The first commandment
Ex. 20:1-3, Deut. 5:4-7
will never fathom the full depth of God’s Word, including the Ten
Commandments, we should always try to improve our understanding of
revelations from God’s mind and heart. Remember, “God spoke all these
words” to His people. He reached out to them and identified Himself as
asking anything of them, He first reminded them of what He had already done
for them: “I am Yahveh, your God. I brought you out of Egypt, out of the
place of slavery.” God’s law was not a way to earn salvation but a way to
thank God for salvation already received as a gift. Likewise, He frees
sinners from sin, their “place of slavery”
(John 8:34), by the atoning death of His Son. Yahveh yearns for the
salvation of sinners and for their response of thanksgiving, that is: doing
His will because they trust and love Him
expects saved sinners to obey His commandments on ground of what He DID,
creating and saving them, and on ground of who He IS—Yahveh, the eternal “I
am” (Ex. 3:14). The first commandment
demands undivided loyalty to Him: “You shall have no other gods before
Me.” No other gods in His presence (and He is omni-present). Out of love
and respect for Him—no other gods.
nine of the commandments are given in negative form, “you shall not,” each
implies things we should avoid and things we should do.
first commandment demands that we avoid all idolatry, magic, occult,
superstition, and worshiping of creatures, including living or deceased
people. An idol (false god) may be more than a statuette; it can be anything
or anybody we trust in place of, or alongside of, the one true God.
positive side of the first commandment urges us to acknowledge, trust, love,
respect, serve, and praise the one true God in accordance with His Word. In
humility and patience, we should look to Him alone to provide all our needs.
We should worship Him as caring Father, saving Son, and comforting Spirit.
Although we will never fully understand His Being and His Persons, we should
accept Him as He revealed Himself in Scripture.
first commandment demands that we accept Him for who He is and shape our
lives accordingly. The commandment is loaded with grace and love, but also
with awesome holiness and authority. God is not asking us; He’s telling us.
He put our awful sin debt on His Son. Therefore, He demands wholehearted
dedication by grateful citizens of His kingdom.
prayer: Father, Savior, Comforter, You deserve my full dedication.
thought: Who or what have been my idols?
Word and Image
The second commandment
Ex. 20:4-6, Deut. 5:8-10
voice made the earth quake and the people tremble. To the first commandment
(no other gods) He added the second: no images of God and no images of
anything else used as an object of worship or as a channel of worship. God
knew humanity’s ability to rationalize, giving itself excuses to bend the
rules. If God had stopped at “no other gods,” people would still make images
and convince themselves that they worshiped the one true God through those
images. God blocked that avenue immediately.
should not exonerate ourselves too easily regarding this command. Although
we may not make physical images of God, we do make images of God in our
imagination. A false belief system about God may be such an image. People
who think of God as only a God of wrath are guilty of making a false image
of God. Likewise, those who think of God as a God of love only who will
never condemn sinners to hell are also guilty of making a false image of
God. All theories about God and Christ (God incarnate) that are not in line
with Scripture violate the second commandment.
backed up this command with a self-revelation, with a threat, and with a
promise. He revealed Himself as a jealous God—He yearns for our undivided
love and is not willing to share our devotion with anybody or anything else.
He is also patient and merciful, waiting for several generations before He
executes justice, giving ample time for repentance. And on those who do
serve Him wholeheartedly, He pours out His blessings for many generations.
Children learn by example. Just as bad examples can jump over from one
generation to the next, so good examples can be handed down from generation
the positive side that we should do? We should worship God in the way
He prescribed in His Word. To do that, we have to study His Word and so
acquaint ourselves with His will. He wants the gospel to spread by the
preaching of His WORD (Rom. 10:14-17).
Jesus was the true image of God (John 14:9,
Col. 1:15), but it pleased God to leave us only word pictures of Him.
use visual means to explain God’s Word. Jesus used object lessons like seed
and leaven in His parables. People may not worship images on a screen, but
permanent statues or paintings in church may eventually serve that purpose.
The first commandment says: Worship God, not gods. The second says: Worship
God according to His Word, not through images.
prayer: Lord, keep my ideas about You in line with Your Word.
thought: Do I try to bend this rule with a yes-but game?
