For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

20:1.  “And God spake all these words, saying,”


20:2.  “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”


As discussed already, God’s literal liberation of Israel from Egyptian serfdom is also typological of His deliverance of believers from bondage to Satan, sin, and death; and since Egypt is a type of this evil world, the further truth being declared is that that world, in spite of its wealth and pleasure, is the prison house of every unconverted soul.


20:3.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”


In spite of this command, Israel quickly forgot her Benefactor, and prostrated herself before the idols of the nations, beginning with her worship of the golden calf made by Aaron even while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments which were meant to govern her life under the beneficent dominion of her Divine Deliverer.


Before rushing to condemn her however, we should be certain that we haven’t aped her folly, not in bowing down to literal idols, but in worshiping money, fame, pleasure, etc.


20:4.  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:”


The listing of the variety of creatures and things that man might worship would seem needless were it not for the fact he in his folly has deified every one of them.


20:5.  “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”


For man to worship any creature, or any likeness of anything, is to denigrate God, for it is tantamount to declaring the idol to be His equal or superior.  It is small wonder therefore that He will slay the offenders.


Relative to “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,” this has to be understood in the light of God’s nature.  He never punishes the father for the sin of the child, nor the child for that of the father, see Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”  The threat is against each generation which rebels against God, for while the unconverted man may be also religious, in his heart he is a rebel who hates God, as will also his children.


The threefold mention of death emphasizes the deadly nature of sin.


20:6.  “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”


This is also rendered showing mercy unto the thousandth generation, which is another way of saying that His mercy towards believers is eternal, the evidence of a converted state being the presentation of an obedient life, the Lord Himself declaring, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John 14:15-21.


20:7.  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”


Alternative translations of this verse are You shall not use the name of the Lord your God lightly, frivoulously, or in false affirmation: You shall not misuse the name of your God: You shall not invoke the name of the Lord your God to evil intent .... for the Lord will not let him go unpunished: Jehovah will not acquit: he will be judged a sinner by the Lord.  James adds the further warning, “But above all things my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea by yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation,” James 5:12.


20:8.  “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”


20:9.  “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work:”


In this present age of grace the Jewish sabbath, the seventh day of the week, has been replaced by the first day of the week as a day of rest, another having pointed out that under law man worked for six days before he could rest, but under grace the reverse is true: he begins the week by resting, rest having been secured for him, not by his own works, but by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”


20:10.  “But the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:”


Most Christians - including the writer - believe that in this present dispensation we are not to work on the first day of the week, except for what is required by necessity and mercy, see e.g., Luke 13:15, which records the Lord’s rebuke of the hypocritical legalistic Pharisee, “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?”


20:11.  “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”


This should surely silence all objection to observing a weekly day of rest.  The Creator worked for six days, and then rested.  Society however, has changed the Divine order by doing business as usual every day of the week, employees who are compelled to work on Sunday being given another day off instead. 


But this contravenes God’s command.  For this age of grace He has appointed the first day of the week as the one on which men are to rest, and believers are to remember the Lord’s death, and celebrate His resurrection, see Acts 20:7, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread (eat the Lord’s Supper), Paul preached unto them....” and again in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him....”


God hasn’t left it to men to choose the day on which they will rest and remember the Lord’s death.  He Himself has appointed Sunday, the first day of the week, as that special day.  His having hallowed it means that He has made it a special holy, sanctified, consecrated day.


20:12.  “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”


This has to be understood in context, for clearly the reference is to godly, not wicked parents.


20:13.  “Thou shalt not kill.”


20:14.  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”


20:15.  “Thou shalt not steal.”


The meaning of these verses is so clear as to need no comment, except to note that entertainment of the thought is as serious in God’s sight as commission of the deed, see, e.g., Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”


20:16.  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”


This is also rendered You must not bring a false charge against your fellow.


20:17.  “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”


To covet is defined as to desire wrongfully, inordinately, without regard to the rights of others.  The desire to “keep up with the Jones” is what is forbidden here, and it is one of society’s besetting sins.  The scriptural principle which is to govern our lives is briefly declared in Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conversation (manner of life) be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”


20:18.  “And all the people saw (and heard) the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.”


The phenomena accompanying Jehovah’s presence so terrified the people that they moved far back, prompting the question, What will it be like for the unconverted when they are arraigned before that same Holy God at the Great White Throne?  Some idea of their dread may be discovered in what is written in Revelation 6:15-17 relative to the Great Tribulation, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”


20:19.  “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”


Moses as mediator is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5.  As our Mediator, He has presented His Own precious blood as the all-sufficient atonement for our countless sins.


20:20.  “And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.”


“Prove” is also rendered test.  This display of His glory was  designed to beget the reverential awe that would deter them from sinning, as the Scriptural record of it is meant to have the same effect on men today; but Israel’s quick disobedience simply foreshadows today’s rebellion that defies God to His face.


20:21.  “And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.”


No spiritual mind will fail to see in this a foreshadowing of what occurred at Calvary when the One Whom Moses typifies was enveloped in darkness for three hours, while God dealt with Him on account of our sins.


20:22.  “And the Lord said to Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”


That God should have spoken to Israel from heaven was a miracle of grace.  A greater wonder is that He has spoken to the world through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ - and not from heaven, but in person, from the cross to which men nailed Him, as it is written, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son ....” Hebrews 1:1-2. 


Nor, as might be expected, is His message one of righteous retribution.  It is rather one of unbelievable love, grace, and mercy, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shuld not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved,” John 3:16-17.


20:23.  “Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.”


The word “with” reminds us that our God is a jealous God Who will not share His glory, as it is written, “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images,” Isaiah 42:8.  He alone is to be worshiped.


It is instructive that here, as so often in Scripture, silver is mentioned before gold - and for good reason: silver is the symbol of redemption; gold, of glory.  Men must be redeemed before they can be glorified.


20:24.  “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”


Most scholars understand that the altar was to be built of stone, not earth, see Deuteronomy 27:5-6, “And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones ... of whole stones.”  It isn’t difficult to see in that altar of whole stones a symbolic picture of the local church composed of believers, those who are described as living stones, see 1 Peter 2:5, “Ye also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”


Nor was the choice of location left to the people: the altar was to be built only in the places designated by God, the lesson being that our corporate worship is to be presented in the local church: the church being not a building, but the assembly of believers in a local area meeting together as a corporate body. 


“... and I will bless thee.”  Obedience commands God’s blessing.


20:25.  “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”


The lesson is clear.  Man is not to add anything to God’s commands, yet the ornate ritual involving gorgeous robes, titles such as Pope, Archbishop, Holy Father, your Reverence; magnificent buildings, choirs, etc., attest the extent to which man has disobeyed this command.  All these things have polluted the simple, biblical order of worship, and are hateful to God.


20:26.  “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.”


This continues to emphasize the extent to which man, by his elaborate religious rituals, and under the guise of glorifying God, has glorified himself.


Since nakedness speaks of an unconverted state, this qualifier indicates that the majority of those who glory in religious ritual are unconverted.

[Exodus 21]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough