‘You idiot’ is the same as murdering. It is because we can kill another person’s spirit with our words. In these days, people comment anything they feel like on social network systems, and many young people commit suicide due to hurting words from their SNS friends. When we offend someone with our words, we must do our best reconcile with the person.
Look at verse 14, “You shall not commit adultery.” A marriage is the most important covenant between a man and a woman next to the covenant of God. Thus, it should be kept pure. Again Jesus heightened this command to the next level in Matthew 5:27-30. Anyone who looks at a woman with lustful eyes has already committed adultery. It seems too much to judge. Who is not a sinner before Christ? But when we meditate on it, we come to understand the reason why. It is because sin starts from our heart and mind; therefore, Jesus wants us to repent of our sinful thought before it grows and bears fruit. When we commit sin, we will suffer the consequences of sin like king David. After committing adultery, David himself, his children and the people of Israel suffered greatly. Thus, Jesus has given us the best preventive medicine, purifying our hearts through the blood of Jesus.
The eighth commandment is “You shall not steal.” This regards possessions of mine and of others. Stealing is another kind of dishonest gain, taking someone’s property without permission as one’s own. Even stealing a small thing will break other’s trust.
The ninth commandment is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” It deals with one’s integrity. It may start from gossip, which may break other’s integrity. It can make an innocent person in trouble and/or an evil person free in a court. It is basically lying, which is one of the devil’s tools in destroying people.
Look at verse 17. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” This commandment is the most unique one because you cannot find it anywhere in any culture or nations except the Bible. Covetousness is not an action, harming anybody, but just the desire of getting what others have. It may come from greed. But when a person does not repent of covetousness, he or she will do all kinds of evil things, stealing and giving false testimony, committing adultery and even murdering. Therefore, this command is the preventive one the Lord God gave to the people of Israel. This had been Apostle Paul’s life problem, always finding himself as a sinner and needing God’s grace in Christ. Finally, in Christ he learned to live content with what he had. (Phil 4:12) The opposite of coveting is being thankful for what God has given us. Truly, it is God’s will is for us to give thanks in all circumstances.
Look at verses 18-20. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ 20 Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’” Before the Holy God, they fell into fear of God just as Peter fell into fear when he found himself a dirty sinner before Christ. Due to fear, they could not come closer to God but asked Moses to listen to God and speak to them. Moses encouraged them to overcome the fear of death, telling them to have the healthy fear. it is God’s test so the fear of God keeps them from sinning. We should be afraid of the consequences of our sin. God gave the people of Israel the Ten Commandments so that they would always repent of their sins before God and grow to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests for the whole world. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.
Through today’s passage, we learned what the Ten Commandments mean. The Commandments fundamentally teach us how to love God and love our neighbor, so that we can keep the vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationship with others in a right way. We have become God’s treasured possession because we are bought through the precious blood of Jesus Christ as the payment of our sins. Let us have a healthy fear of God, repenting of our sins before God as we meditate on God’s covenant law, the Ten Commandments. The Bible declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” This is the way we are sanctified and be blessed as a holy nation, setting ourselves apart from the people of the world, who live sinful and lawless lives. In this way, we live as a kingdom of priests, standing in the gap between God and the people of the world, beginning from our friends and neighbors. Amen!