Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Exodus Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |

EXODUS 20

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Ten Commandments The Ten Commandments The Ten Commandments The Ten Commandments The Decalogue
20:1 20:1 20:1-3 20:1-2 20:1-2
20:2 20:2-3
20:3 20:3 20:3
20:4-6 20:4-6 20:4-6 20:4-6 20:4
20:5-6
20:7 20:7 20:7 20:7 20:7
20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11 20:8-11
20:12 20:12 20:12 20:12 20:12
20:13 20:13 20:13 20:13 20:13
20:14 20:14 20:14 20:14 20:14
20:15 20:15 20:15 20:15 20:15
20:16 20:16 20:16 20:16 20:16
20:17 20:17 20:17 20:17 20:17
The People Afraid of God's Presence The Conclusion to the Theophany Scene The People's Fear
20:18-21 20:18-21 20:18-21 20:18-21 20:18-21
The Law of the Altar The Covenant Code (20:22-23:33) Laws About Altars Law Concerning the Altar
20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-26 20:22-23
20:24-26

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.

INTRODUCTION TO "THE TEN WORDS"

See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus, The OT Library. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Cole, R. Alan. The Tyndale OT Commentaries, Exodus. Downers Grove, Illinois, 1973.

Davidman, Joy. Smoke on the Mountain. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1954.

Honeycutt, Roy L. These Ten Words. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman, 1966.

Huey, F. B. Jr. Exodus A Study Guide Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977.


(A note to the reader. I have written previously on the Ten Words and have used that material here.
The form is a little different. There are even thirteen videos/audios of this chapter online at www.freebiblecommentary.org in the first blue box, "OT Studies," audio and video.)

Exodus 20:1-3

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NO OTHER GODS.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:1
1Then God spoke all these words, saying,

20:1 "God spoke all these words" In Hebrew "spoke" is placed first in the MT, along with Elohim, in order to emphasize the revelatory aspect of the commands (see SPECIAL TOPIC: INSPIRATION).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:2
2"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

20:2 "I am the Lord" This is numbered as the first commandment within Judaism. It is significant that these commandments are given to a believing, responding, faith community (cf. Exod. 6:2), not just mankind in general. They are based on a covenant faith relationship (see SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT)!

▣ "who brought you out of the land of Egypt" YHWH is the God of historical acts of grace (cf. Exod. 13:3). He acts as He said He would (i.e., Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21), redemptively for Israel. God's grace precedes the Law; see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT). This recitation of God's acts on Israel's behalf is typical of Hittite treaties of the same period. They establish the historicity of this Sinaitic event (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HITTITE (SUZERAINTY) TREATIES). It is crucial to understand God as a caring, loving, personal, and involved Deity (cf. Ps. 81:9-11). It sets the stage for all theology.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:3
3"You shall have no other gods before Me."

20:3 "You shall have no other gods before Me" Notice the direct SECOND PERSON SINGULAR NEGATED IMPERFECT used in a strong IMPERATIVAL sense. God is addressing Israel collectively and individually in absolute and simple terms (apodictic law; see SPECIAL TOPIC: LAWS IN THE ANE).
The term "gods" is the same PLURAL term that is used for God (Elohim of Gen. 1:1). It can be SINGULAR or PLURAL in translation. When it is used of YHWH, it always has a SINGULAR VERB.
This is obviously an incipient expression of full philosophical monotheism (Isa. 45:5; 46:1-2). The movement from many gods to one God can also be seen in Egypt—Pharaoh Amenophis IV or Akhenaten (cf. Deut. 4:35,39; see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, LXX  "before Me"
NRSV footnote, JPSOA, REB  "beside Me"
TEV  "but me"
NJB  "to rival me"
Peshitta  "except me"
This phrase has been found to be used in the ancient world in connection with taking a second wife. This shows the familial, intimate, relationship that YHWH demands from His people. It could, therefore, be related to the often used phrase, "a jealous God" (cf. Exod. 20:5; 34:14).
Some see this phrase, which literally means "before my face," as referring to worship. This verse then means "worship and serve only Me!" Some possible parallels of God's exclusiveness would be Exod. 22:20; 23:13; 34:14; Deut. 13:2ff.

HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL INSIGHTS

  1. This list of laws is related to its own day, as the Hittite Suzerainty Treaties show (i.e., Deuteronomy and Joshua 24), but also it is unique both in its apodictic forms (SECOND PERSON, SINGULAR commands) and its anti-polytheistic assertions.
  2. This forms the heart of the Mosaic legislation. It was to be adapted, expanded, and applied throughout Israel's history as the slight variation in the Deuteronomic parallel shows (cf. Deuteronomy 5).

DEUTERONOMIC PARALLEL

The introduction in Deut. 5:1-5 is significant because
  1. The VERB "hear" in Deut. 5:1 is shema, which means "to hear and to do" (cf. Exod. 6:4). Covenant obedience on the part of all Israel in all aspects was expected.
  2. Deut. 5:3 is significant because it shows the dynamic ongoing nature of the covenant. Each generation had to respond to it themselves. It was more a living relationship than a dead letter of law.
  3. Deut. 5:5 emphasizes the intermediatorial work of Moses in receiving the Law, but also the true author of the legislation is seen as YHWH.
  4. Deut. 6:6-9 is also significant in that it shows the responsibility of parents to pass on their faith as well as the requirements of the Law.

