Exo 20:1 The Lord now, by his angel, delivers in an intelligible manner the ten words, or commandments, which contain the sum of all the natural law, and may be reduced to two precepts of charity, Matthew xxii. 40; Mark xii. 31. How these commandments are to be divided into ten, the ancients are not perfectly agreed. We follow the authority of St. Augustine, (9. 71,) Clement of Alexandria, (strom. 6,) and others, in referring three of the precepts to God, and seven to our neighbour. Protestants adopt the Jewish method, of making four commandments of the first table, and six of the second; as they divide our first into two, and unite the 9th and 10th; though it surely must appear rational to admit a distinct precept, for an internal as well as for an external object; and the desires of committing adultery or theft require a distinct prohibition no less than the external actions. Whereas the forbidding to have strange gods, or to worship images, or creatures of any description, is exactly of the same tendency. For no one can worship an idol, without admitting a strange god. The latter part, therefore, of the first commandment, or the second of Protestants, is only a farther explanation of what had gone before, as Moses himself clearly insinuates, ver. 23, You shall not make gods of silver, &c.
1.And God spoke. I am aware that many agree in reading this verse and the next in connection with each other, and thus making them together the first of the ten commandments. Others taking them separately, consider the affirmation to stand in the place of one entire commandment; but since God neither forbids nor commands anything here, but only comes forth before them in His dignity, to devote the people to Himself, and to claim the authority He deserves, which also He would have extended to the whole Law, I make no doubt but that it is a general preface, whereby He prepares their minds for obedience. And surely it was necessary that, first of all, the right of the legislator should be established, lest what He chose to command should be despised, or contemptuously received. In these words, then, God seeks to procure reverence to Himself, before He prescribes the rule of a holy and righteous life. Moreover, He not merely declares Himself to be Jehovah, the only God to whom men are bound by the right of creation, who has given them their existence, and who preserves their life, nay, who is Himself the life of all; but He adds, that He is the peculiar God of the Israelites; for it was expedient, not only that the people should be alarmed by the majesty of God, but also that they should be gently attracted, so that the law might be more precious than gold and silver, and at the same time “sweeter than honey,” (Psa_119:72;) for it would not be enough for men to be compelled by servile fear to bear its yoke, unless they were also attracted by its sweetness, and willingly endured it. He afterwards recounts that special blessing, wherewith He had honored the people, and by which He had testified that they were not elected by Him in vain; for their redemption was the sure pledge of their adoption. But, in order to bind them the better to Himself, He reminds them also of their former condition; for Egypt was like a house of bondage, from whence the Israelites were delivered. Wherefore, they were no more their own masters, since God had purchased them unto Himself. This does not indeed literally apply to us; but He has bound us to Himself with a holier tie, by the hand of His only-be-gotten Son; whom Paul teaches to have died, and risen again, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” (Rom_14:9.) So that He is not now the God of one people only, but of all nations, whom He has called into His Church by general adoption.
All these words – Houbigant supposes, and with great plausibility of reason, that the clause את כל הדברים האלה eth col haddebarim haelleh, “all these words,” belong to the latter part of the concluding verse of Exodus 19, which he thinks should be read thus: And Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them All These Words; i.e., delivered the solemn charge relative to their not attempting to come up to that part of the mountain on which God manifested himself in his glorious majesty, lest he should break forth upon them and consume them. For how could Divine justice and purity suffer a people so defiled to stand in his immediate presence? When Moses, therefore, had gone down and spoken all these words, and he and Aaron had re-ascended the mount, then the Divine Being, as supreme legislator, is majestically introduced thus: And God spake, saying. This gives a dignity to the commencement of this chapter of which the clause above mentioned, if not referred to the speech of Moses, deprives it. The Anglo-Saxon favors this emendation: God spoke Thus, which is the whole of the first verse as it stands in that version.
Some learned men are of opinion that the Ten Commandments were delivered on May 30, being then the day of pentecost.
The laws delivered on Mount Sinai have been variously named. In Deu_4:13, they are called עשרת הדברים asereth haddebarim, The Ten Words. In the preceding chapter, Exo_19:5, God calls them את בריתי eth berithi, my Covenant, i.e., the agreement he entered into with the people of Israel to take them for his peculiar people, if they took him for their God and portion. If ye will obey my voice indeed, and Keep my Covenant, Then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto me. And the word covenant here evidently refers to the laws given in this chapter, as is evident from Deu_4:13 : And he declared unto you his Covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments. They have been also termed the moral law, because they contain and lay down rules for the regulation of the manners or conduct of men. Sometimes they have been termed the Law, התורה hattorah, by way of eminence, as containing the grand system of spiritual instruction, direction, guidance, etc. See on the word Law, Exo_12:49 (note). And frequently the Decalogue, Δεκαλογος, which is a literal translation into Greek of the עשרת הדברים asereth haddebarim, or Ten Words, of Moses.
Among divines they are generally divided into what they term the first and second tables. The First table containing the first, second, third, and fourth commandments, and comprehending the whole system of theology, the true notions we should form of the Divine nature, the reverence we owe and the religious service we should render to him. The Second, containing the six last commandments, and comprehending a complete system of ethics, or moral duties, which man owes to his fellows, and on the due performance of which the order, peace and happiness of society depend. By this division, the First table contains our duty to God; the Second our duty to our Neighbor. This division, which is natural enough, refers us to the grand principle, love to God and love to man, through which both tables are observed.
1. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength.
2. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two hang all the law and the prophets. See Clarke’s note on Mat_22:37. See Clarke’s note on Mat_22:38. See Clarke’s note on Mat_22:39. See Clarke’s note on Mat_22:40.
Exo 20:1 God spake all these words – The law of the ten commandments is a law of God’s making; a law of his own speaking. God has many ways of speaking to the children of men by his spirit, conscience, providences; his voice in all which we ought carefully to attend to: but he never spake at any time upon any occasion so as he spake the ten commandments, which therefore we ought to hear with the more earnest heed. This law God had given to man before, it was written in his heart by nature; but sin had so defaced that writing, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it.
Keil and Delitzsch
And God spake all these words, saying, The promulgation of the ten words of God, containing the fundamental law of the covenant, took place before Moses ascended the mountain again with Aaron (Exo_19:24). “All these words” are the words of God contained in vv. 2-17, which are repeated again in Deu_5:6-18, with slight variations that do not materially affect the sense, and are called the “words of the covenant, the ten words,” in Exo_34:28, and Deu_4:13; Deu_10:4. God spake these words directly to the people, and not “through the medium of His finite spirits,” as v. Hoffmann, Kurtz, and others suppose. There is not a word in the Old Testament about any such mediation. Not only was it Elohim, according to the chapter before us, who spake these words to the people, and called Himself Jehovah, who had brought Israel out of Egypt (Exo_20:2), but according to Deu_5:4, Jehovah spake these words to Israel “face to face, in the mount, out of the midst of the fire.”
Hence, according to Buxtorf (Dissert. de Decalogo in genere, 1642), the Jewish commentators almost unanimously affirm that God Himself spake the words of the decalogue, and that words were formed in the air by the power of God, and not by the intervention and ministry of angels.
(Note: This also applies to the Targums. Onkelos and Jonathan have יְיָ וּמַלֵל in Exo_20:1, and the Jerusalem Targum דַיְיָ מֵימְרָא מַלֵיל. But in the popular Jewish Midrash, the statement in Deu_33:2 (cf. Psa_68:17), that Jehovah came down upon Sinai “out of myriads of His holiness,” i.e., attended by myriads of holy angels, seems to have given rise to the notion that God spake through angels. Thus Josephus represents King Herod as saying to the people, “For ourselves, we have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law through angels” (Ant. 15, 5, 3, Whiston’s translation).)
And even from the New Testament this cannot be proved to be a doctrine of the Scriptures. For when Stephen says to the Jews, in Act_7:53, “Ye have received the law” εις διαταγὰς αγγέλων (Eng. Ver. “by the disposition of angels”), and Paul speaks of the law in Gal_3:19 as διαταγεὶς δι αγγελων (“ordained by angels”), these expressions leave it quite uncertain in what the διατάσσειν of the angels consisted, or what part they took in connection with the giving of the law.
(Note: That Stephen cannot have meant to say that God spoke through a number of finite angels, is evident from the fact, that in Act_7:38 he had spoken just before of the Angel (in the singular) who spoke to Moses upon Mount Sinai, and had described him in Act_7:35 and Act_7:30 as the Angel who appeared to Moses in the bush, i.e., as no other than the Angel of Jehovah who was identical with Jehovah. “The Angel of the Lord occupies the same place in Act_7:38 as Jehovah in Ex 19. The angels in Act_7:53 and Gal_3:19 are taken from Deut 33. And there the angels do not come in the place of the Lord, but the Lord comes attended by them” (Hengstenberg).)
So again, in Heb_2:2, where the law, “the word spoken by angels” (δι αγγελων), is placed in contrast with the “salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord” (διὰ του Κυρίου), the antithesis is of so indefinite a nature that it is impossible to draw the conclusion with any certainty, that the writer of this epistle supposed the speaking of God at the promulgation of the decalogue to have been effected through the medium of a number of finite spirits, especially when we consider that in the Epistle to the Hebrews speaking is the term applied to the divine revelation generally (see Exo_1:1). As his object was not to describe with precision the manner in which God spake to the Israelites from Sinai, but only to show the superiority of the Gospel, as the revelation of salvation, to the revelation of the law; he was at liberty to select the indefinite expression δι αγγελων, and leaven it to the readers of his epistle to interpret it more fully for themselves from the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, however, the law was given through the medium of angels, only so far as God appeared to Moses, as He had done to the patriarchs, in the form of the “Angel of the Lord,” and Jehovah came down upon Sinai, according to Deu_33:2, surrounded by myriads of holy angels as His escort.
The notion that God spake through the medium of “His finite spirits” can only be sustained in one of two ways: either by reducing the angels to personifications of natural phenomena, such as thunder, lightning, and the sound of a trumpet, a process against which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews enters his protest in Exo_12:19, where he expressly distinguishes the “voice of words” from these phenomena of nature; or else by affirming, with v. Hoffmann, that God, the supernatural, cannot be conceived of without a plurality of spirits collected under Him, or apart from His active operation in the world of bodies, in distinction from which these spirits are comprehended with Him and under Him, so that even the ordinary and regular phenomena of nature would have to be regarded as the workings of angels; in which case the existence of angels as created spirits would be called in question, and they would be reduced to mere personifications of divine powers.
The words of the covenant, or ten words, were written by God upon two tables of stone (Exo_31:18), and are called the law and the commandment (וְהַמִּצְוָה הַתֹּורָה) in Exo_24:12, as being the kernel and essence of the law. But the Bible contains neither distinct statements, nor definite hints, with reference to the numbering and division of the commandments upon the two tables, – a clear proof that these points do not possess the importance which has frequently been attributed to them. The different views have arisen in the course of time. Some divide the ten commandments into two pentads, one upon each table. Upon the first they place the commandments concerning (1) other gods, (2) images, (3) the name of God, (4) the Sabbath, and (5) parents; on the second, those concerning (1) murder, (2) adultery, (3) stealing, (4) false witness, and (5) coveting. Others, again, reckon only three to the first table, and seven to the second. In the first they include the commandments respecting (1) other gods, (2) the name of God, (3) the Sabbath, or those which concern the duties towards God; and in the second, those respecting (1) parents, (2) murder, (3) adultery, (4) stealing, (5) false witness, (6) coveting a neighbour’s house, (7) coveting a neighbour’s wife, servants, cattle, and other possession, or those which concern the duties towards one’s neighbour. The first view, with the division into two fives, we find in Josephus (Ant. iii. 5, 5) and Philo (quis rer. divin. haer. §35, de Decal. §12, etc.); it is unanimously supported by the fathers of the first four centuries,
(Note: They either speak of two tables with five commandments upon each (Iren. adv. haer. ii. 42), or mention only one commandment against coveting (Constit. apost. i. 1, vii. 3; Theoph. ad Autol. ii. 50; Tertull, adv. Marc. ii. 17; Ephr. Syr. ad Ex. 20; Epiphan. haer. ii. 2, etc.), or else they expressly distinguish the commandment against images from that against other gods (Origen, homil. 8 in Ex.; Hieron. ad Ephes. vi. 2; Greg. Naz. carm. i. 1; Sulpicius Sev. hist. sacr. i. 17, etc.).)
and has been retained to the present day by the Eastern and Reformed Churches. The later Jews agree so far with this view, that they only adopt one commandment against coveting; but they differ from it in combining the commandment against images with that against false gods, and taking the introductory words “I am the Lord thy God” to be the first commandment. This mode of numbering, of which we find the first traces in Julian Apostata (in Cyrilli Alex. c. Julian l. V. init.), and in an allusion made by Jerome (on Hos_10:10), is at any rate of more recent origin, and probably arose simply from opposition to the Christians. It still prevails, however, among the modern Jews.