The third commandment
Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11
God had spelled out to His people WHO they must worship and HOW, He shifted
the focus to His NAME and to His DAY. God wants His name to be honored and
respected, not disgraced and degraded. Jesus put God’s name first in His
model prayer: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
Bible uses various names for God like Yahveh
(LORD), Adonai (Lord), Elohim
(God), and Abba
(Father). Each one of His names
describes an aspect of His character. To abuse any one of His names slanders
phrase “You shall not misuse the name of Yahveh” convinced post-exile Jews
not to say this name ever. When they came to this name in Scripture, they
said “Adonai” instead. The medieval Masoretes added the vowels of Adonai to
Yahveh, and so Yahveh came to be pronounced as Jehovah. However, the
prophets did not hesitate to declare, “Thus says Yahveh.” God only forbids
the misuse of His name. God wants His people to remember Him by the name
Yahveh from one generation to the next (Ex.
God’s name, we have to avoid any negative remarks about God, as well as
using any of His names for cursing, perjury, and even unnecessary oaths.
Oaths should be used sparingly and seriously. When authorities demand it
from citizens or when it is needed to confirm truth and trustworthiness, it
has to be used in a way that will honor God and serve others. By an oath, I
am calling upon God to witness to my truthfulness and to punish me if I
swear falsely. Therefore, such an oath has to be taken in the name of the
one true God, for no creature is worthy of such honor.
but fierce threat is added to this commandment: God will not leave anyone
unpunished who misuses or dishonors His name. Immediately we are all guilty,
for all of us have sinned and sin dishonors God’s name.
However, by accepting God’s Son as our Savior and allowing God’s Spirit to
change our hearts and lives, we start to glorify God’s name. There is
nothing more glorifying to the name of God on earth than the salvation of
sinners. Therefore, God went to great lengths to open the way of salvation
to them. He urges saved sinners by the Great Commission to carry the gospel
to the ends of the earth so that other sinners can be saved too.
merciful in His divine discipline—His condemning Law drives us to His saving
Son (Gal. 3:24).
prayer: Father, I want to honor Your name by what I think, say, and do.
thought: Do I insult the Father by rebelliousness?
The fourth commandment
Ex. 20:8-11, Deut. 5:12-15
had to serve God daily, but they had to use every seventh day to make loving
contact with God and with other believers. Yahveh yearns for inter-action
with His children. On that day, they and their children, servants,
strangers, and animals had to stop ordinary work. After creation, God had
rested on the seventh day and blessed and sanctified it.
tells His people to work for six days and fulfill all their duties so that
they can give their undivided attention to God and to His kingdom on the
seventh day. It brings them in touch with God, others, self, and creation.
of rest is not meant for laziness. We have to stop our work in order to
attend to our Father and His interests. We have to assemble to worship Him
together. That includes expressing praises and thanksgiving, listening to
His Word, partaking of the sacraments, and bringing prayers and offerings
for the expansion of His kingdom and for helping the poor. The Sabbath
pointed to the eternal Sabbath after death when believers will forever cease
sinning and will glorify God forever for the salvation He provided in His
Son (Heb. 4:9-11).
God’s Son walked on earth as a human being, He clashed with the religious
leaders repeatedly concerning their views on the Sabbath. The leaders were
fixated on what they should NOT do on the Sabbath to maintain purity. Jesus
focused on what they should DO to show love for God and for others.
Therefore, healing on the Sabbath was completely wrong for the leaders,
while it was completely correct for Jesus. He pointed out to them that they
looked after their animals on the Sabbath and that priests served in the
temple on the Sabbath. The rules for needs, emergencies, charities, and
worship override the rules of the Sabbath. Jesus concluded: “The Sabbath
was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mark. 2:27). God knows man’s needs.
one hand, we must guard against disrespect for the day of rest ordered by
God. On the other hand, we must guard against legalism about it, thereby
obeying the letter of the law but forgetting the spirit of it.
summarized the first four commandments by saying, “You shall love the
LORD your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”
(Mark 12:30). That is the true spirit
of the fourth commandment, as well. God wants quality time with His
children, who should have the same yearning toward their heavenly Father.
prayer: Father, show me how to use my day of rest.
thought: Do I ignore the God-given rhythm for mankind?
The fifth commandment
Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16
commandment forms a bridge between the first and the second table of the
Law. God appointed authorities to look after our relationships with God and
with fellow human beings (Rom. 13:1-7).
are the first authority children know. However, long before discipline
starts, children enjoy the loving care of their parents (or
parent-figures). This care should remain the main role of parents during
their children’s development, the umbrella under which their authority
receives its rightful place. God’s discipline is wrapped in love. Other
authorities, from local to international, should follow this example and
exercise their discipline under the umbrella of care.
honor their parents when they express love, trust, and respect for them.
They can do this by spending quality time with them, affirming their
feelings with words, deeds, attitudes, gifts, caring, and sharing. They
honor their parents by maintaining lifestyles that do not shame them and by
helping them when needed. Show love to God in the same way.
fifth commandment also addresses a negative attitude that started with Adam
and Eve and that is experienced by all human beings. It is the propensity to
rebel against authority and to “throw off the chains”
(Ps. 2:1-3). People rebel in many
ways, but when driven to extremes, rebellion usually leads to dreadful
injury to people and to unnecessary damage to property.
certainly not against our right to express our complaints, but He warns us
to be cautious lest we hurt others and ourselves by undermining community
authorities. “Honor your father and mother” is a figure of speech
that includes all legitimate authorities in spite of their imperfection. No
parent or other authority is perfect, but we have to honor them.
the “stick and carrot” approach. He issued the death penalty for those who
curse their parents (Ex. 21:17), but
He added a promise of a long life to those who honor their parents. It also
applies to our relationship with the heavenly Father. Those who reject Him
and the salvation He offers will suffer hell; those who honor Him by
accepting His salvation will enjoy eternal life.
not stated explicitly here, it is implied and emphasized in other parts of
Scripture that parents/authorities should act in a way that will make it
possible for their children/citizens to honor them
(Eph. 6:1-9). Authority figures who
abuse those in their care forfeit their privilege to be honored.
prayer: Lord, help parents and authorities to be honorable.
thought: How do I behave toward my parents and my authorities?
Respect for Life
The sixth commandment
Ex. 20:13, Deut. 5:17
commandment opens up many questions. For some, it is okay to kill humans in
war and for certain crimes, to kill animals for food, or to combat pests
that threaten our livelihood. For others, all life is sacred and should be
protected, even when huge damage is done by rodents and insects. Some are
pro-life in certain areas and pro-death in other areas.
sixth commandment prohibit all killing or just some killing? Does it
prohibit destructive attitudes as well? It demands life and death decisions
from us on abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, justice, war,
attitudes, and eating habits. The commandment itself does not provide all
the answers. We have to look at the rest of Scripture for direction.
allowed man to eat certain animals (Gen. 9:3,
Lev. 11). He ordered that certain animals be sacrificed to signify
forgiveness of sin. He abhorred murder and human sacrifices so much that He
prescribed the death penalty for such crimes. He wiped out several
communities because of their sins. God is the source of life—He gives life
to all and He takes it back from all.
gave new meaning to the sixth commandment when He warned against angry heart
attitudes (Matt. 5:21-26). Anger in
the heart may first spill over as abusive verbal or non-verbal messages
before it is expressed in aggressive deeds. These may become fatal if
allowed to escalate.
between groups and individuals are fed by hatred and fueled by revenge upon
revenge. Eventually, it is impossible to determine who is most guilty and
who should make the first move to end the cycle of violence. In spite of
international conventions on war, the ethics of war is subjectively
interpreted by every warring group. And what is okay for strong countries is
not always okay for weak countries, like having nuclear weapons.
shall not kill” commands us to avoid any thought, word, or deed that can
harm others or ourselves and to activate those thoughts, words, and deeds
that will protect others and ourselves and promote the safety and well-being
of all. Blessed are the peacemakers—they will inherit the earth.
golden rule, “Do to others what you would have them do to you”
(Matt. 7:12 NIV), and the Great
Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” are included in the
sixth commandment. It covers body, soul, and spirit of self and others—even
those that we do not like (Luke 10:25-37,
prayer: Lord, help me obey this command in letter and in spirit.
thought: Are my pro-life and pro-death viewpoints in line with Scripture?
