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EXODUS CHAPTER 20
The object of man’s worship, Exodus 20:1,Exodus 20:2.
The decalogue, Exodus 20:3-17.
The people fear, Exodus 20:18.
They desire Moses to speak to them, and not God, Exodus 20:19.
Moses encourages them, Exodus 20:20.
Moses drawing near the darkness, God speaks to him, Exodus 20:21,Exodus 20:22.
God’s charge about making no other gods, Exodus 20:23.
God’s command to build an altar, and of what they should make it, Exodus 20:24,Exodus 20:25; and in what manner they should approach unto it, Exodus 20:26.
Or, Then, to wit, when Moses was returned into the mount.
God spake immediately, and not by an angel. For though an ambassador or messenger may act in the name of his master, yet it is against the use of all ages and places for such to call themselves by his name. As well might an ambassador of France say, I am the king of France, which all men would account absurd, arrogant, and ridiculous, as an angel might say,
I am the Lord. All these words, i.e. commands, for so the word is used, Deuteronomy 17:19; Esther 1:12.
The only true God, and
thy God by special title, having entered into covenant with thee, and chosen thee for my peculiar people, to protect, and rule, and bless thee above all others. God’s authority and right over them is fitly put in the front, as the foundation of all God’s commands, and their duties.
Which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt; and so by right of redemption thou art mine. Out of the house, i.e. the place; for so the word house is sometimes used, as Judges 16:21.
There shall not be to thee another god, or other gods, to wit, idols, which others have, esteem, and worship as gods, and therefore Scripture so calls them by way of supposition, Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Samuel 12:21; 1 Corinthians 8:4,1 Corinthians 8:5; but thou shalt not have them in any such reputation or veneration, but shalt forsake and abhor them, and cleave unto me alone.
Before me, i.e. in my presence, in my house or Church, which you are, where I am especially present; and therefore for you to worship any other god is most impudent idolatry, even as when a woman commits adultery before her husband’s face. He may also intimate, that all the idolatry which any of them shall hereafter commit, though never so cunningly and secretly managed, is manifest to his eyes, Psalms 44:20,Psalms 44:21. Others translate it with me, or besides me, as it is rendered Matthew 12:30. He forbids the worship of all others, not only in opposition to him, but also in conjunction with him, or subordination to him. See 2 Kings 17:33; Exodus 32:0; Acts 7:41; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8,Revelation 22:9.
Thou shalt not make, either in thy mind, or with thy hand, Acts 17:29, or by thy command.
Unto thee, i.e. for thy use, or for thee to worship; for otherwise they were not absolutely forbidden to make any images, but only to make them for worship, as may appear by comparing this place with Leviticus 19:4; Deuteronomy 4:15 and Amos 5:26, with Acts 7:43; and from Leviticus 26:1, where the setting up of a pillar, or stone, is as absolutely forbidden as the making of an image. And therefore as the former is not forbidden to be done simply and universally, as appears from Joshua 24:20; 1 Samuel 7:12, but only to be done in order to worship, so also is the latter. Moreover there were cherubims and other images in the temple, and afterwards the brazen serpent, which because they were not made to be worshipped, neither were indeed, nor were ever esteemed to be, any contradictions to this law.
Any graven image, or molten, or any other image, as is most evident from the nature and reason of the precept. Nor is any thing more common than such synecdochical expressions, wherein under one kind named all other things of the like nature are contained. But for more abundant caution, and to put all out of doubt, he adds a more general word, nor any likeness.
Anything that is in heaven; as of God, Deuteronomy 4:15; Isaiah 44:9,Isaiah 44:20, angels, sun, moon, or stars, which the heathens worshipped, Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3. Or in the earth; as of men, and beasts, and creeping things, which the Egyptians and other Gentiles worshipped as gods. See Deuteronomy 4:16,Deuteronomy 4:17; Isaiah 44:13; Ezekiel 23:14.
Or in the water; as of fishes, such as Dagon was; or serpents, crocodiles, and such other Egyptian deities.
Under the earth: this is emphatically added, to note the singular care of Divine Providence in bringing the waters under the earth, which naturally are lighter and higher than it, and therefore might easily overwhelm it. Compare Psalms 104:6.
