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God delivers the law of the ten commandments: the people cannot sustain the majesty of God: Moses enters the cloud: God directs an altar of earth to be raised to him.
Before Christ 1491.
Exodus 20:1. All these words— These refer to all that is spoken to the end of the 17th verse; i.e. to the ten words or commandments, as Moses calls them, Deu 4:13 which words God himself spoke from the midst of the fire, Deu 5:22 on which account it is called a fiery law, Deuteronomy 33:2. These were the only words which God himself spoke to the people; the rest were delivered to Moses. See Exo 20:21-22 compared with Deuteronomy 5:22. And it is most probable, that, in this solemn intercourse with the Deity, the heavenly host which attended his Divine Presence, ministered and mediated between the Lord and Moses, as Moses mediated between the Lord and the people: in which view, those passages in the New Testament are easily explained, which speak of the law as given by the ministration of angels: but, of these passages, we shall say more on Deu 33:2 when we come to them in their proper places. God spake, it is supposed by many, by the ministration of angels; and it is no uncommon mode of expression, we know, in Scripture, to say God does that himself, which he does by his ministers.
Before we enter upon any comment on the COMMANDMENTS, it may be necessary to observe, first, that it does not appear to have been the purpose of God to have delivered, in the audience of the people, either the whole law, or any compendium, but only those precepts which were of greater importance: to which, afterwards, those of less moment were added in the hearing of Moses only. When we speak of precepts of greater or less moment, we do not mean that those which were now omitted could be neglected with impunity; but that, from the neglect of these which were now delivered by God, those greater evils would arise, against which a law-giver was more especially to provide; as every one may easily perceive, who reflects upon these commandments. Besides, these observed, through grace, the future observation of the rest would become easy: therefore it will not seem strange, if many things were now omitted, which God elsewhere required from the Israelites, and which respected their duty both to him and their neighbours: for these particulars, we must consult those laws which are afterwards delivered in the remaining part of the Pentateuch; which, properly speaking, are a supplement to the decalogue, and perhaps the best commentary upon it. Divines have endeavoured to deduce from the ten commandments all natural religion and all the moral precepts of the Gospel; in which, though perhaps they may have sometimes carried their speculations to too great a degree of refinement; yet, certainly, by just consequences, the most important duties may be deduced from them. JESUS CHRIST, in his excellent sermon on the mount, has shewn us the way to do so. Secondly, let it be observed, that although the precepts of the decalogue were given to the Israelites alone, and in a peculiar manner imposed upon, and appropriated to them; these precepts, nevertheless, oblige all mankind, so far as they are a part of eternal right; and all Christians in particular, so far as they have been confirmed by the Gospel.
Exodus 20:2. I am the LORD thy God, &c.— This is supposed, by some, to be the preface of the first commandment; but it appears, rather, to be the general introduction to them all, especially as it is found in Leviticus 19:25; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 19:34, &c. subjoined to a great variety of commandments. Jehovah, being about to deliver laws to the Hebrews, as their peculiar God and King, in these words recognizes his august titles, and his just authority over them: grounding his claim to their obedience, not on the general argument of his universal supremacy and dominion; but on that of his particular protection towards them, founded upon the covenant he had entered into with their fathers, and upon that redemption of them from Egyptian bondage, which he had perfected in consequence of that covenant. I am JEHOVAH, thy
אלהים elohim, the promised Deliverer in covenant with thee and thy fathers; and who, in pursuance of that covenant, have brought thee forth from Egypt, in order to give thee the land which I have promised: thou, therefore, thus peculiarly related to me, hearken to my will, and obey my commandments; and thus shalt thou inherit the blessing.
Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me— After the general preface follow the commandments; which, as we read hereafter, were delivered by God to Moses in two tables; the one containing, according to that division which has since generally prevailed, the four first commandments, which comprize our duty towards God; the other, the six last, which comprize our duty towards our neighbour: and hence that grand division made by our Saviour, of the love of GOD, and the love of our neighbour. See Matthew 22:37; Matthew 22:46. Let it be observed, once for all, that these precepts, though delivered in negative terms, imply positive duties: for though to abstain from evil is a great and essential point of duty; yet the Almighty requires, that we should be as careful, on the other hand, to perform what is right. Further, also, it may be necessary to remark, in how authoritative a manner these laws are delivered; a manner, which clearly bespeaks the superlative rule and power of the Divine Lawgiver. In this first commandment, Jehovah, who had declared himself the covenant-GOD of the Jews, here forbids rebellion against himself; by strictly enjoining, that there should be to them no other god, אלהים, that they should hold or confess no other Deliverer or Saviour than Him: Thou shalt know no God but me; for there is no Saviour beside me, says he, in Hosea 13:4. As the whole Mosaic institution was calculated to preserve the knowledge of the true God the only Redeemer of mankind, and to preserve the people from the contagion of prevailing idolatry; so this commandment is immediately levelled at those false deities and imaginary saviours, whom the Egyptians, Canaanites, and other idolaters worshipped. The phrase, before me, פני על ol peni, is variously interpreted. The LXX render it πλην εμου, beside me; which Houbigant approves. The Hebrew is, literally, before faces, or my faces; and, therefore, before me, is preferred by Le Clerc and others; who think, that the phrase refers to the continued presence and inspection of Jehovah over Israel. Ainsworth thinks, that it may also signify, 1st, As long as I am, or for ever. And 2nd, In all places; for the face of God is everywhere. As God was now leading the Israelites, going before their face, as their Ruler and Guide; and as he always continued in a peculiar sense, during the theocracy, in this relation, as the God before whom they were to walk, may not the meaning of the commandment be, there shall not be to thee any strange gods before thy face? I render the word אחרים acherim, strange, as does Houbigant, following the Vulgate (alienos); referring to those strange gods of the heathens; against whom, we have observed, this commandment seems especially directed.
Exodus 20:4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image— The having or worshipping any kind of false gods, is absolutely forbidden in the first commandment. Here the mode of worshipping them, which generally prevailed among idolaters, and which was peculiarly offensive to Jehovah, is forbidden: the Israelites are enjoined to avoid forming not only any images of false deities, but any imaginary representations of the true GOD, See Deuteronomy 4:12. Thou shalt not make unto thee, says the Lord, thou shalt not form to thyself, or from thy own imagination, פסל pesel, a graven, or carved image; or any תמונה temunah, any delineation, similitude, or representation of any thing: the word signifies any such orderly and regular distribution of parts, lineaments, colours, or the like, as raises in the mind the idea of the thing represented. See Parkhurst on the word. They were not to make to themselves for the purpose of worshipping (as Exo 20:5 shews) any such image or representation of any thing in heaven above, which may include not only God and his angels, the inhabitants of heaven; but, more particularly, the heavenly hosts, the sun, moon, and stars, the first and most universal objects of idolatrous worship. See Deuteronomy 4:19. Job 31:26-27. For the rest, it may be observed, that there was scarcely any creature, from the human, to the lowest reptile, which the folly of idolatry did not represent and sanctify; and, therefore, this prohibition, which extends to every creature in the heaven, or air, the earth and the sea, was by no means too general; as a knowledge of the superstitions of the Egyptians only, would prove; who deified creatures from the sun and the moon, to the ox that grazeth in the field, and the crocodile which devoureth in the waters.
Exodus 20:5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself, &c.— This fully shews the meaning of the prohibition in the former verse. As a strong sanction to secure its observance, the LORD adds, that he is a jealous God, i.e. (speaking of God after the manner of men) so zealous for his own honour, as not to bear a rival in his worship, Isa 42:8 and so full of just indignation, when that honour is injured, as not to spare those who transgress against him; visiting the iniquity of the fathers, &c. This, which so well suits the context, seems to me to be the true meaning of the word קנא kanne, translated jealous here. Others, however, refer it to that jealousy which a husband has of his wife; and which, they think, may properly be applied to the Lord, who is frequently considered in Scripture as having espoused the Jewish nation, whose idolatry is hence frequently called adultery, spiritual adultery, and going a whoring from GOD. See Exodus 34:15.Deuteronomy 31:16; Deuteronomy 31:16. Judges 2:17. Jeremiah 9:20. קנא kanne, signifies any fervor of mind which exerts itself, whether in indignation, jealousy, or the like; and the idea is derived from that action of fire, which corrodes and consumes the substance of material things. It is remarkable, that God never expresses himself against any crime with so much indignation and zeal, as against idolatry; and that for this plain reason, because idolatry includes a total depravation of principles, together with an entire corruption of manners.
