Exodus 20


The preface to the ten commandments, 1, 2.

The FIRST commandment, against mental or theoretic

idolatry, 3.

The SECOND, against making and worshipping images, or

practical idolatry, 4-6.

The THIRD, against false swearing, blasphemy, and irreverent

use of the name of God, 7.

The FOURTH, against profanation of the Sabbath, and

idleness on the other days of the week, 8-11.

The FIFTH, against disrespect and disobedience to

parents, 12.

The SIXTH, against murder and cruelty, 13.

The SEVENTH, against adultery and uncleanness, 14.

The EIGHTH, against stealing and dishonesty, 15.

The NINTH, against false testimony, perjury, &c., 16.

The TENTH, against covetousness, 17.

The people are alarmed at the awful appearance of God on the

mount, and stand afar off, 18.

They pray that Moses may be mediator between God and them, 19.

Moses encourages them, 20.

He draws near to the thick darkness, and God communes with

him, 21, 22.

Farther directions against idolatry, 23.

Directions concerning making an altar of earth, 24;

and an altar of hewn stone, 25.

None of these to be ascended by steps, and the reason given, 26.


Verse 1. All these words] Houbigant supposes, and with great

plausibility of reason, that the clause eth col

haddebarim haelleh, "all these words," belong to the latter part

of the concluding verse of chap. xix., which he thinks should be

read thus: And Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto

them ALL THESE WORDS; i.e., delivered the solemn charge relative

to their not attempting to come up to that part of the mountain on

which God manifested himself in his glorious majesty, lest he

should break forth upon them and consume them. For how could

Divine justice and purity suffer a people so defiled to stand in

his immediate presence? When Moses, therefore, had gone down and

spoken all these words, and he and Aaron had reascended the

mount, then the Divine Being, as supreme legislator, is

majestically introduced thus: And God spake, saying. This gives a

dignity to the commencement of this chapter of which the clause

above mentioned, if not referred to the speech of Moses, deprives

it. The Anglo-Saxon favours this emendation: [Anglo-Saxon], God

spoke THUS, which is the whole of the first verse as it stands in

that version.

Some learned men are of opinion that the TEN COMMANDMENTS were

delivered on May 30, being then the day of pentecost.


The laws delivered on Mount Sinai have been variously named. In

De 4:13, they are called

asereth haddebarim, THE TEN WORDS. In the preceding chapter,

Ex 19:5, God calls them

eth berithi, my COVENANT, i.e., the agreement he entered into with

the people of Israel to take them for his peculiar people, if they

took him for their God and portion. IF ye will obey my voice

indeed, and KEEP my COVENANT, THEN shall ye be a peculiar treasure

unto me. And the word covenant here evidently refers to the laws

given in this chapter, as is evident from De 4:13:

And he declared unto you his COVENANT, which he commanded you to

perform, even TEN COMMANDMENTS. They have been also termed the

moral law, because they contain and lay down rules for the

regulation of the manners or conduct of men. Sometimes they have

been termed the LAW, hattorah, by way of eminence, as

containing the grand system of spiritual instruction, direction,

guidance, &c. See on the word LAW, Ex 12:49.

See Clarke on Ex 12:49. And frequently the DECALOGUE,

δεκαλογος, which is a literal translation into Greek of the

asereth haddebarim, or TEN WORDS, of Moses.

Among divines they are generally divided into what they term the

first and second tables. The FIRST table containing the first,

second, third, and fourth commandments, and comprehending the

whole system of theology, the true notions we should form of the

Divine nature, the reverence we owe and the religious service we

should render to him. The SECOND, containing the six last

commandments, and comprehending a complete system of ethics, or

moral duties, which man owes to his fellows, and on the due

performance of which the order, peace and happiness of society

depend. By this division, the FIRST table contains our duty to

GOD; the SECOND our duty to our NEIGHBOUR. This division, which

is natural enough, refers us to the grand principle, love to God

and love to man, through which both tables are observed. 1. Thou

shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and

strength. 2. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these

two hang all the law and the prophets.

See Clarke on Mt 22:37; and "Mt 22:38".

See Clarke on Mt 22:39; and "Mt 22:40".


Against mental or theoretic idolatry.

Verse 2. I am the LORD thy God] Yehovah

eloheycha. On the word JEHOVAH, which we here translate LORD,

See Clarke on Ge 2:4, and "Ex 6:3". And on

the word Elohim, here translated GOD, See Clarke on Ge 1:1.

It is worthy of remark that each individual is addressed here, and

not the people collectively, though they are all necessarily

included; that each might feel that he was bound for himself to

hear and do all these words. Moses laboured to impress this

personal interest on the people's minds, when he said,

De 5:3, 4: "The Lord made this covenant with

us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day."

Brought thee out of the land of Egypt, &c.] And by this very

thing have proved myself to be superior to all gods, unlimited in

power, and most gracious as well as fearful in operation. This is

the preface or introduction, but should not be separated from the

commandment. Therefore,-

Verse 3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.]

elohim acherim, no strange gods-none that thou art not acquainted

with, none who has not given thee such proofs of his power and

godhead as I have done in delivering thee from the Egyptians,

dividing the Red Sea, bringing water out of the rock, quails into

the desert, manna from heaven to feed thee, and the pillar of

cloud to direct, enlighten, and shield thee. By these miracles

God had rendered himself familiar to them, they were intimately

acquainted with the operation of his hands; and therefore with

great propriety he says, Thou shalt have no strange gods before

me; al panai, before or in the place of those

manifestations which I have made of myself.

This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and

all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things. As God

is the fountain of happiness, and no intelligent creature can be

happy but through him, whoever seeks happiness in the creature is

necessarily an idolater; as he puts the creature in the place of

the Creator, expecting that from the gratification of his

passions, in the use or abuse of earthly things, which is to be

found in God alone. The very first commandment of the whole

series is divinely calculated to prevent man's misery and promote

his happiness, by taking him off from all false dependence, and

leading him to God himself, the fountain of all good.


Against making and worshipping images.

Verse 4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image] As the

word pasal signifies to hew, carve, grave, &c.,

pesel may here signify any kind of image, either of wood, stone,

or metal, on which the axe, the chisel, or the graving tool

has been employed. This commandment includes in its prohibitions

every species of idolatry known to have been practised among the

Egyptians. The reader will see this the more plainly by

consulting the notes on the ten plagues, particularly those on

chap. xii.

Or any likeness, &c.] To know the full spirit and extent of

this commandment, this place must be collated with De 4:15, &c.:

Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves-lest ye corrupt

yourselves-and make you a graven image, the similitude of any

figure, the likeness of MALE or FEMALE. All who have even the

slightest acquaintance with the ancient history of Egypt, know

that Osiris and his wife Isis were supreme divinities among that


The likeness of any beast.- behemah, such as the ox

and the heifer. Among the Egyptians the ox was not only sacred

but adored, because they supposed that in one of these animals

Osiris took up his residence: hence they always had a living ox,

which they supposed to be the habitation of this deity; and they

imagined that on the death of one he entered into the body of

another, and so on successively. This famous ox-god they called

Apis and Mnevis.

The likeness of any winged fowl.-The ibis, or stork, or

crane, and hawk, may be here intended, for all these were objects

of Egyptian idolatry.

The likeness of any thing that CREEPETH. The crocodile,

serpents, the scarabeus or beetle, were all objects of their

adoration; and Mr. Bryant has rendered it very probable that even

the frog itself was a sacred animal, as from its inflation it was

emblematic of the prophetic influence, for they supposed that the

god inflated or distended the body of the person by whom he gave

oracular answers.

The likeness of any FISH.-All fish were esteemed sacred animals

among the Egyptians. One called Oxurunchus had, according to

Strabo, lib. xvii., a temple, and divine honours paid to it.

Another fish, called Phagrus, was worshipped at Syene, according

to Clemens Alexandrinus in his Cohortatio. And the Lepidotus

and eel were objects of their adoration, as we find from

Herodotus, lib. ii., cap. 72. In short, oxen, heifers, sheep,

goats, lions, dogs, monkeys, and cats; the ibis, the crane,

and the hawk; the crocodile, serpents, frogs, flies, and the

scarabeus or beetle; the Nile and its fish; the sun, moon,

planets, and stars; fire, light, air, darkness, and night,

were all objects of Egyptian idolatry, and all included in this

very circumstantial prohibition as detailed in Deuteronomy, and

very forcibly in the general terms of the text: Thou shalt not

make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that

is in the HEAVENS above, or that is in the EARTH beneath, or that

is in the WATER under the earth. And the reason of this becomes

self-evident, when the various objects of Egyptian idolatry are


To countenance its image worship, the Roman Catholic Church

has left the whole of this second commandment out of the

decalogue, and thus lost one whole commandment out of the ten; but

to keep up the number they have divided the tenth into two.

This is totally contrary to the faith of God's elect and to the

acknowledgment of that truth which is according to godliness. The

verse is found in every MS. of the Hebrew Pentateuch that has ever

yet been discovered. It is in all the ancient versions,

Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, Septuagint, Vulgate, Coptic, and

Arabic; also in the Persian, and in all modern versions. There is

not one word of the whole verse wanting in the many hundreds of

MSS. collected by Kennicott and De Rossi. This corruption of the

word of God by the Roman Catholic Church stamps it, as a false and

heretical Church, with the deepest brand of ever-during infamy!

This commandment also prohibits every species of external

idolatry, as the first does all idolatry that may be called

internal or mental. All false worship may be considered of this

kind, together with all image worship, and all other superstitious

rites and ceremonies. See Clarke on Ex 20:23.

Verse 5. Jealous God] This shows in a most expressive manner

the love of God to this people. He felt for them as the most

affectionate husband could do for his spouse; and was jealous for

their fidelity, because he willed their invariable happiness.

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children] This

necessarily implies-IF the children walk in the steps of their

fathers; for no man can be condemned by Divine justice for a crime

of which he was never guilty; see Eze 13:1-9. Idolatry is however

particularly intended, and visiting sins of this kind refers

principally to national judgments. By withdrawing the Divine

protection the idolatrous Israelites were delivered up into the

hands of their enemies, from whom the gods in whom they had

trusted could not deliver them. This God did to the third and

fourth generations, i.e., successively; as may be seen in every

part of the Jewish history, and particularly in the book of

Judges. And this, at last, became the grand and the only

effectual and lasting means in his hand of their final deliverance

from idolatry; for it is well known that after the Babylonish

captivity the Israelites were so completely saved from idolatry,

as never more to have disgraced themselves by it as they had

formerly done. These national judgments, thus continued from

generation to generation, appear to be what are designed by the

words in the text, Visiting the sins of the fathers upon the

children, &c.

Verse 6. And showing mercy unto thousands] Mark; even those who

love God and keep his commandments merit nothing from him, and

therefore the salvation and blessedness which these enjoy come

from the mercy of God: Showing mercy, &c. What a disproportion

between the works of justice and mercy! Justice works to the

third or fourth, mercy to thousands of generations!

The heathen had maxims like these. Theocritus also teaches that

the children of the good shall be blessed because of their

parents' piety, and that evil shall come upon the offspring of the



Idyll. 26, v. 32.

Upon the children of the righteous fall

The choicest blessings; on the wicked, wo.

That love me, and keep my commandments.] It was this that

caused Christ to comprise the fulfilment of the whole law in love

to God and man; See Clarke on Ex 20:1. And as love is the

grand principle of obedience, and the only incentive to it, so

there can be no obedience without it. It would be more easy even

in Egyptian bondage to make brick without straw, than to do the

will of God unless his love be shed abroad in the heart of the

Holy Spirit. Love, says the apostle, is the fulfilling of the

law; Ro 13:10.


Against false swearing, blasphemy, and

irreverent use of the name of God.

Verse 7. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in

vain] This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all

common swearing where the name of God is used, or where he is

appealed to as a witness of the truth. It also necessarily

forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of his

attributes; and this the original word lashshav particularly

imports: and we may safely add to all these, that every prayer,

ejaculation, &c., that is not accompanied with deep reverence and

the genuine spirit of piety, is here condemned also. In how many

thousands of instances is this commandment broken in the prayers,

whether read or extempore, of inconsiderate, bold, and

presumptuous worshippers! And how few are there who do not break

it, both in their public and private devotions! How low is piety

when we are obliged in order to escape damnation, to pray to God

to "pardon the sins of our holy things!"

Even heathens thought that the names of their gods should be

treated with reverence.





"It is most undoubtedly right not easily to pollute the names of

the gods, using them as we do common names; but to watch with

purity and holiness all things belonging to the gods."

The Lord will not hold him guiltless, &c.] Whatever the person

himself may think or hope, however he may plead in his own behalf,

and say he intends no evil, &c.; if he in any of the above ways,

or in any other way, takes the name of God in vain, God will not

hold him guiltless-he will account him guilty and punish him for

it. Is it necessary to say to any truly spiritual mind, that all

such interjections as O God! my God! good God! good Heavens! &c.,

&c., are formal positive breaches of this law? How many who pass

for Christians are highly criminal here!


Against profanation of the Sabbath, and

idleness on the other days of the week.

Verse 8. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.] See what

has been already said on this precept, Ge 2:2, and elsewhere.

See Clarke on Ge 2:2. As this was the most ancient

institution, God calls them to remember it; as if he had said, Do

not forget that when I had finished my creation I instituted the

Sabbath, and remember why I did so, and for what purposes. The

word shabbath signifies rest or cessation from labour;

and the sanctification of the seventh day is commanded, as having

something representative in it; and so indeed it has, for it

typifies the rest which remains for the people of God, and in this

light it evidently appears to have been understood by the apostle,

Heb. iv. Because this commandment has not been particularly

mentioned in the New Testament as a moral precept binding on all,

therefore some have presumptuously inferred that there is no

Sabbath under the Christian dispensation. The truth is, the

Sabbath is considered as a type: all types are of full force till

the thing signified by them takes place; but the thing signified

by the Sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the

people of God, therefore the moral obligation of the Sabbath must

continue till time be swallowed up in eternity.

Verse 9. Six days shalt thou labour] Therefore he who idles

away time on any of the six days, is as guilty before God as he

who works on the Sabbath. No work should be done on the Sabbath

that can be done on the preceding days, or can be deferred to the

succeeding ones. Works of absolute necessity and mercy are alone

excepted. He who works by his servants or cattle is equally

guilty as if he worked himself. Hiring out horses, &c., for

pleasure or business, going on journeys, paying worldly visits,

or taking jaunts on the Lord's day, are breaches of this law. The

whole of it should be devoted to the rest of the body and the

improvement of the mind. God says he has hallowed it-he has made

it sacred and set it apart for the above purposes. It is

therefore the most proper day for public religious worship.


Against disrespect and disobedience to parents.

Verse 12. Honour thy father and thy mother] There is a degree of

affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person

else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as

it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore

rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as

rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only

all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but

enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and

obedience. We can scarcely suppose that a man honours his parents

who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself

to the uttermost in their support. In such cases God as truly

requires the children to provide for their parents, as he required

the parents to feed, nourish, support, instruct, and defend the

children when they were in the lowest state of helpless in fancy.

See Clarke on Ge 48:12.

The rabbins say, Honour the Lord with thy substance, Pr 3:9; and,

Honour thy father and mother. The LORD is to be honoured thus

if thou have it; thy father and mother, whether thou have it or

not; for if thou have nothing, thou art bound to beg for them. See


That thy days may be long] This, as the apostle observes,

Eph 6:2, is the

first commandment to which God has annexed a promise; and

therefore we may learn in some measure how important the duty is

in the sight of God. In De 5:16 it is said,

And that it may go well with thee; we may therefore conclude

that it will go ill with the disobedient; and there is no doubt

that the untimely deaths of many young persons are the judicial

consequence of their disobedience to their parents. Most who come

to an untimely end are obliged to confess that this, with the

breach of the Sabbath, was the principal cause of their ruin.

Reader, art thou guilty? Humble thyself therefore before God, and

repent. 1. As children are bound to succour their parents, so

parents are bound to educate and instruct their children in all

useful and necessary knowledge, and not to bring them up either in

ignorance or idleness. 2. They should teach their children the

fear and knowledge of God, for how can they expect affection or

dutiful respect from those who have not the fear of God before

their eyes? Those who are best educated are generally the most

dutiful. Heathens also inculcated respect to parents.



τηναυτηνδυναμινεχουσων. ουςουθαναγαλλητις




Plato de Leg., lib. xi., vol. ix, p. 160.

Ed. Bipont.

"We can obtain no more honourable possession from the gods than

fathers and forefathers worn down with age, and mothers who have

undergone the same change, whom when we delight, God is pleased

with the honour; and every one that is governed by right

understanding fears and reverences them, well knowing that the

prayers of parents oftentimes, and in many particulars, have

received full accomplishment."


Against murder and cruelty.

Verse 13. Thou shalt not kill.] This commandment, which is

general, prohibits murder of every kind. 1. All actions by which

the lives of our fellow creatures may be abridged. 2. All wars

for extending empire, commerce, &c. 3. All sanguinary laws, by

the operation of which the lives of men may be taken away for

offences of comparatively trifling demerit. 4. All bad

dispositions which lead men to wish evil to, or meditate

mischief against, one another; for, says the Scripture, He that

hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer. 5. All want of

charity to the helpless and distressed; for he who has it in his

power to save the life of another by a timely application of

succour, food, raiment, &c., and does not do it, and the life of

the person either falls or is abridged on this account, is in the

sight of God a murderer. He who neglects to save life is,

according to an incontrovertible maxim in law, the SAME as he who

takes it away. 6. All riot and excess, all drunkenness and

gluttony, all inactivity and slothfulness, and all

superstitious mortifications and self-denials, by which life may

be destroyed or shortened; all these are point-blank sins against

the sixth commandment.


Against adultery and uncleanness.

Verse 14. Thou shalt not commit adultery.] Adultery, as defined

by our laws, is of two kinds; double, when between two married

persons; single, when one of the parties is married, the other

single. One principal part of the criminality of adultery

consists in its injustice. 1. It robs a man of his right by

taking from him the affection of his wife. 2. It does him a wrong

by fathering on him and obliging him to maintain as his own a

spurious offspring-a child which is not his. The act itself, and

every thing leading to the act, is prohibited by this commandment;

for our Lord says, Even he who looks on a woman to lust after her,

has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And not

only adultery (the unlawful commerce between two married persons)

is forbidden here, but also fornication and all kinds of mental

and sensual uncleanness. All impure books, songs, paintings, &c.,

which tend to inflame and debauch the mind, are against this law,

as well as another species of impurity, for the account of which

the reader is referred to; See Clarke on Gen 38:30. That

fornication was included under this command we may gather from

St. Matthew, Mt 15:19, where our Saviour expresses the sense of

the different commandments by a word for each, and mentions them

in the order in which they stand; but when he comes to the

seventh he uses two words, μοιχειαιπορνειαι, to express its

meaning, and then goes on to the eighth, &c.; thus evidently

showing that fornication was understood to be comprehended under

the command, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." As to the word

adultery, adulterium, it has probably been derived from the words

ad alterius torum, to another's bed; for it is going to the

bed of another man that constitutes the act and the crime.

Adultery often means idolatry in the worship of God.


Against stealing and dishonesty.

Verse 15. Thou shalt not steal.] All rapine and theft are

forbidden by this precept; as well national and commercial wrongs

as petty larceny, highway robberies, and private stealing: even

the taking advantage of a seller's or buyer's ignorance, to give

the one less and make the other pay more for a commodity than its

worth, is a breach of this sacred law. All withholding of rights

and doing of wrongs are against the spirit of it. But the word is

principally applicable to clandestine stealing, though it may

undoubtedly include all political injustice and private wrongs.

And consequently all kidnapping, crimping, and slave-dealing are

prohibited here, whether practised by individuals or by the state.

Crimes are not lessened in their demerit by the number, or

political importance of those who commit them. A state that

enacts bad laws is as criminal before God as the individual who

breaks good ones.

It has been supposed that under the eighth commandment, injuries

done to character, the depriving a man of his reputation or good

name, are included, hence those words of one of our poets:-

Good name in man or woman

Is the immediate jewel of their souls.

Who steals my purse steals trash,--

But he that filches from me my good name,

Robs me of that which not enriches him,

And makes me poor indeed.


Against false testimony, perjury, &c.

Verse 16. Thou shalt not bear false witness, &c.] Not only

false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are

here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing, slander, and

calumny; in a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is

false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person,

or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law.

Suppressing the truth when known, by which a person may be

defrauded of his property or his good name, or lie under injuries

or disabilities which a discovery of the truth would have

prevented, is also a crime against this law. He who bears a false

testimony against or belies even the devil himself, comes under

the curse of this law, because his testimony is false. By the

term neighbour any human being is intended, whether he rank among

our enemies or friends.


Against covetousness.

Verse 17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house-wife, &c.]

Covet signifies to desire or long after, in order to enjoy as a

property the person or thing coveted. He breaks this command

who by any means endeavours to deprive a man of his house or farm

by taking them over his head, as it is expressed in some

countries; who lusts after his neighbour's wife, and endeavours to

ingratiate himself into her affections, and to lessen her husband

in her esteem; and who endeavours to possess himself of the

servants, cattle, &c., of another in any clandestine or

unjustifiable manner. "This is a most excellent moral precept,

the observance of which will prevent all public crimes; for he who

feels the force of the law that prohibits the inordinate desire of

any thing that is the property of another, can never make a breach

in the peace of society by an act of wrong to any of even its

feeblest members."

Verse 18. And all the people saw the thunderings, &c.] They had

witnessed all these awful things before, (see Ex 19:16,) but

here they seem to have been repeated; probably at the end of

each command, there was a peal of thunder, a blast of the trumpet,

and a gleam of lightning, to impress their hearts the more deeply

with a due sense of the Divine Majesty, of the holiness of the law

which was now delivered, and of the fearful consequences of

disobedience. This had the desired effect; the people were

impressed with a deep religious fear and a terror of God's

judgments; acknowledged themselves perfectly satisfied with the

discoveries God had made of himself; and requested that Moses

might be constituted the mediator between God and them, as they

were not able to bear these tremendous discoveries of the Divine

Majesty. "Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God

speak with us, lest we die;" Ex 20:19. This teaches us the

absolute necessity of that great Mediator between God and man,

Christ Jesus, as no man can come unto the Father but by him.

Verse 20. And Moses said-Fear not: for God is come to prove you,

and that his fear may be before your faces] The maxim contained

in this verse is, Fear not, that he may fear-do not fear with such

a fear as brings consternation into the soul, and produces nothing

but terror and confusion; but fear with that fear which reverence

and filial affection inspire, that ye sin not-that, through the

love and reverence ye feel to your Maker and Sovereign, ye may

abstain from every appearance of evil, lest you should forfeit

that love which is to you better than life. He who fears in the

first sense can neither love nor obey; he who fears not in

the latter sense is sure to fall under the first temptation that

may occur. Blessed is the man who thus feareth always.

Verse 22. I have talked with you from heaven.] Though God

manifested himself by the fire, the lightning, the earthquake,

the thick darkness, &c., yet the ten words, or commandments were

probably uttered from the higher regions of the air, which would

be an additional proof to the people that there was no imposture

in this case; for though strange appearances and voices might be

counterfeited on earth, as was often, no doubt, done by the

magicians of Egypt; yet it would be utterly impossible to

represent a voice, in a long continued series of instruction, as

proceeding from heaven itself, or the higher regions of the

atmosphere. This, with the earthquake and repeated thunders, (see

on Ex 20:18,) would put the

reality of this whole procedure beyond all doubt; and this

enabled Moses, De 5:26, to make such an appeal to the people on a

fact incontrovertible and of infinite importance, that God had

indeed talked with them face to face.

Verse 23. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver] The

expressions here are very remarkable. Before it was said, Ye shall

have no other gods BEFORE me, al panai, Ex 20:3.

Here they are commanded, ye shall not make gods of silver or gold

itti WITH me, as emblems or representatives of God,

in order, as might be pretended, to keep these displays of his

magnificence in memory; on the contrary, he would have only an

altar of earth-of plain turf, on which they should offer those

sacrifices by which they should commemorate their own guilt and

the necessity of an atonement to reconcile themselves to God.

See Clarke on Ex 20:4.

Verse 24. Thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace- offerings] The

law concerning which was shortly to be given, though sacrifices

of this kind were in use from the days of Abel.

In all places where I record my name] Wherever I am worshipped,

whether in the open wilderness, at the tabernacle, in the temple,

the synagogues, or elsewhere, I will come unto thee and bless

thee. These words are precisely the same in signification with

those of our Lord, Mt 18:20:

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there

am I in the midst of them. And as it was JESUS who was the angel

that spoke to them in the wilderness, Ac 7:38, from the same

mouth this promise in the law and that in the Gospel


Verse 25. Thou shalt not build it of hewn stone] Because they

were now in a wandering state, and had as yet no fixed residence;

and therefore no time should be wasted to rear costly altars,

which could not be transported with them, and which they must soon

leave. Besides, they must not lavish skill or expense on the

construction of an altar; the altar of itself, whether costly or

mean, was nothing in the worship; it was only the place on which

the victim should be laid, and their mind must be attentively

fixed on that God to whom the sacrifice was offered, and on the

sacrifice itself, as that appointed by the Lord to make an

atonement for their sins.

Verse 26. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar]

The word altar comes from altus, high or elevated, though the

Hebrew word mizbach, from zabach, to slay, kill,

&c., signifies merely a place for sacrifice; see Ge 8:20. But

the heathens, who imitated the rites of the true God in their

idolatrous worship, made their altars very high; whence they

derived their name altaria, altars, i.e., very high or elevated

places; which they built thus, partly through pride and vain

glory, and partly that their gods might the better hear them.

Hence also the high places or idolatrous altars so often and so

severely condemned in the Holy Scriptures. The heathens made some

of their altars excessively high; and some imagine that the

pyramids were altars of this kind, and that the inspired writer

refers to those in these prohibitions. God therefore ordered his

altars to be made, 1. either of simple turf, that there might be

no unnecessary expense, which, in their present circumstances, the

people could not well afford; and that they might be no incentives

to idolatry from their costly or curious structure; or 2. of

unhewn stone, that no images of animals or of the celestial

bodies might be sculptured on them, as was the case among the

idolaters, and especially among the Egyptians, as several of their

ancient altars which remain to the present day amply testify;

which altars themselves, and the images carved on them, became in

process of time incentives to idolatry, and even objects of

worship. In short, God formed every part of his worship so that

every thing belonging to it might be as dissimilar as possible

from that of the surrounding heathenish nations, and especially

the Egyptians, from whose land they had just now departed. This

seems to have been the whole design of those statutes on which

many commentators have written so largely and learnedly, imagining

difficulties where probably there are none. The altars of the

tabernacle were of a different kind.

IN this and the preceding chapter we have met with some of the

most awful displays of the Divine Majesty; manifestations of

justice and holiness which have no parallel, and can have none

till that day arrive in which he shall appear in his glory, to

judge the quick and the dead. The glory was truly terrible, and

to the children of Israel insufferable; and yet how highly

privileged to have God himself speaking to them from the midst of

the fire, giving them statutes and judgments so righteous, so

pure, so holy, and so truly excellent in their operation and their

end, that they have been the admiration of all the wise and

upright in all countries and ages of the world, where their voice

has been heard! Mohammed defied all the poets and literati of

Arabia to match the language of the Koran; and for purity,

elegance, and dignity it bore away the palm, and remained

unrivalled. This indeed was the only advantage which the work

derived from its author; for its other excellences it was indebted

to Moses and the prophets, to Christ and the apostles; as

there is scarcely a pure, consistent, theologic notion in it, that

has not been borrowed from our sacred books. Moses calls the

attention of the people, not to the language in which these Divine

laws were given, though that is all that it should be, and every

way worthy of its author; compressed yet perspicuous; simple yet

dignified; in short, such as God should speak if he wished his

creatures to comprehend; but he calls their attention to the

purity, righteousness, and usefulness of the grand revelation

which they had just received. For what nation, says he, is there

so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is,

in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation hath

statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set

before you this day? And that which was the sum of all excellence

in the present case was this, that the GOD who gave these laws

dwelt among his people; to him they had continual access, and from

him received that power without which obedience so extensive and

so holy would have been impossible; and yet not one of these laws

exacted more than eternal reason, the nature and fitness of

things, the prosperity of the community, and the peace and

happiness of the individual, required. The LAW is holy, and the


To show still more clearly the excellence and great utility of

the ten commandments, and to correct some mistaken notions

concerning them, it may be necessary to make a few additional

observations. And 1. It is worthy of remark that there is none of

these commandments, nor any part of one, which can fairly be

considered as merely ceremonial. All are moral, and consequently

of everlasting obligation. 2. When considered merely as to the

letter, there is certainly no difficulty in the moral obedience

required to them. Let every reader take them up one by one, and

ask his conscience before God, which of them he is under a fatal

and uncontrollable necessity to break? 3. Though by the

incarnation and death of Christ all the ceremonial law which

referred to him and his sacrifice is necessarily abrogated, yet,

as none of these ten commandments refer to any thing properly

ceremonial, therefore they are not abrogated. 4. Though Christ

came into the world to redeem them who believe from the curse of

the law, he did not redeem them from the necessity of walking in

that newness of life which these commandments so strongly

inculcate. 5. Though Christ is said to have fulfilled the law for

us, yet it is nowhere intimated in the Scripture that he has so

fulfilled these TEN LAWS, as to exempt us from the necessity and

privilege of being no idolaters, swearers, Sabbath-breakers,

disobedient and cruel children, murderers, adulterers, thieves,

and corrupt witnesses. All these commandments, it is true, he

punctually fulfilled himself; and all these he writes on the heart

of every soul redeemed by his blood. 6. Do not those who scruple

not to insinuate that the proper observation of these laws is

impossible in this life, and that every man since the fall does

daily break them in thought, word, and deed, bear false witness

against God and his truth? and do they not greatly err, not

knowing the Scripture, which teaches the necessity of such

obedience, nor the power of God, by which the evil principle of

the heart is destroyed, and the law of purity written on the soul?

If even the regenerate man, as some have unwarily asserted, does

daily break these commands, these ten words, in thought, word,

and deed, he may be as bad as Satan for aught we know; for Satan

himself cannot transgress in more forms than these, for sin can be

committed in no other way, either by bodied or disembodied

spirits, than by thought, or word, or deed. Such sayings as

these tend to destroy the distinction between good and evil, and

leave the infidel and the believer on a par as to their moral

state. The people of God should be careful how they use them. 7.

It must be granted, and indeed has sufficiently appeared from the

preceding exposition of these commandments, that they are not only

to be understood in the letter but also in the spirit, and that

therefore they may be broken in the heart while outwardly kept

inviolate; yet this does not prove that a soul influenced by the

grace and spirit of Christ cannot most conscientiously observe

them; for the grace of the Gospel not on)y saves a man from

outward but also from inward sin; for, says the heavenly

messenger, his name shall be called JESUS, (i.e., Saviour,)

because he shall save, (i.e., DELIVER) his people FROM their

sins. Therefore the weakness or corruption of human nature forms

no argument here, because the blood of Christ cleanses from all

unrighteousness; and he saves to the uttermost all who come unto

the Father through him. It is therefore readily granted that no

man unassisted and uninfluenced by the grace of Christ can keep

these commandments, either in the letter or in the spirit; but he

who is truly converted to God, and has Christ dwelling in his

heart by faith, can, in the letter and in the spirit, do all these

things, BECAUSE CHRIST STRENGTHENS him.-Reader, the following is a

good prayer, and oftentimes thou hast said it; now learn to pray

it: "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep

these laws! Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy

laws in our hearts, we beseech thee!"-Com. Service.

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