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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Exodus 20

The first part of this chapter contains the ten commandments, also called “the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exo 34:28). These commandments are addressed to a people delivered from Egypt. In their redemption from Egypt the LORD has shown the smallness of all the gods of Egypt and His exaltedness above them. By the redemption of His people He has also committed them to Himself. They belong to Him and no one else. That must appear from their whole lives. With them the LORD makes this covenant at the Sinai – nowhere else and with no one else.

The number ten represents responsibility. The meaning of the law is: Do this and you will live. Scripture says: “He who practices them shall live by them” (Gal 3:12b; Lev 18:5). The letter to the Galatians makes it clear that no human being can acquire and has acquired life on that basis, that is to say on the basis of responsibility. On the contrary, on that basis there is no hope for man: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith”” (Gal 3:10-11).

For the believer who belongs to the church, it is not ‘do and live’, but ‘live and do’. The righteous live by faith. The whole letter to the Galatians makes it clear that law and faith exclude each other completely, for “the Law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12a). He who believes is “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).

This does not mean that, as a believer, he is now able to keep the law or is supposed to keep the law. The law is not meant for him: “We know … that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious etc.”, that is for sinners, for people who live according to the flesh (1Tim 1:8-11). The law is a mirror that shows to man where he fails, that he may confess his sins and take refuge in Christ.

The law reveals sins, but is not or does not provide a means to wash them away. He who transgresses the law dies without mercy. This is the requirement of the law: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on [the testimony of] two or three witnesses” (Heb 10:28). The law is also negative by definition, “you shall not”. It consists mainly of things that are prohibited. The law condemns the sinful actions of man.

The law does not fully show Who God is, but shows Him in His holy and righteous demands. Who God is, we see fully only in the Lord Jesus. The law indicates what man should be and reveals what he is. Man is inclined to transgress everything that is commanded and forbidden by the law of Moses.

The first four commandments deal with man’s relationship with God, the next six deal with a man’s relationship with his neighbor. The Lord Jesus also mentions this distinction when He, as a summary of the law, speaks of loving God above all else and loving his neighbor as himself (Mt 22:36-40).

For a more detailed discussion of the function of the law for the Christian, see the booklet The Christian and the law.

Verses 1-3

The First Commandment


This commandment affirms that there is only one God and that God is absolutely sovereign: “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is [but] one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we [exist] for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we [exist] through Him” (1Cor 8:4-6). God tolerates nothing beside Himself to whom honor must be given. Man is a sinner. He has turned away from God. However, he must have an object of worship. God knows that. He knows the heart of man. That’s why He forbids man to acknowledge other gods.

Verses 4-6

The Second Commandment


This commandment makes it clear that the worship of God must take place in a spiritual way. Every image of God that a man makes is a product of his human, by sin corrupted spirit. Such a product must be an insult to God. It is the downgrading of the only, sovereign God to the level of man or the creature. As if God is equal to what He has made.

The commands in the New Testament are: “Flee from idolatry” (1Cor 10:14) and “guard yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21). Idolatry is anything that comes between the soul and God, or the Lord Jesus, and takes Their place.

Making an image also means that you form an idea of God that suits you. It is a god that you have thought up yourself. It is not the God of the Bible in which He presents Himself as Light, “God is light” (1Jn 1:5) and Love, “God is love” (1Jn 4:8; 16). Whoever emphasizes one of these two at the expense of the other, has a representation of God that is wrong. If man gives up the true knowledge of God, as revealed in the Bible, he will fall into idolatry, the worship of material things, behind which demons are concealed.

Nothing of creation may be introduced into the service of God. A service prearranged by man in a certain form (liturgy) should not have a place.

Verse 7

The Third Commandment


The Name is the essence of God. Respect for that Name is required of man. Vain use means using His Name to reinforce man’s own words (cf. Mt 5:33-37) or in situations where God’s Name is linked to man’s own will and sin.

We can also apply this to the coming together of believers. If we come together in the Name of the Lord Jesus (Mt 18:20), but we arrange the service ourselves, His Name is also used in vain.

Verses 8-11

The Fourth Commandment


God forbids man to do any work on the seventh day. He connects it to His rest, after He created the heavens and the earth in the six preceding days (Gen 2:2-3). By keeping this day, man can show par excellence that he knows his place in creation and wants to take it in relation to God. God wants His people to share in His rest and to do so consciously. Therefore, this commandment begins with “remember”.

Sunday did not replace the sabbath. The New Testament gives us no indication of this. The sabbath belongs to the law and the old creation. The sabbath does not apply to the Christian, for a Christian is “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). Nor does he belong to the old creation, for in Christ he is “a new creation” (2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

However, the first day of the week is pre-eminently the day on which the New Testament believer remembers the redemption from the power of sin. The Lord Jesus instituted His Supper for this, which we may celebrate on the first day of the week. He said: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1Cor 11:24-25). In doing so, He asks us to think of Him and of the work He has accomplished for our salvation.

