The Ten Commandments form the heart of the Torah. This was one of the most awesome revelations ever given to mankind. According to Shemot (Exodus) Chapter 19, we Jewish people prepared ourselves for three days in order to receive this revelation. Then, the Two Tablets, which were written by God Himself, were kept in the most special place on Earth, within the “Aron,” the “Ark” of the Testimony, in the Most Holy Place. In Shemot 34:29 they are called the “Tablets of the Testimony” because they testify to God’s demands concerning human character and conduct. All of this tells us that the Ten Commandments are of the utmost importance.
Then God spoke all these words saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” The opening phrase, “Then God spoke all these words saying,” tells us that the God of Israel is the kind of God who can speak to us. He is a Person, and is able to communicate very clearly to mankind and make His desires known. God audibly spoke these commandments to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. Governments pass laws that are often ignored by their citizens. But when the God of Israel commands, all of us had better pay attention. These commandments were not only spoken by God Himself, but were accompanied with great demonstrations of power. There was thunder and lightening, and a thick cloud on Mount Sinai, accompanied by smoke and fire, a very loud shofar blast, and the entire mountain quaked violently, so that the Jewish people trembled. Upon hearing God speaking the Ten Commandments, our people were terrified. God wanted to make a lasting impression on us, and He did!
We should also obey God’s commandments because of who He is. He is Adonai, the “Yud Hay Vav Hay,” the One who is the source of all existence. He has being, existence and life inherent in Himself. Everything else derives its existence, being and life from Him. If all things exist because of Him, and if in Him they live and move and have their being, it is reasonable that all things conform to His will and obey His laws.
In addition, He is Elohim – God, which means that He is the Strongest One in the universe. No one is more powerful than He. He is fully capable of enforcing His laws, rewarding those who follow them and punishing those who disobey them. It isn’t just the nature of this self-existent and all-powerful Being that should cause us to obey His commandments, but we should also obey them because of the relationship in which He stands to His people. He is our God – He has entered into covenants with us, promising to be our God. That means the Jewish people have a special relationship with the Creator. He created and chose us, bringing our nation near to Himself, in order to accomplish something very special – the salvation of the entire human race, which fell away from God and is alienated from Him; and He can do the same with individuals. He can speak to us and reveal Himself to each one of us in a very personal way. By that, I do not mean that each individual Jewish person is automatically in a right relationship with God, or is going to Heaven. It is possible to be part of the Chosen People, with whom God has a covenant, and yet reject God and His ways, and be headed to Hell.
Furthermore, we should obey His commands because of His great love for us. Many people think that God is merely an idea, or a concept. Others believe He exists, but is not involved in human affairs. However, the Torah reveals that He is the kind of God who may directly intervene in our lives. He liberated the Jewish people, when we were oppressed slaves, from the most powerful nation on Earth; and He can help each one of us to overcome any of the problems that we face! The knowledge that God intervened on behalf of our nation should produce a profound effect on us. He redeemed us out of the most terrible situation, out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. When someone saves your life, you owe that person a debt of gratitude. The Jewish people are rightfully and forever indebted to God for rescuing us out of Egypt.
We must not have any other gods before Him. We are not to ascribe divine attributes to any other being, or give to any creature the worship due to God alone. This includes praying to angels, saints, or the virgin Mary (Miriam), or attempting to invoke their help. This is part of spiritual worship that is due to God alone. Since He is the one true God, He alone is worthy of the totality of our love, adoration, gratitude, reverence, confidence and submission. Because the God of Israel is the living God, who has revealed Himself to us, loves us and desires a personal relationship with us, it would be foolish to ignore Him, or serve any other god, higher power, religion or philosophy. It only makes sense to love and obey this kind of powerful God who first loved us!
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in Heaven above or on the Earth beneath, or in the water under the Earth. You shall not worship them or serve them, for I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me, and keep My commandments. We should have nothing to do with idols, because they are altogether inaccurate reflections of the invisible God, who alone loves us and has the power to help us. Because God is Spirit, He isn’t limited to the confines of a physical body as we are. Because He is infinite, He is infinitely greater than the entire universe. Thus, using idols to represent God only limits our understanding of who He is. Then we may begin to think that God is limited too. As soon as we do that, we’re believing in something that is not God, something with less power and ability than God really has.
One of the most common sins is the sin of idolatry, because idolatry is not limited to bowing down before a statue of wood or stone or precious metal. When anything replaces God or comes before Him in our affections, then that thing becomes an idol. In addition, one can be guilty of committing idolatry, without ever worshiping a statue, because the essence of idolatry is having thoughts about God that are untrue and unworthy of Him. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is something other than who He really is. All false, man-made conceptions of God must be driven out of our minds. We are not to come up with our own conceptions of God. We are only to accept those truths about Him which are revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. We are to know God as He has been revealed in Creation, in the Scriptures, and especially through Messiah Yeshua, who is the exact representation and the final and perfect revelation of the God of Israel.
In addition, we should worship and serve only the Lord because He is a jealous kind of God. Normally, being jealous is not a very nice thing. But in God’s case, it’s good that He is jealous, because we were designed in such a way that our spiritual affections should be reserved for the God of Israel alone. That is His right, since He is the Creator, and it is also what is best for us. He demands that all of our religious love and devotion be directed to Himself alone. The most serious consequences will result if we ignore the true God, or worship any god, or participate in other religions or philosophies. God will bring judgment upon the one who does this, and it can have an impact on the succeeding four generations! But if we do two things – love Him and keep His commandments, He will bless us to the maximum degree possible, and these blessings will have an impact on our remotest descendants, even one thousand generations away!
What does it mean to love God? It’s not so different from loving a human being -wanting to be with them, talking with them, opening up to them, sharing dreams and plans with them. God wants us to love Him in a similar way, having that same kind of intimate and personal relationship with Him. We are to love God with the entirety of our being – with all our heart, soul, and might. We can love God with our thoughts about Him, our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving and our love directed to Him. We may show our love for him with the way we use our money, and by our priorities and choices. Sadly, there are millions of men and women who never have God in their thoughts. They do not recognize that He is the One who gives them life and provides for them. They do not consider His will when they make their decisions. They do not feel responsible to Him for what they say or do. They neither worship Him, thank Him nor serve Him. But loving God is not enough! We also need to keep His commandments! You don’t really love someone if you don’t treat them respectfully, and do the things that are right toward them. The same is true of our relationship with God. We must keep His commandments!
Worshiping the true God is crucial, because we become like what we worship. If we idolize someone, we take on their characteristics. We are interested in what they are interested in, we value what they value, and over time, we become more and more like them. If we idolize something that isn’t real, isn’t true and isn’t good, then we become less real, less true, less good, and we will become less than the human beings we were created to be. Eventually we will die in spiritual darkness – like our false god. But if we worship the one true, living God, then we will become more authentic, more honest, more virtuous and live forever!
You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His Name in vain. Taking the name of God in vain means treating God, or those things connected with God, lightly. God Himself, the Holy Scriptures, and the True Faith, are to be treated with respect. They should not be the object of jokes, or used as exclamation marks to punctuate our speech. The one who insults his Creator is guaranteed not to get off lightly.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the Earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. We refrain from working on Shabbat for physical and spiritual reasons. God cares about us physically. Living things work in relation to the cycles God has built into nature, such as day and night, seasons and years. Most creatures either rest at night and are active during the day, or vice versa. Women are tuned in to a monthly rhythm. Many animals and plants hibernate during the winter and begin a new cycle in the spring. Just as we need a daily rest, so human beings need a weekly time of rest if we are to function properly. We are not to work on the Sabbath, because during the First Week, our Heavenly Father worked six days to make the entire universe, and on the seventh day He rested. Therefore if we want to be His good children, we should follow His example. Just as God rested and evaluated His work at the end of the First Week, concluding that it was very good, so on the Sabbath we should also take the day off, rest and thank God for the blessings that have come to us, and for the things we have accomplished during that week.
The Sabbath reminds us that God is not only our Creator, but also our Helper. When we rest on the seventh day we are to remember how He helped us out of slavery in Egypt. We certainly couldn’t enjoy the Sabbath while we were slaves!
Only after God delivered us from Egypt was our nation able to rest on the Sabbath. The Sabbath also reminds us of the help we get in Messiah, who called Himself “the Lord of the Sabbath.” He gives a wonderful kind of Sabbath Rest to everyone who believes in Him – seven days a week! The Sabbath also looks forward to the day when King Messiah returns and brings peace and rest to Israel, and to all the nations of the world.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you. Now the focus is shifted from our duties to God, to our duties toward our fellow human beings. If we don’t love people whom we have seen, especially our parents, who gave us life, nurtured us cared for us when we were helpless, and taught us so many things, we certainly don’t love God whom we haven’t seen. God has designed the family, and given our parents the privilege and responsibility to nurture us physically, morally, and spiritually, until we come of age. In many ways, our parents act as God’s representatives to us. Therefore to dishonor our parents, is to dishonor the One who established this system.
We honor our parents by listening to them, even if we don’t always agree on everything. We should always treat them with respect. We are to reciprocate their love by taking care of them when they are older and cannot care for themselves. If we honor our parents, we will love and obey them, listen to their advice, and treat them respectfully. It means remembering to say “please” and “thank you,” showing kindness, not talking back or complaining, being polite, always speaking in a respectful tone of voice, apologizing when we are wrong, respecting their “no”, and not trying to get the other parent to say “yes,” doing what we are told (even if it means putting aside whatever we were doing), and more! This commandment comes with a promise. If we honor our parents, then things will go well with us. The way we treat our parents will spill over to the way we treat teachers, neighbors, employers, friends and strangers. If these skills become part of us because we use them at home, then we will automatically employ them with others. Good people will enjoy being around us, and we’ll be on our way to long, happy lives.
You shall not murder. The Hebrew word means “murder” – not “kill.” There are times when it may be right and necessary to kill other people, such as in a just war. For example, the same God who gave this command also commanded the Jewish people to utterly destroy the Canaanites who were living in our land. Another example might be a situation when a policeman shoots a criminal who is about to kill an innocent person. Jewish tradition has also applied this command to killing yourself. No one has the right to commit suicide. That is a violation of the command not to murder.
Wherever hate is, the seed of murder is already there. The Son of God taught in the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. Messiah Yeshua is telling us that anyone who hates is a murderer already, lacking only the right situation and the opportunity to accomplish the deed. The way to control hatred is to confess your hatred as sin, agree with God about it, and tell Him so. If you do, then the Holy Spirit will pour out love in place of hatred.
You shall not commit adultery. Adultery takes place when a married person has sexual relations with anyone outside of the marriage relationship. Adultery is so wrong because God designed us in such a way that we require fidelity and trust in our marriages for our own well-being, and for that of the family and children. Where there is love and trust between a husband and wife, people feel safe and content. There are happy families, and solid communities. Adultery shatters this relationship, and destroys the family unit, which is so central to a healthy society. While adultery is strictly limited to the marriage relationship, God is a God of purity, and He wants us to be pure in the area of sexuality at all times – before marriage, as well as during marriage.
You shall not steal. The Torah acknowledges that there is a place for the ownership of private property, and that other people, and their property rights, are to be respected. Since God will provide for us through honest means, theft represents a lack of trust in God and His goodness. Our needs are not more important than the needs of others. This commandment reminds us that we are to be givers, not takers, and that it is far more blessed to give than to receive.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Bearing false witness primarily refers to a legal situation, when you are called upon in court to testify to the truth. Even if it may be difficult to speak the truth, complete honesty is essential in order for justice to be served, and God is a God of justice. God hates lying and deception, so we should always strive to be honest, speaking the truth in love in all situations. We need to use the gift of language the way God intends us to -with kindness, with love, and with truth, so that those who listen to use are encouraged to get closer to God.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. We have seen that God cares about our actions, and this commandment teaches us that He is also concerned about our thoughts. It’s OK to want things, but only want what you have a right to want. Coveting isn’t just wanting what you don’t have. You could work hard, save your money, invest wisely and buy what you want – and not be guilty of coveting. Coveting is wanting what you have no right to have. You can want to marry some nice man, but not if he is already married to someone else. You can want a house to live in, but not at the expense of depriving someone else who rightfully lives there. Coveting can lead to breaking every other commandment. Look at King David: he coveted Uriah’s wife, breaking the tenth commandment, which led to committing adultery (the seventh), stealing her from her husband (the eighth), deceiving Uriah (the ninth), and arranging Uriah’s death (the sixth).
In doing all this, King David dishonored God’s Name (the third).
Only the God of Israel, and the wonderful Messiah that He sent to help us, can give you the peace, joy, satisfaction, the wisdom and atonement that you need. As you look to God with trust, He will provide you with everything needed for a blessed life. If you look elsewhere and substitute other things for the blessings that only He can give, you do yourself a great disservice. Trust God to give to you what is right for you, in His time, and in His way. Strive to be content with what you have, because life does not consist in how many things you have. If you go through life wanting more and more things, you will never appreciate the things in life which don’t have a pricetag, that may turn out to be the most important things of all.
The Ten Commandments work! They reflect the right way to live, because they reflect how God made things to work. If you welcome Yeshua as the Messiah, then Adonai will be your God, and He will enter into a covenant with you, write His commandments on your heart, and empower you to do all that He calls you to do, including keeping His commandments.
I’m indebted to A.W. Tozer, Ray Stedman, Ricki Heligman, Rick Osborne and K. Christie Bowler and their book, “I Want To Know About the Ten Commandments,” and others, for this message.