MODERN APPLICATION

  1. The theological points related to the Hebrew text are:
    1. These commands have the authority of YHWH (cf. Exod. 31:18). They are revelatory as to His nature and purposes for redeemed man and human society.
    2. Verse 2 shows that God called and acted in grace toward Abraham and his seed as He said He would, Genesis 12; 15; 17; and 22.

  2. Application points
    1. The Ten Words assume man's religious hunger and needs.
    2. God reveals Himself in personal, moral categories, not philosophical ones.
    3. Man will worship and serve something. Practically speaking, many modern men have gods which they do not recognize. Martin Luther said, "Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is properly your gods." Many today serve and worship:
      1. individualism
      2. nationalism
      3. denominationalism
      4. materialism
      5. pleasure
      6. secularism/society
      7. science and technology
      8. intellectualism

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. How is Exodus 20 related to Deuteronomy 5?
  2. How is the Decalogue related to ANE culture? How is it different from ANE culture?
  3. Explain the different emphases in the titles for God - Elohim and YHWH.
  4. Explain the difference between henotheism and monotheism.

Exodus 20:4-6

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NO IDOLS.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:4-6
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. 5You 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, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

20:4a "You shall not make for yourself an idol" The negative is emphasized. Religious humans tend to be both superstitious and manipulative of supposed spiritual forces. YHWH cannot be lowered to animism or manipulated by His human creation. He is to remain above the crude pagan representations of earthly created things! Idols usually represented one of many deities. Each deity usually represented only one aspect of nature. YHWH, the only true God, could not be represented in His fullness by one form, therefore, no idol was to be created. God is a spiritual being (cf. Deut. 4:12,15-18), not a physical one (John 4:24); see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT).

20:4b "or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth" In light of Israel's use of cherubim, bulls, lilies, and pomegranates in the Tabernacle, and Moses' creation of the bronze serpent, this probably refers to images that directly depict God. This relates to the previous command, thereby meaning no images of other gods beside, before, or connected with, the worship of YHWH. This prohibition was violated by Aaron's creation of the golden calf (cf. Exodus 32).
This phrasing does not teach a three-storied universe. It is simply the language of description. It is not in conflict with modern science. It simply predates it and gives to the physical order a metaphorical designation (i.e., phenomenological language).

20:5a "You shall not worship them or serve them" This is a reference to Exod. 20:3 (i.e., "them"). The two Hebrew terms here translated "worship" (BDB 1005, lit. "bow down") and "serve" (BDB 712) relate to religious worship practices.

▣ "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God" See the section on etymology for these three major terms: "YHWH," "Elohim," and "jealous." This is another family term, "jealous," used to describe to mankind the intensity of God's love. God is here depicted as a passionate lover (cf. Hosea 1-3). Several parallel passages show the term "jealous" as being connected with the worship of other gods (cf. Exod. 34:14; Deut. 6:14-15; Jos. 24:19). Deuteronomy 4:15-19 seems to explain this commandment in light of the formless revelation at Sinai.

20:5b "visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations" This implies that one's children reap the consequences of family sin (particularly in multi-generational homes) and societal sin (cf. Exod. 34:7). This can easily be seen in the Kings of Israel and Judah. We pass on, not only the consequences of sin, but also a lifestyle of sin (cf. Jer. 16:10-12). This passage must be balanced with the OT emphasis on individual responsibility (cf. Deut. 24:16; 2 Kgs. 14:6; Jer. 31:29,30; Ezek. 18:1-4). It is interesting to note the black and white contrast in the closing phrase. One either knows, loves, and follows YHWH or that one is said to hate Him. There is no neutral middle ground when one is dealing with the only true, creator God!

▣ "of those who hate me" The term "hate" (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is a Hebrew idiom of comparison (cf. Gen. 29:31-33; Deut. 21:15; Mal. 1:2-3; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). It primarily speaks of "priority."

20:6 "but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" Compare this to Deut. 5:10; 7:9. See the section on etymology for hesed.

▣ "thousands" "Thousands" must mean generations because of Hebrew parallelism with the passage in Deut. 7:9; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph). What a marvelous promise! This shows the true relationship between God's love and wrath. God's faithfulness is to be reciprocated. Obedience is important (cf. Luke 6:46; see SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP). However, it is not just rule keeping, but our attitude of love that issues in obedience that is required (cf. Deut. 30:6).

▣ "commandments" See SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is an idol? Do we have them today?
  2. Does this passage imply that art is sinful?
  3. Does this passage teach that there is a three-storied universe?
  4. How can we call God jealous? What does this imply?
  5. What is the relationship between the names for God: (1) YHWH and (2) Elohim?

Exodus 20:7

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: TAKING GOD'S NAME IN VAIN.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:7
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."

