The Bible Knowledge Commentary is a two-set collection covering the entirety of the Bible. Inside, we found a good amount of commentary on the ten commandments and decided to share the excerpt with you! Read about what Roy B. Zuck and John Walvoord have to share on Exodus 20.

Article on Exodus 20 from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

The Ten Commandments (in 34:28 “Ten Commandments” is lit., “Ten Words”), the hub of all of Israel’s religious and civil laws, has two parts. The first four commandments pertain to the relationship of the Israelites with God, and the other six deal with social relationships within the covenant community. Before giving these 10 stipulations, God in the preamble spoke of His unique relationship with His people (I am the Lord your God, 20:2a) and in the historical prologue He briefly summarized what He had done for them (brought you out of Egypt … the land of slavery, v. 2b; cf. 13:3, 14; Deut. 5:6; 6:12; 7:8; 8:14; 13:5, 10). Centuries before, God had led Abraham out of Ur (Gen. 15:7); now He led Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt.

The Ten Commandments are an excellent summary of 10 divine rules for human conduct. They might be called rules of (1) religion, (2) worship, (3) reverence, (4) time, (5) authority, (6) life, (7) purity, (8) property, (9) tongue, and (10) contentment.

The first commandment (20:3)

“You shall have no other gods before me.” — Exodus 20:3

The first of the Ten Commandments is that Israel was to worship the one true God. Worshiping false gods would be setting up rivals to Him (before Me may mean “in opposition to Me” as well as “in My presence”) and thus overlooking His uniqueness (cf. vv. 22-23). Unfortunately Israel often disobeyed this very first command by worshiping the idols of other nations. This eventually resulted in her being exiled to Assyria and Babylonia.

The second commandment (20:4-6)

“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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; 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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” — Exodus 20:4-6

The worship of God was to be spiritual, not material. Israel was forbidden from worshiping idols (v. 3) and also from making images of God. Idol is pesel, “carved wood or stone,” from pasal, “to carve”. Later (34:17) “cast idols” made from molten metal were forbidden too. Since God is spiritual no material representation can possibly resemble Him. To make an idol of God like something in the sky (sun, moon, stars), or on the earth (animals), or in the waters below (fish, crocodiles, or other sea life) was forbidden because God is a jealous God (cf. 34:14; Deut. 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19), that is, He is zealous that devotion be given exclusively to Him.

His uniqueness (Ex. 20:3) requires unique devotion. Absence of such dedication is sin and has its effect on future generations. Those who thus are influenced to hate God will be punished by Him. By contrast He is loyal (showing khesed, “loyal love”) to those who love Him and who show that love by their obedience (cf. 1 John 5:3).

The third commandment (20:7)

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” — Exodus 20:7

The name of … God should be honored and protected. The Israelites were not to use His name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose (such as speaking His name when taking an oath with no intention of keeping it, Lev. 19:12). People should not use His name for selfish or evil purposes (cf. Ps. 139:20; also see comments on Deut. 5:11), thereby seeking to usurp His authority.

The fourth commandment (20:8-11)

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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.” — Exodus 20:8-11

A day of solemn worship of God should be kept weekly. Keeping the Sabbath Day … holy means to separate it, the seventh day, from the other six as a special day to the Lord. People are to work in six days and worship on the seventh. This contrasted with the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt when, presumably, they had no break in their daily routine.

The basis for this commandment is God’s creating the universe in six days and resting on the seventh (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 16:23). This was not to be a day of slothful inactivity but of spiritual service through religious observances. For the violation of this command God imposed on Israel the death penalty (Ex. 31:15; Num. 15:32-36). In the present Church Age the day of worship has been changed from Saturday to Sunday because of Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

The fifth commandment (20:12)

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” — Exodus 20:12

Commandments 5-10, the second portion of the Law (vv. 12-17), deal with one’s relationships to others. All the commandments include a negative except the fourth (the last in the first group) and the fifth (the first in the second group). The fifth commandment enjoins respect (honor) of parents. It implies obedience and submission to them (cf. Eph. 6:1-2). The promise of longevity that accompanies the command (live long) refers to duration as a nation in covenant relationship with God (in the land the Lord your God is giving you) rather than a lengthened lifespan for each obedient individual. Cursing one’s parents, tantamount to repudiating their authority, was a capital offense (Ex. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 20:20).