Not only inward reverence is forbidden, but also all outward gestures that naturally or customarily express reverence, whether bowing down the body, as here; or bending the knee, as 1 Kings 19:18; or kissing the idol, or one’s hand towards it, as Job 31:27; Hosea 13:2; one gesture being by a synecdoche named for all. To them, nor before them; for to bow to them, and to bow before them, are expressions in Scripture of the same extent and use, as appears by comparing this place with Leviticus 26:1 2 Chronicles 25:14; and 2 Samuel 7:22, with 1 Chronicles 17:25; and Matthew 4:9, with Luke 4:7. Nor serve them; or, worship them, either inwardly in thy mind, or outwardly by any sensible mean or sign of worship given to them, as incense or sacrifice, vowing to them, or swearing by them, or the like. A jealous God, i.e. impatient of any partner in thy love and worship, and full of wrath against them that give my glory to images, Isaiah 42:8; as jealousy is the rage of a man Proverbs 6:34 against the defiler of his marriage-bed. God is pleased to call and account himself the Husband of his church and people, Jeremiah 2:2 Hosea 2:19; and therefore idolatry is called adultery, Deuteronomy 31:16; Jeremiah 3:3,Jeremiah 3:10; and God’s anger against idolaters’ jealousy. The word el properly signifies the strong God, and shows God’s ability to avenge himself, as the word jealous notes his readiness and resolution to do it. Visiting, i.e. remembering, inquiring into, or punishing, (as that word is commonly used, as hath been noted before,)
the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.
Quest. How can this be just?
Answ. 1. All are born sinners, and are children of wrath, and therefore justly punishable for their own sins.
Answ. 2. He speaks not here of eternal damnation, but of temporal punishments, in which there is no shadow of injustice; as appears,
1. Because the sins of parents are oft punished in their children, even in human courts, as is manifest in traitors, which practice being acknowledged to be just, it cannot with any sense be accounted unjust in God.
2. Because such external punishments have more good than evil in them, and are in many, and may be so in others, if themselves do not hinder it, instruments of the greatest good, exercises of their virtues and graces, and means of their eternal happiness.
3. Because children are a part and the possession of their parents, and therefore it is not unjust if they suffer with them, and for them.
Answ. 3. This is to be understood with an exception of repentance, and penitent children, as appears from Ezekiel 18:0 And if any such be temporally punished for their fathers’ sins, God will abundantly recompense it to them some other way. But if children tread in their fathers’ sinful steps, it is but just that they should partake of their plagues.
Unto the third and fourth generation; and further too, as appears in the ten tribes, and afterwards in the two tribes, upon whom the iniquity of their fathers hath been visited now for many generations. But he mentions them in particular, partly, because a parent may live so long, and see the dreadful effects of his sin in his children’s children; partly, because so far the memory of a father may extend, and be matter of imitation to his children; and partly, to show the difference between his exercise of justice and mercy, as appears by comparing the next verse.
Them that hate me. This word is opposed to the conceit that idolaters, at least many of them, have of themselves, that they love God more than others do, because they love, and honour, and worship the creatures for his sake, and for those excellencies that he hath wrought in them; but this will no more excuse their idolatry, than it will excuse him that commits adultery with his friend’s wife, that he did it for his friend’s sake, and from the love he had to his friend, and for his relations.
Unto thousands, to wit, of their generations, i.e. for ever; whereas his punishment extended only to three or four of them: so far is God’s mercy exalted above his justice. Compare Psalms 103:17.
Them that love me, and keep my commandments: this conjunction is very observable, both against those that falsely and foolishly pretend or insinuate that the inward affection of love to God is not absolutely and always necessary to salvation; and also against them who, pretending inward love to God, live in the customary breach of God’s known commands.