(Note: It is adopted by Gemar. Macc. f. 24 a; Targ. Jon. on Ex. and Deut.; Mechilta on Exo_20:15; Pesikta on Deu_5:6; and the rabbinical commentators of the middle ages.)
The second view was brought forward by Augustine, and no one is known to have supported it previous to him. In his Quaest. 71 on Ex., when treating of the question how the commandments are to be divided , he explains the two different views… He then proceeds still further to show that the commandment against images is only a fuller explanation of that against other gods, but that the commandment not to covet is divided into two commandments by the repetition of the words, “Thou shalt not covet,” although “concupiscentia uxoris alienae et concupiscentia domus alienae tantum in peccando differant.” In this division Augustine generally reckons the commandment against coveting the neighbour’s wife as the ninth, according to the text of Deuteronomy; although in several instances he places it after the coveting of the house, according to the text of Exodus. Through the great respect that was felt for Augustine, this division became the usual one in the Western Church; and it was adopted even by Luther and the Lutheran Church, with this difference, however, that both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches regard the commandment not to covet a neighbour’s house as the ninth, whilst only a few here and there give the preference, as Augustine does, to the order adopted in Deuteronomy.
Now if we inquire, which of these divisions of the ten commandments is the correct one, there is nothing to warrant either the assumption of the Talmud and the Rabbins, that the words, “I am Jehovah thy God,” etc., form the first commandment, or the preference given by Augustine to the text of Deuteronomy. The words, “I am the Lord,” etc., contain no independent member of the decalogue, but are merely the preface to the commandments which follow. “Hic sermo nondum sermo mandati est, sed quis sit, qui mandat, ostendit” (Origen, homil. 8 in Ex.). But, as we have already shown, the text of Deuteronomy, in all its deviations from the text of Exodus, can lay no claim to originality. As to the other two views which have obtained a footing in the Church, the historical credentials of priority and majority are not sufficient of themselves to settle the question in favour of the first, which is generally called the Philonian view, from its earliest supporter. It must be decided from the text of the Bible alone. Now in both substance and form this speaks against the Augustinian, Catholic, and Lutheran view, and in favour of the Philonian, or Oriental and Reformed. In substance; for whereas no essential difference can be pointed out in the two clauses which prohibit coveting, so that even Luther has made but one commandment of them in his smaller catechism, there was a very essential difference between the commandment against other gods and that against making an image of God, so far as the Israelites were concerned, as we may see not only from the account of the golden calf at Sinai, but also from the image worship of Gideon (Jdg_8:27), Micah (Jdg_17:1-13), and Jeroboam (1Ki_12:28.). In form; for the last five commandments differ from the first five, not only in the fact that no reasons are assigned for the former, whereas all the latter are enforced by reasons, in which the expression “Jehovah thy God” occurs every time; but still more in the fact, that in the text of Deuteronomy all the commandments after “Thou shalt do no murder” are connected together by the copula ו, which is repeated before every sentence, and from which we may see that Moses connected the commandments which treat of duties to one’s neighbour more closely together, and by thus linking them together showed that they formed the second half of the decalogue.
The weight of this testimony is not counterbalanced by the division into parashoth and the double accentuation of the Masoretic text, viz., by accents both above and below, even if we assume that this was intended in any way to indicate a logical division of the commandments. In the Hebrew MSS and editions of the Bible, the decalogue is divided into ten parashoth, with spaces between them marked either by ס (Setuma) or פ (Phetucha); and whilst the commandments against other gods and images, together with the threat and promise appended to them (Exo_20:3-6), form one parashah, the commandment against coveting (Exo_20:14) is divided by a setuma into two. But according to Kennicott (ad Exo_10:17; Deu_5:18, and diss. gener. p. 59) this setuma was wanting in 234 of the 694 MSS consulted by him, and in many exact editions of the Bible as well; so that the testimony is not unanimous here.It is no argument against this division into parashoth, that it does not agree either with the Philonian or the rabbinical division of the ten commandments, or with the Masoretic arrangement of the verses and the lower accents which correspond to this. For there can be no doubt that it is older than the Masoretic treatment of the text, though it is by no means original on that account. Even when the Targum on the Song of Sol. (Son_5:13) says that the tables of stone were written in ten שִׁטִּים or שִׁיטִים, i.e., rows or strophes, like the rows of a garden full of sweet odours, this Targum is much too recent to furnish any valid testimony to the original writing and plan of the decalogue. And the upper accentuation of the decalogue, which corresponds to the division into parashoth, has must as little claim to be received as a testimony in favour of “a division of the verses which was once evidently regarded as very significant” (Ewald); on the contrary, it was evidently added to the lower accentuation simply in order that the decalogue might be read in the synagogues on particular days after the parashoth.
(Note: See Geiger (wissensch. Ztschr. iii. 1, 151). According to the testimony of a Rabbin who had embraced Christianity, the decalogue was read in one way, when it occurred as a Sabbath parashah, either in the middle of January or at the beginning of July, and in another way at the feast of Pentecost, as the feast of the giving of the law; the lower accentuation being followed in the former case, and the upper in the latter. We may compare with this the account given in En Israel, fol. 103, col. 3, that one form of accentuation was intended for ordinary or private reading, the other for public reading in the synagogue.)
Hence the double accentuation was only so far of importance, as showing that the Masorites regarded the parashoth as sufficiently important, to be retained for reading in the synagogue by a system of accentuation which corresponded to them. But if this division into parashoth had been regarded by the Jews from time immemorial as original, or Mosaic, in its origin; it would be impossible to understand either the rise of other divisions of the decalogue, or the difference between this division and the Masoretic accentuation and arrangement of the verses. From all this so much at any rate is clear, that form a very early period there was a disposition to unite together the two commandments against other gods and images; but assuredly on no other ground than because of the threat and promise with which they are followed, and which must refer, as was correctly assumed, to both commandments. But if these two commandments were classified as one, there was no other way of bringing out the number ten, than to divide the commandment against coveting into two. But as the transposition of the wife and the house in the two texts could not well be reconciled with this, the setuma which separated them in Exo_20:14 did not meet with universal reception.
Lastly, on the division of the ten covenant words upon the two tables of stone, the text of the Bible contains no other information, than that “the tables were written on both their sides” (Exo_32:15), from which we may infer with tolerable certainty, what would otherwise have the greatest probability as being the most natural supposition, viz., that the entire contents of the “ten words” were engraved upon the tables, and not merely the ten commandments in the stricter sense, without the accompanying reasons.
(Note: If the whole of the contents stood upon the table, the ten words cannot have been arranged either according to Philo’s two pentads, or according to Augustine’s division into three and seven; for in either case there would have been far more words upon the first table than upon the second, and, according to Augustine’s arrangement, there would have been 131 upon one table, and only 41 upon the other. We obtain a much more suitable result, if the words of Exo_20:2-7, i.e., the first three commandments according to Philo’s reckoning, were engraved upon the one table, and the other seven from the Sabbath commandment onwards upon the other; for in that case there would be 96 words upon the first table and 76 upon the second. If the reasons for the commandments were not written along with them upon the tables, the commandments respecting the name and nature of God, and the keeping of the Sabbath, together with the preamble, which could not possibly be left out, would amount to 73 words in all, the commandment to honour one’s parents would contain 5 words, and the rest of the commandments 26.)
But if neither the numbering of the ten commandments nor their arrangement on the two tables was indicated in the law as drawn up for the guidance of the people of Israel, so that it was possible for even the Israelites to come to different conclusions on the subject; the Christian Church has all the more a perfect right to handle these matters with Christian liberty and prudence for the instruction of congregations in the law, from the fact that it is no longer bound to the ten commandments, as a part of the law of Moses, which has been abolished for them through the fulfilment of Christ, but has to receive them for the regulation of its own doctrine and life, simply as being the unchangeable norm of the holy will of God which was fulfilled through Christ.
The Hebrew name which is rendered in our King James Version as the ten commandments occurs in Exo_34:28; Deu_4:13; Deu_10:4. It literally means “the Ten Words.” The Ten Commandments are also called the law, even the commandment Exo_24:12, the words of the covenant Exo_34:28, the tables of the covenant Deu_9:9, the covenant Deu_4:13, the two tables Deu_9:10, Deu_9:17, and, most frequently, the testimony (e. g. Exo_16:34; Exo_25:16), or the two tables of the testimony (e. g. Exo_31:18). In the New Testament they are called simply the commandments (e. g. Mat_19:17). The name decalogue is found first in Clement of Alexandria, and was commonly used by the Fathers who followed him.
Thus we know that the tables were two, and that the commandments were ten, in number. But the Scriptures do not, by any direct statements, enable us to determine with precision how the Ten Commandments are severally to be made out, nor how they are to be allotted to the Two tables. On each of these points various opinions have been held (see Exo_20:12).
Of the Words of Yahweh engraven on the tables of Stone, we have two distinct statements, one in Exodus Exo. 20:1-17 and one in Deuteronomy Deu_5:7-21, apparently of equal authority, but differing principally from each other in the fourth, the fifth, and the tenth commandments.
It has been supposed that the original commandments were all in the same terse and simple form of expression as appears (both in Exodus and Deuteronomy) in the first, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, such as would be most suitable for recollection, and that the passages in each copy in which the most important variations are found were comments added when the books were written.
The account of the delivery of them in Exo. 19 and in Exo_20:18-21 is in accordance with their importance as the recognized basis of the covenant between Yahweh and His ancient people (Exo_34:27-28; Deu_4:13; 1Ki_8:21, etc.), and as the divine testimony against the sinful tendencies in man for all ages. While it is here said that “God spake all these words,” and in Deu_5:4, that He “talked face to face,” in the New Testament the giving of the law is spoken of as having been through the ministration of Angels Act_7:53; Gal_3:19; Heb_2:2. We can reconcile these contrasts of language by keeping in mind that God is a Spirit, and that He is essentially present in the agents who are performing His will.
Exo 20:2 I am the Lord thy God – Herein, God asserts his own authority to enact this law; and proposeth himself as the sole object of that religious worship which is enjoined in the four first commandments. They are here bound to obedience. Because God is the Lord, Jehovah, self – existent, independent, eternal, and the fountain of all being and power; therefore he has an incontestable right to command us. He was their God; a God in covenant with them; their God by their own consent. He had brought them out of the land of Egypt – Therefore they were bound in gratitude to obey him, because he had brought them out of a grievous slavery into a glorious liberty. By redeeming them, he acquired a farther right to rule them; they owed their service to him, to whom they owed their freedom. And thus, Christ, having rescued us out of the bondage of sin, is entitled to the best service we can do him. The four first commandments, concern our duty to God (commonly called the first – table.) It was fit those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love before he had a neighbour to love, and justice and charity are then only acceptable to God when they flow from the principles of piety.
Keil and Delitzsch
The Ten Words commenced with a declaration of Jehovah concerning Himself, which served as a practical basis for the obligation on the part of the people to keep the commandments: “I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee,” etc. By bringing them out of Egypt, the house of bondage, Jehovah had proved to the Israelites that He was their God. This glorious act, to which Israel owed its existence as an independent nation, was peculiarly fitted, as a distinct and practical manifestation of unmerited divine love, to kindle in the hearts of the people the warmest love in return, and to incite them to keep the commandments. These words are not to be regarded, as Knobel supposes, as either a confession, or the foundation of the whole of the theocratical law, just as Saleucus, Plato, and other lawgivers placed a belief in the existence of the gods at the head of their laws. They were rather the preamble, as Calvin says, by which God prepared the minds of the people for obeying them, and in this sense they were frequently repeated to give emphasis to other laws, sometimes in full, as in Exo_29:46; Lev_19:36; Lev_23:43; Lev_25:38, Lev_25:55; Lev_26:13, etc., sometimes in the abridged form, “I am Jehovah your God,” as in Lev_11:44; Lev_18:2, Lev_18:4, Lev_18:30; Lev_19:4, Lev_19:10, Lev_19:25, Lev_19:31, Lev_19:34; Lev_20:7, etc., for which the simple expression, “I am Jehovah,” is now and then substituted, as in Lev_19:12-13, Lev_19:16, Lev_19:18, etc.
Which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – It has been asked: Why, on this occasion, was not the Lord rather proclaimed as “the Creator of Heaven and Earth”? The answer is, Because the Ten Commandments were at this time addressed by Yahweh not merely to human creatures, but to the people whom He had redeemed, to those who had been in bondage, but were now free men Exo_6:6-7; Exo_19:5. The commandments are expressed in absolute terms. They are not sanctioned by outward penalties, as if for slaves, but are addressed at once to the conscience, as for free men. The well-being of the nation called for the infliction of penalties, and therefore statutes were passed to punish offenders who blasphemed the name of Yahweh, who profaned the Sabbath, or who committed murder or adultery. (See Lev_18:24-30 note.) But these penal statutes were not to be the ground of obedience for the true Israelite according to the covenant. He was to know Yahweh as his Redeemer, and was to obey him as such (Compare Rom_13:5).
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. In this commandment God enjoins that He alone should be worshipped, and requires a worship free from all superstition. For although it seems to be a simple prohibition, yet must we deduce an affirmation from the negative, as will be more apparent from the following words. Therefore does He set Himself before them, in order that the Israelites may look to Him alone; and claims His own just right, in order that it may not be transferred elsewhere. All do not agree in the exposition of the words, for some construe the word פנים, panim,“anger,” as if it were said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself other gods to provoke my anger;” and I admit that the Hebrew word is often used in this sense. The other interpretation, however, seems to me the more correct, “Make not to thyself gods before my face.” Yet still there remains a difference of opinion, for people are not agreed as to the particle על, gnel. Some explain it, “Make not to thyself gods above me, or whom thou mayest prefer to me;” and they quote the passage in Deu_21:15, wherein God forbids a man, if he have two wives, and children by both, to transfer the rights of primogeniture to the second before the face of the first-born. But though we admit that a comparison is there made between the elder and the younger, still it would be too frigid an interpretation here to say that God demands nothing more than that other gods should not obtain the higher place; whereas He neither suffers them to be likened to Him, nor even to be joined with Him as companions; for religion is defiled and corrupted as soon as God’s glory is diminished in the very least degree. And we know that when the Israelites worshipped their Baalim, they did not so substitute them in the place of God as to put Him altogether aside, and assign to them the supreme power; nevertheless, this was an intolerable profanation of God’s worship, and moreover an impious transgression of this precept, to choose for themselves patrons in whom some part of the Deity should be lodged; because if God have not alone the pre-eminence, His majesty is so far obscured. I consider,therefore, the genuine sense to be, that the Israelites should not make to themselves any gods, whom they might oppose to the true and only God. For in Hebrew the expression, before the face, generally means over against; therefore God would not have companions obtruded upon Him, and placed as it were in His sight. Meanwhile, it seems probable to me that He alludes to that manifestation of Himself which ought to have retained His people in sincere piety; for true and pure religion was so revealed in the Law, that God’s face in a manner shone forth therein. The case was different with the Gentiles, who, although they might rashly make to themselves false gods, still would not do so before the face of God, which was unknown to them. Let us then understand, after all, that those alone are accounted the legitimate worshippers of God who bid adieu to all figments, and cleave to Him alone. Nor can it be doubted that these words comprehend the inward worship of God, since this commandment differs from the next, whereby external idolatry will be seen to be condemned. It is sufficiently notorious, that men may make to themselves gods in other ways besides in statues, and pictures, and in visible forms. If any should adore the angels instead of God, or should foolishly imagine any other secret divinity, none will deny that he would offend against this Law. God, therefore, calls for the affections of the heart, that He alone may be spiritually worshipped; and the expression “before my face,” may be not inaptly referred to this; because, although their impiety, who secretly turn aside to false worship, and cherish their errors within their own bosoms, may be able to evade the eyes of men, yet their hypocrisy and treachery will not escape the notice of God. Hence, again, it follows, that the one God is not rightly worshipped, unless He be separated from all figments. Wherefore it is not enough to make use of His name, unless all corruptions opposed to His word be laid aside; and thence we arrive at the distinction between true religion and false superstitions; for since God has prescribed to us how He would be worshipped by us, whenever we turn away in the very smallest degree from this rule, we make to ourselves other gods, and degrade Him from His right place.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me – אלהים אחרים elohim acherim, no strange gods – none that thou art not acquainted with, none who has not given thee such proofs of his power and godhead as I have done in delivering thee from the Egyptians, dividing the Red Sea, bringing water out of the rock, quails into the desert, manna from heaven to feed thee, and the pillar of cloud to direct, enlighten, and shield thee. By these miracles God had rendered himself familiar to them, they were intimately acquainted with the operation of his hands; and therefore with great propriety he says, Thou shalt have no strange gods before me; על פני al panai, before or in the place of those manifestations which I have made of myself.
This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things. As God is the fountain of happiness, and no intelligent creature can be happy but through him, whoever seeks happiness in the creature is necessarily an idolater; as he puts the creature in the place of the Creator, expecting that from the gratification of his passions, in the use or abuse of earthly things, which is to be found in God alone. The very first commandment of the whole series is divinely calculated to prevent man’s misery and promote his happiness, by taking him off from all false dependence, and leading him to God himself, the fountain of all good.
Exo 20:3 The first commandment is concerning the object of our worship, Jehovah, and him only, Thou shalt have no other gods before me – The Egyptians, and other neighbouring nations, had many gods, creatures of their own fancy. This law was pre – fixed because of that transgression; and Jehovah being the God of Israel, they must entirely cleave to him, and no other, either of their own invention, or borrowed from their neighbours. The sin against this commandment, which we are most in danger of, is giving that glory to any creature which is due to God only. Pride makes a God of ourselves, covetousness makes a God of money, sensuality makes a God of the belly. Whatever is loved, feared, delighted in, or depended on, more than God, that we make a god of. This prohibition includes a precept which is the foundation of the whole law, that we take the Lord for our God, accept him for ours, adore him with humble reverence, and set our affections entirely upon him. There is a reason intimated in the last words before me. It intimates, That we cannot have any other god but he will know it. That it is a sin that dares him to his face, which he cannot, will not, overlook. The second commandment is concerning the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped, which it is fit himself should appoint. Here is, [1.] The prohibition; we are forbidden to worship even the true God by images, Exo_20:4-5. First, The Jews (at least after the captivity) thought themselves forbidden by this to make any image or picture whatsoever. It is certain it forbids making any image of God, for to whom can we liken him? Isa_40:18, Isa_40:25. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. Secondly, They must not bow down to them – Shew any sign of honour to them, much less serve them by sacrifice, or any other act of religious worship. When they paid their devotion to the true God, they must not have any image before them for the directing, exciting, or assisting their devotion. Though the worship was designed to terminate in God, it would not please him if it came to him through an image. The best and most ancient lawgivers among the Heathen forbad the setting up of images in their temples. It was forbidden in Rome by Numa a Pagan prince, yet commanded in Rome by the Pope, a Christian bishop. The use of images in the church of Rome, at this day, is so plainly contrary to the letter of this command, that in all their catechisms, which they put into the hand of the people, they leave out this commandment, joining the reason of it to the first, and so the third commandment they call the second, the fourth the third, &c. only to make up the number ten, they divide the tenth into two. For I the Lord Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God, especially in things of this nature. It intimates the care he has of his own institutions, his displeasure against idolaters, and that he resents every thing in his worship that looks like, or leads to, idolatry: visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation – Severely punishing. Nor is it an unrighteous thing with God if the parents died in their iniquity, and the children tread in their steps, when God comes, by his judgments, to reckon with them, to bring into the account the idolatries their fathers were guilty of. Keeping mercy for thousands of persons, thousands of generations, of them that love me and keep my commandments – This intimates, that the second commandment, though in the letter of it is only a prohibition of false worship, yet includes a precept of worshipping God in all those ordinances which he hath instituted. As the first commandment requires the inward worship of love, desire, joy, hope, so this the outward worship of prayer and praise, and solemn attendance on his word. This mercy shall extend to thousands, much further than the wrath threatened to those that hate him, for that reaches but to the third or fourth generation.
Before me – Literally, “before my face.” The meaning is that no god should be worshipped in addition to Yahweh. Compare Exo_20:23. The polytheism which was the besetting sin of the Israelites did not in later times exclude Yahweh, but associated Him with false deities. (Compare the original of 1Sa_2:25.)
4.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.In the First Commandment, after He had taught who was the true God, He commanded that He alone should e worshipped; and now He defines what is His Legitimate Worship. Now, since these are two distinct things, we conclude that the commandments are also distinct, in which different things are treated of. The former indeed precedes in order, viz., that believers are to be contented with one God; but it would not be sufficient for us to be instructed to worship him alone, unless we also knew the manner in which He would be worshipped. The sum is, that the worship of God must be spiritual, in order that it may correspond with His nature. For although Moses only speaks of idolatry, yet there is no doubt but that by synecdoche, as in all the rest of the Law, he condemns all fictitious services which men in their ingenuity have invented. For hence have arisen the carnal mixtures whereby God’s worship has been profaned, that they estimate Him according to their own reason, and thus in a manner metamorphose Him. It is necessary, then, to remember what God is, lest we should form any gross or earthly ideas respecting Him. The words simply express that it is wrong for men to seek the presence of God in any visible image, because He cannot be represented to our eyes. The command that they should not make any likeness, either of any thing which is in heaven, or in the earth, or in the waters under the earth, is derived from the evil custom which had everywhere prevailed; for, since superstition is never uniform, but is drawn aside in various directions, some thought that God was represented under the form of fishes, others under that of birds, others in that of brutes; and history especially recounts by what shameless delusions Egypt was led astray. And hence too the vanity of men is declared, since, whithersoever they turn their eyes, they everywhere lay hold of the materials of error, notwithstanding that God’s glory shines on every side, and whatever is seen above or below, invites us to the true God.
Since, therefore, men are thus deluded, so as to frame for themselves the materials of error from all things they behold, Moses now elevates them above the whole fabric and elements of the world; for by the things that are “in heaven above,” he designates not only the birds, but the sun, and the moon, and all the stars also; as will soon be seen. He declares, then, that a true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence that His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. Now we must remark, that there are two parts in the Commandment — the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows. Therefore, to devise any image of God, is in itself impious; because by this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is. There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it. And assuredly it is a most gross indecency to make God like a stock or a stone. Some expound the words, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore;” as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored; but the expositions which will follow will easily refute their error. Meanwhile, I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship. And surely whosoever reverently and soberly feels and thinks about God Himself, is far from this absurdity; nor does any desire or presumption to metamorphose God ever creep in, except when coarse and carnal imaginations occupy our minds. Hence it comes to pass, that those, who frame for themselves gods of corruptible materials, superstitiously adore the work of their own hands. I will then readily allow these two things, which are inseparable, to be joined together; only let us recollect that God is insulted, not only when His worship is transferred to idols, but when we try to represent Him by any outward similitude.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Thou shalt not make … any graven image … thou shalt not bow down thyself to them — that is, “make in order to bow.” Under the auspices of Moses himself, figures of cherubim, brazen serpents, oxen, and many other things in the earth beneath, were made and never condemned. The mere making was no sin – it was the making with the intent to give idolatrous worship.
Jealous God – This shows in a most expressive manner the love of God to this people. He felt for them as the most affectionate husband could do for his spouse; and was jealous for their fidelity, because he willed their invariable happiness.
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – This necessarily implies – if the children walk in the steps of their fathers; for no man can be condemned by Divine justice for a crime of which he was never guilty; see Ezekiel 18. Idolatry is however particularly intended, and visiting sins of this kind refers principally to national judgments. By withdrawing the Divine protection the idolatrous Israelites were delivered up into the hands of their enemies, from whom the gods in whom they had trusted could not deliver them. This God did to the third and fourth generations, i.e., successively; as may be seen in every part of the Jewish history, and particularly in the book of Judges. And this, at last, became the grand and the only effectual and lasting means in his hand of their final deliverance from idolatry; for it is well known that after the Babylonish captivity the Israelites were so completely saved from idolatry, as never more to have disgraced themselves by it as they had formerly done. These national judgments, thus continued from generation to generation, appear to be what are designed by the words in the text, Visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, etc.
A jealous God – Deu_6:15; Jos_24:19; Isa_42:8; Isa_48:11; Nah_1:2. This reason applies to the First, as well as to the second commandment. The truth expressed in it was declared more fully to Moses when the name of Yahweh was proclaimed to him after he had interceded for Israel on account of the golden calf (Exo_34:6-7; see the note).