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers, &c.— Visiting, i.e. punishing, with signal judgments, the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, not only personally punishing the parents themselves, but further causing their guilt to prove a punishment to their posterity, even to the thirds and fourths, according to the letter of the Hebrew; and so, in the sixth verse, to the thousands; i.e. (as the versions properly supply) to the third, fourth, and thousandth generation. We may observe, how peculiarly abominable idolatry must be to GOD, and how grievous a sin in itself, by the word here used for it; them that hate me. Idolatry is utter opposition and downright hatred of God. Rewards and punishments are the great sanctions of every law: temporal rewards and punishments were the peculiar sanctions of the Jewish law. The strongest and most affecting of these to human nature, the happiness or the misery of their offspring, are here proposed to the Israelites as their preservatives from idolatry, the most capital offence against their supreme Lord and King; who declares, that the fathers, guilty of this crime, should be punished even to the fourth generation of their posterity; while those who preserved themselves from this hateful offence, should find his mercy extended even to a thousand; i.e. to countless generations of their posterity. Let it be remembered, that God is here to be considered as the King and Lawgiver of the people; and this act of idolatry being immediate rebellion and high-treason against him, there can be no more injustice in his causing the sin of the fathers to prove an evil and a punishment to the sons, than there is injustice in an earthly king thus punishing treason, as is the case, in any of his rebellious subjects. Besides, it is most probable, as God speaks to the people or Jewish nation as one person, thou shalt, &c. &c. that this sanction is to be understood more especially as referring to the nation as such, whose idolatry he threatens, nationally, to punish or reward, as their King and Ruler. Let it be observed further, in justification of the commandment and its penalty, that wicked parents too commonly occasion wicked children: nor can any man avow such an exemption from personal defect, as to claim, for his own sake, an entire exemption from punishment. Here too it is to be observed, in testimony of the Divine goodness, and how much more he delights in mercy than in punishment, that he threatens to visit the rebellious only to four, while he promises to spare the obedient to a thousand generations. This appears to us to be a sufficient vindication of the passage before us; and which they seem greatly to mistake, who suppose that the words, of them that hate me, refer to the children, not the fathers: for thus the threat would be no threat at all; personal guilt would only find, as we are assured it will, personal punishment; and the contrast would be wholly destroyed between those who hated, and those who loved God. But how, upon this view, shall we reconcile what is said Deu 24:16 and Eze 18:20? which latter passage is a full and undeniable proof, that we render and understand this passage in the commandment rightly; and, consequently, that all solutions of the difficulty, founded on different translations of the original, are vain. Now, for the first, (Deuteronomy 24:16.) it is evident, that the injunction there delivered, that fathers should not be put to death for their children, or children for their fathers, is delivered in opposition to some idolatrous and wicked practices, which admitted of this kind of transmutation: for the latter, it is no less evident, that the case which the prophet there puts, is an exempt one from the general practice. Such was the hateful and contagious wickedness of idolatry, that a family, once tainted with it, too commonly continued in the practice; and thus derived, from their father, his guilt and his punishment. Besides which, the immediate punishment inflicted upon the father by GOD, may be supposed sensibly to have affected the interests of the family: but the case was put to the prophet Ezekiel, that, if the son of a wicked or idolatrous father, convinced of his own and his father's crimes, would repent and turn, would not the repentance of that soul be accepted? would GOD strictly adhere to his denunciation, of punishing the iniquity of the father in the children? To which the prophet plainly and peremptorily replies, that when the son hath done that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not thus bear the iniquity of the father, nor the father the iniquity of the son. In this view, there is no contradiction in the texts; for it is an allowed maxim, that all lawgivers may, with justice, relax the punishments they have threatened; though they cannot, with justice, diminish the rewards they have promised. But further still, I would observe, that it seems most probable the punishments alluded to here, and in the prophet Ezekiel, are of a different nature. GOD, as we have remarked, speaks at present in the character of the immediate King and Lawgiver of the Jews, and his promises and threats have all a temporal aspect. In Ezekiel, the question is not concerning temporal, but spiritual punishment: and though it may be strictly just in a legislator to inflict temporal punishments on children for the iniquity of their parents; i.e. to deprive them of many privileges with which they would have been invested by the fealty of their parents; it does not seem at all consistent with the ideas we have of the common Parent of the universe, to punish eternally, either children, or any of the race of mankind, for the crimes of parents or of any other. In this respect, surely, it is an eternal truth, that the children shall not bear the iniquity of their fathers, nor the fathers that of the children.
