All things being prepared for the solemn promulgation of the divine
law, we have in this chapter,
The ten commandments as God himself spake them upon Mount Sinai,
ver. 1 - 17.
The impressions made upon the people, thereby, ver. 18 - 21.
Some particular instructions which God gave to Moses,
relating to his worship, ver. 22 - 26.
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.
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
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.
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
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
[1.] The prohibition; we are forbidden to worship even the true God by
images, (Ex 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 40:18,25). 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.
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
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.
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,(Ge 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.
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, (Le 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.
13: Thou shalt not kill - Thou shalt not do any thing hurtful to the
health, or life of thy own body, or any other's. This doth not forbid our
own necessary defence, or the magistrates putting offenders to death; but
it forbids all malice and hatred to any, for he that hateth his brother
is a murderer, and all revenge arising therefrom; likewise anger and
hurt said or done, or aimed to be done in a passion; of this our Saviour
expounds this commandment, (Mt 5:22).
14: Thou shalt not commit adultery - This commandment forbids all
acts of uncleanness, with all those desires, which produce those acts and
war against the soul.
15: Thou shalt not steal - This command forbids us to rob ourselves
of what we have, by sinful spending, or of the use and comfort of it by
sinful sparing; and to rob others by invading our neighbour's rights,
taking his goods, or house, or field, forcibly or clandestinely,
over - reaching in bargains, not restoring what is borrowed or found,
with - holding just debts, rents or wages; and, which is worst of all, to rob
the public in the coin or revenue, or that which is dedicated to the service
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
(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.
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!
18: They removed and stood afar off - Before God began to speak, they
were thrusting forward to gaze, but now they were effectually cured of
their presumption, and taught to keep their distance.
19: Speak thou with us - Hereby they obliged themselves to acquiesce
in the mediation of Moses, they themselves nominating him as a fit
person to deal between them and God, and promising to hearken to him as
to God's messenger.
20: Fear not - That is, Think not that this thunder and fire is,
designed to consume you. No; it was intended,
To prove them, to try how they could like dealing with God
immediately, without a mediator, and so to convince them how admirably well
God had chosen for them in putting Moses into that office. Ever since
Adam fled upon hearing God's voice in the garden, sinful man could not
bear either to speak to God, or hear from him immediately.
To keep them to their duty, and prevent their sinning against God.
We must not fear with amazement; but we must always have in our minds a
reverence of God's majesty, a dread of his displeasure, and an obedient
regard to his sovereign authority.
21: While the people continued to stand afar off - Afraid of God's
wrath, Moses drew near unto the thick darkness; he was made to
draw near, so the word is: Moses of himself durst not have ventured
into the thick darkness if God had not called him, and encouraged him,
and, as some of the Rabbins suppose, sent an angel to take him by the
hand, and lead him up.
22: Moses being gone into the thick darkness where God was, God
there spoke in his hearing only, all that follows from hence to the end of
chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments; and he was
to transmit it to the people. The laws in these verses relate to God's
worship. Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven - Such was
his wonderful condescension; ye shall not make gods of silver - This
repetition of the second commandment comes in here, because they were more
addicted to idolatry than to any other sin.
24: An altar of earth - It is meant of occasional altars, such as
they reared in the wilderness before the tabernacle was erected, and
afterwards upon special emergencies, for present use. They are appointed to
make these very plain, either of earth or of unhewn stones.
That they might not be tempted to think of a graven image, they must not
so much as hew the stones into shape, that they made their altars
of, but pile them up as they were in the rough. In all places where
I record my name - Or where my name is recorded, that is, where I am
worshipped in sincerity, I will come unto thee, and will bless thee.
26: Neither shall thou go at by steps unto mine altar - Indeed
afterwards God appointed an altar ten cubits high. But it is probable, they
went not up to that by steps, but by a sloping ascent.