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In this chapter, we shall vary somewhat the form of our presentation, treating the entire chapter as:
- The Divisions of the Decalogue
- The Jewish division of the Decalogue places Commandments I-V on Table I, and Commandments VI-X on Table II, thus including duty to parents on a parity with duty to God.
- The usual Protestant division places Commandment V on Table II among duties to men, giving the divisions as I-IV and V-X.
- The Catholic division omits II altogether, splits X in two to retain the total number, and thus divides them: I, III, IV, V on Table 1, and VI, VII, VIII, IX, Xa, Xb on Table II. The insignia for chaplains in the Armed Services of the United States follows the Jewish mode, and that of Jewish chaplains is the Star of David.
- Jesus Christ and the Decalogue
- He unequivocally named "God" as the Author (Matthew 15:4).
- He taught that duties to God are higher than duties and obligations to people (Mark 12:28-31).
- Christ specifically mentioned Commandments VI,VII, and IX (Matthew 5:21-37), making his own words superior in authority to all three! However, it should be noted that he in no sense softened or abrogated any of these. As a matter of fact, he expanded the prohibitions to include antecedent motives and attitudes of sin, making evil thoughts to bear the same load of guilt as outright violations.
- Christ made the keeping of the Decalogue (at least in the instance of V, VI, VII, and IX which he named specifically) as a vital precondition of attaining eternal life (Matthew 19:16-20)!
- Christ came not to destroy but to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), and yet, "He took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Colossians 2:14).
- How, then is the Decalogue related to the attainment of eternal life? Christ kept it. He achieved the total and perfect righteousness that no other was ever able to achieve. Yet Christ demanded of all who ever hope to enter heaven absolute and total perfection (Matthew 5:48), a perfection attainable for people in only one way, "IN Christ" (Colossians 1:28,29).
- Were These Commandments New?
- The Code of Hammurabi
- The Importance of the Decalogue
God's division of the Decalogue was on two tables of stone, a division honored by Christ himself who marked the divisions as "Duties to God," and "Duties to Man" (Mark 12:28-31). And all major religious divisions have honored this, the differences being only in the question of which of the Ten Commandments belongs in which division.
With the exception of IV, the answer is no; some of them had been known for ages. No. II, the prohibition of sacred images, was known to Jacob who commanded his family to bury such things "under the oak by Shechem" (Genesis 35:4). No. VI, "Thou shalt not kill" had been a capital offense ever since God's commandment to Noah (Genesis 9:6). No. V, on honoring father and mother, was known upon the occasion of Noah's cursing of Canaan (Genesis 9:20-25). No. VII, regarding adultery, was known and accepted as God's law even as early as Judah's order for Tamar to be burnt (Genesis 38:24). Thus, the heart of the Decalogue was already accepted as the Law of God for centuries prior to this chapter. Note, however, that no such priority pertains to the Sabbath commandment (No. IV). The first mention of the sabbath is in Exodus 16:23; and those who violated it were not even rebuked. This contrasts sharply with the severe penalties enforced for violation of those commandments which were already known. In this light, it should not be thought strange that such codes of laws as that of Hammurabi should also have included some of these prohibitions, which, at least partially had been known from the beginning of Adam's race.
It was discovered in 1901 by Jacques de Morgan at Susa, Iran, precipitating one of those intellectual somersaults so typical of Biblical critics. Prior to that time, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was denied on the allegation that "codes of laws in such detail as that of Moses did not exist at so early an era." Well, Hammurabi's code, extensively detailed, was promptly dated at a time centuries before the Decalogue, "between 2067,2025 B.C." It was then alleged by the critics that Moses copied his code from Hammurabi! We know, of course, that such allegations are merely the knee-jerk response of unbelievers to Divine truth. Dummelow's refutation of such claims is as follows:
"The differences are decided and numerous enough to argue the independence and originality of the Law of Moses. Also, Hammurabi ascribes his laws to the Sun God; and he whom he ignorantly worshipped under that symbol may in reality have been `The true light that lighteth every man coming into the world.'"
The Code of Hammurabi is unworthy of comparison with the Decalogue. It speaks endlessly of "slaves" and "gentlemen." It has no prohibition against lust. It is preoccupied with spells cast by witches. And it has no trace whatever of religious thought.
Even today, this is the most influential legislation on earth. The constitutions of forty-seven of the forty-eight contiguous states of the U.S.A. specifically recognize this code as the basic law of the land. For centuries it has been inscribed upon decorative panels for cathedrals and churches, and it is today indelibly stamped upon the conscience of every believer in God.
- THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME (EXO. 20:3)
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
This is the first and great commandment of God, having an expanded meaning as given by Christ, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mark 18:29-30).
"The Lord is one ..." Jewish scholars take this as a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, but the word for "one" here is [~'echad], which means a compound unity, being used here and in such statements as "the people are one." The word for an absolute unity is [~'achid]. The use of plural words for God in Genesis strongly suggests plurality in the Godhead.
"This is the great and first commandment ..." (Matthew 22:38). Why is His commandment greatest and first? This is true because all other commandments derive from it. Why is it a sin to murder? "Because all men are made in God's image, making the crime of murder a crime against God. Joseph identified adultery as primarily a "sin against God" (Genesis 39:9); and so on, for all the others. Hitler rejected God and the Bible as God's Word, and promptly concluded that it was proper to make soap out of his enemies. And we might add that, apart from faith in God, Hitler was exactly right! Yes, everything depends upon this "great and first commandment." Once a person denies or forsakes this first and greatest of all obligations, the denial and repudiation of all or any other duties becomes infinitely easier. It is exactly here that the failure of our generation is most evident.
Man's vain and inglorious efforts to disassociate human obligation from all external authority is the basic error. The arrogant and atheistic dictum of humanists to the effect that, "Modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values," deifies man himself and places within wicked and fallible men the source of all authority. The eternal word reveals the truth about that, and here it is: "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
Thus, it is this commandment that polarizes the soul with reference to the Creator, establishing irrevocably the direction and the issue of every life. Here is where it all begins! The first and great commandment is indeed light from God, establishing and maintaining man's proper relation to the one true God of the universe. Without this, there can be no real authority for any commandment.
A Jewish writer called this commandment, "The greatest discovery ever made," but, of course, this was not a discovery; it was revelation from God.
Do people today need this injunction? Indeed they do. The pantheon of the old pagan gods is no longer around, but Venus (sex), Bacchus (wine), Mars (power), and all the rest of them: Gold, Fashion, Fame, Ease, Intellect, Travel, War, Passion, Chance, Drink, etc. are all very much still in business! Science, especially, is the god of many. Look what Science has done for us, but unless the supreme authority of God, through our honoring of it, enables us to control all those things that science has given us, we shall only destroy ourselves. William Jennings Bryan's impressive list of humanity's current "gods" is as valid today as ever.
Humanism is the current popular "god", the same being nothing other than the deification of man himself. Here is the present-day echo of the primeval rebellion against God, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5), advocated by Satan himself. One of the great apologists for this conception was Robert G. Ingersoll, who proposed, "The temple of the future, not the temple of all the gods, but the temple of all the people, wherein will be celebrated the religion of Humanity!" Educational leaders and even theologians have emerged as the "high priests" of this Satanic religion. The major theme of it was stated thus: "The sovereign for us is just ourselves when we cooperatively insist on providing what we ourselves want." But what a miserable god is Humanism! As Robert Flint stated it: "Humanity must be blind to its follies and sins, insensible to its weakness and miseries, and given over to the madness of a boundless insanity, before it can raise an altar and burn incense to itself."
Therefore, if mankind would improve world conditions, if they would reduce crime, conquer selfishness, procure any measure of peace and happiness to the world, or destroy the fatal cancer of lust and hatred gnawing at the vitals of society, then let them acknowledge our dependence upon God. Let them honor the first and great commandment. No other prescription will do it. All other possible objects of ultimate loyalty are fictitious. Let man return to the worship of God. There can be nothing except overflowing sorrow in any other course.
- THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT MAKE UNTO THEE ANY GRAVEN IMAGE (EXO. 20:4)
"And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing loving kindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments."
To the modern mind, this prohibition seems like "much ado about nothing." What could be the harm of images? Well, to begin with, the prohibition here is not against the aesthetic arts, photography, or anything like that. Note the words "unto thee," indicating that it is religious images which are forbidden, objects of human adoration and worship.
Note also that the prohibition is multiple: (1) religious images must not be made; (2) men must not bow down to them; (3) men must not serve them. The reasons for this are profound. By its very nature any religious image is false, being a lying presentation of what is allegedly represented. How can that which is material represent anything spiritual? How can that which is helpless represent eternal omnipotence? How can that which decays represent life eternal? How can that which is not intelligent represent omniscience? How can that which is dumb, unfeeling, blind, and dead represent any of the vital realities of God and holy religion?
That the conscience of the Medieval Church which introduced such things into the Christian religion, precipitating the controversy that has torn Christendom, is pure with regard to this is denied by their treatment of this passage in God's Word, which they have: (1) either removed from the Decalogue; (2) relegated to a footnote; or (3) explained away in the notes. The consecration of so-called holy or sacred images for use in Christian worship must be understood as sinful.
Centuries after the founding of Christianity, at the first proposal by Romanists to consecrate images, "Three hundred-eighty-three bishops from all over the world were present and passed resolutions condemning image worship."
And yet papal authority installed them. How was this justified? It was done by the adoption of the old pagan device by which the apostate Israelites "justified" the golden calves at Dan, Bethel, and Samaria. "They were treated as outward symbols of deity, and not as deity itself, and they had just as valid a claim to be used in the religion of Israel as images in Christianity." Israel was rejected and destroyed for their acceptance of such sinful things; and it cannot be imagined that the apostate Church will avoid judgment in the same manner.
"Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them ..." Thus, it is not merely the making, or consecration, of graven images which is proscribed in the Decalogue; it is the act of "bowing down" in the presence of them, genuflecting before them, making the alleged "sign of the cross," or any other recognition whatever. As for the proposition that one may bow in the presence of an image and in doing so actually be bowing down to God in the presence of the image, this is disproved absolutely by the apostle John's being forbidden to bow down to God Himself even in the presence of a holy angel (See proof of this in Revelation 19:9 and Revelation 22:8,9). It was not allowed even in the presence of a mighty angel. How much less could it be presumed to be allowed in the presence of a dead piece of wood or metal.
"Nor serve them ..." This prohibited the exercise of any care or provision to preserve, maintain, install, decorate, paint, or use images in any manner. That such "serving of images" is still going on in the world was made quite evident to this writer on a visit to Japan's great Diabutsu, a great wooden temple surrounded by many niches usually housing various idols. On that day, however, there were large signs in black and red letters in two languages, saying, "Sorry, these gods are out for repair!"
The corruption of Christianity evident in the introduction of sacred images into the worship of Christ is a marvel, the mystery of Satan himself being present in it. Satan achieved this in spite of the fact that, "The greatest writers, thinkers, and bishops of the first four centuries protested against it."
Henry Sloan Coffin put the finger of analytical reason on the problem of images in these words:
"The spirit of Christianity, and the spirit of figurative art are opposed, because art cannot free itself from sensuous associations. When the worshipper would fain ascend on wings of ecstasy to God, the infinite, ineffable, unrealized, how can he endure the contact of those splendid forms in which the lusts of the eye and the pride of life professing to subserve devotion, remind him rudely of sensuous existence. As meteorites become luminous in traversing our terrestrial atmosphere, so the thoughts that art employs immerse themselves in sensuousness. Our deepest thoughts about the world and God are incapable of personification by any aesthetic process.
The use of sacred images also degrades the conception of God. Paul's remarkable first chapter of Romans speaks eloquently of those who, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man" (Romans 1:22-23). The testimony of the Word of God and the experience of all history demonstrates the wisdom of this great Second Commandment in the Decalogue. We shall conclude this with one of the sonnets of Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists, greatest sculptors, and greatest poets of a whole millennium:
Now hath my life across a stormy sea,
Like a frail bark, reached the wide port where all
Are hidden 'ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now, know I full well how that fond fantasy
Which made my soul the worshipper and thrall
Of earthly art is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwittingly!