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children – (Compare Exo_34:7; Jer_32:18). Sons and remote descendants inherit the consequences of their fathers’ sins, in disease, poverty, captivity, with all the influences of bad example and evil communications. (See Lev_26:39; Lam_5:7 following) The “inherited curse” seems to fall often most heavily on the least guilty persons; but such suffering must always be free from the sting of conscience; it is not like the visitation for sin on the individual by whom the sin has been committed. The suffering, or loss of advantages, entailed on the unoffending son, is a condition under which he has to carry on the struggle of life, and, like all other inevitable conditions imposed upon men, it cannot tend to his ultimate disadvantage, if he struggles well and perseveres to the end. The principle regulating the administration of justice by earthly tribunals Deu_24:16, is carried out in spiritual matters by the Supreme Judge.
Thou shalt not take the name. There is a manifest synecdoche in this Commandment; for in order that God may procure for His name its due reverence, He forbids its being taken in vain, especially in oaths. Whence we infer on the other hand an affirmative commandment, that every oath should be a testimony of true piety, whereby the majesty of God Himself should obtain its proper glory.
Moreover, it is clear that not only when we swear by God, His name is to be reverently honored, but whenever mention of it is made. Thus in these words He maintains His holiness not only in His word, but also in His works, against all profane contempt of it. We shall soon see that to swear by God’s name is a species or part of religious worship, and this is manifest too from the words of Isa_45:23; for when he predicts that all nations shall devote themselves to pure religion, he thus speaks, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall swear by me.” Now, if the bowing of the knees be a token of adoration, this swearing which is connected with it is equivalent to an acknowledgment that He is God. Since, then, reason dictates that the species is put for the genus, we must see what is to be understood by God’s name, and by the adverb לשוא, leshav. It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables; but, whereas His essence is invisible, His name is set before us as an image, in so far as God manifests Himself to us, and is distinctly made known to us by His own marks, just as men are each by his own name. On this ground Christ teaches that God’s name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the temple, the altar, (Mat_5:34,) because His glory is conspicuous in them. Consequently, God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, truth, clemency, and rectitude. If a shorter definition be preferred, let us say that His name is what Paul calls τὸ γνωστόν, “that which may be known” of Him. (Rom_1:19.)
God’s name, then, is taken in vain, not only when any one abuses it by perjury, but when it is lightly and disrespectfully adduced in proof of frivolous and trifling matters: I speak with respect to oaths. In this, however, man’s ingratitude is very gross, that when God grants them His name, as if at their entreaty, to put an end to their strifes and to be a pledge of their truth, still it flies promiscuously from their mouths not without manifest disrespect. God will again condemn perjury in the Fifth Commandment of the Second Table, viz., in so far as it offends against and violates charity by injuring our neighbors. The aim and object of this Commandment is different,i.e.,that the honor due to God may be unsullied; that we should only speak of Him religiously; that becoming veneration of Him should be maintained among us. The word לשוא, leshau, might indeed be translated “for falsehood,” and in this sense we shall see it used elsewhere; but since it often is equivalent to חנם, chinam, which means gratuitously, or in vain, this exposition seems to be most appropriate. In this, too, fuller and richer instruction is contained, viz., that men should not drag in His name in light matters, as in sport or derision of Him, which cannot be done without insulting and profaning it. And thus the holiness of God’s name, which preserves us in His fear and in true piety, is contrasted with the particle לשוא, leshau. But since nothing is more difficult than to restrain men’s licentiousness in this respect, and to excuse or at least diminish the sin, the slipperiness of the tongue is pleaded, its punishment is here denounced: that if God’s name is rashly exposed to reproach or contempt, He will avenge it. The more hardened, therefore, in their licentiousness they may be, the less will be their impunity; so far is depraved habit from diminishing the guilt.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain – This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing where the name of God is used, or where he is appealed to as a witness of the truth. It also necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of his attributes; and this the original word לשוא lashshav particularly imports: and we may safely add to all these, that every prayer, ejaculation, etc., that is not accompanied with deep reverence and the genuine spirit of piety, is here condemned also. In how many thousands of instances is this commandment broken in the prayers, whether read or extempore, of inconsiderate, bold, and presumptuous worshippers! And how few are there who do not break it, both in their public and private devotions! How low is piety when we are obliged in order to escape damnation, to pray to God to “pardon the sins of our holy things!” Even heathens thought that the names of their gods should be treated with reverence. Παντως μεν δη καλον επι ηδευμα, θεων ονοματα μη χραινειν ραδιως, εχοντα ως εχουσιν ημων εκαστοτε τα πολλα οι πλειστοι καθαροτητος τε και αγνειας τα περι τους θεους. “It is most undoubtedly right not easily to pollute the names of the gods, using them as we do common names; but to watch with purity and holiness all things belonging to the gods.”
The Lord will not hold him guiltless, etc. – Whatever the person himself may think or hope, however he may plead in his own behalf, and say he intends no evil, etc.; if he in any of the above ways, or in any other way, takes the name of God in vain, God will not hold him guiltless – he will account him guilty and punish him for it. Is it necessary to say to any truly spiritual mind, that all such interjections as O God! my God! good God! good Heavens! etc., etc., are formal positive breaches of this law? How many who pass for Christians are highly criminal here!
Exo 20:7 The third commandment is concerning the manner of our worship; Where we have, [1.] A strict prohibition. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain – Supposing that, having taken Jehovah for their God, they would make mention of his name, this command gives a caution not to mention it in vain, and it is still as needful as ever. We take God’s name in vain, First, By hypocrisy, making profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession. Secondly, By covenant breaking. If we make promises to God, and perform not to the Lord our vows, we take his name in vain. Thirdly, By rash swearing, mentioning the name of God, or any of his attributes, in the form of an oath, without any just occasion for it, but to no purpose, or to no good purpose. Fourthly, By false – swearing, which some think is chiefly intended in the letter of the commandment. Fifthly, By using the name of God lightly and carelessly. The profanation of the form of devotion is forbidden, as well as the profanation of the forms of swearing; as also, the profanation of any of those things whereby God makes himself known. For the Lord will not hold him guiltless – Magistrates that punish other offences, may not think themselves concerned to take notice of this; but God, who is jealous for his honour, will not connive at it. The sinner may perhaps hold himself guiltless, and think there is no harm in it; to obviate which suggestion, the threatening is thus expressed, God will not hold him guiltless – But more is implied, that God will himself be the avenger of those that take his name in vain; and they will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Our translators make the Third commandment bear upon any profane and idle utterance of the name of God. Others give it the sense, “Thou shalt not swear falsely by the name of Jehovah thy God.” The Hebrew word which answers to “in vain” may be rendered either way. The two abuses of the sacred name seem to be distinguished in Lev_19:12 (see Mat_5:33). Our King James Version is probably right in giving the rendering which is more inclusive. The caution that a breach of this commandment incurs guilt in the eyes of Yahweh is especially appropriate, in consequence of the ease with which the temptation to take God’s name “in vain” besets people in their common conversation with each other.
Exo_20:8.Remember the Sabbath-day.The object of this Commandment is that believers should exercise themselves in the worship of God; for we know how prone men are to fall into indifference, unless they have some props to lean on or some stimulants to arouse them in maintaining their care and zeal for religion. Under the Second Commandment we have already indeed made some remarks on the outward profession of piety, and under the First also brief mention has been made of some festivals, inasmuch as in the passover and the offering of the first-fruits the people devoted themselves to God, as if by a solemn repetition of the covenant. Many also of the ceremonies which we have explained had an affinity to the Sabbath. Yet it is not without good cause that God has appointed a special place to the Sabbath as well as to the other festivals; and although there is a connection between the observance of the Sabbath and the tabernacle with its sacrifices, and the priesthood itself, still it was advisedly done that the festivals should be separately appointed, that by their aid the people might be the more encouraged to maintain the unity of the faith and to preserve the harmony of the Church. Meanwhile, the mutual connection between the sanctuary and the Sabbath is evident from what has been already said. God indeed would have it to be a notable symbol of distinction between the Jews and heathen nations. Whence, too, the devil, in order to asperse pure and holy religion with infamy, has often traduced the Jewish Sabbath through froward tongues. But the better to shew what there is peculiar in this Commandment, and what is its difference from the First, we must remember the spiritual substance of the type; for not only did God prescribe certain days for the holding of assemblies, in which the people might give attention to sacrifices, prayers, and the celebration of His praise; but He placed before their eyes as the perfection of sanctity that they should all cease from their works. Surely God has no delight in idleness and sloth, and therefore there was no importance in the simple cessation of the labors of their hands and feet; nay, it would have been a childish superstition to rest with no other view than to occupy their repose in the service of God. Wherefore, lest we should make any mistake in the meaning of this Commandment, it is well to remember its analogy and conformity with the thing it signifies; i.e., that the Jews might know that their lives could not be approved by God unless, by ceasing from their own works, they should divest themselves of their reason, counsels, and all the feelings and affections of the flesh. For they were not forbidden without exception from the performance of every work, since they were required both to circumcise their children, and to bring the victims into the court, and to offer them in sacrifice on that day; but they were only called away from their own works, that, as if dead to themselves and to the world, they might wholly devote themselves to God. Wherefore, since God declares elsewhere by Moses, and again by Ezekiel, that the Sabbath is a sign between Him and the Jews that He sanctifies them, (Eze_31:13; Eze_20:12,) we must see what is the sum of this sanctification, viz., the death of the flesh, when men deny themselves and renounce their earthly nature, so that they may be ruled and guided by the Spirit of God.
Although this is sufficiently plain, still it will be worth while to confirm it by further statements. And first of all, that this was a ceremonial precept, Paul clearly teaches, calling it a shadow of these things, the body of which is only Christ. (Col_2:17.) But if the outward rest was nothing but a ceremony, the substance of which must be sought in Christ, it now remains to be considered how Christ actually exhibited what was then prefigured; and this the same Apostle declares, when he states that “our old man is crucified with Christ,” and that we are buried with Him, that His resurrection may be to us newness of life. (Rom_6:4.) It is to be gathered without doubt from many passages, that the keeping of the Sabbath was a serious matter, since God inculcates no other commandment more frequently, nor more strictly requires obedience to any; and again, when He complains that He is despised, and that the Jews have fallen into extreme ungodliness, He simply says that His “Sabbaths are polluted,” as if religion principally consisted in their observance. (Jer_17:24; Eze_20:21.) Moreover, if there had not been some peculiar excellency in the Sabbath, it might have appeared to be an act of atrocious injustice to command a man to be put to death for cutting wood upon it. (Num_15:32.) Wherefore it must be concluded that the substance of the Sabbath, which Paul declares to be in Christ, must have been no ordinary good thing. Nor does its excellency require much eulogium, since spiritual rest is nothing else than the truly desirable and blessed death of man, which contains in it the life of God, even as Paul glories that he is as it were dead, because Christ liveth in him. (Gal_2:20.) The Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews argues more subtilely, that true rest is brought to us by the Gospel, and that it is rejected by unbelievers, (Heb_4:3;) for although he mixes up some allegorical matter with it, he still retains the genuine reason of the Commandment, viz., that we should rest from our works “even as God from His.” (Heb_4:10.) On this ground Isaiah, when he reproves the hypocrites for insisting only on the external ceremony of rest, accuses them of “finding their own pleasure” on the Sabbath, (Isa_58:13;) as much as to say, that the legitimate use of the Sabbath must be supposed to be self-renunciation, since he is in fact accounted to cease from his works who is not led by his own will nor indulges his own wishes, but who suffers himself to be directed by the Spirit of God. And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustin remark in the last chapter of the 22d book, De Civitate Dei, (331) —“For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, Thou shalt not do any servile work in it.”
Next it is asked, why God rather assigned every seventh day to the Sabbath rather than the sixth or tenth. Because the number seven often represents perfection in Scripture, some have thought that believers were thus reminded that they must strive after perfect holiness with all their might, and not devote themselves to God by halves only. Others elicit a different meaning from it, although not a contrary one, that believers were taught that although they might be sanctified and laboring in all sincerity to cease from their own life, still some remainders of the flesh would continue in them, and therefore that through the whole course of their life they must aspire to that holiness which no mortal attains. I do not, however, doubt but that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, that He might give a manifestation of the perfect excellency of His works, and thus, proposing Himself as the model for our imitation, He signifies that He calls His own people to the true goal of felicity. Although a promise is included in this Commandment, yet will we observe upon it separately, and as if by the way. He promises indeed that as He blessed the seventh day and set it apart, so He will bless believers to sanctify them. But the main point is the command, and the recital of the blessing is equivalent to an exhortation to obedience, since otherwise it would be inappropriately placed here amongst the Commandments of the Law. When I said that the ordinance of rest was a type of a spiritual and far higher mystery, and hence that this Commandment must be accounted ceremonial, I must not be supposed to mean that it had no other different objects also. And certainly God took the seventh day for His own and hallowed it, when the creation of the world was finished, that He might keep His servants altogether free from every care, for the consideration of the beauty, excellence, and fitness of His works. There is indeed no moment which should be allowed to pass in which we are not attentive to the consideration of the wisdom, power, goodness, and justice of God in His admirable creation and government of the world; but, since our minds are fickle, and apt therefore to be forgetful or distracted, God, in His indulgence providing against our infirmities, separates one day from the rest, and commands that it should be free from all earthly business and cares, so that nothing may stand in the way of that holy occupation. On this ground He did not merely wish that people should rest at home, but that they should meet in the sanctuary, there to engage themselves in prayer and sacrifices, and to make progress in religious knowledge through the interpretation of the Law. In this respect we have an equal necessity for the Sabbath with the ancient people, so that on one day we may be free, and thus the better prepared to learn and to testify our faith. A third object of the Sabbath is also stated by Moses, but an accidental one as it were, viz., that it may be a day of relaxation for servants. Since this pertains to the rule of charity, it has not properly any place in the First Table, and is therefore added by Moses as an extrinsic advantage, as will be seen a little further on.
8.Remember the Sabbath-day.The word keep is used in Deuteronomy with the same meaning. Hence we infer that it is no trifling matter here in question, since God enforces the sanctity of the Sabbath by these two words, and exhorts the Jews to its scrupulous observance, thus condemning carelessness about it as a transgression. Moreover, when He says, “Six days shalt thou labor,” He indirectly reproves their ingratitude, if it should be irksome and disagreeable to them, to devote one day out of the seven to God, when He in His generosity gives up six to themselves. For he does not, as some have foolishly thought, make a demand here for six days’ labor; but by His very kindness entices them to obedience, since He only claims a seventh part (of their time) for Himself — as if He had said, Since you cannot be instant in seeking me with all your affection and attention, at any rate give up to me some little undistracted time. Therefore, He says, “all thy work,” whereby He signifies that they have plenty of time, exclusive of the Sabbath, for all their business.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy – See what has been already said on this precept, Gen_2:2, and elsewhere. See Clarke’s note on Gen_2:2. As this was the most ancient institution, God calls them to remember it; as if he had said, Do not forget that when I had finished my creation I instituted the Sabbath, and remember why I did so, and for what purposes. The word שבת shabbath signifies rest or cessation from labor; and the sanctification of the seventh day is commanded, as having something representative in it; and so indeed it has, for it typifies the rest which remains for the people of God, and in this light it evidently appears to have been understood by the apostle, Hebrews 4. Because this commandment has not been particularly mentioned in the New Testament as a moral precept binding on all, therefore some have presumptuously inferred that there is no Sabbath under the Christian dispensation. The truth is, the Sabbath is considered as a type: all types are of full force till the thing signified by them takes place; but the thing signified by the Sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the people of God, therefore the moral obligation of the Sabbath must continue till time be swallowed up in eternity.
Exo 20:8 The fourth commandment concerns the time of worship; God is to be served and honoured daily; but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honour, and spent in his service. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy; in it thou shalt do no manner of work – It is taken for granted that the sabbath was instituted before. We read of God’s blessing and sanctifying a seventh day from the beginning, Gen_2:3, so that this was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of an old law. 1st. They are told what is the day, they must observe, a seventh after six days labour, whether this was the seventh by computation from the first seventh, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain. A late pious Writer seems to prove, That the sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt; which change continued till our Lord rose again: But that then the Original Sabbath was restored. And he makes it highly probable, at least, That the sabbath we observe, is the seventh day from the creation. 2dly, How it must be observed; As a day of rest; they were to do no manner of work on this day, in their worldly business. As a holy day, set apart to the honour of the holy God, and to be spent in holy exercises. God, by his blessing it, had made it holy; they, by solemn blessing him, must keep it holy, and not alienate it to any other purpose than that for which the difference between it and other days was instituted. 3dly, Who must observe it? Thou and thy son and thy daughter – The wife is not mentioned, because she is supposed to be one with the husband, and present with him, and if he sanctify the sabbath, it is taken for granted she will join with him; but the rest of the family is instanced in it, children and servants must keep it according to their age and capacity. In this, as in other instances of religion, it is expected that masters of families should take care, not only to serve the Lord themselves, but that their houses also should serve him. Even the proselyted strangers must observe a difference between this day and other days, which, if it laid some restraint upon them then, yet proved a happy indication of God’s gracious design, to bring the Gentiles into the church. By the sanctification of the sabbath, the Jews declared that they worshipped the God that made the world, and so distinguished themselves from all other nations, who worshipped gods which they themselves made. God has given us an example of rest after six days work; he rested the seventh day – Took a complacency in himself, and rejoiced in the work of his hand, to teach us on that day, to take a complacency in him, and to give him the glory of his works. The sabbath begun in the finishing of the work of creation; so will the everlasting sabbath in the finishing of the work of providence and redemption; and we observe the weekly sabbath in expectation of that, as well as in remembrance of the former, in both conforming ourselves to him we worship. He hath himself blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. He hath put an honour upon it; it is holy to the Lord, and honourable; and he hath put blessings into it which he hath encouraged us to expect from him in the religious observation of that day. Let us not profane, dishonour, and level that with common time, which God’s blessing hath thus dignified and distinguished.
Six days shalt thou labor – Therefore he who idles away time on any of the six days, is as guilty before God as he who works on the Sabbath. No work should be done on the Sabbath that can be done on the preceding days, or can be deferred to the succeeding ones. Works of absolute necessity and mercy are alone excepted. He who works by his servants or cattle is equally guilty as if he worked himself. Hiring out horses, etc., for pleasure or business, going on journeys, paying worldly visits, or taking jaunts on the Lord’s day, are breaches of this law. The whole of it should be devoted to the rest of the body and the improvement of the mind. God says he has hallowed it – he has made it sacred and set it apart for the above purposes. It is therefore the most proper day for public religious worship.
Ex 20:10.Thou shalt not do any work. That is, whatever could have been finished yesterday, or postponed till to-morrow. (For instance, ) it was not lawful for judges to give a hearing to two litigants; but if any one had violently assaulted his neighbor, it was allowable to prevent the injury, and to give relief to the unoffending person; because the necessity of the case admitted of no delay. It was not lawful to cook food for your guests; but if an ox or an ass had fallen into a pit it was to be taken out, because aid would have been too late on the morrow. For this reason Christ. declares that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mar_2:27,) since God does not require more than was useful or necessary for keeping the people in the exercise of piety. Thus it would have been wicked to send out an ox to pasture; but if an ox that tossed had got out, it was right to bring it back to its stall, lest it should kill or injure those whom it met.
Thy man-servant and thy maid-servant. Although it is added in Deuteronomy that God had respect to equity, when He commands a relaxation from labor to be given to the men and maid-servants, and the Israelites are called upon to remember that they were once servants, that they may be more disposed to act humanely, still we must bear in mind what I have stated, that the direct object here was the honoring of the One God. We know that the whole race of Abraham were consecrated to God, and that their servants were a kind of adjunct to them, so that they were circumcised in common with themselves. And assuredly it is very absurd that a man should encourage a profane contempt of God in the family over which he presides, and in which he would be recognised as master. The case of “strangers” was different, who were obliged to rest on the Sabbath, although they remained uncircumcised; for he does not only refer to the foreigners, who had subscribed to the Law, but also to the uncircumcised. If any should object that they were improperly made partakers of the sacred sign whereby God had bound His elect people to Himself, the reply is easy, that this was not done for their sakes, but lest anything opposed to the Sabbath should happen beneath the eyes of the Israelites; as we may understand more clearly from the case of the oxen and asses. Surely God would never have required spiritual service of brute animals; yet He ordained their repose as a lesson, so that wherever the Israelites turned their eyes, they might be incited to the observation of the Sabbath. Nor can we wonder at this, when in the general mournings which were appointed for the deprecation of God’s wrath, a fast was imposed upon the brutes, that wretched men being admonished by the sight, might feel the burden of their guilt the more, and by their voluntary serf-accusation might prevent the judgment of God, and might be seriously dissatisfied with themselves on account of those sins, whose punishment they saw to be imposed to a certain degree upon innocent animals. Besides, if the very least liberty had been conceded to them, they would have done many things to evade the Law in their days of rest, by employing strangers and the cattle in their work.
The sabbath … – a Sabbath to Yahweh thy God. The proper meaning of “sabbath” is, “rest after labor.” Compare Exo_16:26.
Thy stranger that is within thy gates – Not a “stranger,” as is an unknown person, but a “lodger,” or “sojourner.” In this place it denotes one who had come from another people to take up his permanent abode among the Israelites, and who might have been well known to his neighbors. That the word did not primarily refer to foreign domestic servants (though all such were included under it) is to be inferred from the term used for “gates,” signifying not the doors of a private dwelling, but the gates of a town or camp.
11.For in six days the Lord made.From this passage it may be probably conjectured that the hallowing of the Sabbath was prior to the Law; and undoubtedly what Moses has before narrated, that they were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day, seems to have had its origin from a well-known and received custom; whilst it is not credible that the Observance of the Sabbath was omitted, when God revealed the rite of sacrifice to the holy (Fathers.) But what in the depravity of human nature was altogether extinct among heathen nations, and almost obsolete with the race of Abraham, God renewed in His Law: that the Sabbath should be honored by holy and inviolable observance; and this the impure dogs accounted to be amongst the disgraces of the Jewish nation.
Keil and Delitzsch
The Fourth Word, “Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy,” presupposes an acquaintance with the Sabbath, as the expression “remember” is sufficient to show, but not that the Sabbath had been kept before this. From the history of the creation that had been handed down, Israel must have known, that after God had created the world in six days He rested the seventh day, and by His resting sanctified the day (Gen_2:3). But hitherto there had been no commandment given to man to sanctify the day. This was given for the first time to Israel at Sinai, after preparation had been made for it by the fact that the manna did not fall on the seventh day of the week (Exo_16:22). Here therefore the mode of sanctifying it was established for the first time. The seventh day was to be שַׁבָּי (a festival-keeper, see Exo_16:23), i.e., a day of rest belonging to the Lord, and to be consecrated to Him by the fact that no work was performed upon it. The command not to do any (כֹּל) work applied to both man and beast without exception. Those who were to rest are divided into two classes by the omission of the cop. ו before עַבְדְּךָ (Exo_20:10): viz., first, free Israelites (“thou”) and their children (“thy son and thy daughter”); and secondly, their slaves (man-servant and maid-servant), and cattle (beasts of draught and burden), and their strangers, i.e., foreign labourers who had settled among the Israelites. “Within thy gates” is equivalent to in the cities, towns, and villages of thy land, not in thy houses (cf. Deu_5:14; Deu_14:21, etc.). שַׁעַר (a gate) is only applied to the entrances to towns, or large enclosed courts and palaces, never to the entrances into ordinary houses, huts, and tents. מְלָאכָה work (cf. Gen_2:2), as distinguished from עֲבֹדָה labour, is not so much a term denoting a lighter kind of labour, as a general and comprehensive term applied to the performance of any task, whether easy or severe. עֲבֹדָה is the execution of a definite task, whether in field labour (Psa_104:23) and mechanical employment (Exo_39:32) on the one hand, or priestly service and the duties connected with worship on the other (Exo_12:25-26; Num_4:47). On the Sabbath (and also on the day of atonement, Lev_23:28, Lev_23:31) every occupation was to rest; on the other feast-days only laborious occupations (עֲבֹדָה מְלֶאכֶת, Lev_23:7.), i.e., such occupations as came under the denomination of labour, business, or industrial employment. Consequently, not only were ploughing and reaping (Exo_34:21), pressing wine and carrying goods (Neh_13:15), bearing burdens (Jer_17:21), carrying on trade (Amo_8:5), and holding markets (Neh_13:15.) prohibited, but collecting manna (Exo_16:26.), gathering wood (Num_15:32.), and kindling fire for the purpose of boiling or baking (Exo_35:3). The intention of this resting from every occupation on the Sabbath is evident from the foundation upon which the commandment is based in Exo_20:11, viz., that at the creation of the heaven and the earth Jehovah rested on the seventh day, and therefore blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it. This does not imply, however, that “Israel was to follow the Lord by keeping the Sabbath, and, in imitation of His example, to be active where the Lord was active, and rest where the Lord rested; to copy the Lord in accordance with the lofty aim of man, who was created in His likeness, and make the pulsation of the divine life in a certain sense his own” (Schultz). For although a parallel is drawn, between the creation of the world by God in six days and His resting upon the seventh day on the one hand, and the labour of man for six days and his resting upon the seventh on the other; the reason for the keeping of the Sabbath is not to be found in this parallel, but in the fact that God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because He rested upon it. The significance of the Sabbath, therefore, is to be found in God’s blessing and sanctifying the seventh day of the week at the creation, i.e., in the fact, that after the work of creation was finished on the seventh day, God blessed and hallowed the created world, filling it with the powers of peace and good belonging to His own blessed rest, and raising it to a participation in the pure light of His holy nature (see Gen_2:3). For this reason His people Israel were to keep the Sabbath now, not for the purpose of imitating what God had done, and enjoying the blessing of God by thus following God Himself, but that on this day they also might rest from their work; and that all the more, because their work was no longer the work appointed to man at the first, when he was created in the likeness of God, work which did not interrupt his blessedness in God (Gen_2:15), but that hard labour in the sweat of his brow to which he had been condemned in consequence of the fall. In order therefore that His people might rest from toil so oppressive to both body and soul, and be refreshed, God prescribed the keeping of the Sabbath, that they might thus possess a day for the repose and elevation of their spirits, and a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατάπαυσις απὸ των έργων αυτου (Heb_4:10), the ανάπαυσις εκ των κόπων (Rev_14:13). See my Archaeologie, §77).
But instead of this objective ground for the sabbatical festival, which furnished the true idea of the Sabbath, when Moses recapitulated the decalogue, he adduced only the subjective aspect of rest or refreshing (Deu_5:14-15), reminding the people, just as in Exo_23:12, of their bondage in Egypt and their deliverance from it by the strong arm of Jehovah, and then adding, “therefore (that thou mightest remember this deliverance from bondage) Jehovah commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day.” This is not at variance with the reason given in the present verse, but simply gives prominence to a subjective aspect, which was peculiarly adapted to warm the hearts of the people towards the observance of the Sabbath, and to render the Sabbath rest dear to the people, since it served to keep the Israelites constantly in mind of the rest which Jehovah had procured for them from the slave labour of Egypt. For resting from every work is the basis of the observance of the Sabbath; but this observance is an institution peculiar to the Old Testament, and not to be met with in any other nation, though there are many among whom the division of weeks occurs. The observance of the Sabbath, by being adopted into the decalogue, was made the foundation of all the festal times and observances of the Israelites, as they all culminated in the Sabbath rest. At the same time, as an εντολὴ του νόμον, an ingredient in the Sinaitic law, it belonged to the “shadow of (good) things to come” (Col_2:17, cf. Heb_10:1), which was to be done away when the “body” in Christ had come. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Mat_12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ημέρα (Lord’s day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.
I am not ignorant that the Tables of the Law are usually divided in a different manner; for those, who make only one of the first two Commandments, are obliged finally to mangle the last. Thus the prohibition of God to covet either our neighbor’s wife or his house, is foolishly separated into two parts, whereas it is quite clear that only one thing is treated of, as we gather from the words of Paul, who quotes them as a single Commandment. (Rom_7:7.) There is, however, no need of a lengthened discussion here, since the fact itself explains how one error has grown out of another; for, when they had improperly hidden the Second Commandment under the First, and consequently did not find the right number, they were forced to divide into two parts what was one and indivisible. A frivolous reason is assigned by Augustine why they comprised the First Table in three commandments, viz., that believers might learn to worship God in the Trinity, and thus to adore one God in three persons. By inconsiderately trifling with such subtleties, they have exposed God’s law to the mockeries of the ungodly. Josephus indeed rightly enumerates the Commandments themselves in their proper order, but improperly attributes five Commandments to each Table; as if God had had regard to arithmetic rather than to instruct His people separately in the duties of charity, after having laid down for them the rules of piety. For up to this point the rule of rightly serving God has been delivered, i.e., the First Table embraces a summary of piety; and now the Law will begin to show how men ought to live with each other, otherwise one Table would have been enough, nor would God have divided his Law without a purpose. But whereas piety and justice comprise the perfect rule for the direction of our lives, it was necessary to distinguish these two parts, that the people might understand the object of the Law, of which we shall again speak hereafter.
Exo_20:12.Honor thy father Although charity (as being “the bond of perfectness,” Col_3:14 ) contains the sum of the Second Table, still, mutual obligation does not prevent either parents or others, who are in authority, from retaining their proper position. Nay, human society cannot be maintained in its integrity, unless children modestly submit themselves to their parents, and unless those, who are set over others by God’s ordinance, are even reverently honored. But inasmuch as the reverence which children pay to their parents is accounted a sort of piety, some have therefore foolishly placed this precept in the First Table. Nor are they supported in this by Paul, though he does not enumerate this Commandment, where he collects the sum of the Second Table, (Rom_13:9;) for he does this designedly, because he is there expressly teaching that obedience is to be paid to the authority of kings and magistrates. Christ, however, puts an end to the whole controversy, where, among the precepts of the Second Table, He enumerates this, that children should honor their parents. (Mat_19:19.) The name of the mothers is expressly introduced, lest their sex should render them contemptible to their male children.
It will be now well to ascertain what is the force of the word “honor,” not as to its grammatical meaning, (for כבד, cabad, is nothing else but to pay due honor to God, and to men who are in authority,) but as to its essential signification. Surely, since God would not have His servants comply with external ceremonies only, it cannot be doubted but that all the duties of piety towards parents are here comprised, to which children are laid under obligation by natural reason itself; and these may be reduced to three heads, ie., that they should regard them with reverence; that they should obediently comply with their commands, and allow themselves to be governed by them; and that they should endeavor to repay what they owe to them, and thus heartily devote to them themselves and their services. Since, therefore, the name of Father is a sacred one, and is transferred to men by the peculiar goodness of God, the dishonoring of parents redounds to the dishonor of God Himself, nor can any one despise his father without being guilty of an offense against God, ( sacrilegium.) If any should object that there are many ungodly and wicked fathers whom their children cannot regard with honor without destroying the distinction between good and evil, the reply is easy, that the perpetual law of nature is not subverted by the sins of men; and therefore, however unworthy of honor a father may be, that he still retains, inasmuch as he is a father, his right over his children, provided it does not in anywise derogate from the judgment of God; for it is too absurd to think of absolving under any pretext the sins which are condemned by His Law; nay, it would be a base profanation to misuse the name of father for the covering of sins. In condemning, therefore, the vices of a father, a truly pious son will subscribe to God’s Law; and still, whatsoever he may be, will acknowledge that he is to be honored, as being the father given him by God.
Obedience comes next, which is also circumscribed by certain limits. Paul is a faithful interpreter of this Commandment, where he bids “children obey their parents.” (Eph_6:1; Col_3:20.) Honor, therefore, comprises subjection; so that he who shakes off the yoke of his father, and does not allow himself to be governed by his authority, is justly said to despise his father; and it will more clearly appear from other passages, that those who are not obedient to their parents are deemed to despise them. Still, the power of a father is so limited as that God, on whom all relationships depend, should have the rule over fathers as well as children; for parents govern their children only under the supreme authority of God. Paul, therefore, does not simply exhort children to obey their parents, but adds the restriction, “in the Lord;” whereby he indicates that, if a father enjoins anything unrighteous, obedience is freely to be denied him. Immoderate strictness, moroseness, and even cruelty must be born, so long as a mortal man, by wickedly demanding what is not lawful, does not endeavor to rob God of His right. In a word, the Law so subjects children to their parents, as that God’s right may remain uninfringed. An objection here arises in the shape of this question: It may sometimes happen that a son may hold the office of a magistrate, but that the father may be a private person, and that thus the son cannot discharge his private duty without violating public order. The point is easily solved: that all things may be so tempered by their mutual moderation as that, whilst the father submits himself to the government of his son, yet he may not be at all defrauded of his honor, and that the son, although his superior in power, may still modestly reverence his father.
The third head of honor is, that children should take care of their parents, and be ready and diligent in all their duties towards them. This kind of piety the Greeks call ἀντιπελαργία, because storks supply food to their parents when they are feeble and worn out with old age, and are thus our instructors in gratitude. Hence the barbarity of those is all the more base and detestable, who either grudge or neglect to relieve the poverty of their parents, and to aid their necessities.
Now, although the parental name ought, by its own sweetness, sufficiently to attract children to ready submission, still a promise is added as a stimulus, in order that they may more cheerfully bestir themselves to pay the honor which is enjoined upon them. Paul, therefore, that children may be more willing to obey their parents, reminds us that this “is the first commandment with promise,” (Eph_6:2;) for although a promise is annexed to the Second Commandment, yet it is not a special one, as we perceive this to be. The reward, that the days of children who have behaved themselves piously to their parents shall be prolonged, aptly corresponds with the observance of the commandment, since in this manner God gives us a proof of His favor in this life, when we have been grateful to those to whom we are indebted for it; whilst it is by no means just that they should greatly prolong their life who despise those progenitors by whom they have been brought into it. Here the question arises, since this earthly life is exposed to so many cares, and pains, and troubles, how can God account its prolongation to be a blessing? But whereas all cares spring from the curse of God, it is manifest that they are accidental; and thus, if life be regarded in itself, it does not cease to be a proof of God’s favor. Besides, all this multitude of miseries does not destroy the chief blessing of life, viz., that men are created and preserved unto the hope of a happy immortality; for God now manifests Himself to them as a Father, that hereafter they may enjoy His eternal inheritance. The knowledge of this, like a lighted lamp, causes God’s grace to shine forth in the midst of darkness. Whence it follows, that those had not tasted the main thing in life, who have said that the best thing was not to be born, and the next best thing to be cut off as soon as possible; whereas God rather so exercises men by various afflictions, as that it should be good for them nevertheless to be created in His image, and to be accounted His children. A clearer explanation also is added in Deuteronomy, not only that they should live, but that it maygowellwith them; so that not only is length of life promised them, but other accessories also. And in fact, many who have been ungrateful and unkind to their parents only prolong their life as a punishment, whilst the reward of their inhuman conduct is repaid them by their children and descendants. But inasmuch as long life is not vouchsafed to all who have discharged the duties of piety towards their parents, it must be remembered that, with respect to temporal rewards, an infallible law is by no means laid down; and still, where God works variously and unequally, His promises are not made void, becauseabetter compensation is secured in heaven for believers, who have been deprived on earth of transitory blessings. Truly experience in all ages has shown that God has not in vain promised long life to all who have faithfully discharged the duties of true piety towards their parents. Still, from the principle already stated, it is to be understood that this Commandment extends further than the words imply; and this we infer from the following sound argument, viz., that otherwise God’s Law would be imperfect, and would not instruct us in the perfect rule of a just and holy life.
The natural sense itself dictates to us that we should obey rulers. If servants obey not their masters, the society of the human race is subverted altogether. It is not, therefore, the least essential part of righteousness that the people should willingly submit themselves to the command of magistrates, and that servants should obey their masters; and, consequently, it would be very absurd if it were omitted in the Law of God. In this commandment, then, as in the others, God by synecdocheembraces, under a specific rule, a general principle, viz., that lawful commands should obtain due reverence from us. But that all things should not be distinctly expressed, first of all brevity itself readily accounts for; and, besides, another reason is to be noticed, i.e. that God designedly used a homely style in addressing a rude people, because He saw its expediency. If He had said generally, that all superiors were to be obeyed, since, pride is natural to all, it would not have been easy to incline the greater part of men to pay submission to a few. Nay, since subjection is naturally disagreeable, many would have kicked against it. God, therefore, propounds a specific kind of subjection, which it would have been gross barbarism to refuse, that thus, their ferocity being gradually subdued, He might accustom men to bear the yoke. Hence the exhortations are derived, that people should “honor the king;” that “every soul should be subject unto the higher powers;” that “servants should obey their masters, even the froward and morose.” (Pro_24:21; 1Pe_2:13; Rom_13:1; Eph_6:5; 1Pe_2:14.)