The seventh commandment
Ex. 20:14, Deut. 5:18
the need for air, water, and food, sex probably has the strongest influence
on human behavior. Although it is not a physical necessity, its link with
social and emotional needs makes it quite difficult to ignore. The Creator
built it into our systems. He made Adam and Eve in such a way that they
needed closeness with each other. Yahveh also yearns for the exchange of
love with His people.
mutual fulfillment is not achieved all at once, and it does not stay that
way by itself, either—as many honeymoon couples have discovered with a
shock. The relationship can only become and remain fulfilling with
continuous fine-tuning of the give-and-take process through many subtle
verbal and non-verbal interactions. Because of this sensitive process, you
can’t have a fulfilling relationship with everyone. You have to search for a
mate who is willing to persevere with you on a long-term journey.
God made us this way, He knows what is good for us and what will destroy us.
He commanded that we neither harm the relationships of others nor harm
ourselves with wrong relationships. We must avoid adultery and immorality
and strive for good marriages. Whether married or single, we must maintain
our bodies as temples of God (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
not give His Law to spoil our fun, but to secure our joy. He knew that the
pleasure of immorality would destroy the joy of a good relationship with Him
and with a spouse, and maybe even the joy of a healthy body. By putting up a
fence, He protects us against falling into an immoral abyss.
told us to eradicate the sinful inclination at its roots: the sinful desire
in the heart. Those who lust after a person (regardless of that person’s sex
or age) have already started with immorality
(Matt. 5:27-32). When Jesus advised that we should pluck out the evil
eye and chop off the sinful hand, He did not mean amputation—that would harm
the temple of God. He showed us that what is brought in by the senses (eye)
is processed in the heart (by mind, feelings, and will) and is then put into
action (hand). We have to focus our senses on the right things, purify our
thinking-feeling-willing processes, and steer our actions in the right
knew how our physiology and psychology influence our spirituality. He did
not separate these three aspects of our being as we often do.
prayer: Lord, purify my senses, heart, and actions.
thought: Do I like to play near the edge of the abyss?
The eighth commandment
Ex. 20:15, Deut. 5:19
spirit of each commandment represents much more than the letter of the Law.
Father and mother stands for all legitimate authority, kill
symbolizes all animosity, and adultery typifies all sexual
immorality. In the same vein, steal epitomizes all material harm done
to others by deed or neglect.
study the laws God gave to His people through Moses, we will find that the
Ten Commandments were explained later in more detail. We can only read into
each commandment what Scripture allows us to read into it. “You shall not
steal” includes taking from others in a dishonest way (such as stealing,
overcharging, fraud, or illegally withholding just goods, wages, debts,
rent, taxes, or offerings). We violate this command when we allow others to
suffer loss by not looking out for their interest (for instance, when I see
someone in need or being robbed or attacked and do nothing about it).
Through the prophet Malachi (3:8-10),
God said we can rob Him by withholding our tithes and offerings. We may also
overstep this commandment when we harm our families by overspending or being
positive side of the eighth commandment calls on us to do all we can to
protect the property of others and ourselves by courteously cooperating,
being kindly alert, supporting law and order to keep our roads and
neighborhoods safe, and supplying the needs of the less fortunate.
issued stern warnings to those who hold back on charity when they see
someone in need, and He promised great rewards to those who open up their
hearts to the needy. “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom
... for I was hungry and you gave Me food ...”
(Matt. 25). His parable of the Good
Samaritan remains a timeless example of what we should do and avoid doing
regarding human need and suffering. The priest and Levite in this parable
refused to help the wounded man, while the Samaritan gave himself, his time,
and his means to render help (Luke 10).
Sometimes we try to maintain an artificial border between Sunday and the
rest of the week, between the spiritual and the material. The eighth
commandment tells us clearly that God is King over everything and everybody
and that He lays down the rules for money and possessions, too. What others
and we have was granted to us by the Owner of the universe, and as stewards
and custodians, we have to use it to His glory and for the common good.
prayer: Lord, I want to serve You and others with what I am and have.
thought: Where do I “steal” from the Lord or from others?
Truth and Love
The ninth commandment
Ex. 20:16, Deut. 5:20
people love and hate the truth. They love to hear the truth about
others—especially the juicy stuff—and many love to pass it on, too.