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when a double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread?
Painting nor sculptor now can lull to rest
My soul that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread!
- THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN
"Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."
The name of God is holy beyond any comparison. The prayer which Jesus taught his apostles began with the words, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name!" (Matthew 6:9). Salvation itself is accomplished in the power of this glorious name. "Neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"Thou shalt not ..." Notice the recurrence of these words. Evidently Almighty God was not operating on the same level of present-day psychologists who deplore "negative commandments." Some Christian teachers, even, have fallen into the error of supposing that all of Jesus' commandments were positive. However, look at these from a single sermon by the Master:
"Swear not at all" (Matthew 5:34).
"Resist not him that is evil" (Matthew 5:39).
Do not your righteousness before men (Matthew 6:1).
"In praying, use not vain repetitions" (Matthew 6:7).
"Be not therefore anxious" (Matthew 6:24).
"Neither cast your pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6).
"Judge not" (Matthew 7:1).
It must be allowed that God is a good Psychologist, having, in fact, created the human mind, and these dramatic negatives certainly have their proper place in the restraint of human wickedness. God does not say, "Please do this," or" Wouldn't you like to do that?" but "Thou shalt not!" The penalties are relentless, and disobedience is revealed as fatal.
There are many ways of violating this commandment. At the head of the list, because of its prevalence, is common, profane, vulgar swearing. This has been called "the sin without temptation." It satisfies no appetite, achieves no benefit for the swearer, does not commend itself to any person whomsoever, and is as foolish and ridiculous a sin as any ever committed. It is invariably a sign of a weak and ineffectual vocabulary, a mark of vulgarity, an evidence of disrespect, resentment, or frustration, and a sign of irreligion and unbelief.
There are other forms of "taking God's name in vain."
- There is hypocrisy, in which God is spoken of but not in sincerity. The man who says, "Lord, Lord" but does not do God's will is profane.
- The performance of actions "in the name of God," which, in fact, are NOT commanded by Him is also profanity. The example of the sons of Sceva illustrates this (Acts 19:13).
- Frivolity may also be profanity. Isaiah denounced this practice, saying, "(They) make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness (Isaiah 48:1).
It is especially deplorable that some people in public life today are guilty of disobeying the will of God in this particular. How wonderful it would be if all people in high position today would follow the example of the illustrious founder of our nation who forbade, "profane cursing, swearing, and drunkenness" in the Continental Army in an order of the day issued on July 4,1775, and who, some nineteen years earlier had written: "I have, both by threats, and persuasive means, endeavored to discountenance gaming, drinking, swearing, and irregularities of every kind."
- THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY
"Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
Regarding the problem of whether or not the Sabbath had existed prior to this commandment, see the discussion above, under Exodus 16:30. God's mention here of the creation sabbath was not for the purpose of telling Israel why a sabbath was commanded, but it was a way of pointing out that six days of full employment would enable the doing of all the work that was necessary. Note that it is in connection with "Six days shalt thou labor" that this reference occurs. "The purpose here was to stress the relationship between God's nature and man's nature." "It is the philanthropic side of the sabbath" that appears here." Some have postulated "ages of observance of the sabbath" prior to this verse, on the strength of the word "remember." "Remember," however is just as appropriately understood as a call for Israel to "remember the sabbath day" that had been revealed to them only a few days earlier. See Exodus 16:23. There is positively NO sabbath commandment in the Bible prior to that verse!
Sabbatarians who wish to bind this commandment upon people today are themselves NOT keeping the sabbath in any true sense whatever. Under God's law, the total number of sabbath days during a period of fifty years amounted to no less than 5,785 days!, a period of nearly sixteen years, or about one-fourth of the whole time. Of course, nobody honors any such commandments today. The usual thrust of the sabbatarian insistence on this is comprised of having a religious service on Saturday, for which many of them travel long distances, contrary to the Law, and the additional custom of washing their clothes and stringing them out on a clothesline on Sunday! All people know, or should know, that this commandment is not binding upon people today.
In this connection, perhaps it is advantageous to look at the major part of the injunction, which regards not rest at all, but work.
"Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work ..." If the "rest" part of this is binding, so is the "work" part, but ask any of the New York labor unions in certain crafts dominated by sabbatarians about working "six days a week." Nevertheless, the Bible extols and honors the glory of the workman.
This is the gospel of labor -
Ring it, ye bells of the kirk -
The Lord of Love comes down from above
To dwell with the men who work.
- Henry van Dyke
A common fallacy about "labor" is that it is only something that men in overalls do. Look at murals all over the world. It is the man with the wrench, or the oil can, invariably clad in overalls who is represented as "the worker." This is a false view. The "worker" is also the thinker, the writer, the preacher, the capitalist, the salesman, the artist, and a host of others. Paul wrote, "I labor," but he was not talking about making tents, but about preaching the gospel.
Some of the violators of this commandment are: the idler, the neglecter of public worship, the playboy, the spendthrift, the gambler, the chiseler, the loafer, the disdainer of honest work, the irreligious, and the man who lives by the sweat of other men's faces.
- THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT
HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER
"Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long, in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee."
This Commandment V is bound upon mankind by apostolic authority. Paul said, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that thou mayest live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6:1-3). Disobedience of people regarding this has been widespread in all ages. Even in the times of Christ, the keepers of the temple had concocted a device for enabling wealthy Hebrews to avoid giving the care and support to their parents which the Law of God commanded. This was called Corban, and this is explained and condemned by Jesus himself in Matthew 15:3-6.
Our own generation is no exception. A governor of the state of Colorado said during the summer of 1984 that "the principle duty of old people is to die and get out of the way of the younger generation." This was widely publicized, nor did the governor even have the grace to make an exception of his own father and mother. Certainly, that is a very common view in America at this stage of history, and very regrettable. The youth of every generation sorely need the wisdom and stability that only age can provide. Adolescent impatience and disrespect of the aged is both foolish and amusing. "If the race were advancing as rapidly as each new generation of adolescents believes, mankind would have long since passed through the gates of perfection." The apparent gulf that separates some young people from their parents is merely a youthful fantasy, due to pass away in time, just like acne. Five things are promised to those who obey and honor their parents: "These are: (1) grace in the present life and glory in the life to come; (2) long life upon the earth; (3) grateful and pleasing children; (4) a good name; and (5) material wealth."
