The first part of this chapter contains the ten commandments, also called “the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exo 34:28). These commandments are addressed to a people freed from Egypt. In their redemption from Egypt the LORD has shown the smallness of all the gods of Egypt and His exaltedness above them. By the redemption of His people He has also committed them to Himself. They belong to Him and no one else. That must appear from their whole lives. With them the LORD makes this covenant at the Sinai – nowhere else and with no one else.
The number ten represents responsibility. The meaning of the law is: Do this and you will live. Scripture says, “He who practices them shall live by them” (Gal 3:12b; Lev 18:5). The letter to the Galatians makes it clear that no human being can acquire and has acquired life on that basis, that is to say on the basis of responsibility. On the contrary, on that basis there is no hope for man: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith”” (Gal 3:10-11).
For the believer who belongs to the church, it is not ‘do and live’, but ‘live and do’. The righteous lives by faith. The whole letter to the Galatians makes it clear that law and faith exclude each other completely “the Law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12a). He who believes is “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).
This does not mean that, as a believer, he is now able to keep the law or is supposed to keep the law. The law is not meant for him: “We know … that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for” sinners, for people who live according to the flesh (1Tim 1:8-11). The law is a mirror that shows to man in which he fails, that he may confess his sins and take refuge in Christ.
The law reveals sins, but is not or does not provide a means to wash them off. He who transgresses the law dies without mercy. This is the requirement of the law: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on [the testimony of] two or three witnesses” (Heb 10:28). The law is also negative by definition. It consists mainly of things that are prohibited. The law is in connected with the sinful nature of man.
The law does not show Who God is in full, but shows Him in His holy and righteous demands. Whoever God fully is, we see only in the Lord Jesus. The law indicates what man should be and reveals what he is. Man is inclined to transgress everything that is commanded and forbidden here.
The first four commandments deal with the relationship with God, the next six to that with one’s neighbor. The Lord Jesus also mentions this distinction when He, as a summary of the law, speaks of loving God above all else and loving the neighbor as himself (Mt 22:36-40).
For a more detailed discussion of the function of the law for the Christian, see the booklet ‘The Christian and the law’ at .]
1 - 3 The First Commandment
1 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. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
This commandment affirms that there is only one God and that God is absolutely sovereign: “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is [but] one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we [exist] for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we [exist] through Him” (1Cor 8:4-6). God tolerates nothing besides Himself to whom or to which honor is given. Man is a sinner. He has turned away from God. However, he cannot do without an object of worship. God knows that. He knows the heart of man. That’s why He forbids man to possess other gods.
4 - 6 The Second Commandment
4 “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.
This commandment makes it clear that the worship of God must take place in a spiritual way. Every picture of God that a man makes is a product of his human, by sin corrupted spirit. Such a product must be a monster, an insult to God. It is the downgrading of the only, sovereign God to the level of man or the creature. As if God is equal to what He has made.
The calls in the New Testament are: “Flee from idolatry” (1Cor 10:14) and “guard yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21). Idolatry is everything that carries away from God and the Lord Jesus and takes their place.
Making a picture also means that you form an idea of God that suits you. It is a god that you have thought up yourself. It is not the God of the Bible in which He presents Himself as Light, “God is light” (1Jn 1:5) and Love, “God is love” (1Jn 4:8,16). Whoever emphasizes one of these two at the expense of the other, has a representation of God that is wrong. If man gives up the true knowledge of God, as revealed in the Bible, he will fall into idolatry, the worship of material, behind which demons hide.
Nothing of creation may be introduced into the service of God. A service cast by man in a certain form (liturgy) may not have a place.
7 The Third Commandment
7 “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.
The Name is the essence of God. Respect for that Name fits man. Vain use means calling His Name to reinforce His own words (cf. Mt 5:33-37) or in situations where His Name is linked to own will and sin.
We can also apply this to the coming together of believers. If we confess to come together to the Name of the Lord Jesus (Mt 18:20), but we arrange the service ourselves, His Name is also used in vain.
8 - 11 The Fourth Commandment
8 “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.
God forbids man to do any work on the seventh day. He connects it to His peace, after He created the heavens and the earth in the six preceding days. By keeping this day, man can show par excellence that he knows his place in creation and wants to take it in relation to God. God wants His people to share in His rest and to do so consciously. Therefore, this commandment begins with “remember”.
Sunday did not replace the sabbath. The New Testament gives us no indication of this. The sabbath belongs to the law and the old creation. The sabbath does not apply to the Christian, for a Christian is “not under law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14). Nor does he belong to the old creation, for in Christ he is “a new creation” (2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).
However, the first day of the week is pre-eminently the day on which the New Testament believer remembers the redemption from the power of sin. The Lord Jesus instituted His Supper for this, which we may celebrate on the first day of the week. He said: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1Cor 11:24-25). In doing so, He asks to think of Him and of the work He has accomplished for our salvation.