Or, not carry, or not take, or lift up, to wit, in or into thy mouth, as the phrase is more fully expressed, Job 4:2; Psalms 16:4; Psalms 50:16. So men are said to take up a proverb, or a lamentation, Isaiah 14:4; Ezekiel 26:17. The name of the Lord; not only the proper name of the Lord, but any of his attributes, ordinances, and works, by which God hath made himself known. In vain; or unto vanity, or vainly. Either,
1. Falsely, or in a false oath; thou shalt not swear falsely by the name of the Lord, or not lift up the name of God into thy mouth in an oath to the confirmation of a lie. Or,
2. In vain, as we render it, and as the word schave is frequently used, as Job 7:3; Job 15:31; Psalms 60:11; Psalms 89:47; Isaiah 1:13. You shall not use the name of God, either in oaths or in common discourse, lightly, rashly, irreverently, or unnecessarily, or without weighty or sufficient cause. Which being a duty enjoined not only in many places of sacred Scripture, but also in the apocryphal Sir 23:15-17, and even by heathen authors, as Plato in his Book of Laws, and it being evident by the light of nature to man’s reason, it were strange if it were not here understood; especially considering that it is most reasonable to take these short laws in the most comprehensive sense, such as this, not the former, is; for the prohibition of using it vainly and rashly doth certainly include that of swearing by it falsely, but this latter doth not include the former. Besides, the former exposition restrains the words to swearing, whereas the words are more general, and speak of any taking God’s name into their mouths, either by oaths or any other way. And it becomes not us to set limits to God’s words where God hath set none. It is also here to be observed, as well as in the other commands, that when this sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded, to wit, to use the name of God, both in swearing and otherwise, holily, cautiously, and reverently.
Guiltless, or, innocent, i.e. free from guilt, and the punishment of it: the meaning is, the Lord will look upon him as a guilty person, and will severely punish him. And so this or the like phrase is used 1 Kings 2:9. And it is a common figure, called meiosis, where more is understood than is expressed, as 1 Samuel 12:21; Psalms 25:3; Proverbs 10:2. And this reason is here added, because sinners of this sort are usually held innocent by men, either because they cannot discover their fault when they forswear themselves, or because they take no care to punish the abusers of God’s name by vain and customary oaths, curses, or blasphemies: q.d. Though men spare them, I will assuredly punish them.
This word remember is here very emphatical; and,
1. It reminds us of a former delivery of the substance of this command, to wit, Genesis 2:3.
2. It insinuates the great necessity of consideration and preparation for the sabbath before it comes,
3. It shows the singular importance of this command, which is therefore placed in the heart and centre of the rest, to show that the religious observation of this is the best way to secure our obedience to all the rest, and that the neglect of this will bring in the violation of all the other, as common experience shows.
To keep it holy, i.e. to use it holily, by a careful abstinence from servile works or worldly business, and by a diligent employing of the day in holy thoughts, words, and exercises, in the worship of God in public and private, and the celebration of his works, and the furthering of our own and others’ sanctification and salvation. See Isaiah 58:13.
This may be either,
1. A command to employ those days in our worldly occasions, yet so as God and religion be not neglected on those days, as many scriptures teach us. Or,
2. A permission to do so; which I prefer,
1. Because so it is a proper argument to enforce the observation of the sabbath: q.d. Grudge not me one day, when I allow you six for it.
2. Because the command of diligence in our callings would seem improperly placed here, as being of a quite different nature, and belonging to the second table, and being provided for in a distinct command, as we shall see.
The sabbath of the Lord, or, to the Lord, i.e. consecrated to his use, honour, and service. Hence God calls them my sabbaths, Leviticus 26:2; Isaiah 56:4, because they are commended by his example, and enjoined by his command. Any work; , i.e. any servile, laborious, common, or worldly work, tending to thy own profit or pleasure. See Exodus 34:21; Leviticus 23:7; Numbers 28:18; Isaiah 58:13.
Nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant: this clause is added, not as if children or servants were not immediately obliged by this command, or were excused by God for the breach of this law at their master’s commands, which were to obey men rather than God, contrary to St. Peter’s command and practice, Acts 5:29 and which were to limit the foregoing word thou, and the law of the sabbath, only to those that have children and servants, which is an idle, senseless, and absurd, as well as profane opinion; but to restrain hard-hearted, and covetous, or ungodly persons, that they should neither command nor suffer their children or servants to profane the sabbath, so far as they can hinder it; which how far it concerns thousands of governors of families at this day, they shall do well seriously and in time to consider.
