The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:1-17 (Exodus 20:1-17)

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Exodus 20:7 (Exodus 20:7)

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain . It is disputed whether this is a right rendering. Shav in Hebrew means both "vanity" and ,'falsehood;" so that the Third Commandment may forbid either "vain-swearing" or simply "false-swearing. It is in favor of the latter interpretation, that our Lord seems to contrast his own prohibition of unnecessary oaths with the ancient prohibition of false oaths in the words—"Ye have heard that it hath been said by" (or "to") "them of old time—Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shelf perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you —Swear not at all" ( Matthew 5:33-34 ). It is also in favour of the command being levelled against false-swearing, that perjury should naturally, as a great sin, have a special prohibition directed against it in the Decalogue, while vain-swearing, as a little sin, would scarcely seem entitled to such notice. Perjury has always been felt to be one of the greatest both of moral and of social offences. It implies an absolute want of any reverence at all for God; and it destroys civil society by rendering the administration of justice impossible. There has been a general horror of it among all civilised nations. The Egyptians punished perjury with death. The Greeks thought that a divine Nemesis pursued the perjured man, and brought destruction both upon himself and upon his offspring (Herod. 6.86). The Romans regarded the perjurer as infamous, and the object of Divine vengeance in the other world (Cic. De Leg . 2.9). The threat contained in the words—"The Lord will not hold him guiltless"—may be taken as an argument on either side. If viewed as equivalent to "the Lord will punish severely" (Kalisch), it accords best with the view that perjury was intended; if taken literally, it would suit best a lesser sin, of which men ordinarily think little.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:1-17 (Exodus 20:1-17)

The ten commandments collectivety.

The ten commandments form a summary of our main duties towards God, and towards man. They stand out from the rest of the Old Testament in a remarkable way.

1 . They were uttered audibly by a voice which thousands heard—a voice which is called that of God himself ( Deuteronomy 5:26 ) and which filled those who heard it with a terrible fear ( Exodus 20:19 ).

2 . They were the only direct utterance ever made by God to man under the Old Covenant.

3 . They were not merely uttered by God but written by him, inscribed in some marvellous way by the finger of God on the two tables of testimony ( Exodus 31:18 ; Deuteronomy 4:13 ).

4 . They have the additional testimony to their primary importance, that our Lord himself appealed to them as laying down that which men must do to inherit eternal life ( Matthew 19:18 , Matthew 19:19 ). We may observe of them collectively—

I. THAT THEY ARE ALL - EMBRACING . They include our obligations to both God and man; they are both prohibitive and directive; they reach to the heart as well as to the outward life; they comprise both moral and positive precepts. According to the division adopted by the English Church, and by the reformed churches generally, the first four lay down our duty to our Maker, the last six our duty to our fellow men. Mostly they are prohibitive; but this is not the case with the fourth and fifth. The generality are concerned with acts, but words form the subject matter of the third; and both the tenth and the fifth deal with thoughts. As the moral is much more important than the positive, they are naturally in the main moral; but, to show that the Positive is an essential element in religion, they are also partly Positive-no moral ground being assignable for the consecration of one day in seven, rather than one in eight or six, much less for the definite selection of " the seventh day" as the one to be kept holy.

II. THAT THEY ARE SYSTEMATIC , BOTH IN MATTER AND ARRANGEMENT . The Decalogue takes as its basis the fact that all our duties are owed either to God or man. It regards our duties to God as the more important, and therefore places them first. The duties consist:

1 . In acknowledging his existence and unity, and in "having him" for our God and none other (first commandment);

2 . In conceiving aright of his incorporeity and spirituality, and worshipping him as a Spirit, in spirit and in truth (second commandment);

3 . In reverencing his holy Name, and avoiding the profane use of it (third commandment); and,

4 . In setting apart for his worship some stated portion of our time, since otherwise we shall be sure to neglect it (fourth commandment). Our duties towards our fellow men are more complicated. First, there is a special relation in which we stand towards those who bring us into the world and support us during our early years, involving peculiar duties to them, analogous in part to those which we owe to God, and so rightly following upon the summary of our Divine duties (fifth commandment). Next, with respect to men in general, we owe it them to abstain from injuring them in deed, word, or thought. In deed we may injure their person, their honour, and their property, which we are consequently forbidden to do in the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth commandments. In word, we injure our neighbour especially by false witness, public or private, both of which are forbidden in the ninth commandment. We injure him in thought, finally, when we covet what is his; hence the tenth commandment.