As this law is by the infidels accused of injustice, we have thought it our duty to spend some time in defending it from this calumny. It is not to be looked upon as a part of universal religion, but only as a part of a civil institute, given by Jehovah to one people, as their tutelary God and civil Governor. Now we know it to be the practice of all states, to punish the crime of lese majesty, or treason, in this manner. In the Jewish republic, this method of punishment was administered with more lenity, and with infinitely more rectitude, than in any other: for, although GOD allowed capital punishment to be inflicted for lese majesty on the person of the offender; yet, concerning his family or posterity, he reserved the inquisition to himself: this abundantly justified the equity of it, because no power less than omniscient could, in all cases, keep clear of injustice in such an inquisition.——GOD supported the Israelites in Judea by an extraordinary providence; the consequences of which were great temporal blessings, to which they had no natural claim, on condition of obedience. Nothing, therefore, could be more equitable than, on the violation of that condition, to withdraw those extraordinary blessings from the children of a father thus offending. How then can the infidel charge this law with injustice!
Exodus 20:7. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain— Our Saviour, who, it must be allowed, was the best expositor of the commandments, has given us (Matthew 5:33.) the true meaning of this, which is, primarily, thou shalt not forswear thyself; which he further explains, by adding, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: and, in Lev 19:12 this commandment also is fully and clearly expressed thus, ye shall not swear by my name falsely; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy GOD: so that taking the name of the Lord in vain, primarily signifies the highest degree of profanation of that name by perjury; and, secondarily, all subordinate and lower degrees of profanation; among which, as our Saviour informs us, every species of light and vain swearing is forbidden. Thus that offence may be included in it, which some expositors have supposed its immediate scope and intention; namely, the transferring to idols the titles which belong to GOD, and of swearing by those idols; a known practice of the heathens: and, in this view, they would render the words of the commandment, thou shalt not bear, or transfer, the name of the Lord thy God to a vain thing; the appellation often given in Scripture to an idol. But the meaning of the commandment is more extensive; it being levelled against all vain, light, and unbecoming use of the name of GOD in general, and perjury in particular; which, being a vice so daring in itself, and so pernicious to society, it was well worthy the majesty of GOD to place in his law the strongest barrier against it. And, accordingly, we find that most awful denunciation annexed to the commandment, the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain: more strongly asserting by the negative, that the Lord himself will undoubtedly, and severely, punish those who are guilty of this crime: ch. Exodus 34:7. Jer 30:11 it may escape punishment from men; but as it cannot escape the knowledge, so it shall not pass free from the vengeance of GOD. This has been the general opinion of mankind: "the divine punishment of perjury, says the law of the twelve tables, is destruction; the human punishment is infamy:" And Alexander Severus was so sensible of this, that he thought the contempt of the religion of an oath always had GOD for a sufficient avenger.