However, they hate unfavorable truth about themselves, especially when it is
dispersed by gossip. In order to promote their own positions, people from
all walks of life are inclined to highlight their own merits and the faults
of their competitors, while they minimize their own faults and the merits of
finger pointing that started in Paradise
(Gen. 3:12-13) flourished with many other defense mechanisms as man
waded deeper into the marsh of sin. The ninth commandment is an antidote for
all the deception that blinds man to the truth about self, others, God, and
creation. The Trinity is strongly associated with truth
(John 14:6, 17; 17:17) and Satan with
lies (John 8:44).
Prohibiting false witness or testimony against one’s neighbor reaches much
farther than the court of law. It includes any dispersing of information and
the daily interactions with fellow human beings. There, too, we must stand
for truth and against deceit in all its subtle forms like gossip, framing,
twisting someone’s words, withholding or over-emphasizing information to
create false perceptions or suspicions, phrasing statements to create vague
innuendos without clear charges, condemning anyone without a fair hearing
based on reliable information, and harming someone’s reputation with lies or
with twisted information. Jesus said our yes must be yes, and
our no, no.
the truth in all circumstances can also hurt other people, and then one has
disobeyed the essence of the second table of the Law, namely to love one’s
neighbor. For example: When one gives correct information to the enemy in
time of war, resulting in the killing of one’s own people, then one has
overstepped the law of love. When Samson told the truth to the enemy about
his strength, he lost his eyes and later his life
without love can be very cruel. If telling nasty truth about others does not
serve justice, but only hurts those who made mistakes, then I may serve the
Great Commandment of love better by shutting up. The apostle Paul warns
Christians against the cycle of vindictiveness
(Gal. 5:14-15), and he urges them to
speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Our debates about doctrine must never become loveless battles. The law of
truth must stay part of the law of love, which characterizes the second
table of the Ten Commandments.
prayer: Lord, help me to stay truthful and loving.
thought: How do I reconcile truth and love?
The tenth commandment
Ex. 20:17, Deut. 5:21
first nine commandments implied that sin starts in the heart; therefore, the
tenth is not a summary of the first nine. It is a separate commandment in
its own right. It points to a state of mind that is discontented with what
one has, an attitude that wants what others have.
attitude may spawn actions of greed that rob others of what is dear to them.
The ninth commandment seems to be an extension of the eighth, which also
deals with property. But covetousness is not focused on property only. It
goes beyond house, wife, servants, and animals and includes envy regarding
position, honor, talents, achievements, and relationships. It is not just a
desire to have a wife similar to my neighbor’s, but to acquire my neighbor’s
wife so that he will not have her anymore.
coveting is to be avoided, then we should go for the opposite: an attitude
of contentment that is grateful for what we are and have and an attitude of
generosity that grants to others what they are and have. Then we can be
proud about our successes and enjoy the talents and achievements of others
without pushing them out of their privileges. This attitude will bring new
dimensions into competition between persons, companies, and countries. They
will seek ways to promote their own interests without walking over others.
Word, God shows us the evil of covetousness and its dreadful consequences.
King David’s adultery with Bathsheba robbed Uriah of his wife and his life,
and it brought misery to David’s family (2
Sam. 11-13). King Ahab’s coveting of his neighbor’s vineyard robbed
Naboth of his vineyard and his life, and the king lost his throne and his
life (1 Kings 21-22). Achan’s love for
gold and silver brought defeat to Israel and death to him and to his family
(Josh. 7). God warned Israel many
times by the prophets not to be enticed by the immoral sexual desires
associated with idolatry. However, they would not listen, and eventually He
sent them into exile.
warned that adultery starts with lusting after someone
(Matt. 5:28) and that the worshiping
of mammon (money) starts with worry about material things
(Matt. 6:24-34). He showed us the
futility of winning the whole world but losing one’s soul
(Mark 8:36). He underlined this truth
with the parables of the “Rich Fool” (Luke
12), the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15),
and the “Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16).
God wants us to be grateful, not greedy.
prayer: Father, fill me with gratitude for Your many gifts.
thought: Do I enjoy what I have, or do I fret over what I don’t have?