III. THAT THEY ARE THE FIRST GERMS OUT OF WHICH THE WHOLE OF THE MORAL LAW MAY BE ENVOLVED . The Decalogue is a collection of elementary moral truths. Its predominantly negative form is indicative of this, since abstaining from evil is the first step on the road to virtue. Each command asserts a principle; and the principle is in every case capable of being worked out to a thousand remote consequences. The letter may be narrow; but the spirit of the commandment is in every case "exceeding broach" This will appear, more clearly, in the ensuing section, in which the ten commandments will be considered severally.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:1-17 (Exodus 20:1-17)

The ten commandments severally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT . To the Christian the First Commandment takes the form which our Lord gave it—"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all-thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment' ( Matthew 22:37 , Matthew 22:38 ). Not merely abstract belief, not merely humble acknowledgment of one God is necessary, but heartfelt devotion to the One Object worthy of our devotion, the One Being in all the universe on whom we may rest and stay ourselves without fear of his failing us. He is the Lord our God—not an Epicurean deity, infinitely remote from man, who has created the world and left it to its own devices—not a Pantheistic essence spread through all nature, omnipresent, but intangible, impersonal, deaf to our cries, and indifferent to our "to us making for righteousness" in actions—not an inscrutable "something external to us making for righteousness," in the words of the religious Agnostic—but a Being very near us, "in whom we live; and move, and have our being," who is "about our path and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways," a Being whom we may know, and love, and trust, and feel to be with us, warning us, and cheering us, and consoling us, and pleading with us, and ready to receive us, and most willing to pardon us—a Being who is never absent from us, who continually sustains our life, upholds our faculties, gives us all we enjoy and our power to enjoy it, and who is therefore the natural object of our warmest, tenderest, truest, and most constant love. The first commandment should not be difficult to keep. We have only to open our eyes to the facts, and let them make their natural impression upon our minds, in order to love One who has done and still does so much for us.

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT . On its prohibitive side, this Commandment forbids us to have unworthy thoughts of God, to liken him to all idol, or regard him as "even such an one as ourselves." Considered as directive, it requires us to form in our minds a just and true idea of the Divine nature, and especially of its spirituality, its lofty majesty, and its transcendent holiness. All materialistic ideas, and consequently all Pantheistic notions, are degrading to the dignity of God, who "is a Spirit, without body, parts, or passions, not mixed with matter, but wholly separate from it, yet everywhere present after a supersensuous manner. Again, anthropomorphic notions of God are degrading to him; though it is scarcely possible to speak of him without anthropomorphic expressions. When we use such terms—as when we call God just, or merciful, or long-suffering—we should remember that those qualities in him are not identical with the human ones, but only analogous to them; and altogether we should be conscious of a deep mysteriousness lying behind all that we know of God, and rendering him a Being awful, inscrutable—whom we must not suppose that we can fathom or comprehend.

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT Primarily, the Third Commandment forbids perjury or false swearing; secondarily, it forbids all unnecessary oaths, all needless mention of the holy name of God, and all irreverence towards anything which is God's—his name, house, day, book, laws, ministers. Whatever in any sense belongs to God is sacred, and, if it has to be mentioned, should be mentioned reverently. The true main object of the Third Commandment is to inculcate reverence, to point out to us that the only proper frame of mind in which we can approach God is one of self-abasement and deeply reverential fear. "Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God," says the Preacher, "and be more ready to hear than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few" ( Ecclesiastes 5:1 , Ecclesiastes 5:2 ).

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT . In the Fourth Commandment we have the basis for all that is external in religion. The dedication of one entire day out of seven to God, and the command to abstain on that day from the ordinary labours of life, led on naturally to the institution of sacred services, holy convocations, meetings for united worship and prayer. Man is an active being, and a social being. If the ordinary business of life is stopped, some other occupation must be found for him: he will not sit still from morning to night with folded hands wrapped in pious contemplation. The institution of the Sabbath stands in close relation to the appointment of a priesthood, the construction of a holy place, and the establishment of a ceremonial. On the Christian the Fourth Commandment is not binding in respect of the letter—he is not to remember the Seventh day to keep it holy, but the First; he is not tied to hallow it by an abstinence from all labour, but encouraged to devote it to the performance of good works; but in the spirit of it, the commandment is as binding as any. Men need, under Christianity as much as under Judaism, positive religious institutions, places of worship, hours of prayer, a liturgy, a ritual, ceremonies. The value of the Lord's Day as a Christian institution is incalculable; it witnesses for religion to the world; it constitutes a distinct call on men to take into consideration the aim and intent of the day; and its rightful use is of inestimable benefit to all truly religious persons, deepening in them, as it does, the sense of religion, and giving them time and opportunity for the training of their spiritual nature, and the contemplation of heavenly things, which would otherwise to most men have been unattainable. It has been well called "a bridge thrown across life's troubled waters, over which we may pass to reach the opposite shore—a link between earth and heaven—a type of the eternal day, when the freed spirit, if true to itself and to God, shall ,put on for ever the robe of immortal holiness and joy."

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT . The honour which this commandment exacts from us is irrespective of our parents' personal merits or demerits. We are to honour them as being our parents. Difficulties may be raised easily enough in theory; but they are readily solvable in practice. Let us defer to our parents' commands in all things lawful—let us do everything for them that we can—let us anticipate their wishes in things indifferent—let us take trouble on their behalf—let us be ever on the watch to spare them vexatious annoyance—let us study their comfort, ease, peace—and without any sacrifice of principle, even if they are bad parents, we may sufficiently show that we feel the obligation of the relationship, and are anxious to discharge the duties which it involves. Comparatively few men are, however, severely tried. We are not often much better than our parents; and it is seldom difficult to honour them.

1 . For their age and experience.

2 . For the benefits which they have conferred on us.

3 . For the disinterested affection which they bear to us, and which they evince in their conduct. As a rule, parents have very much more love for their children than these have for them, and make sacrifices on their children's behalf, which their children neither appreciate nor reciprocate. The honour which, according to this commandment, has to be shown to parents, must of course be extended, with certain modifications, to those who stand to us in loco parentis —to guardians, tutors, schoolmasters, and the like. It is not perhaps quite clear that the commandment extends also to those who are set over us in Church and State, though it is usual so to interpret it. There are certain relations of parents to their offspring which are altogether peculiar; and these are absolutely incommunicable. There are others, which are common to parents with rulers; but these, unless in very primitive communities, can scarcely be said to rest upon the domestic relation as their basis. The ordinary relation of the governed to their governors is rather one parallel to that of children to their parents, than one which grows out of it; and though either may be used to illustrate the other, we must view the two as separate and independent of each other.

THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT . How wide is the scope of this commandment to Christians, our Lord has shown. Not only are murder and violence prohibited by it, but even provoking words, and angry thoughts ( Matthew 5:21-26 ). The "root of bitterness" whence murder springs, is either some fierce passion, or some inordinate desire. To be secure from murderous impulses, we must be free from such emotions as these,—we must have tender and Joying feelings towards all our fellow-men. "Love is the fulfilling of the law;" and unless a man really "love the brethren," he has no security against being surprised into violence towards them, which may issue in death. Nor is there one species of murder only. The sixth commandment prohibits, not only violence to the body, but—what is of far greater consequence—injury to the soul. Men break it most flagrantly when they lead another into deadly sin, thereby—so far as in them lies—destroying his soul. The corrupter of innocence, the seducer, the persuader to evil, are "murderers" in a far worse sense than the cut-threat, the bandit, or the bravo. Death on the scaffold may expiate the crimes of these latter; eternal punishment alone would seem to be an adequate penalty for the guilt of the former. He that has eternally ruined a soul should surely be himself eternally unhappy.

THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT . Here again we have the inestimable advantage of our Lord's comment on the commandment, to help us to understand what it ought to mean to us. Not only adultery, but fornication—not only fornication, but impurity of any and every kind—in act, in word, in thought—is forbidden to the Christian. He that looketh on a woman with the object of lusting after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart ( Matthew 5:28 ). He that dallies with temptation, he that knowingly goes into the company of the impure, he that in his solitary chamber defiles himself, he that hears without rebuking them obscene words, transgresses against this law, and, unless he repents, cuts himself off from God. And observe—the law is one both for men and women. We are ready enough to speak with scorn of "fallen women,"—to regard them as ruined for ever, and treat their sin as the one unpardonable offence; but what of" fallen men"? Is not their sin as irreversible? Is it not the same sin? Is it not spoken of in Scripture in the same way? "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" ( Hebrews 13:4 ). "Murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" ( Revelation 21:8 ). And is it not as debasing, as deadening to the soul, as destructive of all true manliness, of all true chivalry, of all self-respect? Principiis obsta. Let the young keep that precious gift of purity which is theirs, and not be induced by the ridicule of unclean men to part with it. Once gone it can never return. Let them be pure, as Christ was pure. Blessed are the pure in heart!

THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT . Simple direct stealing, being severely punished by the law in most countries, is seldom practised, unless it be by children and slaves. But indirect stealing of various kinds is common. It should be clearly understood that the Christian precept forbids any act by which we fraudulently obtain the property of another. Adulteration, concealment of defects, misrepresentation of quality, employment of false weights or measures, are the acts of a thief, as much as pocket-picking or shop-lifting. Servants steal when they take "commission" from tradesmen unknown to their masters, or appropriate as "perquisites" what their masters have not expressly agreed to allow, or neglect to do the work which they undertook, or do it in a slovenly manner, or damage their master's property by carelessness or diminish it by waste. Masters steal when they do not permit their servants the indulgences they promised, or allow their wages to fall into arrear, or force them to work overtime without proper remuneration, or deprive them of such "rest" as they had a reasonable right to expect upon the Sunday. Those steal who cheat the revenue by smuggling, or false returns to tax-collectors; or who cheat tradesmen by incurring debts which they can never pay, or who in view of coming bankruptcy pass over their property to a friend, with the understanding that it is to be restored to them, or who have recourse of any of the "tricks of trade," as they are called. All men are sure to steal in one way or another, who are not possessed by the spirit of honesty, who do not love justice and equity and fair, dealing, who do not make it the law of their life to be ever doing to others as they would that others should do unto them.

THE NINTH COMMANDMENT . False witness in a court is but rarely given. We most of us pass our lives without having once to appear in a court, either as prosecutor, witness, or accused. The false witness against which the generality have especially to be on their guard, is that evil speaking which is continually taking place in society, whereby men's characters are blackened, their motives misrepresented, their reputations eaten away. It is dull and tame to praise a man. We get a character for wit and shrewdness if we point out flaws in his conduct, show that he may have acted from a selfish motive, "just hint a fault and hesitate dislike." It is not even necessary in all cases to establish our character for shrewd insight that we should say anything. Silence when we hear a friend maligned, a shrug of the shoulders, a movement of the eyebrows, will do. Again, false witness may be given in writing as well as in speech. The reviewer who says of a book worse than he thinks of it, bears false witness. The writer for the Press who abuses in a leading article a public man whom he inwardly respects, bears false witness. The person who vents his spite against a servant by giving him a worse character than he deserves, bears false witness. We can only be secure against daily breaches of this commandment by joining the spirit of love with a deep-seated regard for truth, and aiming always at saying of others, when we have occasion to speak of them, the best that we can conscientiously say.

THE TENTH COMMANDMENT . The tenth commandment is supplementary to the eighth. Rightly understood, the eighth implies it, covetousness being the root from which theft springs. The command seems added to the Decalogue in order to lay down the principle that the thoughts of the heart come under God's law, and that we are as responsible for them as for our actions. Otherwise, it would not be needed, being implied in the eighth and in the seventh. Since, however, it was of the greatest importance for men to know and understand that God regards the heart, and "requires truth in the inward parts;" and since covetousness was the cause of the greater portion of the evil that is in the world, the precept, although already implied, was given expressly. Men were forbidden to covet the house, wife, slaves, cattle, property of their neighbour—in fact, "anything that is his." They were not forbidden to desire houses, or wives, or cattle, or property generally—which are all, within limits, objects of desire and things which men may rightfully wish for—but they were forbidden to desire for themselves such as were already appropriated by their fellows, and of which, therefore, they could not become possessed without their fellows suffering loss. A moderate desire for earthly goods is not forbidden to the Christian ( Matthew 19:29 ; 1 Timothy 4:8 ); though his special covetousness should be for "the best gifts"—the virtues and graces which make up the perfect Christian character ( 1 Corinthians 12:31 ; 1 Corinthians 14:1 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:1-18 (Exodus 20:1-18)

The moral law-General survey.

View this law of the ten commandments as—

I. AUTHORITATIVELY DELIVERED . "God spake all these words, saying," etc. ( Exodus 20:1 ). An authoritative revelation of moral law was necessary—

1 . That man might be made distinctly aware of the compass of his obligations . The moral knowledge originally possessed by man had gradually been parted with. What remained was distorted and confused. He had little right knowledge of his duty to God, and very inadequate conceptions even of his duties to his fellow-men. This lost knowledge was recovered to him by positive revelation. Consider, in proof of the need of such a revelation, the ignorance of God which prevails still, men's imperfect apprehensions of his holiness, their defective views of duty, etc. And this though the revelation has so long been given.

2 . That a basis of certainty might be obtained for the inculcation of moral truth. This also was necessary. Man has ever shown himself ingenious in explaining away the obligations which the law imposes on him. He may deny that they exist. He may make light of holiness. He may take up utilitarian ground, and ride off on disputes as to the nature of conscience, the origin of moral ideas, the diversities of human opinion, etc. The law stops all such cavilling by interposing with its authoritative "Thus saith the Lord." See on this point a valuable paper on "Secularism," by R . H . Hutton, in "Expositor," January, 1881.

3 . That the authority of conscience may be strengthened . Conscience testifies, in however dim and broken a way, to the existence of a law above us. It speaks with authority. "Had it might as it has right, it would rule the world." In order, however, that we may be made to feel that it is a living will , and no mere impersonal law, which thus imposes its commands upon us, there is a clear need for the voice within being reinforced by the voice without—for historical revelation. Sinai teaches us to recognise the authority which binds us in our consciences as God ' s authority.

4 . For economic purposes. See previous chapter.

II. GRACIOUSLY PREFACED . " I am the Lord, thy God," etc. ( Exodus 20:2 ). This preface to the law is of great importance.

1 . It testified to the fact that God ' s relation to Israel was fundamentally a gracious one . "The law was introduced with the words, 'I am the Lord thy God ,' and speaks with the majestic authority of the Eternal, dispensing blessings and cursings on the fulfilment and transgression of the law. But although this is given amidst the thunder and lightning of Sinai, whose roll seems to be heard constantly in its mighty imperatives—'Thou shalt not!' or 'Thou shalt!' yet still it points back to grace; for the God who speaks in the law is he who led the people out of Egypt, freed them from the yoke of bondage—the God who gave the promise to Abraham, and who has prepared a highest good, the Messianic kingdom, for his people" (Martensen).

2 . It furnished a motive for obedience to the law . Mark the order—the same as in the Gospel; God first saves Israel, then gives them his law to keep. Because God had redeemed them from Egypt, and had given them, of his free mercy, this glorious privilege of being his people, therefore were they to keep his commandments. This was the return they were to make to him for the so great love wherewith he had loved them. Their relation to the law was not to be a servile one. Obedience was not to be a price paid for favour, but a return of grateful hearts for favours already received. From this motive of gratitude, and that they might retain the privileges he had given them, and inherit farther blessing, they were to walk in the prescribed way. If, notwithstanding, a pronouncedly legal element entered into that economy, a curse even being pronounced against those who failed to keep the whole law, while the good promised to obedience appears more as legal award than as a gift of grace—we know now the reason for the covenant being cast into this legal form, and can rejoice that in Christ our justification is placed on so much better a footing. Obedience, however, is still required of us as a condition of continuance in God's favour, and of ultimate inheritance of blessing.

3 . It furnished to the pious Israelite a pledge of merciful treatment when he transgressed or fell short of the requirements of his law . What, e.g; had David to fall back upon in the hour of his remorse for his great transgression ( Psalms 51:1-19 .), but just such a word as this, confirmed as it was by acts of God, which showed that it was a word always to be depended on. This one saying, prefacing the law, altered the whole complexion of Israel's standing under law. It gave to the Israelite the assurance that he most needed, namely—that, notwithstanding the strictness of the commandment, God would yet accept him in his sincere endeavours after obedience, though these fell manifoldly short of the full requirement, i.e; virtually on the ground of faith —in connection, however, with propitiation.

III. MORAL IN ITS SUBSTANCE . This has been adverted to above. Though imposed on man by Divine authority, moral law is no arbitrary creation of the Divine will. It is an emanation from the Divine nature. (Cf. Hooker—"Of law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God; her voice the harmony of the world.") Herbert Spencer was never guilty of a greater misrepresentation than when he affirmed—"Religious creeds, established and dissenting, all embody the belief that right and wrong are right and wrong simply in virtue of Divine enactment". We may reply with Stahl—"The primary idea of goodness is the essential, not the creative, will of God. The Divine will, in its essence, is infinite love, mercy, patience, truth, faithfulness, rectitude, spirituality, and all that is included in the idea of holiness, which constitutes the inmost nature of God. The holiness of God, therefore, neither precedes his will (' sanctitas antceedens voluntatem ' of the schoolmen) nor follows it, but is his will itself. The good is not a law for the Divine will (so that God wills it because it is good); neither is it a creation of his will (so that it becomes good because he wills it); but it is the nature of God from everlasting to everlasting." The law, in a word, expresses immutable demands of holiness. What these are is determined in any given case by the abstract nature of holiness and by the constitution and circumstances of the being to whom the law is given. Man, e.g; is a free, immortal spirit; but he is at the same time an inhabitant of the earth, bound by natural conditions, and standing to his fellow-men in relations, some of which at least belong only to his present state of existence. Hence we find in the Decalogue precepts relating to the weekly Sabbath, to marriage, to the institution of private property, etc. These precepts are founded on our nature, and are universally obligatory. They show what duty immutably requires of us as possessing such a nature; but obviously their application will cease under different conditions of existence ( Matthew 22:30 ). Only in its fundamental principles of love to God and to our fellow-beings, and in its spiritual demands for truth, purity, uprightness, reverence, and fidelity, is the law absolutely unchangeable.


1 . Its two divisions , turning, the one on the principle of love to God, the other, on the principle of love to man.

2 . The relative position of the two divisions —duty to God standing first, and laying the needful foundation for the right discharge of our duties to mankind. True love to man has its fountain head in love to God. Neglect of the duties of piety will speedily be followed by the neglect of duty to our neighbour. The Scripture does not ignore the distinction between religion (duties done directly to God) and morality (duties arising from earthly relations), but it unites the two in the deeper idea that all duty is to be done to God, whose authority is supreme in the one sphere as in the other.

3 . The scope of its precepts . These cover the entire range of human obligation. The precepts of the first table (including here the Fifth Commandment) require that God be honoured in his being, his worship, his name, his day, his human representatives. The precepts of the second table require that our neighbour be not injured in deed, in word, in thought; and in respect neither of his person, his wife, his property, nor his reputation. So complete and concise a summary of duty—religious and ethical—based on true ideas of the character of God, and taking holiness, not bare morality, as its standard, is without parallel in ancient legislation.

V. SPIRITUAL IS ITS PURPORT . "The law is spiritual" ( Romans 7:14 ).

1 . The law to be studied in its principles . Taken in its bare letter, it might appear narrow. Here, however, as everywhere in Scripture, the letter is only the vehicle of the spirit. The whole law of Moses being founded on this part of it—being viewed simply as an expansion or amplification in different relations of the principles embodied in the ten words—it is plain, and common sense supports us in the view, that the principles are the main things, the true roots of obligation. Thus, the Third Commandment, in the letter of it, forbids false swearing, or generally, any vain use of the name of God. But underlying this, and obviously forming the ground of the command, is the principle that God's name, i.e; everything whereby he manifests himself, is to be treated with deepest reverence. This principle, in its various applications, carries us far beyond the letter of the precept. Read in the same way, the Sixth Commandment forbids killing, but not less the murderous motive than the murderous act; while the principle involved, viz; reverence for, and care of, human life (cf. Genesis 9:6 ), branches out into a multiplicity of duties, of which the other parts of the law of Moses furnish numerous illustrations. The true key to the spiritual interpretation of the law is that given by Christ in the sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5:1-48 .- 7.).

2 . Summed up in love . "Love is the fulfilling of the law" ( Romans 13:8-10 ).


1 . By Divine threatenings (verses 5-7).

2 . By Divine example (verse 11).

3 . By Divine promises (verses 6-12).

See below. Behold, then, the beauty and perfection of the law. "Thy commandment is exceeding broad" ( Psalms 119:96 ). We are not to be misled,

1 . By the studied brevity of the law, which is part of its excellency; or,

2 . By its prevailing negative form—a testimony, not to the unspirituality of the law, but to the existence of strong evil tendencies in the heart, needing to be repressed ( Romans 7:7 , Romans 7:8 ; 1 Timothy 1:9 10). Yet perfect as it is of its kind, it is not to be compared, as a mirror of holiness, with the perfect human life of Jesus Christ. No accumulation of separate precepts can exhaust all that is contained in holiness. Precepts convey also a defective idea of the good by breaking up that which is in its own nature one—an ideal—into a number of separate parts. What, however, the law could not do for us, is done in the perfect example of our Lord. In him, law is translated into life. The ideal is no longer presented to us, as even in the Decalogue, in detached precepts, "broken lights," "words," which—just because holiness is so vast a thing—are left to hint more than they express, but in its true unbroken unity, in the sphered whole of a perfect human character. Our law is Christ.— J . O .

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:7 (Exodus 20:7)

The Third Commandment. Profanity forbidden.

This Commandment clearly comes as an appropriate sequel to the two preceding ones. Those who are Jehovah's, and who are therefore bound to glorify and serve him alone, depend on him alone, and keep themselves from all the degradations and obscuring influences of image worship, are now directed to the further duty of avoiding all irreverent and empty use of the sacred name. With respect to this, there must have been a very real danger in Israel. We have only to observe the licence of modern colloquial speech in this respect, we have only to call to mind some of the most common expletives in English, French, and German, and we shall then better understand that there may have been a great deal of the same sad and careless licence among the ancient Hebrews. Not that we are to suppose Jehovah directed this command exclusively or even chiefly against profane swearers in the ordinary sense of the term. They are included, but after all they are only a small part of those to whom the commandment is directed. It is quite possible for a man to keep above all coarseness and vulgarity of speech, and yet in God's sight be far worse than an habitual swearer. Many are concerned to avoid profane swearing, not because it is offensive to God, but because it is ungentlemanly. It needs no devoutness or religious awe to understand the couplet:—

"Immodest words admit of no defence,

For want of decency is want of sense."

And there is as much want of decency in profane words as in immodest ones. The thing to be considered is not only the words we avoid, but the words we use. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak. This commandment, like the rest, must be kept positively, or it cannot be kept negatively. If we are found making a serious and habitual use of God's name in a right way, then, and only then, shall we be kept effectually from using it in a wrong one.

I. Evidently the first thing to keep us from empty words with respect to God is TO KEEP FROM ALL EMPTINESS AND SHALLOWNESS OF THOUGHT WITH RESPECT TO HIM . Thinking is but speaking to oneself; and God's commandment really means that we must labour at all times to have right and sufficient thoughts concerning him. We might almost say, take care of the thought and the speech will take care of itself. All our thinking about God, as about every topic of thought, should be in the direction of what is practical and profitable. Blessed is he who has made the great discovery, that of the unseen cause and guide, behind all things that are seen, he can only get profitable knowledge as that Great Unseen is pleased to give it. We who live amid the great declarations of the Gospel are really thinking of God in a vain and displeasing way as long as we suppose it possible to get any true knowledge of him except in Christ. Right knowledge of God, and therefore profitable thoughts of him must be gained by experimental personal search into the riches of God in Christ Jesus. Thinking of this sort will not be vain, shallow, fugitive thinking, seeing that it springs out of apprehended, personal necessities, has an immutable basis of fact, a rewarding element of hope, and is continually freshened by a feeling of gratitude towards one who has conferred on us unspeakable benefits. Surely it is a dreadful sin to think little, to think seldom, and to think wrongly of that profoundly compassionate God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to save it from perishing by the gift of eternal life. No thoughts of ours indeed can measure the fulness of that sublime love, and we shall even fall short of what the holiest and devoutest of men can reach; but there is all the more need why we should labour in constant meditation on the saving ways of God, according to our abilities. Put the word "God" on a sheet of paper, and then try to write underneath all that the name suggests, particularly all that it suggests in the way of individual benefit. Perhaps the writing may come to an end very soon, and even what is written be so vague and valueless as to make you feel that this commandment of God here is not a vain one so far as concerns you.

II. THEN WE MUST NOT TAKE THE SAME OF GOD IN VAIN , IN OUR INTERCOURSE WITH OUR FELLOW - MEN . God, our God, with all his claims and all his benefits, cannot be spoken about too much in the circles of men, if only he is spoken about in a right way: but that right way— how hard it is to attain . Much speaking concerning him, even by those who do it officially, is very dishonouring to his name and hindering to his rule in the hearts of men. Preachers of the word of life and duty, the word concerning divine gifts and requirements, need to take great heed in this respect, for whenever they speak without proper impressions as to the solemnity of their message, they are assuredly taking God's name m vain. There has also to be a consideration of the audience. The words of God's truth and salvation must be as far as possible words in season, not wasted, as pearls before swine. It needs that we should strive and watch incessantly to have all attainable fitness as the witnesses of God. Jesus would not have the testimony of demons to his Messiahship, but chose, prepared, and sanctified such men as he saw to be suitable; and then when he had found fit witnesses, even though few, he sent them forth to bear their testimony, sure that it would be sufficient for all who had the right mind to receive it. It is awful, when one only considers it, in how many instances God's name is taken in vain, by the use of it to sanctify unholy ends, justify unrighteousness, and give to error what dignity and force can be gained from an appeal to divine authority. When the Scriptures were quoted to justify slavery, what was this but taking the name of God in vain? How much of it there must have been in theological controversy, where disputants have got so embittered by partisan spirit that they would twist Scripture in any way so as to get God on their side, instead of labouring as honest men to be on the side of God. Look at the glutton sitting down to pamper his stomach from the loaded table; but first of all he must go through the customary grace and make a show of eating and drinking to the glory of God in heaven, when in truth the god he really worships is his greedy, insatiable belly. We may do many things in the name of the Lord, but that does not make them the Lord's things. "Lord, Lord" may ever be on our lips, we may even get a very general reputation for our devotedness to God and goodness; but all this may not prevent us from hearing at the last, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

III. Most particularly we must guard against profanity IN OUR APPROACHES TO GOD . If we are his at all, there must be constant approaches to him, and his name therefore must be constantly on our lips.

1 . We must guard against formality . We must not take a name on our lips that expresses no felt reality. To confess sins and needs and supplicate pardon and supply when the heart is far away from the throne of grace, is certainly taking God's name in vain.

2 . We must guard against coming in other than the appointed way . A very elaborate and comprehensive prayer may be constructed to the God of nature and providence, but even though it may seem to be of use for a while, it will show its emptiness in the end if God's own appointment of mediation through Christ Jesus be neglected. Do not let us deceive ourselves with words and aspirations that are only dissipated into the air. For a suppliant to know of Christ and yet ignore his mediation, is assuredly to take God's name in vain, however honest the ignoring may be.

3 . Then surely there is an empty use of God's name in prayer, if we ask in other than the appointed order . The order of thought in all right approach to God is such as our Great Teacher has himself presented to us. Is it the sinner who is coming, wretched and burdened? Jesus approves the prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Sinners never take the name of God in vain, if they come to him with two feelings blended in one irrepressible cry, the feeling of God's anger with all sin and the feeling of his unfailing compassion for the sinner. Or if it be the disciple and servant who is coming to God, then the order of thought for his approach Jesus has also given. We must ever think of him as our Father in heaven, and first of all of such things as will sanctify his name, advance his kingdom and procure the perfect doing of his will on earth. We must make all our approaches to God with our hearts entirely submitted to him, otherwise we shall only find that we are taking his name in vain.— Y .

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:3-11 (Exodus 20:3-11)

The soul for God only.

I. GOD 'S DEMAND . "Thou shalt have no other," etc. All else is emptiness and falsehood. There must be nothing even of our holy things put between the soul and God. His presence must be the soul's life, the very air it breathes.


1 . By keeping ourselves from idols. Our daily avocations, our interests, affections, pleasures, may lead to our esteeming something our chief good and making it to be instead of God to us. God must be seen behind his gifts, and be more to us than all besides.

2 . By watchful fear and hope. We bring evil not upon ourselves only, and the blessings which rest upon obedience are an everlasting heritage. We sow seeds of evil or of blessing which yield many harvests ( Exodus 20:5 , Exodus 20:6 ).

3 . By reverence ( Exodus 20:7 ). God's name must not be emptied of its power to touch the heart by our lightness or hypocrisy.

4 . By keeping sacred the sabbath rest ( Exodus 20:8-11 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 20:7-8 (Exodus 20:7-8)

The first commandment deals with the object of worship; the second, with the manner of worship; in the third and fourth we have the method of worship, true reverence and genuine devotion.


1 . Obedience to the letter insufficient . None ever obeyed it thus more strictly than the Jews did. The Sacred Name, called the shuddering name; only pronounced once annually by the High Priest on the Great Day of Atonement. So strictly was the command kept that the true pronunciation of the name is lost to us. Even in our own Bibles we have evidence of the ancient practice, "The LORD " being used as a substitute for Jehovah. Yet, with all this, of. Ezekiel 36:20 . The name, which was never uttered by the lips, was yet profaned by the conduct of the worshippers. We, too, may never perjure ourselves, or speak profanely, yet the tenor of our whole life may bring God's name into contempt. The commonest excuse made by those who never enter a place of worship is based upon the inconsistent conduct of those who frequent such places regularly. They may not go themselves, but they know well enough who do go, and they know also the kind of lives which they who do go are leading.

2 . The true obedience . They who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth. True reverence is a thing of the heart, which shines through and illuminates the conduct. This leads us to:—

II. THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT . True reverence will best show itself in copying the example of the person reverenced. The fourth commandment shows us God's example made plain for a man to copy.

1 . The rest-day to be kept holy .

1. The rest for a man's spirit is only to be obtained by sharing the spiritual rest of God; if the holiday be not a holy-day this spiritual rest will still be lacking.

2 . The days of labour to be modelled on God ' s pattern . Labour as much commanded as rest; but labour, as rest, after the Divine model. All that God does, he does earnestly and thoroughly. To work as God works is to work with the heart as well as with the hands ( Colossians 3:23 ). One cannot wonder that the rest-day is profaned, when the days of toil are profaned no less, when a man's chief object seems to be not to do his work, but to have done with it. If God had worked as we work, he could scarcely have called his work "very good." The world by now would have been a dilapidated chaos, more appalling than the waste from which it sprang. The commandment is not "Six days shalt thou loiter ," but "Six days shalt thou labour ."

CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS .—Mere literal keeping of the commandments may bring them and their author into contempt. We can only "magnify the law and make it honourable" by keeping it from the heart outwards. The Jews kept the third and fourth commandments literally enough. Our own Sunday legislation dates from the time of Charles II ; when, of all times, God's law was, perhaps, the most fearfully profaned. "My son, give me thine heart," that is the invitation which first requires to be accepted. If we would really keep the commandments, let our prayer be: "Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep thy law."— G .

- The Pulpit Commentary