Nor thy cattle, partly, to teach us to exercise mercy towards the brute creatures; compare Deuteronomy 5:14; partly, because the use of cattle must have drawn along with it the attendance and employment of men; and partly, that by observing the rest of the cattle, they might be more minded and quickened to the observation of this sacred rest.
Nor thy stranger, i.e. the Gentile that sojourneth with thee; lest their example should provoke the Israelites to imitate them; and lest the Gentiles should have opportunity of gaining at that time when, and by that thing whereby, the Israelites were losers, even by the religious observation of the sabbath. That dwells within thy cities, which have walls and gates, or within thy villages or territories. So the word gates is oft taken, as Genesis 22:17; Genesis 24:60; 2 Samuel 10:8, compared with 1 Chronicles 19:9.
In six days, and neither in more nor less time, as he could have done.
Rested, i.e. ceased from his creating works; otherwise he worketh still (John 5:17 by his providence and grace; and neither is idle nor weary, Isaiah 40:28; but this rest is ascribed to him for our admonition and imitation.
The Lord blessed the sabbath day, i.e. made it a day of blessing; as well of receiving blessings and praises from men, as of conferring his blessings and favours upon those that religiously observe it. The day is said to be blessed when men are blessed by it, and in it, by a common metonymy, as a man’s field, Genesis 27:27, and basket and store, Deuteronomy 28:5, and the work of his hands, Job 1:10, are said to be blessed when a man is blessed in them. It is remarkable, the blessing and sanctification are not appropriated to the seventh day, but to the sabbath day, whether it should be the seventh day, as to the Jews it then was, or the first day, as to us Christians now it is, which change seems hereby to be insinuated.
Hallowed it, i.e. separated it from the rest of the days, and from all common employments, and consecrated it to his own holy service, and man’s holy use.
The word honour doth not only note the reverence, love, and obedience we owe them, but also support and maintenance, as appears from Matthew 15:4-6, and from the like signification of that word, 1 Timothy 5:3,1 Timothy 5:17, which is so natural and necessary a duty, that the Jews say a man is bound even to beg, or to work with his hands, that he may relieve his parents.
father is put first here, and the
mother Leviticus 19:3, to show that we owe this duty promiscuously and indifferently to both of them. Compare Exodus 21:15,Exodus 21:17; Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 27:16; Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:17. And because these laws are brief, and yet comprehensive, under these are contained all our superiors and governors.
That thy days may be long, Heb. that they, i.e. thy parents, may prolong thy days, or the days of thy life, to wit, instrumentally, by their prayers made to God for thee, and by their blessing in my name conferred upon thee; though the active verb is commonly taken impersonally, as Job 7:3; Proverbs 9:11; Luke 12:10; and so it may be here, they prolong, for be prolonged.
To wit any man or woman, without authority, and without just cause; which exception must necessarily be understood, because many other scriptures command the magistrate to kill great offenders. And this prohibition being delivered by God, who made, and searcheth, and commands men’s hearts, must be extended not only to the external act of killing, but to all motions of the heart or tongue which tend that way, as anger, hatred, envy, malice, strife, blows, and the challenges of duelists; which is clearly manifest by comparing this with other scriptures, as Matthew 5:21; 1 John 3:15, &c. And here, as in the rest, is commanded the contrary duty of preserving tie lives of our neighbours as much as lies in our power.
Here is mentioned one kind of uncleanness, as being eminently sinful, and unjust, and pernicious to human society. But under this are comprehended and forbidden all other kinds of filthiness, as bestiality, sodomy, whoredom, fornication, &c., and all means, occasions, and appearances of them; as it appears,
1. From other scriptures that forbid those things, which either belong to this command, or to none of the ten, which is very improbable.
2. From the large extent of the other commands, noted before.
3. From our Saviour’s explication, Matthew 5:27. And contrariwise, all chastity and sobriety in thoughts, affections, words, habits, and gestures, is here prescribed. See 1 Thessalonians 4:3,1 Thessalonians 4:4; Hebrews 13:4.
i.e. Either by deceit or violence, or without his knowledge and consent, take away another man’s goods, Ephesians 4:28; but, on the contrary, shalt preserve and increase them, as need requires, and occasion is offered.