20:7a "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" This is obviously connected to the previous two commands. Some see this as referring to oath-taking because "take" (BDB 669, KB 724) means "to lift up" and would connect it to Matt. 5:33-34 (cf. Exod. 23:1; Lev. 19:12). This is the understanding of the rabbis (cf. Targum of Jonathan, Mekilta, the Peshitta, and Rashi).
I think "vain" (BDB 996, see SPECIAL TOPIC: VAIN, EMPTY, NOTHINGNESS) refers to treating the Lord Himself in a frivolous, light manner during our lives, both in legal (swearing as a witness, cf. Lev. 19:12) and worship settings (calling on His name), as well as daily conversations or actions.
The name YHWH (see SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE NAME" OF YHWH) had unique and holy associations to Israel because it was through His name and acts that He revealed His character and purposes. It became so holy that in later Judaism it was not even pronounced except by the High Priest on Yom Kippur (cf. Leviticus16). This special concept of the name as representing the character, purpose, and holiness of God (cf. Deut. 12:5; 14:24; Matt. 6:9) is the central thrust of this commandment. God was to be revered!
The commentator, Von Rad, following Mowinchel, has asserted that there is a "magical connotation" regarding the commandment. The use of divine names to control nature and spiritual forces was common among Israel's neighbors. Exegetically this cannot be established but must be assumed to be a cultural option in applying this text to later Israeli idolatrous abuses. This would certainly be applicable to the modern use of YHWH in magic and occultic settings. Also, this commandment's position in the list connects it uniquely with Exod. 20:4-6 and, thereby reaffirms the above emphasis.
For the majority of civilization today this commandment speaks to perfunctory faith—living life in God's name without knowing and revering Him! There is today a practical atheism in many western "Christian" nations.

20:7b "for the Lord will not leave him unpunished" The term "unpunished" ("guiltless") occurs in several passages where God's forgiveness has been emphasized (cf. Exod. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Nahum 1:3). This shows that YHWH is readily willing to forgive sin, combined with mankind's trust and commitment to Him (cf. Deut. 30:1-10), but is not willing to simply overlook it. Sin is serious; it cost God His only Son!

20:7c "who takes His name in vain" This refers, in context, to covenant man! Those who know God are more responsible for the inappropriate use of His name. This also involves the lifestyle of those who claim to know Him, which can be a cheapening of His great, holy name! God's name is important because it reflects His ultimate purpose which is the redemption of all humans (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Why is the name of God so important to Him?
  2. What does it mean to take His name in vain? What are some of the ways we could do it in our cultural setting?
  3. Does punishment involve spiritual lostness or what?

Exodus 20:8-11

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: REMEMBER THE SABBATH .

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:8-11
8"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but 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. 11For 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."

20:8 "Remember the sabbath day" Both VERBS in Exod. 20:8 are INFINITIVES not IMPERATIVES, but they have the force of a strong command. The Sabbath, like "first fruits" or "firstborn," expressed the truth that all of life belongs to God. One special worship day out of seven has the same thrust!
The Deuteronomic parallel has some additions at this point but they do not change the main truth. Exodus 20 gives the basis as creation (Gen. 2:3), while Deuteronomy 5 gives the basis as the exodus. Jewish tradition says that the exodus was on a Sabbath.
This is the first command which is in a positive form (also Exod. 20:12). It is also the longest. If one surmises that all original commands were short, then they have undergone some expansion. There are some biblical parallels for a shorter form in Exod. 23:12; 31:15; 34:21; Lev. 23:7; Jer. 17:27.
Violations of the Sabbath were capital offenses (cf. Exod. 31:14; Num. 15:32-36). This is serious to God!

20:8a "to keep it holy" We keep it holy by doing what God said to do about it. It was God's command that made it holy—set apart for His special use and purpose (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY).
Holiness is an attribute of God only. Persons, places, things, and times are holy only in their connection to God and His special use of them. In a real sense, all of life and creation is holy because they come from God and are caught up in His redemptive purpose. However, there is a special usage connected to the terms Kadosh and Hagios, which implies "set apart for specific divine purpose."
The Sabbath, like circumcision, was a sign of the covenant (cf. Exod. 31:12-27).

20:9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work" Labor (BDB 712) did not come with the Fall (cf. Genesis 3). Adam was given the task of caring for the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 2:15). Labor is not the issue (cf. Exod. 34:21; 35:2,3) here but "when." Only for six days may humanity labor (i.e., as God did in creation) but as God rested on the seventh day, so too, His creatures created in His image. The hard labor of humans is connected to the curse of the ground because of Adam's rebellion (Gen. 3:17-19). We are periodically relieved of the curse. Notice that it is not until Lev. 23:3 that the Sabbath is specifically designated as a worship day, although the Deuteronomic parallel already points in this direction. Protestants need to be reminded that it is a festival day—not only in the OT context, but even more so in the Christian's observance of Sunday as a memorial of Resurrection Sunday!

20:10a "but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God" Humans need God more than anything else. They need God in daily fellowship. Weekly worship is a practical aid in prompting personal relationship. Notice the use of the Covenant title, YHWH, and the personal term, "your." It was this emphasis on weekly worship that helped Israel survive as a religious entity during the exile and up until today. It will do the same for the Church.

▣ "the Lord your God" In Exod. 20:1 the name Elohim (PLURAL) is used but in Exod. 20:2 "YHWH your God" uses the SINGULAR form of Elohim (as in 20:5,7,12, and here).

20:10b-g "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" At first glance it is surprising, in light of ANE views of wives as chattel (i.e., personal property, cf. Deut. 5:21), that they are not mentioned in this list. It is possible, since there is a Genesis 1-2 orientation to the seventh day of rest, that the mutuality of Gen. 1:26-27 is being honored.
This concept of no work (or rest) is used as a metaphor for heaven in Hebrews 3 and 4. In the New Testament context "rest" is used in several distinct ways.

  1. seven day rest of creation
  2. the Promised Land
  3. heaven
It, therefore, was a constant reminder of God's forgiveness and salvation.
Unique is God's concern for the cattle. They are collectively part of a person's house (cf. Jos. 7:15,24). God often shows a love and concern for the animals (cf. Gen. 8:1; Jonah 4:11). The Deuteronomy parallel adds "ox and ass" to the phrase concerning "the cattle."
The phrase "who stays with you" is literally "within your gates." The phrase was a metaphor for a social community, a legal system, and a religious system.

20:11a "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them" It is obvious that this commandment is linked to Genesis 1 and 2 - God as Creator and Owner of all things.
Exodus 20 used creation as the backdrop, while Deuteronomy 5 uses the exodus. Also notice that YHWH's creation of "the sea" is specifically mentioned here, though not in Genesis 1-2.

20:11b "and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy" The Lord "rested" and "blessed" (see John H. Walton, Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology) it for our sake, not His own. The Deuteronomic parallel adds to this phrase the emphasis on "therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. How old is the division of the month or year into seven-day weeks?
  2. What does "holy" mean? How is it related to our actions on this weekly worship/rest day?
  3. What is work?
  4. Why is Exodus 20 different from Deuteronomy 5 in this command?

Exodus 20:12

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: HONOR FATHER AND MOTHER.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:12
12"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you."

20:12a "Honor your father and your mother" The term "honor" means "give due weight to." It is directed to adult children. In Hebrew, that which is heavy is valuable and worthy of honor, like the use of the term "glory," while that which is light is dishonorable (cf. Deut. 27:16), like the term "vain." Notice that both parents are to be given respect, not just the father. This shows that even in a patriarchal system, the wife had a place of respect (cf. Proverbs 31).
Covenantal parents stand in the place of God-given authority and responsibility, as Deut. 6:6-9 shows. The parents are responsible for covenant training. Therefore, to honor one's parents is, in some respects, to honor God. In Lev. 29:3 the term "fear" is used in connection to parents, which is usually reserved for God alone. The aged are to be honored as well as parents, Lev. 19:32. Often teachers are called parents and students are called sons (cf. Gen. 1:24; Proverbs 1-9).
The commandments were not for the children but the parents, parents in a social context of multiple generations living together under one roof! Honor is a lifelong task (cf. 1 Tim. 5:4,8). This does not involve total obedience but an attitude of respect and care.

20:12b "that your days may be prolonged in the land" The other uses of this phrase in Deut. 4:40 and 5:33 show that this is not a personal promise of individual longevity, but a societal promise related to family stability and societal stability. Some quote Eph. 6:2; Deut. 6:2; and the Egyptian sage, Ptahholep, who said, "the son who accepts the words of his father will grow old in consequence of so doing" and "the obedient son will be happy by reason of his obedience; he will grow old; he will come to favor," as a proof that this is referring to personal longevity. The blessing of personal longevity is the byproduct of a stable, godly society.
The Israelite occupation of the Promised Land was always related to its covenant keeping!
The negative parallel is found in Exod. 21:15,17 and Lev. 20:9. The consequences of disobedience are staggering to the modern mind (cf. Leviticus 26; Deut. 21:18-22). Jesus documents further abuse in His day (cf. Matt. 15:3-9).

20:12c "which the Lord your God gives" The two major aspects of the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 12; 15; 17; and 22 were (1) the land and (2) the seed. The land is emphasized in the OT, while the seed is prioritized in the NT. Many commentators notice that the Covenant name for God is mentioned in this verse, as it is in Exod. 20:2,5,7, and 10, which all relate to our relationship with God. The name of God does not appear in the remaining commandments. Some interpret this as meaning this commandment forms a transition between our vertical relationship and our horizontal relationships. However, this verse primarily relates to one's attitude toward the Covenant God as reflected in one's treatment of His appointed representatives in one's life.
It is significant to notice that faith toward God affects all of life! How we act in worship must be duplicated in daily interpersonal relationships. God wanted, and still wants, a kingdom of priests (cf. Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6) to attract, convict, and introduce a lost world to Him. The joy and stability of believing homes is a bright beacon of hope amidst a world in turmoil.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What does it mean to honor one's parents?
  2. How would this have been especially important in an extended family system?
  3. Is this a personal promise or a societal promise? Why or why not?
  4. How is God's grace brought into this verse?

EXODUS 20:13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:13
13"You shall not murder."

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: MURDER.

EXODUS 20:14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:14
14"You shall not commit adultery."

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: ADULTERY.

EXODUS 20:15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:15
15"You shall not steal."

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: STEAL.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. How does modern man practice stealing?
  2. How is restitution related to repentance?
  3. How does this verse relate to capitalism's view of property?

EXODUS 20:16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:16
16"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

20:16 "false witness" This commandment (BDB 772, KB 851, Qal IMPERFECT, like "murder," Exod. 20:13; "adultery," Exod. 20:14; "steal," Exod. 20:15; and "covet," Exod. 20:17) relates to the judicial system of Israel (cf. Exod. 23:1; Deut. 19:15-21; 1 Kgs. 21:8-14). A false testimony usually resulted in the death of the one falsely accused. Therefore, the false witness was executed (cf. Deut. 19:15-21). It was a serious violation of covenant responsibility (cf. Exod. 23:7; Ps. 101:5). Believers are to love their neighbors (i.e., covenant partners) as themselves (cf. Lev. 19:18). God does not lie; His people should not lie!
In the OT it took two witnesses to convict (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). "He said. . .she said" cases were not part of Israel's legal system. The "benefit of the doubt" was given unless there were two eye witnesses.

