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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 20

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The Ten Commandments

A. Four commandments regarding our conduct before God.

1. (Exo 20:1-3) The first commandment: no other gods before Me.

And 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 bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

a. I am the LORD your God: Before God commanded anything of man, He declared who He is and what He did for Israel (who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage). The foundation is clear: because of who God is, and what He has done for us, He has the right to tell us what to do - and we have the obligation to obey Him.

b. God spoke all these words: The following laws were not "invented" here at Mount Sinai. A few aspects of the Mosaic Law brought forth new revelation, but for the most part this simply clearly and definitely lays out God's law as it was written in the heart of man since the time of Adam.

i. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explains how there certainly is a universal morality among men. He gives concrete examples of how all cultures in the past were able to agree on the basics of morality because these principles are implanted in the heart of man.

ii. All cultures have said murder is wrong, and kindness is good. All agree that we have particular obligations to our family. All say that honesty is good and that a man cannot have any woman he wants. They agree that stealing is wrong and that justice is good. There are no cultures where cowardice is good and bravery is bad.

iii. Yet in our modern world there has been a massive shift, to the point where 63% of Americans reject the concept of moral absolutes, saying that it all depends on the situation. People think that if there is one case where a lie is justified (say to save the life of someone else), then it is wrong to say that it is wrong to lie.

iv. This thinking goes to absurd lengths. In 1990, media mogul Ted Turner distributed copies of his "10 Voluntary Initiatives," hoping to replace the Ten Commandments.

c. You shall have no other gods before Me: The first commandment logically flows from understanding who God is and what He has done for us. Nothing is to come before God and He is the only God we worship and serve.

i. In the days of ancient Israel, there was great temptation to worship the gods of materialism (Baal, the god of weather and financial success) and sex (Ashtoreth, the goddess of sex, romance, and reproduction), or any number of other local deities. We are tempted to worship the same gods, but without the old-fashioned names and images.

d. No other gods before Me: This does not imply that it is permissible to have other gods, as long as they line up behind the true God. Instead the idea is that there are to be no other gods before the sight of the true God in our life. Before Me is literally, "to My face".

i. This means God demands to be more than "added" to our lives. We don't just add Jesus to the life we already have. We must give Him all our lives.

ii. Failure to obey this commandment is called idolatry. We are to flee idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). Those lives marked by habitual idolatry will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8, 22:15). Idolatry is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), which marks our old life instead of the new (1 Peter 4:3), and we are not to associate with those who call themselves Christians who are idolaters (1 Corinthians 5:11).

2. (Exo 20:4-6) The second commandment: You shall not make for yourself any carved image … you shall not bow down to them.

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

a. You shall not make for yourself a carved image: The second commandment prohibits not only idolatry regarding false gods, it also deals with making an image of any created thing which we might worship.

b. Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath: In that day as well as in our own, worship was tied closely with images - idealized images, or even images in the mind of man. God will not allow us to depict Him with any such image, nor replace Him with another image.

i. The second commandment doesn't forbid making an image of something for artistic purposes; God Himself commanded Israel make images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18, 26:31). It forbids the making of images as an "aid" to worship.

ii. "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." (Clarke)

iii. John 4:24 explains the rationale behind the second commandment: God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The use of images and other material things as a focus or "help" to worship denies who God is (Spirit) and how we must worship Him (in spirit and truth).

iv. Paul reminds us of the futility of trying to make God into our own image: Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23)

c. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God: How can it be said that God is a jealous God? "God's jealousy is love in action. He refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for Himself, but because He knows that upon that loyalty to Him depends our very moral life … God is not jealous of us: He is jealous for us." (Redpath)

d. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me: This does not mean God punishes us directly for the sins of our ancestors. The important words are of those who hate Me - if the descendants love God, they will not have the iniquity of the fathers visited on them.

i. "'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." (Clarke)

ii. Yet, the focus here is on idolatry, and this refers to judgment on a national scale - nations that forsake the LORD will be judged, and that judgment will have effects throughout generations.