Heb. not answer, viz. when thou art asked in judgment, Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 19:16; or, not speak a false testimony, or as a false witness; which doth not only forbid perjury in judgment, but also all unjust censure, slander, backbiting, scorning, false accusation, and the like; and also requires a just and candid judgment of him, and of his words and actions, speaking well of him, as far as truth and justice will permit, and defending his good name against the calumnies and detractions of others.
Against thy neighbour; no, nor for thy neighbours; but he saith against, both because such perjuries, slanders, &c. are most commonly designed against them, and because this is a great aggravation of the sin, when a man not only speaks evil and falsehood, but doth this from malice and ill-will. But under this kind are contained other sins of a like, though less sinful, nature, as in the other commands.
neighbour here is not only the Israelite, as some would have it, but any man; as plainly appears,
1. Because that word is frequently used in that sense, not only in the New, as all agree, but also in the Old Testament, as Genesis 11:3; Leviticus 20:10; Esther 1:19; Proverbs 18:17.
2. Because it is so explained, Luke 10:29,Luke 10:36; Romans 13:9, compared with Matthew 22:39.
3. From the reason of the thing, which is common to all; unless a man will be so hardy to say that he may bear false witness against a stranger, though not against an Israelite; and, in like manner, that when God forbids a man to commit adultery with his neighbour’s wife, Leviticus 20:10, he may do it with a stranger’s wife; and that though a man be commanded to speak the truth to his neighbour, Zechariah 8:16, he may tell lies to a stranger.
4. Because the great law of love and charity, which is the life and soul of this and all the commands, and binds us to all; binds us, and bound the Israelites, to strangers, as appears from Exodus 23:4; Leviticus 19:33,Leviticus 19:34.
The coveting here forbidden is either,
1. The inward and deliberate purpose and desire of a deceitful or violent taking away of another man’s goods; but this is forbidden in the eighth commandment. And it is hard to conceive that St. Paul should think that this command did not forbid such a practice, Romans 7:7, which even the better sort of heathens esteemed a sin, whose words are, that they who are withheld from incest, or whoredom, or theft, only from a principle of fear, are guilty of those crimes; especially seeing the Old Testament Scriptures, which doubtless he diligently studied, do so plainly condemn evil purposes of the heart, as Leviticus 19:17; Deuteronomy 9:4,Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 15:7,Deuteronomy 15:9, &c. Or,
2. The greedy desire of that which is another man’s, though it be without injury to him. Thus Ahab sinned in desiring Naboth’s vineyard, though he offered him money for it, 1 Kings 21:2. Or rather,
3. Those inward motions of the heart, which from the fountain of original corruption do spring up in the heart, and tickle it with some secret delight, though they do not obtain tie deliberate consent of the will. For seeing this law of God is spiritual and holy, Romans 7:12,Romans 7:14, and reacheth the thoughts, intents, and all the actual motions of the heart, as is apparent from the nature of God, and of his law; and seeing such motions are both the fruits of a sinful nature, and the common causes of sinful actions, and are not agreeable either to man’s first and uncorrupted nature, or to God’s law; they must needs be a swerving from it, and therefore sin. And this is the reason why this command is added as distinct from all the rest.
Saw the thunderings, i.e. heard them. One sense is oft put for another, as seeing, Genesis 42:1, for hearing, Acts 7:12.
They removed from the bottom of the mountain, where it seems they stood.
This they speak from a sense of their own guilt, and of the greatness and holiness of the Divine Majesty, to whom they durst not approach but by a mediator. See Deuteronomy 5:27; Deuteronomy 18:16; Galatians 3:19.
To prove you, or try, or search you, whether you are innocent, and such as delight in my presence; or conscious of your guilt, and therefore afraid of my appearance; whether you have such a righteousness as can abide the trial of a severe Judge; or whether you are such as have cause to fear my wrath, and to flee to my grace and mercy; which of you are sincere and upright, and which are hypocrites and ungodly persons; or, to try whether this terrible appearance will produce in you that reverence, fear, and obedience which I call for; or, to give you a law, by which you will be proved whether you do indeed love and fear me, as you pretend you do, or whether you do not.