Honor thy father and thy mother – There is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience. We can scarcely suppose that a man honors his parents who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself to the uttermost in their support. In such cases God as truly requires the children to provide for their parents, as he required the parents to feed, nourish, support, instruct, and defend the children when they were in the lowest state of helpless in fancy. See Clarke’s note on Gen_48:12. The rabbins say, Honor the Lord with thy substance, Pro_3:9; and, Honor thy father and mother. The Lord is to be honored thus if thou have it; thy father and mother, whether thou have it or not; for if thou have nothing, thou art bound to beg for them. See Ainsworth.
That thy days may be long – This, as the apostle observes, Eph_6:2, is the first commandment to which God has annexed a promise; and therefore we may learn in some measure how important the duty is in the sight of God. In Deu_5:16 it is said, And that it may go well with thee; we may therefore conclude that it will go ill with the disobedient; and there is no doubt that the untimely deaths of many young persons are the judicial consequence of their disobedience to their parents. Most who come to an untimely end are obliged to confess that this, with the breach of the Sabbath, was the principal cause of their ruin. Reader, art thou guilty? Humble thyself therefore before God, and repent. 1. As children are bound to succor their parents, so parents are bound to educate and instruct their children in all useful and necessary knowledge, and not to bring them up either in ignorance or idleness. 2. They should teach their children the fear and knowledge of God, for how can they expect affection or dutiful respect from those who have not the fear of God before their eyes? Those who are best educated are generally the most dutiful. Heathens also inculcated respect to parents.
Exo 20:12 We have here the laws of the second table, as they are commonly called; the six last commandments which concern our duty to ourselves, and one another, and are a comment upon the second great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. As religion towards God is, an essential branch of universal righteousness, so righteousness towards men is an essential branch of true religion: godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment is concerning the duties we owe to our relations; that of children to their parents is only instanced in, honour thy father and thy mother, which includes, an inward esteem of them, outwardly expressed upon all occasions in our carriage towards them; fear them, Lev_19:3, give them reverence, Heb_12:9. The contrary to this is mocking at them or despising them, Obedience to their lawful commands; so it is expounded, Eph_6:1-3. Children obey your parents; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, do not what they forbid you; and this chearfully, and from a principle of love. Though you have said you will not, yet afterwards repent and obey. Submission to their rebukes, instructions and corrections, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. Disposing of themselves with the advice, direction and consent of parents, not alienating their property, but with their approbation. Endeavouring in every thing to be the comfort of their parents, and to make their old age easy to them; maintaining them if they stand in need of support. That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee – This promise, (which is often literally fulfilled) is expounded in a more general sense Eph_6:3. That it may be well with thee, and thou mayst live long on the earth – Those that in conscience towards God keep this and other of God’s commandments, may be sure it shall be well with them, and they shall live as long on the earth as infinite wisdom sees good for, them, and what they may seem to be cut short of on earth, shall be abundantly made up in eternal life, the heavenly Canaan which God will give them.
Honour thy father and thy mother – According to our usage, the fifth commandment is placed as the first in the second table; and this is necessarily involved in the common division of the commandments into our duty toward God and our duty toward men. But the more ancient, and probably the better, division allots five commandments to each table (compare Rom_13:9), proceeding on the distinction that the First table relates to the duties which arise from our filial relations, the second to those which arise from our fraternal relations. The connection between the first four commandments and the fifth exists in the truth that all faith in God centers in the filial feeling. Our parents stand between us and God in a way in which no other beings can. On the maintenance of parental authority, see Exo_21:15, Exo_21:17; Deu_21:18-21.
That thy days may be long upon the land – Filial respect is the ground of national permanence (compare Jer_35:18-19; Mat_15:4-6; Mar_7:10-11). The divine words were addressed emphatically to Israel, but they set forth a universal principle of national life Eph_6:2.
The sum of this Commandment is, that we should not unjustly do violence to any one. In order, however, that God may the better restrain us from all injury of others, He propounds one particular form of it, from which men’s natural sense is abhorrent; for we all detest murder, so as to recoil from those whose hands are polluted with blood, as if they carried contagion with them. Undoubtedly God would have the remains of His image, which still shine forth in men, to continue in some estimation, so that all might feel that every homicide is an offense against Him, (sacrilegium.) He does not, indeed, here express the reason, whereby He elsewhere deters men from murder, ie., by asserting that thus His image is violated, (Gen_9:6;) yet, however precisely and authoritatively He may speak as a Legislator, He would still have us consider, what might naturally occur to everybody’s mind, such as the statement of Isa_58:7, that man is our “own flesh.” In order, then, that believers may more diligently beware of inflicting injuries, He condemns a crime, which all spontaneously confess to be insufferable. It will, however, more clearly appear hereafter, that under the word killis included by synecdocheall violence, smiting, and aggression. Besides, another principle is also to be remembered, that in negative precepts, as they are called, the opposite affirmation is also to be understood; else it would not be by any means consistent, that a person would satisfy God’s Law by merely abstaining from doing injury to others. Suppose, for example, that one of a cowardly disposition, and not daring to assail even a child, should not move a finger to injure his neighbors, would he therefore have discharged the duties of humanity as regards the Sixth Commandment? Nay, natural common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing. And, not to say more on this point, it will plainly appear from the summary of the Second Table, that God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that every one should study faithfully to defend the life of his neighbor, and practically to declare that it is dear to him; for in that summary no mere negative phrase is used, but the words expressly set forth that our neighbors are to be loved. It is unquestionable, then, that of those whom God there commands to be loved, He here commends the lives to our care. There are, consequently, two parts in the Commandment, — first, that we should not vex, or oppress, or be at enmity with any; and, secondly, that we should not only live at peace with men, without exciting quarrels, but also should aid, as far as we can, the miserable who are unjustly oppressed, and should endeavor to resist the wicked, lest they should injure men as they list. Christ, therefore, in expounding the genuine sense of the Law, not only pronounces those transgressors who have committed murder, but also that “he shall be in danger of the judgment who is angry with his brother without a cause; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.” (Mat_5:22.) For He does not there, as some have ignorantly supposed, frame new law, as if to east blame upon His Father; but shows the folly and perversity of those interpreters of the Law who only insist on the external appearance, and husk of things, as is vulgarly said; since the doctrine of God must rather be estimated from a due consideration of. His nature. Before earthly judges, if a man have carried a weapon for the purpose of killing a man, he is found guilty of violence; and God, who is a spiritual Lawgiver, goes even further. With Him, therefore, anger is accounted murder; yea, inasmuch as He pierces even to the most secret feelings, He holds even concealed hatred to be murder; for so we must understand John’s words, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer,” (1Jo_3:15;) i.e., hatred conceived in the heart is sufficient for his condemnation, although it may not openly appear.
Thou shalt not kill – This commandment, which is general, prohibits murder of every kind.
1. All actions by which the lives of our fellow creatures may be abridged.
2. All wars for extending empire, commerce, etc.
3. All sanguinary laws, by the operation of which the lives of men may be taken away for offenses of comparatively trifling demerit.
4. All bad dispositions which lead men to wish evil to, or meditate mischief against, one another; for, says the Scripture, He that hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer.
5. All want of charity to the helpless and distressed; for he who has it in his power to save the life of another by a timely application of succor, food, raiment, etc., and does not do it, and the life of the person either falls or is abridged on this account, is in the sight of God a murderer. He who neglects to save life is, according to an incontrovertible maxim in law, the same as he who takes it away.
6. All riot and excess, all drunkenness and gluttony, all inactivity and slothfulness, and all superstitious mortifications and self-denials, by which life may be destroyed or shortened; all these are point-blank sins against the sixth commandment.
Although one kind of impurity is alone referred to, it is sufficiently plain, from the principle laid down, that believers are generally exhorted to chastity; for, if the Law be a perfect rule of holy living, it would be more than absurd to give a license for fornication, adultery alone being excepted. Furthermore, it is incontrovertible that God will by no means approve or excuse before this tribunal, what the common sense of mankind declares to be obscene; for, although lewdness has everywhere been rampant in every age, still the opinion could never be utterly extinguished, that fornication is a scandal and a sin. Unquestionably what Paul teaches has been prevalently received from the beginning, that a good life consists of three parts, soberness, righteousness, and godliness, (Titus 2:12;) and the soberness which he commands differs not from chastity. Besides, when Christ or the Apostles are treating of a perfect life, they always refer believers to the Law; for, as it had been said of old by Moses, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” Christ confirms this, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,” (Mat_19:17;) and Paul corroborates it, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law,” (Rom_13:8,) whilst they constantly pronounce a curse against all fornicators. It is not worth while to quote the particular passages in which they do so. Now, if Christ and the Apostles, who are the best interpreters of the Law, declare that God’s Law is violated no less by fornication than by theft, we assuredly infer, that in this Commandment the whole genusis comprehended under a single species. Wherefore, those have done nothing but betray their disgraceful ignorance, who have sought to be praised for their acuteness on the score of their ridiculous subtlety, when they admitted that fornication is indeed condemned with sufficient clearness and frequency in the New Testament, but not in the Law. For, if they had reasoned justly, inasmuch as God is declared to have blessed marriage, it must at once be concluded, on the contrary, that the connection of male and female, except in marriage, is accursed. This is the argument of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he contrasts two opposite things; “Marriage (he says) is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”(Heb_13:4.)
So also, when God forbids the priest to marry a harlot, ( Lev_21:14,) the manifest impropriety of fornication is declared; and, if it was unlawful for the daughters of Israel to be harlots, ( Deu_23:17,) the same reasoning applies necessarily to males. Nor has Hosea taken that reproof from anywhere else but the Law? “Whoredom and wine take away the heart.” ( Hos_4:11.) Thus, when the Prophets metaphorically condemn the corruptions of their nation, they do not always use the same; word as Moses here does, נפ, naaph, but compare them to fornications, whereas, if fornication were lawful in itself, this metaphor would be altogether inappropriate. Hosea was commanded to take a harlot for a wife, ( Hos_1:2;) no mention is made of adultery, and still the shame and baseness of the people is thus condemned. Who, then, would say that fornication is free from sin, since God brands it with no ordinary mark of ignominy? But if any should pertinaciously contest this, let him accuse Paul of error, who bears witness that an example is set before us in the Law, that we should. not “commit fornication as some of them committed, and fell in one day three-and-twenty thousand.” ( Num_25:9; 1Co_10:8.) Surely, if they had not transgressed the Law, so horrible a vengeance would not have overwhelmed them. If any should object that the crime of idolatry was mixed up with it., still the declaration of Paul remains untouched, that God was the avenger of fornication in this infliction of punishment, which would not accord, unless it were a transgression of the Law. And in truth, where, as recorded by Luke, ( Act_15:20,) the Apostles in their decree prohibit fornication amongst the Gentiles, the reason is at the same time added, that “Moses is read in the synagogues.” Now, if it were not a vice opposed to the Law, no offense would have hence arisen.
We have already explained why, under this word adultery, every impure lust was condemned. We know how unbridled was the licentiousness of the Gentiles; for, although God never suffered all shame to be extinguished together with their purity, still respect for what was right was in a manner stifled, so that they evaded the grossness of the sin by ribaldry and scurrilous jests. At any rate, the doctrine of Paul was by no means understood, that those who indulge in whoredom “sin against their own body.” (1Co_6:18.) Since, then, the minds of all men were stupified by indulgence, it was needful to arouse them by declaring the atrocity of the sin, that they might learn to beware of all pollution. Nor are unbridled lusts only here condemned, but God instructs His people to cherish modesty and chastity. The sum is, that those who desire to approve themselves to God, should be pure “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (2Co_7:1;) nor can we doubt but that Paul in these words would interpret the law, as he elsewhere exhorts,
Thou shalt not commit adultery – Adultery, as defined by our laws, is of two kinds; double, when between two married persons; single, when one of the parties is married, the other single. One principal part of the criminality of adultery consists in its injustice.
1. It robs a man of his right by taking from him the affection of his wife.
2. It does him a wrong by fathering on him and obliging him to maintain as his own a spurious offspring – a child which is not his. The act itself, and every thing leading to the act, is prohibited by this commandment; for our Lord says, Even he who looks on a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And not only adultery (the unlawful commerce between two married persons) is forbidden here, but also fornication and all kinds of mental and sensual uncleanness. All impure books, songs, paintings, etc., which tend to inflame and debauch the mind, are against this law, as well as another species of impurity, for the account of which the reader is referred to; See Clarke’s note on Gen_38:30.