3. (Exo 20:7) The third commandment: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

a. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: We can break the third commandment through profanity (using the name of God in blasphemy and cursing), frivolity (using the name of God in a superficial, stupid way), and hypocrisy (claiming the name of God but acting in a way that disgraces Him).

i. Jesus communicated the idea of this command in the disciple's prayer, when He taught us to have a regard for the holiness of God's name (Hallowed be Your name, Matthew 6:9).

b. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain: The strength of this command has led to strange traditions among the Jewish people. Some go to extreme lengths in attempting to fulfill this command, refusing to even write out the name of God, in the fear that the paper might be destroyed and the name of God be written in vain.

4. (Exo 20:8-11) The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

a. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: The seventh day (Saturday) was commanded to be respected as a day of rest. This rest was for all of Israel- servants and slaves as well as visitors.

i. This is an important principle that might be too easily passed over. Here God declared the essential humanity and dignity of women, slaves, and strangers, and said they had the same right to a day of rest as the free Israeli man. This was certainly a radical concept in the ancient world.

b. To keep it holy: In their traditions, the Jewish people came to carefully quantify what they thought could and could not be done on the Sabbath day, in order to keep it holy.

i. For example, in Luke 6:1-2, in the mind of the Jewish leaders, the disciples were guilty of four violations of the Sabbath every time they took a bite of grain out in the field, because they reaped, threshed, winnowed, and prepared food.

ii. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But he could carry something with the back of his hand, his foot, his elbow, or in his ear, his hair, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or sandal. Or, on the Sabbath, you Israelites were forbidden to tie a knot - except, a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, an Israelite could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket and pull it up from the well.

iii. In observant Jewish homes today, one cannot turn on a light, a stove, or a switch on the Sabbath. It is forbidden to drive a certain distance or to make a telephone call - all carefully regulated by traditions seeking to spell out the law exactly.

c. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth: God established the pattern for the Sabbath at the time of creation. When He rested from His works on the seventh day, God made the seventh day a day of rest from all our works (Genesis 2:3). But the most important purpose of the Sabbath was to serve as a shadow of the rest we have in Jesus.

i. Some claim that Christians are required to keep the Sabbath today. But the New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11), because Jesus fulfilled the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11).

ii. Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week - the rest of knowing we don't have to work to save ourselves, but our salvation is accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).

iii. The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). We have a rest in Jesus that is ours to live in every day. Therefore, since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any day - or no day - as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel.

iv. However, though we are free from the legal obligation of the Sabbath, we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest - God has built us so that we need one. Like a car that needs regular maintenance, we need regular rest - or we will not "wear" well. Some people are like high mileage cars that haven't been maintained well, and it shows.

v. Some Christians are also dogmatic about observing Saturday as the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday. But because we are free to regard all days as given to God, it makes no difference. But in some ways, Sunday is more appropriate; being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9), and first met with His disciples (John 20:19), and a day when Christians gathered for fellowship (Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2). Under Law, men worked towards God's rest; but after Jesus' finished work on the cross, the believer enters into rest and goes from that rest out to work.

vi. But we are also commanded to work six days. "He who idles his time away in the six days is equally culpable in the sight of God as he who works on the seventh." (Clarke) Many Christians should give more "leisure time" to the work of the LORD. Every Christian should have a deliberate was to serve God and advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

B. Six commandments regarding our conduct before God and man.

1. (Exo 20:12) The fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

a. Honor your father and your mother: Honor for fathers and mothers is an essential building block for the stability and health of all society. If the younger generations are constantly at war with older generations, the foundations of society will be destroyed.

i. Jesus used the way the Pharisees interpreted this commandment as an example of how one might keep the law with a limited interpretation, yet violate the spirit of the commandment (Matthew 15:3-6).

b. That your days may be long: In Ephesians 6:2 Paul repeated this command, emphasizing the promise stated here: that your days may be long upon the land. Rebellion is costly, and many have paid a high price personally for their rebellion against their parents.

2. (Exo 20:13) The sixth commandment: You shall not murder.

"You shall not murder.

a. You shall not murder: Some wonder how God can approve both capital punishment (Exodus 19:12) and this prohibition of murder. The simple answer is that in Hebrew as well as English, there is a distinction between to kill and to murder. As opposed to killing, murder is the taking of life without legal justification (execution after due process) or moral justification (killing in defense).

b. You shall not murder: Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. He showed that it also prohibits us from hating someone else (Matthew 5:21-26), because we can wish someone dead in our hearts, yet never have the "courage" to commit the deed. Someone may not kill from a lack of courage or initiative, though his or her heart is filled with hatred.

3. (Exo 20:14) The seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not commit adultery.

a. You shall not commit adultery: Recognize that the act itself is condemned. God allows no justification for the ways that many people often seek to justify extra-marital sex, such as saying "my partner doesn't understand me" or "we are in love" or "God led us to be with each other" or any other excuse.

i. Michael English, who lost his recording contract and marriage over adultery with another Christian music singer, says of his adultery and its aftermath: "Maybe God allowed this to happen to make me see I needed some freedom." No!

b. You shall not commit adultery: The New Testament clearly condemns adultery: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication uncleanness, licentiousness … (Galatians 5:19). But more than the act itself, Jesus carefully explained the heart of this commandment. It prohibits us from looking at a woman to lust for her, where we commit adultery in our heart or mind, yet may not have the courage or opportunity to do the act (Matthew 5:27-30). We aren't innocent just because we didn't have the opportunity to sin the way we really wanted to.

4. (Exo 20:15) The eighth commandment: You shall not steal.

"You shall not steal.

a. Not steal: This command is another important foundation for human society, establishing the right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or states are not permitted to take that property without due process of law.

b. Not steal: We can also steal from God. Of course, this demands we honor God with our financial resources, so we are not guilty of robbing Him (Malachi 3:8-10). But we can also rob God by refusing to give Him ourselves for obedience and His service, because He bought us and owns us: knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19); For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:20).

c. Not steal: Ephesians 4:28 gives the solution to stealing. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

5. (Exo 20:16) The ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

a. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: We can break the ninth commandment through slander, talebearing, creating false impressions, by silence, by questioning the motives behind someone's actions, or even by flattery.

i. "Slander … is a lie invented and spread with intent to do harm. That is the worst form of injury a person can do to another. Compared to one who does this, a gangster is a gentleman, and a murderer is kind, because he ends life in a moment with a stroke and with little pain. But the man guilty of slander ruins a reputation which may never be regained, and causes lifelong suffering." (Redpath)

ii. "Talebearing … is repeating a report about a person without careful investigation. Many, many times I have known what it is to suffer with that. To repeat a story which brings discredit and dishonor to another person without making sure of the facts, is breaking this commandment … How many people, especially Christian people, revel in this, and delight in working havoc by telling tales about others. To excuse the action by saying they believed the report to be true, or that there was no intention to malign, is no justification." (Redpath)

iii. What about inappropriate silence? "When someone utters a falsity about another and a third person is present who knows that statement to be untrue but, for reasons of fear or being disliked, remains quiet, that third person is as guilty of breaking this law as if he had told a lie." (Redpath)

b. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor: The New Testament puts it simply. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9) "How very strange that we have ever come to think that Christian maturity is shown by the ability to speak our minds, whereas it is really expressed in controlling our tongues." (Redpath)

i. "What a startling revelation it would be if a tape recording could be played of all that every church member has said about his fellow members in one week!" (Redpath)

ii. Satan is always there to encourage a lie (John 8:44; Acts 5:3); and Jesus Himself was the victim of false witness (Mark 14:57); in some ways, we might say this was the sin that sent Jesus to the cross.

