14 The Ten Commandments
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com , December 2013
And he declared unto you his
covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and
he wrote them upon two tables of stone. Deuteronomy 4:13
God has called the Ten Commandments the covenant. It has long been the basis for the
government of intelligent beings throughout the universe. For sinless
beings, it was the only form of the covenant that they needed. Even
then, sinless beings did not focus on the law but rather on the God whom
they loved. In their close association, the attitudes and actions of God
were an example and a command for His children in heaven and earth to do
God designed the Ten Commandments as a reflection of
His character. He made angels and human beings in His image, with God’s
law written in their hearts. Freedom
of His creatures required the
boundaries of law to assure harmonious interaction between His earthly
and heavenly children. Human beings have recognized the justice and
mercy of this law and have used the Ten Commandments as a basis for
national laws in each country.Sin and Its Consequences
After Adam and Eve sinned, the new reality of sin entered the world. As
sin, disease, and oppression became common, humans quickly learned the
results of breaking the law. Ever since Eden, they have recognized sin.
There are gaps in the written history of the patriarchs, which were
probably filled in by oral tradition. Every sin or crime identified in
the Ten Commandment law was recognized as a sin long before Sinai.
The very nature of human beings had deteriorated so that many were
obsessed continually with sin and wickedness (Gen. 6:5). Different forms
of sin became increasingly common, including murder, theft, polygamy,
covetousness, war, oppression, and idolatry. Sin had reached a
threshold, beyond which God would not allow humans to go. The “cup” of
the human race was “full” and judgment was due.
The presence of
sin also implied a knowledge of God’s law. It is the law that defines
what sin is (Rom. 3:20; 5:13). The Bible does not say anything about
Sabbath breaking in the patriarchal age, yet Israel knew about it before
Sinai (Exod. 16:22-30).Sinai
Now that God was dealing
with a nation rather than just a family, they needed a written law. By
His mighty power, God delivered Israel from Egypt. God sustained the
people by water from a rock and by manna that fell each morning. The
presence of God was constantly before them in a pillar of cloud by day
and a pillar of fire by night.
Moses talked “face to face” with
God. Messages from God also came from the Urim and Thummim carried by
the high priest. The prophets of God gave additional guidance. The
priests and Levites taught the people the laws of God.
addition to all these blessings, the people were designated the “chosen
people of God.” A more humble evaluation is that they were barely a step
away from being the slaves that made bricks for Pharaoh.
God knew the
people. They were stiff-necked and stubborn.1
While they kept alive
their identity as children of Abraham and their hopes in the covenant,
they had also been exposed to the idolatry and wanton pleasures of the
Egyptians for generations. They had much to learn and much to unlearn!
Avoiding Legalism, Keeping the Law
the law legalism? People are quite willing to forget arguments of
“legalism” when it comes to their neighbors. They want neighbors who
keep the Ten Commandments! If legalism is unacceptable, it must be
something different from just keeping the Ten Commandments, which all
agree are essentially correct. A clear definition of legalism is when
people spurn grace and keep the commandments as a method to earn
The Ten Commandments, which God wrote on stone with
His own finger, God called “the covenant” and Moses put inside the ark.2
There was also a “book of the law,”
or “book of the covenant,” which
included the civil and ceremonial laws. The civil law was an expansion
of the Ten Commandments, and the ceremonial law was a “shadow” that
pointed forward to the promised Redeemer (Heb. 8:5; 10:1). Moses kept
this book at the side of the ark (Deut. 31:26).Why was the law
Martin Luther gave three uses for the law:
1. To restrain
or curb external evil, which was the civil use.3
2. To show one’s
sin, as in a mirror4
3. To show us God’s character as a guide to
holy living through grace.5
How God’s Character and the Law of
||The Law of God
|Righteous Ps. 119:137; 1
||riighteous Deut. 4:8; Ps. 119:172
|Perfect, true, pure, right
||True and good Neh. 9:13
|Perfect Ps. 18:30; Matt.
||Perfect and sure Ps. 19:7
|Merciful, gracious, longsuffering,
good, true, forgiving and just Ex. 34:6, 7
||Pure Ps. 19:8
|Pure peaceable, gentle, approachable,
merciful, impartial. amd righteous James 3:17, 18
||Broad, gives wisdom and understaqnding, protects from evil.
|Holy Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2;
20:26; 1 Peter 1:16
||Holy, Just and Good Rom. 7:12; 2 Peter 2:21
|Perfect, peaceful, loving 2
||Law of liberty James 1:25
|Loving 1 John 4:7
||Good 1 Tim. 1:8
It is natural for human beings to be legalistic. Sinful
human beings are selfish
and will often do things that are beneficial
for others simply to achieve their own goals. Shall we then discard the
law and break it whenever we feel like it in order to avoid legalism? We
know instinctively that this is wrong. The law must be kept, though
keeping the law does not save a person.Obedient From the Heart
Obedience is a word that has a breadth of meaning, yet it leaves out
much that is important. A Christian should focus on the positive aspects
of the law. God created human beings “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).
To be in the image of God is to have His law and character written on
our heart as we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-8).
Through grace, the Ten Commandments make God first in an
individual’s life. Nothing is to come between the individual and God.
The individual will be pure in speech and will avoid hypocrisy, and the
family will be pure, to the blessing of children and parents alike. By
God’s grace, the individual will treat his or her neighbor with kindness
and love, avoiding hatred, lust, theft, and lying.
must take hold of the power of grace through faith. They must
consent-even decide- to obey, knowing
that only by grace can their
decision be firm. Through their love for God, they will desire to be
like Him in character; and, through love to their neighbor, they will
recognize their own debt to God. What they see in the attitudes and
actions of God will be to them an example and a command to do likewise.
Can the Law be Kept?
What happened to Adam and Eve at their
fall from grace? Their lives moved from being Godcentered to being
self-centered. All sin and sorrow came from self-centeredness. A person
can do even admirable things for selfish reasons. Keeping the law for
selfish reasons leaves a person’s life unchanged, still under the
control of sin and rebellion.
“Teacher, which is the greatest
commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: -˜Love the Lord your God with
all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is
the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “˜Love
your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these
two commandments.” (Matt. 22:36-40, NIV).
Jesus summarized the Ten
Commandments as love for God and love for our fellow human beings. If
people lack love for others, they are selfish. If people lack love for
God, they are proud and lack faith, refusing to follow the will of God.
Pride, unbelief, and selfishness are the basic characteristics of the
sinful nature and can be overcome only by the grace of God.
Knowledge of God and His law has merit only as it leads a person to
Christ. Belief alone is not enough. “Thou believest that there is one
God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James
At the moment of temptation, believers must consent to let
Christ live in them. Is it easy? No, it is not! The battle with self is
the hardest battle human beings ever have to fight. It is always easy to
do something; it is often difficult to submit to Christ as Lord of our
By habitually turning to Christ with the
daily life, Christians will “wear ruts” in the road so that, when great
temptation comes, they can find their way in the dark. In the faith
experience, Christ becomes real. We must think about Christ, talk about
Him, focus our life on Him, and leave no room for sin.
In the middle of the ten-commandment law is the
command to keep holy the seventh day as the Sabbath. In this command,
the seventh day is to be kept holy because God made it holy.6
the “Sabbath of the Lord thy God” as a memorial to the creation. God is
the Creator, and His domain encompasses all of “heaven and earth.” The
Sabbath command is God’s “signature” in the middle of His law. It is
also the “sign” of sanctification (Exod. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12, 20), and it
is, therefore, a vital sign of the covenant that will make of His people
“an holy nation.”
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six
days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the
sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor
thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy
cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the
Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested
the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and
hallowed it. (Exod. 20:8-11).
Why does it need to be the seventh
day? Would not another day be acceptable to worship God? What is wrong
with keeping holy another day, or even keeping holy every day? As a
measure of time, the seventh day is no different from the other days of
the week. The day is holy because God made it so. He gave the Sabbath as
a sign of human relationship with Him. Would humans accept God’s will or
would they choose to go their own way? It was an easy test and it was
easy to understand. To break the Sabbath was wrong because it was
forbidden, not because it was evil by nature. The Sabbath demonstrates
whether people accept God as Creator and Lord and place God’s will above
their own reasoning. From reverent obedience to this command, obedience
to the other nine naturally flows.
Speak thou also unto the
children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your
generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.
It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six
days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested,
and was refreshed. (Exod. 31:13, 17)
Moreover also I gave them my
sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I
am the Lord that sanctify them. And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall
be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your
God. (Ezek. 20:12, 20)
Another question follows: Why should the
Sabbath commandment be kept any differently than the other nine
commandments? Christians are insistent about the other nine. Did God not
mean what He said about keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath? If
Sabbath-keepers are legalistic or idolatrous because they keep the
seventh-day Sabbath, what about those who keep the other nine? Are they
not just as “legalistic and idolatrous?” These concepts need to be
thought and prayed through. A person needs to ask the Holy Spirit for
guidance. When Jesus said, “If ye love Me, keep my commandments” (John
14:15), He meant that keeping the commandments brings us closer to Him
and, as we are closer to Him, we will want to do what pleases Him.
Is it essential then that we be accurate in our service to Christ?
Are a person’s sincerity and love for Christ not more important than
“details?” Falsehood and error never bring honor to God, however
innocent they may seem. Truth has consequences. Truth affects our
relationship with God. A correct understanding of truth has often been
an issue that divides those who seek to serve God from those who follow
There is only one God, only one Holy Spirit, and
only one truth. Our understandings may differ, but, by reading the Bible
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will learn the truth. “But the
hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the
Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship
him” (John 4:23). “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and
the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Jesus kept the Sabbath. “As his custom was, he went into the synagogue
on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). He was more liberal than the Jews in
Sabbath keeping. His teaching and practice did not follow the multitude
of ordinances that the Jews had added to the law. Jesus stated that He
was “Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). Like His women followers,
Jesus rested in the grave over the hours of the Sabbath after the
crucifixion (Luke 23:56). Looking forward forty years to the destruction
of Jerusalem in Matthew 24, Jesus told the disciples that they were to
pray that their flight be not in the winter or on the Sabbath day.
The last book of the Bible is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev.
1:1). The four angels in Revelation 7 hold the four winds of trouble
until God’s people receive the seal. What is the seal? God gave the
Sabbath as the “sign” of sanctification (Exod. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12, 20).
The Holy Spirit seals (verb) God’s 80 More Than a Promise people (Eph.
4:30), showing those who are His. Paul wrote: “Nevertheless the
foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them
that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name
of Christ depart
from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19). The seal of relationship with God is being
known of God and keeping the “righteousness of the law” (Rom. 2:26;
8:4). The seal (noun) of the law is the Sabbath of the fourth
commandment, His signature in the midst of His law. In this way, the
Holy Spirit prepares a special people to see Jesus when He comes again!
God described His people
as “stiffnecked” (Exod. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16; 2 Chron. 30:8;
Moses put the two tablets inside the ark (Exod.
25:16, 21; 40:20; Deut. 10:2, 5) with the manna and Aaron’s rod. “And I
will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which
thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark” (Deut. 10:2). Later,
God instructed Moses to include a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that
budded, “which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant
overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had
manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant”
(Heb. 9:4). “And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full
of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your
generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the
testimony, to be kept” (Exod. 16:33, 34). “And the Lord said unto Moses,
Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token
against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from
me, that they die not” (Num. 17:10). During the time of Solomon, there
was -| nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put
there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant” (1 Kings 8:9; cf. 2
“What I have stated earlier so often about both
uses of the Law, the political or Gentile use and the theological use,
indicates clearly that the Law was not laid down for the righteous but,
as Paul teaches elsewhere (1 Tim. 1:9), for the unrighteous” (Martin
Luther, Luther’s Works [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999],
vol. 26, comment on Gal. 3:23.)4.
“This is a more majestic and
excellent teaching than is the Law, whose purpose is only to tell us
what we are to do. The Gospel does not, however, dispose of the Law. For
the Law is also the voice of God, and it is fitting for all to be
subject to it. Yet even though the Law remains, the Gospel teaches
something higher” (Luther’s Works, vol. 12, comment on Psalm 2:7). “The
other use of the Law is the theological or spiritual one, which serves
to increase transgressions” (Luther’s Works, vol. 26, comment on Gal.
Luther never used the phrase “the third use of the
law,” but a recent work on Luther by Edward A. Engelbrecht, entitled
Friends of the Law: Luther’s Use of the Law for the Christian Life (St.
Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), claims, “Luther maintained
a third use of the law, even if he did not always use that specific
Luther wrote: “It is proper that the Law and God’s Commandments provide
me with the correct directives for life; they supply me with abundant
information about righteousness and eternal life” (Luther’s Works, vol.
22, comment John 1:17).6.
It was at God’s command that the
seventh day was sanctified and blessed at Creation. Whether God ever
gave a command to the Jews or not, the day became holy and blessed by
God’s command. Those who accept Genesis 2:1-3 as an actual account of
the end of the creation account, recognize that the Sabbath was then
blessed and sanctified by the Creator.