EXODUS 20:17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:17
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."

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVETING.

Additional Exegetical Notes From My Commentary On Deuteronomy 5:21

Deut. 5:21, "shall not covet. . .shall not desire" uses two VERBS which are synonymous:

  1. "covet" - BDB 326, KB 325, Qal IMPERFECT, means "a strong desire" for material things, which can be positive or negative. In this context it is an uncontrollable, selfish desire for something which belongs to a covenant brother (cf. Matt. 22:34-40; Rom. 13:8-10).
  2. "desire" - BDB 16, KB 20, Hipthpael IMPERFECT, means "desire" (cf. Deut. 14:26) or "lust" (often has a sexual context as in 5:21) for more and more for me at any cost (e.g., Num. 11:4; Ps. 106:14; Pro. 13:4; 21:26; 23:3,6; 24:1).
    This relates to one's inner attitudes and motives. It is capstone to all the other commandments (i.e., Paul's confession in Rom. 7:7). This is the only commandment that deals with why, not how. This one says not only "don't do" but "don't think this." Jesus taught that we should not only not kill, we should not hate, or display an attitude that might result in murder. Jesus took this last commandment and raised the rest of the commandments to the level of inner motive and attitude as over against outer action (cf. Matt. 5:21-48). There is all the difference in the world in a man who does not steal because it is not pleasing to God and the man who does not steal because he is afraid of getting caught. One is acting on Christian principles and the other is acting on self-interest.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is coveting?
  2. How does modern man covet?
  3. Are our thoughts sin?
  4. Why are thoughts so significant in the Christian life?
  5. Why is the commandment in Exod. 20:17 somewhat different from the one in Deut. 5:21?

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:18-21
18All 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. 19Then they said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die." 20Moses 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." 21So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

20:18 The Israelis had encountered God (cf. Exod. 19:11)

  1. in sound - thunder (cf. Exod. 19:16,19; and trumpet)
  2. in sight - lightning (cf. Exod. 19:18 and fire)
  3. in smell - smoke (cf. Exod. 19:18)
  4. in feeling unstable (cf. Exod. 19:16,18; Ps. 68:8)

20:18-19 The people were terrified at the display of power which descended on Mt. Sinai. They were afraid lest they see God and die (cf. Gen. 32:30; Exod. 3:6; 19:21; 33:20; Deut. 4:34; Jdgs. 6:22-23; 13:22; 1 Kgs. 19:13; Isa. 6:5). They wanted Moses to relate YHWH's word to them (cf. Deut. 5:4-5).

20:19 "when the people saw it" This represents the mountain. The LXX changes "saw" (אהר, BDB 906, KB 1157, used twice in this verse) to "fear" (ירא, BDB 431). This emendation is included in the NRSV, NJB, and REB.

20:20 "Do not be afraid" This is not an IMPERATIVE, but a Qal IMPERFECT used as an IMPERATIVE (note Exod. 20:13,14,15).
The reason for the statement is twofold.

  1. YHWH is testing them (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE).
  2. He wants them to remember this day and these words (cf. Deut. 4:10; 6:24) so that they will not disobey and reap His judgment (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30; Jeremiah 32:40).

20:21 Events such as these clearly showed Moses as the Divinely chosen leader and law giver.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:22-26
22Then 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. 23You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. 24You 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. 25If 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. 26And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.'"

20:22-23:33 This section of Exodus is an amplification of God's will for Israel. It is usually called "The Book of the Covenant."

20:22 "I have spoken to you from heaven" This refers to the top of Mt. Sinai (cf. Deut. 4:36; Neh. 9:13). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEAVENS AND THE THIRD HEAVEN.
It is possible that the Decalogue (i.e., Exod. 20:1-17) was inserted here and that this verse refers to a subsequent divine revelation to Moses where "heaven" would have had its normal sense.

20:23 This further amplifies Exod. 20:3. Idolatry was always a temptation to Israel (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE) and it had devastating consequences (cf. Deut. 29:14-21; see SPECIAL TOPIC: CONSEQUENCES OF IDOLATRY).

20:24-26 These are regulations that refer to places prepared for worshiping YHWH (i.e., altars for sacrifices). They should be simple, using natural items (i.e., earth and uncut stones, cf. Deut. 27:5-6). These simple altars would be very different from Canaanite fertility sites.

20:24 "in every place where I cause My name to be remembered" This is a recurrent phrase in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2,6,11,15; 17:8,10; 18:6; 26:2; 31:11). In later times it will culminate in the temple in Jerusalem.

▣ "I will come to you and bless you" This is not meant to imply YHWH left them but is imagery for His special presence at worship sites and times. YHWH's goal was their blessing (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

20:26 Israel's worship, so different from the Canaanite fertility worship, was not to have a sexual aspect (cf. Exod. 28:42-43). Many/most of Israel's regulations were for the very purpose of distinguishing them from their polytheistic, fertility worshiping neighbors.

I have chosen to include my exegetical notes from my commentary on Deut. 5:6-21.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:6
6"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

5:6 "I am the Lord" This may be paraphrased: "I am the 'I Am.'" I am the ever living, only living God. I am the ever existing One. YHWH is a form of the Hebrew VERB "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

▣ "who brought you out of the land of Egypt" Notice that YHWH's grace and elective choice came before the Law was given. God chose Israel, she did not choose him. This choice was made plain to Abraham in the unconditional promise/covenant of Gen. 15:12-21.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:7
7"You shall have no other gods before Me."