This commandment protects the home. The home is the basic building block of civilization. And if there is ever to be a better world, it must begin with better homes. The home is the place where the young human must learn to accept and honor authority. And if he does not do so in the home, he becomes a troublemaker in school, and soon graduates to the police court. The beginning of all law and order lies right here in Commandment V.
Our very civilization today is under attack by all the forces of evil, and the home is primarily the focus of that attack. The young should realize what they have to lose if they join with the forces dedicated its destruction.
"That home, with which they are inclined to be so impatient, is under stress which never existed before. It is quite possible to explain to young people, so that they gladly become a part of the crew in the little ship upon the stormy sea, instead of being merely passengers."
The honoring of father and mother is the divine order, not merely for children and young people, but for all people. Those Pharisees whom Jesus condemned for their godless neglect of this commandment, were in no sense "young people," but the leaders of the Jewish nation (Matthew 15:5-6).
Let intelligent youth join hands with venerable age, and, together, it may be, they shall be able to slay the dragon that threatens to devour the world. Separately and alone, neither youth nor age can do it. Together, with God through Christ, an overwhelming victory can be achieved. It is not too late, but time is running short. The tides of evil are rising on every side, and the winds of lawlessness and chaos are rising to hurricane pitch. If the home, as God intended it, is lost, society may well degenerate into a condition heretofore believed impossible. God grant, therefore, that the home may be made to stand.
- THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT KILL
"Thou shalt not kill."
Of supreme importance in understanding this is the distinction between the word here rendered "kill," and another Hebrew word in numerous passages rendered, "Thou shalt surely slay him," or "He shall surely be put to death." In those places the word is [~harag]. Deuteronomy 13:9 is an example. "Thou shalt surely [~harag] him." Now the word here is [~ratsach], which means murder. In those other places, it is [~harag] which means "to slay" or "to put to death." For that reason, Moffatt correctly rendered this commandment, "Thou shalt do no murder." It is a false understanding of God's Word, therefore, to quote this commandment as a prohibition of capital punishment.
This commandment, of course, is honored more by its breach than by its observance. Sometimes the honor has taken a negative form, as when men covered the faces of the dead when troops moved forward over battlefields. It has taken the form of monuments and tombs of unknown soldiers, perpetual lights on battlefields, and arches of triumph. This commandment haunts humanity.
Regarding capital punishment, it is the law of God that murderers shall be put to death by society (Genesis 9:6), and that is not an option - it is a Divine order. The violation of it by self-styled liberal societies has already drowned the world in blood and may yet deliver the whole earth into the hands of ruthless murderers.
The first poem ever written was by Lamech bragging about his murders (Genesis 4:23-24), thus murder is as old as history and as new as today's newspaper. Satan was credited by the Lord Jesus Christ with having invented the lie, and since that evil being was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, it is perhaps safe to conclude that he also invented murder (John 8:44).
The biggest problem related to this commandment is that of war. Is it forbidden that Christians participate in war? The related problem of whether a Christian may be a policeman must also be confronted. And, since war itself can be, and frequently is, an expanded police action, we shall look at the police angle of it first.
Here, there is a clear word from an apostle. Paul denominated the policeman as "a minister of God unto thee for good," giving full approval of the office and its lethal sword. "He beareth not the sword in vain" (Romans 13:1-7). But did not Christ tell Peter to throw his sword away? No, he commanded him to, "Put up thy sword into its place" (Matthew 26:52), indicating that the sword certainly had a place approved by Christ himself. There are, in fact TWO swords in that passage: (1) the sword of authority, which it was unlawful to resist; and (2) the sword of self-defense carried by Peter. Christ himself used physical force when he plaited a whip of cords and drove the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:13-15). There are times when nothing but force avails. Can it be supposed for a moment that the band of thieves and robbers whom Jesus expelled from the temple would have accepted a mere invitation to "Get out!" If our society were to forego the use of force entirely, it would quickly deliver the whole world into the hands of lawless murderers. Sir Stanley Baldwin, the great conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain summed it up thus:
"Civilization itself is but the ice formed in process of ages on the turbulent stream of unbridled human passions; and, while this ice seemed to our fathers secure and permanent, it has rotted and cracked during the agony of the great war (1914-1918), and in places the submerged torrent has broken through leaving fragments in constant collision, threatening by their attrition to diminish and ultimately disappear."
Although written to describe the condition of the world after World War I, Baldwin's analysis is just as true now. Force, and only force is effective in some situations. Christ virtually admitted this when he declared that, "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight" (John 18:36). This is usually countered by the allegation that Christians belong to only one kingdom, that of Christ, but this is refuted by the fact that Paul belonged to two kingdoms and profited by the employment of armed forces again and again to protect him from the Jews.
Some eight centurions are mentioned in the N.T., and without exception, every single one of them appears in a most favorable light. And not once did either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ or any apostle ever suggest that they give up service in the Roman army! The conclusion must be that Christians may indeed serve in the armed forces. But if this results in the necessity of killing, what then? Under the Old Testament, killing in war was not viewed as murder, as witnessed by the case of Abner who was granted asylum in one of the cities of refuge, Hebron, following his killing of Asahel (2 Samuel 3:17-27).
However, the righteousness of killing "in some wars" is not a license to engage in all wars. The Christian is required by the very nature of his responsibility to reserve judgment on the status of any war, as whether justifiable or not, and act accordingly. At the present time, the forces of godless atheistic Communism are moving under the avowed purpose of enslaving all humanity. Shall this be resisted by war? How else? Sometimes, the alternative is worse than war. The cliche that "wars never decide anything" is untrue. The battle of Tours, 732 A.D. certainly decided that Western Civilization would not be taken over by Mohammedanism. The question is indeed difficult, and dogmatic answers may not be given, But the children of God should "have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).
