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The Ten Commandments

No document, ancient or modern has had more of a profound influence and impact upon the shaping of Western Civilization than the Ten Commandments. They are recognized as the basis of all public morality and common law in the Western world. The Ten Commandments are unique and without parallel in all the political-religious teachings of the world, ancient and modern. Yet, a funny thing has happened to us on the way to eternity, we seem to have forgotten them! Not just the world, but us – we who are members of the church belonging to Christ never study them any more and have lost an appreciation for the sublime shadows of their real beauty.

Now we can expect this increasingly secularized society to relegate the Ten Commandments to the “junk pile” of out dated and outmoded irrelevant religion as the elitists among us seek to rewrite history under the guise of political correctness; but what about us? In some ways, I’m afraid, we have done the exact same thing. Because of our peculiar mindset, we in the church have basically relegated the Ten Commandments to irrelevant obscurity. In our zeal to tell everyone that, “We are not under the Ten Commandments!” we have in whole or in part become totally ignorant as to what they really are and represent.

The Ten Commandments: Context

The context of the Ten Commandments is powerfully instructive in the lessons (i.e., principles) that it teaches us. The Ten Words are actually within a section that is frequently called “The Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:7) that actually includes Exodus 19:1-24:18.

The Law was given in successive stages: (1) Preliminary Preparations – Exodus 19:3-25; (2) The Giving of the Covenant – Exodus 19:16-23:33; (3) The Covenant Confirmed – Exodus 24:1-18; (4) The Giving of Covenant Worship – Exodus 25:1-31:18; (5) Covenant Rebellion and Renewal – Exodus 32:1-34:35; (6) Continuation of the Giving of Covenant Worship – Exodus 35:1-40:38 and Leviticus 1:1-27:34 and Numbers 1:1-35:33; (7) Covenant Renewal Discourse – Deuteronomy 1:1-34:12. (It should be noted that additional legislation was given throughout Israel’s history in response to the times and circumstances of the people of God in the Old Testament. Even the Pentateuch demonstrates the on-going nature of the revelation of the Law to meet the changing needs of Israel.)

One of the most valuable and vital lessons to learn from the preliminaries of Exodus 19 is that entering into a covenant with God involves both inner and outer preparation, and preparation demands sanctification and separation. When God comes down the people must humbly consecrate themselves. Entering into a covenant relationship with God is serious business, not to be taken lightly. It is an awesome thing to come into the presence of the Almighty Lord God. We come before Him with fear and trembling. This Old Covenant event is given New Testament typology in the Kingdom of God in Hebrews 12:18-29! But one of the distinctive features of the New Covenant is that while in some ways God in the Old Covenant said, “Stay away!” now in Christ He says, “Come near!” See Hebrews 10:19-25. Consider the response of the people of Israel to the Lord God – Exodus 20:18-21 cf. Deuteronomy 5:22-33.

Another lesson to learn is that we are redeemed in order to live a holy life. Redemption precedes and provides the basis of all moral living! See Exodus 19:3-6; 20:2 (Leviticus 11:45)! All of this is given typological fulfillment in the church. See I Peter 1:13-2:12 (I Peter 2:5,9) cf. Matthew 5:48! (Compare Exodus 19:5-6 with Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2,21; 26:18-19 ... Malachi 3:13-18 and Titus 2:14.) If this is true, and it is, then it means that a man/woman who is not in a covenant relationship with God is not truly moral. To be moral, we must be in a right relationship with God. To be righteous we must commit ourselves to the covenant! See Exodus 19:7-8; 24:7 cf. Deuteronomy 5:28-29. God brings us into a right relationship with Himself “on eagles’ wings”! See Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:10-12 cf. Isaiah 40:28-31. What an unusually charming description of grace.

The Ten Commandments: Preliminaries

The Biblical Names Given for the Ten Commandments

(1) The Ten Words (i.e., Commandments) – Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4; (2) The Words of the Covenant – Exodus 34:28; (3) The Tables of the Covenant – Deuteronomy 9:9; (4) The Covenant – Deuteronomy 4:13; (5) The Two Tables – Deuteronomy 9:10-17; (6) The Testimony – Exodus 16:34; 25:16,21,22; etc. (This was actually the most common name for them in the Bible!); (7) The Tablets of the Testimony – Exodus 31:18; (8) The Commandments – Matthew 19:17; etc.

The Numbering of the Ten Commandments

(1) Protestants – The first commandment begins with Exodus 20:3, the second with Exodus 20:4-6, and so on. (2) The Catholics and Lutherans – The first commandment begins with Exodus 20:3-6, the second begins in Exodus 20:7, with Exodus 20:21 being divided into the ninth and tenth commandments. (3) Jewish – The first commandment is Exodus 20:2, the second is Exodus 20:3-6, and so on. (It should be remembered that neither the Lord nor Moses actually numbered the Words. The “Ten” Words may simply be more symbolic than literal, with the emphasis being that this is God's Word in the sense of a royal edict or mandate. Men have tried to “organize” the Commandments into ten specific imperatives, but perhaps the actual numbering of the commands is immaterial.)

The Ten Commandments on Two Tablets

It use to be thought that the Ten Commandments were divided between the two tablets with the first four on one and the last six on the other or with five on one and five on the other. (The dividing up of the Ten Words is probably artificial and unimportant. It has often been suggested that the Decalogue naturally falls into two sections of our duty to God and our duty to man. This it is believed that this would have been the reason for the division between two tablets.) However, due to the light that has been shed on ancient covenant forms it is now believed that each tablet had all Ten Commandments, thus there were two copies – written on both front and back. According to the ancient covenant forms, two copies were made of all treaties; one was given to the people and kept in the temple of the gods, the other remained with covenant-lord. In the case of Israel both tablets were kept in the ark in the tabernacle which was to be considered as the throne of God in the center of Israel. The true significance is that God is the Covenant-Lord and the One who keeps the Covenant with His People.

All covenant forms of ancient law codes and treaties followed the same basic pattern: (1) Preamble; (2) Historical Prologue; (3) Covenant Stipulations; (4) Blessings and Curses; (5) Covenant Ratification Ceremony; (6) Covenant Disposition; (7) Covenant Renewal Ceremony.

The Ten Commandments and the Rest of the Law of Moses

While the Ten Commandments stand as a Prologue to the entire Law of Moses, there is no real difference between the Ten Words and the rest of the Law. All attempts to differentiate between the Ten Words and the rest of the Law as if the Ten Commandments are part of the permanent moral law, and the rest is part of the temporary ceremonial law are simply contrived assumptions and assertions without any Biblical support. The Scribes actually counted 613 commands in the Law of Moses with 365 negative and 248 positive. What is more, consider for a moment that the two greatest commandments of all are not even in the Ten Commandments! See Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34 (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).

Perhaps the reason for the elevation of the Ten Words above the rest of the Law, however, was quite natural. These Ten Words were distinguished from the rest of the Law of God in that they were audibly delivered to Moses by God himself (Exodus 19:16-20:21) and later written by God on two tables of stone (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:15-16,19 and Exodus 34:1-28 cf. Deuteronomy 9:7-10:5). Consider Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2 and Deuteronomy 33:2.

While the Ten Words are mostly in the negative form, we often forget that when a negative is given, the opposite good is implicitly demanded. When we have a forbidding, we have a requiring as well. We must remember that all law, especially moral law is double-edged! Every law at the same time both commands and prohibits something. The Apostle Paul sees this principle in Romans 13:8-10! In Christ we come to see that one's freedom to obey God opens up far more possibilities than disobedience. (One other point: It is easier to state law succinctly in the negative than in the positive, but that does not nullify the positive.) Perhaps though, there is another reason for the negative form – sin! Sin has so effected us that we are seemingly at times incapable of approaching righteousness from a positive mindset. How sad! Nevertheless, the form of God ‘s commandments is always for our own good. See Deuteronomy 10:12-13 and Deuteronomy 30:11-20!

Are we Under the Ten Commandments Today?

Well, Yes and No! The Old Testament still has authority in the life of the believer, but that “authority” is not with a view to justification. See Galatians 2:15-21 (Galatians 2:15-5:15 cf. Romans 1:16-8:39) and Jeremiah 31:31-32 with Hebrews 8:6-13 (Hebrews 1:1-10:18) and II Corinthians 3:1-18. Consider See Matthew 5:17 (Romans 3:31) with Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:6,11 and II Timothy 3:15-16. So, to put it another way, how could the Ten Words and the Law of Moses, given by the hand of God, come to be considered as a “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)? Paul answers this in Romans 7:7-8:17 (cf. I Timothy 1:8) and Galatians 3:1-29 (19-25). The writer of Hebrews also explains this in Hebrews 10:1-18! (The purpose of the Law is revealed in Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-25; and Galatians 3:19-29.)

Are the Ten Commandments “carried over” (i.e., borrowed) into the New Covenant? Some, who affirm that they are also insist that this proves that we are still “under” the Ten Commandments or that the Ten Commandments are superior to the New Covenant because they preceded it. There are similarities between some of the laws of the Old Covenant and some of the laws of the New Testament. We could expect similarities simply because of the nature of the One Lord God. Both Testaments are founded upon the same principles of Truth and are given by the same Lord God. So the principles of the Old Testament are “carried over” in the New Covenant, but the specific laws and law codes are not. The fact is the Ten Commandments have much in common with numerous law codes in the ancient world. This should not be surprising in the view that all truth can be traced back to a common source and origin. (However, there are also several notable differences between the Law of Moses and other ancient law codes, like the Law of Hammurabi, which often had no spiritual or theological basis. Also, the Law of Moses held a much higher view of life than any other ancient law code.) It should be realized that the book of Hebrews demonstrates through and through that the New Covenant is actually superior to and thus supersedes the Old Covenant, which includes the Ten Commandments.

Therefore, the Ten Words then, from all indication, serve as an introduction or prologue to the entire Law of Moses. They are at once the beginning and the very heart of the Law of Moses, but they are not an “end” in and of themselves. So, in a sense, the rest of the Law of Moses will be an expansion and application of the Ten Commandments. (Perhaps a parallel can be drawn between the Ten Words and the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. As the Beatitudes seek to distill the essence and meaning of discipleship in the Kingdom of God, so the Ten Commandments synthesize the meaning of God's covenant relationship with Israel. But neither the Ten Words nor the Beatitudes are all there is to God‘s Old or New Covenants. Thus, the attitude that says, “I‘ll just live by the Ten Commandments!” betrays a gross ignorance of our obligations and responsibilities to the Lord God. Living by the Ten Words alone just simply is not enough, because the truth is no one actually does! If you don't keep the Ten Commandments, then what? This question show us that the Decalogue was not the final word! In fact if one actually did give the Ten Words or the Beatitudes a proper place in their life they would be led to Christ and to full obedience in the Kingdom of God! To put all of this in clear perspective, remember that Israel was already redeemed when she was given the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses.)

The Ten Commandments: Precepts and Principles

The arrangement and order of the Ten Commandments is most revealing. The first four commandments relate to God, the fifth relates to parents and family, then the sixth through the tenth relate to mankind. (There are three positive statements in Exodus 20:2-17: “I am the Lord your God” [2]; “Remember the Sabbath day” [8]; “Honor your father and your mother” [12]. Around this positive frame, the negative [“You shall not!”] statements are constructed. Thus, right relationship with God and the worship of God serve as the basis for the first four commands. The right relationship with family serves as the basis for the last six commands.) The order is clear: God-Family-Society. The implications and principles are profound. Do you see them? Or have we allowed the world to blind us to the importance of God and Family first! We live in an age in which the State is being raised to a position above God and Family. If this trend continues, the results will be disastrous for America. (One of the most foolish attempts of modern man is to divorce religious morality from law. Beloved, it simply cannot be done even under the guise [i.e., the lie] of “separation of church and state.” Law has meaning only in relation to Divine Authority. When separated from ultimate truth, law becomes an end in and of itself and a tool of the secular state. What the Bill of Rights says is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” But, the “separation of church and state” myth would have us believe that you can have just laws without a moral and spiritual – religious – basis. Isn't it “funny” how fast things have deteriorated here in America since the humanists have sought to remove God and the Ten Commandments from public life and education?)

Now look at the principles contained within the precepts of the Ten Commandments:

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT: No Other Gods – Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7

The first commandment enjoins us to renounce all other gods and hold to the confession of God‘s absolute nature and deity. There is one, and only one God and He must have first place in everything! Get your priorities straight! God alone is the object of our worship and adoration. He is the very Spirit of our devotion. (The New Covenant – Matthew 4:10; 22:36-37; Acts 14:15; I Corinthians 8:5-6; I Thessalonians 1:9; I Timothy 2:5.)

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT: No Graven Images – Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10

The second commandment enjoins us to renounce every from of idolatry and accept the true spiritual worship of the Lord God. Think right about God! The wrong view of God and His nature is the basis of every sin and all false religion. Our approach to God is everything. How we view him effects the ways (i.e., externals) of worship. Keep a clear vision of God! (The New Covenant – Luke 16:13; Acts 15:20,29; Romans 1:18-32; I Corinthians 5:10-11; I John 5:21; Revelation 2:14.)

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT: The Lord's Name – Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11

The third commandment enjoins upon us the abhorrence of anything that would defile the honor of God's holy Name and thus the positive result is that our words and deeds, our very lives, are to bring praise and glory to God. The Lord is the confession of our profession. We must never forget that the Name of the Lord is far more than some tile that we pronounce, it is who He really is – His nature, character, and person ... His truth and His righteousness. Don't profane the Name – be careful with the Holy! (The New Covenant – Matthew 5:34; 12:36; James 5:12; Revelation 13:6.)

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT: The Sabbath – Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

The fourth commandment enjoins upon us the right worship of God according to His will and His way on the Day that He directs us to in His Covenant. For Israel, the Sabbath was linked with both Creation and with Redemption. It was a time specifically set aside for the worship of the Lord. For the new Israel, the church, the Lord‘s Day is the First Day of the Week! It too is a day of the New Creation and Redemption realized through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of the church. Take and make the time to be holy! We also should not forget that there yet remains a Sabbath rest for the true people of God. (The New Covenant – Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 4:9-11.)

Further references to the Sabbath in the Old Covenant: Exodus 31:12-17 (Consider Jesus' principles for the Sabbath: (1) Mark 2:27-28; (2) Mark 3:4; (3) Luke 4:16.) That Sunday is the Lord's Day is seen in the following: (1) Jesus‘ Resurrection – Matthew 28:1; (2) The Church Began – Acts 2:1; (3) The Lord's Supper Observed – Acts 20:7; (4) The Collection Taken – I Corinthians 16:1-2; (5) The Lord‘s Day – Revelation 1:10.

(For a further study on the Sabbath, go here!)

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: Honor Parents – Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16

The fifth commandment enjoins upon us reverence and respect for our parents because they stand in the place of God. In a very real sense parents are God‘s surrogates upon whom He grants a kind of co-creatorship and to whom he grants a kind of co-rulership in the raising up of His people. (The New Covenant – Matthew 10:37; 15:4-6; Ephesians 6:1-3; I Timothy 5:3-4.)

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT: No Murder – Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17

The sixth commandment enjoins upon us the prohibition of murder and thus the respect for the sanctity of all human life – the very reflection of the image of God. The term used here means more than “killing,” it means the willful and intentional taking of an innocent life in “murder.” (The New Covenant – Matthew 5:21-22; Romans 13:9; I John 3:15.)

THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: No Adultery – Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18

The seventh commandment enjoins upon us the prohibition of adultery and thus the respect for the sanctity of marriage, the home and the family. (The New Covenant – Matthew 5:27-28; 19:1-12; I Corinthians 6:9,18; Hebrews 13:4.)

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: No Stealing – Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19

The eighth commandment enjoins upon us the prohibition of stealing and thus demands that we respect the property rights of others. (The New Covenant – Matthew 5:40; Ephesians 4:28; Titus 2:10; Romans 12:17.)

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT: No Lying – Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20

The ninth commandment enjoins upon us the prohibition of lying and thus demands of us the principle of honesty in all of our words and deeds. Truth and light is the foundation of our lives and life relationships (The New Covenant – Matthew 5:33-34; 12:36; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9.)

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: No Coveting – Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

The tenth commandment enjoins upon us the prohibition of coveting (i.e., greediness, lust) and thus demands that we bring our heart's desires under control. Our life is more than just about our actions, it is about our attitudes! It is at this very point that we see that the Ten Commandments are not simply some “civil code” – How can you legislate the heart? These Words reach into our inner spiritual lives to reveal our very thoughts. Thus, all of the Ten Commandments are designed to reach into the inner spiritual life, rather than be simply observed as ritual, external rules. (The New Covenant – Matthew 15:19; Luke 12:15,16-21; Romans 7:7-8; 13:9; I Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 5:3,5; Colossians 3:5.)

Summary and Conclusion

A careful study of the Ten Commandments reveals that they are to be seen as far more than a list of “Do's and Don'ts”! They are not merely concerned with external rules, regulations and rituals. Rather, the Ten Commandments are a shadow of the reality to be found in Christ and the New Covenant. Unless we understand this, we will miss the importance and beauty of the Law of Moses which is able to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation. Sometimes we make the “fatal mistake” of stating that the Old Testament is only about the externals and the New Testament is exclusively about internals. And we wrongly conclude that the Old Covenant is only about law and not about grace. A close study of the Ten Commandments will dispel these harmful and hurtful notions. We must carefully balance our views of the Old and New Testaments and realize that the very same Lord God the author of both covenants. God and his grace are revealed in the Old Covenant and fully realized in the New. (“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”) Scripture is the gradual unfolding and outworking of the marvelous plan and purpose of God love! If we were to translate the Ten Commandments into the principles of the Kingdom of God, perhaps we would have something like the following:

LIVE BY THE RULES

1. Honor God with your LIFE!
2. Honor God with your HEART!
3. Honor God with your LIPS!
4. Honor God with your TIME!
5. Respect the sanctity FAMILY!
6. Respect the sanctity of HUMAN LIFE!
7. Respect the sanctity of MARRIAGE!
8. Respect the sanctity of THINGS!
9. Live and Die by the TRUTH!
10. It's ALL about ATTITUDE so what do you REALLY want?

To return to the study on "What About 'The Law of Moses'?", click here.