God’s fear is properly in men’s hearts; but here the sense seems to be this, That this fear, i.e. his dreadful manifestation of his majesty and justice, (the act being here put for the object,) may be now and ever before your eyes, and in your memories, as an effectual preservative from sin.
Ye have seen, i.e. heard, as Exodus 20:18. He may use the word seen here, to intimate that this was all they could see of God, to wit, his voice and speech, and that they saw no image of him, as is expressed in a parallel place, and therefore should make no resemblances of him, as it here follows.
From heaven, i.e. from the lower heaven, to wit, the air, or the clouds, which were over the top of mount Sinai, Deuteronomy 4:36; Nehemiah 9:13; and so the word heaven is oft understood, as Genesis 1:20; Job 35:11; Psalms 79:2. And so this place may be reconciled with Hebrews 12:25, where this is said to be spoken upon earth.
With me, i.e. to worship together with me; I will allow no companion; or, to me, as it follows, unto you; and Exodus 20:24, unto me; and the particle eth is sometimes used for el, or lamed, as 1 Samuel 22:14; 2 Kings 22:14; or, for me, either to represent my person, by comparing this with the parallel place, Deuteronomy 4:15,Deuteronomy 4:16, or to worship me by, as it is apparent that the Israelites afterwards did intend to worship Jehovah in the golden calf, and therefore Aaron calls the feast of the calf a feast to Jehovah, Exodus 32:5, and that with the approbation of the people, whom he then complied with, and durst not resist.
Gods, i.e. idols or images, to whom you may give the name and worship of gods,
of silver, and consequently not of any other materials, as wood or stone: it is a synecdoche.
An altar thou shalt make for thy present use, or whilst thou art in the wilderness: this he commanded, partly, that they might easily and readily erect an altar upon all occasions, which it might be hard for them to do there of better materials; partly, to mind them how much more God regarded the inward holiness than the outward pomp of their devotions; partly, because God would make a conspicuous difference between them and idolaters, who used much cost and curiosity about their altars; partly, that the altars might, after they left them, fall down and moulder away, and not remain as lasting monuments, which might be afterward abused to idolatry by any persons that came thither; partly, because they were uncertain of their stay any where, except at Sinai, and therefore must raise such altars as they could suddenly do. But this command only concerned their wilderness state; for there were better and more durable altars in the tabernacle and temple.
In all places, therefore there is no need of building any stately altar in a certain place, as if my presence were fixed there, and not to be enjoyed elsewhere.
Where I record my name, or, cause my name to be remembered by you; i.e. not in every place which you shall invent, but in all such places as I shall appoint for the remembrance or celebration of my name, or for the service of my majesty, whether it be in the wilderness, and in divers parts thereof, or in the tabernacle and temple.
An altar of stone in those rocky parts might be as easy for them to make as one of earth. Hewn stone would require both time, and cost, and art. The reasons of this precept are in part the same with the former, Exodus 20:24.
If thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it, by thy disobedience to my express command now given; and howsoever they think to gratify me by this curiosity, I shall not look upon it as a sacred thing, by which the sacrifices offered on it shall be sanctified, but as a profane thing which will defile them. So little doth God value or approve the inventions of men in his worship, how colourable soever they be.
He seems to mean the steps of ladders, or others of the same nature, which could suddenly be made, and were proper for their present condition, where there was danger of the following inconvenience. For afterwards God appointed an altar ten cubits high, 2 Chronicles 4:1; though some conceive they went not up to that by steps, but by an insensible ascent upon the ground raised by degrees for that purpose. But if the priests did go up to it by steps, God provided against the indecency here mentioned, by prescribing linen breeches to them in that service.
That thy nakedness be not discovered thereon; for these linen breeches were not yet appointed, and the manner then and there was for men to wear long coats or gowns like women. God would remove all appearance or occasion of immodesty, especially in sacred persons and things; and the rather, to show his detestation of that impudence and filthiness which was very usual in some of the solemnities and worships of the heathen.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Exodus 20". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12