12 The Fifth Commandment
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
The fifth to the ninth commandment are about our behavior towards the neighbor in society. Each of these commandments has a New Testament counterpart.
After respect for God, man should have respect for his neighbor and, in the first place, for his parents. The parents represent the authority of God in creation. God links a special promise to obedience to this commandment.
This commandment is quoted by the apostle Paul when he addresses children and tells them to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-3). By quoting this fifth commandment of the law, the apostle underlines the importance of obedience. He does not cite this commandment because the believer would still be under law. It is precisely the letter to the Ephesians that has no connection whatsoever with the law, which lays down rules for the life of an earthly people. This letter places the believer precisely in heaven, from where his life is governed.
This fact does not, of course, lead the believer to act against the law. The point is that this fifth commandment does not involve a sanction, as is the case with other commandments, but rather a promise. That makes this commandment a special commandment.
The commandment as we read it here does not speak of obeying, but of honoring. ‘Honor’ is to give someone the place he deserves and also includes obedience. Honor goes beyond obeying. When children have reached a certain age and live on themselves or are married, obedience is no longer an issue. But honoring remains a command.
13 The Sixth Commandment
13 “You shall not murder.
The sixth commandment demands respect for life as created by God. Life belongs to Him. Instead of the commandment not to kill, the believer is enabled by the new life – that is the Lord Jesus Who is his life – to give his life for the brother: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3:16).
14 The Seventh Commandment
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 The Eighth Commandment
15 “You shall not steal.
This commandment demands respect for the possessions of others, for what the other has been entrusted by God. Instead of stealing something, the believer is called upon to give it to others: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have [something] to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28).
16 The Ninth Commandment
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
This refers to the respect owed to the other as a person. False witnesses happen when God does not have the prominence. Instead of speaking falsehood, the believer is told that he speaks the truth and says things that the other person edifies and does not break off: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one [of you] with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word] as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment], so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:25,29).
17 The Tenth Commandment
17 “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 commandment concerns ourselves, what is in us in relation to one’s neighbor. This commandment shows the essence of sin. It teaches a person to know sin. It exposes sin in the depths of our hearts (Rom 7:7). The believer is able through the Holy Spirit to have desires that glorify God. He may make these desires known to God “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Phil 4:6).
18 - 21 Israel Is Afraid
18 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.” 20 Moses said to the people, “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.” 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God [was].
The LORD hath given His law. These are the rules by which the people can exist before God. But what is the situation? Fear and distance. They don’t even want to approach God. God has known that. He gives them the law to expose their unwillingness for themselves.
In their wish that God will no longer speak to them, they indicate their unwillingness. They ask Moses to speak to them as spokesman for God. This spirit of unbelief, which leads them to use a mediator, will still reveal itself often. It is that spirit that leads to idolatry. Therefore, in the concluding verses of this chapter (verses 22-26), God again points out the commandment not to make gods beside Him and also tells them how to approach Him with sacrifices through the altar.
This scene is quoted in the letter to the Hebrews to show the difference between the believer’s position under law and under grace (Heb 12:18-21).
22 - 26 Rules for the Sacrifice Service
22 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. 24 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. 25 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. 26 And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.’
The people have heard the LORD speak of heaven. The content of His speech is: ‘No other gods apart from Me!’ This leads the LORD to tell how He wants to be approached. The contrast between verse 23 and verse 24 is great.
He speaks of an altar of earth and of burnt offerings and peace offerings. Both the altar on which the sacrifice is offered and the sacrifice represents the Lord Jesus. It is “the altar that sanctifies the gift” (Mt 23:19). The sacrifice He has made is therefore so pleasing because He has brought it.
The altar may also be of stone. That it may be an altar of earth or of stone, represents two sides of the Person of Christ. Man is formed from the dust of the earth. The Lord Jesus became Man. By the birth of Mary, He participated in being human and in all man’s weakness, but without a sinful nature. He is the Son of man. Stone refers to sustainability, immortality. The altar of stone may not have been carved by human hand. Here we see the Lord Jesus as the Son of God.
God wants man to approach Him as a worshipper in a way He Himself indicates. No one should decide for himself how and where God is worshipped. When we meet at the place where He let commemorate His Name and take His directions into account, He comes to us and blesses us.
Worship must not be elevated by human means. Any human contribution, any human device, is prohibited. Whoever uses it does not honor God, but dishonors himself. In many religious circles a ‘staircase’ is used to arrive at so-called higher forms of worship. The most nonsensical forms are invented: falling, laughing, dancing, roaring in the spirit. There are more of these ‘staircase’ to discover. It leads man to a behavior that is unworthy of man.
All who worship are on the same basis. A staircase is also a symbol of the rising above the other. The spiritual class is taking shape. That too is to man’s shame and to God’s dishonor.