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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 20

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-11

The Decalogue

v. l. And God spake all these words, saying,

v. 2. I am the Lord, thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. That was the Lord's solemn introduction to the legislation on Mount Sinai, a reminder of the wonderful deliverance which He had wrought when He led forth His people out of the land of Egypt, where they had virtually been slaves. Note that the Decalog, as here given, was intended for the children of Israel and applied its principles to the circumstances under which they lived, with a form of government every detail of which was fixed by the Lord.

v. 3. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, no strange, false gods, no idols, over against Me, setting them up as rivals for the glory and power which belong to Me alone. Not that such figments of man's imagination, such works of their hands, were in truth gods in any sense of the word, but that the very thinking and fashioning of idols is forbidden by the Lord. He is supreme, He is the only God, and His will should govern all men in all situations of life; for the other nine commandments are but explanations and applications of the first.

v. 4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, a carved or sculptured idol, or any likeness of anything, any representation that is intended for religious worship, that is in heaven above, birds or stars (heavenly bodies) of any kind, or that is in the earth beneath, men or beasts, or that is in the water under the earth, and marine animals;

v. 5. thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, in the act of adoration, nor serve them, actually giving them the worship, the honor which pertains to God alone, for that is the point of the entire prohibition, that pictures and images should not be made for purposes of worship. For I, the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, not with the certainty of absolute fatality, but as a just punishment of those children that follow their parents and ancestors in their evil ways;

v. 6. and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments. The Lord's holiness and righteousness demands that He visit the sinners with His punitive justice, but He takes far greater pleasure in giving proofs of His mercy and kindness: He would rather reward than punish.

v. 7. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain, without purpose and object, in a frivolous manner; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain, an emphatic warning that the punishment of God will surely strike everyone who lightly and blasphemously utters the Lord's name, whether this be in thoughtless foolishness or in deliberate perjury.

v. 8. Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. This commandment presupposes a knowledge of the Sabbath, but not of its formal celebration. All those that urge the keeping of the Sabbath according to the Jewish pattern with the argument that this day and this form were included in the will of God as written into the hearts of men at the beginning, overlook or ignore the facts of history as found in the Book of Exodus. The deliberate setting aside of this special day of the week and the form of observance of this day as outlined to the Jews was intended for them only.

v. 9. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, perform everything connected with trade, business, or profession;

v. 10. but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, perform the labor of your ordinary occupations, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter; thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates, the enumeration purposely being made inclusive, in order to emphasize the commandment.

v. 11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it, set it apart to the Jews for His worship. The commandment was later fixed even more definitely by the mention of specific forms of labor which were not permitted among the children of Israel, Psalms 104:23; Numbers 4:47; Nehemiah 3:15; Jeremiah 17:21; Amos 8:5; Numbers 15:32 ff. Note that the simple understanding of the text demands the assumption that the Lord created the world in six ordinary days.

Verses 12-17

The Commandments Concerning the Love of One's Neighbor

v. 12. Honor thy father and thy mother, they are to be given the reverence due to them as the representatives of God, with heart, mouth, and hand, in thought, word, and deed. In the home, in the family, is the foundation of all social life, all governments really being dependent upon the relation of parents and children, the existence and the welfare of the nations depending upon the moral stability given them by the home in its proper form, as the promise indicates; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee. It is the first commandment with promise, as St. Paul writes Ephesians 6:2-3, where he changes the text to apply to all men, and not only to the Jewish nation.

v. 13. Thou shalt not kill, the duty of preserving the life which God has given to man being enjoined here in all its branches and manifestations.

v. 14. Thou shalt not commit adultery, the word here used including not only the unfaithfulness of men and women within holy marriage, but every form of impurity directed against the holiness of God's institution of wedlock. Not only is every thought, word, and deed that is sanctioned and commanded within the confines of marriage forbidden outside of these bounds, but also every form of obscenity and every kind of familiarity which is connected with the sexual development of man.

v. 15. Thou shalt not steal, the Lord here protecting the property of one's neighbor, as the condition of the dignity and peacefulness of life, not only against robbery and theft, but also against unfaithfulness, neglect, and waste.

v. 16. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, the object being to protect truth, not only in all public, civil relations, but also in the home, the malice of evil tongues being well known.

v. 17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's. Here the thoughts of the entire second table are once more summarized with reference to the source of sin; for it is out of the heart that the evil thoughts proceed which are afterward realized in various actual sins, Matthew 15:19. So the admirable and fitting order of the commandments, as Luther cans it, is brought to an end and the circle of injunctions completed; for it is only by the sanctification of the heart according to the Tenth Commandment that the true worship of God according to the First Commandment can be secured. It should be noted here that both the division of the Decalogue as such and the distinction between the Ninth and the Tenth Commandment are matters of no material consequence.

Verses 18-21

The Terror of the People

v. 18. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. The impression was made on all the senses, but that of sight was chiefly involved. The manifestation of God's majesty was so powerful that it effected not only a wholesome awe of the great Jehovah, but an extreme terror as well. And when the people saw it, they removed, they shrank back from the vicinity of the mountain, and stood afar off.

v. 19. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die. The consciousness of their own sinfulness, their freshly fear and terror, caused them to promise a ready obedience to an the words of Moses.

v. 20. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not; for God is come to prove you, His intention was to test the disposition of their hearts, to try them out with this terrifying aspect, that His fear may be before your faces that ye sin not. By the Law is the knowledge of sin, and God wanted to manifest His glory in order to work in their hearts the proper, holy reverence which would keep them from faithlessness and disobedience.

v. 21. And the people stood afar off, remained standing at a distance, and Moses, as the mediator of the people, drew near unto the thick darkness where God was; in order to receive the further commands of the Lord.

Verses 22-26

The Precept Concerning the Altar

v. 22. And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. This fact proved the superiority. the authority of the Lord, His right to express His demands as He was now preparing to do. No false God would have had this power, and the incident was bound to establish Jehovah as the true God in the sight of Israel.

v. 23. Ye shall not make with Me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. The children of Israel were not to make and place on a level with Jehovah, for purposes of worship, idols of any kind, which they would then regard as their gods. The Making and worshiping of such images, every form of idolatry, was absolutely prohibited.

v. 24. 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. Such offerings were a type and figure of the heart of man, as it arose in true worship to the throne of God, for which reason also plain ground, the soil as the Lord created it, was the material which He preferred, that being found practically everywhere where the children of Israel would assemble for worship. In all places where I record My name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. God is confined neither to Temple nor to Tabernacle, but is able to reveal His glorious majesty at any place which He may choose. And wherever this takes place, those who are fortunate enough to be witnesses of such a revelation will become partakers of God's blessings. It is this fact which is of such great value to us believers of the New Testament, since we have the assurance that the presence of the Lord in the Word and in the Sacraments guarantees to us His blessings.

v. 25. And if thou wilt make Me an altar of stone, if the children of Israel should prefer such an altar, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone; for it thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it, literally: for thy sharpness thou swingest above it, and thou desecratest It. Ornamentation of the altar of the Lord under the circumstances in which the Israelites found themselves would have redounded to their own glory, and not to that of the Lord.

v. 26. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon, as would happen with the loose-fitting. clothes then worn. Since the consciousness of sin came to man with the feeling of shame, therefore the revealing of nakedness is equivalent to a shameless exhibition of sin, and thus not permissible in the worship of Jehovah.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Exodus 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/exodus-20.html. 1921-23.
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