6. (Exo 20:17) The tenth commandment: You shall not covet.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

a. You shall not covet: All the first nine commands focus more on things we do; the tenth deals straight with the heart and its desires.

i. Literally, the word for "covet" here means "to pant after." Covetousness works like this: the eyes look upon an object, the mind admires it, the will goes over to it, and the body moves in to possess it. Just because you have not taken the final step does not mean you are not in the process of coveting right now.

b. Your neighbor's house … wife … ox … donkey: Covetousness can be expressed towards all sorts of things; it is the itch to have and to possess what someone else has. It speaks of a dissatisfaction with what we have, and a jealously towards those who have something "better."

i. Hebrews 13:5 puts it well: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

ii. This last commandment is closely connected with the first commandment against idolatry: For this you know, that no … covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:5).

iii. Jesus gave a special warning about covetousness, which explained the core philosophy of the covetous heart: And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15)

C. Thoughts on the Ten Commandments and the system of law in general.

1. The purpose of the law was not to give us a standard we could achieve, and then be counted righteous before God. The purpose of the law was first to show us God's perfect standard, and second, to show how it is impossible for any of us to obey that standard.

a. The law is a schoolmaster to us (Galatians 3:22-25). Before God's plan of salvation in Jesus Christ was fully evident, we were kept under guard by the law - both in the sense of being bound by the law, but also held in protective custody.

b. The law, through its revelation of God's character and its exposure of our sin, prepares us to come to Jesus- but after we have come, we no longer have to live under our tutor (though we remember the behavior he has taught us).

c. If someone doesn't present the law in a manner that brings people to faith in Jesus, they aren't presenting the law properly - the way Jesus Himself presented it (Matthew 5:17-48).

2. Are the Ten Commandments valid for today? Certainly, each of the ten are, because they reflect the unchanging nature of God.

a. Each of the Ten Commandments is referred to in the New Testament, including the Sabbath - which is not disregarded, but understood to have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

b. Jesus fulfilled the law for us, so we could obey it in Him: That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4)

i. "The great message of the Christian faith is, therefore, that we are free from the Law's condemnation in order that we may be able to fulfill its obligation by the power of [Jesus] within us." (Redpath)

ii. "My obedience therefore is not legal, but inspired by love and empowered by God's Holy Spirit. Does New Testament grace allow a lower standard than Old Testament law? The standard under grace is higher." (Redpath)

3. The Ten Commandments can be condensed, and were by Jesus.

a. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus explained that all the law - including the Ten Commandments - can be fulfilled by loving God with every thing we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

i. The key to obedience is therefore the love of God in our lives - something the law itself could not give, but Jesus Christ does.

ii. Knowing the law, how we cannot obey it perfectly, and how we need the love of God to do so should drive us to the love of God: Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

b. All six commandments relating to our conduct towards other people can be summed up in love; love fulfills the law and the commandments. (Romans 13:8-10)

4. There is also a sense in which the law "excites" sin within us. I didn't know how to "really" rebel against God until He told me His standard (Romans 7:8-9). This doesn't mean the law is bad, but it does mean that it, in itself, cannot save me from sin.

a. This doesn't make the law evil; it simply shows how evil I am - capable of taking something as good and holy as God's law and using it as a prompting to evil.

5. When Jesus taught on the law and its true meaning (Matthew 5:17-48), He made several things clear:

a. Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

b. Doing and teaching the law is important until the end of time (Matthew 5:19).

c. To be saved, we must have a righteousness that exceeds the scrupulous law-keeping of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

d. The law must be kept in its full spirit and intent, not in its letter only (Matthew 5:21-47).

e. The law presents us God's perfect standard, and it requires this perfection from us (Matthew 5:48).

i. If a man could live the way Jesus has told us to in this chapter, he would truly be perfect. He would never hate, slander or speak evil of another person. He would never lust in his heart or mind, and not covet anything. He would never make a false oath, and always be completely truthful. He would let God defend his personal rights, and not take it upon himself to defend those rights. He would always love his neighbors, and even his enemies!

ii. Such a man would truly have a righteousness greater than the scribe and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), the very thing we must have to enter into God's Kingdom.

iii. But there is only one man who has lived like this: Jesus Christ. What about the rest of us? Are we left out of the Kingdom of God?

iv. Jesus has demonstrated we need a righteousness apart from the law: But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)

D. The nation's great fear of the presence of God.

1. (Exo 20:18) The people stand afar off.

Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.

a. All the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning: Awesome sights and sounds coming from Mount Sinai accompanied the delivery of the law. This impressive delivery did nothing to draw the people closer to God; it only made them stand afar off.

2. (Exo 20:19) The request of the people.

Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die."

a. You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us: Thus far, the giving of the law had one of its intended effects - showing us just how far man falls short of God's glory. The people of Israel, from both the content of the law and the display of God's glory, knew that God was perfect and holy and they were not.

i. Sadly, at a later time, Israel interpreted the law to make it "keepable," and removed the heart and intent of the law (Matthew 5:17-48). This progressed to the point where Saul of Tarsus said of himself, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [I was counted] blameless (Philippians 3:6).

b. Lest we die: Coming close to God made them afraid of His holy power; they feared they would die if it continued.

i. This is a typical reaction of those who came into the presence of God, such as Isaiah, who felt undone before God (Isaiah 6:1-5) and John, who fell as a dead man before the Lord (Revelation 1:17).

c. Let not God speak with us: They didn't want God to speak directly to them anymore, as He spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Instead, they wanted Moses to mediate between them and God.

i. Man's desire for a mediator - someone to act as a go-between with us a God - is only good if it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

3. (Exo 20:20) The purpose for this fear.

And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin."

a. Do not fear; for God has come to test you: Fear can keep us from sin for a while, but will usually fade in its power over time. The fear Israel experienced here at Mount Sinai faded enough over 40 days so that they danced around a golden calf, proclaiming it as the God that brought them out of Egypt.

b. That His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin: Though it is better to obey God out of fear than to disobey Him, God's ultimate motivation for obedience is love. This is clear from 1 John 4:18-19: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.

4. (Exo 20:21) Moses draws near.

So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

a. So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near: Moses had a relationship with God the common man in Israel did not have. Through the circumstances of his life and the direct revelation of God, Moses was aware of both God's holy power and also of God's glorious grace.

b. Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was: Moses knew what it was to be guilty and forgiven by God, and he knew what it was to be used because of grace. Moses remembered that if God was interested in killing him, He could have done it a long time before this.

E. Laws concerning worship and altars.

1. (Exo 20:22-23) The purity of worship.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make anything to be with Me; gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.

a. You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven: The laws to follow are much more than God's "house rules." They are founded on who He is and how He reveals Himself to His people.

b. You shall not make anything to be with Me; gods of silver or gods of gold: The giving of the law begins with keeping the heart pure in worship. If our worship can be corrupted, it eventually touches every other area of our lives for evil.

2. (Exo 20:24-26) Instructions for altars and sacrifice.

'An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.'

a. An altar of earth you shall make for Me: God did not need an ornate or elaborate altar; an altar of earth was sufficient.

i. Of course, with God's ultimate altar, a few wooden beams were sufficient.

b. You shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings: The distinction between burnt offerings and peace offerings will be given in greater detail later. Yet the mere mention of them at the outset of the giving of the law indicates that man cannot keep the law, and must have sacrifice to deal with this inability.

c. I will bless you: This is a promise first mentioned in connection with atoning sacrifice. Though there is blessing in keeping the law, we ultimately are only blessed by the law if we keep the entire law - therefore we seek and find blessing from God on the basis of His atoning sacrifice.

d. You shall not build it of hewn stone: If an altar were made of stone, God did not want the glory of the stone carver to be the center of attention at His altar. God, at His altar, wanted to share glory with no man - the beauty and attractiveness would be found only in the provision of God, not in any fleshly display.

e. Nor shall you go up by steps: God wanted no display of human flesh at His place of covering sacrifice. Steps might allow the leg of the priest to be seen. God doesn't want to see our flesh in worship.

i. What God does want from us in worship is seen by Jesus' statement in John 4:24: God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. God wants worship that is characterized by Spirit (as opposed to flesh) and truth (as opposed to deception or mere feeling).

©2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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