Verse 12

The Fifth Commandment


The fifth to the ninth commandments are about our behavior toward our neighbors in society. Each of these commandments has a New Testament counterpart.

After respect for God, man should have respect for his neighbor and, in the first place, for his parents. The parents represent the authority of God in creation. God links a special promise to obedience to this commandment.

This commandment is quoted by the apostle Paul when he addresses children and tells them to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-3). By quoting this fifth commandment of the law, the apostle underlines the importance of obedience. He does not cite this commandment because the believer would still be under law. It is precisely the letter to the Ephesians that has no connection whatsoever with the law, which lays down rules for the life of an earthly people. This letter places the believer precisely in heaven, from where his life is governed.

This fact does not, of course, lead the believer to act against the law. The point is that this fifth commandment does not involve a sanction, as is the case with other commandments, but rather a promise. That makes this commandment a special commandment.

The commandment as we read it here does not speak of obeying, but of honoring. ‘Honor’ is to give someone the place he deserves and also includes obedience. Honor goes beyond obeying. When children have reached a certain age and live by themselves or are married, obedience is no longer an issue. But honoring remains a command.

Verse 13

The Sixth Commandment


The sixth commandment demands respect for life as created by God. Life belongs to Him. Instead of the commandment not to kill, the believer is enabled by the new life – that is the Lord Jesus Who is his life – to give his life for the brother: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3:16).

Verse 14

The Seventh Commandment


Marriage is an institution of God. What He has joined together, let no man separate (Mt 19:3-6). God’s purpose is that in the marriages of the believers the connection between Christ and the church is seen (Eph 5:22-33).

Verse 15

The Eighth Commandment


This commandment demands respect for the possessions of others, which have been entrusted to them by God. Instead of stealing something, the believer is called upon to give it to others: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have [something] to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28).

Verse 16

The Ninth Commandment


This refers to the respect owed to the other as a person. False witness occurs when God does not have the pre-eminence. Instead of speaking falsehood, the believer is told to speak the truth and say things that edify the other person, and do not tear him down: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one [of you] with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such [a word] as is good for edification according to the need [of the moment], so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:25; 29).

Verse 17

The Tenth Commandment


This commandment concerns relationships, and our attitude toward our neighbor and his property. This commandment shows the nature of sin. It teaches a person to recognize sin. It exposes sin in the depths of our hearts (Rom 7:7). The believer is able through the Holy Spirit to have desires that glorify God. He may make these desires known to God “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Phil 4:6).

Verses 18-21

Israel Is Afraid


The LORD has given His law. These are the rules by which the people can approach God. But what is the situation? Fear and distance. They don’t even want to approach God. God knows this. He gives them the law to show their reluctance to approach Him directly.

In their wish that God will no longer speak to them, they indicate their unwillingness. They ask Moses to speak to them as spokesman for God. This spirit of unbelief, which leads them to use a mediator, will still reveal itself often. It is that spirit that leads to idolatry. Therefore, in the concluding verses of this chapter (Exo 20:22-26), God again points out the commandment not to make gods beside Him and also tells them how to approach Him with sacrifices on the altar.

This scene is quoted in the letter to the Hebrews to show the difference between the believer’s position under law and under grace (Heb 12:18-21).

Verses 22-26

Rules for the Sacrifice Service


The people have heard the LORD speak from heaven. The content of His speech is: ‘No other gods apart from Me!’ This leads the LORD to tell how He wants to be approached. The contrast between Exo 20:23 and Exo 20:24 is great.

He speaks of an altar of earth and of burnt offerings and peace offerings. Both the altar on which the sacrifice is offered and the sacrifice represents the Lord Jesus. It is “the altar that sanctifies the gift” (Mt 23:19). The sacrifice He has made is therefore so pleasing because He has brought it.

The altar may also be of stone. That it may be an altar of earth or of stone, represents two sides of the Person of Christ. Man is formed from the dust of the earth. The Lord Jesus became Man. By the birth of Mary, He participated in being human and in all man’s weakness, but without a sinful nature. He is the Son of man. Stone refers to sustainability, immortality. The altar of stone may not have been carved by human hand. Here we see the Lord Jesus as the Son of God.

God wants man to approach Him as a worshiper in a way He Himself indicates. No one should decide for himself how and where God is worshiped. When we meet in the place where we gather to remember His Name and take His directions into account, He comes to us and blesses us (Exo 20:24; cf. 1Cor 1:2).

Worship must not be elevated by human means. Any human contribution, any human device, is prohibited. Whoever uses it does not honor God, but dishonors himself. In many religious circles a ‘staircase’ is used to arrive at so-called higher forms of worship. The most nonsensical forms are invented: falling, laughing, dancing, roaring in the spirit. There are more of these ‘staircases’ to discover. They lead man to a behavior that is unworthy of man.

All who worship are on the same level. A staircase suggests the exalting of one worshiper above another. A spiritual class is taking shape. That too is to man’s shame and to God’s dishonor.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/exodus-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.