New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

20:1 The ten commandments are unique amongst the legal codes of ancient peoples, in that they speak of Divine commands given to individuals- AV "thou", you singular, shall do this, or not do that. God shows in this crucial covenant statement that He wished for personal obedience from every one of His people, not just certain sacrifices offered by representatives of the tribe.

20:4 “Likeness” is used in the LXX in the frequent warnings not to make an image or likeness of any god, let alone Yahweh (Ex. 20:4; Dt. 4:16-25; Ps. 106:20; Is. 40:18,19). The reason for this prohibition becomes clearer in the New Testament; the ultimate likeness of God is in His Son, and we are to create the likeness of His Son not as a mere physical icon, but within the very structure of our human personality and character.

20:5 The prophets were up against the same passionless spirit that pervades our societies today. “The Lord thy God [is] a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) was changed in the Targums to “I am a God above jealousy” (Mechilta). The prophets speak so often of God’s wrath, love, hurt, pain, passion, anger, pathos… And they speak too of the terrible “repentings”, the kindling of contradictory impulses, which there apparently is in the mind of God. But jealousy is a lead feature within Yahweh's personality (Ex. 20:5; 34:14). It speaks specifically of the jealousy of a man concerning the faithfulness of his wife (Num. 5:14). God was the passionate lover and husband of His people, and it is inevitable therefore that the extent of that love would produce jealousy when they spurned Him and went after other men, the idols.

20:11 Yahweh blessed the Sabbath (Ex. 20:11). Work was not to be done so as to rest and remember God's creative grace; whereas in pagan thought, work wasn't done because 'Sabbath' was an unlucky day on which it was best to do as little as possible in case some 'Satan' figure struck. Such belief was being deconstructed in the Sabbath law. The Mosaic 10 Commandments included the unique commandment not to covet / lust. This was unknown in any Mesopotamian legal code- because obviously it's impossible to know what a person is thinking within themselves, and so impossible to judge or punish it. But God's law introduced the whole idea that sin / transgression of law is ultimately internal, and this will be judged by the one true God. See on Ex. 35:3.

20:19- see on Ex. 39:43.

20:20 Because God saved them from Egypt by grace [cp. baptism- 1 Cor. 10:1,2], with they themselves so spiritually weak at the time, still taking idols of Egypt through the Red Sea with them- therefore they were to keep the law (Dt. 11:7,8). Because God gave them the land of Canaan, a land for which they did not labour, didn't do any 'work' to receive, but were given because "You did a favour unto them" (Ps. 44:3)- therefore they were to keep the law (Dt. 26:15,16; 29:8,9; Josh. 23:5,6). David said that he loved keeping the law because God's testimony to him was so miraculous (Ps. 119:129 Heb.). There is an awesomeness to God's grace in all this. Hence the paradox of Ex. 20:20: "Fear not... that the fear of God may be before your faces". We are not to fear Him, for such perfect love casts out fear... yet it is exactly because of the wonder of all this that we live life in some fear / awe of misusing and abusing that grace.

20:23 Wherever an ordinary Israelite offered sacrifice, “I will come unto thee [‘you’ singular] and bless thee” (Ex. 20:23). This is the very language of God coming unto Moses on the top of Sinai (Ex. 19:20 RV)- as if to imply that the very pinnacle of Moses’ relationship with God, meeting Him on the top of the mount, is just as attainable for each of God’s people who truly sacrifices to Him.