Exodus 20:8. Remember the sabbath-day, &c.— Remember the day of rest, to keep it holy] "Let that day still, as usual, be considered as a day set apart and sanctified to my service;" (Jeremiah 21:14.) and that in such manner as follows; Exo 20:9-10 and for the reason given, Exodus 20:11. The manner in which this commandment is introduced seems plainly to shew, that this was no new commandment; though one, certainly, of so high importance to religion, so just and reasonable in itself, that it well deserved to be placed in the first rank of the duties which men owe to GOD. It is also observable, that the reason assigned (Exodus 20:11.) for this law of the sabbath is not peculiar to the Jews, but appropriated to all mankind, who are equally concerned to commemorate the work of creation, and to adore the Almighty Creator. We have before delivered it as our opinion, that the sabbath, instituted from the very birth of the world, continued to be regularly observed by the people of GOD; see the notes on Gen 2:3 and Exodus 16:23. We must not however dissemble, that some commentators understand the word remember in a different sense; observing, that the other commandments, carrying their own reason along with them, are delivered in a peremptory stile; but this, being a positive institution, is introduced with a remember: but, in answer to this, we might ask, whether the commandment to honour that GOD who has given us all our time, with some part of it, does not carry its own reason with it, as much as the prohibition of making any images or pictures to represent the Deity? It is very evident, when Moses repeats the law, Deuteronomy 5:0 and adds a new reason for the Israelites' observation of the sabbath; that he considers the keeping of the sabbath as a matter already well known and allowed; and certainly, in a moral view, no institution can be conceived more useful and humane, more advantageous to man, and more beneficial to all the true interests of religion. Houbigant observes, that "the word rendered remember is perfectly just here, because the sabbath had been from a long period held sacred, as many learned men remark. And we justly collect from the 11th verse (where we read that the Lord blessed the sabbath-day, and sanctified it) that the sabbath had been held sacred from the very infancy of the world."
Exodus 20:9-10. Six days shalt thou labour, &c.— See note on Genesis 2:3. The plain meaning of these verses is, that men should dedicate six days of the week to the common and ordinary business of life; but should wholly abstain from such business on the seventh day, and consecrate it to the nobler employment of serving and honouring the great GOD their Creator. Our Saviour has clearly determined, that the precept is not to be understood so rigidly as to prevent men from performing the ever-acceptable works of mercy and charity on this day; Mark 2:27. Luke 6:1-5; Luke 13:15-16. The prohibition, thus excepted, was to extend to the whole of every family; nay, even to the cattle, according to that amiable principle of humanity which characterises the true religion. See Proverbs 12:10. Nor was the stranger to be excepted—nor thy stranger within thy gates; including all strangers of whatever rank or sort who sojourned among the Jews. See Neh 13:16-22 whence it is very plain, that strangers of every degree were obliged to an observance of the sabbath.
Exodus 20:11. And hallowed it— Sanctified it. See Genesis 2:3.
REFLECTIONS.—Never before, nor since, was such an auditory, or such a speaker. God himself appears from heaven to promulge that sacred law which once was written on the heart, but by sin was defaced and obliterated. Observe,
1st. The preface. He is the Lord, who has a right to demand the obedience he enjoins; and their God, in a covenant of peculiar favour, who would never be wanting in any instance of regard which almighty power, joined with boundless love, could shew. He had manifested himself to them already in their deliverance from Egypt, and this is the earnest of what he further could and would do for them. Note; That dear Redeemer, who has delivered us from bondage worse than Egyptian, may justly claim our bounden duty and service in return.
2nd. The moral law. It opens with the duty we owe to God our Creator; enjoins his worship, service, and obedience.
1. God must alone be the object of our worship; no other may be joined with him: for there is no other God besides him, and on him must be placed our supreme confidence, fear, and love. To set them on any creature or thing in preference to him is immediately to become idolaters. How few, then, are worshippers of the true God, when pleasure, gain, honour, and the whole train of worldly gratifications, afford so many gods to the idol-heart of fallen man!
2. God must be worshipped, not under any representation, but as a spirit, in spirit and in truth. No image must be made of him: we are not, even in our minds, to liken him to any object which is seen; and he is to be served with the internal affections of the soul, and with the outward service of prayer and praise. He threatens as a jealous God to visit offenders. They who neglect his worship, or walk contrary to his command herein, shall be treated as haters of him; and children's children shall suffer for it, who, taught by their fathers' example, shall share in their visitations: while they who serve him in his prescribed way shall find his mercy, and entail their blessing on generations yet to come. Note; (1.) The idolatry of the Romish church in such gross violations of this commandment, which they artfully would conceal from the people, by omitting the second commandment in their catechisms, and joining the reasons against idolatry here given to the first. (2.) The necessity of the conscientious and constant worship of God, without which we never can be enabled to love him and keep his commandments.