Is there any possibility of relieving the world of the scourge of war? The answer is NO. This is true because Christ said, "There shall be wars and rumors of war, but the end is not yet" (Matthew 25:5,6). Christ added, "Be not troubled, for these things must come to pass" (Matthew 25:6). The only way to eliminate war would be to eradicate the causes of it from human hearts. "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members"? (James 4:1, KJV). Murder and war, therefore, are present in the individual, and in every individual whose heart is filled with lust, pride, greed or inordinate ambition and desire. In whatever instance a human soul wins victory over these basic sins, there is a beginning of a solution of the problems of war and murder. There can never be a better world until it is filled with better people, and that world can never be until people accept and serve their one true Redeemer, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
- THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
"Thou shalt not commit adultery."
As in most of the others, here God did not give a reason for this prohibition. None was needed. This sin is so shocking, terrible, and invariably wicked, that God flung His "Thou shalt not!" squarely against it. Nevertheless, the highest intelligence and reason approve and endorse the commandment.
The sin of adultery is against a number of vitally important entities: (1) It is against God (Genesis 39:9); (2) It is against the very body of the sinner (1 Corinthians 6:18); (3) It is even against the soul of the violator (Proverbs 6:32); (4) It is against the family. No marriage can withstand the destructive force of this sin (Matthew 19:9); (5) It is a sin against personality. Adultery produces the fallen countenance, and one may see a hundred of them on any street corner any day. The glorious distinction of Christian women consists in large measure of that striking absence from their faces of the guilt and shame so evident in the faces of adulterers. Even the pagan exclaimed, "Ye gods! What women are these Christians' wives and daughters." (6) Adultery is a sin against the whole society. As Simcox stated it:
"The sexual miscreant hurts himself and his partner, who is, under all circumstances, the victim of an assault upon personality. The affair may be kept strictly secret. None the less, a blow has been dealt the whole society. To make a beast of oneself and a thing of someone else is to rob the world of two persons.
A scarlet "A" has been burned into the conscience of America today, as attested by the widespread violation of this Divine Law. Our vocabulary is an eloquent witness in the various names given to this sin: adultery, fornication, incest, rape, seduction, lechery, lewdness, wantonness, lasciviousness, infidelity, libertinism, libidinousness, promiscuity, homosexuality, harlotry, whoredom, prostitution, concubinage, polygamy, bigamy, polyandry, sodomy, carnality, pornography, being "gay" (in the current meaning), child molestation, etc., etc. All of these things, as well as all other related impurities and perversions, are flatly condemned by God Himself in Commandment VII.
We have already noted in the chapter introduction that Christ has included in the violators of this law all of those who entertain the antecedent thoughts and attitudes leading to this sin. Interestingly enough, however, Christ abolished the death penalty for adultery (John 8:11). The Saviour was anticipated in this judgment by Joseph, the husband of Jesus' mother Mary, who refused to invoke the penalty against her despite his presumption of adultery on her part (Matthew 1:19).
Monogamy as advocated in the N.T. is God's prescribed way of avoiding the violation of this law (1 Corinthians 7:2). This is marvelously successful, provided that, at the same time, the believer will obey the edict of the Spirit of God that he shall also control his imagination. "Our spiritual weapons are mighty before God, effective in the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). Note the underlined words. Man's evil imagination is his big problem. This is not surprising, because the great proliferation of wickedness that led to the Deluge came about because "every imagination" of man's thoughts was evil, and only evil, continually (Genesis 6:5). We shall explore this a little further.
Man is naturally inclined to look upon the opposite sex and to stimulate his imagination with the supposed excitement and rapture of illicit love. (This, of course, makes him already guilty in the eyes of God). There are a few solid facts that should help men to control their carnal imaginations. (1) Regarding illegal sex, it is death not life. Look at the Book of Proverbs for some real help here:
Her end is bitter as wormwood ...
Her feet go down to death ...
Her steps take hold on hell ...
Her way is the way to hell ...
Going down to the chambers of death ...
-Proverbs 5:4-5; 7:27
Sin always promises pleasure, but delivers wretchedness and death. It promises liberty, but delivers slavery and debauchery. It promises delight, but delivers eternal remorse and sorrow. Let every Christian, therefore, get hold of that unruly imagination and channel it into areas not forbidden by the Word of God.
In this context, people should remember that "God destined us in love to be conformed to the image of His son" (Ephesians 1:5, RSV). The plain meaning of this, of course, is that the destiny of every person ever born is that of being a Christian. That is why God made man, and that alone fulfills the purpose that God intended when any human being was made. Now, follow this deduction: Would an all-wise supremely intelligent God have made such a being as man in such a manner as to have resulted in any possibility whatever that that God-made being would actually be happier serving the Devil than in serving God? The positive answer that thunders from the gate of heaven is NO! It is impossible to suppose such a thing. Therefore, man's greatest happiness, not only eternally, but in this present life, invariably derives not from his walking in forbidden ways, but in humble submission to the Law of God. Then seize that ugly imagination by the throat and strangle it! Far from telling the truth, it is trying to seduce the soul with falsehood and deceit. All of those glittering allurements with which the imagination is loaded are not truth at all, but abominable lies.
Jesus warned that "the Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 20:35); and although people may fancy that they are indeed breaking the Scriptures, in the cosmic sense there are no broken commandments - only broken people, broken homes, broken hearts, broken dreams, broken nations, and broken civilizations. May it never happen to us!
True Christians are called to set a high and beautiful example in a profligate generation. To do so is to fulfill a noble destiny and to claim fellowship with the Most High. Those who are the "called according to His purpose" are indeed luminous in a world of grim and reeking darkness. Theirs is not merely honor, but happiness also.
Our beloved America today is sick, sex-sick, wallowing in a resurgence of sensuality that threatens to equal that of Sodom. God help his people to stand for truth and righteousness, regardless of the social climate.
- THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL
"Thou shalt not steal."