5:7 "no other gods before Me" "Before" (BDB 818 #7) is literally "before My Face," which is an idiom for "no other in My category" (cf. Exod. 20:3,23). YHWH is alone, unique, ever-existing! This is an assertion of monotheism (cf. Exod. 8:10; 9:14; Deut. 4:35,39; 33:26; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 7:22; 22:32; Isa. 46:9). This first assertion and command is the uniqueness of Israel's faith in a polytheistic ancient Near East! See note at Deut. 6:4.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:8-10
8"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. 9You 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, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."

5:8 "an idol" This is literally "graven image" (BDB 820). This can refer to (1) any physical representation of YHWH (cf. Deut. 4:12,15-19,23,25). The golden calf of Exodus 32 was a representation of YHWH; or (2) foreign idols (cf. Lev. 19:4; 26:1).

▣ "earth" See SPECIAL TOPIC: LAND, COUNTRY, EARTH (ארץ).

5:9 "You shall not worship them or serve them" These are two negated VERB forms:

  1. "worship" - BDB 1005, KB 295 Hishtaphel IMPERFECT or Hithpael IMPERFECT, which means "bow down," "prostrate" (cf. Deut. 4:19; 8:19; 11:16; Exod. 20:5; 23:24)
  2. "serve" - BDB 712, KB 773, Hophal IMPERFECT, which means "do" "serve as a slave," or "perform acts of worship (cf. Deut. 13:2; Exod. 20:5; 23:24)

▣ "jealous" See note at Deut. 4:24.

The VERB "visiting" (BDB 823, KB 955, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) has several senses:

  1. visit to bless - Gen. 21:1; 50:24,25; Exod. 13:19; Ruth 1:6; Ps. 65:9; 106:4; Jer. 27:22; 29:10; 32:5
  2. visit to punish - Exod. 20:5; 34:7; Jer. 11:22; 13:21; 21:14; 24:25; Amos 3:2,14; Hosea 1:4; 2:15; 4:14; 12:2

▣ "the iniquity of the fathers" The term "iniquity" (BDB 730) may be related to the similar root, "to twist" (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:20; 24:17; 1 Kgs. 8:47; Ps. 106:6). Israel is punished for her disobedience (e.g., Exod. 20:5; 34:7; Lev. 18:25; Num. 14:18; Deut. 19:15; Jer. 25:12; 36:31; Amos 3:2)

▣ "on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me" Notice the punishment is not arbitrary or indiscriminate, but directed toward those who "hate" YHWH (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE). This implies that unbelief runs through families. The influence of the parents is crucial to the development of faith (see notes at Deut. 4:10). In the ancient Near East several generations of families lived together. One generation's unbelief and/or disobedience affected the entire family. This is part of the Hebrew concept of corporality (i.e., one affects the whole-Adam, Achan, David, Jesus).
To this sense of corporality must be added the individual aspect of faith (cf. Deut. 24:16; 2 Kgs. 14:6; Jer. 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18)!

5:10 "showing" This VERB (BDB 793, KB 889) is a Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, which matches the ongoing action of the VERB in Deut. 5:9.

▣ "lovingkindness" See SPECIAL TOPIC: LOVINGKINDNESS (hesed).

▣ "to thousands" These two verses help me see the nature of YHWH. His basic nature is longsuffering love, but He does punish those who wilfully reject Him (especially those who have some knowledge of His revelation, i.e., the covenant people). The numbers in these two verses make my point. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (eleph).

  1. visiting iniquity to the third and fourth generations
  2. showing covenant love to the thousandth generation (cf. Deut. 7:9)

▣ "those who love Me and keep My commandments" It is a characteristic of Deuteronomy to link obedience to YHWH's covenant to love for YHWH (cf. Deut. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1,13,22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6,16,20).
YHWH's love is not capricious, but clearly defined. He shows no partiality. His initiating covenant love is maintained by covenant obedience.
"Keep" (BDB 1036, KB 1581) is the key concept in this chapter (cf. Deut. 5:1,10,12,29,32 and many more times in Deuteronomy). The OT was based on the grace of YHWH and human obedience/performance. YHWH wanted to show human inability to respond appropriately (cf. Galatians 3). The NT (cf. Jer:31: 31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) is based on God's gracious initiation and redemption in Christ. Believers are still destined to be righteous (cf. Eph. 1:14; 2:10), but they have been accepted and forgiven by grace through faith (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). Now they obey/perform out of a sense of gratitude and family love (i.e., "those who love Me"). The goal is the same, a righteous (Christlike) people, but the mechanism has changed from human performance to Christ's performance (cf. Mark 10:45; 2 Cor. 5:21).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:11
11'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.

5:11 "You shall not take" The VERB (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT) means "to lift," to carry," or "to take." It seems to imply an act of speech. The Israelites were called on to speak "the name" in worship (cf. Deut. 6:13; 10:20), but not the name of other gods!
This emphasis begins in Gen. 4:25-26, where the line of Seth "began to call upon the name of the Lord"; Abraham did the same (Gen. 12:8; 21:33); Isaac did the same (Gen. 26:25). This same concept is put in an eschatological setting by Joel 2:28-32. This is continued by the Apostle Peter on Pentecost and asserted to be fulfilled (cf. Acts 2:14-21); the Apostle Paul uses the phrase to offer universal salvation in Rom. 10:9-13.
The name represents the person and character of YHWH. The Israelites were to be a kingdom of priests to the world (cf. Exod. 19:5-6), but the tragedy is that their covenant disobedience, which caused YHWH to punish them (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29), meant that the message to the world was distorted by:

  1. God's judgment of Israel instead of blessing
  2. God's people turning to idolatry
  3. God's people's developing arrogance, exclusiveness, and self-righteousness!

▣ "in vain" This term (BDB 996) means "empty," "non-existent," "vain" (cf. Exod. 20:7; Ps. 139:20). This is the same word used in Deut. 5:20 for a "false" witness. It is possible that this commandment does not refer to taking oaths in YHWH's name (cf. Deut. 6:13; 10:20), but in using His name in false legal testimony. Israel became a "false" witness to the character and purposes of YHWH because of their recurrent disobedience, which resulted in YHWH's judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 27-29). See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN.

▣ "for the Lord will not leave him unpunished" The VERB (BDB 667, KB 720, Piel IMPERFECT which means "acquit") is a metaphor for something clean, thereby innocent or free from guilt (cf. Exod. 20:7; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Jer. 30:11; 46:28; Joel 3:21; Nah. 1:3). There are consequences to human sin. To misrepresent YHWH is a most serious sin, especially for those who know Him (cf. Luke 12:48; Heb. 10:26-31)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:12-15
12Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but 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 or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

5:12 "Observe" This VERB (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE) means "keep" and is used repeatedly in Deuteronomy.

▣ "the sabbath" See SPECIAL TOPIC: SABBATH
This term (BDB 992) means "rest" or "cessation of activity." The usage as a day of worship starts with Gen. 2:2-3, where YHWH uses His rest as a pattern for animals (cf. Exod. 23:12) and mankind (humans need a regular schedule of work, rest, and worship). The first specialized use of this day by Israel was in Exod. 16:25-26 in the gathering of manna. It then becomes part of "the Ten Words" (cf. Exod. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). This is one example where the Ten Words in Exodus 20 are slightly different from the Ten Words in Deuteronomy 5. Deuteronomy is preparing Israel for the settled, agricultural life in Canaan.

▣ "holy" See SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY.

5:13 "work" Laws like Deut. 5:13-14 caused the development of the Oral Traditions (cf. Matt. 5:21-48) to be written because a question like, "What is work?" became crucial. The rabbis devised a definition so that the faithful Jew would not break the Law. The ambiguity of the written Law caused the legalistic Oral Law to be developed.

5:14 "seventh day is a sabbath" The Sabbath was a day of rest (BDB 992). There are two origins given for the Sabbath: Exodus 20:11 orients it to Genesis 1-2, while Deuteronomy orients it to the Egyptian bondage (cf. Deut. 5:15). It became a covenant marker (like circumcision) of YHWH's people (cf. Exod. 31:13,17; Ezek. 20:12,20). Obedience was mandated (cf. Isa. 56:2; 58:13; Jer. 17:21-22).
Like the sun and moon (cf. Gen. 1:14) the Sabbath provided a division of time for mankind's activities (cf. Ecclesiastes 3). The seven day week became a way to mark special days and years (cf. Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23). Specifically, the Sabbath begins on Friday evening and goes through Saturday evening, because Israelites marked the day in Genesis 1 categories ("evening and morning," cf. Gen. 1:5,8,13,19,23,31).

5:15 "You shall remember" See note at Deut. 7:18.

▣ "that you were a slave in the land of Egypt" Moses uses this experience of slavery to motivate the Israelites to compassionate action toward underprivileged people in their society:

  1. to allow servants (and animals) a day of rest - Deut. 5:12-15; 16:12
  2. to freely release and empower Hebrew slaves - Deut. 15:12-15
  3. to be fair and just with the underprivileged and disenfranchised - Deut. 24:17-18
  4. to leave the corners of the field and the second gathering of crops for the poor - Deut. 24:19-22
This phrase is also used numerous times to warn Israel to act appropriately in light of YHWH's gracious gift of the land (e.g., Deut. 6:10-15) and to obey the covenant (e.g., Deut. 8:1-10) lest serious consequences come (e.g., Deut. 8:11-20)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:16
16Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.

5:16 "Honor" This VERB (BDB 457, KB 455, Piel IMPERATIVE) originally meant "to be heavy" and developed a metaphorical meaning of "give due weight to" or "honor." This honor is not based on agreement, but authority and respect. In a sense it models the relationship between God and mankind. A submissive attitude toward authority is crucial in religious life!
Jesus mentions these commandments several times as well as other portions of Deuteronomy:

  1. Deut. 5:16 - Matt. 15:4; Mark 7:10
  2. Deut. 5:16-20 - Matt. 19:18-19a; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20
  3. Deut. 5:17 - Matt. 5:21
  4. Deut. 6:4-5 - Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27
  5. Deut. 6:13 - Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8
  6. Deut. 6:16 - Matt. 4:7; Luke 4:12
  7. Deut. 19:15 - Matt. 18:16
  8. Deut. 19:15 - Matt. 5:38
Paul also quotes Deuteronomy often:
  1. Deut. 5:16 - Eph. 6:2-3
  2. Deut. 5:21 - Rom. 7:7
  3. Deut. 19:15 - 2 Cor. 13:1
  4. Deut. 21:23 - Gal. 3:13
  5. Deut. 25:4 - 2 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18
  6. Deut. 27:26 - Gal. 3:10
  7. Deut. 30:12-14 - Rom. 10:6-8
  8. Deut. 32:21 - Rom. 11:8
  9. Deut. 32:35 - Rom. 12:19-20
  10. Deut. 32:43 - Rom. 15:10
(cf. Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pp. 42-43, 92-95). Apparently the NT writers used the OT extensively, but not legalistically!

▣ "and your mother"This shows high regard for motherhood even though in the Oriental society women were legally on the level of chattel or property. A Hebrew mother was honored in her own home. The authority of parents was strictly respected (cf. Exod. 21:17; Deut. 27:16). Both were to be respected and obeyed (cf. Pro. 1:8; 6:20; 15:20; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22-25; 30:11,17).

▣ "your days may be prolonged" Verse 33; 4:40; 11:9 show that this was a promise to a society, not primarily to an individual. If a society is characterized by honor in the home and respect for family life, that society will be stable and last through time. See note at Deut. 4:40.

5:17-21 These are laws that are common to all eastern societies. From archaeological discoveries we know of the Babylonian Law Codes of Lipit-Ishtar and Hammurabi which predate the Law of Moses by several hundred years. The Code of Hammurabi is similar to the Ten Commandments. This similarity shows (1) that there are some things that are innately wrong in every situation and society and (2) that Moses was a child of his own day and culture as well as a prophet of God.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:17
17You shall not murder.

5:17 "murder" The Hebrew VERB "murder" (BDB 953, KB 1283, Qal IMPERFECT) originally meant "to violently crush." Life belongs to God. This does not mean killing of any kind because Israel had both capital punishment (e.g., Num. 35:30) and Holy War (e.g., 20:13,16-17). The commandment is saying "Thou shalt not violently murder for selfish reasons or revenge" or "do not commit non-legal, premeditated murder." In my opinion this passage cannot be used as a biblical admonition against military service or capital punishment.

See SPECIAL TOPIC: NOTES ON EXODUS 20 (MURDER)

See SPECIAL TOPIC: PEACE AND WAR

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:18
18You shall not commit adultery.

5:18 "adultery" In the OT adultery (BDB 610, KB 658, Qal IMPERFECT) refers to only extra-marital sexual activities. This was a serious crime because of OT views of the afterlife. They believed that in some sense a person lived on through his seed. Also, the importance of tribes inheriting and passing on land allotted to them by YHWH made adultery a significant issue.
Notice, the first law is faithfulness to parents; the second law is faithfulness in not taking your brother's life; the third idea is faithfulness within the home. Even betrothed women were treated as married (cf. Deut. 22:23ff). Mary was accused of unfaithfulness because she was betrothed to Joseph.
This idea of adultery is often used symbolically for idolatry. Ezekiel and Hosea analogously present God as a husband to Israel, therefore, when Israel went after other gods, it was called "going a whoring" and was considered spiritual adultery or faithlessness.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:19
19You shall not steal.

5:19 "steal" This is probably a reference to kidnaping and selling (BDB 170, KB 198, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Deut. 24:7; Exod. 21:16), because of the context of the surrounding laws. This expresses a faithfulness to one's covenant brother whose life belongs to God. All of the surrounding laws brought the death penalty. This seems harsh for petty theft.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:20
20You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

5:20 "bear false witness"In ancient societies, when accused of something, it was the responsibility of the accused to prove the accuser wrong rather than our modern American judicial practice of assuming one innocent until proven guilty. If you proved your accuser wrong he had to take the penalty for the crime he accused you of (cf. Deut. 19:16-21). Since disobedience to the Ten Words caused death, false witness was a serious crime! Bearing false witness reveals an unfaithfulness within the community of faith. Lies destroy the reputation and take an innocent life of a covenant brother or sister. God takes this lying seriously (cf. Job 17:5; Ps. 101:5; Pro. 11:9; Jer. 9:8-9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: DEUTERONOMY 5:21
21You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.'

5:21 "shall not covet. . .shall not desire" These two VERBS are synonymous:

  1. "covet" - BDB 326, KB 325, Qal IMPERFECT, means "a strong desire" for material things, which can be positive or negative. In this context it is an uncontrollable, selfish desire for something which belongs to a covenant brother.
  2. "desire" - BDB 16, KB 20, Hipthpael IMPERFECT, means "desire" (cf. Deut. 14:26) or "lust" (often has a sexual context as in Deut. 5:21) for more and more for me at any cost (e.g., Num. 11:4; Ps. 106:14; Pro. 13:4; 21:26; 23:3,6; 24:1).
This relates to one's inner attitudes and motives. It is capstone to all the other commandments. This is the only commandment that deals with why, not how. This one says not only "don't do" but "don't think this." Jesus taught that we should not only not kill, we should not hate, or display an attitude that might result in murder. Jesus took this last commandment and raised the rest of the commandments to the level of inner motive and attitude as over against outer action (cf. Matt. 5:17-48). There is all the difference in the world in a man who does not steal because it is not pleasing to God and the man who does not steal because he is afraid of getting caught. One is acting on Christian principles and the other is acting on self-interest.

Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Exodus Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |