Vol. 16 No 38 – September 17, 2017
In this study, we will note each of the Ten Commandments, (also known as the Decalogue, which is part of the greater Mosaic Law given to Israel in the Pentateuch that also includes the Ordinances, and the Judgments), to understand them in relation to the Church Age in which we live today. The term “commandments” is found in and represents an integral part of both the Mosaic and Christian systems, but with widely different significance.
Although they can be applied by all members of the human race in a moralistic society as protection under Divine Establishment principles, commandments, (including the Ten Commandments), are addressed in the Scriptures to the Jew and the Christian, but not anyone unsaved, (Jew or Gentile). The reason is, Divine commandments serve only to direct the daily life of those who are in right relation to God.
The Ten Commandments were first given to the nation of Israel directly by God under His Divine counsels. They are found in the books of Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21. The Divine counsels for Israel given to Moses remained in effect for the Israelites until the death and resurrection of Christ. That time period is what theologians call the Age of Israel, the Age of the Law, and/or the Jewish Dispensation.
These Divine counsels fall into three major divisions:
- The Commandments, Ex 20:1-17, which directed Israel’s moral actions.
- The Judgments, Ex 21:1 – 24:11, which governed Israel’s social activities.
- The Statutes or Ordinances, Ex 24:12 – 31:18, which guided Israel’s religious activities.
These three forms of Divine requirement were interrelated and interdependent, that is, one could not function fully apart from the other two. Therefore, the modern notion that the Mosaic Commandments are still in force, but that the Judgments and Ordinances have been abolished, can be contemplated only when a lack of understanding exists regarding the form and nature of the Mosaic commandments. When you understand Scripture such as Num 15:32-36, you see that the penalty of death was Divinely imposed for the breaking of the Ten Commandments. Regarding the severity in the penalty for transgressions of the Mosaic Law, it is written in Heb 10:28, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
“L.S. Chafer noted, “That the entire Mosaic system is not now in force is evident from the fact that not all its conditions are applicable, for example; The Sabbath enjoined by the Mosaic Law is superseded for the present age by the Lord’s Day, and the promise of long life in the Promised Land, which God had bestowed on Israel, has no relation to the Church, (as we have noted in Eph 6:3). In fact, scriptures directly declare that the Commandments of Moses are to be abolished and done away for the present age, John 1:17; Rom 6:14; 7:1, 3-4; 2 Cor 3:6-11; Gal 3:23-25.”
If you fear that the voiding of the Commandments of Moses involves the loss of their great principles of righteousness, please note that every truth contained in the Mosaic system of morals, except the Sabbath day, has been restated and is adapted to grace and not to law. In fact, the first of the Ten Commandments of Moses appears nearly fifty times in, and adapted to, the new relationship of the believer with God in the Church Age under grace. Therefore, most of the Ten Commandments have been restated in the New Testament and are applicable to the Church in living the unique spiritual life for the Church Age, yet under grace and not under law. In the Church Age, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, which begins with the Ten Commandments and then goes much further in regards to the societal and spiritual life of the Israelite during the Age of the Law, also known as the Jewish Dispensation.
Because Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law. The relationship which the nation Israel held to YHWH should not be confused with the high and holy relationship which Christians now hold toward God by reason of being in Christ. Therefore, things like the laws of separation between clean and unclean, of ceremonial defilement, of Sabbath observance, etc., are set aside during the Church Age by Jesus Himself in the pursuit of his ministry to reach the sinner.
Jesus said in, Mat 11:13, “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (the Baptist),” indicating that a new reality had entered the scene and was replacing the old order, Mark 1:15; cf. 2 Cor 5:17.
Gal 3:10-12, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them’.”
Gal 4:9-11, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”
Gal 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
Rom 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace.”
Gal, 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery, (the Law).”
Eph 2:15, “By abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”
Rom 7:6, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
Rom 10:4, more strongly than any other passage, raises the question of the place of the law and its continuing validity for the Christian.
Rom 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Cf. Luke 24:44
Here we are confronted with the affirmation that the law no longer determines our relationship with God. Many think this opens up a life style of antinomianism, the rejection of any and all laws and regulations, especially absolute norms, for the moral life.
For Paul, the Law “was our custodian until Christ came,” Gal 3:24. Its temporary function has now been accomplished; and Christ is therefore also the terminus, the cessation of the Law. He is the end of the law for righteousness “for everyone who believes.” For it is only in the response of faith to Christ, in the humble submission to God’s righteousness, Rom 10:3, that the bondage of the law, (consisting of its revelation of sin and its inability to help us beyond it), can come to its end. Cf. Mat 5:17-20; Rom 5:20.
Rom 5:20, “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
In Fact, all the Mosaic Law is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit, Gal 5:16-24.
Yet, regarding the Ten Commandments, as noted above, most of them have been restated in the New Testament and therefore, are applicable to the Christian way of life.
God’s purpose for the Decalogue in regard to Israel is given in Exodus Chapter 19, and 20:1-2, called The Preamble to Israel’s Constitution. In vs. 3-6, we have the specific purpose of the Law.
Ex 19:3-6, “Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel”.”
From the mountain, God spoke some of the most significant words found in the Old Testament, words which Moses was to proclaim to the Israelites. Here we note several principles:
1.) Israel’s history is proof of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, for He distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians, delivering them and making them the special object of His care.
2.) Israel’s deliverance was for the purpose of being brought to God, so that the nation could be His prized possession and to serve Him as a priestly nation. God purposed to bless the nations by establishing Israel, His servant, as a mediatorial people, who would be a “light to the Gentiles,” sharing with the nations the way of entering into fellowship with God.
3.) In order to maintain this privileged status, Israel had to keep God’s covenant, (as defined by the Law). Israel’s calling was to a position of both privilege and of responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. Thus, in order to enjoy fellowship with God and to serve Him as His representative to the nations, Israel must reflect His holiness and purity. Israel was thus given the commandments, so that Israel would be distinct from the nations and God-like, so that they could fulfill their priestly calling.
4.) The Law was Israel’s corporate covenant with God and her constitution as a nation. Repeatedly, the Law which God gave Israel through Moses was referred to as a covenant, Ex 19:5; 24:7-8; 34:10, 27-28; Deut 4:23; 5:2.
The three principle covenants of the Old Testament were:
- The Abrahamic covenant, Gen 12:1-3. The promise of an eternal people.
- The Davidic covenant, 2 Sam 7:11-16; 1 Chron 17:10-14. The promise of an eternal kingdom with an eternal King.
- The Mosaic (or Sinaitic) covenant. The giving of the Law for Israel.
The first two covenants are unconditional, yet the Mosaic covenant is different from the other two covenants. This was a covenant which was provisional, conditional, and which was to be replaced by a “new covenant,” which would be an eternal covenant, Jer 31:31-34; cf. Isa 55:3; 61:8; Ezek 37:26.
The Mosaic covenant was never given as a means of earning righteousness by Law-keeping. The covenant was given to the Israelites after God had delivered them from Egypt. The Law could not be kept, except by God’s grace, and provisions were made, (the sacrificial system), for men when they would fail to abide by the Law. The New Covenant was promised because the Mosaic covenant could not be kept by Israel, Jer 31:31-34.
Therefore, the Law, (in its broadest form; found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible), was intended to serve as a record of God’s faithfulness to His promises and to His people. The Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the laws of God, were given to serve as the covenant between God and His people, and as their national constitution, by which the nation would be guided and governed.
Next, we note that there are four things to observe about the Decalogue.
1.) The first thing is that the Ten Commandments, and the entire Law, was a direct revelation from God. God dictated these words, they were not mediated through any man.
2.) The second thing to notice about the Ten Commandment is that they are all, with two exceptions, negatives. Why negatives? Because they are given in legal format and they were designed to expose sin.
They utilize a construction in the Hebrew known as the “absolute negative.” There are two kinds of construction in Hebrew, the “relative negative” and the “absolute negative.” The relative negative would mean, “do not do that,” as you would say to someone. The relative means, “just do not do it now, but maybe you can later.” But if you said, “never do that,” you would be using the absolute negative. In other words, under no condition will you ever do this thing. The absolute negatives are given because legal format is designed to expose sin.
3.) The third thing to notice about the Ten Commandments is that they are based on mental attitude, not overt activity. This is explained in the Tenth Commandment. Look at Deut 5:21. That is not an overt activity.
Deut 5:21, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, etc.”
All of this is an inner mental attitude, which proves that the entire complex of the Ten Commandments is mental. This is what Jesus was trying to explain in the Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5. At that time, the Pharisees had made the Law totally external, yet Jesus says, “No, you misunderstand this, you totally misunderstand this.” The legalists, (Judaizers), decided they were going to get saved by keeping the Law, so they had to make the Law easy enough so that they could get saved. Therefore, the Pharisees said look, “Do not murder, because if you do, the policeman might get you.” That is basically what they said and Jesus came along and said isn’t that sweet, “You have heard it said that ‘you shall not murder’, and that is when He launched into this, “if you hate your brother you have already murdered him.” What Jesus was trying to show them was, you cannot externalize these things; they begin on the inside, in your mind, in the mentality of your soul.
4.) The fourth thing to notice about the Decalogue is that it is given in itself in treaty format in the suzerain manner, (a treaty between a powerful king and his vassals). The whole book of Deuteronomy is outlined in treaty format, and this little block of material in the Ten Commandments is a treaty within a treaty, because here it begins, “I am the LORD, your God,” that is part of the preamble, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” that is what I have done for you, the historical prologue; and the rest of it is the stipulations. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are not just a moral code; they are a code that is controlling a relationship that is legally defined. It is not an absolute code that just anybody obeyed. No, the Ten Commandments are given for the people within this covenant; the whole thing is set in a covenant format.
Not only was the Law God’s corporate mandate for the people of the nation Israel, but it was also God’s personal revelation to individual saints. In addition to the public, corporate role of the Law as Israel’s collective covenant and constitution, the Law also had a private role to play in the life of the Old Testament saint. This role of the Law is readily seen in the Psalms, specifically, Psalms 19 and 119. Notice the crucial role the Law has in the life of the individual saint, as reflected by the psalmist in Psalm 19:
Psa 19:7-11, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 8The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. 10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.”
Some of the specific ways which the Law applied to the individual saint:
- The Law was seen as a source of personal edification, through which God spoke personally to the individual saint: Restoring his soul, Psa 19:7; Making the simple wise, 19:7; Rejoicing his heart, 19:8; Enlightening his eyes, 19:8; Providing guidance, Psa 119:105; Reviving him, 119:154; and Convicting him of sin, 119:80, 126, 133; Psa 19:11-14.
- The Law was a revelation of God’s character, Psa 119:138, 156.
- The Law was a promise of future salvation, Psa 119:166, 174. The psalmists never view the Law as the standard they must keep in order to be saved. In fact, they viewed salvation as something which the Law anticipated, but did not produce itself. Thus, the Psalms look forward to a future salvation, one which the Law itself will not bring about.
- The Law was a consolation to the sufferer, but it was not viewed as a means by which one could earn blessings or avoid adversity, cf. Psa 119:67, 71, 75. Rather than seeing the Law as the means to keep him from suffering, the psalmist saw suffering as God’s means of bringing him to the Law.
- From the Law, the psalmist learned that he could neither understand nor apply this revelation apart from God’s grace, Psa 119:68, 73, 124-125, 144, 169. The psalmist understood that the Law required God’s grace to understand and to apply.
- The Law was simple, yet profound. It would not be grasped quickly and easily, but only through study, prayer, and meditation, Psa 119:114, 123, 147.
The New Testament Perspective of the Mosaic Law.
1.) There is great continuity between the NT and the Old in terms of their perspectives of the Law. Paul defended the Law as that which was “Holy,” “righteous,” “good,” and “spiritual,” Rom 7:12, 14.
2.) Paul also speaks in demeaning terms regarding the Law, yet only in contrast to the New Covenant, which was implemented by the death of our Lord. In 2 Cor 3, Paul contrasts the glory shown forth at the giving of the Law with the greater glory associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is not a contrast between what is evil and what is good, but rather between what was good and that which is far better. For example:
- In the first covenant, God’s majesty and might were manifested to all, but a select few could draw near. In the New Covenant, all who wished could draw near, but only a few beheld His majesty, (transfiguration).
- The first manifestation of God on Mount Sinai portrayed the marvelous truth of the holiness of God, and the separation which that demands. The second manifestation of our Lord on Mount Calvary revealed the marvelous grace of God, by which He drew near to men and by which we may draw near to Him.
Therefore, we must be careful to keep both the holiness and the grace of God in perspective.
1.) There are some that stress the grace of God to the point of diminishing the truth of His holiness, and of our need for purity.
2.) There are others who so emphasize the holiness of God so that men despair of ever having intimate fellowship with Him.
The barriers which were of necessity constructed to keep men from God at the giving of the old covenant have all been taken away by the institution of the New Covenant. The veil which kept men from the presence of God has been torn in two. The barrier of our sins has been broken down. This is because the holiness which the Law requires has been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ, just as the penalty of death which the Law pronounces on every sinner has been born by the same Savior, on the cross of Calvary. As a result, God gives greater glory to the New Covenant than the Old.
3.) In this regard, the Law was also viewed by the apostles as that which was prophetic; it foreshadowed the better things to come, Col 2:16-17; Heb 10:1, and that which was provisional and preparatory, Gal 3 – 4.
- We are now the kingdom of priests, having been given that holy task which Israel was given and failed to fulfill.
- Therefore, we should understand that the standards for God’s kingdom of priests would be the same. The means of reaching this standard is not that of human effort at Law-keeping. It never was, and it never will be. We can never fully meet this standard, but in Christ it has been met and given to us. We can never achieve it on our own in this life, but since Christ lives in us, we can expect evidences of righteousness, because He is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure.
4.) Finally, when Paul speaks absolutely disparagingly of “the Law,” it is not of the Law as given by God and properly interpreted and applied, but the Law as interpreted and applied by the Judaizers, who sought to pervert the Law into a system of works-oriented righteousness.
Therefore, the Law is spoken of in the New Testament:
1) As being holy, righteous, good, and spiritual;
2) In demeaning terms in contrast to the better New Covenant;
3) Prophetically of Christ’s work and accomplishments;
4) Disparagingly, in the way it was applied by the Judaizers.
The 1st Commandment:
Ex 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Deut 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
“Gods,” is the Hebrew Noun ELOHIM, אֱלֹהִים that is also used for the One true God in vs. 2 and elsewhere in the OT. The “IM” ending makes it a plural noun speaking of the many other “gods” that existed in ancient societies, Ex 20:23, such as Egypt, Philistia, Canaan, Amor, Sidon, Moab, Milcon, Ammon, Syria, Babylon, etc., and ones that would come with the Greek and Roman empires. Whether these societies believed in one or many gods (Pantheon), they all were false gods put before the One true God of Israel.
When ELOHIM is used of the One true God of Israel, it is singular in meaning, (as it sometimes is used for singular pagan gods of other nations), yet, subtly pointing out the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as in the great SHEMA of Israel in Deut 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
“Before Me,” is the Preposition AL, עַל with the Noun PANIM, פָּנִים that literally means “face.” This word can also function as a Preposition and literally means, “facing,” and is often translated “before” or “in front of.” Likewise, it can mean in the presence of. Therefore, it means, “in opposition to Me,” as well as, “in My presence.”
This is not an admission that other gods exist. The simple fact is there are no other gods beside God, Isa 45:21; 45:6; cf. 42:8. So, if any are worshipped, they are nothing more than man-made fallacies.
This commandment not only means other gods being worshipped to the exclusion of God, but also prohibits other gods from being considered to be in the presence of God. As noted above, most religions of that day had a pantheon, a divine assembly that ruled the realm of the gods, the supernatural, and ultimately, the human world. In their systems, there would typically be a deity who was designated head of the pantheon, and he, like the other gods, would have at least one consort; female partner. Therefore, this commandment forbids Israel to think in these terms. God is not the head of a pantheon, and he does not have a consort. Therefore, there are no gods in His presence, meaning above Him or worshipped alongside of Him.
Therefore, this first mandate, upon which all of the subsequent commandments are based, means that God was to be their only object of worship, and they were to live in blessed fellowship with Him as their glory and their guide. Unfortunately, Israel often disobeyed this very first command by worshiping the idols of other nations. This eventually resulted in her being exiled to Assyria and Babylonia.
Therefore, this was a mandate for pure monotheism that presented a theology completely at variance with the pagan nations all around them. Though the Israelites had grown up in a grossly polytheistic culture in the land of Egypt, where idols were erected to a large array of imaginary deities, (some of which were bulls, hawks, vultures, crocodiles, snakes, and beetles), nothing could have been more opposing to the cultures of the then Gentile world than the statement that there is only one God, the living and sovereign Lord of all creation who also sustained all things in their order.
The delusion of polytheism began in the antediluvian culture and was continued post flood as demonstrated at the Tower of Babel which was a monument to the greatness of the human race, irrespective of God. The various representations of deity, embodied in anthropoid statues or birds or beasts or crawling creatures, flourished especially in Egypt, from where the Israelites had emerged as the only ethnic unit that retained a knowledge of the One true God. As such, the One true God was in polar opposition to the beliefs, practices, and customs connected with the polytheistic superstitions of the ancient Gentile world. The Jews lived in a world of blind and superstitious nations that worshiped many gods. As such, Israel was to bear witness of the true and living God, Psa 115, and invite their neighbors to trust Him.
Conclusion: This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and all inordinate attachment(s) to earthly and sensible things.
New Testament usage: We see this command reiterated it the NT, when Jesus railed against Satan after his third temptation in Mat 4:10; Luke 4:8; Cf. Rev 14:7.
Mat 4:10, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY’.”
Our Lord also reminded the Pharisees of the greatest commandment given in the Law, Mark 12:29, the “Great SHEMA.”
Mark 12:29, “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD’.”
Mark 12:32 (NKJV), “So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He’.”
Other passages include:
1 Cor 8:6, “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
Eph 4:6, “One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
1 Tim 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
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If you would like more information on this subject, you may watch/listen to lesson:
#’s 17-096 – 17-098
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A PERSONAL NOTE FOR YOU
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I am here to tell you that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His life for you. God the Father also loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you by sending Him to the Cross. At the Cross Jesus died in your place. Taking upon Himself all of your sins and all of my sins. He was judged for our sins and paid the price for our sins. Therefore, our sins will never be held against us. Right where you are, you now have the opportunity to make the greatest decision in your life.
To accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life by truly believing that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised on the third day as the proof of the promise of eternal life. So right now, you can pause and reflect on what Christ has done for you and say to the Father:
“Yes Father, I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.”
If you have done that, I welcome you to the eternal Family of God!