“The commandments were designed to lead Israel to a life of practical holiness. In them, people could see the nature of God and his plan for how they should live.(Life Application Bible Notes) However, the Ten Commandments should not be seen as an end into itself, but the means to fulfill God’s ultimate law of love. For without love, “outward obedience is mere hypocrisy”. (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
God prefaces the Ten Commandments with a statement explaining who He is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery”. (Exodus 20:2) In this verse God establishes His authority to give the law to the Israelites, and reminds them of the fulfillment of the covenant He made with Abraham to bring Israelites out of Egypt.
The first commandment is “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Exodus 20:3). Like the Israelites who were surrounded by nations who worshiped many gods, we too live in a society where many idols are prevalent. While in Biblical times the idols may have been animals or statutes, today’s idols can be money, fame, work, pleasure, personal identity and security to name just a few. “Whatever is loved, feared, delighted in, or depended on, more than God, that we make a god of.” (John Wesley Explanatory Notes) “No one sets out with the intention of worshiping these things. But by the amount of time we devote to them, they can grow into gods that ultimately control our thoughts and energies. Letting God hold the central place in our lives keeps these things from turning into gods.”(Life Application Bible Notes) God should be the only One we worship. He should be first in our lives, and nothing or no one should compete for our affections, time, money and energy. The purpose of the first commandment is “to prevent man's misery and promote his happiness, by taking him off from all false dependence, and leading him to God himself, the fountain of all good.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary)
The second commandment is “Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). “When people make an idol, they are seeking to control the infinite God by molding Him into a shape they can see, touch, and manipulate. However, no shape in the heavens or on the earth or under the waters can adequately represent God.” (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Spring 2010) All idols made by man are inferior to the one and only true God, who made everything in the heavens, on the earth and under the waters.
In verses 5 and 6 of Exodus 20, God forbids worship of idols because He is “a jealous God, punishing the children for the father’s sins to the third and fourth [generations]”, but He promised to show love to those who love Him “to a thousand [generations]”. The reason idolatry is so forbidden by God is because He expects us our exclusive fidelity. Human jealousy is based on insecurities and selfish desires, but God’s jealous is based on His infinite love for us and His desire to protect us from destructive sinful practices. He becomes jealous of anything that erodes our relationship with Him and that detracts our attention from our worship of Him. Also, verses 5 and 6 shows that God’s mercy is greater than His punishment. (Nelson’s Student Bible Commentary) “Justice works to the third or fourth, mercy to thousands of generations!” (Adam Clarke's Commentary) This should be a reminder to all that not only do we reap what we sow so do our descendants for generations to come.
The third commandment is “Do no misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will punish anyone who misuses His name”. Using God’s name in vain includes trivializing His name, trying to use it to advance evil purposes, using it in worship thoughtlessly, false oaths, swearing where the name of God is use or where he is appealed to as a witness of the truth and irreverent mention of God’s name or any of His attributes. Unfortunately, today God’s name is misused all too often. However, “The way we use God's name conveys how we really feel about him.” (Life Application Bible Notes) God assures us in this verse that all who are guilt of misusing His name will be punished. “On the other hand, we show respect for God when we use His name appropriately in praying, praising and witnessing.” (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide)
The fourth commandment is “Remember to dedicate the Sabbath day”(Exodus 20:8). In Genesis 2:2, after God created the world and everything in it in six days, He rested on the seventh. He rested not because He needed to, but to give us an example to follow because He knew man could not work without regularly periods of rest. Thus, we should set aside the Sabbath day for rest and worship. “Christ allowed works of necessity, charity and piety..., but all works of luxury, vanity or self-indulgence in any form are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) “He who idles away time on any of the six days, is as guilty before God as he who works on the Sabbath.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary) Keeping the Sabbath is not only beneficial for our physical and emotional well being, but also for our souls. The Sabbath is God’s provision to us, and we should not neglect it. By keeping this commandment we affirm that every day belongs to God and is a gift from Him.
The fifth commandment is “Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”. (Exodus 20:12) “This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary) Even those who find it difficult to get along with their parents are still commanded to honor them (Life Application Bible Notes), that is treat them with significance. (Nelson’s Student Bible Commentary) This is the first commandment to have a promise affixed to it, that is the promise of “long life in the land”, which “shows just how important a stable family life (and thus society) is to God. (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide)
The sixth commandment is “Do not murder”(Exodus 20:13) which does not forbid us from defending ourselves, if the situation should warrant it. Instead, it “requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own”. (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) It also requires us to harbor no hate or malice in our heart against another person. This commandment requires a spirit of kindness, longsuffering, and forgiveness. (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) This commandment also forbids the destruction of our own lives.
The seventh commandment is “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) which includes lust, “fornication and all kinds of mental and sensual uncleanness” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary) Any literature, song, art, television program, movie, Internet site or conversation which produce impure thoughts should be avoid at all costs. “We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the body, as of that which destroys it.”(Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary) Just as murder begins with feelings of hatred, adultery begins with impure thoughts. It is critical that we protect our minds from sinful thoughts because our thoughts will become our actions, if we allow ourselves to dwell on them.
The eighth commandment is “Do not steal” (Exodus 20:15) which includes taking advantage of another’s ignorance, kidnapping, not restoring what is borrowed or found, accepting charity when you are not in need, making a debt without any prospect of paying it, and withholding or evading payment of debts, rents or wages. As the sixth commandment (Do not murder) focuses on honoring the value of our neighbor’s life, the eighth commandment focuses on honoring the value of our neighbor’s property and treating our neighbors fairly and honestly in business. As Christians we should be thankful for what God has given us, be content with our provision and to use our resources to bring God glory.
The ninth commandment is “Do not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16), which includes all false oath, slander, backbititng, not telling the truth when it is known and exaggerating the mistake of another to make it seem worse than it really is. This commandment forbids injury to our neighbor’s character and the promotion of our own reputation at the expense of our neighbor’s. God expects His children to be speak and uphold the truth.
The ten commandment is “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17). “Coveting includes envy — resenting the fact that others have what you don't.” (Life Application Bible Notes) This commandment is broken any time a person takes action to deprive another of his house, his spouse and any of his belongings. The fifth through the ninth commandment “forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbor; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves.” (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary)