Note: This is an unusually long devotional,
but I believe that it’s worth the extra detail.
Week 15 Day 1
Sunday (Exodus 20)
The Decalogue, The Altar
The elderly teacher began their teaching time by reviewing the 10 Commandments and how they were still relevant, in principle, it not entirely literally – based on the teaching of Jesus the Christ. The first day proved to be a long session.
20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The Lord God declared His superiority. He pre-existed all else and caused it to be, He is sovereign.
20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, 20:6 and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The Lord God declared monotheism and then He left no room whatsoever for multiple Gods. He also included a curse for disobedience and His conditional-promise; “… showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.
The Lord God required respect, His name was holy because He is holy. In this case the failure to obey included a curse.
20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. 20:9 For six days you may labor and do all your work, 20:10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. 20:11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
The Lord God had previously “given” the Sabbath to His people, He knew that in their busyness they would lose sight of the priority of their relationship with Him, forget their history with Him, and drift into the ways of non-Israelites around them. He removed their obligation to work; which did not mean they could do nothing at all on the Sabbath. He would later define this all in greater detail. He also explained that they were to model His pattern in Creation.
[Note: Jesus fulfilled the Law and reinterpreted
the Law as it applied to those saved by grace through surrender to
His Lordship. The Sabbath, as with all other things, was now
to His reinterpretation – in practical application “Man was not
made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man.” Mark
2:26-28. Jesus is Lord of the Sabath and I am His subject. God’s
words specified six days of work then one day set-aside. In those
times that was naturally their traditional last day of six
In modern times there are typically only five days of work, in
cases only four. The principle of setting aside one day per week
the only critical element of the teaching.]
20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the Lord your God is giving to you.
He included a curse and a promise; a long life in the promised land, or the corollary.
20:13 “You shall not murder.
The Lord God put a fine-edge on this command as it required a measure of heart-intent; He did not say (as some have mistranslated) “You shall not kill”, He very intentionally said “You shall not murder”. All murder is killing but all killing is not murder.
Murder is a selfish action, killing has multiple motivations. Murder begins with a heart of rebellion, murder degrades what God says is ‘in His image’ – humankind – and murder is committed for selfish personal gain.
Killing was not only done by God, it was done at the behest of God, to make of all killing a act of sin one makes God the author of sin – which is blasphemy. Killing may be accidental, in self-defense, in defense of another, may result from an act of carelessness, or it may be in war.
20:14 “You shall not commit adultery.
The Lord God set a literal standard, one that precluded a specific (and presumably physical) relational act, that of sexual contact with one not one’s spouse, if one were married, (or contact with a married person if one were single).
Jesus would later expand the definition to include a heart of lust toward one not ones spouse, if one were married, or toward a married person if one were single. While God’s legal standard was challenging for the undisciplined person the grace-centered heart-based requirement of Jesus called for a transformative-surrender to the Holy Spirit, for without that no man or woman could remain free of sin.
The known-presumption was that all sexual contact involved God-ordained male-female marriage, there was no provision in any recorded Biblical text for two non-married people having sexual contact, nor for same-gender relationships.
20:15 “You shall not steal.
The essence of the Lord God’s law against stealing permeated all of the others. To have another God before Him would be to steal His rightful place. To worship idols would be to steal His rightful place. To dishonor ones parents is to steal from them their due-respect. To murder steals life from another (and their dependents and loved-ones) for selfish gain. To commit adultery steals affections not rightfully yours (whether stealing them from the disrespected spouse or taking them from another single person without the protective context of marriage). To give false testimony steals justice from another.
20:16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Just as adultery, disrespect, murder, and stealing would destroy the Israelite family, God knew that lying about one-another would do so as well.
20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [spouse], nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Covetousness was also a wrong heart condition. God knew that if His people focused on what others possessed, be it their house, spouse, servants, beasts of burden, or anything else it would become an obsession which would drive them to compete with and to deceive and/or abuse power to take away from others.
The practical detail in God’s teaching was always profound – for example – the Altar was not to be elevated such that steps would be necessary to approach it. The reason given was decency – people wore robes rather than pants, therefore their undergarments could be seen as they walked up and down. One notes the harsh penalty for Noah’s son who gazed upon, and ridiculed him, when he was exposed while in a drunken sleep. The Altar must also be made from the earth or from stones not altered by human tools – this presumably was to prevent any sense of ownership of the Altar – other than by God.
Dear Lord, Teach me to seek after the most-righteous application of Your teaching rather than constantly seeking ways to interpret it to rationalize moral laziness and active sin. Amen. dmc2015