That fornication was included under this command we may gather from St. Matthew, Mat_15:19, where our Savior expresses the sense of the different commandments by a word for each, and mentions them in the order in which they stand; but when he comes to the seventh he uses two words, μοιχειαι πορνειαι, to express its meaning, and then goes on to the eighth, etc.; thus evidently showing that fornication was understood to be comprehended under the command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” As to the word adultery, adulterium, it has probably been derived from the words ad alterius torum, to another’s bed; for it is going to the bed of another man that constitutes the act and the crime. Adultery often means idolatry in the worship of God.
Since charity is the end of the Law, we must seek the definition of theft from thence. This, then, is the rule of charity, that every one’s rights should be safely preserved, and that none should do to another what he would not have done to himself. It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity. Thus, rapine is comprehended under the head of theft, since there is no difference between a man’s robbing his neighbor by fraud or force. But, in order that God may the better withhold His people from all fraudulent injustice, He uses the word theft, which all naturally abhor as disgraceful. For we know under how many coverings men bury their misdeeds; and not only so, but also how they convert them into praise by false pretexts. Craft and low cunning is called prudence; and he is spoken of as provident and circumspect who cleverly overreaches others, who takes in the simple, and insidiously oppresses the poor. Since, therefore, the world boasts of vices as if they were virtues, and thus all freely excuse themselves in sin, God wipes away all this gloss, when tie pronounces all unjust means of gain to be so many thefts. Nor let us be surprised that this decision should be given by the divine tribunal, when the philosophers deliver nearly the same doctrine.
We must bear in mind also, that an affirmative precept, as it is called, is connected with the prohibition; because, even if we abstain from all wrong-doing, we do not therefore satisfy God, who has laid mankind under mutual obligation to each other, that they may seek to benefit, care for, and succor their neighbors. Wherefore He undoubtedly inculcates liberality and kindness, and the other duties, whereby human society is maintained; and hence, in order that we may not be condemned as thieves by God, we must endeavor, as far as possible, that every one should safely keep what he possesses, and that our neighbor’s advantage should be promoted no less than our own.
Thou shalt not steal – All rapine and theft are forbidden by this precept; as well national and commercial wrongs as petty larceny, highway robberies, and private stealing: even the taking advantage of a seller’s or buyer’s ignorance, to give the one less and make the other pay more for a commodity than its worth, is a breach of this sacred law. All withholding of rights and doing of wrongs are against the spirit of it. But the word is principally applicable to clandestine stealing, though it may undoubtedly include all political injustice and private wrongs. And consequently all kidnapping, crimping, and slave-dealing are prohibited here, whether practiced by individuals or by the state. Crimes are not lessened in their demerit by the number, or political importance of those who commit them. A state that enacts bad laws is as criminal before God as the individual who breaks good ones.
It has been supposed that under the eighth commandment, injuries done to character, the depriving a man of his reputation or good name, are included, hence those words of one of our poets: -
Good name in man or woman
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash, -
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
God here makes a provision for every man’s character and good name, lest any should be undeservedly weighed down by calumnies and false accusations. The same synecdocheexists here, which I have pointed out in the previous Commandments, for God comprises many things under a single head. With reference to the words, inasmuch as עד, gned, properly means a witness, it may be literally translated, “Thou shalt not answer a false witness against thy neighbor,” but then the particle asmust be supplied. The Hebrews poorly translate it in the vocative case, Thou shalt not speak, O false witness, etc.
Although God seems only to prescribe that no one, for the purpose of injuring the innocent, should go into court, and publicly testify against him, yet it is plain that the faithful are prohibited from all false accusations, and not only such as are circulated in the streets, but those which are stirred in private houses and secret corners. For it would be absurd, when God has already shewn that men’s fortunes are cared for by Him, that He should neglect their reputation, which is much more precious. In whatever way, therefore, we injure our neighbors by unjustly defaming them, we are accounted false witnesses before God. We must now pass on from the prohibitive to the affirmative precept: for it will not be enough for us to restrain our tongues from speaking evil, unless we are also kind and equitable towards our neighbors, and candid interpreters of their acts and words, and do not suffer them, as far as in us lies, to be burdened with false reproaches. Besides, God does not only forbid us to invent accusations against the innocent, but also to give currency to reproaches and sinister reports in malevolence or hatred. Such a person may perhaps deserve his ill-name, and we may truly lay such or such an accusation to his charge; but if the reproach be the ebullition of our anger, or the accusation proceed from ill-will, it will be vain for us to allege in excuse that we have advanced nothing but, what is true. For when Solomon says that “love covereth many sins;” whereas “hatred brings reproaches to light,” (Pro_10:12;) he signifies, as a faithful expositor of this precept, that we are only free from falsehood when the reputation of our neighbors suffers no damage from us; for, if the indulgence of evil-speaking violates charity, it is opposed to the Law of God. In short, we must conclude that by these words a restraint is laid on all virulence of language which tends to bring disgrace on our brethren; and on all petulance also, whereby their good name suffers injury; and on all detractions, which flow from malice, or envy, and rivalry, or any other improper feeling. We must also go further, and not be suspicious or too curious in observing the defects of others; for such eager inquisitiveness betrays malevolence, or at any rate an evil disposition. For, if love is not suspicious, he who condemns his neighbor either falsely, or upon trifling surmises, or who holds him in light esteem, is undoubtedly a transgressor of this Commandment. Consequently, we must close our ears against false and evil speaking; since he is just as injurious to his brother who eagerly listens to sinister reports respecting him, as he who exercises his tongue in maligning him. The necessity of this instruction let each man estimate by his own disposition; for scarcely one in a hundred will be found who will be as kind in sparing the character of others, as he himself desires to be pardoned for manifest vices; nay, slander is often praised under the pretext of zeal and conscientiousness. Hence it happens that this vice insinuates itself even among the saints, creeping in under the name of virtue. Moreover, the volubility of the tongue causes us to think it a light transgression to inflict a deadly and disgraceful wound on our brother, to whom, nevertheless, his good name is of more importance than his life. The sum is, that we should manifest our charity no less by candor, and by abstaining from slander, than by the performance of other duties.
Thou shalt not bear false witness, etc. – Not only false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing, slander, and calumny; in a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person, or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law. Suppressing the truth when known, by which a person may be defrauded of his property or his good name, or lie under injuries or disabilities which a discovery of the truth would have prevented, is also a crime against this law. He who bears a false testimony against or belies even the devil himself, comes under the curse of this law, because his testimony is false. By the term neighbor any human being is intended, whether he rank among our enemies or friends.
Exo 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness – This forbids, Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to the prejudice of his reputation; And (which is the highest offence of both these kinds put together) Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either upon oath, by which the third commandment, the sixth or eighth, as well as this, are broken, or in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale – bearing, aggravating what is done amiss, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor’s.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. There is no question but that this Commandment extends also to those that have preceded it. God had already sufficiently forbidden us to set our hearts on the property of others, to attempt the seduction of their wives, or to seek for gain at another’s loss and inconvenience. Now whilst He enumerates oxen and asses, and all other things as well as their wives and servants, it is very clear that His precept is directed to the same things, but in a different way, viz., in order to restrain all ungodly desires either of fornication or theft. The question, however, occurs, — since it has been said before that, agreeably to the nature of the Lawgiver, the inward purity of the heart is everywhere required, and therefore, that under the head of adultery, not only are all filthy acts prohibited, but secret unchastity also; and under the head of theft, all unlawful appetite for gain, — why does God now forbid in His people the lust for theft and fornication? For it seems to be a superfluous repetition which would be very absurd in ten short precepts, wherein God has embraced the whole rule of life, so that their very brevity might render it, easy, and the better attract their readers to learn them. Still, on the other hand, it must be remembered that, although it was God’s design, by the whole Law, to arouse men’s feelings to sincere obedience of it, yet such is their hypocrisy and indifference, that it was necessary to stimulate them more sharply, and to press them more closely, lest they should seek for subterfuges under pretense of the obscurity of the doctrine. For if they had only heard, Thou shalt not kill, nor commit fornication, nor steal, they might have supposed that their duty would have been fully performed by mere outward observance. It was not then in vain that God, after having treated of piety and justice, should give a separate admonition, that they were not only to abstain from evil doing, but also, that what He had previously commanded should be performed with the sincere affection of the heart. Hence Paul gathers from this Commandment, that the whole “Law is spiritual,” (Rom_7:7 and 14,) because God, by His condemnation of lust, sufficiently shewed that He not only imposed obedience on our hands and feet, but also put restraint upon our minds, lest they should desire to do what is unlawful. Paul confesses, too, that whereas he before slept in easy self-deceit, he was awakened by this single word; for since he was blameless in the eyes of men, he was persuaded that he was righteous before God: He says that he was once alive, as if the Law were absent or dead, because, being puffed up with confidence in his righteousness, he expected salvation by his works; but, when he perceived what the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, meant, the dead Law was raised as it were to life, and he died, ie., he was convinced he was a transgressor, and saw the sure curse overhanging him. Nor did he perceive himself to be guilty of one or two sins, but then, at length, he was shaken out of his torpor, when he recognized that all the evil desires, of which he was conscious, must be accounted for before God, whereas he had before been satisfied with the mere outward appearance of virtue. We now perceive, therefore, that there is nothing inappropriate in the general condemnation of concupiscence by a distinct commandment; for after God has broadly and popularly laid down rules for moral integrity, at length He ascends to the fountain itself, and at the same time points out with His finger, as it were, the root from which all evil and corrupt fruits spring forth. It must here be added that something more is expressed by the words coveting and wishing for, or desiring, than a desideriumformatum, as it is commonly called; for the flesh often tempts us to wish for this or that, so that the evil concupiscence betrays itself, although consent may not yet be added. Since, therefore, the sin of the will had been already condemned, God now proceeds further, and puts a restraint upon evil desires before they prevail. James points out these progressive steps, where he says that lust conceives before it begets sin; and then “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” (Jas_1:15,) for the begetting of which he speaks, is not only in the external act but in the will itself, before it has assented to the temptation. I admit, indeed, that the corrupt thoughts which arise spontaneously, and so also vanish before they affect the mind, do not come into account before God; yet, although we do not actually acquiesce in the evil desire, still, if it affects us pleasantly, it is sufficient to render us guilty. In order that this may be understood better, all temptations are, as it were, so many fans; if they hurry us on into consent, the fire is lighted; but, if they only awaken the heart to corrupt desires, concupiscence betrays itself in these sparks, although it neither acquires its full warmth nor breaks forth into a flame. Concupiscence, therefore, is never without desire (affectu,) although the will may not altogether yield. Hence it appears what entire perfection of righteousness we must bring in order to satisfy the Law, since not only are we commanded not to will anything, except what is right and pleasing to God, but also that no impure desire should affect our hearts. Nor would Paul have laid such great stress upon this precept if the Law condemned no concupiscence except that which takes such hold on the mind of man as to exercise dominion over it; for the sin of the will must ever be condemned even by heathen philosophers, nay, and by earthly legislators also; but he says that the Law, by resisting concupiscence, makes sin to “become exceeding sinful.” (Rom_7:13.) Now, it is not credible that, at the time in which he confesses that he knew not what concupiscence was, he was so senseless and stupid as to think no harm of wishing to kill a man, or of being inclined through lust to commit adultery with his brother’s wife; but, if he was not unaware that the will to sin was vicious, it follows that the concupiscence in which he saw no harm was some more hidden disease. Hence, too, it is manifest under what delusion Satan must have held all the Popish schools through which echoes this axiom, that concupiscence is no sin in the baptized, because it is a stimulus to the exercise of virtue; as if Paul did not openly condemn concupiscence, which entraps us in its snares, although we do not altogether assent to it.
Exo 20:17 Thou shalt not covet – The foregoing commands implicitly forbid all desire of doing that which will be an injury to our neighbour, this forbids all inordinate desire of having that which will be a gratification to ourselves. O that such a man’s house were mine! such a man’s wife mine! such a man’s estate mine! This is certainly the language of discontent at our own lot, and envy at our neighbour’s, and these are the sins principally forbidden here. God give us all to see our face in the glass of this law, and to lay our hearts under the government of it!
As the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments forbid us to injure our neighbor in deed, the ninth forbids us to injure him in word, and the tenth, in thought. No human eye can see the coveting heart; it is witnessed only by him who possesses it and by Him to whom all things are naked and open Luk_12:15-21. But it is the root of all sins of word or deed against our neighbor Jam_1:14-15.