Book of Exodus Chapter Twenty Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Sons and daughters of Israel in the millions were camped before the mountain as thunder and smoke rolled out of it. God had their attention and they listened intently as we all should. In Verses 1-2, "Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The words of this chapter include what is called, "The Ten Commandments"...rules...and if we could all live them, the world would change for the good. Centuries later, Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul the Apostle, gave everything he had to follow God's rules, but he failed, as all do. The purpose of the Law is interesting: Paul commented, "I would not have known sin, except through the Law" (Romans 7:7). Only the Lord Himself is able to keep the Law, though He is not bound by it...and through faith in Him, our many failures are forgiven. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit...the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). It is the Lord Himself who takes us "out of the house of slavery." He is the only "Way" (John 14:6).
Verse 3 is the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me." Do you worship other gods? "I don't think so," would be the answer of most, but ask a few questions of yourself: What or who has your attention? What do you think about? How do you spend your time? What do you spend your money on? How many hours a day are you focused on the interests of this world? How many hours a day do you worship our Lord? Divided loyalty is subtle and pervasive.
The people continued to listen with spellbound amazement as the Second Commandment was expressed to them in the smoke and thunder of Verses 4-6: "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." We have a right to jealousy when our spouse embraces someone else, and God our Creator, has every right to be "jealous" when His chosen ones are drawn away. He is protecting you and He is the only One who will ever give you the love you need. You've heard the phrase, "sins of the fathers," and it is right here. What our parents do will change and likely damage what we are, and the damage will pass through to our children and grandchildren. Do you love the Lord? Confess your unbelief, your idolatry, and give yourself to the Lord. It's the only way to end this generational destruction of ourselves and our loved ones.
Verse 7 is the Third Commandment: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." Are you the citizen of some country? If so, it's a gift that unites you with others and gives identity to all its citizens. God's Name is His gift to all who have faith in the Lord. His identity becomes our birthright and we are united with all who trust in Him, whether we see it or not. His Name is to be revered and this command forbids the use of His Name in false worship, in incantations, divination, lying under oath and speaking blasphemy (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Jesus taught us to hallow God's Name (Matthew 6:9), as He hallowed the Father's Name through the cross. God's Holy Name is not some mere expression we can use at will, and we are accountable when we do.
The Fourth Commandment is seen in Verses 8-11: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy." The Hebrew word for "sabbath" ("rest") originally meant to "cease," to stop everything you're doing, looking to God for everything. The "sabbath" takes us back to God's Creation of all that is, created in six literal days...and on the seventh day, He rested, for all was complete and there was nothing left to do. The Hebrew nation was to express God the Creator by resting as He did. And note the Jews are an industrious people and to stop everything would be hard for them. His commandments ARE hard, and that's the point—we are to look to Him who does in us what we cannot do without Him.
Verse 12's Fifth Commandment shifts the focus from how we act toward God...to how we treat each other: 12 "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you." You'll recall Verse 5, expressing that our unbelieving actions, our idolatry will bring trouble on our descendants to the "third and the fourth generations." Here's a way the Lord mitigates the problem: If your parents were honored as children, they will be better parents, and it's contagious...you will become a better parent as well—because they trusted in the Lord, you are likely to do the same. Start being a better parent—today—your children will benefit and so will you.
The Sixth Commandment is seen in Verse 13: "You shall not murder," a better understanding than "Thou shalt not kill"...because the Lord is making a distinction between manslaughter and a premeditated act. In the sight of God, accidentally killing someone is not the same as a planned murder. And this Sixth Command was never applied to Israel at war. We find in this command that human life is precious to God and we are to protect others, not harm them. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image" (Genesis 9:5-6). The murderer must be stopped before he or she does it again.
It's God who created us and we are His. His gift of marriage to a man and a woman is a reflection of how precious we are to Him. Verse 14 is the Seventh Commandment: "You shall not commit adultery." Have you thought about it makes your spouse feel if you commit adultery? Perhaps it was done to you and you know exactly how it feels. God knows also, as reflected here and in the New Covenant as well. Hebrews 13:4 is clear that, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." God loves marriage, He created it, offering us the opportunity to learn to love, and He expects we will bring our wandering eyes and ways to the Lord, for all need to be healed. He speaks especially to men in the context of Matthew 5:28, but it addresses us all: "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." We have broken the Law of God.
We are allowed to "own" property in this world, no doubt as a picture of the faithful who have ownership in eternity. A place has been prepared for us...His gift to you and me. "You shall not steal" is the Eighth Commandment in Verse 15, and we are to understand that our neighbor's possessions were given to him or her...not to you or me. We are to respect what they have, and God expects we will return whatever we may have wrongly taken and pay whatever restitution is asked. It may be that repentance from being a thief will be the beginning of our own salvation in this life and for the next.
Humanity has laws also, and the good ones are based on God's Law. In our courtrooms, we swear to tell the truth, which reflects the Ninth Commandment in Verse 16: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Can you imagine what the world would be like if everybody simply told the truth? It would be awful and wonderful, all at the same time. The awful part is that the truth about our thoughts might cause many to break the Sixth Commandment repeatedly, but the wonder of it all is that we would no longer wrongly conclude that others are thinking evil about us. Perhaps they're not thinking about us at all.
And finally, in Verse 17, we reach the Tenth Commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." This is where the Law ceases to be merely about our external actions, but goes into our thoughts. This is the command that broke the Apostle Paul's heart and showed him his sin. He commented, "I would not have known sin except through the Law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the Law had said, 'You shall not covet'...And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death" (Romans 7:7-10).
In Verses 18-19, "All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.'" We have to consider the possibility that perhaps God is speaking to us right now, but we don't hear because we con't want to...we're afraid of Him. But fear can be good—like pain tells us that our body is injured, fear shows us the wonder of God and our need. And we do die when we trust in the Lord. That is, we die to what we were before, but also come alive in Him. As Paul would say in Romans 6:11, "...Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord." He died on the cross and the faithful died with Him—but He is alive and we are given a share in the life He lives. We are ALIVE in Christ.
"Moses said to the people (in Verse 20), 'Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.'" They lacked faith and "Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." The people believed that God exists, they had no choice, but they lacked trust that He really cares for you and me. They did listen to His command to keep back, for in Verse 21, "So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was."
And remember that you are reading the eye-witness testimony of someone who was there and saw it all. Were these events incredible? Absolutely—yes they are, but they also reveal that God is far more than you or I ever thought. In Verses 22-23, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. 23 You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves." God's Word reminds us that He alone is God. Our work, our human relationships, our money, prestige and everything else in our lives—is subordinate to Him. He is God and we are not. We need Him before anybody or anything else.
And so we reasonably worship Him. Verse 24 instructed them: "You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you." Have you ever wondered about the sacrifices of the Old Testament? Why were they needed? They point ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Romans 3:23 is clear that "ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We have failed and need the Lord. Romans 6:23 gives us the price and the payment in full, which was paid by God Himself: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." He became the Lamb of God who took away our sins and gives LIFE to those who trust Him.
Note in Verse 25, that we cannot do the work of salvation ourselves: "If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it." Whatever we do, our efforts will fall short—HE did the work that will save us. And when we approach Him, we are to focus on HIM, not anything of this profane world. What do you think about when you approach the Lord? Verse 26 says, "And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it." People are so easily distracted, even at the holiest of moments. Come to the Lord and Him only, thinking of Him and not of yourself.
Father, thank You for Your commands, Your Law. I have not kept it, Lord and there is only one Hope for me: I trust in Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and then died in my place. I believe in Him and not in Myself. I am Yours. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.