Since the beginning of my ministry as a pastor I have been committed to preaching the Bible expositionally. The main way that I do that is by working through books in the Bible verse-by-verse. Recently, in my exposition of Exodus, I have come to chapter 20, which contains the Ten Commandments. These “ten words” are of crucial importance not only for understanding God’s ways with His Old Covenant people but also for understanding His ways with us today. These ten laws are unique among all the commandments that God gave to the Israelites.
A. W. Pink helpfully explains,
Their uniqueness appears first in that this revelation of God at Sinai—which was to serve for all coming ages as the grand expression of His holiness and the summation of man’s duty—was attended with such awe-inspiring phenomena that the very manner of their publication plainly showed that God Himself assigned to the Decalogue peculiar importance. The Ten Commandments were uttered by God in an audible voice, with the fearful adjuncts of clouds and darkness, thunders and lightnings and the sound of a trumpet, and they were the only parts of Divine Revelation so spoken—none of the ceremonial or civil precepts were thus distinguished. Those Ten Words, and they alone, were written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and they alone were deposited in the holy ark for safe keeping. Thus, in the unique honor conferred upon the Decalogue itself we may perceive its paramount importance in the Divine government.1
• 1st & 2nd Commandments (no other gods; no graven images)
—God punished Egypt with plagues because they broke these commandments: Numbers 33:4b, “On their gods also the Lord executed judgments.”
—Genesis 35:2, God rebuked Jacob because he had not put away the “foreign gods” that were among his family.
• 3rd Commandment (you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain)
—Exodus 3:1-15, at the burning bush God told Moses to honor His Name
• 4th Commandment (Remember the Sabbath day)
—Exodus 16, God revealed the Sabbath principle in the regulations for collecting manna. He rebuked those who violated it: “It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? 29 “See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (16:27-29).
• 5th Commandment (honor your father and mother)
—Genesis 9:18-27, God cursed Noah’s son, Ham, for dishonoring his father by looking on his nakedness.
• 6th Commandment (you shall not murder)
—Genesis 4:8-16, Cain murdered his brother Abel, and was punished by God for it.
• 7th Commandment (you shall not commit adultery)
—Genesis 19:24-25, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual immorality (cf. Jude 7).
• 8th Commandment (you shall not steal)
—Genesis 31:19-32, “Rachel stole her father’s household gods” (idols) and Jacob rightly condemned the crime as being worthy of death, not knowing it was his own wife who was guilty of it (v. 32).
• 9th Commandment (you shall not bear false witness)
—Genesis 20:1-2, Abraham lied about his relationship to his wife, Sarah
• 10th Commandment (you shall not covet)
—Genesis 19:26, Lot’s wife, revealed a covetous heart when she turned back toward Sodom, and was executed for doing so (Luke 17:32)
What does all of this mean? It means that the 10 Commandments did not originate with Moses or at Mt. Sinai. Rather, God verbalized them there and wrote them on tables of stone with his finger on that occasion to formalize and clearly stipulate what He has always required of all people everywhere. These Ten Words are a summary of God’s will for His image-bearers everywhere. In a future post, I will discuss the place of the Ten Commandments in the New Testament.
(For further reading on this I recommend Ernie Reisinger’s The Law and the Gospel and Philip Ryken’s Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis)
1 A. W. Pink, The Ten Commandments (Swengel, PA: Reiner, 1961), p. 5.