The sixth commandment (20:13)

“You shall not murder.” — Exodus 20:13

To help preserve society and because people are made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), the Israelites were commanded not to take another person’s life by murder (ratsakh, “to slay”).

The seventh commandment (20:14)

“You shall not commit adultery.” — Exodus 20:14

This commandment is directed toward protecting the sanctity of the home (Heb. 13:4; see comments on Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:1-12), the fundamental building block of society. The marital vow is a holy commitment that should not be violated by sexual unfaithfulness under any circumstances. Adultery naaf refers to infidelity on the part of either men or women (Lev. 20:10).

The eighth commandment (20:15)

“You shall not steal.” — Exodus 20:15

This command encourages the respect of others’ property. This too is an important element in a stable society. It is closely related to the 10th commandment.

The ninth commandment (20:16)

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” — Exodus 20:16

This command concerns bearing false testimony against someone that would cause him unjustified injury. Keeping this law helps maintain stability in a society by protecting individuals’ reputations.

The tenth commandment (20:17)

“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.” — Exodus 20:17

This is a general safeguard against many other sins, particularly commandments six through nine. Israelites were not to long for, desire earnestly, or lust after what legitimately belonged to others.

These commandments are the fundamental statements of a good and wholesome society as ordered by the holy and righteous God. Though believers today are not under the Law (Rom. 6:15), they are under obligation to abide by the holy standards represented in the Ten Commandments. Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament with added stipulations that are even higher than those in Exodus 20:3-17. The one not repeated is the command to keep the Sabbath; yet the first day of the week is to be set aside for worship in commemoration of the Savior’s resurrection.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Bible Knowledge Commentary Old New Testament Ten Commandments

This excerpt comes from the Bible Knowledge Commentary, written by Roy B. Zuck and John Walvoord. The commentary can help any student of the Bible answer the following questions about the Scriptures:

  • How do Bible-time customs help me understand the meaning of this passage?
  • What does that verse mean?
  • How should I interpret this passage?
  • What is the significance of this word or phrase in Greek or Hebrew?
  • How can this alleged contradiction be explained?
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It goes verse-by-verse and section-by-section through the Bible, in two volumes. So get your copy today!

3 Comments

  1. I’ve seen a movie entitled “Exodus” it’s all about Moses and this 10 ten commandments. I’ve learned a lot on that movie.

  2. This commentary is just that,
    as demonstrated by what the authors presume a “change” in the fourth commandment offering two references from the New Testament that say nothing of a change nor an institution of new guidelines.
    This causes suspicion of the rest of the work.

  3. Ted Koppel once pointed out that for the last commandments, you don’t have to be a believer, but following the last 7 or 8 of these “rules” is a good way to live and for the most part, I agree with him… there is something that always seems to be missing though (for me anyway) and that is: In God’s name at the end of each of the last 6 of the commandments, for instance,
    Thou shall not kill in God’s name
    Thou shall/shall not ……. etc….. in God’s name
    one kill’s in the name of survival, one steels in the name of survival, one shuns ones parent (for abuse: sexual, physical, mental, etc) in the name of survival, one does many things that one wishes not to in the name of survival; but not in God’s name. Although, parental abuse is one I have a hard time leaving to God.
    But, I think God probably is a little tired of hearing the screams of the victims tortured and killed in His Name
    I think God is probable a little tired of feeling the despair of people persecuted or condemned is his name
    I think God is tired of feeling the hunger of the of those who starve and the despair of a parent who seeks a chance to feel their children or find a safe shelter to lay their heads for the night.

    In short, instead of the smug moral ratchetness I displayed by so many that claim to be the followers of the Master Jesus the Christ with their condemnations and anger and the need to label and condemn in God’s name all they feel threated by, or fearful of, I would suggest following the Master Jesus the Christ’s path who did not condemn the prostitute or the poor or the sick at heart or sick of body, or even sinners – except those who sinned in God’s name.

    (I can find nothing in the New Testament that gives anyone the Right of persecute or condemn in His Name to any person for any reason. A person may be shunned or avoided, or not given absolution, but it is Blasphemy for a human to take for themselves the power of holy damnation)

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