3. God's name must not be taken in vain, by hypocritical prayers which never come from the heart, nor by vows of fidelity to him which we are negligent to keep; by any rash or false swearing, or by light and irreverent use of his holy Name in our ordinary conversation: and however little attended to this commandment may be, the same sanction guards it as ever. God will not hold the transgressor guiltless, and it is a fearful thing to meet him in wrath.
4. The sabbath-day must be kept holy. Nothing should break in to disturb the sacred rest; all worldly business must be laid aside, and the whole employed in the more immediate service of God. And not only ourselves, but all under our roof must cease from labour, and join with us in the celebration of the holy day. Note; Nothing will conduce more, as a means of our preparation for the eternal rest which remains for the people of God, than a serious and constant observance of the seventh day.
Exodus 20:12. Honour thy father and thy mother— This is the first commandment of the second table, and therefore called by St. Paul the first with promise, Ephesians 6:2. A promise, which, in the letter and its primary sense, manifestly refers to the land of Canaan, which the Lord was about to give the Hebrews; and which promise was so far peculiar to them, since to them, as a nation, the promise seems particularly given. See note on Exodus 20:5. Visiting the iniquity, &c. But St. Paul gives it a more extensive sense, applying it to long life upon the earth; following the words of Deu 5:16 that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. The word rendered honour, כבד kabed, signifies "to give all kind of weight and importance; to esteem and treat as weighty and honourable; as worthy of all duty and respect." All nations and people have agreed, with just reason, to hold filial duty in the highest degree of veneration.
Exodus 20:13. Thou shalt not kill— For a full exposition of this commandment we refer to that of our Saviour, Matthew 5:21; Mat 5:48 see Genesis 9:6. The words are better rendered, thou shalt do no murder. And if we are not to murder others, certainly not ourselves, so that suicide is here plainly and absolutely forbidden, as well as, according to our Saviour's exposition, all those angry and resentful passions, which are no less criminal in themselves than they are fatal in their consequences. Hallett, upon this commandment, says, I cannot conclude upon it without bearing my testimony against the Alexanders and Caesars of the earth, as some of the most wicked and odious of men, who delighted in shedding the blood of millions, only for the sake of getting a name among men as wicked as themselves. But, worse again than these monsters, are those eldest sons of Satan, the inquisitors and persecutors, who impiously murder their better brethren for this very reason, because they are better than themselves; because they had rather die the most tormenting death than break God's holy commandments!
Exodus 20:14. Thou shalt not commit adultery— After securing the life, the Lord proceeds to secure that part of property which is often as dear, or dearer to human creatures, than life itself. The Hebrew word here used ףּתנא tinap, plainly shews that the prohibition in this commandment primarily refers to that act of uncleanness known by the name of adultery. Μοιχεια also, in the Greek, implies the same. Here again, as on the former commandment, we refer to Matthew 5:27; Mat 5:48 where it appears, that what we have observed on the word is just, and where we shall find the law drawn out to its full spiritual extent. See Lev 20:10 where death is denounced as the punishment of adultery; a punishment not peculiar to the Jewish law: it was inflicted on the adulterer by the laws of several heathen nations.
Exodus 20:15. Thou shalt not steal— That is, "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour by any method, secret or violent, of any part of his just property." See Leviticus 11:13.Mark 10:19; Mark 10:19. Ephesians 4:28.
Exodus 20:16. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour— A further security is here given to man's life and property (of which reputation may well be esteemed a considerable part) by forbidding the sin of bearing false testimony against another; either by the highest and most atrocious act of it in a court of judicature, which includes the sin of perjury, or by any other method of impugning and injuring reputation. See Deuteronomy 19:16; Deuteronomy 19:21.Leviticus 19:16; Leviticus 19:16. Matthew 7:1; Matthew 7:29. How far the appellation of neighbour extends, even to all mankind, our Saviour has shewn, Luke 10:29; Luke 10:42.
Exodus 20:17. Thou shalt not covet— Prohibitions being given against particular vices, God concludes his commandments with a prohibition against vice in general; discountenancing that concupiscence and restless desire of our corrupt nature, which prompts discontent with our station and property, and leads, in consequence, to every unjust method of gratifying the criminal desire. This commandment, therefore, is designed to strike at the root of all evil; that is, corrupt dispositions: for, as our Saviour observes, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, &c. Matthew 15:19. It has been justly remarked, that this precept proves, that the laws of the decalogue are not to be considered as merely political institutions; since this relates to the dispositions and habits of the mind, which, in the nature of things, must have been exempted from the cognizance of merely civil laws: and here we may easily see the reason why our Saviour, in his account of the commandments, Mat 19:16 in the place of thou shalt not covet, has substituted thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; because, where there are no ungoverned appetites, no criminal desires, the current of universal benevolence will expand itself, and flow free and unconfined: and, on the other hand, a sincere affection to mankind in general, and a concern for their happiness, will, through grace, extirpate the very seeds and first principles of every un-social passion, and prevent all that impatient and restless anxiety which springs from concupiscence, to whatever object directed. See Romans 7:7.
REFLECTIONS.—The first table related to God; the second respects our neighbour. When we conscientiously serve the one, we shall infallibly desire to walk upright before the other.
1. The fifth commandment enjoins the reverence due to our parents, and in them to all superiors; a respectful carriage towards them; obedient submission to their just commands; patience under their corrections; teachableness under their instructions, and readiness to help and succour them at all times according to our abilities. The promise annexed to it is long possession of the promised land. Note; The career of a disobedient child is often short, and even in this world has frequently a miserable end.
2. The sixth commandment forbids murder, in every kind and degree, of others or ourselves; and not only restrains from the outward act, but condemns the rash anger which leads to it, whether in thought, word, or deed. Note; He who reads Mat 5:22 will need to humble himself for the murder he has committed.
3. The seventh commandment respects our own and our neighbour's chastity. It condemns not only the grosser act, but every desire, thought, look, word, or action, which would lead to impurity.
4. The eighth commandment enjoins all honesty and fidelity: condemns every act of injustice, fraud, or oppression, whether to individuals or the public; and also that profusion or covetousness which naturally leads to the breach of it.
5. The ninth commandment forbids all perjury, lying, backbiting, slandering, equivocation, and whatever would deceive or be to the injury of our neighbour.
6. The tenth commandment is the spirituality of all the rest in one, and strikes at the root of that selfishness which is in the corrupted nature of man, forbidding the wanderings of vain desire, and the imaginations of lust and covetousness. Well will it be for us, if the deep views of this holy law affect our hearts, both with a sense of our need of the blood of Jesus Christ to save us from the violations of it, and of the spirit of Christ to enable us to render acceptable obedience to it.
Exodus 20:18. And all the people saw the thunderings, &c.— That is, perceived; were sensibly affected with the noise, and with the light; insomuch, that they shrunk back with terror, and removed to a distance from those bounds near the mountain which were appointed for them. See ch. Exodus 19:12; Exodus 19:24.
Exodus 20:21. Moses drew near unto the thick darkness— See note on ch. Exodus 19:20. See also ch. 24:
REFLECTIONS.—With pomp of terrible majesty God thus proclaims his holy will: an emblem of the dispensation the people were under, begetting terror and bondage; and designed to make the reception of the grace and truth which comes by Jesus Christ the more welcome. Observe,
1. The people's apprehensions. They are now cured of their curiosity, and trembling retreat even from the nearness permitted them; so fearful are they of the presence of God. They entreat Moses to be their mediator, whose terror cannot make them afraid. Who would have thought, that after such a scene the golden calf could on that spot have reared its guilty head?
2. Moses encourages them. Dejected hearts must be supported against their fears: God was come to prove, not to punish them; to put his fear before them that they sin not. A filial fear of offending is the great preservative from evil.
