Exodus 20:1 MEANING

Exodus 20:1


(1) God spake.--It is distinctly stated in Deuteronomy that the Ten Commandments were spoken to "all the assembly of Israel," by God, "out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice" (Deuteronomy 5:22). It was not till after their delivery that the people entreated to be spared further communications of so awful a character. How the sounds were produced is a mystery unrevealed, and on which it is idle to speculate. Jehovah alone appears as the speaker in the Old Testament; in the New, we hear of the instrumentality of angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

All these words.--In Scripture the phrase used to designate the Ten Commandments is "the Ten Words" (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4). It has been universally recognised, both by the Jewish and Christian Churches, that they occupy an unique position among the utterances which constitute God's revelation to man. Alone uttered publicly by God in the ears of the people, alone inscribed on stone by the finger of God Himself, alone, of all commands, deposited in the penetrale of worship--the Ark--they formed the germ and basis, the very pith and kernel of the covenant which God, through Moses, made with man, and which was to continue for above thirteen hundred years the exposition of His will to the human race. They enunciate a morality infinitely above that of all the then existing nations of the earth--nay, above that of the wisest of mankind to whom revelation was unknown. There is no compendium of morality in Confucianism, in Buddhism, in the religion of Zoroaster, or of Egypt, or of Greece or Rome, which can be put in competition with the Decalogue. Broad exceedingly (Psalm 119:96), yet searching and minute in its requirements; embracing the whole range of human duty, yet never vague or indeterminate; systematic, yet free from the hardness and narrowness commonly attaching to systems: the Decalogue has maintained and will always maintain itself, if not as an absolutely complete summary of human duty, yet as a summary which has never been superseded. When our Lord was asked what a man must do to inherit eternal life, He replied by a reference to the Decalogue: "Thou knowest the commandments" (Mark 10:19). When the Church would impress on her children their complete duty both to God and man, she requires them to be taught the "Ten Words." When adult Christians are to be reminded, before coming to Holy Communion, of the necessity of self-examination and repentance, the same summary is read to them. It is an extraordinary testimony to the excellence of the compendium that, originating in Judaism, it has been maintained unchanged in a religious system so different from Judaism as Christianity.

Verses 1-17. - THE DELIVERY OF THE MORAL LAW. Every necessary preparation had now been made. The priests, as well as the people, had "sanctified themselves." A wholesome dread of "breaking" through the fence, and "touching" the mount, had spread itself among the people Moses had returned from the camp to the summit of the mount; and both he and the people were attent to hear the words of the "covenant," which had been announced to them (Exodus 19:5). Then, amid the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the smoke, and the earthquake throbs which shook the ground, a voice like that of a man, distinctly articulate, pronounced the words of that "moral law," which has been from that day to this the guide of life to thousands upon thousands, the only guide to some, a very valuable and helpful guide to all who have known of it. It is well said by Kalisch, that the delivery of the Decalogue on Sinai "formed a decisive epoch in the history of the human race," and was even perhaps "the greatest and most important event in haman history," up to the time of its occurrence. Considering the weakness, imperfection, and moral obliquity of man, it was to the last degree important that an authoritative code should be put forth, laying down with unmistakable clearness the chief heads of duty, and denouncing the chief classes of sins. It may be true that the educated moral sense of mankind in civilised communities is sufficient to teach them all, or nearly all, of what the Decalogue forbids and enjoins; but this is the effect produced upon the internal constitution of our nature by long centuries of moral training; and nothing like it existed in primitive times. Then the moral sense was much duller; men's perceptions of right and wrong were confused, uncertain, and not unfrequently perverted and depraved. Even in Egypt, where a priest class, established as the spiritual guides of the nation for a thousand years or more, had elaborated a moral system of considerable merit, such a code as that of the Decalogue would have been a marked improvement upon anything that they had worked out for themselves. And the authoritative sanction by the "voice" and the "finger of God" was an enormous advantage, being imperatively needed to satisfy doubt, and silence that perverse casuistry which is always ready to question the off-hand decisions of the moral consciousness, and to invent a more refined system, wherein "bitter is put for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Altogether the Decalogue stands on a moral eminence, elevated above and beyond all other moral systems - Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, or Greek, unequalled for simplicity, for comprehensiveness, for solemnity. Its precepts were, according to the Jewish tradition, "the pillars of the law and its roots." They formed to the nation to which they were given "tons omnis, publici privatique juris." They constitute for all time a condensed summary of human duty which bears divinity upon its face, which is suited for every form of human society, and which, so long as the world endures, cannot become antiquated. The retention of the Decalogue as the best summary of the moral law by Christian communities is justified on these grounds, and itself furnishes emphatic testimony to the excellency of the compendium. Verse 1. - God spake all these words. It has been suggested that Moses derived the Decalogue from Egypt, by summarising the chief points of the Egyptian teaching as to the duty of man. But neither the second, nor the fourth, nor the tenth commandment came within the Egyptian ideas of moral duty; nor was any such compendious form as the Decalogue known in Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian morality was minute and complex, rather than grand and simple. Forty-two kinds of sin were denied by the departed soul before Osiris and his assessors. The noble utterances of Sinai are wholly unlike anything to be found in the entire range of Egyptian literature.

20:1,2 God speaks many ways to the children of men; by conscience, by providences, by his voice, to all which we ought carefully to attend; but he never spake at any time so as he spake the TEN COMMANDMENTS. This law God had given to man before; it was written in his heart; but sin so defaced it, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of it. The law is spiritual, and takes knowledge of the secret thoughts, desires, and dispositions of the heart. Its grand demand is love, without which outward obedience is mere hypocrisy. It requires perfect, unfailing, constant obedience; no law in the world admits disobedience to itself. Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, Jas 2:10. Whether in the heart or the conduct, in thought, word, or deed, to omit or to vary any thing, is sin, and the wages of sin is death.And God spake all these words,.... Which follow, commonly called the decalogue, or ten commands; a system or body of laws, selected and adapted to the case and circumstances of the people of Israel; striking at such sins as they were most addicted to, and they were under the greatest temptation of falling into the commission of; to prevent which, the observation of these laws was enjoined them; not but that whatsoever of them is of a moral nature, as for the most part they are, are binding on all mankind, and to be observed both by Jew and Gentile; and are the best and shortest compendium of morality that ever was delivered out, except the abridgment of them by our Lord, Matthew 22:36, the ancient Jews had a notion, and which Jarchi delivers as his own, that these words were spoken by God in one word; which is not to be understood grammatically; but that those laws are so closely compacted and united together as if they were but one word, and are not to be detached and separated from each other; hence, as the Apostle James says, whosoever offends in one point is guilty of all, James 2:10, and if this notion was as early as the first times of the Gospel, one would be tempted to think the Apostle Paul had reference to it, Romans 13:9 though indeed he seems to have respect only to the second table of the law; these words were spoke in an authoritative way as commands, requiring not only attention but obedience to them; and they were spoken by God himself in the hearing of all the people of Israel; and were not, as Aben Ezra observes, spoken by a mediator or middle person, for as yet they had not desired one; nor by an angel or angels, as the following words show, though the law is said to be spoken by angels, to be ordained by them, in the hands of a mediator, and given by the disposition of them, which perhaps was afterwards done, see Acts 7:53. See Gill on Acts 7:53. See Gill on Galatians 3:19. See Gill on Hebrews 2:2.

saying; as follows.

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