This commandment recognizes and safeguards the right of property. In this context, it should be remembered that it is impossible to eliminate private property from any society anywhere or at any time. There is no way, actually, to get rid of private property. It may be reduced to a numbered ration card, or a permit to stand in line, or to some other symbol of the slave state, but, even then, that card, ticket, or permission becomes private property, a very necessary private property, without which the possessor cannot live. Without property, life itself is in jeopardy.
Frequently, the human family have attempted to get rid of private property and to inaugurate some form of communal living, but thousands of years of experience have demonstrated invariably the futility and failure of all such systems. Jamestown Colony (1603), William Lane in South America (1883), Robert Owen on the banks of the Wabash, Indiana (1825), the Brook Farm Transcendentalists (1830), and, of course, the Russian fiasco (1917), are but a few of the historical failures. During the middle years of the 19th Century, "There were literally scores of such social experiments in North America alone." Such societies cannot even feed themselves, and the undeniable conclusion to be drawn from a study of all of them is that the abolition of private property also constitutes the abolition of virtues such as industry, thrift, ambition, and prudence.
Christ recognized and approved private property, stating that the kingdom of heaven is "like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls," or "a treasure hid in a field," or stewards entrusted with other people's money, as in the parables of the pounds, or the talents.
A study of the N.T. reveals that private property was a recognized institution among the earliest Christians. A prayer meeting was held in the home of the sister of Barnabas; it was a big house with a garden and a gateway, which was monitored by Rhoda, an employee (Acts 12). And Philip the evangelist owned a large establishment in Caesarea Palestina where he lived with his family of four daughters, and that place was large enough to entertain for days at a time an evangelistic company of a dozen persons. Besides that, an apostle instructed the Christian to "work ... that he may have (private property, of course)" (Ephesians 4:28). Despite this, it is part of the genius of Satan, that, through his followers, he has sought to propagate the false idea that the godless, Communistic, slave states of this era are, "merely carrying out the basic ideals of Christianity!" Even some believers have been deceived by this, due to their failure to understand properly certain N.T. passages. We shall notice these:
(1) Christ commanded the rich young ruler to go sell all he had and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21). In this, Christ required the young man, as a prospective follower in company with the Twelve, to sell everything and give it away, not because that was a basic requirement of Christianity, which it is not, but because, it was A REQUIREMENT FOR THOSE WHO PERSONALLY ATTENDED JESUS IN HIS TRAVELS ON EARTH, these not even being allowed to own a purse or wallet. All of the Twelve had "forsaken all" (Mark 10:28). How impossible it would have been for Jesus to have accepted that rich young ruler in that company without his first disposing of his wealth. This requirement of those persons was never extended to become a precondition of becoming a Christian.
(2) Then, there is the instance of Ananias and Sapphira who were stricken by God in the presence of the church, an event that in no sense is connected with the lawfulness of private property. They were not stricken for owning property, or even for keeping part of it, but for "LYING to the Holy Spirit." (See Acts 5:1-11). As a matter of fact, PETER AFFIRMED THEIR RIGHT TO HAVE KEPT ALL of their property or any part of it, as stated succinctly in Acts 5:4.
(3) And then there is that great "communal experiment" (Acts 2:43-47). Yes, it is true that the early church experimented with this plan, without any commandment, without any apostolic injunction, or even a suggestion from any of the apostles that they should have done this. Christians in all ages have been tempted again and again to try it, but IT DID NOT WORK then, nor at any later time, nor ever. It failed here in Acts. Of course, God used their well-intentioned experiment to continue a preaching mission in Jerusalem indefinitely, but the plan never worked. The Jerusalem church was impoverished. For years to come, after Paul entered the kingdom, that great soul would travel all over the Gentile world raising money to support "the poor saints in Jerusalem." And that is precisely what is wrong with such communal aberrations. They always reduce the whole community experimenting with it to poverty. If a man gives away all of his property, he at once becomes poor, an object of charity on the part of others, and thus an impediment to progress and not a participant in progress.
We believe that the following is based upon excellent reasoning:
"You are MORALLY OBLIGATED TO HELP a destitute neighbor. Then, may you shirk this responsibility by deliberately keeping yourself so poor that you can never be in a position to help anyone but yourself? By willingly avoiding the accumulation of an economic surplus, you are flaunting your neighbor's rights in two ways: (1) by deliberately risking the possibility that your own sudden destitution may throw a burden on him; and (2) by your willful improvidence making it impossible for you ever to help him in case he needs it."
Again, reference is made to Ephesians 4:28, where CHRISTIANS ARE COMMANDED TO WORK that they may "have, to give to him that hath need."
Only certain ways of ACQUIRING PROPERTY are recognized as valid for Christians: (1) through gift; (2) through inheritance; (3) through investment; (4) through finding it; (5) through merchandising; and (6) through working for it. It should be noted that gambling is simply not on this list. All of the listed methods of the acquisition of property are verified either from direct statements in the sacred text, or from deduction based upon the approving reference of Jesus to such things as investment and merchandising.
The stealing which characterizes our day is evident in the following words of the vocabulary: theft, fraud, dishonesty, larceny, swindling, cheating, embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, violations of trust, robbery, watering of stocks, excessive charges, padded expense accounts, inaccurate tax returns, double bookkeeping, sale of damaged or worthless goods, obtaining benefits under false pretenses, non-payment of debts, bankruptcy, crooked auctions, lotteries, bingo games, gambling, purloining, shoplifting - all these are crimes and sins forbidden by Commandment VIII. They are not for the child of the loving Father.
To here, we have been speaking of stealing money or goods, but there are also other forms of stealing: (1) Men may rob God by withholding the contributions which they should make to support the gospel (Malachi 3:8). (2) The Medieval Church stole the Word of God from mankind for more than a millennium by refusing its translation into the vernacular. (3) States, cities, and governments may steal through oppressive and unfair tax laws, confiscation of real estate, and by other means. Many of the great corporations today have been defrauded and robbed by godless states which have confiscated or expropriated billions of dollars worth of other peoples assets. (3) In the superstates, the godless Communist regimes have carried out their thievery to its logical conclusion and have even stolen the individual himself, making him, in effect a chattel of the state, unable to exist or change his address without the permission of his overlords. In such situations, the right to vote is the right to vote as one has been commanded! The right to work is the right to toil when, where, and at what wage, his oppressive "owners" may decide. The right of resistance is the right of immediate and brutal death!
The Christian religion is against every form of disregard for the property rights of mankind, whether violated by institutions, individuals, corporations, unions, cities, states, or governments. The principle that a benign government should indeed regulate the rules of commerce and business is obvious, but, when government, beginning as a referee, concludes by seizing the ball, entering the game as a contestant, insisting upon making the rules as well as refereeing the contest, and designating the winner, nothing but injustice is likely to be the result.
One more word about stealing the Word of God. This is going on today (NOTE: as of the mid-1980's) in Russia and many other places. Over 170,000,000 people today in Russian have never seen a copy of the Bible. It has been outlawed and forbidden there since 1928. Some 25,000,000 children are daily taught that there is no God! It is easy to deplore this, but what about the millions of parents right here in the United States who are stealing the Word of God from their children, never reading it to them, never discussing it with them, never enrolling them in Bible classes, and, in fact, rearing them exactly as if they had never heard of God?
How black will be that day when a great nation, totally secularized and having turned away from God, shall suddenly reap the consequences of irreligion! God grant that that day may never come for America. But it will come; it must come, unless parents resume their responsibility, man the strongholds of faith, and teach the citizens of future generations the true principles of Almighty God. The theft of the Word of God through the failure to teach it is such a colossal sin, that it was probably invented by Satan himself.
- THE NINTH COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST THY NEIGHBOR
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Each command guards something precious: V guards father and mother; VI guards life; VII guards marriage and the home; VIII guards property rights; IX guards truth and the reputations of men.
It is a gross error to limit this commandment to testimony given in a court of law, as did the ancient Pharisees. In their view, one could tell as many lies as he liked, as long as he was careful not to be sworn in, or in some instances, deliberately taking an illegal form of oath that nullified the penalties! Christ superseded this law by another which requires that Christians tell the truth at all times and under all circumstances (Matthew 5:33-37). It is in deference to this that Christians are permitted in courts of law today in this country to "affirm" rather than "swear" as to the truth of their testimony.
The principal area of violations concerning this commandment does not concern courts of law, or "false swearing" in the usual sense, but must be recognized in a vast theater where falsehood instead of truth is used to deceive, to defraud, to deny, and to destroy in countless instances.
It began in Eden where the lying tongue of Satan set the stage for the tragic Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3:4). Joseph was slandered by the wife of Potipher (Genesis 39:13-20). Naboth poured out his blood because of the suborned testimony of Jezebel's lying witnesses (1 Kings 21). Stephen, Paul, Silas, Jesus our Lord, what a company of immortals, all suffered from the violation of this law of God! Those who will at last be excluded from the City Celestial include, "every one that loveth and maketh a lie" (Revelation 22:15). We shall now note a number of ways in which this commanded is violated.
Perjury. This is recognized by every court of law on earth as a crime, and the widespread incidence of it is proved by the list of grand jury indictments handed up every year in every county or precinct on earth. But for every legal indictment of persons charged with this crime, there must be a million others where slanderous and gossipy tongues rage out of control beyond the jurisdiction of statutes.
Slander. A striking incidence of this is recorded in the O.T. Doeg, the Edomite, brought an evil news report to King Saul. Although truthful as to fact, it was slanderous because it attributed to Abimelech, a godly priest, the crime of treason against Saul. Saul ordered Abimelech slain, and none of his servants was willing to execute the penalty. Whereupon, Saul ordered Doeg to do it, and with that as an excuse, that evil being fell upon the whole body of priests, eighty-five of them, and he murdered every one of them. It would be difficult indeed to depict any more dramatically the true soul of the slanderer (1 Samuel 22:18). Slander can be committed in many ways, even by telling the truth that carries false implications. The case of the captain who wrote in his log, "The mate was sober today," is an example.
Fraudulent Advertising. Better Business Bureaus and half a dozen governmental agencies are occupied full time trying to run down and eliminate false, misleading, and crooked advertising, including dishonest packaging, and all other variations of it. Respect for this commandment would provide an ethical climate in which such watchfulness would not be necessary.
Faked television contests, misleading promises, false claims, lying comparisons, and all kinds of unethical solicitations also fall under the ban of Commandment IX.
Libel. This is a special kind of slander, for which there is allegedly legal recourse to the victim, but libel laws are totally inadequate to protect anyone. In a legal jungle where libel is recognized ONLY if it has impaired the victim's ability to make a living, the result is fatal to a truthful or ethical press. Many newspapers follow a line of publishing designed to create or influence opinion in either of two directions, depending upon their purpose, with the intention of either tearing down or of building up some person, issue, or institution. We agree with the opinion that:
"I think a great moral gain would be secured where every writer of any statement concerning any individual or institution would be compelled to assume responsibility for the statement by affixing his signature. I see no reason why a newspaper should be granted an immunity denied to a gentleman.
Yellow Journalism. This exists even among religious publications and is especially tragic since it is right here that one should be able to expect a higher ethical conduct, but alas, disappointment prevails. Editors whose energies are principally devoted to confessing other men's sins are themselves unclean. The excuse that such an editor "loves" his victim is a manifest absurdity. As Paul put it, "If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Galatians 5:15).
"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil." That this is indeed true appears in the phenomenon that the truth principle itself perishes from the heart of the inveterate liar, until finally, he does not even know what the truth is, even believing his own lies. In this mortal error the false witness is isolated from all truth, and, groping in his self-created darkness, he stumbles at last into the grave with no thought of repentance, having put out the light of his own spiritual eyes.
The imagination of men is involved in the violation of this commandment, because, if one does not tell the truth, the imagination is the only source of what he does tell. Therefore, all that was written above with reference to the part played by the imagination in the breaking of Commandment VII applies also here. Despite the fact of imagination's being one of the most precious gifts of mankind, leading to many marvelous discoveries and inventions, these commandments show that, like any precious gift, it may be prostituted to low and sinful uses. God grant that his people may indeed "Speak the truth ... and lie not one to another" (Colossians 3:9).
- THE TENTH COMMANDMENT
THOU SHALT NOT COVET
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's."
Notice the relationship between this commandment and the eighth where the guardianship of private property is established. The big words here are the POSSESSIVE nouns and pronouns: "thy neighbor's ... thy neighbor's ... his ... his ... his ... his ... thy neighbor's." This is a powerful reminder to all people regarding the difference between what is "mine" and what is "his."
There is another phenomenal thing about this commandment. It is more spiritual than any of the rest, with the exception of the first, because it deals with the inner desire of the heart. In fact, the perfect obedience of this commandment would automatically result in the obedience of most of the others. Paul himself acknowledged this, saying, "I had not known sin except through the law: for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Romans 7:7). He also added that, "Sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of coveting" (Romans 7:8). Few indeed are they who would not join Paul in confessing the violation of this law.
Adam Clarke declared that, "This command is a most excellent moral precept, the observance of which will prevent all public crimes. He who feels the force of the law that prohibits all inordinate desire for anything that is the property of another, can never make a breach in the peace of society." It can be seen how nearly to the root of all man's difficulties this Tenth Commandment is directed. It is the most comprehensive of the commandments, forbidding ALL unlawful desire of every kind. Happy indeed is that individual who has learned to control the rebellious desires of the heart, the grasping covetousness that so easily lodges within the soul, and the envious observation of the wealth, honors, popularity, fame, or whatever may belong to contemporaries, setting off a jealous reaction to surpass them. How can this be done? Through the control of the affections. "Set your affections upon things above" (Colossians 3:2). We should think of things beautiful, lovely, honorable, of good report, etc. (See Philippians 4:8).
Who violates this commandment? Every unregenerated man violates it by the very nature of fallen humanity, and in whatever degree the professed Christian may not have succeeded in casting off the old man with his deeds, that must be allowed as the degree of his violation also. Few men would dare to claim a spotless record with regard to keeping this commandment.
Yet, covetousness is a deadly sin. Look at this: "For this we know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God!" (Ephesians 5:5). The quality of using the same word with different meanings is found in both Testaments, and thus it should not surprise us that there is a desirable kind of covetousness. "Covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31, KJV). It is in fact not the desire which is wrong in sinful covetousness, it is the desire for forbidden, illegal, and sinful things which is condemned.
There is no conceivable type of sin and wickedness that does not grow out of a disregard of this law. The crimes of antiquity and of the present, in the jungle or in the great cities, crimes of youth or of maturity, misdeeds of the strong and of the weak - all kinds of wickedness flows out of the common sewer of covetousness. The proper observance of this holy commandment would dry up all the streams of filth on earth!
We have now come to an end of our investigation of the Decalogue. This amazing covenant convicts all people. Men may live so that others consider them to be righteous and law-abiding, but when God said, "thou shalt not covet," and when Jesus added to that his words, "Everyone that looketh ... hath ... already in his heart," we must bow our heads and say, "We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God." As Morgan expressed it. "Here is the law of life, but not life! These commandments bring us into the light of Divine requirement, and draw from our souls the confession of guilt, and then leave us, waiting for the Deliverer!" These commandments, apart from the Cross announce a sentence of death.
The Law of Moses was utterly unable to give life. It provided no forgiveness for sins and mistakes; it did not provide the Holy Spirit to aid God's people; it offered no second chance. What a marvelous difference between this and the Good News of Christ.
The positive and extensive value of the Decalogue as a glimpse of the Divine Mind is conceded and acknowledged. As law, it is the best ever given. All nations have consented to make it the basis of universal statutes; but spiritually, it is thunder on a smoke-filled mountain and must always stand far removed from that far greater glory of The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1,2).
THE END OF THE NOTES ON THE DECALOGUE
Several other things of importance are also included in this chapter.
"And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before you, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was."
"These verses form the introduction to `the book of the covenant,' that body of laws given in Exodus 20:18-23:33. There are numerous enlargements upon the Ten Commandments, but it is more than just that. It is called the `book of the covenant' in Exodus 24:4,7." This little paragraph is also the beginning of the rejection by Israel of the privileges of priesthood for all of them. They preferred that another stand between them and God, and significantly God allowed that, but it meant eventually the loss of that priesthood for all except a chosen class, as subsequent chapters in Exodus will reveal.
"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of lsrael, Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make other gods with me, gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in every place where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee. And if thou make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not uncovered thereon."
"In every place where I record my name ..." Scholars have trouble finding the exact significance of this, but it doubtless has two applications: (1) later in the wanderings, the tabernacle would be moved from place to place, and God's name recorded at every place where the tabernacle came was an assurance of his blessing; (2) in the New Covenant, which is always pre-shadowed by everything that happened in Exodus, there would, of course, never be a physical altar, but the promise here still has significant meaning. Just where has God recorded His name in the New Dispensation? There is utterly no denial that the triple, holy name of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" is subjoined to only one ordinance in the entire Bible, that being the ordinance of Christian baptism, by which penitent believers are baptized "into THE NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:18-20). The fulfillment of the promise here is that in every man's baptism "into Christ" God indeed will meet him there and bless him there in the total forgiveness and remission of all of his past sins.
Fields mentioned the critical efforts to make much of the passages written here a reference to an alleged Deuteronomistic reformation that occurred during the times of the monarchy. We shall pass those speculations with the same comment of Fields: "We reject this theory totally." Such theories are due to a fundamental lack of information concerning the New Testament and the plan of salvation. Once such things are understood, many of the arcane references in Exodus become luminous. So it is here.
"Build it of unhewn stones ... neither go up ... by steps ..." These admonitions have nothing whatever to do with any superstitious notion that certain pagan gods or spirits dwelt in stones, as sometimes alleged. The full and complete meaning of these prohibitions is simply, concerning the worship of God, "Keep it simple!" This admonition too is carried over into the New Testament. "I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul's fears, of course, were more than justified, for the one business of Christianity since the very beginning has been to make it more complicated, more liturgical, less simple, more elaborate, etc., etc. In other words, they lift up their "tools" (their devices) and bring them over into the worship of Jesus Christ!
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20