3. Moses, at God's command, returns to the thick darkness to commune with God. It is the property of divine faith to see through the thick cloud of sense, and hold communion with him who is invisible.
Exodus 20:22. Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven— "Ye have had sufficient and convincing proofs, from the awful manifestations before you, that I, the JEHOVAH, have spoken to you myself from the heavens or firmament;" i.e. the superior regions of the air, commonly called the heavens. See notes on Genesis 1:6-7. The Hebrew runs literally, ye have seen that I, from the heavens, have spoken unto you: may we not, therefore, understand the passage as expressing HIS condescension, who inhabiteth the highest heavens; but who, coming down from them in awful majesty on Mount Sinai, thence delivered his dread commandments to the Jews? And, in this view, the prohibition in the following verse will come with greater force; in which this GREAT GOD from heaven (the ensigns of whose terrible majesty, and whose voice only, they saw and heard, without any visible similitude of him) forbids them to form any representative images of him, though of the most costly metals, which false zeal might lead them to offer to GOD. We may plainly discern, from this repetition in part of the second commandment, how abominable idolatry was to the Lord. Some have supposed, that the precept has an eye to the Egyptians, who worshipped Osiris in the form of a golden ox.
Exodus 20:24. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me— The service of the tabernacle being not yet appointed, that there might be no superstition attached to any altars of a curious or costly sort, God enjoins that they should, for the present, form them only of such plain turf and common earth as could easily be met with, and thereon slay their sacrifices, their burnt-offerings, &c. expressions (by the way) which are a further proof of what we have often advanced, that the apparatus and use of sacrifices were only new-modelled by Moses, not first instituted by him. The Almighty promises, that he will bless the people in their religious services; I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee, in all places where such altars shall be raised to my worship: this is the meaning of the phrase which we render, where I record my name; 1 Chronicles 16:4.
Exodus 20:25. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, &c.— The Lord will have an altar of turf, or natural stone, not put together with much art. For if thou lift up thy tool upon it, it is added, thou hast polluted it: i.e. thou hast rendered it unfit for my use and worship; it must be no longer considered as an altar consecrated to me. This is all that the original word חלל chilel can import, which is used in a sense directly opposite to קדשׁ kidesh; that is, holy, or set apart to sacred uses. See Leviticus 10:10. It is impossible to suppose that the workman's tool could convey any actual pollution or uncleanness to the altar: the whole meaning, therefore, is, that God requiring an altar of natural and unhewn stone, the application of any tool to form or polish it, being directly contrary to his commandment, made such altar utterly unfit for his service. The word rendered polluted is often used to denote an application to one's own or to common use. See marginal translation of Deuteronomy 20:6; Deu 28:30 in our Bibles compared with Leviticus 19:23-24. It is remarkable, that Plato, in his Book of Laws, (l. 12 p. 955.) orders that all things, belonging to the service of God, should be very simple and plain, without any cost or ornament; and therefore forbids gold, silver, or ivory, because they were things too apt to raise envy.
Exodus 20:26. Neither shalt thou go up, &c.— God forbids the altar to be erected high, with many steps, as were the altars of the heathen celestial deities.
REFLECTIONS.—Idolatry being the sin to which God saw the people most inveterately addicted, he gives Moses some particular directions to guard them from it.
1. All images are forbidden. The most costly are an abomination in the sight of God. The most expensive worship, if not according to God's commandment, is but a more splendid iniquity.
2. Their altars must be plain, unadorned, of earth or unhewn stone, and low, for the reason given Exodus 20:26. God must be worshipped in spirit; and gorgeous ornaments are there superfluous, where the heart only is to be regarded. The showy pageantry of the Romish church is but as the finery of a wanton. Though it may draw in the unwary, it is a signal to the wise to turn away.
3. God will meet those who wait upon him in his ways, and will bless them, in every place where his Name should be worshipped according to his own institution. Now, they were allowed as many altars as they chose; afterwards, their sacrifices were to be offered at Jerusalem: but since the true Lamb of God was slain there, this peculiarity has been destroyed; and now in every place God is near to answer those who call upon him out of a pure heart fervently.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 20". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20